Otero Mesa

Otero Mesa is America’s largest remaining Chihuahuan Desert grassland. Located at the southern end of New Mexico, the area is home to sweeping vistas of vast black grama grass punctuated by ocotillo plants and the dramatic volcanic Cornudas Mountains.

Sometimes called the Serengeti of the Southwest, Otero Mesa provides important habitat for New Mexico’s healthiest herd of pronghorn antelope, as well as mountain lions, black-tailed prairie dogs, golden eagles and the endangered aplomado falcon.

But this biologically diverse wildland is threatened by oil and gas exploration, hard rock mining and other industrial activity that could degrade the area’s unique character and damage wildlife habitat.

The Wilderness Society and our partner groups have fended off past attempts to open these fragile grasslands to oil and gas drilling. However, such attacks continue to this day. To ensure Otero Mesa is preserved for the long term, we are working to secure wilderness and national monument status for Otero Mesa’s unique wildlands.

Not only will such protections preserve the natural beauty and habitat of Otero Mesa, but also the longevity of a wealth of cultural and historic sites, including Native American petroglyphs and artifacts, and remnants of the historic Butterfield Overland stagecoach routes.

Work we are doing

The Wilderness Society is working to protect Otero Mesa from hard-rock mining (above) and other development. Credit: EcoFlight.

Protection from drilling and development

In collaboration with local partners, The Wilderness Society is working to protect this fragile wild landscape from drilling and mining by engaging in the Bureau of Land Management’s land-use planning process and raising awareness. Opening Otero Mesa to development would destroy the unique natural and cultural aspects of this special place. Additionally, development in Otero Mesa could pollute the Salt Basin aquifer, fouling the largest untapped fresh water supply in the state.

Wilderness-quality lands

The Wilderness Society works with local and national partners to identify lands with wilderness characteristics on Otero Mesa, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. With that information, we advocate for protection of those wildlands in the Bureau of Land Management’s land-use planning process. Lands with wilderness characteristics are outstanding places for hiking, camping and birdwatching, and provide important wildlife habitat.

National monument designation

Through our partnerships and campaigns, we are encouraging decision makers to protect Otero Mesa as a national monument. A monument designation will  preserve Otero Mesa’s vast natural, historic, scientific and cultural resources for future generations.

Raising awareness

One of the ways we are working to protect Otero Mesa is by raising awareness about how important it is as a natural landmark, as wildlife habitat and as part of New Mexico's wild heritage. We do this by producing reports and other educational materials, generating media coverage, grassroots organizing and meeting with local communities and elected officials. By raising awareness, we can help urge decision-makers to permanently protect America’s wildest grassland.

Our partners

The Wilderness Society works with a diverse coalition of local partners to protect Otero Mesa. 

Experience Otero Mesa

Pronghorn antelope in Otero Mesa. Credit: Lisa Phillips (BLM), flickr.

Otero Mesa is a hauntingly beautiful landscape that stretches more than 1.2 million acres in southern New Mexico—home to the largest, wildest Chihuahuan Desert grasslands left in the nation, as well as a vital migratory flyway used by hundreds of species of songbirds.