From the mid-’50s until 1996, cows roamed the 570 acres of Price’s Dairy Farm between Second Street and the Rio Grande. This part of the far South Valley is dotted with orchards, vineyards and farms, as well as testaments to industrialization, such as the water treatment plant.
In early fall, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Southwest’s first national urban wildlife refuge will join the mix. “It’s a place for people to come and connect with the lifeblood of New Mexico—the Rio Grande,” he said at a press conference. “This will give young people a chance to get dirt under their fingernails and learn about the great outdoors.”
Angela West, president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association and a resident of the South Valley for 30 years, says her children grew up exploring natural habitats. It’s an opportunity that she says is important for every child. “They’d point at birds and trees,” she recalls. “Their first words were Appaloosa. They grew up pulling apples off trees, so they know where food comes from. Everyone did.”
The Price family decided to sell their land for conservation to combat the push for housing developments in the area, says Greg Hiner, project manager at The Trust for Public Land. Although the trust started working with the family in 2000, the project was fallow until the property caught the eye of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the next five to 10 years, the dairy farm is slated become a habitat for animals, birds and fish, including an endangered bird called the Southwest willow flycatcher.
The Middle Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge will be within 30 minutes’ driving distance for Albuquerque residents. “It’s a celebration of something a little deeper than something people might think of now as they drive down Second Street,” West says.
But Hiner says the refuge remains only a concept. The land has not yet been purchased. The next step is figuring out a fair price for the property. As part of that process, the state engineer has to determine the value of the farm’s water rights.
The Bernalillo County Open Space program committed $5 million to the initial stages of creating the refuge, Hiner says. The total cost is projected to be $20 million, and the project is awaiting federal and nonfederal agencies to come up with the remainder.
Tax money from the oil and gas industry may fund this refuge—as it does others—through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “Money in that fund comes from a tax that the oil and gas drillers pay to the federal government for drilling on U.S. property offshore,” Hiner says. “The idea being as some of our country’s natural resources are depleted, we are setting aside some of the money to improve other natural resources, like the dairy.”
According to U.S. Department of the Interior estimates, wildlife refuges account for an estimated 35,234 jobs throughout the country, and outdoor recreation has generated $55 billion in economic benefits. “With the job issue, it's important that outdoor recreation and conservation not get left behind,” Salazar said.
West says she also sees a chance to revitalize the Second Street corridor. “We have such pride in this place and a potential for thoughtful economic growth,” she says. “We have the ability to reverse nasty industrialism here and the potential, with a little luck and perseverance, to turn this ship in an entirely different and beneficial, direction for the community and region.”