Support for New Urban Wildlife Refuge in Bernalillo County

April 7, 2011

With the unanimous passage of Senate Memorial 43, The New Mexico State Senate has voiced its support for a plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to create a new urban national wildlife refuge along the Rio Grande, just south of downtown Albuquerque.

The refuge would be the first urban national wildlife refuge in the southwest and would be administered by the FWS in partnership with Bernalillo County and other non-federal partners.

If federally approved, the 570-acre site of the former Price's Dairy would be a major contribution to the conservation of bosque habitat and open space in the Middle Rio Grande and would also provide young people from throughout the region extensive outdoor education opportunities.

The unanimous vote by the state Senate follows approval by the Albuquerque City Council of a resolution in support of the new refuge, and the decision by Bernalillo County to spend $5 million in county funds to contribute to anticipated federal funding to acquire the land.

New Mexico Senator Tim Eichenberg, who had the Memorial drafted and shepherded it through two committees and a full senate vote, said "The small role that I played in this matter relating to the preservation of open space, outdoor education for students, and conservation and preservation of critical wildlife habitat does not compare to the tremendous work our Congressional delegation is doing on behalf of New Mexico and especially for the City of Albuquerque."

The Memorial was co-sponsored by Senators John Ryan, David Ulibarri, Vernon Asbill, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Eric Griego, Linda Lopez, Dede Feldman, and Michael Sanchez.

U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and U.S. Congressman Martin Heinrich (NM-1) are strong supporters of the effort. Additional supporters include New Mexico Audubon, New Mexico State University, Environment New Mexico, Rio Grande High School's Green Ravens, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, South Valley Civitan Club, Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, and the Mountain View Neighborhood Association.

The project also fits in with President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative, which aims to protect and celebrate special urban open spaces for both recreation and conservation. "Too often today, our youth get more screen time than outdoor time. For kids in the Albuquerque area, Price's Dairy can help change that. I am thrilled that the community has come together around the idea of an urban wildlife refuge and I am happy to lend my support," said U.S. Rep. Heinrich.

"Price's Dairy is one of the last large pieces of open spaces in Albuquerque. Turning it into an urban wildlife refuge will create economic opportunities for the South Valley and a living classroom for residents and visitors to the city," U.S. Sen. Bingaman said.

"As is evident by the overwhelming support, the Price's Dairy multi-level conservation partnership is a valuable endeavor for the community in this under-served part of Bernalillo County," said U.S. Sen. Udall. "Not only would it serve to protect valuable open space, it would also connect local youth and residents to the outdoors to learn about land use, restoration, wildlife habitat and the river itself."

Bernalillo County Commissioner Art DeLaCruz said, "I am thrilled and appreciative that we have government partners at all levels in an effort to secure the Price's Dairy property for posterity and our wildlife. No one will ever say in the future that this generation didn't fight to preserve this natural wildlife treasure."

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), based in Santa Fe, has signed an agreement with the Price's Dairy landowner to buy the land. TPL is working with the FWS, Bernalillo County, and numerous other entities to secure the needed funds and transfer it to the FWS to manage it as a national wildlife refuge.

"Protection of Price's Dairy offers many benefits for the public. It will restore and protect wildlife habitat while creating new educational and recreational opportunities in a beautiful part of the South Valley," said Greg Hiner, TPL project manager. "This is truly a community-led effort and we are very thankful for all of the support this proposal has received from local, state, and federal governments and especially the citizens of Albuquerque."

As part of the proposal, the Southwest Regional office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based in Albuquerque, is drafting a Land Protection Plan for the new refuge after completing an initial round of public comment in February. Once completed, the plan will be provided to the public for further input.

"The site provides outstanding habitat for neo-tropical migratory birds, and other important natural resources. A national wildlife refuge in this area would help us conserve these resources while still allowing the public to enjoy this beautiful property," said the regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, when announcing the proposed refuge earlier this year.

"The South Valley Civitan Club is extremely excited about the development of an urban wildlife refuge in our area," said Ric Watson, president of the South Valley Civitan Club. "The refuge will offer an excellent opportunity for education and recreation of our highly populated Hispanic neighborhood. The South Valley Civitans are eager to help in the establishment of a Friends group for the refuge and will utilize the volunteer base of 15 other Civitan clubs of the Albuquerque area."

"The Mountain View Neighborhood Association is delighted with the prospects of the first urban wildlife refuge within the southwest," said Angela West, president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association. "We see the refuge as anchoring what our community is really about: deep cultural attachments to the land and the river; celebration of agriculture, history and culture, and the chance to share these values—particularly with Albuquerque's children and families. I cannot overstate how powerful this will be in shaping a better future for our community and our families and of course our other neighboring communities as well."

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect nearly 3 million acres nationwide.