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One year of Rio Mora

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Submitted to the Optic
Sept. 27, 2013, marks one year since the dedication of the Wind River Ranch as the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Northern New Mexico. Last year former Secretary Salazar, established it as the 560th unit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s refuge system.  
The establishment of the refuge and conservation area is a continuation of the vision of philanthropist Eugene V. Thaw and his wife Clare E. Thaw, who bought the Wind River Ranch in 1980 with the intent of protecting and restoring the land as a representative piece of southwestern ecological heritage.
 Inclusion of this important ranch and conservation area into the refuge system creates a wildlife corridor that will ensure protection and restoration of the Mora River watershed and one of the great prairie grassland landscapes of North America. It is located in the transition zone between the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Mora River flows through the center of the refuge for approximately five miles in a 250- to 300-foot deep canyon.
In the year since its dedication, this 560th unit of the refuge system has continued to grow its key partnerships with Denver Zoo and New Mexico Highlands University. USFWS established a collaborative partnership to manage Rio Mora NWR and Conservation Area with Denver Zoo. The zoo employs several staff at the refuge who manage land and facilities care, as well as conservation, restoration and research activities. The zoo is also leading an environmental education assessment to determine the needs of the local community and how the refuge can play a key role in environmental education in Northern New Mexico. Denver Zoo believes animal conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife and saves animals by inspiring and helping people through collaborative work in local communities. The zoo staff and Highlands University continue to research bison, elk, pronghorn interactions on grasslands, as well as monitoring impacts river and arroyo restoration activities at Rio Mora NWR.  
In addition, zoo staff and Highlands continue research that addresses the restoration and conservation challenges facing the Rio Mora NWR, southwestern landscapes, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, including  bison, elk and pronghorn interactions on grasslands, as well as monitoring impacts of river and arroyo restoration activities.
In May, the Service held a Private Lands Conservation workshop at the Pritzlaff Ranch in Sapello and is hosting another at Rio Mora NWR on Saturday, Oct. 19, as part of the National Wildlife Refuge Week celebrations. These bi-annual workshops are hands-on opportunities for landowners to talk with local, State and Federal land conservation agencies and learn about restoration techniques.
As USFWS has a collaborative partnership to manage Rio Mora NWR and Conservation Area with Denver Zoological Foundation, the Foundation is currently leading a six-months environmental education assessment to determine the needs of the local community and how the refuge can play a key role in environmental education in Northern New Mexico. Highlands University continues to research bison, elk, pronghorn interactions on grasslands and monitoring of river restoration.  
The long-term plan for the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge will continue to include opportunities for the public to enjoy wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife watching, education, and hunting.  
Contact Debbie Pike at 425-3581 for more information on refuge activities.