The National Wildlife Refuge System had a growth spurt in September as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the establishment of two new refuges in New Mexico and a new conservation area in Colorado. The expansion brings the number of refuges to 560.

In late September, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge near Albuquerque and Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in northern New Mexico were established.

“Today we celebrate two new jewels in the National Wildlife Refuge System—Valle de Oro, an urban oasis for people and wildlife just five miles from downtown Albuquerque, and Rio Mora, which will serve as an anchor for cooperative conservation efforts in the Rio Mora watershed,” Salazar said.

Valle de Oro Refuge was formally established through the acquisition of 390 acres of a former dairy and hay farm. The refuge’s name, which means Valley of Gold in Spanish, was selected after a social media campaign solicited suggestions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to work with partners to restore native bosque forest at the refuge, establish recreation and environmental education programs for local residents, and perhaps provide demonstration areas for sustainable agriculture.

Rio Mora Refuge and Conservation Area was established by a Thaw Charitable Trust donation of more than 4,200 acres. The refuge, two hours northeast of Albuquerque, is in a transition zone between the Great Plains and the southern Rocky Mountains. The Mora River flows through the refuge for about five miles in a 250– to 300–foot–deep canyon.

photo of pectoral sandpipers
Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, northeast of Albuquerque, NM, was established by a Thaw Charitable Trust donation of more than 4,200 acres.
Credit: Tami Heilemann/DOI

The refuge will protect and restore riparian and grassland habitat, reversing erosion and bringing back the river’s natural meanders. Species that stand to benefit include long–billed curlew, loggerhead shrike, burrowing owl, mountain plover, Southwestern willow flycatcher, a number of aquatic species, and migratory grassland and woodland birds.

In mid–September, Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area was established in southern Colorado, thanks to a large easement donation in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains by conservationist Louis Bacon.

Bacon, a proponent of landscape and wildlife conservation, donated an easement on nearly 77,000 acres of his 81,400–acre Trinchera Ranch. He previously announced his intention to donate an easement on 90,000–acre Blanca Ranch, bringing the total amount of perpetually protected land to nearly 170,000 acres. When completed, the two easements will be the largest donation ever to the Service. The Blanca Ranch easement donation was to be finalized late this year.

“We are too quickly losing important landscapes in this country to development—and I worry that if we do not act to protect them now, future generations will grow up in a profoundly different world. This motivates me and is why I am proud to place Trinchera Ranch, Blanca’s adjoining ranch, into a conservation easement,” said Bacon. “I am also honored to help Secretary Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service create the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. It is an area widely known for its cultural, geographic, wildlife and habitat resources.”

Trinchera Blanca Ranch is the largest contiguous, privately owned ranch in Colorado and features vistas of high desert shrubs and mountain grasslands, combined with alpine forest and alpine tundra. The area stretches to the top of Blanca Peak (14,345 feet above sea level). It falls in the center of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the longest mountain chain in the United States, and borders the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Among the species that benefit from the new conservation area are Rio Grande cutthroat trout, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the threatened Canada lynx.

The Refuge System grew by five units in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. In addition to 560 refuges, the Refuge System includes 38 wetland management districts.