After working successfully for more than a decade to protect New Mexico’s wild desert grassland Otero Mesa from oil and gas drilling, a new threat has emerged – hardrock mining. This winter, we learned that a mining company recently staked dozens of mining claims on Otero Mesa and plans to conduct exploratory drilling for rare earth minerals. The mining claims are in areas we have proposed for wilderness protection and “area of critical environmental concern” designation, and where we hope the Obama administration will designate a national monument.
Otero Mesa is one of the largest and wildest Chihuahuan desert grassland remaining on public lands in the United States. This expansive landscape is home to more than a thousand native species, and is a recognized by the Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area. Thousands of ancient archeological sites can be found in Otero Mesa, including on Alamo Mountain, where petroglyphs date back 1500 years. Furthermore, the Salt Basin aquifer, which underlies Otero Mesa, is considered to be the state’s largest, untapped freshwater resource.
All of these values and resources would be put in grave danger by mining on Otero Mesa, which could foreclose hunting and hiking opportunities, as well as other traditional uses of the land, and contaminate water supplies with toxic tailings. Mining on public lands is currently administered under the archaic 1872 Mining Law, in which companies pay no royalties and public lands that are mined are subject to insufficient environmental review and protections. It’s past time we stop allowing mining companies to run roughshod over our public lands and treasured landscapes. We need permanent protection for Otero Mesa now!