Public Land Guidance During COVID-19: A message from Executive Director Mark Allison

We are thinking of you and hoping that you and your loved ones are safe and in good spirits during this challenging time.
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 too that, while our methods have necessarily changed during this crisis, we are still hard at work doing what we can to protect New Mexico’s wilderness, waters, and wildlife.
We continue to receive questions about whether it is okay to enjoy public lands during the pandemic. It is natural to be drawn there, especially now, when our time may be more flexible, and we hunger for beauty and distraction.

While Spring is calling all of us, our guidance first and foremost is to comply with medical and public health recommendations. Keep abreast of the governor’s stay-at-home order and any local orders and abide by them. At the time of writing, state parks are closed, as are facilities at our National Forests and some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. Despite these closings, we continue to receive reports of crowded trails in some locations. It is everyone’s responsibility to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Frustratingly, the most patriotic and compassionate thing to do in this situation is to stay home, or at the very least, close by.

  • You can’t practice appropriate physical 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.

We are telling people to be modest in their ambitions and err on the side of caution. This is no time to have an adventure. That said, getting outside is certainly good and necessary for our physical and mental health and even our immune systems. During this stay-at-home order, focus on hyperlocal activities in your backyard or walks around your neighborhood rather than trekking in the mountains.

Instead, we encourage you to share with us your favorite nature photos, memories, and books. And now is a great time to start planning your next trip. You can find a comprehensive list of all of New Mexico’s Wilderness areas and wilderness study areas in our updated Wild Guide book available at www.nmwild.org. Additionally, I am excited to let you know that we’ll soon be launching a brand-new on-line hiking guide, with dozens of Wilderness trail suggestions and descriptions. (We plan to make this available around Memorial Day but will make the final determination most appropriate to conditions at the time.)

I find hope for the planet in watching the resiliency of the natural world and its reaction 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 using this time to move forward on its assault on conservation and environmental laws and finalize plans that sacrifice special natural and cultural areas even as the nation braces against the coronavirus.

For example, the Farmington office of the BLM is still proceeding with their Resource Management Plan Amendment process, which will guide oil and gas leasing decisions for decades, even though there can be no public meetings. Their “preferred alternative” would allow for mineral extraction right up to Chaco Canyon’s doorstep, jeopardizing untold archaeological sites and places still sacred to the Navajo Nation and Pueblos.

This time has forced us all to adjust our perspective and perhaps re-evaluate what really matters in life: loved ones, of course, and leaving a habitable planet for future generations.
You are receiving this letter because you support our work. From the bottom of my heart – thank you. While we aren’t recommending wilderness adventures for now, there is a need and an opportunity to use this time to do even more to help us protect public lands and our natural world. Keep an eye out and respond when you can to our action alerts and some upcoming virtual workshops and get togethers. Please reach out and stay connected. Even now – especially now – we’re staying vigilant to make sure we have places left to protect when this is over, and we can’t do it without you.
We’re apart for now, but we’ll get through this together.

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