- Associated Press - Friday, November 10, 2017

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) - Federal land managers are drafting a plan that will guide the management of resources and potential energy development in the Otero Mesa, an area of southern New Mexico where environmentalists have sought protections for decades.

The Bureau of Land Management is expected to have a resource management plan for the Otero Mesa area ready for public comment next spring, the Alamogordo Daily News reported .

Oil and gas development on the mesa would potentially lead to the construction of 350 new miles of road over the next 20 years, according to BLM officials. The agency believes development will also bring jobs and income within those industries to Otero County.

Southwest Environmental Center director Kevin Bixby said he worries the mesa would be irrevocably spoiled if industrial uses such as oil and gas drilling or mining were allowed.

“The Otero Mesa is a remote grassland that’s been used thousands of years by ranchers for grazing, hunting and other uses. If it’s changed to an industrial landscape with roads, it can be completely ruined. That’s the big threat,” Bixby said.

The Otero Mesa has long been seen by residents as a hidden treasure. Nicknamed the “holy grail of rock art sites,” the area contains an estimated 5,000 petroglyphs. The area includes about 600,000 acres (242,811 hectares) of Chihuahuan Desert grassland. It also is on top of the state’s largest untapped freshwater aquifer.

“There are pretty rare habitats, and we’re lucky to have this treasure in southern New Mexico,” Bixby said.

Efforts over the years to secure wilderness or national monument status for the area have been unsuccessful.

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Information from: Alamogordo Daily News, http://www.alamogordonews.com

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