BLM Resource Management Plan for Sierra, Otero and Doña Ana counties needs work — lots of it

Otero Mesa

By Dan Lorimier, chapter conservation coordinator

Back in 1986 the Bureau of Land Management’s Las Cruces District Office, which oversees roughly 5 million acres of federal lands in Hidalgo, Grant, Luna, Sierra, Doña Ana and Otero counties, finalized the White Sands Resource Management Plan for Sierra and Otero counties and in 1993 published the Mimbres Resource Management Plan covering Doña Ana, Luna, Hidalgo and Grant counties.

In 2004 they attempted to amend the gas and oil leasing sections of these plans but were prevented from implementing the amended plan by the 10th District Court of Appeals and instructed to prepare a new, more legitimate gas and oil leasing plan for the area. In 2005 BLM began the scoping process for the Tri-County RMP. This new RMP is needed to reflect changing policies, land-use conditions and emerging issues such as climate change.

Tri-County RMP

Now, the Las Cruces District Office has released a Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the Tri-County area of Sierra, Otero and Doña Ana counties. When finalized, this new RMP will revise the 1986 White Sands RMP and amend the 1993 Mimbres RMP. These three counties contain 8.9 million acres overall, 2.8 million acres of BLM surface lands and (including that 2.8 million acres) 3.9 million acres of federal subsurface mineral lands.

Shortcomings

Unfortunately, the Draft Tri-County RMP has some glaring deficiencies that will require a much better job from the BLM’s Las Cruces District Office in preparing the final plan. Here are a few of the most questionable aspects of the draft plan as presented:
• Although BLM offices are required to maintain a comprehensive inventory of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, this draft plan has a woefully incomplete inventory and the office lacks an ambitious plan to develop one. Even a cursory Geographic Information System and satellite overview could identify areas of 5,000 acres or more without roads, and these areas could then be protected until a thorough inventory is completed.
• The BLM wants to defer a plan for oil and gas leasing for several years and then amend the finalized RMP. In the meantime it proposes using the earlier RMPs to direct its leasing decisions. A moratorium on all oil and gas leasing in the Tri-County area would represent a more cautious and responsible approach to this critical planning element until the leasing amendment is adopted.
• This draft plan has no Travel Management plan and leaves BLM’s 2.8 million acres in the Tri-County area open to cross-country travel in any kind of vehicle from an ATV to a cement truck.
• Because the Rangeland Management Plan wasn’t questioned during the scoping process begun in 2005, the Las Cruces Office now proposes no change from the earlier plan. This decision ignores both the deep drought we expect to continue suffering in the Southwest and the severe climate-change predictions for this region.

Take action

In preparation for our members to submit comments on this poor planning effort, the Rio Grande Chapter’s Southern New Mexico Group has held meetings in Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces.

The comment period for the Tri-County Resource Management Plan ends on July 11. Anyone is welcome to submit comments electronically at NM_LCDO_Comments@blm.gov, or by mail to: Bureau Of Land Management, Attn: Jennifer Montoya, 1800 Marquess St., Las Cruces, NM, 88005.

At Southern Group meetings in Truth or Consequences on May 20 and in Las Cruces on June 12, more than 20 meaningful comments were submitted.

We encourage you to submit comments on this plan regardless of your location. These are public lands owned by all Americans, and your input is critical.

Please contact Dan Lorimier (575-740-2927) for suggestions on various troubling aspects of this draft plan. You can view the Tri-County Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact statement here.