New Mexico

Conservancy Purchase Protects World's Largest Prairie Dog Complex

Acquisition of a 46,000-acre Mexican ranch protects key desert grasslands.

The Janos Grasslands

The Nature Conservancy's Mexico, New Mexico and migratory bird programs and their Mexican partner Pronatura Noreste purchased a 46,000 acre cattle ranch in Mexico’s northern Janos Valley, one of North America ’s last remaining desert grasslands and home to a variety of rare animals including the world’s largest complex of black-tailed prairie dog colonies.

In the largest private conservation land transaction in Mexican history, the ranch – named Rancho El Uno – will now be managed by Pronatura Noreste and a joint management board that will include members from The Nature Conservancy, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, local government officials, and other members of the local community. 

“The grasslands of the Janos Valley are critical to the livelihoods and the culture of Mexico ’s ranching community,” said Felipe Delgado, outgoing Board President of Pronatura Noreste. “But these grasslands face serious threats from overgrazing and unsustainable agriculture practices. By working with local communities, Rancho El Uno will serve as an example of how cattle ranching and grassland conservation can – and must – go hand in hand.” 

Rancho El Uno, the largest privately-owned ranch in the Janos Valley , was purchased from the Escobar family which decided to sell the property after using it as a cattle ranch for more than 30 years. It will continue to run as a working cattle ranch, but will now also be managed as a grazing cooperative for local ranching families.

Grassbanks will be created on El Uno where local ranchers can graze their cattle while allowing their own grasslands to rest, regrow and avoid overgrazing.

“This is truly a win-win situation,” said Rosario Alvarez-Gutierrez, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Mexico Program. “By protecting these grasslands, we not only provide critical habitat to a variety of endangered and threatened species, but we’re also helping ensure that the traditional lifestyles of Mexico ’s ranching community can continue for generations to come.”

The Janos grasslands, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Northern Mexico, provide critical habitat for a more than 200 migratory bird species, 30 different types of reptiles and more than 50 mammals, including the rare white-sided jackrabbit, kit fox, jaguarundi, pronghorn and even a small herd of free-ranging bison. Janos also is home to the world’s largest complex of black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and black-footed ferrets, the most endangered mammal in North America, were recently successfully introduced in Janos. 

The Janos grasslands have been identified by the World Wildlife Fund, the Mexican Commission for Biodiversity and the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation as a high priority for conservation and protection. The area also is designated as an Important Bird Area by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.                                                                

A variety of conservation strategies will be used on Rancho El Uno to protect its grasslands, including reseeding, prescribed burning, rotation of grazing areas, and the recolonization of prairie dogs. 

Prairie dogs are vital to restoring the dwindling grasslands of the Chihuahuan desert. Scientists, in fact, refer to prairie dogs as the architects of North America ’s grasslands. Prairie dogs gnaw through woody shrubs such as mesquite that would otherwise takeover the grassland habitat.

And as burrowing animals, they excavate tons of hard-baked desert soils, increasing the grounds’ fertility and improving foraging for cattle.  
Pronatura Noreste and The Nature Conservancy also are working with local schools and community organizations to develop educational programs about the importance of conserving the Janos grasslands. 

“The Janos grasslands are an integral part of our community,” said Celso Jaquez, a rancher and former mayor of Janos. “The work being done on Rancho El Uno and with neighboring ranchers is vital to preserving these prairies and our way of life. We’re able to have more prairie because of the prairie dog.”  


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