Fewer than five percent of the more than 550 U.S. wildlife refuges are located in urban areas. In New Mexico, another is joining the list as the former Price’s Dairy near downtown Albuquerque is slated to become the Middle Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge. At almost 600 acres and only five miles from downtown, it is the largest farm left in a metropolitan area now home to nearly one million people.
Even when operating as a working farm, the South Valley dairy has been a critical stop for such migratory waterfowl as sandhill cranes, Arctic-nesting geese, and varied duck species. Its fields and wetlands support numerous other species, too.
In the fall of 2011 the Interior Department announced its approval of the land’s acquisition. Plans call for hiking and biking trails, as well as a visitor center.
More than 110,000 elementary school children live within a half-hour drive of the future refuge, and they may soon get a first-hand look at the area’s farming tradition and wildlife heritage. Meanwhile scientists will be able to see how improving the land’s ecological health impacts the Rio Grande and surrounding areas.
Hurdles remain, especially financial ones. The property’s purchase price is estimated at 20 million dollars. Bernalillo County has pledged to contribute 5 million dollars. Fundraising is ongoing—and local officials say they’re encouraged by a study estimating the worth of protecting land. It suggests that each dollar invested by the federal government in its refuge system returns an average of $4 to local communities.