Protecting Otero Mesa is prime example of how to implement America's Great Outdoors initiative

President Obama began the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative as a “promise to future generations” – that our children’s children will experience vast untamed landscapes, clean air and water, and the opportunity to learn first-hand about our cultural heritage. This year, the administration released a report that outlines the goals and objectives of AGO, and how this promise can be fulfilled.

Reading through the report as a wilderness advocate, I was gratified to see the administration’s commitment to leaving a conservation legacy in part by preserving large iconic landscapes and restoring the health to our varied ecosystems. But I was struck by something else, too – that our decade-long campaign to protect New Mexico’s wild desert grassland Otero Mesa perfectly embodies the goals of the AGO initiative.

At 1.2 million acres in size and with over 1,000 native species, Otero Mesa is the largest and wildest desert grassland left on public lands in the United States. Over 500,000 acres of Otero Mesa qualify for Wilderness designation, and thousands of ancient archaeological sites can be found scattered throughout the grassland’s mountains, where petroglyphs date back at least 1500 years. Furthermore, the grassland sits above an aquifer called the Salt Basin, which is considered to be the state’s largest, untapped freshwater resource.

Recognizing the wilderness, wildlife, and cultural values of Otero Mesa, a coalition of sportsmen, conservation organizations, and local citizens has worked for years to protect the grassland from destructive oil and gas drilling and mining. We’ve maintained an active presence in communities near Otero Mesa and throughout New Mexico, raising awareness of the benefits of protected public lands and educating stakeholders how traditional uses of the grassland, such as hunting and ranching, would continue with a protective designation in place. We’ve reached out to young people and tribes, having conversations about the importance of Otero Mesa and ways to protect its cultural and educational significance.

The Otero Mesa campaign has been built from the roots up, and we are proud of the diverse array of New Mexicans that have shown support for protecting the grassland. To showcase our efforts, we put together a report called “Otero Mesa and the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative: A Promise for Future Americans.”

The report details page-by-page how the campaign for Otero Mesa reflects the goals established in President Obama’s AGO initiative. This report should help the administration realize that Otero Mesa is a perfect candidate for the President’s conservation legacy.

As Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said while in Washington, DC for Great Outdoors America Week, “we have worked diligently to engage the public and garner local support from many diverse stakeholders, and now we are relying on President Obama to provide permanent protection for this iconic grassland through the America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”