The following was published as an op-ed piece by Dr. Richard Teschner in the El Paso Times. Richard Teschner, a retired UTEP linguistics professor, has been working since 2003 to conserve El Paso land, including Castner Range.
Thanks to the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior for signing a letter of joint commitment to the community of El Paso. This letter goes a long way toward advancing the process to conserve El Paso’s Castner Range in perpetuity.
Since November of 2015, we’ve been putting forth a very full-court press, working to show the nation—especially the departments of Defense and Interior as well as former President Obama—the value of the Castner Range and why it should be conserved.
Those of us who have lived in El Paso for 50 years or more are fully aware that the Franklin Mountains (of which Castner is a part) have long been the objects of development; as the landscape changes value, mountain land is being lost.
The fact that Castner Range is close to and owned by Fort Bliss, and that the land is in an urban setting, has always brought demands for development as opposed to open-space preservation.
This is why this joint commitment by the Department of Defense and the Department of Interior to the El Paso community is so important in our decades-long campaign to conserve the range in perpetuity.
We hear from other major urban areas that they wish they had never developed their scenic lands, keeping them open for hiking, recreational opportunities and unbroken views.
Thanks to our campaign to conserve Castneer Range (a campaign that became especially intense these last 16 months, with over 35,000 El Pasoans signing letters of support), El Paso is now fully aware that the range’s historic and cultural treasures are irreplaceable.
The uniqueness of the ecosystem, the connectivity to the state park and the alluvial fans all make this a very special and unique part of our Chihuahuan desert and its mountains.
We are especially thankful that the joint Defense/Interior commitment, prepared by Congressman Beto O’Rourke, has made it clear that the Army will now investigate the feasibility of designating portions of Castner Range for varying levels of public access.
Allowing access to certain areas—especially at the range’s higher elevations—will promote eco-tourism and enhance El Paso’s economy. The phasing-in of public-access parcels will begin once the Army has completed its required process.
In sum, the joint letter makes it clear that it will be many years before we are absolutely certain that the range will be left open and natural, ideally as a national monument. But at least this commitment now exists, and it points out the path that lies ahead.
We, the El Paso Community, will continue to actively monitor the process. One of many ways we can do so is to attend all Army meetings to ensure that the partnership continues.
The next one, the Restoration Advisory Board, is Tuesday, March 28, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 1005 of the El Paso Community College Transmountain campus, just across U.S. 54 from Castner Range.
All El Pasoans will want to thank these two federal departments for committing, for the first time, to play an active role in the future of Castner Range.