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Conservationists Appeal to Feds to Protect Otero Mesa from Reckless Drilling

BLM seeks to roll back environmental protections; Oil and gas interests eye delicate desert ecosystem for development
February 9, 2004
Washington, DC — 
Earthjustice filed a formal protest with the federal Bureau of Land Management today to object to the government's plan to allow oil and gas development in the Otero Mesa and Nutt grasslands in New Mexico. The public-interest law firm for the environment submitted comments on behalf of six conservation groups claiming that BLM has failed to include adequate environmental protection measures in its proposal.

"The Bureau has done a complete about-face in choosing to overlook the threat extractive industries would pose in Otero Mesa," said Earthjustice attorney Mike Harris. "This is a fragile desert ecosystem -- home to sensitive species of plants and animals -- and BLM's plan would open it up to harmful types of development."

The grasslands at risk comprise more than a million acres of Chihuahuan Desert between Carlsbad, NM, and El Paso, TX. The BLM has attracted the ire of conservationists for proposing to open more than 90 percent of the area to oil and gas drilling. The groups, which include New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Southwest Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club, also contend that the proposed plan neglects to require leasing conditions to protect plants and wildlife in the most environmentally sensitive areas.

"Responsible management of public lands in New Mexico requires protection of these unique desert grasslands," said Harris. "What the BLM is proposing is anything but responsible. We hope they'll take this one back to the drawing board to ensure that oil and gas development does not destroy these grasslands and devastate the pronghorn, mule deer, and Aplomado falcon populations that rely upon this habitat."

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson formally opposed BLM's proposed management plan for Otero Mesa last week in an executive order that also directs the state to draft its own plan to propose to BLM and to establish stricter state rules for oil and gas drilling.

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Contact:
Mike Harris, 303-623-9466
Suzanne Carrier, 510-550-6765