Audubon Supports the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks Proposal
Legislation will protect biodiversity hotspot
Audubon New Mexico Executive Director, Karyn Stockdale released the following statement upon the news today that members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation have introduced legislation calling for permanent protection of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area near Las Cruces:
“Today, Senators Udall and Heinrich have acknowledged the importance of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area to our nation’s biodiversity by introducing legislation to protect this incredible landscape in Southern New Mexico,” said Karyn Stockdale, Executive Director for Audubon New Mexico. “Permanently protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks will ensure that sky islands and critical grasslands that support more than sixty bird species of conservation concern will remain intact, while at the same time protecting jobs in New Mexico’s tourism and outdoor recreation economy.”
The Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico are not just a spectacular backdrop for the city of Las Cruces. They are an important biodiversity hotspot, hosting some plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The OMDP lands form a biotic link between wildlife and plant species in northern Mexico and those in the southwestern United States.
More than 210 species of birds have been recorded in the Organ Mountains, which is more than half the total number of species seen in Doña Ana County. This is a remarkable proportion, given that only 2.4% of the total land area of the county is covered by the mountain range. Of these 210 species, 60 are considered species of conservation concern by Partners in Flight in the New Mexico Bird Conservation Plan.
Why are the Organs home to so many species of birds? Simply put, it is because there are so many different habitats found in the mountains. Grasslands and desert scrub on the lowest slopes of the mountains host certain bird species [Scaled Quail], while brushy chaparral farther up the hillsides is home to still others [Black-chinned Sparrow, song]. High in the mountains, pine-oak woodlands are filled with montane species normally associated with places like the Gila or Sacramento Mountains [Grace’s Warbler]. Even the vertical rocky cliffs offer important habitat for several sensitive bird species [White-throated Swift], providing protected ledges and cracks for nesting and roost locations.
The grasslands around the Organ Mountains region also provide vital habitat for many birds. In fact, grasslands contain more high priority species than any other habitat in New Mexico. As a group, grassland birds have suffered more severe population declines than any other bird species in the United States. According to the 2011 State of the Birds Report, the nation has lost more than 97 percent of its native grasslands, largely due to conversion to agriculture. The small percentage of the native grasslands that remain on Bureau of Land Management lands are especially important to grassland species in the western U.S. during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Given the ongoing transformation of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in nearby areas of northern Mexico, the grasslands of southern New Mexico may be of even greater importance in the years to come if our nation’s remaining grassland bird species are to survive.
Audubon New Mexico: As the state office of the National Audubon Society, Audubon New Mexico’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. http://nm.audubon.org.