Bruce Dale, Conservation Action Chair for Central New Mexico Audubon Society, has always enjoyed the great outdoors. His love for birds, however, came from his wife, Patricia. She persuaded him to join bird walks and excursions at the local Audubon chapter where small groups of nature lovers and bird nerds alike traveled to places like the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. Birding in sprawling southwestern landscapes blanketed by native grasses, piñon-juniper, and high-desert wildflowers brought a special kind of joy and as well as a certain sensitivity and awareness to the hazards and challenges that birds face. He could not simply focus on the Lesser Prairie Chicken spectacle without also acknowledging the messy reality of the bird’s threatened conservation status, the decline of its native short-grass prairie, and the poorly sited energy development projects that fragment that dwindling habitat. “You say to yourself, you can’t just look at the bird and ignore the rest of the environment…I’ve got to get involved in conservation”, He said.
Over time, Bruce gradually shifted from beginning birder to an environmental advocate when years later, the National Audubon Society began to introduce the concept of Conservation Ranching – a partnership with private landowners to manage their ranches for the benefit of grassland birds and their habitat.
Grasslands are among the most altered and imperiled ecosystems in the world—and these critical ecosystems are dwindling at an alarming rate. With 85% of grasslands in the U.S. privately owned, Audubon recognizes that partnering with a diversity of partners is vital to the survival of healthy working lands and grasslands birds in New Mexico. These creative solutions to managing complex landscapes mitigates environmental threats like invasive species, urbanization, energy development, and unsustainable livestock management practices. Audubon New Mexico’s hope is that by choosing beef products from Audubon-certified ranches, the public can contribute to the expansion of livestock management practices that are better for human health, better for cattle, and better for the environment. When expanded, this program will support more sustainable ranching livelihoods, resulting in more grassland birds, cleaner streams, and healthier soils.
“People in New Mexico have learned to love New Mexico – the landscapes – and they want to see the big beautiful views of a healthy environment. Overgrazing and poor management of grasslands – complimented by various other factors – does not give them that. I am glad that this program makes sure that the land remains beautiful, the cattle are treated humanely, people get a healthy product, and the birds have their habitat. Win-win”
The concept was intriguing for Bruce, so he was eager to find out more about the grasslands on the pilot ranch and the New Mexican rancher who teamed up with Audubon. Curious and always willing to ask the tough questions, Bruce and 25 other Audubon members and supporters attended a field trip to Ranney Ranch – the first New Mexico ranch to enroll in Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program. In addition to a walk along the Ranch’s ephemeral Gallo Creek and conversations about the benefits of rotational grazing and other Audubon Certified Brid Friendly Land practices, the trip naturally included a bit of birding. Ranney Ranch provided great views of Loggerhead Shrike, Hammonds Flycatcher, Sage Thrasher, Piñon Jays, and the ever-watchful Red Tailed Hawk. “It was a lovely spot, and the burgers at lunch were terrific!” Happy with his experience, Bruce later purchased beef grazed under the Conservation Ranching Program. Ranney Ranch beef is available for the public to purchase through Skarsgard farms.
There were many insightful conversations had that day triggered by the gravity of standing in a space where two traditionally unconventional allies - environmentalists and ranchers - worked successfully in partnership for the good of community and environment. “Someone brought up the fact that we shouldn’t think of the ranchers as the enemy. They love their land and they would prefer to make a profit on heathy rangeland. This is where we can work together.”
For more information about Audubon Conservation Ranching, and to locate retail outlets selling beef under the program, contact Chris Wilson, Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://Audubon.org/ranching.