The Valle de Oro is the newest “urban Wilderness” in the national Wildlife Refuge System. I chose this location not because of an individual’s passion for this particular piece of land but because it represents much of the contemporary efforts to establish and maintain a conservation ethic. Formerly the Price’s Dairy Farm, this 570 acre refuge is five miles south of downtown Albuquerque New Mexico, accessible through a neighborhood and a string of automobile salvage yards and lying between the urban clutter and the Rio Grande River. As the largest remaining agricultural parcel in metropolitan Albuquerque, there have been numerous efforts to subdivide and develop it, as has happened with many similar farms. Additionally, being on the river, access to water and to senior water rights rendered this area very attractive for commercial enterprises. As early as 1996, the National Fish and Wildlife Service was discussing purchase with the Price farm owners who were also seeking a conservation based use of the land. The resources were not available at that time but over the years, the farm owners were willing to wait while federal, state, corporate, foundation and individual donors came forward with the funds to purchase and prepare the land for public use. In addition, the US Department of Transpiration has also dedicated 8 million dollars to improve road access to the wilderness.
Decades ago, to convert the land to agricultural use, these acres were cleared of the native bosque woodland habitat. A bosque ecosystem occurs on the banks of a river and on a flood plain and in the United States are predominantly found in the southwest along the Rio Grande River. From the nearby highlands, the cottonwood and willow trees surrounding the Rio Grande look like a lush green swath meandering through the grey/brown desert.
There are numerous benefits resulting from the Valle de Oro Wildlife Refuge. A number of native species that have been lost to the land will be returning – the southwestern willow flycatchers, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds, as well as foxes, coyotes and beavers. Land improvements for hiking and biking along the Rio Grande will create a long anticipated connection for the extensive path along the banks of the Rio Grande. Educational institutions, from Pr-K to University level, are developing curricula built on the wilderness experience. Some of the existing cropland on the farm may remain intact to provide grain for birds and to demonstrate the land’s historical uses.
In this piece I have tried to layer the three essential elements of the Valle de Oro Urban Wilderness. The top area, representing the urban, was created by immersing raw silk in tea with rusty nails or other debris. The mid section consists of rubbings I did on paper over actual cottonwood leaves we collected while visiting the site. The lower third shows the flowing waters of the Rio Grande.
For me, this site demonstrates that with persistence and a vision, areas like this will continue to emerge and the benefits to the economy, to families and to the earth will be quickly realized.