Valle de Oro Refuge as a Resource for the Community

February 2016 - Friends Forward

Valle de Oro Refuge, a former dairy farm on the outskirts of Albuquerque, NM, is building relationships with the predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood adjacent to the refuge.
Credit: Ian Shive

The Mountain View neighborhood, beset by chemical storage facilities and the primary sewage facility for the city of Albuquerque, NM, found a positive cause when an adjacent 570-acre dairy farm became available. A Friends organization mobilized in support of what became Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, established in September 2012.

Now the Friends have taken their support further, working to help make Valle de Oro the nation’s first wildlife refuge to have an environmental justice strategic plan that matches refuge goals with goals of the Department of the Interior’s Environmental Justice Strategic Plan and the needs of the community. These environmental justice goals include ensuring that minority, low-income and tribal populations are involved in the Department’s decision-making processes; that any adverse environmental impacts on these populations will be addressed; and that the Department will work with local community groups to provide outreach and education. The plan may be completed in 2017.

Along with the Friends, partners include Los Jardines Institute, the predominantly Hispanic Mountain View Neighborhood Association, Bernalillo County and the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA), among others.

Valle de Oro Refuge, a former dairy farm that is also near the site of chemical storage and sewage facilities, is working had to be an asset to the community.
Credit: Marisa Rodriguez-McGill/2013 Photo Contest Grand Prize Winner

AMAFCA is key because Mountain View faces ongoing challenges from the lack of storm water drainage. “AMAFCA contributed $1.8 million to land acquisition so we could create habitat that would also serve as storm water drainage. We get to protect the neighborhood from flooding and create habitat,” explains refuge manager Jennifer Owen-White. Construction is expected to begin in 2017 on grassland through the refuge with a swale to capture the storm water.

The Friends and the refuge have received grants from the Urban Wildlife Conservation Partnership, the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program. Using some of that funding, the Friends and the refuge developed an extensive outreach campaign in English and Spanish, including holding an Environmental Justice Community Day in August 2015. The day featured free food, music, family games, information about the refuge as well as booths by local gardening, farming and health organizations.

Los Jardines Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to build and support healthy and sustainable communities and workplaces, is canvassing 500 households in the Mountain View neighborhood. “The refuge is a living classroom for this community,” says Richard Moore, program director for Los Jardines. Canvassers will ask residents what they know about the refuge and what they consider major neighborhood issues. At the same time, they will provide information about the refuge, the Friends and opportunities to be involved. “If our neighborhood doesn’t know what our mission and purpose is,” says Owen-White, “they can’t understand what role we could play in being an asset to our community.”

Based on the canvassing and discussions with all the partners, Los Jardines Institute expects to finish writing the strategic plan in 2017, helping to fulfill the “long-standing desire of the community that the site become a resource for the community,” says first Friends of Valle de Oro president Teri Jillson.

“It’s a plan that will reinforce that we listen and we care,” adds Owen-White. The EPA expects the plan to identify community needs and ways the refuge can support these needs, including recommendations to minimize or eliminate any negative environmental or economic impacts.

“Other Friends groups can replicate the spirit of this,” says Owen-White. “Listen to visitors, to the surrounding communities about what’s important to them. It’s a great way to build relationships and support for the refuge.”