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New Study says Otero Mesa drilling would bring few economic benefits to New Mexico or Otero County

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.

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.

Published March 24, 2009

2009 Wild Guide Is Here!

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.

New Mexico Mining Claims Jump 50% Since 2003

For Immediate Release
January 10, 2008

New Mexico mining claims jump 50 percent since 2003
State, county officials urge Bingaman, Domenici to pass reform legislation

Albuquerque, N.M. –In the face of a dramatic new increase in claims here, state, county and tribal officials called on Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici to lead a Senate committee to reform the 135-year-old law that governs the mining of gold, uranium and other hardrock minerals on federal lands in New Mexico and other western states.

A comprehensive bipartisan package that would modernize the Civil War era statute was passed by the House of Representatives in November. The Senate will host its first mining reform hearing this month.

“This year, New Mexico will take center stage in the effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law,” said Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Senators Bingaman and Domenici can play a lead role in protecting the health of New Mexico’s communities, lands, water and wildlife by producing a modern framework for mining that protects taxpayers and the environment. We all have a stake in their success. ”

The 1872 mining law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, offers special status to those filing claims on public lands – without safeguarding watersheds, wildlife or communities from the messy business of mining. It also allows mining companies to take minerals from public lands without compensating taxpayers, while oil, gas and coal industries have been paying royalties for decades.

New Mexico has had a significant share of mining-related disasters. In 1979, 94 million gallons of radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. The release from the site, promoted as a modern and safe treatment facility, is the largest release of liquid radioactive waste in U.S. history. Thirty years later, the impacts of that spill still linger.

The need for reform has also been made more urgent by the dramatic increase in new mining claims in western states, including New Mexico. According to Bureau of Land Management data analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, the total number of hardrock mining claims in New Mexico is 50 percent higher in mid-2007 than in 2003. Claims totaled 11,348 in July of 2007.

“Counties have a stake in mining reform,” said Denna Archuleta, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “We’re dealing with an antiquated law where the taxpayers are left with the clean-up, and it’s a financial burden on everybody for a few to make a profit. We ask Senators Bingaman and Domenici to take this opportunity to take the lead at reform at the federal level.”

“Sportsman have a stake in mining reform,” said Kent Salazar, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Our public lands are the source of our best fishing, elk hunting and wildlife habitat, and we pay user fees to hunt and fish. It’s time the industry also paid its own way, and took on the cost of mine cleanup.”

Today’s event included participation from the New Mexico Division of Mining and Minerals, Haaku Tribal Water Office/Acoma Pueblo, Dine Against Uranium Mining, Conservation Voters New Mexico, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Environment New Mexico.

On January 24, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony about the need for mining law reform and is expected to produce a bill by late February. The hearing follows passage late last year of H.R. 2262, which provided fundamental reform measures.

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