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Victory for Chaco Canyon

BLM regional oil, gas lease sale smallest in years

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer
© 2009 The Associated Press

Oct. 19, 2009

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Bureau of Land Management this week is holding the smallest oil and gas lease sale the region has seen in five years after it declined to offer more than 100 parcels nominated by the industry, leaving only 51 up for grabs in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“We had a lot of parcels that we started with, and it tells us that the process in place does in fact work,” BLM spokeswoman Donna Hummel said Monday. “The environmental assessments do a good job of screening out parcels that shouldn’t go forward.”

A dozen parcels near a national park and proposed wilderness in New Mexico did end up on the auction list, but the agency has since pulled them from Wednesday’s sale.

The New Mexico BLM office is withholding four of those parcels because they’re waiting for guidance from agency officials in Washington, D.C. The question is whether there should be a buffer between oil and gas development and more than 560 square miles in southern New Mexico that the state’s congressional delegation wants to protect as wilderness and a national conservation area.

Conservation groups had complained that the four parcels — covering more than 7,300 acres — were only seven miles from the proposed Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks wilderness area. Federal legislation was introduced just last month to protect the area’s granite mountain peaks, ancient lava flows and grasslands.

The BLM also yanked eight parcels covering more than 10,000 acres near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico because the Hopi tribe of Arizona protested that it had not been consulted about offering the public land for energy development.

Usually critical of the BLM’s management of oil and gas development, conservation groups said Monday the agency did the right thing by removing the dozen parcels from the lease sale.

Hummel said the agency always thoroughly reviews parcels nominated by the oil and gas industry to ensure they meet guidelines for leasing. She pointed to the eight parcels near Chaco, saying they had been deferred four times before so the agency could consult with local Indian tribes and the National Park Service.

Whether the removed parcels will be offered later depends on the outcome of talks with the Hopi tribe and how the agency decides to deal with the proposed wilderness and conservation areas, Hummel said.

Nathan Newcomer, associate director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said fallout from oil and gas leasing near national parks in Utah and a court decision earlier this year about development on New Mexico’s Otero Mesa are setting precedents that will force the BLM to carefully consider the impacts of drilling on public land.

Newcomer said political and public support for areas like the Organ Mountains will also play a role.

“There are a lot of people who are saying, ‘Preserve this area.’ You have the delegation, the governor, everybody coming out for it,” he said. “They have to look at that as an option — a no-lease, no-drill option.”

Our wilderness around Las Cruces deserves protection

Las Cruces Sun-News
EDITORIAL

Our view: Our wilderness around Las Cruces deserves protection

09/26/2009

For some three decades now, the most pristine areas of the Organ Mountains and other natural treasurers just outside Las Cruces have been regulated under a federal designation that was intended to be temporary — a wilderness study area.

It seems to us there has been plenty of time for study, now it’s time for action. Last week, New Mexico’s two senators, Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, introduced a bill that would designate 259,000 acres as wilderness and place another 100,000 acres as a national conservation area. And on Tuesday, the Doña Ana County Commission threw its support behind the measure.

The land to be protected includes the Organ Mountains Wilderness and the Organ Mountains National Conservation Area west of Las Cruces; the Potrillo Mountains Wilderness, the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness, the Cinder Cone Wilderness and the Whitehorn Wilderness, all in southwestern Doña Ana County; and the Sierra de las Uvas Wilderness, the Broad Canyon Wilderness, the Robledo Mountains Wilderness and the Desert Peaks National Conservation Area, all south of Hatch and northwest of Las Cruces.

Introduction of the bill elicited the same arguments from the same adversaries that we’ve been hearing for years. Ranchers who work leased land in the designated areas are concerned that a wilderness designation could hamper their operations. They worry that they would restrict water projects, limit access to their herds and stock tanks and prevent them from making needed improvements to their operations.

We fully appreciate the importance of ranching to a diversified county economy and have no desire to see those operation diminished. If we believed a wilderness designation would have the dire consequences that have been predicted, we’d have second thoughts about offering our endorsement.

In fact, we see no reason why wilderness and ranching can’t co-exist. The federal designation has specific provisions designed to carve out the exemptions ranchers need to run their operations. We believe local ranchers would be better-served working with Bingaman and Udall to ensure that their needs are protected under the bill now being considered, rather than fighting to defeat the bill.

Without protection, these precious lands will be lost to the urban sprawl that will surely come to our area in the years ahead. With wilderness protection, they will be preserved to be enjoyed by future generations.

We commend Bingaman and Udall for introducing this important legislation, and urge all those who treasure these special areas to make your voices heard.

Council resolution backs New Mexico wilderness measure

El Paso Times

By David Burge

10/20/2009

EL PASO – The City Council gave moral support Tuesday to a proposal that would protect thousands of acres of wilderness and other scenic areas in Southern New Mexico.

Council members voted 6-0 for a resolution backing a bill introduced last month by New Mexico’s Democratic U.S. senators, Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall.

The legislation would designate 259,000 acres in Doña Ana County as wilderness and another 100,000 acres as national conservation areas. Uses such as hiking, hunting and cattle grazing would still be allowed.

Protected areas would include the Organ, Potrillo and Robledo mountains.

“If you’ve ever hiked in the Organ Mountains, you know why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment,” Mayor John Cook said.

Cook sponsored the resolution because he said it was important for the city to weigh in on an issue of regional importance.

Nathan Small, a Las Cruces City Council member and conservation coordinator for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, attended the meeting. Small said the bill would allow the region to continue to grow while protecting some its most spectacular natural resources.

The new designations could also bring additional funding for these scenic areas and possibly boost tourism, Small said.

The bill also would release about 16,000 acres along the New Mexico-Mexico border from a wilderness study area. This would give border law-enforcement additional flexibility, Small said.

El Paso city Rep. Carl L. Robinson said he grew up in

the concrete of Cleveland and stressed the importance of protecting scenic areas.

“This is the last frontier. We need to do all we can to preserve it,” he said.

Bingaman, New Mexico’s senior senator, praised the El Paso City Council for endorsing his bill.

“Las Cruces and El Paso enjoy a close relationship,” Bin gaman said in an e-mailed statement.

“We appreciate the El Paso City Council’s acknowledgement that the proposed wilderness area in Doña Ana County will benefit the entire region.”

Organ Mountains Sites Deserve To Be Saved

Albuquerque Journal
EDITORIAL

Oct. 4, 2009

Organ Mountains Sites Deserve To Be Saved

The Organ Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the vibrant and growing community of Las Cruces, the state’s second largest city, much as the Sandias do to Albuquerque. More than 30 years ago, at the behest of now retired U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, the Sandias were designated as a protected wilderness area.

Now, our U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, have introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act. It would designate 259,000 acres as wilderness and create a 100,850-acre conservation area around the Organ and Doña Ana Mountains and parts of Broad Canyon. The Bureau of Land Management would manage the land to protect it from development, but current uses, such as hunting and grazing, would continue.

The area has been under study since 2006, when Domenici proposed protecting more than 200,000 acres of federal land in Doña Ana County as wilderness, creating a 35,000-acre conservation area around the Organ Mountains and allowing the BLM to sell off about 65,000 acres. It didn’t fly at the time, and years of negotiations ensued.

Now a fairly broad consensus has been reached by some interests — conservationists, hunters, business people, hikers, local governments and even some ranchers — that the areas should be protected, although other ranchers and off-road enthusiasts still have concerns over access.

The bill is expected to be heard this week in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs. This is a rare opportunity to set aside some natural resource gems for the enjoyment of generations to come.

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