You may have heard that the White Sands Missile Range Golf Course recently closed down after more than a half-century of service to the community. Although there will no longer be golfing at the course, however, some folks will continue to visit the area to use the paths and appreciate the beauty of this interface between developed and wild lands.
While in operation the Golf Course was well known for attracting area wildlife, such as birds, bats, snakes, deer, oryx, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, javelina, and even (though rarely) mountain lions. With the closure and diminished human activity, we should all be aware of the potential for an increase in wildlife encounters on the course. Although such encounters are often a delightful experience to careful and respectful observers, we should always be prepared to avoid—or, if necessary, deal with—any potential conflict.
When you are in or near wilderness areas, always be aware of your surroundings—especially around early morning and early evening, when wildlife tends to be most active. Stay alert, look around you frequently, and stop to listen; doing so will cut down on surprise encounters, which can be startling and potentially harmful to you and/or the wildlife, and it will enable you to keep a safe distance should there be wildlife in the area. If you like to wear headphones or tend to fiddle with your phone constantly, you should reconsider indulging in such activities when recreating in wilderness areas. If you have children with you, keep them close and within sight. Any pets should be kept on a leash.
As a general rule, stick to the paths and cleared areas, where you have unobstructed views around you. If you do stray from the paths, proceed with caution: tall vegetation or brush piles can conceal uneven ground, animal burrows, and—especially on warmer days—rattlesnakes. For the most part, it's not a good idea to put your hands and feet where you can't see.
If you do happen to encounter wildlife, remain calm and observe. Often, animals will be indifferent to your presence and will go about their business. Often they will be wary, especially if you attempt to approach them, which we highly discourage. You may watch them, but let them be. Absolutely do not attempt to feed animals or harass them; not only are such actions unsafe, but there may be laws and regulations prohibiting them. Gather children behind you while reassuring them, and restrain pets. Be ready to pick up and hold any small children or pets.
In the case that a wild animal actively approaches you, it is acceptable to use hazing as a deterrent. Hazing refers to actions taken to repel nuisance wildlife, such as making yourself look larger by standing erect while raising your arms and shouting at the animal. Avoid direct contact with the animal, but if it persists in its approach and appears to be a threat, you may throw rocks at it. Do not run, which may trigger the animal's pursuit instincts. Back away slowly while facing the animal, and do your best to remain calm while retreating to a safe distance.
Usually, hazing is sufficient to deter an animal—unless the animal is sick. If you suspect that there is something wrong with an animal (frothing at the mouth, aggressiveness, poor body condition, erratic movement, or other unusual behavior), contact the Environmental Division (ED) or the Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) immediately at the numbers provided below. If you suffer a scratch or bite, contact DES and seek medical attention right away.
Remember: encounters with wildlife are usually pleasurable and memorable experiences, and we can keep them that way if we educate ourselves and our families about wildlife around Main Post. Be mindful, be respectful, and—above all—be safe. While the Golf Course may no longer be open for business, it will continue to be open to wildlife and human visitors that appreciate the opportunity of a unique and enriching experience.
If you have any questions or wish to share your wildlife experiences at the Missile Range, you are welcome to contact or visit the Environmental Division in Building 163) on Main Post. See below for appropriate Points of Contact regarding wildlife issues at WSMR.
Regular duty hours 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday:
DPW - Environmental Division
DPW - Pest Control (No service order required for assistance with snakes)
(575) 993-6086, (575) 288-5742, (575) 652-2327
Directorate of Emergency Services (DES)