Memorable Moment #2: the Protection of the Valle Vidal
By Alan Septoff
March 22, 2013
We are celebrating our 25th year since our founding by marking 25 of our most memorable moments protecting communities and the since Earthworks was founded in 1988.
New Mexico’s Yellowstone
New Mexico’s Valle Vidal is one of our nation’s truly special places. The Valle Vidal, which means “living valley,” is located in the lush Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico between Cimarron and Costilla. It is often referred to as New Mexico’s “Yellowstone". This 100,000 acre paradise inside Carson National Forest is a crucial watershed and home to a wide range of wildlife such as mountain lions, bears, turkeys, cutthroat trout, and the largest elk herd in New Mexico. It is a critical winter habitat for these wild animals as well.
In 1982, Pennzoil Corporation donated the land to the National Forest System, which included the rights to both surface and oil and gas mineral estates of the area.
Threatened by Coalbed Methane Development
In 2002 the El Paso Corporation attempted to open the Valle Vidal to full-scale coalbed methane development.
Coalbed methane extraction can devastate surrounding communities, the environment, and precious water resources.
El Paso’s project would have included the digging of toxic pits that would threaten soil, groundwater, wildlife and livestock; hazardous air emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide; the injection of toxic chemicals into aquifers during drill processes; and the massive depletion of water from coal seams.
And for what? Even with a full-scale operation, El Paso Corp. could have only extracted enough gas to supply California’s demand for eleven hours.
This was truly an effort that rose from the ground up. Community members living near the Valle, sportspeople from around the country and (Boy) Scouts who come every year to earn their natural resources stewardship badges in the Valle Vidal all worked together to express their desire that this unique piece of land and its unparalleled wildlife populations be protected in perpetuity. - (then) Representative Tom Udall
A Prime Example of Natural Beauty Teaching Our Youth
The Valle Vidal offers fabulous recreational opportunities: hunting, angling, hiking, camping, and even horseback riding. Many different types of people use the Valle Vidal too, such as ranchers, hunters, fishermen, and Boy Scouts.
At a hearing held by the Forest Service regarding El Paso’s request to drill, Mark Anderson, a Program Director for a Boy Scout’s camp in Valle Vidal, pointed out how 22,000 visitors, 5,000 participants in Boy Scout training facilities, and 1,016 seasonal staff enjoy the Valle Vidal annually.
It provides a chance for the Scouts to receive unique training and experiences, and he says the Valle Vidal is “a great place to learn that [Leave No Trace] practice” as well as earn their environmental stewardship badges. Furthermore, every Scout who uses the Valle must volunteer at least 3 hours on conservation projects in the unit, and Anderson estimates Scouts have dedicated over 60,000 volunteer hours to projects that include fire rehabilitation efforts, streambed and watershed improvements and erosion barriers.
By turning the Valle into a coalbed methane extracting facility, thousands of young people would have lost the chance to connect with and learn about the significance of protecting and appreciating the environment.
A Victory for Natural Places in 2006
Thanks to a multi-year campaign led by the Coalition for the Valle Vidal and Earthworks, the development of oil and gas is now legally prohibited in the Valle Vidal. In 2006, Congress passed a bill – with no opposing votes -- to prohibit energy and mineral in the Valle Vidal. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, which declares this precious land and all the living things on it to be permanently protected.
For more information:
- Earthworks: 25th Anniversary home page
- Earthworks Journal: Valle Vidal - Is this western paradise worth eleven hours of gas?
- The Wilderness Society: Valle Vidal - Too Wild to Drill
- Amigos Bravos: Valle Vidal