The Conservation Fund enlists NMLC to help complete a historic conservation easement project that combines maintaining military readiness with preserving a working agricultural landscape and wildlifeYou might think the U.S. military is an unlikely conservation partner, but thanks to funding from the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program and the State of New Mexico Economic Development Department, the New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) assisted The Conservation Fund in completing a complex, restricted-use conservation easement, which NMLC will ultimately hold, across 30,653 acres of privately owned working ranch land adjacent to the Melrose Air Force Range administered by Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico, about 25 miles from Clovis.
This is NMLC’s first easement in the eastern part of the state – and it comes in as a close second to the Montosa Ranch near Magdalena in Socorro County as one of the largest easements held by NMLC to date.
Due to the vastness of their unfragmented lands protected under high security and little public use, military installations across the country (particularly here in New Mexico), frequently constitute some of the larger remaining tracts of scenic open space and the last refugia of numerous populations of various species of plants and animals, including those that are considered threatened or endangered.
This conservation easement on the Davis Spear Ranch, owned by 3rd generation cattle rancher Tom Davis, is the largest single transaction in the history of the REPI program. Authorized by Congress, the REPI program supports cost-sharing partnerships between the military services, private conservation groups, and state and local governments to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near installations and address regulatory restrictions that inhibit military activities.
The 66,000-acre Melrose Air Force Range has been operating since 1952 and is the primary training range for the 27th Special Operations Wing, providing more than 4,500 hours of training for U.S. and coalition Special Operations Forces each year. In recent years, however, Air Force officials have become increasingly concerned about the potential for development (particularly wind energy) around the range. Development of the land could create vertical hazards and light pollution, interfering with flight paths and negatively impacting the Air Force’s training operations.
This Davis Spear Ranch conservation easement effectively resolves the base’s development concerns and coincidentally preserves landscape-scale grasslands habitat for a host of terrestrial and aerial wildlife, while allowing the landowner to retain full ownership of the property and continue his cow/calf operation – and potentially qualify for a state tax credit and a federal tax deduction to boot!
The good news is: conservation is conservation, regardless of who initiates it or why – and the Davis Spear Ranch easement demonstrates the full scope of conservation benefits available to stakeholders with varying interests.
Thanks to everyone involved in this project, the rancher keeps ranching, the Air Force keeps training, and wildlife such as the lesser prairie chicken can keep dancing on the protected shortgrass prairie they like to call home.
NMLC is currently engaged in another REPI program with the U.S. Army’s two million-acre White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico, to work with landowners within the range’s 850,000 acre “buffer zone” to restrict incompatible development on their ranches through conservation easements. So far, we have three projects in the works that when completed this year will conserve nearly 30,000 acres around the range. Stay tuned for more details.
Footnote: this new David Spear Ranch conservation easement puts our total acreage conserved at 244,837 – only about 5,000 away from of our 2020 goal to conserve 250,000 acres – and the year is still young!