The community of El Paso has pushed to conserve this former weapons testing range for decades
Last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Castner Range, a 7,081 acre former Army munitions range that is beloved by residents of both El Paso, Texas and nearby Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for its natural beauty, as well as its archaeological history. It sits next to Franklin Mountains State Park, a popular recreation destination that contains several high peaks that overlook the city of El Paso. Every spring, golden poppies blanket Castner Range, drawing visitors from around the U.S. and Mexico.
Secretary Haaland toured Texas’s Castner Range with U.S. Representative and Castner Range proponent, Veronica Escobar, who introduced a bill last year that would create a national monument. Secretary Haaland hiked in the area and met with local advocates who are requesting the monument designation. The Secretary’s visit raises hopes that President Biden will soon protect the area as a national monument. The president has the authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments and has yet to do so — Castner Range could be the first national monument he creates.
The locally-led effort to protect the Castner Range as a national monument is an example of how Biden’s America the Beautiful goal of protecting 30% of the country’s land and waters by 2030 can work on the ground. Designating Castner Range National Monument will support the local economy, bolster public and community health by providing safe outdoor recreational opportunities, and protect a unique desert ecosystem for generations to come.
The community of El Paso has been working for the last 50 years to gain access to and protect this valuable landscape, which still belongs to the military and is off limits to the public. Up to this point, the El Paso community has successfully prevented the Army from selling the land to competing developers, but threats remain and more action is needed to protect this special desert ecosystem.
There is broad support within the El Paso community for designating the Castner Range as a national monument. A coalition of local organizations, volunteers, community organizers, and elected officials is leading the effort to establish the Castner Range as a national monument. These groups include The Frontera Land Alliance, Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, and the El Paso Community Foundation. They have been asking President Biden to designate Castner Range National Monument since July 2021.
By designating a national monument, President Biden has the opportunity to protect Castner Range in perpetuity and lay the groundwork to increase access for the enjoyment of local residents and visitors to the El Paso area. A Castner Range national monument designation would also provide economic benefits to the El Paso community. According to a 2020 study conducted by Pew Research, a national monument designation can provide an average 10% increase in the number of businesses established and an 8.5% increase in the number of jobs in communities adjacent to national monuments.
Protecting Castner Range would increase connectivity to nearby parks, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico, and help protect the entirety of the Franklin mountain range as well as better serve a diverse metro area of 2.3 million people, including the communities of Las Cruces, New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Combined, these parks would protect a critical swath of the Chihuahuan Desert that forms an important wildlife corridor for species such as mule deer, mountain lion, javelina, and more. Additionally, based on the information gathered so far, there are 27 wildlife or plant species that are considered species of concern, threatened or endangered which may be present on Castner Range. Preserving Castner Range would create a safe passage for these animals and allow vulnerable and endangered species to reestablish their populations.
President Biden should follow-up on the momentum from Secretary Haaland’s visit and use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate his first national monument. While restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments last fall was the right thing to do, President Biden has the opportunity to build his own conservation legacy starting by designating Castner Range as a national monument.
Please visit https://castnerrangenationalmonument.org/ to learn more about Castner Range and how you can get involved, including encouraging President Biden to designate it as a national monument.
(feature photo credit: Scott Cutler)