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The Planet
Putting Your Money Where Your Heart Is

Boy Scout's Gift Helps Club Protect Valle Vidal

by Tom Valtin

This spring, 13-year-old Benjamin Lilly, a Boy Scout from Los Altos, California, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. It is customary to give a portion of the money one receives for a Bar Mitzva to charity, and Ben chose the Sierra Club, donating $800 to help protect northern New Mexico’s Valle Vidal.

“I’ve always loved nature,” Ben says. “Some of my favorite places are Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and Bear Valley in the Sierra Nevada. Last summer I was the youngest in our Boy Scout troop to go on the 50-mile backpacking trip. So it seemed fitting to give to a nature-related cause.” 

Ben, whose parents are both Sierra Club members, learned about the Valle Vidal in an article, “Thirty-Hour Valley,” in the March/April 2005 Sierra. Written by Sierra senior editor and New Mexico native Paul Rauber, the article vividly depicts the 100,000-acre high-mountain basin of pristine meadows, forests, and streams, home to New Mexico’s largest elk herd. It also details how Houston-based El Paso Corporation and the Bush administration have their sights set on 40,000 acres of the Valle Vidal for coalbed methane drilling.

“One thing that got my attention,” Ben says, “was the mention of a famous Boy Scout camp, Philmont Scout Ranch, which would have to close if drilling proceeds in the adjacent Valle Vidal. I’ve never been to Philmont, but I’d like to, and the thought of it closing down really bothered me.”

Even drilling proponents admit the area would provide the United States with, at most, 30 hours of natural gas. But it would turn the Valle Vidal into a sacrifice zone laced with roads, pipes, power lines, storage tanks, compressor stations, and drilling pads. Protecting the Valle Vidal is one of the Sierra Club’s top conservation priorities in New Mexico.

“I saw these gorgeous pictures of the Valle Vidal,” Ben says, “but realized that few people, even in my Boy Scout troop, had ever heard of it. It irked me, the thought of this huge meadowland going to waste. I hope my money is put to good use and that the Valle Vidal can be saved.”

Ben says $200 of his money will go toward his own trip to the Rockies.

To learn more about the Valle Vidal, go to

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