New Mexicans Applaud ‘Public Lands Rule’ Emphasizing Conservation and Recreation

Rule can help boost local economies by ensuring healthy communities, wildlife, and cultural values

Mark Allison, New Mexico Wild,, (505) 239-0906

Photos for Media Use 

April 18, 2024 (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – After prioritizing extractive industries for the past 40 years, today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final “Public Lands Rule” to balance and uphold its multiple-use mission. The Biden administration’s bold, comprehensive framework places cultural lands protection, conservation, access to nature, wildlife, and climate change mitigation on equal footing with industrial development across the West, including New Mexico. Indigenous communities, veterans, small business owners, local elected officials, and other community members throughout the Land of Enchantment are celebrating this once-in-a-generation opportunity for local collaboration with the agency to address intensifying drought, wildfires, and other threats to public lands and waters.

Stephanie Garcia Richard, New Mexico Commissioner for Public Lands said, “For too long our nation’s land managers have placed too much emphasis on resource extraction above all other viable uses of public lands. It’s great to see the BLM propose a rule that finally puts conservation of our land and natural resources on par with other uses. I strongly support BLM’s proposed rule because it prioritizes conservation and it is the most comprehensive and inclusive approach to land management to date.”

As the nation’s largest land manager (245 million acres), the BLM plays a critical role in New Mexico, managing over 13.5 million acres of lands across the state, areas vitally important to the conservation of water, wildlife, cultural resources, and our growing demand for access to the outdoors.  However, these places are at risk from extreme weather events and loss of natural areas that are causing rapid changes across the state.  The BLM’s new rule will help residents adapt to these challenges by providing the agency and local communities with fiscally responsible management tools, such as applying land-health standards and strengthening existing conservation options. Co-stewardship and co-management with Tribal nations who have cared for these lands and waters since time immemorial are also crucial to the success of the rule.

Joseph Talachy, owner of Indigenous Arms 1680 in Santa Fe, added, “As a steward of my ancestral lands, it’s crucial that the BLM recognizes the value of these sacred places beyond what can be extracted from them. My family and my customers hunt and fish on BLM managed land. Protecting and ensuring access to our public lands is vital for my business, my family, and my community.”

People come from near and far to hike, bike, hunt, fish, and more on New Mexico’s BLM lands.  In fact, BLM lands are a core part of New Mexico’s growing outdoor recreation economy. According to the  Commerce Department’s  2022 Bureau of Economic Analysis released data, outdoor recreation generated $2.4 billion in added value for the state and created almost 28,000 jobs.

“More than 3,000 wildlife species can be found in public lands managed by the BLM,” said Max Trujillo, San Miguel County Commissioner District 3, HECHO New Mexico Senior Field Coordinator, and avid hunter. “These species depend on healthy landscapes to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, many BLM lands have been degraded by the impacts of climate change and the activities of extractive industries. This Public Lands Rule provides a pathway to restore and conserve our public lands, which will benefit wildlife, sporting traditions like hunting and angling, and communities across the Southwest.”

This new direction is widely popular. A Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project 2024 Conservation in the West Poll found that 70 percent of New Mexico voters would rather protect air, water, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities over oil and gas development.  

“Ensuring a sustainable future for New Mexico’s amazing public lands is a complicated puzzle, one the Biden administration and the BLM have made a significant investment in solving with their new public lands, renewables and oil and gas rules,”said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director with The Wilderness Society.  “For almost 50 years, administration after administration has failed to balance the complex management needs of public lands across New Mexico and around the West. With the help and support of our state’s congressional champions, the Biden administration and the BLM have created the tools we need to ensure that our most treasured lands are protected for future generations.” 

During the BLM’s 2023 public process, more than 90 percent of comments were in favor of elevating conservation for a more balanced approach to public land management.  Legal experts have repeatedly confirmed that the rule upholds BLM’s core mission, including 8 state attorneys general and 27 law professors

“With almost 90% of New Mexico BLM lands open to oil and gas leasing, the Public Lands Rule’s emphasis on conservation is not just important, it’s essential,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “This commonsense rule gives the BLM tools to protect cultural treasures like 8,000-year-old petroglyphs on the Caja del Rio plateau and the Greater Chaco Canyon landscape, as well as areas of ecological significance like Otero Mesa, home to the largest remaining Chihuahuan Desert grassland in the country. As climate change and development pressures increase, the rule balances extractive uses with conservation, safeguarding public lands like these for future generations. We applaud the BLM and Biden Administration for this long-overdue shift.”

New Mexico’s congressional delegation has been at the forefront of protecting public lands –  whether it is sponsoring conservation legislation, supporting national monument designations, or working closely with the BLM on management plans. Senator Martin Heinrich and Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Gabe Vasquez joined nearly four dozen members of Congress voicing support for the rule in a letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. Local officials joined more than 120 past and present western elected officials, calling for additional protection of lands managed by the BLM.    Now, New Mexicans are looking to the entire delegation – Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and Representatives Melanie Stansbury, Teresa Leger Fernández, and Gabe Vasquez,  – to join them in supporting the Rule and working with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on implementing it.

“This is a step in the right direction for the Bureau of Land Management,” said Patrick Nolan, Executive Director of the Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. “This public lands rule ensures that the agency recognizes uses of our landscape beyond extractive practices. As a local Friends group, we are also excited that this rule empowers local communities to lead conservation by identifying lands that need restoration, and more robust protections.”

“The BLM has a long history of favoring industrial uses of public lands, but the law has always given it a broader mission, including protecting environmentally important landscapes. This new rule is legally solid and long overdue in helping BLM meet its conservation mandate,” added Reed Benson, J.D., a law professor at The University of New Mexico School of Law. 

New Mexicans are urging the Biden administration to get to work on the ground to implement the agency’s modernized vision. They are also asking the administration to facilitate collaboration between local BLM offices with Tribal Nations and local communities to safeguard places like Otero Mesa and Caja del Rio before it’s too late.

“The Public Lands Rule ushers in a new era of conservation for BLM-managed public lands and waters in New Mexico. These lands play an essential role in the lives of all New Mexicans by providing access to nature, supporting wildlife, boosting local economies, and so much more. We commend the Biden administration and the Department of the Interior for bringing this long-overdue balancing to the Bureau of Land Management and placing conservation on equal footing with extractive uses,” said Romir Lahiri, New Mexico Associate Program Director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.

Ivan Valdez from the Reel Life Santa Fe, added, “The future of our wildlife, fisheries, and clean water are of the utmost importance for generations to come. We must continue our conservation efforts for all New Mexicans using these resources. BLM’s proposed Public Lands Rule is an important step in this direction.”

Local Impact
The Rule provides critical guidance to BLM for protecting areas with outdated resource management plans.   

  • Carlsbad Chihuahuan Desert Rivers ACEC: The Carlsbad Chihuahuan Desert Rivers proposed ACEC – totaling 108,474 acres – includes the riparian corridors of the Delaware, Pecos, and Black rivers. The ACEC would protect cultural, historic, scenic, plant and animal, geologic, paleontological, soil, karst, and riparian resources.
  • Salt Playas ACEC: The Salt Playas proposed ACEC – totaling 49,772 acres – would protect Carlsbad’s salt lakes, which serve as essential stops for migratory shorebirds and have significant archeological and historical values. 
  • Birds of Prey Grasslands ACEC: The Birds of Prey Grasslands proposed ACEC –  totaling 349,355 acres – contains significant grasslands and an extraordinarily high diversity of raptors and other birds. The area is located between two principal routes of the Central Flyway, which is one of four waterfowl flyways in North America.
  • Caja del Rio ACECs: Two ACECs just outside of Santa Fe are known for petroglyphs dating back 8,000 years, other cultural resources, wildlife and special status species, geologic features, and scenic values. The La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site, located within the Caja del Rio, was recently vandalized again, and Pueblo leaders are asking for more patrols and resources to protect this site.
  • Greater Chaco ACECs: Chaco Canyon was designated in 1987 as one of 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States based on its importance as the center of Puebloan cultural and economic life during the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries. The area holds thousands of artifacts and archaeological sites—some of which have yet to be identified and studied. Many tribes throughout the Four Corners are the direct descendants of the Chacoan people and consider the region their traditional homelands. The BLM’s current management plan, adopted in 2003, designated 79 ACECs within the Greater Chaco landscape to protect cultural resources. Unfortunately, these ACECs are small and fail to protect landscape-scale features of cultural importance. Since 2012, the BLM has been working to revise the management plan. However, the BLM rejected a 2014 nomination for a landscape-level ACEC, and the agency issued a draft plan in 2020 that declined to consider additional ACEC designations and included numerous exemptions for oil and gas drilling. 

Background on the BLM in New Mexico 

  • There are 13.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed lands in New Mexico, making it the largest land manager in the state.
  • 88% of the lands managed by BLM in the state of New Mexico are open to oil and gas development, while only 11% of the lands are protected. 
  • Currently, 4.3 million acres of BLM managed minerals in New Mexico are under lease for oil and gas development. That’s nearly 32% of the total acres of BLM-managed lands in the state.
  • There are 18 BLM designated wilderness areas in New Mexico, totaling 455,794 acres or less than 1% of the state’s total land mass and 3.3% of the total acres of BLM-managed lands in the state.
  • There are 48 BLM wilderness study areas in New Mexico totaling 725,006 acres or just under 1% of the state’s total land mass and slightly over 5% of the total acres of BLM-managed lands in the state.
  • There are 344,459 acres of BLM-identified lands with wilderness characteristics (sometimes referred to as “LWC areas”) or less than 1% of the state’s total land mass and 2.5% of the total acres of BLM managed lands in the state.
  • New Mexico Wild has identified an additional 2.9 million acres of BLM-managed lands it determined also have wilderness characteristics. The BLM does not currently manage these wilderness quality lands to protect their cultural and ecological values.