By Janice Merino
As I looked out upon the beautiful mesa, I imagined my ancestors running over the grasslands.
The Chiricahua were nomadic by nature and would travel by foot from place to place, over hundreds of miles, following their food source through the seasons. My soul whispered, “I love this land.”
My people could easily be hidden in the shadows of the land, hidden from the U.S. Cavalry. They were the last to surrender to the U.S. government.
They were excellent warriors and knew how to be one with nature. As I hiked through the hills and rocks with ancient writings, I was amazed by the revelation I was given. They loved Usen (God). He gave them strength, wisdom, intellect and an intense desire to live and fight.
They survived off the food and water in the desert that most people would not be able to find. They left hidden tales and messages for those who would come generations later, messages written in stone, of heaven, power and a way of life.
This place, like many scattered across southern New Mexico and Arizona, is sacred but also precious to a generation that hungers for knowledge of their ancestors.
The teenage boys were eager to explore this mountain. Others were amazed at the abundant amount of Indian food and medicine that was available in this place. I just soaked it all in. I began to feel a little homesick as memories of my grandmother flashed through my mind. I began to wonder about the life my ancestors lived.
It is easy to see the hardship, but I could not help but think of how wonderful it could have been in times of peace. I think of the history of America. So much misunderstanding and pain, but my people lived free. No one could capture or break that spirit. It’s still alive today, in my relatives, on the wind, and in the secret places where my people thrived and survived.
And that freedom is here, alive on Otero Mesa.
By Rainey Enjady
Without a doubt, Otero Mesa is one of the most spectacular places I have ever ventured to. It is tranquil and peaceful. The enticing and serene scenery is a timeless space of beauty, wonder and longing.
I was able to witness nature’s spectacle at its finest — the forces of erosion, wind and water, thunderstorms, bitter cold and broiling heat. The places where life clings and thrives, sometimes for only days, other times for centuries.
One can lose oneself here, both physically and spiritually. The most lasting impressions are the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of the plants and the simplicity of the sand and grass, the silence of growth.
Here, everything is sharp and clear. The colors are such that cannot be portrayed as they are deep and rich as if the light flowed in and out of the rock rather than being reflected by it.
Otero Mesa holds a perfect and natural balance between lifelessness and living vibrancy.
Janice Merino is a Mescalero Apache tribal member and a descendant of Cochise and Victorio. Rainey Enjady is a descendant of Chief Natzille and a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. This article was submitted by Otero County Citizens for Otero Mesa which is building local support for the permanent protection of Otero Mesa. Em-ail email@example.com.
EcoFlight – Southern New Mexico: Otero Mesa – Monument Proposal from EcoFlight on Vimeo.]]>
One Wednesday afternoon in 1961, I discovered Otero Mesa — although at the time I didn’t even know its name.
During this time I had a busy dental practice in El Paso. To unwind from the stress, I jumped into my little Piper aircraft and explored the open range east of El Paso.
Flying leisurely along, I scared up a large herd of antelope. I dropped down to about 10 feet above ground, slowed down to pace the running herd, and followed them to large meadows of the greenest grass I’d ever seen.
Grazing in this oasis were a half dozen deer. All the surrounding land was desert. I made this place my special hideout. There were never any other living beings around; I never even saw a car during the years that I revisited on a regular basis.
After my retirement and moving to Bent, I met Styve Homnick and had to listen to his raving about Otero Mesa. Showing me its location on a map, I recognized it as my secret place. I disagreed about his wanting to set it aside from any commercial development because most of it was a desert wasteland upon which oil and gas had been discovered.
I have been an investor in these wells in the past and my experience was that these wells could be developed without the pollution that Styve was concerned about.
As time went on and I learned about the historic and archaeological treasures scattered throughout the region, I was slowly converted to the preservation of the whole area.
It was really hard for this stubborn old man to admit that he was wrong.
Richard Tinguely, DDS, is a veteran of World War II and Korea. He retired and moved to Bent in 1982 and is the author of the book “Bent Dreams.” He is presently married to the former Caron Crane Tinguely of Ruidoso. This column was submitted by the Otero Mesa Preservation Society. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
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Otero Mesa is more than just a place to me. It’s a sanctuary, it’s a place of peace, understanding, reliability, not only for me, but animals of all sorts, as far as spirits go. I felt spiritually reborn; I am concerned for its spiritual well-being. Like a seed it needs care, patience, time, it needs nutrition, not only to a certain extent but for it to be completely pure it needs natural resources to be as providing as possible, it still feeds on its instinctive well-being.
Who are we to contaminate that?
My dream is to keep it pure, pure of bad spirit, pure of unwanted corruption, pure of contamination and for its natural elements to remain. It was not only a stronghold fortress but a place of spiritual renewal and visionary aspects, a place of mental sanity. I can feel it just looking at pictures and remembering the present smells, the sights, the calming sensations of the neutral atmosphere. When I first got the privilege to go visit the place for the first time, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to go, and I knew it would mean the best to go dressed in my cultural clothing, knowing that moccasins haven’t stepped foot on the natural desert terrain for generations. It was something very special to me. A feeling that goes deep into spiritual meaning, a movement that would take away any value that money could never buy. My ancestors presence and to relive the patience of the true nature of our people, my abalone shell on my chest, the buckskin fringes on my dress, the feathers in my hair and the hide under my feet. We were one and we were home, I could feel it. The crunch of rocks and sand underneath my feet, and the sight of the cliffs reaching for the sky. It was all too perfect, like a missing puzzle piece put into place or a diamond in the rough. Those are the best kind. I can see why wildlife is so isolated there, because it’s the strength that Otero Mesa provides, its security.
Dawn, and mist hold the desert, solid cold holds the cliffs. Thousands of exotic desert plants, rocks, grasses and carved-in petroglyphs in visions of our past. A place of focus, a place of spiritual understanding, a place of vision and like any other colorful canvas, a masterpiece of Apache culture. In my eyes, one of the purest in New Mexico wild land, a piece of No Man’s Land. Owned truly of Apache spirit. The consumption of its natural resources, of its maintained minerals will not be used for humanity needs. Never will I see this place be un-naturally treated. Not while I’m alive.
If you would like to learn about how you can help protect Otero Mesa e-mail: email@example.com. Visit our beautiful and informative website: Oteromesa.org
In 1906, George and Alice Bent wound up in a town that would later bear their last name. They bought the copper mine and employed about 34 men and one woman. They opened a post office and grocery store, and it’s been Bent ever since.
The opinions you are about to read come from conversations we had with some of the friendly folks who make Bent the charming place that it is.
Richard “Chito” Barron is a retired railroad engineer. He started with Southern Pacific and worked in the machine shop overhauling engines. He went on to the Santa Fe Railroad and started out as a brakeman, moved up to foreman and, in 1973, became an engineer.
His grandfather gave him the nickname “Chito.” It’s short for muchachito, which means “little boy.” A macho man, his passion was building drag race cars.
“If you ever get a chance, there used to be a beautiful mountain at Mesquite between Las Cruces and Anthony, just off the interstate. Check it out and see what you think of the destruction,” he said. “They wiped out that whole mountain. That mountain has been there forever and now they just wiped it out. All they are doing is getting stones for rock walls and gravel for landscaping.
“Now they are beginning to devastate the Waco and Franklin Mountains outside El Paso. It took thousands of years for nature to shape a special place like Otero Mesa. Leave it the way it is. Preserve it. Another national monument will enrich our county.”
Kelly Beyers has lived in the area all her life — 52 years. Her grandfather was a steeple chase jockey from England.
The Vanderbilts and other wealthy families would hire him to travel all over America to pick out the finest horses for them. He came across Ruidoso and told his family that he had found heaven. They moved there. Kelly’s father, Larry Beyers, became a celebrated jockey and beloved figure at Ruidoso Downs.
Kelly became a race track photographer, served on the State Racing Commission and trained race horses. She currently lives on her family’s ranch in Bent.
Her favorite quotation: “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
“I love my land. It is beautiful. When I see a place that is pristine, I want to protect it,” she said. “If I was a county commissioner, I’d go see Otero Mesa and take it from there. If I saw a place like Otero Mesa, precious and wild as it is, I would keep it that way. There are barely any special places like this left in these parts.”
Patti Covington was given a scholarship to study political journalism at the University of California in Sacramento, but jobs in that category had become “slim pickings,” so she decided to nurture health rather than expose corruption. She became a registered nurse and served patients for 22 years.
Patti and her husband, Barrett, a bold soul, moved to Columbus and farmed cotton, milo and chili for 10 years.
“Farming was a good life, but you don’t make any money,” she said. “Otero Mesa it is a precious gem. It makes no sense to spoil it. The oil and mining companies have discovered huge supplies in Colorado and right here in New Mexico. Otero Mesa needs to be preserved so that our grandchildren and the generations to come will witness and enjoy the wild beauty of the legendary West.
“It’s our natural heritage. Keep it that way. Yes, I am for national monument status.”
This story was submitted by the Otero Mesa Preservation Alliance. For more information or to volunteer, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
An essential mineral ingredient used in a variety of electronics from cell phones to smart bombs could be a death knell for a pristine part of a wild New Mexico desert grassland coveted by environmentalists—and considered sacred to Native Americans.
That ingredient—rare earth elements—is at the heart of a recent battle to protect one of the crown jewels of the southwest, the Otero Mesa, a unique desert environment that sits atop one of the largest untapped fresh water aquifers in the state.
Check out this beautifully shot video from NRDC’s Journey Onearth producer Roshini Thinakaran and cameraman/editor Zackary Wenning as they explore the fight over protecting the Otero Mesa.
The Otero Mesa is home to coyote, wolves, black-tailed prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope and endangered songbirds. It’s a remote grasslands area that was the subject of an intense fight to protect the area from oil and gas industry development during the George W. Bush Administration.
But now hard rock mining has come knocking on the Otero Mesa, driven by the burgeoning high-tech global demand for rare earth minerals widely used in electronics and new technologies. One company, Geovic Mining, is expected to start surveying operations this summer along the tallest peak in the area, Wind Mountain.
Initial government surveys suggest the concentration of rare earth minerals is low compared to other areas being mined. According to the data available now, NRDC geologist Briana Mordick says it would take 10,000 grams of rock to get just 2-7 grams of rare earth elements Numbers like that, locals say, could threaten the entire mountain with destruction and create a massive waste disposal problem.
But it’s not just the destruction of this desert landscape, sensitive animal habitat and groundwater supplies that worries locals. Native American petroglyphs also were carved into the rock of Wind Mountain by tribes that roamed the land long before settlers pushed into these remote desert areas. Tribal leaders, historians and environmentalists are prodding the Obama Administration to declare the Wind Mountain area a National Monument to protect the important history and culture of the region.
Larry Shea of the nearby Mescalero Apache Advocates for the Otero Mesa is fighting to keep these ancestral grounds from being destroyed. “We hold this area somewhat in a sacred sense for our people who have utilized this area as a place of refuge,” Shea told Journey OnEarth.
As the development fight over the Otero Mesa rolls on, dust storms blow tumbleweeds across the desert landscape, ricocheting off boulders adorned with fading Apache petroglyphs. Beneath these rocks, the search for rare earth elements may represent the end of this bio-gem world as we know it, a high-tech coup d’état for a remarkable environment that for now remains virtually untouched since time began.]]>
I have been a resident of Otero County for 18 1/2 years, an avid native plants gardener for over 17 1/2 years, and a wildlife ecologist and natural resources professional for more than 30 years.
I have been to many beautiful places in the U.S. and abroad, and though my slide trays, photo albums and digital files are full, there are always a few scenic wonders that stay in my memories forever: the call of loons on northern Minnesota lakes; Shoshone Point, on the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon; redwoods shrouded in mist in northern California; and soaring lammergeiers in the Pyrenees.
And to this list I would add the grasslands of Otero Mesa.
Otero Mesa has meaning in all three areas listed above that help define me. As a resident for nearly two decades in Otero County, it is a privilege to be a part of an effort to save one of the last few intact Chihuahuan desert grasslands as a national monument.
Every citizen of New Mexico, and especially the citizens of this county, should feel a sense of pride that we are fortunate to have this beautiful landscape at our doorstep; to have bragging rights for having this grassland within our county’s borders.
As an avid native plant enthusiast, I have been a member of the New Mexico Native Plant Society-Otero Chapter, for more than 15 years. My husband and I have nearly 200 native plants representing more than 50 species in our gardens. I can honestly say that on one of my many trips to Otero Mesa, this was one of the first places that I saw the plants from my gardens blooming in a wild; blooming in their own nature scape.
I still remember the blackfoot daisies, chocolate flower, penstemons and desert marigolds. I was so thrilled; I kept repeating to the small group I was with, “I have this in my garden, and this. So that’s how these plants look in the wild.” I can tell you these plants were far more magnificent on the mesa than in my garden.
And last, but not least, I have a great appreciation of Otero Mesa from a scientific and ecological perspective. Here on the mesa, we actually have a fully functioning ecosystem, with the exception of the loss of two top carnivores — the Mexican gray wolf and Mexican grizzly bears. Otero Mesa can serve as a natural laboratory to teach future biologists and range conservationists and our children.
In closing I would like to share a few of my favorite quotes from Also Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology and the land conservation ethic:
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, the stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”
This article was submitted by Otero County Citizens for Otero Mesa. Conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts. People are welcome to write an article. Contact them at email@example.com.]]>
When our ancestors first explored Otero Mesa 10 millennia or more ago, the mesa was occupied by a juniper/oak woodland alternating with plains grassland, far different from today’s Chihuahuan Desert grassland and scrub.
Instead of today’s cattle, the mesa was populated by some formidable wildlife. During the day, our ancestors heard the trumpeting of ancient elephants — the mammoth. At night they would have been awestruck by the howls of sabertooth cats, jaguar and dire wolf in the dark night.
Like these fearsome predators, early Stone Age people hunted the large and small prey, from the mammoth and bison antiquus to the abundant deer and antelope species.
These ancestors left few traces on the land. What does remains is doubly precious; it marks the expansion of our species into a new hemisphere and it documents how those ancestors adapted to a new, unfamiliar environment.
And because much of this environment has been under private ownership or private management (grazing lease lands), as a pastoral landscape it remains largely intact as the last remnant of our Chihuahuan Desert grasslands.
During the late prehistoric period, most of the mountain margins and uplands in the Tularosa Basin were occupied by the Jornada Mogollon, a settled agricultural people with close ties to Mexico. The Jornada farmed the upper alluvial slopes along the numerous spring-fed mountain streams that flowed seasonally from the high mountains. They supplemented their farming production with wild products gathered on the mesa and the desert basin, but largely did not occupy or modify these areas to any extent.
In the Tularosa Basin, much of that evidence is buried by alluvial sediments and wind-blown sands that have accumulated over the centuries in this closed basin. Much less sediment has accumulated on Otero Mesa, rendering its record of the past more accessible, but also more vulnerable. The mesa also bears witness to the symbolic and religious life of these early agriculatural people — images pecked into the volcanic rocks of the small upthrust volcanic mountains that punctuate the level Otero Mesa horizon. Similar records were left there by their successors, also — the Apache and even by the Buffalo Soldiers who pursued them.
But more than the past is fragile and vulnerable on Otero Mesa. In contrast to the vast desert basin areas under military control, much of the mesa is open to the public. We, the public, have a choice. We can serve as stewards and protectors of the past and the present environment, or we can exploit and destroy this irreplaceable legacy, leaving little for our children and for their future.
In New Mexico, we human beings generally live lightly on the land. That could change radically as the rest of the world begins to recognize our historical and environmental riches. We need to husband our natural resources as we always have and resist encroachment on this last fragile fragment of our Land of Enchantment.
Dr. Pete Eidenbach has taught anthropology, New Mexico history and the history and philosophy of science at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo since 1986. He trained in archaeology at the University of New Mexico during the turbulent 1960s, and has pursued archaeological and historic research in his adopted home — the Tularosa Basin — for more than four decades. This article was submitted by Otero County for Otero Mesa. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.]]>
Tribal and environmental leaders lobbied the Obama administration this week to designate a national monument on more than a million acres in southern New Mexico, a sacred land to some that contains one of the United States’ most intact and ecologically diverse desert grasslands.
Members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe in southeast New Mexico and a leader of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance met with Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation and Interior Department officials to urge protections for Otero Mesa from hardrock mining and oil and gas drilling, which they say threatens the area’s natural values and could harm drinking water.
The 1.2-million-acre area near the Texas border is believed to be the largest and most primitive Chihuahuan Desert grassland left on public lands and is home to 1,000 native species including mule deer, mountain lion, black-tailed prairie dogs and eagles, according to monument supporters.
“I go down to Otero Mesa and I get this powerful feeling that I know came from my ancestors,” said Ted Rodriguez, commissioner of the Mescalero Gaming Commission and a tribal elder. “For me it wasn’t a tourist journey. For me it was a spiritual journey.”
A coalition of environmental groups including the Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund and Audubon Society have joined in asking Obama to use his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate a national monument.
While Obama has yet to use the act, a leaked Bureau of Land Management memo in early 2010 indicated Otero Mesa was among roughly a dozen sites the administration believes qualify for a monument designation if it carries local support.
But while national monuments have been designated by 15 of the past 18 presidents, the act has come under attack from many Western lawmakers, who argue states and Congress should have greater say in its use. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who represents the area where Otero Mesa is located, is among the critics.
“When conserving our natural resources, it is important to have a balanced approach that includes local priorities, such as jobs, the economy, private property and support,” said Pearce spokesman Eric Layer in an email. “Unfortunately, Washington has proven to lack embodiment of these key principles when it comes to federal land management. Before making a determination, the federal government should seek the input of the county, cities and all local residents and stakeholders.”
But while not all officials are on board locally, including some county commissioners and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Otero Mesa’s unique history, abundant water resources and biologically diverse grasslands belong to all Americans, said Nathan Newcomer, associate director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
“Otero Mesa is a national issue, it’s not just a New Mexico issue,” he said. “It’d be right for the president to step up and say ‘Here’s this broad local support. People have been fighting for this area locally for a very long time. Since Congress can’t get anything done, I have the authority to protect this area.'”
The group met this week with staff for Democratic New Mexico Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D) and Tom Udall (D), as well as Interior lands and minerals officials to make their case.
“They were very appreciative of our time,” Newcomer said of his meeting yesterday with Interior. “They said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.'”
The meeting, which was the first between Interior and Mescaleros, addressed some of the potential difficulties of creating a national monument, including likely opposition from Pearce, Newcomer said.
“I told them that even with those difficulties, the positive side of this is thousands and thousands of New Mexicans who have fought for decades to stop oil and gas development,” he said. Interior “recognized that there was a lot of support.”
A land of multiple uses
While the area offers spiritual sanctuary for some, with American Indian petroglyphs and rock dwellings, a mining company believes it could also safely produce important minerals, while creating jobs, on the mesa’s highest mountain.
Denver-based Geovic Mining Inc. has staked mining claims over 5 square miles in the Otero Mesa area. Last month, conservationists like Newcomer became alarmed when they discovered that the company had more than doubled its claims.
While the area is rich in resources like uranium and lithium, Geovic is particularly interested in eudialyte, a red mineral containing zirconium and rare earths, a group of elements essential in manufacturing numerous technologies and whose demand is expected to increase in the coming years.
“If this exploration project works out the way we expect,” said company founder William Buckovic in a statement, “it will enable production of many key ingredients for materials essential to new green technology and national defense system industries, with limited impact on our environment.”
Although the 1872 mining law gives companies wide latitude to mine on federal land, declaring Otero Mesa a national monument could deal a blow to the company’s plans.
“If you create a national monument now that’s going to trigger the Bureau of Land Management to go through validity analysis, which they would have to conduct specifically for those claims,” Newcomer said. “It’s also going to force the company to go through more hoops, if you will, to try to produce those claims.”
Jack Sherborne, president of new ventures for Geovic, said company leaders are aware of the push to designate the area as a national monument.
“Any mining activity would be more difficult to do than it would be otherwise,” he said. “It may be so difficult to do that it may not be plausible to do.”
Sherborne takes pains to stress the limited nature of the company’s exploration program, he said, designed to avoid more sensitive areas, including land designated by the Bureau of Land Management as an area of critical environmental concern.
“Honestly I don’t trust them,” Newcomer said. “And what I think is going to happen, if they can prove the resource is high, they’re going to say, ‘Look, we’ve hit the jackpot.'”
Not only are American Indians concerned about protecting what they identify as an ancestral homeland, they worry mining will contaminate water resources for decades to come.
“If mining or any kind of drilling or anything like that, it’s going to contaminate the water,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t want that contaminated whatsoever.”
The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure from environmentalists and former Interior officials to use his national monument powers to protect threatened areas including Otero Mesa and Alaska’s Bristol Bay, a push that has met opposition from many lawmakers who say Congress and states should make those decisions.
Former Clinton administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt this month said the threat of a national monument alone may be enough to spur lawmakers to pass their own land conservation bills.
But while Clinton designated 19 national monuments, all but one of those were announced during his second term. His first designation of the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in September 1996 set off a firestorm of criticism from Utah lawmakers and some local residents that has simmered to this day.
The Otero County Commission in spring issued an ordinance expressing concern that “potential federal management plans may reduce or deny citizens of Otero County the ability to pursue historic deeds, such as grazing, native gathering, agricultural wood harvesting, natural plant harvesting.”
Protection advocates described the move as progress, signaling county openness to addressing the issue. They say local farmers and ranchers need not be worried about a monument designation affecting their livelihood.
But monument supporters concede they have very little chance of garnering the support of Martinez or Pearce, who is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 302, which would require the president to gain the consent of the state before designating a monument.
Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for Bingaman, said the senator is listening carefully to all the stakeholders who use Otero Mesa, but is not ready to endorse a monument designation.
“Senator Bingaman hopes very much that whatever the BLM does, it does nothing to degrade that watershed or that aquifer,” she said, referring to the 15 million acre-feet of drinking water believed to underlie the mesa, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
For now, Bingaman is deferring to the White House on any potential designations, McCartin said, adding that the senator has sponsored a pair of bills to designate wilderness and conservation areas in other parts of New Mexico.
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt today attacked the White House for failing to stand up to what he warned is an all-out congressional assault on public lands and urged the Obama administration to use its executive powers to protect at-risk landscapes.
Babbitt called on President Obama to block harmful policy riders in upcoming legislative battles and to propose new national monuments that would force lawmakers and public lands users to collaborate on bills to protect federal lands.
His recommendations came in an impassioned speech this afternoon at the National Press Club roughly 10 years after he left office under the Clinton administration. The former secretary worked for the firm Latham & Watkins LLP and is now a fellow at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Blue Moon Fund.
Babbitt also blasted an April budget resolution to restrict funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s “wild lands” order to protect roadless areas as “a political calculation among the munchkins in the White House.”
He cited other policy riders passed as part of the continuing resolution to delist the gray wolf in parts of the northern Rockies and to eliminate an Obama program to rebuild depleted ocean fisheries, urging the White House to resist similar proposals as lawmakers debate raising the debt ceiling and passing a 2012 budget.
“What they are continuing to do is to chip away with piecemeal bills and amendments, some of which will likely be transmuted into budget riders during the course of the summer in budget negotiations,” he said, placing much of the blame on Republican lawmakers.
Babbitt did not blame Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for issuing a memo last week promising not to designate wild lands, saying his hand was forced by Congress.
He instead focused on what Obama could do to repel future attacks, including bills to remove the president’s authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act, to release more than 40 million acres of protected roadless lands into multiple use and to give states the right to override federal law.
Babbitt urged the president to go on the offensive by proposing new national monuments that would spur lawmakers to consider protections for public lands. Obama could start in places such as New Mexico’s Otero Mesa or Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where local public opinion already supports protections, he said.
“By voicing his willingness to use the Antiquities Act as an alternative to wilderness designation, the president can bring Congress to the table to work out conservation measures acceptable to reasonable stakeholders,” he said. Clinton used the act to bring about congressional action to protect places such as Steens Mountain in Oregon, the Colorado Canyons, the San Jacinto Mountains and Otay Mountain in California and Las Cienegas in Arizona, among others, Babbitt said.
While the White House declined to comment on Babbitt’s remarks, an Interior spokeswoman said one of the first bills Obama signed upon entering office was a public lands omnibus that declared more than 2 million acres of new wilderness and more than 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers, among other measures.
“The Obama administration is already building a strong conservation legacy, founded on sensible protections for wilderness lands, wildlife habitat, and farms and ranches that are under threat,” said Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff. “Secretary Salazar believes that now is the time to build on this early success, find common ground on challenges we face, and continue our efforts to leave our land, water and wildlife better than we found it.”
Barkoff added that since the bill’s passage, Obama has taken steps to protect fisheries in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, accelerate the restoration of the Everglades, conserve rural landscapes such as the Flint Hills in Kansas and the Dakota Grasslands, and reverse what many feel was an unhealthy favoritism toward oil and gas development on public lands in the West.
Obama is also credited for fighting off vigorous attempts by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to strip U.S. EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
But Babbitt’s remarks came at a time when many conservation groups are discouraged at the Obama administration’s progress on public lands.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said that while Obama’s record has been disappointing, it is responsive to the criticism — and the votes — of the conservation community.
“The Obama administration has been a steady and enormous disappointment on public lands, but they are very sensitive to public sentiment,” he said in a blog post following Salazar’s announcement on wild lands. “It’s time they heard from all of us who believe Utah’s wild canyon country deserves protection.”
By Ted Rodriguez, Alfred LaPaz, Larry Shay, Houston Murphy, and Styve Homnick / Mescalero Apache Advocates For Otero Mesa National Monument
Until a few months ago only a handful of the curious knew the importance of Otero Mesa to the Apache. Otero Mesa is one of the most sacred of places, if not the holiest, to us Apache.
From time immemorial we have had profound ties to this enchanted land.
Historically, Apache country spanned from Western Texas to Eastern Arizona and deep into Northern Mexico. We shared all of New Mexico with the Pueblos.
Otero Mesa is centrally located in the heart of all this, 40 miles south as the crow flies from the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. Our ancestors lived here peacefully for many hundreds of years.
Our people were nomadic and we left very few traces, with Otero Mesa being the exception.
In our language, we call ourselves N’dé, “the people,” and like nowhere else, we left behind some of the most fascinating and mystical petroglyphs in America. Here rising majestically out of the Mesa floor, Alamo Mountain harbors our ancestral rock paintings that confess to our fears, our struggles, our joy and our religious faith.
We made seasonal villages on Otero Mesa. We hunted and gathered medicinal herbs, celebrated in ancient song and dance, intermarried with other Apache bands and we worshipped Usen, the creator of the heavens and the earth.
We are a proud monotheistic people. To us Apache, Otero Mesa is our cathedral.
No other ethnic people in North American history have suffered so much from stereotypes as the Apache.
We were described as “bloodthirsty savages” for defending our land from invaders who respected neither our culture nor our faith. Today we live on reservations hidden away to what is left to us of our beloved mountains and plains. Still we struggle.
For most of the past decade, a coalition of groups has worked successfully to safeguard the grasslands, wildlife and freshwater resources of Otero Mesa from full-scale oil and gas drilling. Now, however, a new and even more volatile threat has emerged for this sacred land – hard rock mining.
A plan to mine for so-called “rare earth” minerals has the potential to significantly alter this landscape, but what is rarer than this earth that we hold so sacred?
Just 60 miles south of Otero Mesa in Hudspeth County, Texas, a rare earth mine is already in the early stages of what will likely become a vast open-pit mine. Something of that magnitude has absolutely no place in the heart of Otero Mesa, and this is why it is our mission to support the movement to preserve Otero Mesa as a national monument and ensure that our ancestral homelands are protected.
Our advocacy group is comprised of Mescalero Apache traditional elders and community leaders.
Combined, we have experience serving on the tribal council and various tribal committees and youth programs. We are employed by our local school system and serve in law enforcement. We maintain a Mescalero Apache Mountain Spirit Dance group. As concerned citizens, we wish to share the sacred nature of Otero Mesa with not only our children but also with youths from all cultures and nations.
From World War I up through the present, thousands of Apache men and women fought as U.S. soldiers to protect not only America, but foreign lands from invasion. Now we respectfully ask President Obama, through the American Antiquities Act of 1906, to protect this precious piece of land as a national monument.
Let us take you there! It is a beautiful land!]]>