• Otero Mesa

    Stretching from Northern Hudspeth County across much of Otero County, N.M. to the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains, the Otero Mesa is a rare thing – more than 1 million acres of desert grasslands and mountains that have remained virtually untouched by industrial development. Conservationists describe the mesa as a pristine Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem that needs protection, and they have called on the federal government to declare Bureau of Land Management lands there a national monument. For many Herald readers, the Otero Mesa is home, and many in our local ranching community fear that a national monument designation would mean the end of historic livestock operations. The mesa, and the Cornudas Mountains which rise from its midst, testify to centuries of Native American history, in the form of abundant rock art and other artifacts, and some Mescalero Apache leaders have joined the call for federal protection of the land. Beginning in 2001, conservation advocates and some area landowners fought a decade-long battle against plans to open the mesa to oil-and-gas drilling, ultimately winning a stay on such activity. In late 2010, a company called Geovic Mining Corp staked mining claims on Wind Mountain, the largest peak in the Cornudas Range, and, in the summer of 2011, the company began exploratory drilling there for the heavy metals known as rare earth elements. The mining project has further fueled the debate over the future of Otero Mesa.