Current Conservation Challenges

Conservation is Key!

Audubon envisions a world where people and wildlife thrive. To that end, the society and our chapter place conservation as a key pillar of our work. Thanks to the efforts of local Audubon members Andy Payne and Dave Becker, we present some of the key areas of conservation concern and challenge for the birds and wildlife specific to our region. We encourage SWNMA members to learn more about and speak up on behalf of these issues.

National Audubon and the Neotropics Migratory Bird Conservation Act

Posted May 2024 

The issue: The National Audubon Society (NAS) is working to promote and pass legislation to protect both winter and summer habitats for migrating birds, in the US and in Central and South America and in the Caribbean, through the The Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act (H.R. 4389) which would reauthorize the program and increase funding for grants to help declining populations recover and support more conservation projects.

This latest legislation aims to increase funding for projects in North, South and Central America that will benefit these far- ranging species in all their habitats.

See the US Fish and Wildlife Service website for more information about this act.

Want to get involved? Here’s a link to the NAS Action Center:

– by Dawn Smith

Proposed Diamond A Ranch Federal Land Exchange

May 2024 – by Dawn Smith

The issue: This proposal, if approved, would increase public access to the Gila River near Middle Box via Selby Ranch land, the Gila Wilderness via the Heart Bar lands, as well as the Peloncillo Mountains, and Gray Peak Wilderness Study Area near Rodeo, which has previously not been publicly accessible. It would also help protect Chiricahua leopard frog and Gila trout populations within the lands being exchanged.

SWNMA supports this proposal based on the above information and the value of access to these areas to birders to enjoy the numerous avian species there.

Air Force Military Operation Areas (MOA) Modifications and Expansions

The issue: The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson has proposed modifying its MOAs in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico to allow longer periods of use, low-altitude training (including low-altitude supersonic flights), and allowing the use of chaff and flares. Three of the MOAs overlap the Gila Wilderness and Chiricahua National Monument. The Air Force accepted preliminary scoping comments from the public in June 2022.

Updated May, 2024. The timeline for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been pushed back from Spring 2024 to July/August 2024. We’re looking at ways we can help show why these changes will have tremendous negative impact on wildlife and our enjoyment of our wilderness areas. We’ll be in touch with those who showed interest last year but look forward to hearing from others interested in helping. -Dawn Smith

Updated Feb, 2024. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected in Spring 2024. A tentative meeting of the local team working on potential impacts for the changes is planned sometime in February to prepare input.

Updated July, 2023. The Air Force expects to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) in the Spring of 2024 (previously scheduled for Fall of 2023).

Updated May, 2023. SWNM Audubon has developed a plan to contribute data to the Peaceful Gila Skies’ public response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (expected in Fall of 2023). 

We encourage members to bird the area shown on the map. 

Please click on the image to access the flyer… Feel free to print, distribute, and post widely!

Updated February, 2023. SWNM Audubon would like to be prepared with data for this public comment window! If you are interested in helping to organize data collection efforts from the local birding community, please plan to attend an organizational meeting on Thursday, March 16 at 9:00 at TranquillBuzz in Silver City. Can’t attend but still interested? Please send an email with contact information to

Posted December, 2022. Because expanding these training areas and lowering flight levels would seriously impact birds and birders, SW NM Audubon will begin gathering information from local birders beginning in Spring of 2023 about where they bird and what they see so that we can help submit detailed comments on the DEIS in late 2023. More information about this data collection will be circulated in early 2023.

More information on the project is available at Peaceful Gila Skies and

Gila Wild and Scenic River Act

Updated May, 2024. This legislation, aimed to protect parts of the Gila River as a nationally recognized Wild and Scenic River, has not yet advanced in congress. The latest hope is that it will be included in a future public lands package, along with environmental bills from other states thus receiving broader support.

While the bill has strong support of the New Mexico delegation, including bill sponsors Rep. Gabe Vasquez and Sen. Martin Heinrich, members of congress still need to hear that we continue to support their efforts in passing this important legislation. Visit the NM Wild website for background information, talking points and actions to help with this effort to protect wildlife, clean water, and natural habitats. by Andy Payne

Updated Feb, 2024. In March of 2023, the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act continues to slowly make its way in both House and Senate. Please help move this important act forward. The easiest ways to help are found on the New Mexico Wild Gila Action page

Updated May 2023. This critical legislation for wildlife and the environment – – officially labeled the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act – – was reintroduced on 3/14/23 in both the House and Senate. 

In the Senate it is S.776 sponsored by Martin Heinrich and in the House H.R. 1611 sponsored by Gabe Vasquez. It has the strong support of the entire New Mexico delegation with Ben Ray Lujan, Melanie Stansbury, and Teresa Leger Fernandez all signing on as co-sponsors.

In the House, the proposal was assigned to the House Natural Resources Committee, then reassigned to the Natural Resources Sub Committee on Federal Lands chaired by Tom Tiffany R (WI). 

In the Senate, the proposal is in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chaired by Joe Manchin D (WV) 

The next step: Get it advanced out of committees and voted on by the House and Senate.

For more information and suggestions to help this effort to protect wildlife, clean water, and natural habitats please visit New Mexico Wild Action Center.

Posted December 2022. The Gila Wild and Scenic River legislation has been reintroduced in Washington and will soon be moving through Congress!

The map shows the extent of the area to be protected (with rivers and tributaries labeled with blue text and black arrows).

Many will recognize areas already used for recreation or birding but that need to be protected. There are many ways we, as people concerned about wildlife, clean water, and natural habitats, can help get this critical bill passed.

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance — also known as New Mexico Wild — has many suggestions on their excellent website, Gila Wild
& Scenic Action Center about exactly how to do that. Please visit their site to learn specifically how easily you can help. We owe it to future generations of both people and wildlife to get this done!

Feral Cattle in the Gila Wilderness

The issue: Cattle had been roaming the wilderness for decades, increasing in numbers, and destroying critical habitat—especially along riparian areas.

Updated May, 2024.  Near the end of February 2023, the Gila National Forest finished a major effort to remove feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness.

Although it took the Forest Service many years to respond to this crisis, their action has been applauded by the conservation community. It’s a good example of the Forest Service responding to public comments on an important environmental concern and how effective our voices can be.

While 153 cattle were removed, some still remain (est 16). The Forest Service has said they remain committed to removing all remaining cattle. This commitment needs to be monitored to ensure that the feral cattle population does not grow via reproduction, thus continuing to degrade habitat. – Andy Payne

Proposed Dolomite Mine in Florida Mountains

The issue: American Magnesium has proposed a 40-acre dolomite mine in a pristine canyon on the northwest side of the Florida Mountains (southeast of Deming), an area enjoyed by birders and a potential habitat for yellow-billed cuckoos and northern aplomado falcons. If constructed, the mine would operate for 30 years and involve 92 truck trips per day from the mine to a processing mill nearby.

Updated Feb, 2024. Proposed National Monument/Florida Mountains Dolomite Mine: In December the Friends of the Floridas, the Semilla Project, NM CAFÉ (Comunidades en Acción de Fe), New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Outdoor New Mexico, Friends of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks, and Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, supported by the Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, and Native Land Institute proposed the establishment of the Mimbres Peaks National Monument which would include: the Florida Mountains, Tres Hermanas Mountains, Good Sight Mountains, and Cookes Range.

At present, local support is limited, with significant pushback from the ranching community and small mine operators (mainly rock and gem sellers) who were not informed of the proposed project prior to its announcement. The Deming City Council has recently voted to oppose the project. As a regional organization with a history of working with local ranchers on conservation projects, we are looking at how we might best become involved in this issue to the benefit of all parties. – Dawn Smith

Updated Oct, 2023. The federal lawsuit by Friends of the Floridas, Gila Resources Information Project, and other groups challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of a proposed dolomite mine in the Florida Mountains received a hearing before the presiding judge on July 12, 2023, but (as of October 20, 2023) no decision on the case has been issued. A decision is likely to be issued sometime in the next couple of months. The case involves the proposed American Magnesium mine on public land adjacent to the Florida Mountains Wilderness Study Area. In August 2023, the BLM issued a notice seeking comment on a small expansion to the project that would include a new staging area and an extension of the proposed access road. If the currently pending lawsuit is successful, the BLM will need to go back to the drawing board and fully and lawfully review both the original project proposal and the proposed expansion. Other documents related to the mining project can be found on the BLM’s official website. -Dave Becker

Updated July, 2023. In 2020, Friends of the Floridas, Gila Resources Information Project, and three other public interest organizations filed a federal lawsuit to set aside the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of the proposed American Magnesium mine on public land adjacent to the Florida Mountains Wilderness Study Area. The case received a public hearing before a Federal judge on July 12, 2023, at the Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque. The judge will decide if the BLM properly followed the law when it reviewed and approved the mine proposal. It is unknown when the judge will give his written decision.

Posted February, 2023. The suit against American Magnesium’s proposed 40-acre dolomite mine on the northwest side of the Florida Mountains (southeast of Deming) has moved into the briefing phase. Friends of the Floridas, Gila Resources Information Project, and three other organizations filed their opening brief on February 21st, arguing that approval of the mine violated several environmental laws. Click here to read this brief. The hearing on the groups’ claims will be held on June 7th in federal court in Albuquerque. No mining is occurring while the lawsuit is ongoing.

Posted December, 2022. Friends of the Floridas, Gila Resources Information Project, and three other public interest organizations are challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s revised May 2021 approval of the mine in federal court. The parties spent nearly a year fighting over which documents the court will review to decide whether the approval violated the law, with a ruling resolving that dispute issued in September 2022. The parties will litigate the merits of plaintiffs claims in 2023, with a decision likely by the end of 2023. No mining is occurring while the lawsuit is ongoing.

For updates on this issue, visit the Friends of the Floridas’ Facebook page.

photo of Florida Mountains

Tyrone Emma Expansion Project

Posted December 2022

This project will impact people, water, and wildlife habitat and does not meet industry best management practices.

In September, GRIP filed a protest with the Office of the State Engineer to block a water rights transfer needed by Freeport-McMoRan to construct and operate a new open pit at its Tyrone Mine. Five other protests were filed by private landowners near the proposed Emma Expansion Project, which would be located 17 miles south of Silver City on Highway 90 directly south of Tyrone’s existing open pit operation and north of the Apache Mound subdivision.

This mine expansion will cover approximately 337 acres of disturbance, including construction of an open pit 550 to 600 feet deep which is 200 feet below ground water level. Freeport is now responding to agency and public comments. The draft water quality discharge permit has not been released yet, as NMED (New Mexico Environmental Department) continues to have questions about the groundwater modeling.

Note: This information comes from GRIP (Gila Resources Information Project). Keep current on the latest information about the Emma Pit mine expansion and receive suggestions for possible future comments or actions at GRIP’s website.

Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund

Posted Feb, 2024. The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund creates a permanent conservation fund for state programs that protect and preserve the environment. The distribution of the funds (i.e., who will be funded) is already determined and the latest session has approved the next level of funding. Read the bill text on the NM State Legislative page.