In a major win for private land conservation, the 12,451-acre B Square Ranch near Farmington, NM, was protected in perpetuity from subdivision and future development by two conservation easements, completed by and donated to the New Mexico Land Conservancy by landowner, Tommy Bolack, earlier this month.
The easements, which are tied together to keep the property intact, will permanently preserve the working farm and ranch as well as a significant riparian area that includes nearly six miles of the San Juan River and the associated bosque and wetland habitat, as well as the upland portions of the ranch beyond the Shannon Bluffs which form the backdrop for the river corridor. Significant archaeological sites are located on the ranch, which have been the focal point of research through the Anthropology Department at San Juan College in Farmington for decades.
The conservation easements are the culmination of a lifetime effort by Mr. Bolack to expand upon and improve the operations and management of the farm that was originally started bv his father, former New Mexico Governor Tom Bolack, now deceased. Tommy Bolack established a Foundation which, upon his death, will assume ownership and management of the conserved property, and NMLC will continue to hold and monitor the easement in perpetuity.
The B Square Ranch is the largest privately-owned property in San Juan County. The legacy began in the mid-1950s when Tom Bolack purchased an 80-acre tract. Over the years, Tommy added to and expanded the ranch to its current 12,451 acres. The multiple-use property includes nearly 10,000 acres of upland terrain in the Shannon Bluffs that rise above the south bank of the San Juan River which, together with the river, form the dominant natural features and an uninterrupted scenic viewshed along U.S. Highway 64 near the City of Farmington that is now permanently protected by the easements.
“I envision this property someday like a Central Park in the middle of all the development and chaos,” Tommy Bolack said. “I’ve had conservation initiatives in place already and the conservation easements go hand in hand with protecting that vision — it’s a double-whammy for conservation.”
B Square Ranch includes more than 1,500 acres of natural bosque habitat along the riverfront, and several hundred acres of irrigated fields and open-water wetlands. The size and intact nature of the ranch provides contiguous habitat for the full suite of riparian and upland high-desert species, most notably, the plethora of migratory and resident waterfowl that utilize the extensive wetland and riparian areas, with peak numbers estimated at 60,000 during the winter months. These large concentrations of migratory waterfowl are one of the key criteria for Audubon New Mexico and the New Mexico Audubon Council designating B-Square Ranch as one of 63 New Mexico “Important Bird Areas” (Audubon New Mexico 2020).
“This is a critically important property for wintering waterfowl – probably the single most important stopover in the northwestern corner of the state,” said Mark Watson, Terrestrial Habitat Specialist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
Tommy reintroduced the Rio Grande Turkey on the ranch, and the species is now flourishing throughout the entire San Juan Basin. The property also supports a large number of mammal species including mule deer, American beaver, northern river otter, muskrat, ringtail cat, coyote, gray fox, bobcat, striped and spotted skunks.
Tommy maintains the Bolack Electromechanical Museum on the property along with the Bolack Museum of Fish and Wildlife, which encourages conservation of wildlife species. It is open to the public and regularly used by local schools. In addition, the B-Square Experimental Farm demonstrates the compatibility of agriculture, protection of wildlife habitat and floodplain management. These features have resulted in the B-Square Ranch becoming a well-known destination point in San Juan County.
At the heart of his decision to put his legacy ranch under conservation easements, Tommy feels strongly that, “We are artists of the earth. We have a mandate to protect the natural resources from which we draw life.”
Under the conservation easements, the property will continue to be managed for farming and ranching. The agricultural component is important because it provides much-needed supplemental forage for migratory waterfowl during their winter stopovers. Historically, portions of the ranch have also been used for fossil fuel production, although this activity has now significantly diminished. Notwithstanding, responsibly managed oil and gas leases have represented a critical revenue source for the large, multi-use property. It was NMLC’s overall assessment that the full spectrum of natural, cultural and scenic conservation values on this property far outweighed and had not been significantly impacted by the relatively small portions of the land devoted to extraction.
The New Mexico Land Conservancy worked with the landowner for more than two years to complete the easements that now reflect Mr. Bolack’s vision for ranch while simultaneously protecting the myriad of conservation values of this property for public benefit. “Tommy wanted to ensure that the heritage he had received from his father would be the ultimate legacy he would leave,” said the New Mexico Land Conservancy’s Executive Director, Scott Wilber. “The permanent conservation of the B Square Ranch will be a tremendous asset for the people of San Juan County and the state of New Mexico, and we applaud him for his vision and generosity.”
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For more information, contact:
Scott Wilber, Executive Director
New Mexico Land Conservancy
(505) 986 3801
P.O. Box 6759, Santa Fe, NM 87502