North American Wetland Conservation Act: Rio Grande Return works to return wetland funding to New Mexico.
Before his untimely death, John Taylor, one of the main visionaries for Bosque del Apache, procured two million dollar grants from the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) – a fund set up through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the protection and restoration of wetlands for the benefit of waterfowl and other migratory birds. These NAWCA proposals, written in 2001 and 2004, funded six conservation easements and restoration projects at Bosque del Apache, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Management Area, Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, Sandia, Santa Ana, Cochiti Pueblos, and the City of Albuquerque. Now without John Taylor’s technical expertise and his determination to take on these complex and time consuming proposals, the Rio Grande has not been the recipient of these important federal funds for over seven years.
But thanks to Rio Grande Return, New Mexico has reentered the competition for these important NAWCA grants. A new NAWCA proposal for $1 million, the first of several that will be submitted under the title Rio Grande Corridor-New Mexico, was successfully completed this past March. This proposal includes conservation easements to be held by the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust on six properties along the Rio Grande that will protect in perpetuity 673 acres of palustrine emergent and forested wetlands and upland buffer in the Rio Grande’s active floodplain. An additional 754 acres of emergent and forested wetlands will be restored and enhanced on eight different tracts that include three wildlife management areas: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Kewa Pueblo, and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Collectively, this proposal contributes 1,427 acres of protected, restored and enhanced palustrine wetlands and associated uplands to the diminished base of waterbird habitat in the Rio Grande Corridor in New Mexico.
The plan to bring NAWCA funding back into the Middle Rio Grande was hatched back in 2009 by the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, Bosque del Apache, Kewa Pueblo and Whitfield Wildlife Area. However the proposal didn’t really start taking shape until Rio Grande Return became involved and took the lead in organizing and writing the proposal. Alan Hamilton, president of Rio Grande Return and conservation director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, became the official project officer in September 2010 and took on the enormous task of learning the grant standards and organizing 20 partners and 16 tracts into a cohesive proposal.
This grant required the technical expertise of a bird biologist to help research and write the technical aspects of this proposal. The conservation donations from Rio Grande Return were matched by the New Mexico Community Foundation and the Leland T. Brewer Fund and together this accounted for enough funding to hire Kelli Stone of 2 Birds 1 Stone Consulting. If not for the conservation donations collected from the gift packages purchased over the holidays, we would not have been able to pay for Kelli’s services to help write this grant proposal. Kelli researched and compiled the most recent data on the numbers and variety of the waterfowl and other migratory birds that depend on the Rio Grande in New Mexico. This data was then applied to all 16 tracts in the proposal in order to justify each proposed action that included conservation easements, wetland enhancements and restorations. Without Kelli’s unique blend of commitment, enthusiasm and scientific discipline, this proposal could not have been completed.
Environmental integrity and our irrigated farm lands along the Rio Grande are simultaneously being threatened. It is unfortunate, but the protection of the environment and our farmlands are now intrinsically tied to the few funding sources that remain to help sustain them. Rio Grande Return recognizes the importance of the Rio Grande both in terms of the farmlands and wetlands it supports and has taken the lead to insure that New Mexico takes advantage of these important federal funds.