Monday, October 10, 2011
Urban Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque's South Valley Gets the Go-Ahead
U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich with students from Mountain View Elementary, in attendance at the announcement of what will become first national wildlife refuge in the Southwest. Mountain View Elementary is just down the road from the property.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced that a proposed 570-acre national wildlife refuge on a former dairy farm just a few miles south of New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area has been approved. As proposed, the site will serve as an urban oasis for both wildlife and people. Very exciting, for everyone involved. Establishment of a new Albuquerque-based national wildlife refuge is a win-win situation for people and wildlife, for the economy and open space conservation, for visitors and residents alike.
“With the support of Bernalillo County, the Trust for Public Land, New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, and many partners, New Mexico will gain its first urban national wildlife refuge,” Salazar said. “Once complete, this refuge, which is within a half hour drive of nearly half of New Mexico’s population, will be a place for people to connect with and learn about the natural world and will provide valuable habitat for wildlife, including the endangered the southwestern willow flycatcher.”
Joined by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, Congressman Martin Heinrich, and Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, Salazar said a refuge in this location would fulfill the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to work with community partners to establish a 21st century conservation ethic and reconnect people -- especially young people -- to the natural world.
Economic Growth and Jobs
An urban refuge will also help generate economic growth and support jobs by attracting visitors, Salazar said. Recreation in refuges, national parks and other public lands alone led to nearly $55 billion in economic contribution and 440,000 jobs in 2009. National wildlife refuges alone currently support an estimated 35,234 jobs.
“Establishment of a refuge not only will improve the quality of life of the citizens of Albuquerque but also help create new jobs by attracting visitors,” Salazar said. “One in twenty U.S. jobs are in the recreation economy –- more than there are doctors, lawyers, or teachers -- and places like this new refuge could help support more than 3 million new jobs across the nation in the next decade.”
A Unique Opportunity for Urban Open Space
“At 570 acres, this former dairy is one of the largest remaining farms in the Middle Rio Grande Valley and is the largest agricultural property within the Albuquerque metro region. There are very few opportunities like this one that allow us protect open space in highly urban areas,” said Senator Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’d like to thank Secretary Salazar for coming to New Mexico today to make this exciting announcement, and I’d like to thank the many individuals and local officials whose involvement made this urban wildlife refuge a reality.”
“In America, and especially in states like New Mexico, we value something uniquely American: our wildlife and public lands,” said Congressman Heinrich. “But 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. Our community has come together in support of this project, recognizing the tremendous value in investing in the health and education of our kids, with the added benefit of driving economic development and supporting nearby small businesses.”
Working Together for Common Good
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bernalillo County have long explored the possibility of establishing an urban refuge on the former Price’s Dairy Farm. After completing the necessary studies and planning documents, the service is now authorized to acquire land and establish the refuge.
By policy, the Fish and Wildlife Service acquires lands for refuges only from willing sellers. Condemnation is not used. The current owners of the 570-acre site are interested in selling the land. The Bernalillo County Commission has already set aside $5 million to assist with land acquisition.
“Years from now people will say how glad they are that we had enough foresight, determination and love that we preserved this place forever, and for them,” said Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz.
The Service intends to work with its partners to establish environmental education programs at the refuge and provide demonstration areas for sustainable agriculture. Once fully restored, visitors to the Refuge will likely be able to see waterfowl, small mammals, and neotropical migrant birds, including the flycatcher.
Additional funding for purchase of the land will likely come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Congress established the fund in 1964 to use revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to support the conservation of America's lands and waters.
"Our goal is to protect land for people and there is no better example of that then making sure that this special place is protected for future generations,” said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land, a key partner in the establishment of the refuge. “This announcement has the support of local neighbors and is important to the people who live nearby, particularly the children of the area. This was a true team effort, and it would not have been possible without the leadership of Secretary Salazar and the New Mexico congressional delegation, and the support of the landowner."
Only a few of the nation’s more than 550 National Wildlife Refuges are in urban areas. Urban refuges offer unique environmental education and recreation opportunities in populous area while promoting the mission of the refuge system to protect wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.