Many veterans have turned to nature after our struggles through war. I want the veterans of New Mexico to be able to enjoy these lands, just as I have.
Teddy Roosevelt was a soldier, statesman and the father of America’s conservation movement. Roosevelt believed deeply in protecting America’s natural resources and once stated, “Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.”
Like TR, I am a veteran and, having served my country, I understand the importance of service. It is in my blood. I served with the 757th Medical Detachment in Germany from 1973 to 1976. Today, I am serving right here in my community, protecting what I love, the Organ Mountains and other public lands in Doña Ana County. I continue to serve as an officer in a local volunteer fire department, and the Organ Mountains are part of the district where I respond to medical emergencies, wildfire and public assistance calls.
Standing at 32 million years old, the Organ range is truly one of the most picturesque in the western United States. While rugged, the mountains are also home to a diverse sphere of over 800 plant species. We camp, hunt and hike with family and friends in these beloved mountains. They are part of our culture.
Having traveled a lot during my time in the military, one of the things that I always missed was the magnificence of New Mexico. Its beauty is unparalleled to anything I have seen in my 59 years. During my time in the Army I would often encounter long days and stress. One of the things that brought me peace was to reflect back to my homeland and, more specifically, the ambience of these mountains.
This land is also home to a rich military history. As a veteran, this is of great importance to my community. During the Second World War, areas west of Las Cruces were used for precision bombing ranges. Many of the men who flew these training missions served our nation in Europe and the Pacific, and some never came home.
The thought of this loss makes my mission to protect the Doña Ana County’s public lands even more important.
Protecting public lands is also about more than just conserving acreage. It is also about jobs and the economy. Each year, people from all over this great nation come to enjoy and explore the beauty of our state. A recent study found that over $23 million was spent last year in the Carlsbad Caverns area alone. This supported over 350 direct and indirect jobs. This can happen with the Organ Mountains too.
It’s time for Washington to act
How can we protect these sacred lands and do it in a way that promotes tourism and balanced growth? There are a couple of ways. First, we must call on Congress to pass the Organ Mountains – Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act. The bill, introduced by Senators Bingaman and Udall, would create wilderness and conservation areas in the county while allowing for continued public use and access. The second way is for President Obama to create the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument by using the Antiquities Act. This would accomplish many of the same goals as the legislation.
Our community has spoken in support of protecting these lands. Now it’s time to finish the job.
In conclusion, I want the veterans of New Mexico to be able to enjoy these lands, just as I have. Many of us have turned to nature after our struggles through war. Many of us return home with scars from the battlefield, some of which are unseen.
It is more important now than ever to ensure that lands such as these are protected. We owe this to our veterans. TR would expect nothing less.
Bernie Digman is a native of New Mexico who has lived in Farmington, Albuquerque, Gallup and Las Cruces, where he and his wife own Milagro Coffee y Espresso, Inc. He’s still an active member of the Las Alturas Volunteer Fire Department and spends time traveling and with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons in Minnesota.