Coming Soon: New Wetlands and Wildlife Crops Along the Gila River

The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico has purchased 144 acres of land, 88 of which are irrigated fields.

Martha Cooper outside in a field under a blue sky in New Mexico.
Martha Cooper in Nature Freshwater director for TNC in New Mexico Martha Cooper outside on TNC's new wetland property along the Gila River. © Dave Showalter

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The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has closed on a land acquisition along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico. The 140-acre property, 88 of which are irrigated fields, is located upstream of the Highway 180 bridge northwest of Silver City.

TNC leaders say they see many conservation opportunities connected to this unique area near TNC’s Gila River Preserve.

“Right now, the 88 acres of irrigated land are used to grow hay and alfalfa for the local community,” said Martha Cooper, freshwater director for TNC in New Mexico. “As we face the impacts of climate change, we see longer periods of low flows in the river. We want to explore ways to grow crops—such as millet and kernza—that use less water and support wildlife while balancing the economic costs and benefits with our agricultural partners."

TNC will mimic a successful wetland restoration project that began on the Gila River Farm several years ago, which has shown to increase biodiversity in the area. TNC expects to create another new wetland on the newly acquired land that will clean and filter water before entering the river. Restoration work like this created habitat that is used every summer by the southwestern willow flycatcher and the western yellow-billed cuckoo, among other birds and wildlife.

Over the next several months, Cooper will work alongside partners to develop a land management plan that will benefit people and nature.

“Protecting this river and its surrounding habitat benefits people, fish, wildlife, local economies and quality of life in southwest New Mexico,” Cooper said. “TNC’s work on the Gila depends on our strong partnerships.”

Cooper cited several partnerships that work with TNC to protect the Gila. New Mexico Game and Fish conducts annual fish surveys. New Mexico Environment Department, through their River Stewards Program, funds wetland restoration and non-native tree removal. The Gila National Forest stewards the upper watershed by bringing and allowing fire back to the land. Local organizations bring students out to the river for fun educational programs.

“All these hands have kept this river and the land that surrounds it alive with life,” Cooper said.

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.