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Biden designates Castner Range in El Paso a national monument

By Julia Forrest, The Texas Tribune

Biden designates Castner Range in El Paso a national monument” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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President Joe Biden on Tuesday declared the Castner Range in El Paso to be a national monument after advocates pushed for more than 50 years to protect the land.

The designation of the more than 6,600 acres in El Paso was made at the White House Conservation in Action Summit. Eric Pearson, CEO of El Paso Community Foundation, helped push for the designation and attended the summit.

“We’re ecstatic about it,” Pearson said. “The region is just amazing, and it’s been a big team and a lot of years. And this is the culmination of that. We’re very proud to be here today.”

The land is home to spring blooms of the Mexican poppy and natural springs, and it serves as a habitat to numerous wildlife species. It also houses more than 40 archeological sites.

“Texans need more nature and this area is a great example of land we can both enjoy and share with wildlife, including threatened species such as the western burrowing owl,” Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said in a statement. “Cleaning up unexploded ordnance and opening up the Castner Range for recreational opportunities including hiking, camping and biking will be good for the El Paso community and good for Texas.”

The Castner Range national monument will be placed under the control of the U.S. Army, according to the White House. This is the first time since the 1930s, when previous national battlefields were handed over to the National Park Service, that a national monument will be managed by the military branch.

The White House said that the Army will begin a land management planning process, including public engagement, over the next 60 days. The Army will also work with tribes and the El Paso community to ensure public access in various phases. The Army used the desert space at Castner Range as a training site between 1926 and 1966, and the site remains full of unexploded munitions.

The space was also formerly home to many Native American tribes, according to the White House, including the Apache and Pueblo peoples, the Comanche Nation, the Hobi Tribe, and the Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma.

Biden also declared Avi Kwa Ame, 500,000 acres of land in Nevada considered sacred to Native tribes, a national monument at the summit Tuesday. Both designations were made using the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments on federal land. Establishing these national monuments will prevent private development on the lands and ensure that the federal government enacts measures to protect the lands.

The designation of Castner Range will help protect and remediate the land in order to expand public access to the space. It will also help protect items that hold various cultural and historical significance across the land.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, who has pushed to protect the Castner Range, said in a statement that she is “absolutely thrilled about the designation.”

“Today’s historic announcement has been decades in the making,” Escobar said. “Generations of activists have dedicated countless hours and resources toward achieving this once seemingly impossible goal. It brings me such joy to know that El Pasoans will soon be able to enjoy the beauty of this majestic, expansive landmark for years to come.”

Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, said Tuesday’s announcement is “tremendously exciting” because of the continued push by advocates over the years.

“We’re very excited about this and very excited to be able to deliver on something that the local community has really pushed for,” Mallory said.

The push for its designation is also a culmination of efforts by groups like the El Paso Community Foundation, the Frontera Land Alliance, Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, Hispanic Access Foundation, Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and Conservation Lands Foundation, Pearson said.

Pearson also said that this designation “reflects the will of the community” after the coalition delivered about 137,000 letters from community members to the president last August calling for the designation.

“This is our ideal, protecting this as a national monument,” Pearson said. “We’re just very happy to be standing here.”

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