Next stop: Otero Mesa?

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Rep. Tom Udall’s bill to protect Valle Vidal from energy development passed the U.S. House unanimously yesterday:

The natural beauty of this area of the forest, known as Valle Vidal, remained largely unblemished as the 101,000-acre mix of scenic conifer forests and open meadows became a sporting playground for Hollywood stars and moguls, and later for oil company executives, before the land was donated to the government in 1982 by Pennzoil Corp. and opened to the public.

Now, Valle Vidal has become a battleground in the drive to expand energy exploration on public land, attracting the attention of a growing coalition of hunters, anglers, environmentalists, ranchers, homeowners and politicians across the ideological spectrum.

Here and elsewhere in the Western United States, this coalition is starting to resist the push for energy exploration in some of the nation’s most prized wilderness areas. Although it remains unclear how successful they will be, these new activists — including many who treasure Valle Vidal as a place to fish for cutthroat trout, hunt for elk and ride horses across its wide expanses — have brought a new dynamic to the public debate over energy development in the West.

“There’s clearly a headlong rush into opening up these areas, but there’s a recognition there’s precious areas, beautiful landscapes that people appreciate and love,” said Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). “In those cases, the equation swings over to protection.”

Hopefully we can make some similar progress in the southern part of the state. The article also mentions the growing coalition between hunters/anglers and environmentalists (which I’ve discussed before). This will likely play out to everybody’s benefit here in the West for years to come:

“Something is happening here,” said Chris Wood, vice president for conservation at the advocacy group Trout Unlimited. “What we’re seeing is the emergence of a powerful new voice in conservation. It’s not your garden-variety environmental groups. It’s hunters and anglers and outfitters and guides that are helping convince Democrats and Republicans alike of the need to protect these last places.”

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