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Planet Main
In This Section
PDF January/February 2006
e-mail December 20, 2005
e-mail October 28, 2005


The Power of Many
How We Saved the Arctic Refuge (For Now)
Getting Somewhere on the Bridges to Nowhere
Cities Get Cool
Measuring Mercury
Fighting for the Valle Vidal
Building Trust
There's No Limit to Colorado's Power
Finding Common Ground
Trickle-Down Activism
‘Hey, I Can Do This’
I Can Smell for Miles and Miles
Building Environmental Community One Canyon at a Time
Paper to Pixels
Sierra Summit Soars
‘Why Live If You Don't Have Something to Struggle For?’
Expanding Excom
Club Charts Direction for Next Five Years
Big Easy to Beltway: ‘Where's the Beef?’
2005 Timeline
Faces of the Sierra Club


Hope Surfaces in Katrina's Wake
Snapshots from the Summit
Democracy Breaks Out
Rally for the Arctic
A Better Legacy
Thoroughbred Power Plant Blocked
John Swingle
Betsy Bennett
Larry Fahn
Is Your City a Cool City?
Endangered Species Act Endangered
Smithfield Shareholder Resolution
Owens Valley Victory
New Energy Bill Exploits Katrina
From the Editor: Wake of the Flood
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
Fighting for the Valle Vidal

The Sierra Club teams up with some not-so-usual suspects, like businesses and ranchers, to protect a threatened treasure.

by Tom Valtin

Dexter Coolidge, a retired vice president for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Chicago, moved to northern New Mexico two years ago, “for the same reasons most people move here: the natural beauty and the rich culture.”

A 20-year Sierra Club member, Coolidge had never been active before. But once settled in Santa Fe, he drew on his background to recruit area businesses in the campaign to save one of New Mexico’s natural treasures—the Valle Vidal, targeted by the Bush administration for coalbed methane drilling, which would scar the landscape with drilling pads, pipeline corridors, power lines, and huge wastewater pits.

Laborin’ Llamas: Participants (human and otherwise) take a Labor Day pack trip to New Mexico’s Valle Vidal, which is threatened by Bush administration plans for coalbed methane drilling.

Located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Valle Vidal is prime wildlife habitat, and home to the state’s largest elk herd. Used by hikers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, and Boy Scouts (whose largest camp is located nearby), the area generates up to $5 million annually for local communities.

The Coalition for the Valle Vidal, comprised of ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen, outfitters and guides, other concerned citizens, and local town councils sprang up in early 2004, and this past September, Coolidge joined its excom. “The only way we can gain protection for this area is to get the support of Republicans as well as Democrats,” he says. “Business owners recognize that if you screw up the land, you screw up the economy, and by getting businesses on board, we hope more Republicans will sign on, too.”

Coolidge and fellow activists Richard Kristin and Norma McCallan have gotten more than 50 Santa Fe businesses to sign on.
McCallan, who Coolidge calls “the heart and backbone of the Northern Group,” also arranged two outings through local outfitter and long-time Valle Vidal supporter Stuart Wilde’s Wild Earth Llama Adventures: a “Take a Llama to Lunch” tour along McCrystal Creek in June, and a three-day Labor Day trip.

The Northern Group has held neighborhood walks in Santa Fe, placed op-eds in the Albuquerque Journal, and co-sponsored an event in Santa Fe featuring former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall, local author William deBuys, and a Republican car dealer/hunting guide who was one of the coalition’s founders. This fall, in preparation for a public comment period on the Forest Service’s Valle Vidal management plan, a brochure was mailed to every member of the Northern Group. “More than 55,000 comments came in, overwhelmingly favoring protection,” McCallan says. But it wasn’t all tabling and talking—in November, Club staffer Sarah Lundstrum organized an Ultimate Frisbee fundraiser in Albuquerque.

In September, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Representative Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced a bill to make Valle Vidal off-limits to drilling, and Governor Bill Richardson held a press conference there urging its protection. Republican Representative Heather Wilson of Albuquerque also visited, saying she’d gotten so many letters from constituents she had to see the area for herself. “Sierra Club members generated a lot of these letters,” says McCallan.

“Most people who know about this remote area are sympathetic,” McCallan says. “This isn’t just about wilderness—it’s a fight on behalf of local people.”



photo by Robert McKee

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