About Otero Mesa

New Mexico’s Otero Mesa is the largest and wildest Chihuahuan Desert grassland left on public lands in America. The area is located southeast of Alamogordo, west of Carlsbad and straddles the Texas border. At over 1.2 million acres in size, the area is home to diverse 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 is able to nourish such a wide variety of species because of the expansive black grama grasslands. Grassland expert, Professor Walter G. Whitford notes that the soils, which support the black grama grasses, are remarkably shallow and as a result are particularly sensitive to any type of activity that would alter its composition.

Thousands of ancient petroglyphs and archeological sites can be found on the volcanic Cornudas Mountains, including several ruins from the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Route. Additionally, 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. Preliminary findings suggest that there is at least 57 million acre feet of groundwater and that due to the fractured nature of the geology, the aquifer could be vulnerable to the rapid spread of contamination.

In early 2001, the Bush administration and the oil and gas industry targeted Otero Mesa for fullscale drilling. To date, no new drilling has occurred.

It is the objective of the Coalition for Otero Mesa to continue to hold the line on any oil and gas drilling and gain permanent protection for the Serengeti of the Southwest.

What We’ve Accomplished:

In April, 2009, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on litigation brought by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the State of New Mexico, and a number of other conservation groups challenging the Resource Management Plan Amendment for Otero and Sierra Counties. In addition to recognizing the ecological importance of Otero Mesa, the court specifically found that the RMP Amendment did not adequately consider potential impacts of oil and gas development in causing habitat fragmentation in the grasslands or in contaminating the Salt Basin Aquifer. Furthermore, the court found that BLM’s entire RMP Amendment is flawed because the agency did not consider an alternative to protect all of Otero Mesa from oil and gas drilling. The BLM will now need to consider and analyze sufficient protections in a supplemental process. This new process could take several years to complete, which gives us the opportunity to take a proactive approach to find ways to permanently protect Otero Mesa – America’s Wildest Grassland.

Beginning in 2002, we were successful in garnering the strong support of Bill Richardson, who was in his first term as Governor. Since being elected to his second term, Governor Richardson has been a staunch advocate of protecting Otero Mesa, including signing an Executive Order directing all state agencies to work to conserve the resources of this wild grassland. In 2004, the State of New Mexico sued the Bush administration over the drilling plans for Otero Mesa, making it the first time in history that the state filed a lawsuit with the federal government over a public lands issue. In early 2007 we were successful in securing a moratorium on any new drilling or leasing in Otero Mesa until the Salt basin Aquifer Study could be completed.

Our Goal:

Secure permanent protection for Otero Mesa – America’s wildest grassland.

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