BLM conservation rule will safeguard wildlife, cherished lands and watersheds
With trees budding, cactus blooming, and rivers flowing at full capacity, springtime on our public lands reminds us all just how lucky we are to be surrounded by such beauty and majesty. New Mexico is blessed with a rich and diverse tapestry of history, culture, and sacred traditions all rooted in our land and our wildlife. Whether we’re watching bighorn sheep scaling the cliffs of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, eagles soaring above the Caja del Rio, or pronghorn moving through Otero Mesa, our state truly is the Land of Enchantment.
But it is also important to remember that to whom much is given, much is expected. As individuals and communities, we have a sacred duty to be responsible stewards of this amazing place. Unfortunately, too many of New Mexico’s public lands have been degraded due to illegal dumping, energy development, wildfire, invasive species, and other human impacts. It’s time for us to be better stewards of our land.
Fortunately, we soon may have some help from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the 13 million acres it manages in New Mexico. The agency recently proposed elevating “conservation” as a use – on par with other uses such as oil and gas development and mining. The BLM’s mission has always been to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Unfortunately, for far too long, the agency has focused on “productivity” more than “health and diversity” of these lands. In the face of a rapidly changing climate, this new conservation rule will right that wrong.
The goal of this proposal, called the Public Lands Rule, is to restore BLM lands and waters, improve ecosystem resilience, and ensure that intact landscapes that are necessary for wildlife to survive remain intact. Large landscapes support migration pathways so wildlife can find food and mates, move seasonally, and adapt to the impacts from wildfires and climate change. This rule also seeks to identify and prioritize landscapes that need restoration by working with Tribal partners, states, and local communities. The lands would be regularly monitored to ensure that new management practices are indeed improving the health of the ecosystems.
The benefits of such a policy are numerous. Not only will wildlife habitat be restored, but the risks of wildfire will be reduced, the spread of invasive species will be controlled, forage for livestock will be improved, and opportunities for hiking, camping, and other outdoor recreation will be expanded. Healthier BLM lands will also make communities more resilient in the face climate change.
The proposed conservation rule is win-win proposition for all. The new rule doesn’t alter the “multiple use” mission of the BLM, but in fact honors its original intent as it ensures that any energy development, mining, or grazing are done with an eye toward responsible land use and sustainability.
This proposed rule will rebalance priorities to protect iconic areas like Otero Mesa, a majestic desert grassland and sportsman’s paradise. It is home to the state’s only remaining native pronghorn herd and more than 1,000 other species of wildlife. The new rule could ensure that these lands flourish and potentially lead to the restoration of bighorn sheep.
Or consider an area just outside the state capitol: the Caja del Rio that spans more than 106,000 acres and contains more than 4,000 Native petroglyphs and artifacts from the famed El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and Route 66. Yet, for far too long, this incredible area has been plagued by vandalism and desecration of Native petroglyphs and sacred sites, illegal dumping, poaching, unregulated Off Highway Vehicle use, encroaching urban development, mining, wildfire, and climate change. Having a strong conservation rule will help bring needed support to this cherished area.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently taking public comment on the rule and will be holding a public meeting in Albuquerque on May 30. I hope all people who enjoy the majesty of our sweeping landscapes will take the time to engage on this issue. Let the agency know that you support elevating conservation so that our public lands survive and thrive for generations to come.