For Immediate Release
Date: February 22, 2011

Contact: Nathan Newcomer, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Phone: 505-250-4225

Contact: John Cornell, New Mexico Wildlife Federation
Phone: 575-740-1759

New Mexico Wilderness Alliance* The Wilderness Society*
Southwest Environmental Center* New Mexico Wildlife Federation*
National Wildlife Federation* Sierra Club* The Audubon Society*
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership* Restoring Eden*
Environment New Mexico* Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa*

Otero Mesa Targeted by Mining Industry

Hardrock mining considered the “highest and best use” for public lands regardless of impacts on watersheds, wildlife, landscapes or local communities

For nearly a decade, the Coalition for Otero Mesa has worked to safeguard the fragile grasslands, abundant wildlife, and freshwater resources of Otero Mesa from full-scale
oil and gas drilling. Now, a new and more volatile threat has emerged for America’s
largest and wildest grassland – hardrock mining.

During the months of October and November 2010, over 50 new mining claims were
staked in the heart of the Otero Mesa region, by Geovic Mining Corp, based in Denver,
Colorado, and also majority owner of the largest cobalt-producing operation in the
world, based in Cameroon, Africa. The company is seeking to mine for cobalt nickel
magnesium, and has staked claim to a surface area equal to 2,178 football fields.
This type of hardrock mining operation could significantly alter the landscape and have
serious impacts on wildlife habitat, soil composition and underground aquifers in Otero
Mesa.

“Without the permanent protection that it deserves, Otero Mesa is always going to
be one drill bit, one mine shaft, or one spill away from being lost to us,” said Nathan
Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “This new
threat of hardrock mining in Otero Mesa, underscores the urgency of providing
permanent protection for this wild and beautiful grassland.”

Hardrock mining on public lands is governed today by the General Mining Act of 1872
– a law that has changed little since it was first signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to
encourage development of the West. Under this Civil War era statute, hardrock mining
is considered the “highest and best use” for public lands, regardless of the impact on

watersheds, wildlife, landscapes or local communities.

“Hardrock mining is a significant cause of water contamination across the West and
New Mexico,” said State Senator Steve Fischmann. “In 1979, 94 million gallons of
radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. Thirty years later, the
impacts of that spill still linger. At the very least we must protect habitat and minimize
pollution risks to the Salt Basin Aquifer from hardrock mining activities.”

Otero Mesa is an ecologically rich area home to 1,000 native wildlife species, including
mule deer, mountain lion, black-tailed prairie dogs, golden and bald eagles, over 200
species of migratory songbirds, and boasts the state’s healthiest and only genetically
pure herd of pronghorn antelope. Otero Mesa sits above the Salt Basin Aquifer, which
is suspected to be the largest, untapped, fresh water aquifer left in the state of New
Mexico. The area also has a long history of cultural use and significance, which
includes the estimated 20,000 petroglyphs on Alamo Mountain, historic ruins of the
Butterfield Overland Stagecoach, and numerous archeological sites.

Speaking on behalf of the Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa, Ted Rodriguez said, “To
us Apaches, Otero Mesa is sacred. It holds a very special place in our history and must
be treated as a Holy site, not a mining site. It deserves no less than national monument
status.” Mr. Rodriguez is also the Headman of the Mescalero Apache Traditional Elders
Council.

Protection for Otero Mesa enjoys broad support locally and nationally. Former New
Mexico Governor Bill Richardson previously proposed a more than 600,000-acre
National Conservation Area and has called on the BLM to conduct a new inventory of
the area’s wilderness potential. Resolutions of support have come from the cities of Las
Cruces and El Paso, Dona Ana County, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe. Permanent
protection has also been endorsed by former Lt. Governor Diane Denish, former State
Secretary of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Joanna Prukop, and many state
representatives, state senators, county commissioners, city councilors, archaeological
societies, religious leaders, and local residents. Furthermore, Governor Bill Richardson
asked the Obama administration to designate the area a national monument before
leaving office.

“Sportsmen and their families have a long legacy of using Otero Mesa and every acre
we lose to development, of any kind, robs us of passing on that legacy,” said John
Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The long term values of its cultural,
recreational, hunting, and ranching and water resources far outweigh any short term
benefits of mining.”

For more information on the values of Otero Mesa and efforts to ensure its protection
for future generations, visit www.oteromesa.org

###

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