By Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
I recently came across an article my dad wrote for The Nature Conservancy Magazine in 1974, when he headed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Albuquerque Regional Office Division of Realty. I was a high school senior.
The article, Genesis of a National Wildlife Refuge, tells about the work that went into establishing New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, at 220,000 acres still the largest land donation in Service history.
My father calls Sevilleta Refuge “fascinating in its physiographic diversity, at least to this native easterner.” He describes it as “a vast land of mountains, alluvial fans, piedmont bajadas, terraces, canyons, washes, arroyos, hills and ridges, sand dunes, and bosque lands.”
He tells how overgrazing had hurt the lands and how they will “need help to recover their former productiveness.” He also talks about the partnership and “common objectives” with The Nature Conservancy, the Campbell Family Foundation and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust that resulted in the refuge.
I know Dad is intensely proud of Sevilleta Refuge, which these days attracts mule deer, pronghorns, black bear, lizards and many species of birds.
The article shows the Service and many conservation partners, like TNC, at their best as they negotiated – even on Christmas day – to complete the donation. Land with an estimated value of $6 million to $12 million was sold for $500,000 to TNC, which conveyed it to the Service.
The article reminded me of our people in the Mountain-Prairie Region who recently worked with Louis Bacon on the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado. Mr. Bacon’s donation of an easement on about 170,000 acres constitutes the largest single conservation easement donation in Service history.
Closer to Sevilleta Refuge, Valle de Oro Refuge near Albuquerque and Rio Mora Refuge and Conservation Area in northern New Mexico were established last September. And early last year, our folks in Florida worked all out to get up and running Everglades Headwaters Refuge and Conservation Area. In 2012, we also established Swan Valley Conservation Area in Montana and Hackmatack Refuge outside Chicago.
Some of these new refuge units share a key difference from Sevilleta: The Service does not own the land. We are increasingly partnering with private landowners, who are excellent stewards of the land. We are developing conservation easements that provide important wildlife habitat while enabling these stewards to continue working the land as they have done for generations.
And we’re trying to connect these privately-owned lands to our great public estate of national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges, and state and local conservation areas.
We are making clear that conservation is not just the responsibility of the Service. We all have a stake in it, public and private sector alike.
Dad, of course, knew this when establishing Sevilleta. He ends the article: More than anything else, to my thinking, the genesis of the Sevilleta Refuge is an example of what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together.
My father’s work lives on at places like Sevilleta Refuge. And he’s far from the only retiree – or current employee – who can say that. That’s what’s so great about working for the Service. We all contribute to the conservation of wildlife and wild places for generations to come.
Our work matters. Our values endure. I’m proud of the work my father did, at places like Sevilleta; I’m proud of the work we are doing today, at places like the Dakota Grasslands; I’m proud of the foundations we are laying for those who will come after us. Our legacy is writ large on the landscape.
For more stories like this, visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/newswire/