Size: 14,020 total acres
Location: Mora County
Eco-Region: Central Shortgrass Prairie, Southern Rocky Mountains
Conservation Values: Agriculture, Scenic Open Space, Wildlife Habitat
Type of Project: Donated Conservation Easements
Date Completed: December 2014, 2015 | March 2016 | May 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020
Grassland and Wetland Conservation in the Northeast Shortgrass Prairie
Just north of the quiet community of Watrous lies another integral partner in our strategic endeavor to protect the northeast grasslands and the significant Rio Mora watershed. The Fort Union Ranch stretches for miles across the horizon from the Rio Mora to the Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests of the Turkey Mountains. The mix of grasslands, wetlands and higher elevation forest provides habitat for a variety of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, black bear, mountain lion and wild turkey.
NMLC began assisting the owners of the ranch – The Union Land and Grazing Company – in 2014, using conservation easements as a tool to protect this iconic ranch which has remained in the ownership of the descendants of the original owner, General Benjamin Butler, since shortly after the Civil War. The ranch completely surrounds and provides the uninterrupted view-shed for the Ft. Union National Monument, which was a convergence point for the various traces of the designated historic Santa Fe Trail which crisscross the 95,000-acre ranch.
Proceeds from the sale of state tax credits (from easements) has helped create a regular stream of revenue to equip managers with resources to implement the recommendations for improved land and resource stewardship originating from a plan prepared by the Sonora Institute. In 2017, Fort Union Ranch hired a new holistic land manager in an effort to improve the sustainability of their cattle operation, and also turned to hunting, low-impact tourism and conservation as alternative land-uses to diversify operations across the ranch.
By the end of 2017, Fort Union Ranch had placed more than 10,000 acres under easement in four phases. In 2018, another 3,800 acres were added – increasing the ranch’s protected land to a grand total of 14,020 acres now under conservation easement, representing 15% of the ranch’s total acreage. This continues the protection of view-shed along I-25 on both sides and helps buffer the national monument, and includes the lowest reaches of Dog and Wolf creeks, both important tributaries of the Rio Mora.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) Grant Awarded
Also, in 2018, NMLC was awarded a $100,000 grant from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) to protect critical waterfowl loafing and migration habitats on Dry and Wheeler Lakes, and the remaining reach of Wolf Creek on the ranch. The 3,800-acre ” Wolf Creek” easement was completed by year’s end 2019, and the accompanying in-stream restoration, coordinated by the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, is wrapping up in 2020 to bring the riparian corridor back to full-function.
In 2020, an additional 3,500 acres were combined into a newly named Eastern Pastures easement, bringing the total number of acres conserved on the ranch to 21,391.
Fort Union Ranch is building a strong conservation legacy beyond its own borders as it evolves into a leadership role among land stewards in New Mexico and the West. NMLC is proud to be a partner in this work to conserve one of the most important vestiges of native shortgrass prairie in North America. #