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Roadless Areas and Wildlife At Risk Under Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Program

July 19, 2004
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife  
#EndTheWarOnWildlife, #KeepItInTheGround
Santa Fe, NM – July 19. WildEarth Guardians formally appealed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to issue oil and gas leases on over 31,000 acres, including roadless areas on the Lincoln National Forest in southeastern NM. The BLM had deferred a decision on the lease parcels in late May, but decided to proceed with leasing in June. On Friday, WildEarth Guardians appealed lease issuance on these parcels, in part based on New Mexico Wilderness Alliance mapping that showed BLM is leasing irreplaceable roadless areas. In addition, parcels with habitat for imperiled species, including aplomado falcons, black-tailed prairie dogs, and lesser prairie chickens, will now be open to oil and gas drilling.

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. 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 October 2003, WildEarth Guardians has challenged BLM leasing on over 125,000 acres in New Mexico and surrounding states, primarily based on endangered species concerns.

“The Bureau of Land Management is an out-of-control federal agency that is abdicating its duty to protect natural values on our public lands”, stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. Rosmarino continued, “While we don’t expect better environmental policies from the Bush Administration, we can certainly demand better policies.”

The BLM’s April 2004 lease sale included parcels within two roadless areas in the Guadalupe Mountains on the Lincoln National Forest and adjacent BLM lands: North Rocky Canyon / Rawhide Canyon, and Huapache Canyon. The Guadalupe Mountains are arguably one of the most scenic mountain ranges in New Mexico and contain a diverse flora and fauna including many endemic and threatened and endangered species. The rugged, deep canyons and unique limestone outcrops of these roadless areas are part of this beauty. Rawhide Canyon has a Research Natural Area, designated for its excellent representation of deciduous woodlands and grasslands within Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems.

“The American people have clearly and repeatedly supported protection of roadless areas,” stated Michael Scialdone of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Scialdone continued, “Over 80% of public lands in the Carlsbad District are under lease for oil and gas, making a mockery of the agency’s multiple use mandate, yet BLM continues to issue leases, now going into the few remaining roadless areas left in this part of the state.”

New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and a diversity of organizations and individuals from many different walks of life make up the Otero Mesa coalition, formed to counter the threat to Otero Mesa, which contains over 500,000 acres which qualify for wilderness designation and crucial habitat for the federally endangered northern aplomado falcon.

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.