Making it Official - Fla. ceremony marks new refuge

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By The Staff

It’s official.

Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area now has an official plank at the Pelican Island Walkway in Florida. Earlier this month Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was joined by Rob Larrañaga and Teresa Gray at Pelican Island, Fla., for a ceremony celebrating the establishment of six national wildlife refuges across the nation this past year.

“Each time we establish a new national wildlife refuge, we set aside a treasured landscape, conserving our priceless fish and wildlife and their habitat not only for this generation but for future generations,” Salazar said in a news release. “We also provide a place for people to connect with nature through fishing, hunting, hiking and other outdoor recreation. This not only restores the spirit and refreshes the mind but also supports economic growth and jobs in local communities.”

The establishment of the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area took months to come to fruition. In September, Salazar visited the 4,000 plus acres donated to  the federal government by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust to establish the refuge located near Watrous. The land was part of Wind River Ranch.

The donated land is valued at $5 million. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spent months studying whether to accept the donation prior to establishing the refuge. The agency held public hearings.

The Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is the 560th unit of the national wildlife refuges across the nation. With the establishment of the refuge, the area will be used for environmental education to expose children to nature.

On Jan. 11, Larrañaga, wildlife refuge manager for the Northern New Mexico National Wildlife Complex, and Gray of the Rio Mora Refuge and former executive director of Wind River Ranch, attended the ceremony at Pelican Island and helped install the official Rio Mora plank.

During the Pelican Island ceremony, Salazar added planks to the walkway that now commemorates all 561 national wildlife refuges.