The Campaign to Protect Otero Mesa

America’s Wildest Grassland


The Otero Mesa Grasslands within the Chihuahuan Desert (of southern New Mexico) have long been recognized as “special” by the State of New Mexico, former Governor Bill Richardson, numerous state legislators and scientists, tribal and religious leaders, sportsmen, ranchers, and conservationists.

This expansive landscape is home to mule deer, black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain lions, coyote, golden and bald eagles, 200 species of migratory songbirds, the endangered Aplomado falcon, and the state’s healthiest herd of native pronghorn antelope.

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Our campaign to protect Otero Mesa has been ongoing since 2001, when the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance helped form the Coalition for Otero Mesa, a broad coalition of hunters, ranchers, conservationists, and state leaders. The Coalition has led the way in preserving this last great desert grassland.

After working successfully to safeguard Otero Mesa from oil and gas development for more than a decade, a new threat to this wild desert grassland was identified in late 2010 – hardrock mining. Denver-based Geovic Mining Corp. staked more than 180 new mining claims in the heart of Otero Mesa. In July of 2011, the State of New Mexico approved a permit for Geovic Mining Corp. to begin conducting exploratory drilling on Wind Mountain, the most iconic peak in Otero Mesa. The company is seeking to mine for rare earth minerals and has staked claim to a surface area equivalent to five square miles. This type of hardrock mining operation could significantly alter the landscape and have serious impacts on wildlife habitat, soil composition and the Salt Basin aquifer in Otero Mesa.

Over the last year we have taken specific action to protect Otero Mesa and keep it wild and free from industrial development:

Oil and gas development
In 2011 the oil and gas industry filed petitions for rulemaking with the Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) to review the state pit rules and the pit rule for Otero Mesa, which prohibited the use of waste water pits on Otero Mesa. Industry requested a reversal of the pit rule put in place several years ago, as well as removal of the pit ban in Otero Mesa. We joined the proceedings as a party primarily to participate in the portion of the hearing related to Otero Mesa, but also to support the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which is fighting the statewide revisions. Between May and August 2012 the commission heard testimony. In October 2012 the commission agreed on the record to dismiss the portion of the petition concerning the special rules for Otero Mesa. Also in October the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved an Application for Permit to Drill (APD) for HEYCO to drill a test well on Otero Mesa. NM Wild and several other organizations from the Otero Mesa Coalition appealed this BLM decision to state director review, which is the first step in the litigation process.

Mining threats
Working with coalition partners, we were able to convince the Las Cruces BLM Field Office and the state director to withdrawal any future mining claims within the existing ACECs (Area of Critical Environmental Concern) in Otero Mesa.

Building support
Moving forward we will look to gain support from a wide range of historical and cultural organizations. This will also allow us to shift the focus of support to the archeological and historical qualities of this important landscape. At the core of this plan is a new historical and archeological report that we recently commissioned. The report reveals a rich history that involves Buffalo Soldiers, the Texas Rangers, rich salt deposits and Native American clashes.

We need your support to help save this last desert grassland. Please consider donating to the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance to help us continue to fund our Otero Mesa campaign. Your contribution will help us continue education and outreach efforts, and build new partnerships such as our relationship with the Mescalero Apache.

News About the Otero Mesa Campaign

No BLM cookie monster for Mescalero students: Positions on future of Otero Mesa evolving

By Dianne Stallings Ruidoso News 08/20/2013 When a package arrived from Jesse Juen, New Mexico director of the Bureau of Land Management, the students in teacher Rudy Barbosa’s fifth-grade class gathered around as he opened it, eager to see what was tucked inside its folds…..

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Also posted in News |

Taking a stand for our new national monument – Wilderness Weekly August 15, 2013

Table of Contents Still Time to Submit Comments! Wildlife watching Survival Festival Pasaron Por Aqui New Monument Threatened Cheatgrass in Sandias Upcoming events Wildlife Watching in Sandias Gila River Festival Blue Range Service Project Still Time to Submit Comments! The BLM recently issued the Draft….

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Also posted in News, Rio Grande del Norte |

Wilderness Weekly – July 25, 2013

Table of Contents Take Action Environmental Training Institute Submit your photos! Join Us in Las Cruces In the News Wilderness50 Proposals Rally at the Rio Upcoming events San Pedro Parks Botany Hike Wildlife Watching in the Sandias Healthy Eating Workshop Discover Chaco The BLM recently….

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Also posted in News |

BLM draws fire for selling leases under contested management plan

April Reese, E&E reporter Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 SANTA FE, N.M. — Several of the oil and gas leases sold at a Bureau of Land Management lease sale here yesterday fall under an almost 30-year-old management plan and therefore should have stayed on the….

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Big Green Bus coming to Las Cruces to call attention to Otero Mesa, other issues

For the 9th straight summer, 12 students from Dartmouth College are traveling across the nation in a biodiesel-powered Big Green Bus. An entirely student-run environmental advocacy group, the Bus stops in locations across the country to host events focused on facilitating discussion, sharing stories, and….

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