San Juan Badlands - The Art of the Possible

San Juan Basin Badlands - Cejita Blanca 4

By Michael Ritchie

“The Art of the Possible” is a recent expression of that well-known axiom “think globally, act locally.” On the national level, political posturing and gridlock have halted any real solutions to America’s diverse problems. Understandably, many of us have transcended despair and graduated to numbness.

Achieving Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) designation for the five BLM-administered badlands west of Cuba is a very doable first step and quantum leap in this state where public lands are used primarily for short-term exploitation such as oil & gas development, mining, off-road vehicles and woodcutting. We can score a real victory for New Mexico’s natural heritage while keeping our eyes on the greater goal of encouraging the BLM to adopt long-range, sustainable management practices for all our public lands.

The Rio Grande Chapter first addressed the issue of the five Cuba-area badlands’ conservation in June 2009. These considerable scenic, ecological and recreational resources were virtually unknown, even to the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office that manages them. I took 10 Field Office staffers, including Manager Tom Gow, on a Sierra Club-sponsored hike to Ceja Pelon’s petrified forests in September 2009 with immediate positive response. This hike coincided with the office’s 20-year Resource Management Plan Review process.

The Rio Puerco Field Office will begin a 90-day Public Comment period for its new Resource Management Plan (RMP) as soon as it is published (currently scheduled for March 1) We recommend choosing Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) status for the five Cuba-area badlands, including much-needed extra funding for enhanced protection. SRMA status will support the BLM’s efforts to stop the illegal wood-cutting in this area. The BLM’s own recent study shows that a mind-boggling 1,200 live, old-growth junipers have been cut this past year within the Rio Puerco Field Office’s jurisdiction. Two of the badlands, Cejita Blanca and Ceja Pelon, have been tragically affected.

Tourism is New Mexico’s second-largest economic activity. Managed properly, it is environmentally sustainable. The potential economic and cultural benefits from five well-protected recreation areas west of Cuba are significant, not only for local residents but for the whole state.

When the RMP comes in, the Chapter and its allies will critique it and create a series of bullet points to make it easy for members to send comments in favor of SRMA designation and related issues. Just think, in these turbulent, frustrating times, a half hour will make a lifetime’s difference. There are likely to be public meetings scheduled, which we urge you to attend. If interested, please send your e-mail address to and Norma McCallan,, for future alerts.