Size: 4,680 acres
Location: Socorro County
Eco-Region: Chihuahua Desert Grasslands
Conservation Values: Agriculture, Scenic Open Space, Wildlife Habitat, National Security
Type of Project: Purchased Conservation Easement (Dept. of Defense/REPI/ACUB funding, White Sands Missile Range)
Date Completed: June 2020
A Successful Succession Story
The Wells Ranch is a great example of how conservation easements can contribute to a ranch family’s succession plan. During Wess Wells’ last years of life, he recognized the numerous benefits of conservation easements and worked swiftly with NMLC to complete an easement across the ranch right before he passed away in July 2020. (An expanded story on the Wells family was published in NMLC’s Fall/Winter 2020 magazine, available on our website.)
NMLC was able to acquire a conservation easement from Wess using conservation funding provided through the White Sands Missile Range’s Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program. Wess was able to use the proceeds from the sale of his conservation easement to distribute his assets more equitably to his heirs without selling all, or a portion of the ranch, thereby keeping the ranch intact as a viable cow-calf operation.
The appraised value of the ranch with the conservation easement in place lowers the estate value and, thereby, the potential inheritance tax liability on Wess’s family. The lower appraised value along with the cash and tax benefits received for the conservation easement also allowed Wess’s first cousin and ranching partner, Jeff Wells, the ability to purchase the 4,680-acre ranch at a lower value. This in turn keeps the ranch in the family for at least another generation and hopefully more.
Keeping these legacy ranches intact is critical to maintaining connectivity for wildlife while preserving New Mexico’s agricultural land heritage. The Wells Ranch is located near the Gran Quivira Ranch, on which NMLC also completed an easement this year, adding to the connectivity in the region which includes the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, the Cibola Forest, and the 2+ million acre White Sands Missile Range
The easement was purchased through the U.S. Army’s Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) Program aimed at preventing (or reducing) land uses that are incompatible with military training and testing operations conducted at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). These funds are appropriated under the Dept. of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, which simultaneously protects WSMR’s “buffer zone,” enables the landowner to continue agricultural production, and protects a large, unfragmented portion of important natural habitat for a diverse range of wildlife.