Gas industry gambles on New Mexico mesa - Federal plan 

seeks balance in rare desert grasslands

 

(Note: The reader is asked to read with discretion; a property rights group 

seeking to control the property rights of another seems contradictory at best...)

September 10, 2001

By Laurel Jones

"Western Roundup"

It might not exactly be a love-in, but it’s good for the land. In New Mexico, the pro-property rights Paragon Foundation -- which has frequently defended ranchers against environmentalists’ lawsuits -- is teaming up with wilderness advocates to save Otero Mesa  

(HCN, 9/10/01: Gas industry gambles on New Mexico mesa). With oil and gas companies salivating for a crack at the mesa’s hidden treasures, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is pushing to protect over a half-million acres on the mesa as wilderness.

Otero County, New Mexico - Looking out across the rolling hills of blue and black grama grasses that surround his southeastern New Mexico ranch, Charlie Lee can spot a car coming from miles away by the cloud of dust it kicks up.

Smack-dab between Carlsbad and Las Cruces, and surrounded by a sea of Bureau of Land Management grazing lands, Lee’s Hat Ranch is 70 miles from the nearest city and so off the beaten path that even the U.S. mail doesn't make the trek.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything," says Charlie Lee of his remote ranch life. A New Mexico senator in the 1980s, Lee has had plenty of opportunities to leave his home on Otero Mesa, but he has chosen, time and again, to stay. "I like the weather and I like the solitude."

Now, it looks as if Lee’s quiet existence could become a thing of the past.

In 1997, the Roswell-based Harvey E. Yates Company (HEYCO) discovered an estimated 1 trillion cubic-feet of natural gas under the surface of Otero Mesa, enough to supply one-twentieth of what the U.S. consumes in a year.

 With over 100 new lease applications from gas companies waiting for review, the local BLM office is hustling to develop new management regulations that will balance natural resource extraction with sound habitat protection.

But favorable market conditions and a friendly administration in Washington make protecting this seemingly unremarkable stretch of grassland in the Chihuahuan desert a challenge.

In a draft plan released in October, the BLM selected a preferred alternative that leaves 68 percent of the mesa open to leasing, pleasing neither gas companies nor environmentalists.

While Otero Mesa may not have the visual grandeur of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front or Wyoming’s Red Desert, environmentalists are nonetheless promising a fight.

They see Otero Mesa as an early test of the Bush administration’s resolve to open undeveloped and biologically important public lands to oil and gas development.

"It’s not Yosemite Valley, and we're not going to get the nation going berserk to save it ... but it’s one of the healthiest environments in the state," says Stephen Capra, media coordinator for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=10711

Additional related information:

Results [excerpted] for "Paragon Foundation" "Otero Mesa"

Stories: Coalition For Otero Mesa
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1
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