From environmental activists to hunters to those seeking to protect the interests of ranchers and energy businesses, there are no shortage of people with concerns about the revision of the Carlsbad Resource Management Plan by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Ten years in the making, the 15,000-page draft of the new plan was released for public comments Aug. 30. BLM officials held one of its nine public meetings about the draft in Roswell Tuesday night to allow people to ask questions or make comments. Those comments will be accepted until Nov. 5 by online submission, email, fax, mail or hand delivery to a BLM office.
An update of a plan adopted in 1988 but revised twice since then, the latest revision covers about 2.1 million surface acres and about 2.9 million of subsurface acres managed by the Carlsbad office of the BLM. Those acres are located throughout Lea and Eddy counties and in the boothill of Chaves County. The plan will provide the framework during the next two decades for the federal agency to decide how to conserve, restore, develop, lease and sell the land and the mineral and water resources beneath it.
About 20 members of the public, and an equal number of BLM managers and staff, were at the meeting, the fourth to occur in a series that will continue in New Mexico and West Texas until Sept. 27. The public was given a chance to look at the draft, examine displays about particular areas of interest, use BLM’s Geographic Information Systems maps and ask questions of BLM representatives.
People at the meeting included Chaves County commissioners and managers, a Chaves County Public Lands commissioner, environmental activists and hunters and fishing enthusiasts.
As Ty Allen, assistant field manager with the Carlsbad office, told people, the draft plan analyzes the surface and subsurface acreage using four alternatives, in addition to a “No action” prescription, which would keep management as it is now.
Alternative A would make management decisions that prioritize watershed management and restoration planning. Alternative B would determine what matters most for a certain geographic region and make decisions to maximize the continued use of land and resources in that way. Alternative C, the option preferred by BLM, seeks what the BLM considers a balanced approach between conservation and development. Alternative D emphasizes commercial use of land and development of “consumptive” resources (resources such as oil and gas that are removed from a location) over restoration, conservation or renewable resources.
“What we have done in Alternative C is that we have tried to come up with a way to look at conservation and consumption or development and put those together,” Allen said. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have had some really good ties locally with companies, with environmental groups, that kind of thing. And we sort of are working with the companies and working with the groups and getting them together and working with us, we are able to see a pattern where we can provide conservation but also provide the economic development for the counties affected. And we think we can still do that, and we are here to today to talk about how we can do that that is different than what we have done in the past.”
A summary of the alternatives listed in the draft indicate that, for example, using Alternative C, the acreage that would be considered Areas of Critical Environmental Concern to protect wildlife, vegetation or cultural sites would grow from 13,435 to 98,562. While the acreage open for mineral leases would potentially increase under Alternative C, from 1,598,870 today to 1,750,774 during the life of the plan, the acreage given the new designation Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and managed to curtail commercial activities in order to preserve the wilderness characteristics would go from zero today to 5,119 acres.
Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs said that county elected officials and administrators are still reviewing the draft to determine what comments to make and how to proceed. He also said a coordination meeting with the BLM is likely to occur next week.
In the past, Chaves County commissioners have been vocal about their concerns that the Chaves County acreage determined by Alternative C to be Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or Lands with Wilderness Characteristics would hamper or ban ranchers who graze their livestock on the land. Under Alternative C, 36,595 acres would be managed as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics with varying degrees of use restrictions placed on them.
Becca Fisher, a lawyer and climate guardian with the WildEarth Guardians environmental group, said her group probably will collaborate with other environmental organizations to submit technical comments in opposition to parts of the plan. She said the plan will lead to harmful effects on air quality and ozone levels, especially in the Permian Basin area. She said one problem is that the plan uses outdated measurements on what is considered acceptable levels of ozone emissions.
“We have calculated that the preferred alternative of the new resource management plan opens up 98.2 percent of the lands to oil and gas leasing, whereas the 1997 plan had 95 percent of it open,” said Fisher. “There are already 31,000 oil and gas wells in the area. This will add up to an additional 5,800 or so to the area.”
Carlsbad Caverns National Park has exceeded recommended ozone levels 10 days in 2018, whereas it hadn’t exceeded the levels in prior years, she says, adding that there are a few areas in the three-county region where the ozone levels are hovering near the top of the acceptable levels.
“We think over the 20-year life of the plan, there are enough emissions that it is equivalent to 22 coal-fired plants,” she said.
Others attending the meeting were interested in how the plan will affect people who want to use the public land in the region for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing or other recreational pursuits.
“We appreciate the public process and the open meeting,” said John Cornell, New Mexico field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We just encourage sportsmen to participate and to make comments.”
Sportsman Mark Pantuso said he wants the BLM to keep lands open and viable for hunters, which could include restoration of vegetation and wildlife that has been pushed out of certain areas due to commercial use of the land. He described parts of the region south of Carlsbad as looking like “the moon,” stripped of vegetation, due to energy development.
“We just hope that they take care of the land for the future so that sportsmen have places to hunt and go,” he said. “It is important that people be involved in the process. This will govern what will happen for the next 20 to 40 years. There are a lot of hunters and sportsmen that need to speak up for themselves.”
The draft resource management plan can be downloaded from the BLM website, blm.gov. Information on submitting comments is also available there. Questions about the plan also can be directed to Hector Gonzalez, Carlsbad RPM lead, 575-234-5968.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.