Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently dedicated the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, making it the first urban refuge in the Southwest and one of a handful across the nation. In addition, Salazar also traveled to Wind River Ranch near Mora, N.M. for a signing ceremony establishing the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area on over 4,200 acres donated by the Thaw Charitable Trust.
The refuges are expected to help generate economic growth and support jobs in New Mexico by attracting visitors and encouraging outdoor recreation. Nearly 38 percent of all Americans participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011 and spent $145 billion on related gear, trips and other purchases, such as licenses, tags and land leasing and ownership, representing 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Proposed exactly one year ago, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge was formally established through the acquisition of 390 acres of Valley Gold Farms, a former dairy and hay farm. The 559th unit of the national wildlife refuge system is within a 30-minute drive of half of New Mexico’s population, providing ample outdoor recreation and education opportunities. Salazar unveiled the official name for the refuge today, Valle de Oro (Valley of Gold), which was selected following a social media campaign that solicited suggested names from local and national audiences.
The Service intends to work with its partners to restore native Bosque forest on the refuge and establish recreation and environmental education programs for area residents. The site may also provide demonstration areas for sustainable agriculture.
“Bernalillo County is proud to have led the way on making this project a reality,” Commission Chair Art De La Cruz said. “By contributing $5 million and working closely with the community on this project, a fantastic national resource is now located in the heart of the South Valley. I look forward to new outdoor education and economic development opportunities that will impact our state as a result of this new refuge.”
In addition to the contribution from Bernalillo County, this first phase was made possible by $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation, $1.8 million from the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, $1.7 million from the Service, and $500,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Walmart Acres for America Grant program.
Located in the heart of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the new refuge is an important stop-over site for migrating migratory birds such as sand hill cranes, snow geese, and duck species.
Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, said, “We are thrilled to help residents of the South Valley gain access to close-to-home green space. We have completed the purchase of the first 390 acres of Price’s Dairy, and this will turn the Valle de Oro Urban Wildlife Refuge into a reality. We look forward to completing this wonderful project with the help of the partners and supporters who have been with us from the start.”
The Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which Salazar established as the 560th unit of the refuge system, is located in the transition zone between the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Mora River flows through the center of the refuge for approximately five miles in a 250-300-foot deep canyon.
The establishment of the refuge and conservation area is a continuation of the vision of philanthropist Eugene V. Thaw and his wife Clare E. Thaw who bought the Wind River Ranch in 1980 with the intent of protecting and restoring the land as a representative piece of southwestern ecological heritage.
“The transfer of Wind River Ranch to the ownership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems the perfect solution for this strategically located piece of land and its important stretch of the Mora River,” said Eugene Thaw. “We hope that this transfer will serve as the catalyst for a new era in range management, wildlife studies and sustainable agriculture for this whole area of the Southwest. We are grateful to Secretary Salazar and his talented staff for seeing the great possibilities at Wind River for environmental protection, science and education.”
Inclusion of this important ranch and conservation area into the Refuge System, coupled with the newly established Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado, creates a wildlife corridor that will ensure protection and restoration of the Mora River watershed and one of the great prairie grassland landscapes of North America. It will benefit many grassland and woodland species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher.
The long term plan for the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge will include opportunities for the public to enjoy wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife watching, education, and hunting.