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Endangered Species At Risk From Oil Drilling Plans - Impacts on Aplomado Falcon Cited in WildEarth Guardians Challenge of Otero

WildEarth Guardians Challenges BLM's oil and gas drilling plan for Otero and Sierra Counties. The group argues that the plan will harm the endangered northern aplomado falcon

Santa Fe, NM - WildEarth Guardians filed a challenge today of the Bureau of Land Management's oil and gas drilling plan for Otero and Sierra Counties. The group argues that the plan will harm the northern aplomado falcon, which is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have long described Otero Mesa as one of the best remaining areas for aplomado falcons. The Bureau of Land Management's plan to open the Otero Mesa and Nutt Grasslands to oil and gas drilling would result in negative impacts to falcons and their habitat, including habitat fragmentation, human disturbance, and depletion of prey base.

"From the perspective of the aplomado falcon, Otero Mesa is priceless. If it is further opened up to oil and gas industrialization, hope for falcon restoration will be dimmed," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, Endangered Species Director for WildEarth Guardians. "The Bureau of Land Management's plans to destroy fragile Chihuahuan Desert grasslands are indefensible, given impacts on endangered species."

WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to designate critical habitat for the falcon with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September 2002 and is poised to file suit over the lack of a timely finding on that petition. Oil and gas industrialization - including existing wells and roads and planned development of Otero Mesa - was cited in the petition as a significant threat to falcon habitat.

In addition, FWS plans to reintroduce falcons into New Mexico under an experimental, non-essential" designation would result in the elimination of habitat protections for the falcon. If the experimental area includes Otero Mesa, which appears likely, oil and gas development could occur despite impacts on reintroduced falcons and their habitat. FWS's reintroduction proposal is expected to be released this spring, and WildEarth Guardians will challenge an experimental, non-essential designation for the falcon.

The Otero Mesa and Nutt Grasslands are the largest remaining tracts of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in the United States. In its protest of the Bureau of Land Management's plan for Otero and Sierra Counties, WildEarth Guardians further pointed to the importance of remaining Chihuahuan Desert grasslands for the black-tailed prairie dog, a keystone species awaiting listing under the Endangered Species Act, prairie dog associated wildlife such as the black-footed ferret (listed as Endangered), mountain plover, swift fox, burrowing owl, and ferruginous hawk. These grasslands are also vital for grassland breeding birds, which are considered the most rapidly declining guild of birds in the United States.

In the past four months, WildEarth Guardians has challenged two separate Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sales in southeastern New Mexico, citing impacts on the aplomado falcon, black-tailed prairie dog, and other imperiled species.

WildEarth Guardians seeks to preserve and restore native wildlands and wildlife in the American Southwest through fundamental reform of public policies and practices.


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