New Mexico Wild continues to receive questions about whether it is acceptable to enjoy New Mexico’s enchanting public lands during this challenging time. It is natural, especially now, when we have more time and are desperate for beauty and distraction.
First and foremost, comply with medical and public health guidance. Keep abreast of the governor’s stay-at-home order and any local orders and abide by them. It is everyone’s responsibility to be safe and to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Frustratingly, the most patriotic thing to do in this situation is nothing.
That said, getting outside is certainly good and necessary for our physical and mental health.
During this stay-at-home order, focus on hyperlocal activities in your backyard or walks around the block rather than trekking in the mountains. Be aware that, at the time of writing, state parks are closed as are facilities at our national forests.
Instead, we encourage you to share favorite nature photos, memories, and books. Now is a great time to start planning your next trip to wilderness areas. You can find a comprehensive list of New Mexico’s wilderness areas in our updated Wild Guide at nmwild.org.
Immediately following the eventual lifting of the stay-at-home order, we do not recommend people travel long distances to get to trailheads.
You can’t practice appropriate social distancing if you are carpooling. We don’t want to carry the virus to smaller, gateway communities, which often lacked adequate health care infrastructure even before the pandemic. We don’t want to put already stressed first responders in a position where they need to conduct search and rescue operations. Be modest in your ambitions and err on the side of caution. This is no time to have an adventure.
As always, practice the principal of leaving no trace, including disposing of all waste properly — which is even more important when bathrooms and trash bins aren’t available.
We’ve seen hints at nature’s response to this temporary reduction of human impact. I find hope for the planet in watching the resiliency of the natural world and its response to a few weeks’ respite from normal levels of human activity.
Unfortunately, the federal government continues its aggressive agenda to exploit public lands and weaken existing rules, policies, and laws, including those for clean air, clean water and endangered species. The administration is trying to gut conservation and environmental laws and finalize plans that sacrifice special natural and cultural areas even as the nation reels from this pandemic.
For example, the Bureau of Land Management is still conducting a public comment period for its Resource Management Plan Amendment, which will guide oil and gas leasing decisions for decades. Their “preferred alternative” would allow for mineral extraction right up to Chaco’s doorstep, jeopardizing untold archaeological sites and places still sacred to the Navajo Nation and Pueblos.
Like everyone else, New Mexico Wild employees and our volunteer board of directors are concerned about their loved ones and the economic hardships that people are facing. We want you to know that while our methods have necessarily changed during this crisis, we are still hard at work protecting New Mexico’s wilderness, waters and wildlife.
This time has forced us all to adjust our perspective and perhaps reevaluate what really matters in life: loved ones, of course, and also leaving a habitable planet for future generations. Now is also a great time to help us advocate for public lands by learning more about what you can do and responding to our action alerts. We’re staying vigilant to make sure we have places left to protect when this is over, and we need your help.
Mark Allison is the executive director of New Mexico Wild.
This article appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican.