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2009

  • 1872 Mining Law: 

    Drowning in the Nineteenth Century

    By Nathan Newcomer
    Associate Director

    mining lawIt’s hard to imagine what the American landscape would look like today without Stewart Udall, the legendary interior secretary who recently passed away after a lifetime of championing conservation. Well before the modern environmental movement came of age, Udall was responsible for scores of new national parks and wildlife refuges, as well as laws that remain fundamental to public land protection today. Upon his departure from the Cabinet in 1969, Mr. Udall wrote, “After eight years in this office, I have come to the conclusion that the most important piece of unfinished business on the nation’s resource agenda is the complete replacement of the Mining Law of 1872.”

    1872 was a time when the country was expanding west. Cattlemen, prospectors, and those seeking to start a new life set out across the vast prairies of the heartland and began settling in the Rocky Mountains. It was a year when President Ulysses S. Grant enacted the General Mining Act of 1872, which encouraged citizens to stake claim to the land and flourish.

    May 10 marked the 137-year anniversary of this archaic mining law and the lack of any sensible policy provisions that will ensure the preservation of New Mexico’s wildlands, wildlife, and water quality. Of all the states in the West, New Mexico is one of the most heavily impacted by the 1872 law.

    The United States of America is the only country in the  world that does not tax the mining industry a royalty fee for developing our public lands. Taxpayers face a $50 billion cleanup bill from this industry, which releases more toxic pollution than any other. Today global industries reap benefits while paying virtually nothing for what the Congressional Budget Office estimates is $1 billion worth of precious metals taken each year from public lands in the West.

    Put plainly—the interests of mining trump those of water, wildlife, and wilderness, and the taxpayer is stuck with footing the bill for cleaning up any messes left behind after the industry has pulled up stake and left town.

    It would seem like common sense to reform this Civil War-era law so that it reflects the common concerns of those who live in the American West today. But efforts to drag this nineteenth-century way of thinking into the twenty-first century have often collapsed under the pressure of the mining industry.

    Over the past five years, mining claims for uranium, gold, and other  metals on public lands have increased almost 50 percent. Many of these new claims— staked largely by foreign-owned companies—lie near national treasures such as the Grand Canyon, as well as highly populated urban areas and sacred lands like New Mexico’s Mount Taylor.

    During the last Congress, updating the measure seemed close at hand when the House passed a bipartisan reform package. Hopes were dimmed, however, when a handful of powerful mining companies derailed it in the Senate. This time around, the heads of both natural resources committees, Senator Jeff  Bingaman (D-NM) and Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), are trying once more to modernize the law, each with his own proposal to require the industry to pay royalties and address abandoned mine cleanup.

    Not surprisingly, the Bingaman bill enjoys the backing of Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)—Stewart’s son and nephew, respectively. Yet this may not be enough.

    Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who represents Nevada—home to one of the largest producers of gold in the world—recently said that, while he favors reform, there is not enough time on this year’s congressional calendar for its consideration. The Obama administration, which declared last summer that updating the mining law is one of its top conservation priorities, also appears reluctant to tackle the issue right now.

    Almost a quarter of our nation, or some 270 million acres, is open to hard rock mining claims. Public land is in jeopardy as never before, due to soaring mineral prices. In the past six years, gold prices
    have doubled, and the global demand for nuclear fuel has spiked the price of uranium ore by a factor of ten.

    New Mexico alone has over 21,500 active mining claims, in addition to an estimated  15,000 abandoned mines. Most of these abandoned mines have not been inventoried to document potential threats to water quality caused by toxic leakage, in spite of the fact that 40 percent of  Western watersheds have been contaminated by mining activities.

    It is time for New Mexico’s congressional delegation to lead the country on dragging this archaic, Civil War-era law into the twenty-first century, and to bring about real changes that secure our future quality of life. The American West can ill afford another year of the mining industry continuing to take priority over our wildlands, wildlife, and water. Stewart Udall had it right back in 1969, when he said that we need “complete replacement” of the General Mining Act of 1872, and his words still ring just as true today.

    LEARN MORE:
    (The following documents are in PDF format. Get Adobe Acrobat Reader)

  • For Immediate Release
    Date: April 14, 2009

    wild guide 09Are you ready to head back outdoors this year? Have an itch to do some volunteer work that will make a difference on the ground in your favorite wilderness? Or are you just looking to meet new friends and experience some of the wildest places in New Mexico?

    If so, this year’s Wild Guide is the ultimate passport to New Mexico’s wild outdoors.

    Included are hikes throughout the state, some of which are self-guided but most of which are led by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance staff. There are also nineteen volunteer service projects all across the state, some that venture into areas not normally open to the public. We repair environmental damage, close illegal ATV trails, and do riparian restoration.

    Through these hikes and volunteer service projects, we aim to build awareness and support for the protection of these special landscapes—all the while, having FUN! The 2009 Wild Guide captures a wide variety of experiences while showcasing some of our state’s greatest wilderness resources and potentials. It also features cooking recipes, safety tips, and much more.

    Copies of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance 2009 Wild Guide can be purchased for only $9.95 by calling 505-843-8696 , or by picking up a copy at REI in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Otowi Station in Los Alamos, Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, Mudd N Flood in Taos, Carlsbad Caverns Bookstore, and Bowlin’s Mesilla Book Center in Las Cruces.

  • chaco canyon 1Chaco Culture is one of the most spectacular areas in New Mexico. Its combination of natural beauty and outstanding cultural significance justify its World Heritage Site status and has made it beloved by visitors the world over. However, several developments are threatening this jewel of New Mexican heritage.

    For several years there has existed the potential for oil and gas leases on state lands within the view shed of the Visitor’s Center of Park. In addition, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands to the north are also threatened with development. These lands are part of a connective corridor to the Bisti / De-Na-Zin Wilderness through the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and other potential wilderness units identified by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

    Recent publicity has caused the State Land office and the Cimarex Oil Company to delay any immediate plans for developing leases visible from the Park’s Visitor Center. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, working on behalf of our members (and everyone who loves the Park) has met with the State Land Office (SLO) and other relevant agencies to forestall development.

    chaco canyon 2In addition, associated seismic exploration by Cimarex and other companies in the vicinity of Chacra Mesa are threatening the cultural resources of the park. The Park’s relative isolation and absence of roads on its periphery has been a key to the protection of its world class resources and scenery. The connectivity to the Bisti / De-Na-Zin Wilderness is one large stretch of wild lands in a part of our state that has been overrun with oil and gas development. Increased seismic and/or drilling activities, roads and access will make it easier to get to parts of Chaco that are isolated now. It is also clear that oil field related dust, air pollutants, and noise will reduce visibility and degrade the experience of one of our Country’s great National Parks.

    Our goal remains the removal of all oil and gas leases on the periphery of the Park; the permanent protection of archaeological resources on the periphery of the Park; the further protection of archaeological resources within the Park; working to link the Park to other protected landscapes (wilderness and WSA’s); and maintaining a wildlife and wildlands buffer against the never-ending tide of oil and gas development in this part of the Land of Enchantment.

    If you’d like to be part of the efforts to protect one of New Mexico’s most important and famous places, please contact:

    Demis Foster
    NMWA Community Partnership Director
    341 East Alameda Street
    Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501-2229
    Phone: (505) 216-9719

    To achieve that end, our goal for 2008 is the introduction of Congressional legislation that will do the following:

    • Transfer State lands adjacent to Chaco NHP into the Park. This will require identifying and trading BLM lands elsewhere in New Mexico to the State Land Office and adjusting the boundary of the park.
    • Revision of the boundary of the Pueblo Pintado Outlier to include the large ruin and other identified significant archeological sites. Administrative jurisdiction on those lands needs to be transferred to the NPS.
    • Designation of approximately 20,000 acres of the Park as Wilderness (The National Park Service has identified these acres as suitable for Wilderness designation).
  • chaco canyon 1Chaco Culture is one of the most spectacular areas in New Mexico. Its combination of natural beauty and outstanding cultural significance justify its World Heritage Site status and has made it beloved by visitors the world over. However, several developments are threatening this jewel of New Mexican heritage.

    For several years there has existed the potential for oil and gas leases on state lands within the view shed of the Visitor’s Center of Park. In addition, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands to the north are also threatened with development. These lands are part of a connective corridor to the Bisti / De-Na-Zin Wilderness through the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and other potential wilderness units identified by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

    Recent publicity has caused the State Land office and the Cimarex Oil Company to delay any immediate plans for developing leases visible from the Park’s Visitor Center. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, working on behalf of our members (and everyone who loves the Park) has met with the State Land Office (SLO) and other relevant agencies to forestall development.

    chaco canyon 2In addition, associated seismic exploration by Cimarex and other companies in the vicinity of Chacra Mesa are threatening the cultural resources of the park. The Park’s relative isolation and absence of roads on its periphery has been a key to the protection of its world class resources and scenery. The connectivity to the Bisti / De-Na-Zin Wilderness is one large stretch of wild lands in a part of our state that has been overrun with oil and gas development. Increased seismic and/or drilling activities, roads and access will make it easier to get to parts of Chaco that are isolated now. It is also clear that oil field related dust, air pollutants, and noise will reduce visibility and degrade the experience of one of our Country’s great National Parks.

    Our goal remains the removal of all oil and gas leases on the periphery of the Park; the permanent protection of archaeological resources on the periphery of the Park; the further protection of archaeological resources within the Park; working to link the Park to other protected landscapes (wilderness and WSA’s); and maintaining a wildlife and wildlands buffer against the never-ending tide of oil and gas development in this part of the Land of Enchantment.

    If you’d like to be part of the efforts to protect one of New Mexico’s most important and famous places, please contact:

    Demis Foster
    NMWA Community Partnership Director
    341 East Alameda Street
    Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501-2229
    Phone: (505) 216-9719

    To achieve that end, our goal for 2008 is the introduction of Congressional legislation that will do the following:

    • Transfer State lands adjacent to Chaco NHP into the Park. This will require identifying and trading BLM lands elsewhere in New Mexico to the State Land Office and adjusting the boundary of the park.
    • Revision of the boundary of the Pueblo Pintado Outlier to include the large ruin and other identified significant archeological sites. Administrative jurisdiction on those lands needs to be transferred to the NPS.
    • Designation of approximately 20,000 acres of the Park as Wilderness (The National Park Service has identified these acres as suitable for Wilderness designation).
  • In 2007 the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance published a multi-year inventory of human impacts and wilderness characteristics on wilderness-quality BLM lands across the state. One of the units surveyed was Ute Mountain and its vicinity. This geological marvel is in the heart of the El Rio Grande Del Norte, the 300,000+ acre region NMWA is working to protect as a National Conservation Area.

    The following is a summary of the Citizens’ Wilderness Inventory of Ute Mountain:

    Area Description

    Citizens’ Wilderness Inventory – Ute Mountain SummaryThe Ute Mountain unit is located about 28 miles north-northwest of Taos, adjacent to the Colorado border in Taos County. It is adjacent to the Rio Grande Gorge inventory unit. The dominant feature in the unit is Ute Mountain itself which rises over 2,600 feet out its surrounding sage plain to top out at 10,093 feet. Ute Mountain makes for a rugged complement to Rio Grande Gorge carved along its western flank. All drainages within the unit lead directly to the Rio Grande or to the Rio Costilla shortly before it carves its canyon down to the Rio Grande. Elevations in the unit range from 7,500 feet to 10,093 feet. Ute Mountain was recently acquired by BLM from a willing seller. It is one of the best public lands acquisitions to occur in many years anywhere in the west.

    Wilderness Characteristics

    Unit Size:

    NMWA’s inventory for the Ute Mountain unit identified 12,744 acres of land managed by the BLM as suitable for wilderness designation. There are no private or state trust lands within the unit.

    Naturalness:

    The Ute Mountain unit appears natural and has maintained its primeval character and influence. Vehicle routes in the unit are unmaintained two-tracks. The BLM has closed most of these, and many have been reclaimed by natural processes. The only developments in the area are fields and watering systems set up by the previous land owner to enhance elk habitat. The unit boundaries exclude these impacts.

    Outstanding Opportunities for Solitude or a Primitive and Unconfined Type of Recreation:

    The Ute Mountain unit provides outstanding opportunities to experience solitude. It is a rugged area that is large enough to allow even a large number of visitors to seek out lonely spots. There are no designated trails, so one will likely be alone even with the popular sport of ‘peak bagging’. Ute Mountain will be a draw for this activity because of its height, lonely stature in the plains, and the fact that it is now the highest point on BLM lands in New Mexico. Primitive recreational activities possible in this unit include hiking / ‘peak bagging’, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and star gazing.

    Supplemental Values:

    Scenic – Rising over 2,600 feet from its surrounding plain, the free-standing Ute Mountain is a well known scenic icon of northern New Mexico, though, ironically, many don’t know its name. Camping within the unit gives one the stunning backdrop of Ute Mountain while looking down to the Rio Grande Gorge or out to the precipitous rise of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to their terminus in Colorado.

    Ecological – Prior to its acquisition by BLM, Ute Mountain was managed as a refuge for elk. The owner installed water sources and planted fields to supply feed, while access by the general public was prohibited. This protective, pro-wildlife management no doubt benefitted many creatures beyond the elk. The forested rise of Ute Mountain from the Rio Grande provides a large diversity of habitats. As BLM continues wildlife and botanical inventories, it is expected the area’s ecological value will grow.

    Geological – The Rio Grande Gorge exists because the Rio Grande River has cut into the thick Servilleta basalt lava flows, which occurred 1.5 to 5 million years ago. These flows lie within the Taos Volcanic Field, the largest volcanic field in the Rio Grande Rift system. Ute Mountain of one several volcanoes that fed lava to this system, but one of the more well known due to its isolation and scenic rise.

  • For Immediate Release

    Measure Protects 2nd Wilderness Area in New Mexico in Last 20 Years

    Washington, D.C.—The United States House of Representatives today passed by a vote of 285 to 140,  legislation to protect the Sabinoso Wilderness Area, as part of a large public lands bill. At 16,000 acres, Sabinoso is one of the finest intact Great-Plains ecosystems left in New Mexico and is home to a variety of wildlife, including American kestrel, savannah sparrow, red-tailed hawk, bobcats, mountain lions, mule deer, gray foxes, and an assortment of frogs and butterflies in the riparian areas.  It lies just 40 miles east of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

    “Today is a great day for all New Mexicans,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Many local people in the area have been working for years with our congressional delegation to permanently protect the Sabinoso Wilderness Area, and today we can celebrate this important victory.  We commend Senator Tom Udall for introducing this conservation measure as a member of the House, and for his long commitment and leadership in protecting our irreplaceable natural treasures.” 

    The bill now goes to President Obama’s desk for his signature. Newcomer praised the House and Senate leadership for moving this important bill early in the session. “It sends a strong signal to the conservation community that Congress took up this lands package as one of its first pieces of business.”

    In addition to designating wilderness in Sabinoso, the lands bill will protect wild land in eight other states, including Colorado, Utah, California and Virginia – more than 2 million acres in all.

    A series of high, narrow mesas surrounded by steep, rock-walled canyons in the Sabinoso area provides a striking contrast to the nearby rolling prairie. The Canadian River runs through the northeast corner of the Sabinoso Wilderness Study Area, which feeds into many other streams. Ponderosa pine, Cottonwood, and willows can be found along the many stream sides.

    Several resolutions in support of protecting Sabinoso have come from the San Miguel County Commission, the City of Las Vegas, the regional economic development group, and local ranchers.

    According to the New Mexico Department of Tourism, the outdoor tourism industry in 2005 generated over $5 billion dollars to the state economy. Additionally, a 2004 study conducted by the nonprofit Sonoran Institute found that communities adjacent to protected public lands, including wilderness, are those with the fastest economic growth rates.

    “Part of what makes New Mexico the true land of enchantment is our wealth of spectacular and varied landscapes that provide special places for solitude, hunting and hiking, and so many other recreational opportunities.  Our wild places contribute so much to our quality of life, and in these times of uncertainty, it is great to know that once the president signs this omnibus bill into law, Sabinoso will stay forever as it is – for our children and grandchildren,” added Newcomer.

  • For Immediate Release

    Sportsmen, business owners, conservationists, local elected officials and other community members hailed the introduction today of The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, by Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Tom Udall. The measure will protect nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Dona Ana County, by designating 271,050 acres as wilderness and creating a 109,600-acre National Conservation Area around the Organ and Doña Ana Mountains and parts of Broad Canyon.

    “We applaud Senators Bingaman and Udall for their dedication to ensuring that more of New Mexico’s beloved wild places will be around for our children’s children to use and enjoy,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “Their bill follows years of discussion and collaboration with community members with many different interests and concerns.”

    Bonnie Burn, President of the League of Women Voters, added, “We all share the goal of protecting Doña Ana County’s unique and precious open areas which add so much to our quality of life.”

    “This important conservation bill comes as the nation celebrates the 45th anniversary of the Wilderness Act,” said Stephen Capra, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “That broadly backed measure allowed citizens to add other worthy wild places to our preservation system. It is fitting that it will help us today protect such beloved area icons as the Organ Mountains and Broad Canyon.”

    “The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act will ensure that our grandchildren can hunt in and enjoy these areas as we have done,” said Sandy Schemnitz, President of the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen. “A New Mexico sportsman– Aldo Leopold – first conceived the idea of wilderness to preserve the hunting he’d come to love in the Gila. Today, Doña Ana County sportsmen are delighted that this legislation will help us pass down our traditions.”

    “It’s not surprising that over a hundred local businesses support greater protection for the wilderness in ‘our backyards,’” said John Munoz, of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce.“We’re beginning to understand how wilderness attracts visitors who come here to camp, hike, hunt, explore, open businesses and ultimately keep our cash registers ringing and our livelihoods thriving.”

    A 2006 poll of Doña Ana County residents by Public Opinion Strategies found that a majority of residents favor protecting wilderness in the area. The municipalities of Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Mesilla and the Doña Ana County Commission have adopted resolutions supporting protection of these areas to boost the local economies.

    In a tough compromise, the bill crafted by the Senators contains 30,000 less acres of wilderness than proposed by conservationists. However, they applaud Senators Bingaman and Udall for reaching out to all parties to address any and all issues. The measure will protect rare grasslands in the Potrillo and Uvas Mountains, petroglyph sites and riparian areas in Broad Canyon, crucial watersheds, and the iconic spires of Las Cruces’ signature attraction: the Organ Mountains.

    “Our wild places truly make New Mexico the ‘Land of Enchantment.’ This important new bill will help ensure more of it will stay just as it is,” said Don Patterson, of the Back Country Horseman. “We urge Congress to pass this common sense conservation bill soon, and send it to the president.”

  • For Immediate Release

    nmwa new color letterhead 2008 300x47

    New Mexico Conservation Bill Takes Key Step Towards Passage
    El Rio Grande del Norte NCA/Wilderness Bill Before Senate Subcommittee

    A hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests today was cheered by New Mexico conservationists and sportsmen as a key step toward the passage of the El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 874).

    “Today’s action by members of the Senate Subcommittee is an important step in the passage of this conservation bill,” says John Olivas, Northern Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based in Mora.  “This legislation will help ensure that our traditional ways of life in northern New Mexico will be available to our children and theirs – whether it’s making a living as an outfitter, as I am; a hunter; a rancher; or a small business owner who depends on the dollars visitors who treasure our open spaces leave in our local cash registers.”

    The bill will designate nearly 236,000 acres as a National Conservation Area (NCA), including two wilderness areas – the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness (the iconic Ute Mountain) and the 8,000-acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness.   The area contains some of the most spectacular lands and habitat in the state, and is an important migratory flyway for a number of bird species.  Areas within the Rio Grande gorge – which at some places is a half mile wide across and drops to the Rio Grande River 800 feet below – are treasured for hiking, “peak bagging,” horseback riding and wildlife watching.

    “Senator Bingaman’s legislation will ensure that we can protect valuable hunting and fishing opportunities for New Mexican sportsmen,” says Oscar Simpson of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, “an important resource in this state.”

    Last month, the legislation won the endorsement of three significant local groups – the Taos Chamber of Commerce, the Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Taos County Commission.

    “Senator Bingaman’s proposal will protect and enhance the recreational, ecological, scenic and cultural resources of northern New Mexico’s shared public lands,” says Olivas, “while also recognizing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, protecting the rights of our traditional communities for future generations.”

  • For Immediate Release

    Happy Trails and Wilderness Tales

     The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has just released its 2010 Wild Guide.

    The NMWA, supported by more than 5,900 members, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to the protection and restoration of wilderness in New Mexico. An important part of the NMWA’s work remains connecting people to wild public lands like Otero Mesa and the Valle Vidal. Whether you know the state well but would like to discover some of its lesser-known wilderness treasures, or you are a relative newcomer to New Mexico’s wild lands, you will find value in the the 2010 Wild Guide,which showcases some of our state’s greatest wilderness resources.

    This year’s Guide features hikes and volunteer service projects, tributes to wilderness heroes, essays, and artwork. The Guide also contains recipes from members of Congress, articles on festivals around the state, and reviews of bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants.

     The volunteer service projects are conducted all across the state and involve a variety of activities. There are wildlife surveys to be done, ATV trails to be closed, acequias to be cleaned in the northern part of the state, and wilderness stewardship to be undertaken for the U.S. Forest Service. Hikes are also statewide, and all are led by New Mexico Wilderness Alliance staff. 

    Through these hikes and volunteer service projects we hope to build awareness and support for the protection of New Mexico’s special landscapes, all the while having fun!

    There is an outing for everyone, no matter your experience or fitness level. Whether you want to put on your gloves and give back to the land or simply enjoy a quiet walk through the Jornada del Muerto Wilderness Study Area, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s 2010 Wild Guide has an adventure waiting for you.

    Happy Trails! 

    Copies of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s 2010 Wild Guide can be purchased for only $9.95 by calling 505-843-8696, or by picking up a copy at REI in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

  • For Immediate Release

    otero3A new study by an independent research organization says that proposed energy development by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Otero Mesa would provide few economic benefits to Otero County, and that preserving this wild grassland would be a wiser investment for local communities.

    The Headwaters Economics study shows that the limited economic benefits of drilling won’t even cover the county’s share of infrastructure and services costs related to drilling, with even the most favorable projections peaking at just over 1 percent of Otero County’s revenue from 2007 and making even less of a contribution for most years. And, the number of new jobs created would be small, only about 1 percent of all county employment over four years.

    Other economic sectors could be harmed, too, such as the travel and tourism industries, which account for about 6 percent of Otero County’s current employment.

    The report concludes that drilling Otero Mesa would create few economic and fiscal benefits, while potentially foreclosing future economic opportunities.

    Advocates for protection of Otero Mesa’s natural attributes said the study provides a powerful economic argument for safeguarding the area. “This report confirms that Otero Mesa is worth more alive than dead,” said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. “The choice is clear. If we drill, we risk destroying this special area and get little in return. Congress needs to act to protect this national treasure now.”

    “Oil and gas drilling in Otero Mesa will not have any significant benefits for the local economy, and in fact, it would be much wiser to preserve this wild and beautiful grassland.” said Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center.

    In 2005, the BLM opened more than 90 percent of federal lands in the 1.2 million acre greater Otero Mesa ecosystem to oil and gas development, but so far development has been limited. A growing number of organizations have joined conservationists and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in calling for permanent protection of Otero Mesa to protect its wildlife, water, wilderness qualities, cultural and historic sites. Resolutions of support have been generated by the City of El Paso, County of El Paso, City of Las Cruces, Isleta del Sur Pueblo, NM Archaeological Council, the Catholic Bishops of Las Cruces and El Paso, and hundreds of businesses and individuals in southern New Mexico.

    “This report reiterates what we’ve been saying all along: Neither Otero County nor New Mexicans who come here to experience this unique landscape have much to gain from drilling Otero Mesa,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The diverse coalition working to protect Otero Mesa just shows how important it is to so many New Mexicans and in so many ways.”

    Otero Mesa is one of the largest remaining intact desert grasslands in North America, and home to a wide variety of grassland-dependent wildlife, including a unique desert-adapted lineage of pronghorn, prairie dogs, kit foxes, and many grassland bird species, including many that are declining elsewhere. It also contains numerous Native American sacred and cultural sites, and a Butterfield stagecoach station. And it sits atop the largely untapped Salt Basin aquifer, which contains an estimated 57 million acre feet of water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The report is the eighth in Headwaters Economics’ Energy and the West series, which outlines the impacts of energy development in several Western states and counties. The full report can be found online at www.headwaterseconomics.org.

  • For Immediate Release
    Date: December 16, 2009
    Contact: John Olivas
    Phone: (575) 387-2665
    Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Conservationist Group Cheers Senate Committee for Approving Measure

    The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act was approved by the Senate Energy Committee today, sending it to the full Senate for action. The measure, introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, will protect some 235,980 acres northwest of Taos, New Mexico, as a conservation area, including more than 21,420 acres of designated wilderness.

    “Those who care about protecting what makes this state the ‘Land of Enchantment’ cheer the leadership of Senator Bingaman, and his work to ensure that our beautiful Río Grande area can stay forever just as it is today,” said John Olivas, Owner of JACO Outfitters, LLC and Northern Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based in Mora. “We thank the Senate Energy Committee for today approving this important legislation and for sending it to the Senate Floor for action.”

    “This legislation will ensure that our New Mexico traditions like pinon and fire wood gathering; hunting and fishing; and ranching and grazing will continue, as will our ability to experience the rich scenery this land offers,” Olivas said. “The bill also recognizes the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, protecting the rights of our traditional communities for future generations.”

    The area contains some of the most spectacular lands and habitat in the state, and is an important migratory flyway for a number of bird species. The Río Grande del Norte Conservation Area Establishment Act is supported by a broad cross-section of the community, including the Taos Chamber of Commerce, Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, Taos County Commission, Wild Earth Llama Adventures, River and Birds in Taos, Taos Land Trust and the Taos Business Alliance along with more than 100 local businesses.

  • Grasslands, Gas and Government

    By Nathan Newcomer
    www.oteromesa.org

    Vast desert grasslands, wilderness characteristics, abundant wildlife and a fresh water aquifer are colliding with the Bush-Cheney energy policy in New Mexico’s Otero Mesa. A debate that has been on going since 1997, when Harvey E. Yates Company (HEYCO) first found natural gas in Otero Mesa, has pitted ranchers, hunters, conservationists, and State authorities against the oil industry and Bush administration policies.

    Nestled in south-central New Mexico, Otero Mesa stretches over 1.2 million acres, or roughly the same size as the State of Delaware. It is home to over 1,000 native wildlife species, including black-tailed prairie dogs, desert mule deer, mountain lions, golden and bald eagles, over 250 species of songbirds, and boasts the state’s healthiest and only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope. Furthermore, there is evidence that the Salt Basin aquifer, which originates in Otero Mesa and travels south into Texas, is the largest untapped fresh water resource remaining in New Mexico.

    By contrast, the oil industry claims that the area holds a vast reservoir of natural gas, though the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates the area’s energy potential at low to moderate (RMPA/EIS for Sierra and Otero Counties). Though there is a discrepancy in just how much oil and gas is under Otero Mesa, both industry and the BLM agree that oil and gas drilling can occur in an environmentally sound manner. In fact, the BLM contends that its proposal for the area is “the most restrictive fluid minerals plan ever developed,” as stated by Gale Norton, the former Secretary of the Department of Interior.

    Prior to the Bush administration taking office, the BLM prepared and issued in November 2000, a draft land use management plan that called for opening up nearly 779,000 acres of Otero Mesa, while placing stringent restrictions on development in the fragile desert grasslands. Representatives of the oil and gas industry strongly objected to the draft plan, citing that the plan was too restrictive, because it forced industry to use directional drilling practices for exploration. Directional drilling, by many standards, causes few impacts when producing energy resources, in that only a few wells are needed in order to successfully drill. However, industry became disingenuous once they complained about the directional drilling stipulations, citing that the resource under Otero Mesa is not expected to be prolific enough to be able to use this practice. If the resource is not expected to be “prolific,” then the question of “why are we even having this debate” comes squarely into play. Nevertheless, industry’s persistence paid off with the new Bush administration, for in January 2004, the BLM altered its plan and in releasing its final proposal, authorized opening over a million acres of Otero Mesa to oil and gas development.

    During the initial planning stages of the draft plan for Otero Mesa, the vast majority of public comments were in favor of the most restrictive protections for the area. Likewise, between the issuance of the draft and the final proposal, there has been overwhelming public support for protecting Otero Mesa, including from the State of New Mexico. In January 2004, Governor Bill Richardson signed an Executive Order directing all state agencies to “provide support for the utmost protection of the Otero Mesa grasslands as a matter of State policy.” The governor went on to further say in his Consistency Review that the BLM’s plan for Otero Mesa “fails to even attempt to acknowledge the Chihuahuan Desert…as an important part of a larger ecoregion; and proposes only a few ad-hoc protections at small, isolated sites.” Prior to the approval of a proposed resource management plan, 43 C.F.R. 1610.3-2 requires that the BLM State Director submit the proposed plan for review to the Governor to identify any parts of the management plan that are “inconsistent with state or local plans, policies, or programs and provide written recommendations for changes to the plan.” Governor Richardson submitted his Consistency Review for Otero Mesa, and found six major problems with the BLM’s proposal, ranging from habitat degradation to watershed vulnerability. Furthermore, the Governor offered a balanced alternative that would set aside more than 600,000 acres of Otero Mesa as a National Conservation Area, while still allowing room for some responsible development. The net result was a letter from the State BLM Director dismissing the Governor’s review, without allowing additional public comment to be submitted. After exhausting every avenue to achieve consensus, the State of New Mexico had no other option than to file a lawsuit against the BLM, and on April 22, 2005, did just that.

    More than a year later, on September 27, 2006, the US District Court for the State of New Mexico recognized the importance of protecting Otero Mesa. The court’s decision validated arguments made by the State of New Mexico and conservation groups that the BLM must thoroughly analyze the impacts of oil and gas development prior to leasing. However, the Coalition for Otero Mesa will appeal the court’s decision because its requirement for thorough environmental analysis is piecemeal—applying to individual parcels up for lease—rather than landscape-wide. Furthermore, the court’s decision relies heavily on the hope that the BLM will do the right thing and protect Otero Mesa. But as shown in a recent report issued by the Coalition for Otero Mesa Coalition, Hollow Promises in Our Land of Enchantment: Why the Bureau of Land Management Can’t Be Trusted to Protect Otero Mesa, the BLM’s track record suggests otherwise. You can read the full report at www.oteromesa.org.

    oteromesadeermtIn a statement, Governor. Bill Richardson, said: “Make no mistake; we will continue to fight to protect Otero Mesa.” Before proceeding, though, he said he would confer with Attorney General Patricia Madrid on whether to continue to challenge the BLM in court or “to fight to protect Otero Mesa through other avenues.”

    Since the filing of the State’s lawsuit, former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton received in excess of 50,000 letters, facsimiles, and/or emails from people throughout the United States, regarding the protection of Otero Mesa from oil and gas development. These letters of support back the State of New Mexico and Governor Richardson’s position that the most fragile and sensitive areas of Otero Mesa be protected for present and future generations to enjoy.

    It is a well-known fact that America heavily relies on oil and gas resources to heat our homes, drive our cars, and even make products like plastic milk cartons. However, it is not widely known that the United States possesses only 3% of the world’s total oil reserves (reserves meaning a resource still under ground that has yet to be produced), as stated by the governmental agency Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA also attests that approximately 60% of America’s oil is imported from foreign countries, including many Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia (www.eia.gov). With this equation in mind, it soon becomes apparent that the United States can never drill its way to energy independence, no matter how many holes we drive into the ground. Yet, the Bush administration has made domestic oil and gas production one of its top priorities during the past six years, including targeting National Monuments, National Forests and other public lands, mainly in the West, for oil and gas development.

    leaking tankThe debate over whether to drill in New Mexico’s Otero Mesa has reached a point where local authorities, and the citizens of the State have made clear that they want to see this natural treasure protected. Yet, the powers in Washington, D.C. have consistently ignored these wishes, and continued to move ahead with an unbalanced plan that could irrevocably decimate this wild desert grassland and its fresh water resource. After a thorough analysis and understanding of the agencies plan, the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal for drilling in Otero Mesa is absolutely erroneous, consequently shortsighted, and heavily influenced by the Bush Administration’s perpetual lust for oil and gas resources. This type of reckless policy is completely out-of-touch with New Mexico’s quality of life and extreme measures must be taken to stop it.

    One major problem with the BLM’s proposed plan for Otero Mesa, is their claim that the area can be drilled in an environmentally sound manner, and that restoration practices can and will ensure that the area’s wildlife continues to thrive. The large array of wildlife that Otero Mesa is able to nourish is due in large part to the expansive black grama grasslands. Grassland expert, Professor Walter G. Whitford notes that the soils, which support the black grama grasses, are remarkably shallow and as a result are particularly sensitive to any type of activity that would alter its composition. Whitford also points out that introducing oil and gas development in Otero Mesa would require hundreds of miles of new roads, pipelines, well pads, and waste pits, all of which would act as extremely large fetches for wind and water erosion. In addition, the cumulative impacts of development would cause “a greater risk of degradation and fragmentation of Otero Mesa.” Yet, with these facts affirmed, the BLM, led by State Director Linda Rundell, still continues to claim that oil and gas development in Otero Mesa can occur in an environmentally sound manner. This statement is utterly baseless, and over the course of five years, the BLM is still of yet to offer any proof to back up their claims. Professor Whitford confirms, “cleared well pads should be considered as irreparable clearings within the grasslands.” Furthermore, because of the unique species of grasses in Otero Mesa it is nearly impossible for the BLM to find “commercially available seed” to restore the disturbed areas. Even if BLM used a more common grass seed, such as tussock, this type of seed is almost entirely absent from Otero Mesa and thus should be considered an exotic species. Therefore, the BLM’s reasoning that oil and gas development will not harm the fragile black grama grasslands and that restoration of this unique ecosystem can in fact be accomplished is utterly flawed. Furthermore, neither the draft plan nor final proposal, by the BLM explained how they would “restore” the disturbed areas. Apparently, the public and Otero Mesa are supposed to rely on the BLM’s word and the track record of the oil and gas industry.

    Approximately 90% of the population of New Mexico depends on groundwater for drinking water and nearly half of all water used in the State for any purpose is groundwater, as indicated in a document written by Nada Culver, a lawyer with The Wilderness Society. In 2002, the State of New Mexico conducted a report that concluded a large fresh water aquifer, called the Salt Basin, lay beneath Otero Mesa, with enough fresh drinking water to supply 1 million New Mexicans for 100 years. Steven Finch, vice president and senior hydrologist with John Shomaker and Associates, expresses concern about the potential for groundwater pollution from oil and gas drilling:

    The groundwater sits in a fractured limestone aquifer that’s susceptible to surface pollutants, as well as hazardous fluids that could seep into the basin during drilling activity. Drilling fluids used in the gas industry can contain contaminants. A byproduct of drilling for natural gas is a salty, brine-like water that is also produced from the wells. That water is then moved through collection lines and stored in tanks, where it is eventually injected deep into the aquifer through an injection well. The problem is that this salty, sometimes petroleum-laced water can make the groundwater unfit to drink.

    otero3The BLM has acknowledged that surface water and groundwater in Otero Mesa are both vulnerable to contamination from oil and gas operations, and that it does not have complete information on aquifers or other aspects of the condition of the water resources (RMPA/EIS for Sierra and Otero Counties). Nonetheless, BLM remains confident that it can rely on the oil and gas industry to not irreparably damage this precious resource. However, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (NMEMRD) found in 2001 that out of 734 cases of soil and groundwater contamination, oil and gas operations were responsible for a staggering 444 of them, or roughly 60 percent. Furthermore, the Oil Conservation Division (OCD), a sub-agency of the NMEMNRD, recently published a report on their website, which shows over 1400 additional cases of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas operations (www.emnrd.state.nm.us/).

    Thankfully, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), is requesting that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) work with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to conduct a thorough aquifer study of the Salt Basin to determine its quantity and vulnerability. However, even if USGS does get the federal funding to carry out a water study, this analysis alone will not halt drilling as currently proposed by the BLM. It is clear that the BLM is ignoring the potential for groundwater contamination in the aquifer beneath Otero Mesa because their plan for drilling in this wild Chihuahuan Desert grassland is entirely shortsighted and driven by D.C. politics.

    In May of 2001, the National Energy Policy Development Group, better known as the Cheney Energy Task Force, concocted a report for President Bush that overwhelming recommended the expansion of domestic energy production on public lands in the West. Accompanying the release of the Cheney report were two important executive orders, which directed all federal agencies, including the BLM, to “expedite energy-related projects […] and accelerate the completion of energy related projects.” Consequently, all state BLM directors, including New Mexico’s Linda Rundell, received a memorandum ordering the agency to authorize oil and gas development on public lands, without regard to the potential degradation of environmental, recreational, or cultural values. In the case of Otero Mesa, the agency was charging full steam ahead regardless of the fact that not all of the environmental consequences of such decisions had been thought through by the agency, or that the public had not yet had opportunities to fully participate in these decisions. Perhaps most disturbingly though is that State Director Rundell puts forth the argument that the plan to drill Otero Mesa is “the most restrictive that has ever come out with respect to oil and gas exploration and development on public lands.” This statement is purely designed to mislead the public and placate any oppositional argument—it is simply not the truth. Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society analyzes the BLM’s “most restrictive” plan and offers the facts in an unbiased manner: Out of the 1.2 million acres that comprise the wild public lands of Otero Mesa, the BLM will open 95%, to oil and gas development. Only 5% of this endangered ecosystem will be closed to development, of which almost half (35,000 acres) must legally be closed. It is unmistakably evident that the BLM’s plan to drill in Otero Mesa is heavily influenced by the Bush Administration’s perpetual thirst for oil and gas, and that it pays to have friends in high places.

    otero4The Harvey E. Yates Company, HEYCO, is no stranger to friends in high places. HEYCO, which started this whole debate when it drilled two tests wells in Otero Mesa in 1997, is a company, and more particularly a family, with strong ties to the Bush administration dating back more than twenty years. The Yates family has played a dominant role in oil and gas production since the 1920’s and has obtained enormous political power since then. Today, the family operates or is affiliated with more than 24 companies. In the early 1980’s, one of these subsidiary companies, Yates Petroleum, illegally bulldozed a road into the Salt Creek Wilderness just north of Roswell, NM. The ensuing protests and court challenges that followed this action proved to be unable to stop this powerful company from drilling in a Wilderness area, which has never occurred in New Mexico history. During this time, there were two stout supporters of the actions of Yates Petroleum, one being then Secretary of the Interior James Watt, and a congressman from Wyoming, Dick Cheney. Flash forward to the first term of the George W. Bush administration, just as the draft BLM plan for Otero Mesa is being issued. According to a 2004 report by the Campaign to Protect America’s Lands (CPAL), Yates Petroleum in 2001 paid then-lobbyist J. Stephen Griles more than $40,000 to lobby BLM to “secure funding for BLM staffing.” That meant ensuring that an official at BLM would create or revise a land use plan to allow an oil or gas company to drill, CPAL reported.

    Shortly thereafter, Griles became deputy Interior secretary, under Gal Norton. In his new role, Griles met on December 6, 2002, with BLM Deputy Director Jim Hughes and BLM Chief of Staff Conrad Lass to discuss the Otero drilling plan.

    While at Interior, Griles continued to receive $284,000 per year under a buyout agreement from his former lobbying firm, National Environmental Strategies (NES), which had represented Yates for several years and continued to represent Yates while the payments were made, according to the CPAL report. It is during this time that the BLM then begins to make its changes to better accommodate the requests of HEYCO. Furthermore, during the 2002 election cycle, George Yates, President of HEYCO, held a fundraiser in Roswell, NM for congressional candidate Steve Pearce, with Vice President Dick Cheney as the guest of honor. Pearce went on to win the 2nd congressional seat in New Mexico and has sense been a strong advocate for drilling in Otero Mesa. Though there may not be a smoking gun linking the Yates family to the Bush administration’s national energy policy, or subsequently to the BLM’s final proposal for Otero Mesa, there remains considerable evidence that this family and its companies long history has pushed its power beyond the borders of New Mexico and into policies being written from Washington.

    otero5New Mexico’s Otero Mesa to oil and gas drilling will most certainly not be done in an “environmentally sound manner,” neither will it improve the nations energy security, nor lower the cost of gasoline at the pump. By researching the data provided by the BLM in their draft and final proposals for Otero Mesa, it becomes quite clear that the area does not hold vast amounts of oil or gas. What drilling in Otero Mesa will do, however, is destroy the largest and wildest Chihuahuan Desert grassland left in America, contaminate one of the last sources of fresh drinking water in a drought-ridden New Mexico, and perpetuate a myopic 19th century approach to achieving energy independence, without consideration or respect to our quality of life. The Bureau of Lands Management’s plan for drilling in Otero Mesa is without a doubt downright obtuse. It is simply not necessary.

    The time has come for not just New Mexicans, but all Americans to stand up in a united voice and demand protection for Otero Mesa, no matter what the cost. We cannot afford to sacrifice or jeopardize our future because of a few fanatical politicians whose beliefs only live in the past.

  • For Immediate Release

    On April 27, 2009 the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision invalidating the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas drilling plan for New Mexico’s Otero Mesa. The court ruled that the BLM’s original Resource Management Plan Amendment, which opened the vast majority of Otero Mesa to oil and gas leasing and limited protection for the desert grasslands, was fatally flawed due to its failure to consider protection for Otero Mesa and the Salt Basin Aquifer.

    The court ruled that the BLM had to consider an alternative that closed Otero Mesa to oil and gas leasing, admonishing the agency that “[d]evelopment is a possible use, which BLM must weigh against other possible uses—including conservation to protect environmental values, which are best assessed through the NEPA process.”

    “Today’s court ruling underscores what has been at the heart of the Otero Mesa debate for the past eight years,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The BLM made oil and gas development in Otero Mesa the number one priority over the values of wilderness, wildlife and water, and it’s time now for the agency to own up to its responsibilities and do what is right for this special place.” The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has inventoried Otero Mesa and found more than 500,000 acres suitable for wilderness designation.

    The court went on to write that, “applying the rule of reason, we [the court] agree with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance that analysis of an alternative closing the Mesa to development is compelled.”

    The court also rejected the BLM’s position that there were no significant risks to the Salt Basin Aquifer, which contains millions of acre-feet of potable water, from oil and gas, noting that the agency had not reviewed “relevant data” and characterized the information included in the agency’s own documentation as “point[ing] uniformly in the opposite direction from the agency’s determination, we cannot defer to that determination.”

    Further, the court required the BLM to thoroughly examine the potential destruction of fragile desert grasslands from its proposed management approach, which was not included in the original draft provided to the public. In dismissing the agency’s claim that wildlife habitat would not be affected by a complete change in approach, the court analogized the BLM’s approach as claiming “that analyzing the likely impacts of building a dirt road along the edge of an ecosystem excuses an agency from analyzing the impacts of building a four-lane highway straight down the middle, simply because the type of impact—habitat disturbance—is the same under either scenario.”

    “The BLM cannot simply decide to risk the utter destruction of irreplaceable resources like Otero Mesa and ignore public and scientific concerns,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel with The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “The 10th Circuit has sent a clear message to the BLM that the agency must protect all of our natural resources and ensure that any decisions are based on actual facts and science.”

    The ruling came in connection with a lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservation organizations led by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and a lawsuit filed by the State of New Mexico.

  • The Roadless Area Conservation rule protects 58.5 million acres of national forest lands from most commercial logging and road-building, and is the most sweeping land conservation measures in a generation.
    roadless

     

    Overwhelming Benefits

    • Source of recreation for nature lovers and sportsmen
    • Important for critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including more than 1600 threatened or endangered plants and species
    • Clean water. Protects more than 2,000 public watersheds that contribute to public drinking water for 60 million Americans

    Outpouring of Public Support

    The rule was approved following years of scientific study and more than 600 public meetings across the country. To date the Forest Service has received more than two million comments favoring roadless protection. This outpouring of public response is almost ten times greater than that of any other rule in history.

    The Roadless rule was the most inclusive rule in history, it took place in the public eye, and gave voice to millions of Americans who want to protect their last remaining forests.

    Balanced Policy

    This balanced policy would allow new roads to be constructed in order to fight fires, ensure public safety and allow brush clearing to protect forest health.

    A Lasting Forest Legacy

    The roadless Rule protects our last wild forests for hikers, hunters, sportsmen and recreationists to enjoy and explore. The magnificence of a pristine forest can never be replicated. If we do not save our lands now, we will have nothing to pass on for future generations.

    Saves Tax Payers Money

    America’s national forests are already covered with 386,000 miles of roads — enough to circle the earth 15 times, and nationally there is a backlog of road repairs that amounts to $8.4 billion.

  • For Immediate Release
    Date: March 24, 2009

    Victory! Sabinoso became Wilderness on March 24, 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009.

    sabinosoArea Description

    Rising 1,110 feet from the surrounding plains, the Sabinoso unit sits upon the Canadian Escarpment, which is composed mostly of the Jurassic Morrison Formation and Triassic Chinle Shale. Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone caps these formations and creates colorful cliffs at the top of the long, deep canyons of the area. Fairly dense pinyon-juniper woodlands dominate the landscape, and ponderosa pines mix with riparian vegetation along many of the canyon bottoms and grow in isolated stands on the mesa tops. The dominant feature in the unit is the 1,000-foot-deep Cañon Largo, which connects to the Canadian River just outside the unit. Cañon Olguin, Cañon Silva, Cañon Muerto, Cañon Vivian, and Cañon Agapito feed rainfall and snowmelt from most of the unit into Cañon Largo, while Lagartija Creek drains the southern portion of the unit. Elevations in the unit range from 4,520 feet to 6,150 feet.

    Ecological Values

    The primary vegetation type of the unit is pinyon-juniper forest. Ponderosa pines grow in the riparian zones and in isolated stands on the mesa tops. Cottonwood and willow trees form part of the riparian vegetation in the canyon bottoms, and under-story plants here include wavyleaf and shinnery oak, mountain mahogany, netleaf hackberry, skunkbush sumac, and Navajo tea. Grasses in the unit include black, sideoats, blue, and hairy grama; galleta; little bluestem; wolftail; Indian rice grass; and vine mesquite. The unit’s diversity of habitats, from forests to cliffs to riparian bottomlands, support a wide variety of birds including red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, western scrub-jay, pine siskin, juniper titmouse, mourning dove, lesser goldfinch, savannah sparrow, chipping sparrow, mountain chickadee, Bewick’s wren, broad-tailed hummingbird, white-breasted nuthatch, pinion jay, Virginia warbler, hairy woodpecker, white-throated swift, gray flycatcher, bushtit, and turkey vulture. Wildlife in the area includes coyote, mule deer, bobcat, gray fox, ground squirrel, racer snake, and a variety of frogs and butterflies in the riparian zones.

    Scenic and Recreational Qualities

    Exceptional scenery within the unit includes the sharp contrast of densely vegetated mesas with many rocky canyons. These canyons cut up to 1,000 feet into the sandstone rock and are stained buff, red and tan over the millennia by various oxides. Extended seasons of flowing water, even in fairly dry years, and incredibly broad vistas across the eastern plains add to the unit’s scenic appeal. Outstanding recreational opportunities in the area include hunting, hiking, geological study, horseback riding, and landscape photography.

    Cultural Values

    Cultural resources in the unit are unknown because systematical surveys have not been done in the area. Nevertheless, the archaeological record of northeastern New Mexico suggests that a high density of cultural resources will be found in the unit ranging from prehistoric Paleo-Indian campsites through historic homestead sites.

    Access Information

    There currently is no public access to the Sabinoso unit. The only way to access the area is to make arrangements with the Taos District BLM. The office is making efforts to purchase land and right-of-ways to gain public access to the area. You can contact the Taos BLM at (505) 758-8851. The USGS 7.5 minute maps that cover this complex include Maes, Sabinoso, Canon Olguin, and San Ramon.

    Published March 24, 2009

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