Mountains, © David Hiser / National Geographic Stock

New Refuge Unit Established in Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The Department of the Interior may not be what one would call a higher power, but on September 14, they graced us all by designating the nation’s 558th National Wildlife Refuge Unit in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo —“blood of Christ” — Mountains.

Spanning throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are known for breathtaking landscapes and abundant recreational opportunities. Numerous types of uncommon, region-specific wildlife also call the place home, including the Canada lynx, Gunnison sage grouse, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, and Lewis’ woodpecker.

The land was donated by conservationist Louis Bacon and encompasses 77,000 acres of his Trinchera Ranch property in the mountains. These acres, combined with the anticipated donation of his 90,000 acre Blanca Ranch later this year, will mark the largest private land donation ever received by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The donation also represents an unusual three-way agreement between the federal government, a private land owner, and an environmental land trust (Colorado Open Lands, a local organization dedicated to land conservation). Under the agreement, the land will technically remain under Bacon’s ownership, but will have restrictions on development and increased habitat protections as overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as Colorado Open Lands.

So what does it all mean? Colorado now has 77,000 more acres that will be actively managed for the preservation of the wildlife and habitats within it. Further, it represents a level of cooperation between several organizations that is not about money or showmanship, but hopefully the increased preservation of diverse wildlife in an area filled with it. It represents a hope that separate parties with often disparate interests can work together to protect valuable land and the wildlife that goes along with it.

To learn more about the Department of the Interior’s establishment of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, please read their news release on the conservation announcement.