A Wildlife Sanctuary

The Chihuahuan Desert is among the most biodiverse places on Earth, and Otero Mesa is one of the last, best, intact fragments of that ecosystem. Otero Mesa’s grasslands are extraordinarily healthy and diverse. The area is home to at least 13 species of grasses, including some that are rare or found nowhere else in the region. In ungrazed areas of the Mesa, grass cover as high as 42% has been measured. By comparison, rangelands considered to be in “good” condition elsewhere in the region typically have only six or seven species and 10% to 20% grass cover.

The area is home to a stunning array of animal species that have evolved to thrive in grasslands either as their home range or for migration. You’ll find one of the few herds of native pronghorn in the state as well as the rare spotted bat and many colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs, which are imperiled in the Southwest. At least 170 inspecies and as many as 200 species of birds live or migrate through the Mesa. Otero Mesa is also home toa rich array of reptilian and amphibian species.

Nationally, grassland birds have suffered a 53 percent decline since 1970, exceeding the losses of any other biome. As one of the largest intact grasslands in the United States, Otero Mesa serves as a vital breeding, migratory, and wintering habitat for several of the most imperiled grassland species, including the northern aplomado falcon, mountain plover, burrowing owl, Spraque’s pipit, and Baird’s sparrow. As a result, this area has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

While the grasses of Otero Mesa have created the right habitat for so many species, it is the vastness of the area that has protected many of those species. During periods of drought, the unfragmented landscape allows many species to have room to migrate to more favorable conditions. If we lose these qualities of Otero Mesa, we stand to lose so much in terms of biodiversity.

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