14 Refuges: Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
A Model Urban Refuge in the Southwest

A short drive south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, sits the Mountain View neighborhood of South Valley, an industrial manufacturing town that has dealt with a long history of environmental injustice that is all too common in poor communities throughout the United States. The suburb is burdened with pollution, frequent flooding, and contamination, and does not have the resources to deal with all of these issues. When Price’s Dairy Farm came up for sale, the community banded together to protect the 570-acre property in order prevent the potential industrial development of one of the few green spaces in Mountain View.

Volunteers check in for trail building at Valle de Oro

Thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of residents who created a Friends group before the refuge even existed, the former dairy farm officially became the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in 2012. It immediately became a safe haven for migrating birds, and presented an exciting opportunity for the community to have a hand in shaping the refuge. Valle de Oro is unique in that it is the first urban refuge to be established after the creation of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program; it can provide a blueprint on how to create more urban refuges from the ground up, and showcases the potential in engaging communities.

Most refuges close down while restoration takes place, but Valle de Oro invites people in, creating a sense of transparency and trust in the community. As a result, events on the refuge are well attended, and people are as eager to grab a shovel or pull weeds as they are to enjoy a nice walk or birdwatching.

The appeal of the refuge goes beyond creating excitement about public lands. It directly addresses the pressing environmental justice issues in Mountain View. Hundreds of people came out to participate in Abrazos, a celebration that promotes education and awareness of environmental justice issues. During tours of the refuge and neighborhood, attendees learned about stormwater runoff, contamination from industrial and agricultural facilities, and Superfund sites. As the first refuge to have an Environmental and Economic Justice Strategic Plan, Valle de Oro hopes to have a more active role in protecting their host community, through projects like green infrastructure plans that will have a huge impact on improving flood control.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps members have a photo op with a native kestrel.

Bringing back native flora and fauna is another major part of the refuge’s transformation. Local businesses, schools, and neighbors have teamed up with Valle de Oro to create gardens with native plants throughout the community, to create a deeper connection beyond the refuge’s borders. Distrust of government and big business is (justifiably) high in Mountain View, so these “Islands of Refuge” are important educational outreach tools.

The goal of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is to be a part of the community, and for the community to be part of the refuge. With more than 80% of the US population living in urban areas, refuges have to be relevant and present in people’s daily lives in order to create a new generation of conservation stewards. By engaging the community and inviting them to be involved in its progress, Valle de Oro is destined to become a model urban refuge.

NWRA’s Urban Refuge Program – Protecting our Conservation Future strives to reach beyond refuge boundaries to engage with and connect people of all ages to nature and our Refuge System.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2018/10/14-refuges-valle-de-oro-national-wildlife-refuge/

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