Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Monument: Why Big Wild Areas are so Important

Organs 001By New Mexico BHA Board Member and retired biologist, Randy Gray.


As we celebrate the establishment of the new 496,000 acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico some may wonder why this is important to wildlife.  The most obvious reason is that some species need large areas to obtain the necessary food, water and cover.  Examples are deer, antelope and mountain lions. Rainfall is not consistent across arid lands; you can be standing in a spot with blue sky above while a mile away it is raining a down pour.  Therefore some areas receive more rain in one year and grow more food for wildlife while others receive less rain and therefore less food. This changes from year to year so species can adjust where they forage in a large landscape not fragmented by human encroachment.  


However, what is not so obvious is the concept of metapopulations.  Simply, some species are not ubiquitous across the landscape but occur in pockets of habitat. Examples may be grassy areas, wetlands, riparian areas or even rock outcrops. Many species of reptiles, amphibians, small mammal and birds are found in these pockets of habitat.  These pockets are more susceptible to a species vanishing from that area due to natural events such as disease, fire or flooding. But in large landscapes there are multiple pockets of the same habitat across a large landscape and animals can migrate to these vacated pockets and rebuild populations. Large landscapes provide many pockets of similar habitat and prevent habitat fragmentation from roads, subdivisions, energy developments or other activities that restrict or stop animal movement.

Large areas also help keep ecological processes intact. Floodplains can flood and provide habitat for many species while allowing water to seep into the ground. Fires are less of a threat to human structures and can be allowed to rejuvenate habitats that have become decadent with age.

Big areas are also important to another species: us.  Many of us still have the desire to traverse large open spaces free of human encroachment and far from the lights of cities, towns or energy development.  We want to hunt in large desert landscapes that abound in deer and antelope and see all the other species that also need those same large landscapes. The newly designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will help ensure we have those opportunities for the foreseeable future.

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About Caitlin Thompson