The landscape of Southeast New Mexico has been my home since I was born in Roswell in 1966. I’ve spent my life enjoying the outdoors on vast public lands containing a diverse population of wildlife species, but it is increasingly dominated by oil and gas development. While there are economic benefits to energy development, it also fragments important habitat and wildlife corridors, which puts further stress on already struggling wildlife populations. The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to release a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Carlsbad area and I am concerned that it will not do enough to safeguard the hunting traditions I hold dear.
The plan has been in development since 2011 and will determine how the Carlsbad field office manages more than 6.2 million acres for the next 20 years. In one of the busiest oil and gas regions in the western United States, the BLM wants to make nearly 97% of the planning area available to oil and gas leasing. That makes it impossible to protect key wildlife habitat and conserve big game wildlife migration.
Southeast New Mexico holds key habitat for pronghorn, deer and a variety of upland game birds, and that habitat has been increasingly stressed by energy development. The N.M. Department of Game and Fish identified this region as a priority area for deer and pronghorn habitat under the Interior Department’s own Secretarial Order 3362, so it is surprising and disappointing the plan does not do more to conserve New Mexicans’ natural heritage. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has been an outspoken supporter of wildlife corridors, but neither he nor others at Interior or BLM appear interested in protecting wildlife in southeast New Mexico.
The Carlsbad plan fails to include protections for lands with wilderness characteristics and fails to designate proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, including those that would specifically protect birds of prey and desert rivers.
The BLM is required by law and policy to inventory public lands for wilderness characteristics and consider protectively managing them in Resource Management Plans. The BLM has identified 66,666 acres of lands with wilderness characteristics in the Carlsbad Field Office, but protects only 5,119 acres in its Preferred Alternative.
Similarly, BLM is supposed to designate Areas of Critical Environmental Concern where special management attention is needed to protect important fish, wildlife and other natural resources, and historical, cultural and scenic values, but the Preferred Alternative includes less than 20% of the acreage that wildlife advocates recommended to protect wildlife, migratory birds and rare plants.
The final RMP should protect all lands with wilderness characteristics and areas of environmental concern to safeguard some of the last untouched places in the heavily developed Permian Basin for wildlife and ensure these continue to provide quality backcountry recreation and wilderness experiences for future generations.
Given the unprecedented pace of Permian oil and gas development, we need better protection of key wildlife habitat before it’s too late. There is still time for the BLM to improve its Carlsbad RMP with added protections for the land, air and water our wildlife and hunting traditions depend on.
Mark Pantuso is an active member of New Mexico Wildlife Federation and serves on the Sportsperson’s Advisory Committee to the N.M. State Land Office.