Sadly, drought, conversion of native grasslands and livestock grazing have dramatically diminished the population size and geographic range of the lesser prairie-chicken, leaving southeast New Mexico as one of the bird’s last and most important undisturbed habitats. This threatened species is at great risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reduce threats.

Striking A Balance

When you think of conservation partnerships, the Department of Defense might not be top of mind. But for the past decade, we’ve worked closely with the DoD as it sought to expand secure buffer lands around military installations to help with military readiness and reduce stress on neighboring communities. Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico is a great example. Together, in the fall of 2017, we protected more than 14,000 acres with extensive habitat for species like the lesser prairie-chicken.

“Our work with the Department of Defense on buffer protection across the country is a genuine partnership that meets the military's goals and objectives, while providing for important land conservation opportunities not otherwise possible.”

- Mike Ford, Nevada and Southwest Director

Protecting a Prairie-Chicken Stronghold

Following an extensive public planning process, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) 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 2010, The Conservation Fund purchased 7,440 acres of land within the ACEC and subsequently transferred it to the Bureau of Land Management. The project received funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and was strongly supported by New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall.

With support from Concho Resources, we purchased 2,500 acres in 2012 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.

Why This Project Matters

These 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 these projects, we’ve conserved most of the land within BLM’s nearly 58,000-acre Area of Critical Environmental Concern for the species.