Drilling toward Disaster: Protecting the Santa Fe National Forest, a Land and Water Conservation Fund Beneficiary

Around 100 community members attend an event at the Hondo Fire Station II in Santa Fe to learn about a proposed drilling operation near Tererro and the Pecos Wilderness, October 26, 2019. Photo: Joey Keefe

The watersheds in and around the Santa Fe National Forest – a beneficiary of the nation’s signature Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – are increasingly vulnerable due to a proposed exploratory drilling operation just beyond the borders of the Pecos Wilderness.

Comexico, LLC, the Colorado-based subsidiary of Australian mining company New World Resources, has applied to the Santa Fe National Forest to begin exploring for precious minerals such as gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. If the company determines the targeted area near Tererro is potentially profitable, a full-blown mine will follow.

In the Pecos region, “Agua es Vida.” The headwaters of the Pecos, Gallinas and Mora rivers and dozens of tributaries are key water sources for acequias, farmers, the village of Pecos, the city of Las Vegas and other surrounding communities.

Tributaries such as Indian Creek, Doctors Creek and Macho Creek contain populations of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the state fish of New Mexico. The presence of this fish population is just one feature that attracts tens of thousands of anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to the Pecos region every year. Small businesses in Pecos and other nearby communities depend on this visitation to keep their doors open.

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout in a tributary of the Pecos River. Photo: Garrett VeneKlasen

The communities in this region are well aware of the risks posed by an operation like the one Comexico has proposed. A spring snowmelt in 1991 caused contaminants from a previous mining operation to flow into the Pecos River, killing over 90,000 fish. The contamination severely hobbled the region’s outdoor recreation-dependent economy and cost New Mexico taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to clean up.

Upon learning of Comexico’s current drilling application, New Mexico Wild got to work, partnering with Pecos Canyon residents, land grant and acequia communities, small businesses, Pueblos, faith leaders, sportsmen, nonprofits and others to form a working group to oppose the project. This collaboration evolved into what is now known as the Stop Tererro Mine coalition.

A butterfly lands on a wildflower in the Santa Fe National Forest near the site of a proposed drilling operation by Australian corporation New World Resources. Photo: Garrett VeneKlasen

The work of this coalition has already yielded results. By reaching out to stakeholders through in-person meetings, social media, email blasts, and by alerting local media outlets, we were able to generate over 2,500 comments on the Santa Fe National Forest’s scoping period for the project.

New Mexico Wild and our partners have secured official declarations of opposition from Senator Martin Heinrich, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Additionally, Santa Fe County has since passed measures updating the county’s hardrock mining ordinances, and San Miguel County has plans to follow Santa Fe’s lead.

Finally, New Mexico Wild partnered with State Senator Liz Stefanics and State Representative Joseph Sanchez to push two measures – Senate Memorial 60 and House Memorial 54, respectively – recognizing the importance of the Pecos region and declaring the legislature’s opposition to Comexico’s proposed project. While both memorials passed their assigned committees, they were not brought to a vote by the full Senate and House of Representatives before the 2020 legislative session ended.

From L-R: Pecos resident and small business owner Frank “Pancho” Adelo, State Senator Liz Stefanics, and former Pueblo of Tesuque Governor Mark Mitchell testify in support of Senate Memorial 60 before the Senate Committee on Conservation in Santa Fe, February 13, 2020. Photo: Logan Glasenapp

A long fight still awaits as Comexico works its way through the application process. New Mexico Wild continue to push back against this proposed project and ensure that Land and Water Conservation Fund beneficiaries like Santa Fe National Forest – and the watersheds within it – are forever protected from irresponsible and overreaching development operations.

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