Melrose Air Force Range, part of Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico, has been operating since 1952 and is the primary training range for the 27th Special Operations Wing, providing more than 4,500 hours of training for U.S. and coalition Special Operations Forces each year. In recent years, however, Air Force officials have become increasingly concerned about the potential for encroaching development around the range. Development of the land could create vertical hazards and light pollution, negatively impacting flight paths and threatening the Air Force’s training operations.

Development also impacts the lesser prairie-chicken, a species that is threatened by structures taller than grass level. Interruptions to its habitat have limited its range, and populations of the once-abundant prairie-chicken have declined drastically. Southeast New Mexico is one of the most important undisturbed habitats for the lesser prairie-chicken, giving it the space it needs to perform its famously showy mating dance.


For more than a decade, The Conservation Fund has worked with military installations across the country to preserve working farms, forests, ranches and wildlife habitat through the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program.

The Conservation Fund worked closely with Tom Davis, who owns a 30,000-acre working ranch adjacent to Melrose Air Force Range. In partnership with Cannon Air Force Base, the Fund facilitated the purchase of a conservation easement on Davis’ ranch, which restricts development from ever taking place on the land and ensures it will be used as a working ranch in perpetuity.

Funding for the easement came from the REPI Program and the State of New Mexico Economic Development Department. The New Mexico Land Conservancy will oversee and manage the easement, and the property will remain privately owned.


The Conservation Fund delivered a win-win-win solution that safeguards habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, preserves the rich heritage of ranching in New Mexico and fulfills the training needs of the Air Force. This single-largest transaction in the history of the REPI Program demonstrates how diverse partners can come together to create landscape-level conservation that will benefit the community for generations to come.