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Press Release: Sen. Bingaman Wins Praise for Reintroducing New Mexico Conservation Bill

For Immediate Release
Date: March 30, 2011

Contact: John Olivas, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Phone: 505-379-5551

Contact: Oscar Simpson, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
Phone: 505-917-2134

NMWA letterhead email

Sen. Bingaman Wins Praise for Reintroducing New Mexico Conservation Bill

Rio Grande del Norte NCA/Wilderness Bill Has Broad Local Support

Sportsmen, conservationists, small business owners and others cheered the reintroduction today of a bill to create a nearly 236,000-acre conservation area that will include two new wildernesses.  The Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act will safeguard some of northern New Mexico’s most striking wild places, including the iconic Ute Mountain.

“Senator Bingaman’s proposal will protect and enhance the recreational, ecological, scenic and cultural resources of northern New Mexico’s shared public lands,” said John Olivas, owner of JACO Outfitters and Northern New Mexico director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, “while also recognizing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, protecting the rights of our traditional communities for future generations.”

“New Mexico sportsmen applaud Senator Bingaman for reintroducing this key proposal which will ensure that our hunting and fishing opportunities can be passed down to our children,” said Garrett Veneklasen with Trout Unlimited-New Mexico and chair of the New Mexico Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “These pursuits are vital to the economy of our state, bringing in more than $300 million and supporting some 8,000 jobs.”

The bill will designate nearly 236,000 acres as a National Conservation Area (NCA), including two wilderness areas – the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness (the iconic Ute Mountain) and the 8,000-acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness. The area contains some of the most spectacular lands and habitat in the state, and is an important migratory flyway for a number of bird species.  Areas within the Rio Grande gorge – which at some places is a half mile wide across and drops to the Rio Grande River 800 feet below – are treasured for hiking, horseback riding and wildlife watching.

“This important conservation bill will ensure that our children and grandchildren will forever be able to experience the land as we have,” said Questa Mayor Esther Garcia.  “Passing down this natural legacy is our inherited responsibility.”

The bill is cosponsored by Senator Tom Udall.  Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Press Release: New Forest Service Planning Rule Weakens Current Standards

For Immediate Release
Date: February 10, 2011
Contact: Nathan Newcomer
Phone: 505-250-4225
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

NMWA letterhead email

New Forest Service Planning Rule Weakens Current Standards

Administration doles out the bare minimum, instead of the bear essentials

Today, the USDA Forest Service issued its long-awaited proposed Forest Planning Rule, which seeks to establish a new national framework to develop land management plans. While offering some important guidance to the management of America’s national forests, the proposed planning rule fails to provide critical concrete protections for water quality and wildlife.

“The Obama administration appears to be looking to do the bare minimum for wilderness, water and wildlife,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Instead, this administration must give our forests the bear essentials.”

With the national forest system facing unprecedented threats from climate change and energy development, the strong protections for water, wildlife, and wilderness that have been in place for the better part of three decades are needed now more than ever.

Promulgating a new forest management policy is one of the most important environmental actions that the Obama administration will be taking during its tenure.  The administration’s final policy should include strong, clear, national standards for safeguarding water quality and valuable fish and wildlife habitat so that our forests – and the critical resources that they provide – are adequately protected.


  • Proposed forest planning regulations released by the Obama administration today fail to provide critical, concrete protections for water and wildlife.
  • The administration’s proposal would roll back strong safeguards for wildlife conservation issued by the Reagan administration in 1982: a requirement that the U.S. Forest Service maintain healthy, sustainable fish and wildlife populations.
  • The proposal would leave the decision of whether or not to maintain healthy, viable populations of many imperiled wildlife species at the discretion of individual forest managers, leaving the fate of hundreds of species uncertain.
  • The proposal would allow individual forest managers the discretion to “give up” on protecting many needy species without facing accountability to the public.


Congress passed the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to reform the Forest Service and to ensure that the agency give due consideration to non-timber values, such as recreation, wildlife, and water. In 1982, the Reagan administration adopted wildlife viability protection in response to declines in the population and range of many species caused by the routine approval of logging and other development projects that did not take the need to conserve wildlife into account. The Reagan rule, currently in effect, supports populations of popular game species such as elk, moose, and black bear, and helps keep sensitive and rare species off the endangered species list by identifying and correcting wildlife population declines before species become imperiled.

In 2005 and again in 2008, the Bush administration tried to rewrite these regulations, lifting the requirement that the Forest Service manage its lands so that all native species can remain viable. Defenders of Wildlife challenged the Bush administration’s proposals in the courts. Ultimately, the court found that the Forest Service violated the National Environment Policy Act by approving the new regulations based on a faulty environmental impact statement that failed to analyze adequately the environmental impacts of the new regulations, and that it had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to examine the effects of eliminating wildlife protection standards on protected species.

Contact info:

Nathan Newcomer
Associate Director
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
142 Truman St. Suite B1
Albuquerque, NM 87108
505-843-8696, ext. 106
505-843-8697 fax

Otero Mesa Targeted by Mining Industry

For Immediate Release
Date: February 22, 2011

Contact: Nathan Newcomer, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Phone: 505-250-4225

Contact: John Cornell, New Mexico Wildlife Federation
Phone: 575-740-1759

New Mexico Wilderness Alliance* The Wilderness Society*
Southwest Environmental Center* New Mexico Wildlife Federation*
National Wildlife Federation* Sierra Club* The Audubon Society*
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership* Restoring Eden*
Environment New Mexico* Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa*

Otero Mesa Targeted by Mining Industry

Hardrock mining considered the “highest and best use” for public lands regardless of impacts on watersheds, wildlife, landscapes or local communities

For nearly a decade, the Coalition for Otero Mesa has worked to safeguard the fragile grasslands, abundant wildlife, and freshwater resources of Otero Mesa from full-scale
oil and gas drilling. Now, a new and more volatile threat has emerged for America’s
largest and wildest grassland – hardrock mining.

During the months of October and November 2010, over 50 new mining claims were
staked in the heart of the Otero Mesa region, by Geovic Mining Corp, based in Denver,
Colorado, and also majority owner of the largest cobalt-producing operation in the
world, based in Cameroon, Africa. The company is seeking to mine for cobalt nickel
magnesium, and has staked claim to a surface area equal to 2,178 football fields.
This type of hardrock mining operation could significantly alter the landscape and have
serious impacts on wildlife habitat, soil composition and underground aquifers in Otero

“Without the permanent protection that it deserves, Otero Mesa is always going to
be one drill bit, one mine shaft, or one spill away from being lost to us,” said Nathan
Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “This new
threat of hardrock mining in Otero Mesa, underscores the urgency of providing
permanent protection for this wild and beautiful grassland.”

Hardrock mining on public lands is governed today by the General Mining Act of 1872
– a law that has changed little since it was first signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to
encourage development of the West. Under this Civil War era statute, hardrock mining
is considered the “highest and best use” for public lands, regardless of the impact on

watersheds, wildlife, landscapes or local communities.

“Hardrock mining is a significant cause of water contamination across the West and
New Mexico,” said State Senator Steve Fischmann. “In 1979, 94 million gallons of
radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. Thirty years later, the
impacts of that spill still linger. At the very least we must protect habitat and minimize
pollution risks to the Salt Basin Aquifer from hardrock mining activities.”

Otero Mesa is an ecologically rich area home to 1,000 native wildlife species, including
mule deer, mountain lion, black-tailed prairie dogs, golden and bald eagles, over 200
species of migratory songbirds, and boasts the state’s healthiest and only genetically
pure herd of pronghorn antelope. Otero Mesa sits above the Salt Basin Aquifer, which
is suspected to be the largest, untapped, fresh water aquifer left in the state of New
Mexico. The area also has a long history of cultural use and significance, which
includes the estimated 20,000 petroglyphs on Alamo Mountain, historic ruins of the
Butterfield Overland Stagecoach, and numerous archeological sites.

Speaking on behalf of the Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa, Ted Rodriguez said, “To
us Apaches, Otero Mesa is sacred. It holds a very special place in our history and must
be treated as a Holy site, not a mining site. It deserves no less than national monument
status.” Mr. Rodriguez is also the Headman of the Mescalero Apache Traditional Elders

Protection for Otero Mesa enjoys broad support locally and nationally. Former New
Mexico Governor Bill Richardson previously proposed a more than 600,000-acre
National Conservation Area and has called on the BLM to conduct a new inventory of
the area’s wilderness potential. Resolutions of support have come from the cities of Las
Cruces and El Paso, Dona Ana County, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe. Permanent
protection has also been endorsed by former Lt. Governor Diane Denish, former State
Secretary of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Joanna Prukop, and many state
representatives, state senators, county commissioners, city councilors, archaeological
societies, religious leaders, and local residents. Furthermore, Governor Bill Richardson
asked the Obama administration to designate the area a national monument before
leaving office.

“Sportsmen and their families have a long legacy of using Otero Mesa and every acre
we lose to development, of any kind, robs us of passing on that legacy,” said John
Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The long term values of its cultural,
recreational, hunting, and ranching and water resources far outweigh any short term
benefits of mining.”

For more information on the values of Otero Mesa and efforts to ensure its protection
for future generations, visit www.oteromesa.org


DoI Press Release: Spotlight on National Landscape Conservation System

For Immediate Release
Date: November 15, 2010
Contact: Kendra Barkoff, DOI
Phone: (202) 208-6416

Secretary Salazar Establishes New Directorate For National Landscape Conservation System

Elevated management focus for 27 million acres of nationally significant public lands

LAS VEGAS, NV – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today issued a Secretarial Order elevating the Office of the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the level of a directorate within BLM.

doi logo

“This action reflects the growing importance of the 27-million acre National Landscape Conservation System to local economies, to the health of communities, and to the conservation of some of America’s greatest landscapes,” Salazar said at the National Landscape Conservation System Summit in Las Vegas. “The BLM plays a special role in protecting America’s great outdoors for the benefit of all Americans – for it is the national conservation lands that contain the forests and canyons that families love to explore, the backcountry where children learn to hunt and fish, and the places that tell the story of our history and our cultures. Each of these places within the National Landscape Conservation System holds special meaning to the American people and is an engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities.”

This National Landscape Conservation System was established as an integral part of the Bureau of Land Management by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, a bipartisan initiative that responded to the critical need, as the population of the West increases, to conserve open spaces that are a unique part of America’s heritage. As an integral part of the BLM’s multiple-use mission, conservation is a long-term investment that provides quality of life and economic benefits for current and future generations.

The system contains many of our Nation’s most treasured landscapes, including scientific, historic and cultural resources, wilderness and wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, national conservation areas, and scenic and historic trails, among others.

These lands are managed as an integral part of the larger landscape, in collaboration with the neighboring landowners and surrounding communities. The management objectives are to maintain biodiversity and promote ecological connectivity and resilience in the face of climate change. When consistent with the values for which they were designated, lands in the system may allow appropriate multiple uses, such as grazing, energy development and tourism.

Managers of the system recognize the importance of a diversity of viewpoints when considering management options. These nationally important landscapes are managed from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing upon the expertise of specialists throughout the BLM, and in coordination with the tribes, other Federal, state, and local government agencies, interested local landowners, adjacent communities, and other public and private interests.

The directorate will be called the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships. The Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management is responsible for ensuring implementation of this Order within 120 days. This responsibility may be delegated, as appropriate.

The signing of the Secretarial Order followed Salazar’s remarks to a summit of the National Landscape Conservation System, attended by several hundred BLM officials and employees as well as non-government stakeholders and state and local representatives.

The Secretarial Order is available HERE.

The Secretary’s remarks are available HERE.