The new monuments would be the first designated by Obama in his second term. Obama created four national monuments in his first term: The Cesar E. Chavez and Fort Ord national monuments in California; Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia; and Chimney Rock in Colorado.
Supporters called the monument designations especially important at a time of partisan gridlock over wilderness issues. No new wilderness areas were approved in the last Congress, the first time lawmakers have failed to create new wilderness since the 1960s.
"Understanding that Congress is broken, The Wilderness Society is very pleased to see President Obama taking important steps toward putting conservation on equal ground with energy development," said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. "Protecting our lands and waters can't wait."
The New Mexico project in particular is crucial, Williams and other environmentalists said, because it includes some of the most ecologically significant lands in the state, most notably Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides habitat for the elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, great horned owl and other species.
The monument designations follow a call from former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to put conservation on equal ground with energy development on public lands. Babbitt said in a speech last month that for every acre of public land leased to the oil and gas industry, an acre should be permanently protected for future generations.
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