Unusual coalition gathers to protest drilling proposal in the Valle Vidal


August 18, 2005

Contact: Chris Hunt, 208-406-9106 (chunt@tu.org)

Unusual coalition gathers to protest drilling proposal in the Valle Vidal

CIMMARON, New MexicoA diverse coalition of professional biologists, hunters and anglers, a former energy industry executive, a local banker and a other conservationists has stepped forward to protest plans to drill for coal-bed methane in northern, New Mexicos Valle Vidal, home to the states largest elk herd and one of the last strongholds for the increasingly rare Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

In a telephone conference sponsored by conservation organization, Trout Unlimited, Gary Fonay, former president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said the Valle Vidals ecological assets outweigh any potential benefits of developing the landscape for its energy resources. Ive made a living in the oil and gas industry. But there must be a balance between development and protection. I say, Leave the Valle Vidal alone.

Bill Schudlich, chairman of Trout Unlimiteds New Mexico Council, says the Valle Vidals importance to New Mexicos native cutthroat trout cant be overstated.

The Valle Vidal as the last great stronghold for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, Schudlich said. Our restoration work has helped keep the Rio Grande cutthroat from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Energy development could undo all of that good and important work.

Ron Schmeits, president of the International Bank of Raton, the largest bank in northern New Mexico, and an avid hunter and angler agrees with Fonays assessment, saying, as Yellowstone Park is to the northern Rockies states, thats what the Valle Vidal is to us. If we develop this area, we leave nothing for our children to enjoy.

The Valle Vidal was given to the people of the United States by the Pennzoil Corp. in 1982. The U.S. Forest Service took control of the land, and managed it for its ecological and recreational values, ever since. The Valle Vidal is a popular destination for elk hunters, trout fishers, hikers and wildlife enthusiasts from all over the country. Its even used by the Boy Scouts of America, who conduct high-adventure activities within its boundaries.

Presently, heavy energy development is occurring on lands surrounding the 100,000-acre Valle Vidal, and there are plans to drill for coal-bed methane in the Valle Vidal itself. Drilling for coal-bed methane would lead to new roads into the Valle Vidal, as well as the construction of well heads, collection pipes and pipelines. In addition to the water quality and erosion problems presented by development, coal-bed methane development requires the removal of groundwater to free seams of gas. Disposing of the often-polluted water could pose problems for the Valle Vidals native cutthroat trout.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federations Oscar Simpson, notes that the area was utilized by early American Indians and discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Theres just nothing quite like the Valle Vidal, Simpson said. This is a once-in-a-lifetime hunting opportunity. Given that much of the land around it is already open to energy development, it makes sense to save this relatively small, but very important area from drilling.