Success for Otero Mesa!

On Thursday, April 19th, a coalition of ranchers, hunters, conservationists and water experts hosted the Otero Mesa Public Forum in Alamogordo. This event in large part was organized by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA).

Almost 200 people from Alamogordo and surrounding communities attended the event to hear about Otero Mesa’s fresh water aquifer, the area’s wildlife and how oil and gas drilling could impact this special place. The purpose of the event was to bring the community together and demonstrate that southern New Mexican’s care about their quality of life, and that a few days worth of oil and gas will NOT take precedence over water, wildlife, and wilderness.

At one point during the forum, moderator, Rick Simpson (a hunting guide and Lincoln county commissioner) asked the audience “who supported a moratorium on drilling in Otero Mesa” so that a thorough study of the Salt Basin aquifer could occur. Everyone in the room expect for one person raised their hand!

The following day, the Alamogordo Daily News ran a front-page story covering the event. This story was then picked up by the Associated Press and ran in several other papers, including the Albuquerque Journal, Las Cruces Sun-News, and Santa Fe New Mexican. Read the full article here:

Friday morning, April 20th, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance brought four of the five speakers from the forum to meet with the Alamogordo Daily News and encourage the paper to editorialize in support of the moratorium. Rancher Tweeti Blancett, wildlife expert and high school teacher Steve West, energy and economics expert Bill Brown, and Craig Roepke with the Interstate Stream Commission all attended the editorial board visit. The outcome was that the next day, the Alamogordo Daily News editorialized in supporting our efforts to call for a moratorium on drilling in Otero Mesa! Read the editorial here:

Subsequently, on April 19th, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, requesting that all leasing and drilling be put to a halt so the U.S. Geological Survey, Sandia National Labs, and Interstate Stream Commission could conduct a thorough study of the Salt Basin aquifer. This is tremendous news. Please call Senator Bingaman and thank him for taking the lead on calling for a moratorium but urge him to keep fighting to protect Otero Mesa.

It is because of your letters, calls and pressure to our elected officials that we are gaining real traction in our efforts to protect Otero Mesa. Many thanks! This past week was a real watershed moment in the campaign. Now we must begin to aggressively pressure Senator Domenici and Congressman Pearce. Senator Domenici’s staff has indicated that the Senator may be willing to support a moratorium on Otero Mesa. Please help us to make this a reality – the time is NOW! Please call and fax your letters and comments today.

Senator Bingaman: (202) 224-5521

Senator Domenici: (202) 224-6621

Congresswoman Wilson: (202) 225-6316

Congressman Pearce: (202) 225-2365

Congressman Udall: (202) 225-6190

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

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).

Protect the Sandia Mountains from ORVs!


The Travel Management Rule put out by the Forest Service in 2006 directs each National Forest to engage in a public process to determine which routes and single-track trails will be open to motorized vehicles. Routes left open will be classified by vehicle type (motorcycle, ATV, jeep, passenger vehicles) and, if needed, can have seasonal closures.

On May 8th and 9th, the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest will host another round of public workshops to discuss preliminary route decisions they are proposing under the Travel Management Rule. Whether you have information on specific areas or just want to voice support for wildlife and quiet recreation, your input is valuable and you do not need to have attended previous workshops. More information at

• May 8th, 6 – 9pm, at the UNM Continuing Education Conference Center (North Building), Rooms B and C, 1634 University Blvd NE (just east of Indian School).
• For folks in the East Mountains area, the May 9th meeting is in Tijeras at the Los Vecinos Community Center, also from 6 – 9pm.

The Sandia Mountains are an integral part of what makes the Albuquerque region special. They provide us with outstanding outdoor recreational pursuits and, more importantly, are home to bears, deer, peregrine falcons and a host of other wildlife. With proper travel management, quiet recreationists and wildlife benefit.

Motorized enthusiasts have attended the previous workshops in large numbers. They want all routes left open to motorized vehicles and to add more. The Forest Service is moving in the right direction with the Travel Management Rule, but they need to hear from people that support quiet recreation and habitat for wildlife.

Much of the Sandia Ranger District already has travel decisions in place and the new rule allows these to stay. The Cedro Peak region south of I-40 and the Cibola National Forest lands north of La Madera are the two areas that will be most affected by this process. Local landowners and quiet recreationists in these areas will be especially impacted by the decisions made through this process.

For further information, please contact Nancy Brunswick, Travel Management Team Leader, Cibola National Forest (505) 346-3900 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Or contact Michael Scialdone, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Wilderness Protection Director, 505-843-8696, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Citizens’ Wilderness Inventory – Ute Mountain Summary

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

norte3The 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.


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.