EL PASO, Texas - A provision to permanently protect Castner Range in El Paso's Franklin Mountains became law as President Donald Trump signed the signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who introduced the act, called it a monumental victory for those who have worked decades to preserve the "crown jewel of West Texas."
Castner Range is a 7,081-acre mountain range surrounded by the Franklin Mountains State Park in the heart of El Paso, Texas. Local leaders and environmentalists have been campaigning to conserve Castner Range since 1971.
The land on Castner Range was used for artillery and ammunitions training between 1939 and 1966. The Texas Historical Commission said a total of 41 prehistoric and historic archeological sites have been found on or adjacent to the range.
In 2015, O'Rourke announced he supported proposals to designate Castner Range a national monument. Although that didn't happen, conservationists ABC-7 spoke with said this is one step in the right direction.
"This land is really critical to the City of El Paso, to our region and to our heritage," said Janae Rene Field with the Frontera Land Alliance, "It has wonderful wildlife habitats and plants."
"Today's environmental win ensures Castner is preserved for all El Pasoans, Texans and Americans to enjoy," O'Rourke said, "Further, it preserves an important former military training facility - a reflection of El Paso's strong relationship to Fort Bliss and its longstanding military and veterans' community."
The provision will protect and conserve ecological, wildlife, cultural, historical and natural resources within Castner Range. It also ensures there will be no commercial or residential development, permanent or temporary roads and use of motor vehicles or aircrafts of any kind on the land.
"Castner can no longer be sold off to the highest bidder, rather, it will continue to educate El Paso youth and the surrounding communities of its rich history," said Angel Peña, the Rio Bravo Program Director for the Conservation Lands Foundation.