Mining Claims in Otero Mesa Nearly Triple

May 5, 2011

Nathan Newcomer, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance 505-250-4225
John Cornell, New Mexico Wildlife Federation 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*

For nearly a decade, the Coalition for Otero Mesa has worked to safeguard the fragile grasslands, abundant wildlife, and freshwater resources of this rare landscape from full-scale oil and gas drilling. Now, the volatile threat of hardrock mining in the region has grown exponentially.

In January of this year, the Coalition discovered 68 mining claims had been staked in the heart of Otero Mesa, but now that number has nearly tripled to 183 claims. Denver-based Geovic Mining Corp, also majority owner of the largest cobalt-producing operation in the world (based in Cameroon, Africa), is the lead company seeking to mine for zirconium and other rare earth minerals. This type of mining operation could destroy Otero Mesa’s rare and fragile ecosystem, seriously damaging wildlife habitat, soil composition and underground aquifers in the region.

“Otero Mesa is an extraordinarily rare landscape, and if this project moves forward, we could ultimately see the poisoning of our groundwater and the complete removal of the iconic mountains in this beautiful grassland,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Hardrock mining has absolutely no place in the heart of Otero Mesa.”

On April 21st, Geovic Mining Corp filed for a “Minimal Impact Exploration Permit Application” with the State Mining and Minerals Division. However, obtaining a state mining permit does not necessarily satisfy the obligation to obtain other federal, state and local permits. The company is proposing to drill 10 test wells, with the majority of them on the slopes of the iconic Wind Mountain. All of the pending mining operations are either within proposed wilderness areas or proposed Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).1

“To us Apache, Otero Mesa is our cathedral,” said Ted Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of the Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa. “This hardrock mining plan for so-called “rare earth” minerals has the potential to significantly alter the landscape, but what is more rare than this earth that we N’de hold so sacred?” Mr. Rodriguez is also the Headman of the Mescalero Apache Traditional Elders Council and serves on various tribal committees.

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.

“Otero Mesa has been a special place for Southern New Mexico Sportsmen for many generations,” said John Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Hard rock mining, in any form, would have a serious negative impact on wildlife, habitat and the salt basin aquifer.”

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.

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

Scroll to Top