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Rally for New Mexico Wildlands, Wildlife, and Water – Majority of New Mexicans Support Environmental Protections from Oil and Ga

July 20, 2004
Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians, 505-699-7404
In This Release
Public Lands, Rivers, Wildlife  
Santa Fe, NM – July 20. Conservationists are converging on the NM state office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Santa Fe on Wednesday morning to promote protections for wildlands and wildlife from the threat of oil and gas. There is widespread opposition to the BLM’s plan to open Otero Mesa and other fragile natural areas up to drilling. A recent poll showed that 63% of New Mexicans support protection of Otero Mesa from oil and gas, while only 23% support the BLM’s plan to open the area up to drilling. Simultaneous to the protest for environmental protection on Wednesday morning is the BLM’s quarterly lease sale. Conservationists have lodged a formal challenge to the majority of the acreage being offered for lease on Wednesday.

Rally time & place: 1474 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe (Public Lands Information Center) from 10am-12 noon on Wednesday, July 21

BLM’s oil and gas policies are increasingly coming under fire in New Mexico, with the Richardson Administration’s challenge of the plan to open Otero Mesa up to oil and gas extraction and the state Oil Conservation Commission’s recent ban on the use of open pits in drilling on Otero Mesa and other desert grassland areas. A crucial issue on Otero Mesa is the area’s wilderness values, as over 500,000 acres meet legal requirements for wilderness designation but remain unprotected.

“New Mexicans understand that water is our lifeblood, its protection and quality are our future. Industry and the Bush Administration continue to push industry profits before the needs of average New Mexicans. They continue to ignore the overwhelming call in our state and nationally for protection of Otero Mesa, while pressuring the BLM to open it to full-scale development”, said Stephen Capra Executive Director of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

In its leasing program, BLM has continually refused to do full environmental analysis mandated by federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Since the onset of the Bush Administration, 463,000 acres have been leased by the BLM for drilling in NM and surrounding states. Nearly 48,000 additional acres will be offered during Wednesday’s sale. An investigation of the parcels for lease on Wednesday revealed that they provide important habitat for endangered species, including the northern aplomado falcon, Pecos sunflower, red-cockaded woodpecker, and lesser prairie chicken. Since October 2003, NM conservationists have challenged NM BLM leasing on 160,000 acres.

“The Bureau of Land Management is an out-of-control federal agency that is ignoring its duties to protect endangered species”, stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. Rosmarino continued, “BLM is signing away valuable wildlife habitat which cannot be restored once destroyed by drilling.”

Yates family companies are at the forefront of efforts to tap Otero Mesa for oil and gas. A close connection between the Yates oil and gas companies and the George W. Bush Administration has been documented by watchdog groups. Yates family members and their companies donated $145,000 to the Republican National Committee from 2000-2004 – including $90,000 in soft money directly from the Yates Petroleum. Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles has a long-time close relationship to Yates. Yates oil and gas companies exceed federal limits on lease holdings in their control of 2.7 million acres on federal land.

“The Bureau of Land Management has trampled the rights and wishes of the large majority of New Mexicans in its rush to exploit public lands for energy development,” stated Jim Steitz of the Southwest Environmental Center. Steitz continued, “This administration caters to wealthy oil and gas corporations instead of serving the present and future interests of New Mexicans in protecting the Otero Mesa.”

WildEarth Guardians seeks to preserve and restore native wildlands and wildlife in the American Southwest through fundamental reform of the policies and practices of the public and its agencies. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness Areas. The Southwest Environmental Center is dedicated to protecting and restoring the unique natural heritage of the Southwestern borderlands.

For a copy of the poll showing New Mexico public support for Otero Mesa protection, email stephen@nmwild.org. For more information on Otero Mesa, visit www.oteromesa.org.

Other Contact
Stephen Capra, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, 505-843-8696, Jim Steitz, Southwest Environmental Center, 435-770-4797, Mary Wiper, Sierra Club, 505-243-7767