BLM New Mexico completes mine safeguarding project at Cookes Peak

Story courtesy of Susan Torres, Public Affairs Officer, Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Photos by Chris Teske, BLM Abandoned Mine Land Coordinator.

The BLM and the New Mexico State Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s (EMNRD) Mining and Minerals Division (MMD) recently completed the final phase of work safeguarding abandoned mines on BLM-managed lands in the area surrounding Cookes Peak in southern New Mexico. Altogether, 300 dangerous mine openings were remediated on the north and east sides of the mountain from 2014 to 2021. Cookes Peak, at an elevation of 8,408, can be seen from miles around and is a popular recreational destination for hiking, hunting, rock hounding and bird watching. The safeguarding work increased the safety of valuable recreation areas while highlighting governmental collaboration. 

A 100-foot deep, open mine shaft with collapsing wooden collar.
Extreme Physical Safety Hazard: 100-foot deep, open mine shaft with collapsing wooden collar. It was determined to be significant bat habitat.

“The area around Cookes Peak is a tremendous resource for the state,” said MMD Director Jerry Schoeppner. “Our division takes pride in partnering with the BLM to make it a safer place to hike and camp while providing jobs to the private sector in completing the construction work.”

Four different construction contractors were hired for six phases of work. The contractors included Runyan Construction of Silver City; Perikin Enterprises of Las Cruces; MineGates Environmental of Prescott, Arizona; and Hurricane Industries of Joseph, Oregon.

The mine features left by the historic operations included pits, adits (horizontal mine openings), and shafts. The New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land Program and the Las Cruces District Office of the BLM reviewed the mine openings and determined which ones should receive safeguarding work as part of the National Environmental Policy Act clearance work. If animals such as bats and other wildlife were using the mine voids as a home, a steel gate was constructed at the entrance to preserve the habitat and keep humans from entering. Some of the smaller pits and shafts that were poor animal habitat were backfilled with the adjacent waste pile material.

Beginning construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola on abandoned mine.
Beginning construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola.
Continued construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola on abandoned mine.
Continued construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola.

The safeguarding work was funded by the BLM and from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, a federal grant financed by a collection of fees on coal production throughout the United States. The Fund works across the state to identify dangerous abandoned mine areas to enhance public health and safety and restore land and water resources adversely affected by historic mining operations.

Completed construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola on abandoned mine.
Completed construction of physical safety closure and bat cupola.

Historically, silver and lead were discovered in the Cookes Range in 1876 and large-scale mines were opened five years later. Much of the lead/zinc/silver production had ended by 1929. However, fluorspar and base-metal production continued until 1965. The production of lead, zinc, gold, silver, and copper ore generated a total of $4.2 million between 1876 and 1952.