Fort Bliss’s Castner Range designated national monument

By Christopher Hurd, Army News ServiceMarch 21, 2023

(Photo Credit: Mark C Clune) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden proclaimed Fort Bliss’s Castner Range, approximately 6,672 acres of land in northern El Paso, Texas, as a national monument during the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

The designation protects a unique desert landscape that holds a storied history for locals and the military, and will provide open space for an underserved community. It is the first national monument designation in over 90 years that will be managed by the military.

“Castner Range serves as a testament to the modernization of the American military and the military service members who trained there from 1926 to 1966. In addition to containing evidence of Castner Range’s important historical role in our Nation’s national defense, Castner Range hosts significant archeological sites documenting the history of the Tribal Nations that inhabited the area since time immemorial, rare plant and animal habitat, and unique geological features. Once it is safe for public access following remediation of military munitions and munitions constituents, Castner Range will become a natural classroom offering unique opportunities to experience, explore, and learn from nature in a unique setting that is close to a major urban center,” President Joe Biden said.

Located in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, the area that later became known as Castner Range was used and inhabited by Native American tribes before the Department of Defense acquired it in the 1920s.

The range was then utilized as a weapons training facility, helping prepare Soldiers for WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Training stopped in 1966 as the city of El Paso grew, pushing increased population into the surrounding area.

Since the 1970s, the Army has maintained the land.

Castner Range is known throughout the local community for its scenic views, rare plants and diverse wildlife. It also contains more than 40 known sites of historical and cultural significance, and more will likely be discovered as access becomes available.

For decades, local community groups have been advocating for remediation and conservation of the area, as well as public access for outdoor recreation.

With the president’s designation of the range as a national monument and the Army as its manager, that process will begin. The Army will launch a public process to develop a monument management plan, with public input within 60 days of the announcement.

“It is a proud day for the Army and for the Department of the Defense,” said Gabe Camarillo, Under Secretary of the Army and El Paso native. “This presidential proclamation honors our veterans and preserves Castner Range for future generations. We look forward to the day when the Army’s munitions cleanup allows for the safe, recreational use of Castner Range National Monument for current and future generations.”

As part of the America the Beautiful initiative, the Biden-Harris administration is working to protect, conserve and restore the lands, waters and wildlife that support and sustain the nation. The President established the first-ever national conservation goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

The Army is currently in the long process of making the range safe for public access. It has already completed investigations to determine the extent of the remaining munitions, and has moved to the feasibility study stage of the federal cleanup process.

This feasibility study phase, which is projected to be completed in mid-2025, will evaluate possible response actions that are consistent with federal cleanup law. The Army will then identify a way forward and will seek formal input from regulators and the public before selecting a response and initiating the cleanup activities. Once remediation commences, the goal is to provide public access in phases as it is safe and appropriate.

“The Army has a proud history of managing natural resources and recreational areas on installations,” said Rachel Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, “and we are excited to take the lead in conserving this landscape for the enjoyment of all Americans.”