New Mexico

Natural Connections: Partnerships Making a Difference

Q&A with Doug Burger, veteran land manager and advocate for New Mexico's working landscapes.

The Nature Conservancy’s non-confrontational, pragmatic approach to conservation makes it essential for us to work collaboratively with partners — with communities, companies, government agencies and other non-profit organizations in New Mexico.

In this series, we highlight people in the state working alongside the Conservancy to achieve lasting conservation results that make us all proud.

As a kid in west Texas, Doug Burger remembers his fascination with trying to catch “horny toads,” prehistoric-looking creatures he called “mini dinosaurs.”

Now, after a 30-year land management career that has crossed paths again and again with The Nature Conservancy, Burger looks back—and recalls why the prairie’s unusual life forms still fascinate him. 

“That’s one of the reasons the Conservancy has been so valuable — they come to the table and roll up their sleeves to help find solutions.”

-Doug Burger

In recent years you’ve been the BLM’s Pecos District Manager. How has this work intersected with the Conservancy?

Doug Burger:

Here in New Mexico my work with the Conservancy has focused on safeguarding species like the lesser prairie chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard through restoration efforts.

Effective conservation isn’t done solo, so it’s all about linking together with federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, landowners, recreational groups, and congressional reps to get conservation done on the ground.

That’s a lot of people at the table.

Doug Burger:

Well, that’s one of the reasons the Conservancy has been so valuable — they come to the table and roll up their sleeves to help find solutions.

Plenty of groups out there just like to throw rocks, but the Conservancy has a goal of improving the health of our land. They say, ‘let’s solve this problem together.’

They’re so well respected and balanced out. I think they’re definitely one of the best organizations to work with in the state.

And they bring incredible resources—like writing grants that result in hundreds of thousands of dollars benefiting lesser prairie chicken habitat.

What does the lesser prairie chicken represent for you in terms of the hope and challenges ahead for New Mexico?

Doug Burger:

Prairie chickens have become a rallying point for lots of conservation issues here. They are an underdog that people like to get behind. And, better yet, they are one of the sexier species that capture people’s attention and hearts. Invertebrates are harder for a lot of people to get behind.

Thanks largely to the Conservancy’s approach to land management, conserving prairie chickens hasn’t been a top-down thing. We’re working with people to help them understand that if they want to stay on land, we have to coexist with wildlife.

Some organizations don’t believe people should have any footprint on the land, but the Conservancy recognizes that we mostly have working landscapes here in New Mexico, where people are reliant on the land for their livelihoods.

With the prairie chicken, it’s been a good match for all of us to come together and say we can do this—create places where this bird will thrive and survive.

Also, anything we do on the land for them benefits other species like lizards, quail and other species.

You’ll retire in May. What have been some of the highlights of your career?

Doug Burger:

The Restore New Mexico program has been a real triumph for a lot of us. There are more than 300 partners working to restore grasslands to a healthier condition, including the Conservancy.

Everybody comes together because, no matter what the issue, everybody can agree that we want healthy lands.

It started in 2005, and since then we’ve been able to restore more than 2 million acres.

But looking back, my highlights will be all about on-the-ground tangible results that you can touch and see.

You can take people out on the land and see the difference between what’s been fixed and what needs to be fixed…and where we need to work next.

What will retirement bring?

Doug Burger:

Honestly, it’s a scary thing to think about walking away after 30 plus years. I’m terrified. When you’re having so much fun and people are working so well together, it’s hard to walk away.

I’m a sportsman, so I’m sure I’ll spend a lot more time out from behind my desk hunting, fishing and camping. I understand the prairie and all the wildlife that depends on it, so for me a prairie is a beautiful place to be.


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