Building Upon a 40-year Legacy to Meet the Demands of the Future

Grassland as far as the eye can see with a blue ombre sky and big fluffy white clouds.
Bartlett Mesa Building Upon A 40-year Legacy to Meet the Demands of the Future © Brad Cory

For more than four decades, The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico has established a tangible and lasting conservation legacy that spans every corner of the state—from the “Boot Heel” in the southwest to the San Juan River in the northwest, and from the grasslands of the southeast to the “Hi-Lo Country” in the northeast.

Using science and collaborating with diverse stakeholders, we are developing innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the dual biodiversity and climate crises.

2023 Success Stories

Partnerships & Problem-Solving on the San Juan

A powerful, historic partnership will deliver critical flows to the San Juan River. The Jicarilla Apache Nation (the Nation), New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) and TNC have entered a new phase in a Water Supply Agreement, reached in 2022. Starting in 2023, the Nation allowed NMISC to release up to 20,000-acre feet of water per year (for 10 years) from the Navajo Reservoir to the San Juan River.

The partners planned the first release to deliver the most benefits to at-risk native fish like the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. As the Colorado River Basin faces unprecedented water security threats, this first-of-its-kind agreement shows how trust, creativity and collaboration can offer real solutions—and hope.

Another Gain for Grasslands

We are running out of time to save the planet’s large, connected grasslands. That’s why the Southern High Plains present such an exceptional opportunity. Sprawling across New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, this region boasts 30 million acres of intact prairie grasslands, forests and riparian corridors teeming with wildlife.

Last year, TNC joined the Trust for Public Land to purchase the Bartlett Ranch, spanning 2,224 acres of valuable habitat near Raton. Today we’re poised to build on that win by acquiring the nearby 1,450-acre Buck Ridge Ranch.

Our vision is to eventually connect these properties to Sugarite Canyon State Park and one day to Colorado’s Fishers Peak State Park. Piece by piece, with strategic conservation, TNC is helping to build a network of grasslands that will boost climate resilience, preserve biodiversity and support sustainable agriculture.

A river with trees on either side with slanted sunlight passing through.
Jason Whalen | Fauna Creative © © Fauna Creative

New Wetlands Along the Gila River 

TNC is celebrating the protection of new habitat at our Gila River Preserve, on the southern edge of the Gila National Forest. This summer we added another 140-acre property to the preserve—one with important conservation potential. Located upstream of the Highway 180 bridge, the new tract of land contains 88 acres of irrigated fields, which TNC plans to convert to wetlands and water-saving crops, such as millet and kernza.

The new wetlands will provide valuable wildlife habitat for birds like the Southwestern willow flycatcher, and they will help to clean and filter water before it enters the river. TNC’s long-standing commitment to the Gila—the last free-flowing river in the Southwest—is vital to many birds and other wildlife that rely on this region’s increasingly fragile waters and riparian areas. 

Hand in Hand with the Original Stewards

In New Mexico, TNC is deepening its commitment to partner with and honor the knowledge and rights of Indigenous people. Our Indigenous partnerships director in New Mexico, John Waconda, is leading a suite of exciting initiatives, from developing a cultural fire plan with the Taos Pueblo to designing a virtual fencing project with the Jemez Pueblo to partnering with the Jemez and Santa Clara Pueblos to restore a fire-scarred area in the Jemez Mountains.

We are also working with the Santa Clara Pueblo to implement a Santa Clara Creek watershed restoration plan and supporting traditional fire use with the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network through the Rio Grande Water Fund. Most recently, we collaborated with the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) to retore buffalo to the Nambe Pueblo, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We build each one of these projects on trust and a shared vision, underscoring TNC’s desire to be an authentic, ethical and effective conservation partner.

Our Last Stand: Creating Resilient Forests  

Across the Southwest, our forests are failing. A history of timber production, fire suppression and climate change have left our forests—from the southern Rocky Mountains to the ponderosa pine in the western part of the state, to the oak and juniper savannahs along our Mexico border—overcrowded with aging trees, vulnerable to invasive pests and disease, and increasingly dry and dangerous. Each summer, these unhealthy forests lead to catastrophic wildfires burning with greater frequency and higher intensity. To tackle the gravity and urgency of the situation, TNC is catalyzing a new management vision, establishing goals for forest health and increasing the pace of restoration. Healthy forests provide clean water and air, as well as essential wood products and invaluable recreation and health benefits.

Enduring Conservation


A map of New Mexico with blue plot points.
Map Enduring Conservation © Aaron Jones

Looking Ahead

As we face the spiraling threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, the organization has set forth a path forward. New Mexico will play a pivotal role in ensuring an abundant and resilient future—a world where both people and nature can thrive. Our actions will focus on:

Fresh Water
Advance science and policy, pilot innovative water-sharing tools and unite diverse partners to improve management on more than 200 miles of our most vulnerable rivers.

Use cutting-edge science and protection strategies to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of large, intact habitats and wildlife corridors as New Mexico’s climate shifts. We’ll also expand outreach at our preserves to reach 30,000 people annually.  

Increase water security for 1 million people and improve the condition of 600,000 acres of high-value forests by uniting with Indigenous leaders, bolstering management resources and leading climate-adapted reforestation efforts.   

Climate Change 
Help New Mexico build climate resilience, embrace climate-forward legislation and pursue natural climate solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease wildfire impacts and protect biodiversity. 

Indigenous-Led Conservation
Foster lasting trust and respectfully co-create new conservation projects with Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities that deliver mutual benefit for people, lands and waters.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.