Otero Mesa

Otero Mesa is an ecologically unique and threatened landscape. Covering about 1.2 million acres in southern New Mexico, it contains one of the largest tracts--more than a half million acres--of black grama grassland remaining in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Otero Mesa is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including pronghorn antelope, black-tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, mountain lions, and many others.

Otero Mesa is especially important as habitat for grassland birds, including many species that are declining elsewhere. It also provides some of the best potential habitat for restoring the endangered Northern Aplomado Falcon in the Southwest.

Otero Mesa is one of the last places to find black-tailed prairie dogs in southern New Mexico. Approximately 170 vertebrate species depend upon this keystone species for their survival to some degree, including burrowing owls, pronghorn and black-footed ferrets. Photo Ken Stinnett.

Otero Mesa sits atop the Salt Basin aquifer, one of the largest untapped freshwater aquifers in New Mexico, estimated to contain 57 million acre feet of water--or 18 trillion gallons.

The grasslands, wildlife and water of Otero Mesa are threatened by potential oil and gas development. The Bureau of Land Management has opened up 90 percent of the federal public lands on Otero Mesa to drilling.

Once widespread, Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands are among the most endangered ecosystems in North America today, transformed by drought and overgrazing into desert scrub.

The amount of natural gas beneath Otero Mesa is unknown, but not likely to be significant. Estimates range from 110 billion to one trillion cubic feet. The latter is equivalent to roughly 16 days of U.S. annual national demand for natural gas. Otero Mesa by itself will contribute little toward national energy independence.

No matter how carefully done, oil and gas development will harm Otero Mesa. There will be significant direct and indirect environmental impacts at every stage of the process. The result will be the conversion of Otero Mesa’s grasslands to a shrub dominated landscape, and the decline or disappearance of grassland associated wildlife species.

Gas wells on the BLM land in Wyoming. This is what we don't want to happen to Otero Mesa.

The Southwest Environmental Center has been fighting to protect Otero Mesa since 2001. To date, we have been successful in preventing further drilling. We won a major victory when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April, 2009 that the BLM's plan for drilling Otero Mesa was flawed and needed to be redone.  However, until Congress acts to give permanent protection to this area, it will remain vulnerable.

Want to help protect Otero Mesa? Click here to learn how.

Read SWEC's report on the ecological importance of Otero Mesa.

Conservationists call for establishment of an Otero Mesa Grasslands Wildlife Area of Critical Concern.

A growing number of elected officials, tribes, community leaders and organizations support protection for Otero Mesa. You can see the list and read their statements of support here.

Otero Mesa Fact Sheet.

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Photo Ken Stinnett.

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