Las Cruces – Nearly 1500 residents of southern New Mexico and west Texas celebrated Earth Day by sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, calling for the permanent protection of Otero Mesa in southern New Mexico.
Saying that it is time for action, the signers wrote that they wanted to see Otero Mesa protected, now and for the future. They invited Salazar to visit Otero Mesa to "experience the wild beauty of this landscape" and work with them on a plan for its permanent protection.
Otero Mesa is one of the largest and wildest desert grasslands in North America. "Otero Mesa is a national treasure," said Kevin von Finger of El Paso. "It provides habitat for many plant and animal species. As an ecologist, I know it is a vitally important part of the fabric of life in the Southwest, and it needs to be protected."
The signers also described the importance of Otero Mesa's water resources. "Otero Mesa sits atop one of New Mexico's largest untapped sources of fresh water--the Salt Basin aquifer," said Gary Camunez of Las Cruces. "This resource is far too important to jeopardize for a relatively small amount of oil and gas."
Pat Ward, a resident of Alamogordo, NM, said he thinks protecting Otero Mesa would be good for the local community. "I believe the quality of life in our community depends upon protecting natural areas like Otero Mesa," he said. These are the kinds of natural amenities that draw people and jobs to our area."
Jacki Villescas, of Las Cruces, says she supports protecting Otero Mesa for her children. "I'm very glad they have places to go where they can see wildlife and experience nature so directly. I hope Otero Mesa is protected, so it will be there for their children as well."
Otero Mesa provides outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation for the residents of the region. "As a hunter," said Gary Roemer, another signer from Las Cruces. "I appreciate that high quality wildlife areas like Otero Mesa are open to the public. I support permanent protection of this unique landscape, to make sure that it is there for hunters in the future."
The extraordinary values of Otero Mesa have been recognized by many elected officials and community leaders who have called for its permanent protection, including New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, numerous state legislators, city councils, county commissions, religious and tribal leaders, scientists, sportsmen, business owners and conservationists.
"As an elected official, I think it makes perfect sense, from an economic as well as quality of life view, to protect our natural assets, which is why I wholeheartedly support permanent protection for Otero Mesa," said Gill Sorg, Las Cruces City Councilor.
Conservation groups have been fighting to protect Otero Mesa from oil and gas development for the past decade. "This place is incredibly important,"said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center. "It's the kind of place our kids would never forgive us for if we let it be destroyed. We need to protect it, now and forever."