Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today dedicated the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, making it the first urban refuge in the Southwest and one of a handful across the nation. Salazar was joined by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Martin Heinrich, Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, and other local stakeholders and partners, including the Trust for Public Land.
Later today, Salazar will travel 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.
"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. "Both refuges exemplify the goals of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation ethic built on partnerships and to fuel economic growth in local communities."
The refuges established today are expected to help generate economic growth and support jobs in New Mexico by attracting visitors and encouraging outdoor recreation. Recreation in refuges, national parks and other public lands alone led to nearly $55 billion in economic contribution and 440,000 jobs in 2009. A 2011 comprehensive national survey of outdoor recreation showed a significant increase in hunters and anglers over the past five years, with hunters nationwide increasing by 9 percent while anglers grew by 11 percent. 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.
"These new refuges will enable us to protect and enhance important wildlife habitat in New Mexico, while serving as catalysts for partnership-driven, voluntary conservation efforts at a broader scale. At the same time, they will provide numerous recreational and educational opportunities for the area's youth and local communities," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "We're excited to engage the people of New Mexico in shaping the future of these refuges and their public role."
Proposed exactly one year ago, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge was formally established last Friday 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.
"I'd like to thank Secretary Salazar, county officials and city leaders for making the establishment of a wildlife refuge in Albuquerque a priority. Bringing this land into public ownership will give residents and visitors alike access to a beautiful natural space right here in our state's largest city," Bingaman said. "The creation of the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is also great news for New Mexico. This new refuge gives New Mexicans and tourists another great reason to visit the northern part of our state, helping to support those local economies."
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.
"The Valle De Oro is an urban refuge where citizens and students will have easy access to learn and enjoy all this beautiful space has to offer," said Udall. "I'd like to thank President Obama and Secretary Salazar for all of their hard work to bring the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest to New Mexico, and for making the old Price's Dairy part of America's Great Outdoors initiative."
"Too many kids get more television time than outdoor time, but this new wildlife refuge is our opportunity to change that," said. Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-1). "This wildlife refuge will help New Mexico kids discover the incredible natural heritage of our state, and it represents an important investment in their health and well-being."
"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 will establish as the 560th unit of the refuge system today, 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.
For more information on these two new refuges, please visit http://www.fws.gov/southwest/