Sand Ranch, Area of Critical Environmental Concern Near Roswell
Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Photo by Kevin Rolle/Flickr
Throughout the Southwest and Midwest, the lesser prairie-chicken’s population size and geographic range have dramatically diminished due to the widespread conversion of native prairie grasslands to agricultural uses, leaving Southeast New Mexico as one of the bird’s most important undisturbed habitats.
Following an extensive public planning process, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) about about 35 miles east of Roswell to provide much-needed habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken as well as the sand dune lizard. To conserve this high value habitat, the BLM requested The Conservation Fund’s assistance in acquiring key lands in and around the special area.
In 2012, with support from Concho Resources, we purchased 2,500 acres of private land in eastern Chaves County known as Sand Ranch. Using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the BLM then purchased nearly 1,800 acres of the Sand Ranch property. By leveraging private funds from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, we also purchased 42,000 acres of federal and state grazing permits and leases around Sand Ranch, most of which will be voluntarily retired to help conserve habitat value on the public lands.
These recently conserved lands are recognized as one of the greatest strongholds for the lesser prairie-chicken and some of the most accessible places in the state to view the prairie-chicken in its native habitat. It is also a significant location for some of the largest known populations of sand dune lizards. With this and previous projects, we’ve conserved most of the land within BLM’s nearly 58,000-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern for the species.