Oil and gas drilling could oust elk — and Boy Scouts

 

NEW MEXICO

The Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico, known for its trout streams and trophy elk herd, could soon be known for oil and gas drilling, too.

In 1982, Pennzoil Corporation donated the 100,000-acre valley to the Carson National Forest, and for more than 20 years, hunters and hikers have enjoyed the valley and its 2,000-head elk herd.

But in June 2002, El Paso Natural Gas submitted a request to lease the valley’s easternmost 40,000 acres for possible oil and gas development — including coalbed methane. The company already produces coalbed methane on Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, which borders the valley to the east.

A coalition of conservation groups opposed to drilling in the Valle Vidal includes Taos-based Amigos Bravos, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, along with a growing number of hunters and ranchers. "This is going to be a bitterly fought battle," says Jim Scarantino, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. "The Forest Service is fast-tracking this, and they want to do this fast, before the public wises up."

Opening the area to drilling also has the Boy Scouts worried. The Philmont Scout Ranch borders the Valle Vidal to the south, and each summer, hundreds of Boy Scouts use the area for a summer backpacking program. So far, more than 300 former Philmont staffers and participants have signed an online petition asking the Forest Service to not allow drilling.

Before any new leases are granted, the Forest Service says it will spend two years studying how energy exploration could affect the area.