Growing ecotourism means thinking regionally

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From the City

By Lee Einer

The historical buildings in Las Vegas, N.M., are a treasure, to be sure, and are much talked about.

What we don’t talk about often is the natural treasures we have beneath our feet.
We should, because we need to value and preserve these treasures.

We also need to share them. Eco-tourism is a growing economic sector, and one that provides jobs and revenue with minimal environmental impact.
This region is an ecotone: an intersection of sorts between two dissimilar ecosystems, in this case the forests of the Sangre de Cristos and the grasslands of the Great Plains. Ecotones frequently display species diversity greater than either parent ecosystem.

The Sangre de Cristo region was recently declared an “Important Plant Area” by the State of New Mexico, and given the highest rating for plant species diversity. New Mexico is home to over 200 rare and endangered plant species, over a hundred of them found exclusively in New Mexico.

One rare plant species that calls this area home exists only along a two-mile stretch of a single canyon in San Miguel County.

It’s not just our native plants that put us on the map. This area is also prime for birdwatchers.

A few miles east of town, the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wide variety of birds, some migratory waterfowl, others year-round residents. Over 270 bird species have been sighted here.
The LVNWR includes a visitor center and several nature trails. The refuge staff holds regular educational events, open to the public.
Slightly north of Las Vegas, the Ruby Ranch plays host to a variety of migratory waterfowl, some as rare as Sabine’s gull and the red phalarope. A variety of raptors — including the bald eagle — can also be seen here.
Both the LVNWR and Ruby Ranch are on the Audubon Society’s list of Important Bird Areas.
The Sabinoso Wilderness is not (yet) on the list of Important Bird Areas, but this may be because it has only recently been opened to the public.

Birders visiting the Sabinoso can help by documenting the variety of bird species in this rugged and unspoiled wilderness area.
Roughly 40 miles from Las Vegas, the Sabinoso has a great deal of habitat diversity, from forest to cliffs, canyon and riparian bottomlands.
Species already sighted here include the red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, western scrub-jay, pine siskin, juniper titmouse, mourning dove, lesser goldfinch, savannah sparrow, chipping sparrow, mountain chickadee, Bewick’s wren, broad-tailed hummingbird, white-breasted nuthatch, pinion jay, Virginia warbler, hairy woodpecker, white-throated swift, gray flycatcher, bushtit, and turkey vulture.
I’m glad to report that the city’s marketing efforts are now encompassing nature-based tourism activities, and that we have pages on our visitlasvegasnm.com site promoting the Sabinoso Wilderness, Hermit’s Peak, and other local outdoor trails and destinations.
San Miguel County Commission Chair Rock Ulibarri has been working with Arturo Sandoval of the Center for Southwest Culture to establish an ecotourism cooperative in the Gallinas Canyon. That business is expected to launch in the summer of 2018.

Lee Einer is the city of Las Vegas’ public information officer. He may be reached by email at leiner@lasvegasnm.gov.