Wilderness designation still best way to protect lands

Las Cruces Sun-News
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.

Migratory Birds

Are Migratory Birds at Risk?

By Stephen Capra

migatory birds

The big news these days is the fear of Avian flu. President Bush has earmarked billions of dollars to make sure America is protected. Though a virulent form of the flu has yet to be found in the Western Hemisphere, some Americas are already panicking. Some people are no longer willing to hang their bird feeders for fear of transmit­ting disease. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently issued a press release letting people know it was safe to go bird watching.

The reality is that most birds (peregrine falcons, shorebirds, ducks, tundra swans, loons, long-billed dowitchers and terns) tend to migrate over large areas and if there is one central location for this migration, it is Alaska. This makes Alaska the logical entry point for the deadly strain of avian flu known as H5N1. If you have ever spent time in Alaska, traveled to Yukon Delta Wildlife Refuge, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge you would have witnessed the spectacle of millions of birds that come from many parts of the world converging in these mas­sive migratory birds2refuges. Should the flu enter Alaska via Asian migratory birds and spread amongst the breeding populations, it will then be car­ried effectively worldwide. Another potential drop-off point might well be Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge or Bosque Del Apache here in New Mexico, as birds migrate down from the north.

While the large-scale risk to humans remains theoretical, the flu has already impacted bird spe­cies. In May, a single outbreak in China killed a tenth of the world’s bar-headed geese and last month the United Nations task force iden­tified three dozen species of rare Eurasian birds at risk. Where the real problem comes in is the gov­ernment and citizens knee-jerk reaction to confuse wild birds with the poultry production birds typical to Asia, that have been the source of this outbreak. There is concern that there will be an attempt at a mass culling of species and the destruction of habitat, under the guise of protecting public health. Stay tuned.

State: BLM's review of Otero Mesa permit is insufficient

By | The Associated Press

1/14/2008 –

Gov. Bill Richardson and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Joanna Prukop said Monday that an environmental assessment done by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on an application for a permit to drill on Otero Mesa is insufficient.

The state is calling on the BLM to do a full environmental impact statement on the application of Harvey E. Yates Co. The Roswell-based business known as Heyco has proposed putting a natural gas well on land it leases in the area.

Prukop sent a letter Monday to the BLM, saying the state was concerned the agency’s review of Heyco’s application was incomplete and based on outdated information. “The adverse repercussions to the environment are irrecoverable if oil and gas exploration continues without more in-depth study,” Prukop said in a statement.

Richardson called Otero Mesa a “precious area.” “It is critical that every safety measure be taken to protect ground water and native plant and animal species from the activities involved with oil and gas operations,” the governor said.

BLM officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday evening. A message seeking comment also was left at Heyco’s office in Roswell.

The BLM has proposed opening parts of the 2 million-acre mesa to drilling.

Out of the 2 million acres, a total of 1,589 would be disturbed by drilling practices such as additional roads, well pads and pipelines under the BLM plan. In addition, no more than 5 percent can be disturbed on the grasslands at any specific time.

BLM officials have argued that the agency, in developing its plan for Otero Mesa, went to great lengths to ensure protecting the ecosystem while serving the needs of land-use parties.

Otero Mesa has one of the last undisturbed areas of Chihuahuan Desert and the nation’s largest contiguous patch of black gramma grass, which takes decades to re-establish. It also is home to hundreds of species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.

Critics have claimed the BLM failed to properly evaluate whether building roads, pipelines, well pads and other structures would damage the area’s ecosystem.

Prukop continued to raise those arguments in the eight-page letter she sent Monday to John Besse, head of the BLM office in Las Cruces.

She wrote that the environmental assessment done on Heyco’s application for a drilling permit focused on only one well. She contends the BLM also should have addressed what she called “the reasonably foreseeable large number of wells” that will likely be drilled on Otero Mesa.

She also complained the assessment did not contemplate what the production of the Heyco well — and the production of any future wells — would mean for the environment. Specifically, she said the BLM should have adequately addressed what impact pipelines and roads would have on the mesa.

Prukop also brought up the water below the mesa, saying the aquifer is believed to contain about 15 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot, about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two U.S. households.

Data being collected about soil in the region indicates the aquifer could be vulnerable to surface contaminates, she said.

“Given the amount of oil and gas development that is being planned for this geographic area and the amount of disturbance that the proposed development would entail, the movement of surface contaminants to the aquifer below a significant concern and warrants additional investigation and evaluation,” Prukop wrote.

Mexican Gray Wolf

mexican gray wolf recovery zone



mecian gray wolf2Mexican Gray Wolf Fact Sheet

Article: Can We Save The Wolf?

Wolf Population Charts – 2008

University of New Mexico Student Government Resolution

Sample Letter to the Governor

Take Action


Student Film on Saving the Lobo:

Further Reading

Journal of Wildlife Management:

The Effects of Breeder Loss on Wolves

UNM Health Sciences Center:

Animal Caused Fatalities in New Mexico


Wolves, Jaguars & Polar Bears – Oh My!



NM Wild Supporters

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