About the preserve
The Gila Riparian Preserve protects more than 1,200 acres of the southwest's fragile riparian habitat and the verdant gallery woodland among the Gila River, the last of the southwest's major free-flowing rivers.
In 2009, TNC added 40 acres of important riverside habitat to the Gila Riparian Preserve. The new stretch inserts an important piece to this project area, which includes the preserve and more than 250,000 acres collaboratively managed by TNC, local landowners, federal and state agencies, and local organizations.
TNC's long-term vision for the preserve is simple: let the river rediscover its natural floodplain and enable new cottonwoods and willows to spring up, providing habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds, especially the southwest willow flycatcher—a species whose population is in trouble. A host of other rare animal species also use the preserve's habitats.
Thanks to the support of El Paso Electric Company and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, TNC completed a new shallow, winter wetland pond in 2021. When the wetland is filled with water from the irrigation ditch, migratory ducks and cranes use the off-channel open-water habitat for feeding and resting, particularly at night.
A portion of the preserve is owned by TNC in conjunction with the State of New Mexico pursuant to the Natural Lands Protection Act. Further down the river, the Conservancy was instrumental in protecting 560 acres in the Gila Lower Box which is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Lichty Ecological Research Center, located on the preserve, is a research hub designed to advance understanding of the Gila and Mimbres watersheds.
Students from Archaeology Southwest’s University of Arizona Preservation Archaeology field school have been visiting the Gila Riparian Preserve for five years. Their findings are revealing how people from different regions and cultures came to live together in the Cliff-Gila Valley of the Gila River between the late 1200s to the 1400s.