The Navajo River watershed is one of the wildest and most pristine landscapes we have ever protected in Colorado. Its majestic, natural beauty is reminiscent of the Yosemite or Yellowstone National Park. After many decades of conservation in the watershed, its protection provides a much-needed sanctuary for diverse wildlife species and will support ongoing water quality and economic benefits to the entire region.


Thirty years ago, The Conservation Fund set out to permanently protect 65,000 acres of strategically-located private ranches in the Navajo River watershed—preserving one of the most important wildlife migration corridors for mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountain region.

Three decades later, the final phase of this project is complete. A conservation easement on the 16,700-acre Banded Peak Ranch safeguarded the last unprotected property in the upper Navajo River watershed. The easement was made possible by $7 million from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

In total, this decades-long effort in the Navajo River watershed has garnered national support and attracted $37 million from federal, state and private partners, including charitable foundations, Great Outdoors Colorado, and LWCF’s Forest Legacy Program.


“There are very few large, wild landscapes like this left in the lower 48 states. Driving into the Navajo River watershed feels like you are entering a national park, except with no one else around and not a sound to be heard but the bugling of elk. It’s truly magnificent and has been one of our greatest accomplishments.”

—Tom Macy, The Conservation Fund Colorado Representative

By preventing development and fragmentation of the Navajo River watershed, we secure a critical wildlife corridor for endangered and threatened species, preserve popular hiking viewsheds , and connect a largely undisturbed and beautifully wild forest landscape. The protection of this essential watershed provides water resources to Colorado and New Mexico communities downstream and supports water quality and quantity to the San Juan and Colorado Rivers, which are called upon to meet enormous demands in the face of a changing climate.

Most of the wildlife species found along southern Colorado’s Continental Divide inhabit the series of protected ranches in the Navajo River watershed. Elk, black bear, mountain lion, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, bighorn sheep and many others thrive in the area. Federally threatened Canada lynx also live on these properties. The streams on Banded Peak Ranch support the recovery of the San Juan strain of the Colorado Cutthroat Trout, which was presumed extinct for 100 years, until it was re-discovered on the ranch in 2018. Grizzly bears were once present in this remote wilderness area until the late 1970s. In fact, this was the last place in Colorado to host the iconic and threatened species.

Water Quality
The watershed has critically important benefits for downstream users in Colorado and New Mexico, providing irrigation and drinking water for 1 million people in New Mexico, including 90 percent of Albuquerque’s surface water supply. Protecting the Banded Peak Ranch safeguards 33 miles of streams on the property, including a 5-mile stretch of the Navajo River, along with 850 acres of riparian and wetland habitat.

Economic Impact
While the public won’t be able to recreate on these privately-owned properties, the protected land will help enhance the viewshed and recreational experiences at various adjacent public lands, supporting Colorado’s robust recreational economy. The protected ranches are almost completely surrounded by 3.75 million acres of popular recreation land which include the South San Juan Wilderness, San Juan National Forest, Rio Grande National Forest, and the Continental Divide Trail, which runs along part of the ranchlands for 10 miles.

While protected under conservation easements, the ranches will continue to support the community and economy. For example, Banded Peak Ranch hosts a premier deer and elk hunting program that provides stimulus to the regional economy, while the carefully managed timber operations support regional wood processing mills.