In central New Mexico, the Rio Grande supports a cottonwood-willow riparian forest (commonly referred to by its Spanish name, bosque) and associated wetlands that are invaluable for sustaining wildlife and a supply of water for irrigation. In the past, many wetlands were converted to agriculture and, more recently, impacted by urbanization. In an effort to reverse the decline and degradation of the valuable Middle Rio Grande Bosque and its associated wetlands so vital to good quality water and species survivability, the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District (District) embarked on a cooperative conservation project, the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.
In April 2003, the Valencia Soil & Water Conservation District acquired a donation of a 97 acre tract of land in Belen, New Mexico historically known as the Whitfield-Trammell Property or the old Curran’s dairy. The Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area (WWCA) has been put into a permanent conservation easement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) for restoration and protection of the area. This formed the initial conservation area known as the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, now a unit within the Whitfield Conservation Area Complex that also consists of the Stacey Unit and the Rio Abajo Conservation Area.
The Stacey Unit was added to the Whitfield Conservation Area Complex (WCAC) in December 2015 as a donation to the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District. With the donation, approximately 43 (42.9478) acres were added to the WCAC. The Stacey Tract has great potential to offer visitors expanded opportunities for physical activity or a place to foster mental and spiritual health. Parks and open spaces can help to restore people from day-to-day stresses and challenges and/or provide creative, safe places for outdoor recreation.
South of Rio Communities, the Rio Abajo Conservation Area adds approximately 100 acres to the WCAC. Efforts are underway to begin restoration efforts for wildlife. Our staff and others have begun the process of removing non-native, invasive vegetation including salt cedar and Russian olive. Eventually, the area will be planted with native vegetation.
With the cooperation of dedicated local, state, and national agencies and volunteers, the District constructed and maintains moist meadow units and new wetlands, protects existing wetlands, plants a food plot for migrating and resident birds and wildlife, and restored native vegetation in riparian buffer zones for food and shelter for wildlife.
The Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area attracts a diverse audience of tourists, birdwatchers, hikers, and students who want to learn about wetlands ecology in an otherwise arid place. The Visitors’ and Education Center building opened in late 2009 and serves as a visitor center and environmental education facility. We provide learning opportunities to local school children as well as sponsor teacher workshops, adult education, special events, and other programs.