TriCounty Resource Management Plan Revision
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Las Cruces District Office (LCDO) is revising the Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the TriCounty planning area. This plan will direct management of 3.4 million acres of public BLM lands in Otero, Sierra, and Doña Ana counties over the next 15 – 20 years. Drafting of this plan has been ongoing since 2005. A draft plan was issued for public comment in April 2013. However, this draft plan failed to adequately address lands with wilderness characteristics and other conservation measures. In doing so, the draft plan did not provide an adequate basis from which to make future land management decisions. The LCDO is currently in the process of collecting necessary data and drafting a supplement to address these concerns. A draft release date has not been set.
Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and BLM Planning
Over 450,000 acres of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs) have been documented in the TriCounty area during inventories conducted by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2012 and 2013. While these lands meet the BLM’s wilderness characteristics criteria, this does not guarantee their wilderness qualities will be preserved. The BLM can formally recognize these areas as having wilderness characteristics in the RMP, and can also decide to manage them for preservation of these characteristics for the life of the plan. Without this recognition, these wilderness-quality lands become fair game for oil and gas leasing or other uses that could alter their cultural and ecological integrity and future wilderness potential. Help us encourage the BLM to protect places like Otero Mesa, the Brokeoff Mountains, the Robledos and Sierra de las Uvas Mountains, the Greater Portrillos, and the San Andres Mountains using this administrative designation. Protection will contribute to maintaining a contiguous corridor of undeveloped landscapes – both natural and cultural – in this unique and spectacular region of New Mexico.
Protection for Otero Mesa
Otero Mesa is a rare island of grassland habitat amid the vast Chihuahuan desert at the edge of the Tularosa Valley. Spanning over 1.2 million acres, it is the largest and wildest remaining expanse of Chihuahuan desert grasslands on U.S. public lands. Coined “America’s Serengeti”, over 1,000 native wildlife species call Otero Mesa home. Although the area is now basically uninhabited, a rich cultural history is evidenced by sacred Native American sites, petroglyphs, old wagon trails, and legends of the Old West.
Over the past several years, many different designations have been proposed for this area, but to date, none have been finalized, leaving Otero Mesa yet unprotected. Revision of the TriCounty RMP provides an opportunity to gain some level of protection for this special grassland through a combination of administrative conservation measures. A creative mix of management of qualifying units as lands with wilderness characteristics, designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and/or designation of Backcountry Conservation Areas within the Mesa could effectively ensure this rare and special place is preserved and conserved for many generations to come.
What makes these areas special?
Geological and Paleontological Resources
The TriCounty area boasts an impressive array of geologic features ranging from broad volcanic fields, craters, cinder cones, and shield volcanos to sand dunes, world-class fossil beds, dramatic cliffs, box canyons, and caves. Deep below ground, the Salt Basin Aquifer remains the largest untapped fresh water aquifer in New Mexico.
This region of southcentral New Mexico is infused with culture. Sacred Native American sites and ancient petroglyphs dot places like Otero Mesa. Ruts left by wagon wheels remain visible almost 150 years after use of the Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Route. Legends of the Wild West linger into the present day with stories of historical figures like Geronimo and Billy the Kid.
Wildlife and Habitat
Undeveloped lands across the TriCounty region create an important biotic link between species in northern Mexico and those in the southwestern United States. Coined “America’s Serengeti”, Otero Mesa spans 1.2 million acres of Chihuahuan desert grassland and is home to over 1,000 species of wildlife, including New Mexico’s only indigenous population of pronghorn antelope.
More than 200 bird species have been documented in the greater Otero Mesa area including rare birds like the Aplomado falcon and Baird’s sparrow. Mountain lion, gray fox, bobcat, bats, pronghorn, desert bighorn, mule deer, and many others find ideal habitat here, as well.
Recreational opportunities are numerous throughout this region with five mountain ranges, countless cliffs and canyons, expansive grasslands, and outstanding opportunities for solitude and a primitive wilderness experience. Preserving these lands enhances recreational opportunities for local communities and area visitors, alike. Activities such as hiking, sightseeing, backpacking, climbing, hunting, camping, birdwatching, rock hounding, exploring, horseback riding, and photography could all be enhanced by protection.
Participate in the Management and Protection of YOUR Public Lands!
Release of the draft RMP and associated EIS will trigger a 90-day public comment period within which we need to tell the BLM that protection of the Greater Otero Mesa region and other wild lands in TriCounty planning area are important aspects of a balanced management approach that helps ensure conservation of our nation’s ecological and cultural heritage. The 90-day public comment period provides an opportunity for YOU to express your concerns about the management guidelines proposed in the revised RMP. Your help is needed to spread the word about this planning process and recruit supporters for land protection. CLICK HERE to add your name to our TriCounty Action page so we can keep you informed about comment periods, public meetings, comment writing workshops, and other events associated with the TriCounty RMP.