October 27, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C.— Three influential New Mexicans testified Thursday before the House Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health in support of legislation that would permanently protect the Valle Vidal from future oil and gas drilling.
Bill Schudlich, chairman of New Mexico Trout Unlimited; Alan Lackey, a local rancher and businessman; and Danny Cruz, mayor of the community of Springer, appeared Thursday morning and spoke in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, whose district includes the Valle Vidal. If the bill is successful, the Valle Vidal, commonly referred to as “the Yellowstone of the southern Rockies,” would be off limits to the oil and gas drilling.
A large coalition of supporters has worked for years to keep coalbed methane development out of the region—groups like TU, Boy Scout leaders, the National Wildlife Federation and the Coalition for the Valle Vidal have been joined by local and regional politicians, ranchers, hunting guides, energy industry executives and others to oppose development in the sensitive region. The Valle Vidal is home to New Mexico’s largest elk herd (and the state’s only once-in-a-lifetime trophy elk hunt) and it’s one of the last, best strongholds for increasingly rare Rio Grande cutthroat trout. To many, drilling for a relatively small gas reserve beneath the Valle Vidal would spoil its priceless and long-term above-ground resources.
“As an organization, Trout Unlimited is not opposed to gas and oil development,” Schudlich said. “However, we also feel that some places, like the Valle Vidal, should be off limits to development, as they are more valuable to our nation in their current wild state than what little gas and oil might be gained by drilling.”
Trout Unlimited has invested hundreds of volunteer hours conducting stream restoration efforts in the Valle Vidal in order help increase threatened Rio Grande cutthroat trout numbers. Additionally, state and federal wildlife managers have worked to keep the region’s renowned elk herd in its current healthy state. Drilling in the Valle Vidal would likely include the construction of new roads, which would bisect habitat critical to elk migration and add silt to streams that could hinder trout reproduction.
Lackey, a Republican businessman, a cattle rancher and a life member of the National Rifle Association, agrees with Schudlich, noting that coal-bed methane drilling, like the activity occurring on the Vermejo Ranch adjacent to the Valle Vidal, can drastically alter the landscape. That’s a development he’s not willing to accept in a place of such historic and cultural importance as the Valle Vidal.
“The coal bed methane development I was witnessing was purported to be the most ‘environmentally sensitive’ ever done,” Lackey said. “I can’t stress enough that the method of coal bed methane drilling on Vermejo Park, or any type of coal bed methane drilling would be a disaster for the Valle Vidal.”
Cruz, too, believes drilling for gas under the Valle Vidal is an exercise in futility that unnecessarily threatens the Valle Vidal’s above-ground resources that will, for generations to come, continue to boost the economy of rural northern New Mexico with tourism dollars from hunters, anglers and others who come to the area to see the wild country that’s precious to so many.
“Even the most optimistic estimates of these amounts (of energy) have been shown to be trivial and absolutely inconsequential in terms of energy solutions for this nation,” Cruz told the subcommittee. “Simply put, and based on the Forest Service’s own data, the Valle Vidal, even under the most intensive development scenarios, could only provide our nation with no more than about two and a half days’ supply of natural gas.”