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The Castner Range in West Texas designated a national monument

 President Joe Biden declared Castner Range, a near 7,000-acre swath of land in West Texas a national monument, on March 21, 2023.
President Joe Biden declared Castner Range, a near 7,000-acre swath of land in West Texas a national monument, on March 21, 2023.

The move was cheered by locals and environmentalists who said the declaration will preserve history and create outdoor opportunities for border residents in West Texas.

President Joe Biden declared a near 7,000-acre swath of land in West Texas a national monument, a move that was cheered by environmentalists and Democrats who said the designation will sustain wildlife and honor the cultural history of the area’s Native Americans.

Castner Range, a former training and testing site on the Ft. Bliss Army base, is a “place of incredible beauty,” Biden said during the official announcement at the Conservation in Action summit in Washington, D.C.

“The people of El Paso have fought to protect this for 50 years. They’re work has finally paid off,” Biden said.

He also thanked U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, who helped spearhead the effort and who the president said hounded him for months to make the designation possible.

“I’ll hope you’ll still have reason to call me because you called me a lot on this one,” he joked.

In a statement Escobar celebrated the designation, which she said once seemed out of reach.

“Generations of activists have dedicated countless hours and resources toward achieving this once seemingly impossible goal,” she said. “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.”

The range was used as a testing and training site during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, according to a White House fact sheet. It closed in 1966 and has remained in the custody of the federal government.

The site also has a long history associated with the area’s Native Americans, including the Apache and Pueblo, Comanches, the Hopi Tribe and Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma, which Biden recognized during his official designation. It’s also home to more than three dozen archeological sites.

“It tells the story of the tribal nations who lived there and the members of our armed forces who trained in those lands. It’s also a place of incredible beauty,” he said.

Environment Texas, an Austin-based ecological group, said the designation will add to the conservation efforts underway to preserve native species.

“This area’s Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem hosts diverse wildlife, including mountain lions, foxes, rabbits and 62 bird species, including majestic eagles and hawks. In addition to protecting these animal habitats, establishing a national monument will create lasting outdoor recreation opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of people who live in and near El Paso.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the designation.

The Hispanic Access Foundation, a Latino advocacy group, cheered the decision as one that reverses a current trend where Latino communities see fewer opportunities to connect with nature.

“Designating Castner Range as a national monument is a historic move for El Paso’s local Latino community and an important step toward closing the ‘nature gap,’” Maite Arce, the president and CEO of the foundation said in a statement.

The group added: “Every 30 seconds, the U.S. paves over a football field’s worth of nature for things like urban development and oil and gas drilling. This destruction of our natural lands is happening primarily in places with a high proportion of Latino communities, like El Paso.”

The site will remain under the management of the U.S. Army, which will begin a land management process in the next two months, the White House said.

The designation also marks the first time the United States military will oversee a historic site in almost a century.

“Though previous national monument designations have protected important historic military sites, this would be the first national monument directly managed by the U.S. military since national battlefields were transferred to the National Park Service in the 1930s,” the White House fact sheet states.

Biden on Tuesday also designated the Avi Kwa Ame, also known as Spirit Mountain, a national monument. That tract of land is more than 500,000 acres (about half the area of Rhode Island) and considered sacred land to several Native American nations, NPR reported.

“It’s one of our most beautiful landscapes, and it ties together one of the largest contiguous wildlife corridors in the United States,” Biden said. “It’s a place of reverence, it’s a place of spirituality and it’s a place of healing.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom