How We're Protecting our Land

The Rio Grande Chapter Public Lands Team is involved in numerous aspects of protecting public lands. We’ve celebrated several major victories in just the last few years:

  • Permanent protection for Rio Grande del Norte in Northern New Mexico and Organ Mountains­ Desert Peaks in Southern New Mexico with their designations as national monuments in 2013 and 2014
  • Transfer of Valles Caldera to National Parks Service management, which has better resources to manage it than its current structure in 2015
  • Federal designation of Columbine Hondo in Northern New Mexico as a Wilderness in 2015

Our advocacy efforts focus mostly on federal lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, but it can include state and local jurisdiction land as well. We work in coalition with other environmental organizations on:

  • Reviewing and commenting on updates to U.S. Forest Service and BLM Resource Management Plans.
  • Working to protect wilderness on all public lands and helping identify Lands With Wilderness Characteristics for further inclusion.
  • Identifying and opposing projects that are harmful to the land, water and wildlife on public lands and do not support sustainability or address effects of climate change.
  • Coordinating with other organizations to promote the designation of lands suitable for national monuments.

Current efforts

The Rio Grande Bosque

Albuquerque’s Bosque is a beautiful stretch of riverside forest that bisects the city. In 2012, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry introduced a development plan, called the Rio Grande Vision, that triggered a wave of dissent within the community. Community members anticipated that development of the Bosque would damage the natural qualities sought by visitors and wildlife alike, and harm the Bosque’s delicate ecosystem.

As a response to the development plan, the Rio Grande Chapter, community members and other local organizations came together to form the Bosque Action Team to formulate a better vision for the Bosque. Our healthier vision includes opposing development between the levees and encouraging alternatives, such as improving access points to the Bosque and funding programs that provide education for students about the Bosque. The Bosque Action Team believes any efforts within the levees should be restorative, strengthening the Bosque as a natural habitat, and preserving its appeal as an "environmental gem."

Chaco Canyon

Due to drilling technology that makes the area above the Mancos Shale formation much more desirable to oil and gas companies for horizontal fracking, the greater Chaco area in northwest New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is experiencing a ramping up of oil and gas development that has shaken residents with multiple impacts.

The Greater Chaco Coalition of more than 30 Navajo, community and environmental organizations is calling the attention of BLM, state and tribal governments to the escalating problems that increased oil and gas development causes for the inhabitants and culture of the greater Chaco area.

Show articles related to Chaco Canyon and its environs

National Monuments

Since March 2013, the Rio Grande Chapter, working with large and diverse coalitions of community members, business leaders, sportsmen and tribal leaders, has helped win permanent protection with the designations of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico and Organ Mountains ­Desert Peaks.

But it doesn’t end there. Many management decisions are left to be made for the 242,000­ acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and 496,000­ acre Organ Mountains­ Desert Peaks National Monument. Land ­use plans are still being formulated for the new national monuments. Rio Grande del Norte, for example, is under threat that a major power­ transmission line could run through the national monument. A presidential proclamation allowed new utility rights of way. We and our allies work hard to avoid loopholes that allow development to damage these newly protected gems.

Otero Mesa

Located south of Alamogordo, Otero Mesa is the largest surviving Chihuahuan Desert Grassland, covers 1.2 million acres in New Mexico, much of it under the administration of the Las Cruces BLM District Office.

This unique and vast landscape contains many areas with wilderness characteristics. The Mesa in New Mexico is threatened by gas and oil exploration and development that is already ramping up on the Texas side.

How can we protect the New Mexican part of Otero Mesa into the future?

Currently, the BLM is developing a Resource Management Plan for Sierra, Doña Ana and Otero counties that includes Otero Mesa. Now, before that plan moves forward, a supplement covering gas and oil leasing policy as well as identifying Lands with Wilderness Characteristics must be completed. Therefore, the Resource Management Plan that includes Otero Mesa is not likely to be completed for several years. In the meantime, the BLM has decided not to sell any more leases on the Mesa until the RMP has been totally completed.

How You Can Take Action to Protect Our Land

There are many ways that you can get involved to help us protect our public land:

Join the Bosque Action Team

Come to the monthly meetings and help strategize about how we can preserve and protect the Bosque. Contact Richard Barish at to learn more and get involved.

Become a Bosque Sentinel

To help protect what makes our Bosque so special, we’re forming a Bosque Sentinels Program. If you are interested, you can select a part of the Bosque that you’d like to monitor. You’ll get to know the terrain and be able to report to Open Space if there are litter, fire or vandalism problems. You’ll get to know the different projects that the Army Corps of Engineers, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District or the city are carrying out and be able to interpret those projects to other users. You also might become a trained outings leader and take people to visit the area. If you’d like to get involved please email

Meet a few of our great Bosque Sentinels here.

Protect Chaco

To learn more and find out how you can help, please contact Robert Tohe, Sierra Club organizer, at or 928­.606.­2362

Join our Organ Mountains­ Desert Peaks Action Team

To help protect our national monuments, Contact Camilla Feibelman at

Have a voice in land management

To get involved in affecting land­ management decisions at Rio Grande del Norte, contact Tom Gorman at or 505.­438.­3932

Join the Otero Mesa Action Team

The Otero Mesa Action Team, from our El Paso Group territory, is actively participating with the BLM's Las Cruces District Office in the development of the Resource Management Plan’s Supplement that deals with gas and oil as well as identifying Lands with Wilderness Characteristics on the Mesa. Contact Jerry Kurtyka for more information on Action Team meetings and events at

Visit our Act on the Issues Page here to find out about how you can act on urgent and other environmental issues.

Header photo by Larry Lamsa

Photo of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, from WikiMedia Commons, by the Burea of Land Management. 


Public lands news

Hundreds attend meetings on reuse of fracked water

Hundreds attend meetings on reuse of fracked water
The Sierra Club’s position is that not enough is known about fracking wastewater to determine if it is safe for outside use, even after it is treated.  Along with high levels of salt, there are many hundreds of potential other ... Read More

White Sands to be NM’s second national park

White Sands to be NM's second national park
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small hailed final passage of legislation to designate White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. The provision was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which passed ... Read More

Chaco appropriation passed into law

photo of chaco canyon national park entrance for sierra club article on oil drilling in nearby communities
In December, Congress passed an appropriations package that bans new oil and gas leasing for a year within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park until an ethnographic study for the region is completed. The Navajo Nation and pueblos ... Read More

Tell NM Environment Department: No use of fracking wastewater outside oil fields!

Tell NM Environment Department: No use of fracking wastewater outside oil fields!
You may know that drillers inject water underground to release oil and gas during fracking. The industrial waste that comes back up is called "produced water," and it is contaminated both by the chemicals that companies put into it and ... Read More