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National Forest Travel Management Rule

Controlling Off-Road Vehicle Abuse

The off road vehicle problem: Since the 1970’s, off-road vehicle (ORV – machines like ATVs, dirt bikes, and jeeps) use has been an increasing problem on our public lands. Along with the environmental degradation comes user conflicts. The noise, dust, and fumes of ORVs are inherently at odds with quiet recreationists and local private landowners. Litter is more abundant where ORVs travel. ORVs also endanger other public land users. In response to the abuses and excess of ORVs, the Forest Service put forth the Travel Management Rule (TMR). The TMR requires each National Forest to designate which roads, trails, and areas will be open to motor vehicle use. Route designations will be identified on motor vehicle use map and use off the designated system will be prohibited.

Reining in Off-Road Vehicle Abuse

off roadATVOff-road vehicles (ORVs – ATVs, dirt bikes, jeeps, etc.) have become a public lands nuisance of epidemic proportions. The scale of the problem is only beginning to be understood. Some ORV problems are obvious – the visual blight on a scarred hillside, the endless noise that ruins the experience of quiet recreationists, or the litter that proliferates wherever ORVs are common. Some are less obvious – the invasive weeds spreading along ORV trails or the increased erosion of sediments into streams. Studies are showing that ORVs can affect wildlife in many ways, including disruption to breeding patterns.

All this is hitting at a time when our public lands agencies are strapped for cash and can barely keep up with their existing workloads. Law enforcement has been especially hard hit and ORV users are emboldened by the knowledge that the chances of being caught are low. Compounding the problem is the fact (confirmed by surveys from Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Nevada) that as many as half of all ORV riders ride off trail even when they know it is illegal. http://extension.usu.edu/iort/files/uploads/pdfs/revisedOHVreport.pdf

Another tragedy of the ORV epidemic is the toll it’s taking on people’s lives. These machines are dangerous, especially for children. One quarter of all injuries for children 12 years and under are the result of ORV accidents (http://www.onlinelawyersource.com/news/children-atv-injuries.html). Here in New Mexico in 2005, ATV injuries cost $2.4 million. Since 25% of the state is uninsured, it is estimated that taxpayers paid $600,000 of this cost (http://www.childrenssafetynetwork.org/spotlight_state/show.asp?spotID=3). There are clearly better uses for this money.

off road2The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is working to halt the ORV menace. As always, we are working to have areas designated Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act. This clearly makes an area off-limits to ORVs. We are also working in partnership with other conservation organizations on other aspects of the problem. As the Forest Service and BLM update their Resource Management Plans, we are pushing them to include analyses of where ORV use inappropriate and to lay out maps that clearly recognize this. We are heavily involved with the Forest Service Travel Management Rule which directs each National Forest to designate where motorized travel can occur. And we are reaching out to our members and other concerned about wildlife and wild places. The message is clear that the best way to rein in ORV abuses and excesses is to get involved. By writing letters and showing up to meetings, you really can make a difference.

If you have questions or would like to get involved, please call our office at 505-843-8696 and talk to Craig Chapman. You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Critics blast BLM decision on Otero Mesa

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer

09/26/2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A Roswell company learned Friday that it’s one step closer to being able to drill an exploratory natural gas well on southern New Mexico’s Otero Mesa, but critics are crying foul.

The Bureau of Land Management has approved a final environmental assessment of plans by the Harvey E. Yates Co. of Roswell, known as Heyco, to drill on the mesa.

The BLM has laid out several requirements for Heyco to ensure the company protects the area, but environmentalists and others opposed to oil and gas development on the mesa say the decision is “bad news.”

“Drilling Otero Mesa will not only damage a fragile ecosystem, wildlife habitat and wilderness quality lands, it flies in the face of increasing public support for keeping drilling rigs off of the mesa,” said Deanna Archuleta, southwest regional director of The Wilderness Society. “While local governments such as the city councils of Las Cruces and El Paso have passed resolutions calling for protection of Otero Mesa, the BLM remains stonefaced and seems determined to allow destruction of this beautiful place.”

The mesa is one of the last undisturbed areas of Chihuahuan desert and is home to hundreds of species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.

The mesa also includes an aquifer that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates may contain as much as 15 million acre-feet of fresh water, which could be tapped to supply communities in southern New Mexico.

With BLM’s approval of Heyco’s drilling permit, the company’s well pad cannot be bigger than 3.7 acres and 1.5 acres of it must be reclaimed once drilling is complete. Heyco must also triple-case its well to protect groundwater and use low-profile tanks.

BLM spokesman Hans Stuart said other provisions are spelled out for certain species of plants and animals, including the northern aplomado falcon.

The environmental assessments states well pads should be as small as possible and any pits should be netted to keep the birds out. Pads and any roads should be located away from nesting sites and surveys should be done during breeding season to determine if falcons are in the area.

Nicole Rosmarino of the environmental group WildEarth Guardians said Friday the proposed well would be in the heart of falcon territory.

“Otero Mesa provides vital and irreplaceable habitat for the endangered aplomado falcon and a rich web of life and shouldn’t be sacrificed to make big oil richer,” she said.

According to the BLM, contractors have conducted falcon surveys in the area for the past several years. Some sightings have occurred in spring 2006 and 2007 but follow-up surveys have not resulted in additional sightings or nesting activity.

Rosmarino argued that Otero Mesa is considered key habitat for the falcon’s recovery and it’s one of the few places in New Mexico where wild falcons are still sighted.

Drilling opponents, including state leaders, also have voiced concerns about the native grasses and plants that could be impacted.

Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Joanna Prukop said Friday that simply reclaiming disturbed areas around a well pad with any seed mix is not good enough.

“We really want restoration and that means you go back in and restore the area, the plant species particularly that are native to the area,” she said. “That’s what our whole concern is, maintaining that Chihuahuan desert ecosystem.”

She added that weather patterns and moisture are also key components to restoration.

“If an area is disturbed and you don’t get any moisture to help with the restoration of the vegetation, then we will still have strong concerns about the delicate nature of the Chihuahuan desert,” she said.

Prukop said the state, which has been critical of BLM’s plans for oil and gas development on Otero Mesa, has developed its own special rules for regulating activity in the area. She said companies like Heyco must still apply to the state for permits to manage their drilling waste and the state Oil Conservation Division can ensure that the mesa is protected.

Sabinoso Wilderness – Victory!

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.

Wilderness designation still best way to protect lands

Las Cruces Sun-News
EDITORIAL
Sunday, March 23, 2008

organ mountains

In May of last year, this newspaper took an editorial stand in support of a federal wilderness designation for some of the most pristine and picturesque areas of our county — most now designated as wilderness study areas.

Much has happened since then, including the creation of a new group calling itself “People for Preserving our Western Heritage,” which was formed to represent the interests of ranching families in the area. That group has devised its own proposal intended to protect the land from development, while at the same time allowing for greater access than a federal wilderness designation might allow.

None of these new developments have convinced us that our original position was in error. We still believe that a wilderness designation is the most effective way to preserve these natural treasures for future generations. And, we believe many of the concerns expressed by ranchers can be mitigated working within the existing process.

The ranchers are seeking new designations that would be called “Special Preservation Areas” and “Rangeland Preservation Areas.” While we commend them for trying to find an innovative solution to the problem, we have serious doubts as to the willingness of politicians in Washington D.C. to create new federal designations just for us.

And, even if they were able to get a bill passed, we don’t believe it would provide the same level of protection or opportunity that a wilderness designation would.

We agree with Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, who has the Sandia Wilderness area near his community, and described wilderness designation as “the gold standard for protection of wild areas.”

We recognize that many ranching families in the eastern part of the county still harbor bitterness toward the federal government for the displacement of ranches in the 1950s to make way for the White Sands Missile Range. Beyond that, it’s probably safe to say that most ranchers are an independent lot who want as little interaction with the government as possible.

That’s not to suggest their concerns are invalid. We recognize that ranchers need to be able to get to cattle, stock tanks, fences and other critical infrastructure. But, we also recognize that the wilderness designation allows for the negotiation of those access issues.

Ultimately, we believe ranchers would be better off working within the existing system to ensure the access they need than attempting to devise new designations that do not now exist.

All of us want to protect these lands for future generations. We believe a federal wilderness designation is the most sure way to achieve that goal.

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