Historic Project Preserves Working Agricultural Landscape, Protects the Mission of Cannon Air Force Base, and Provides Added Conservation Benefits for Wildlife
CLOVIS, N.M. — Cannon Air Force Base, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, announced today the protection of 30,493 acres adjacent to the Melrose Air Force Range. A conservation easement has been placed on the acreage that limits development, encroachment and changes to the landscape that could negatively impact the operations of the Air Force Range. Made possible with funding from the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) and the State of New Mexico Economic Development Department, this land protection effort is the largest single transaction in the history of the REPI program.
“This major success is the culmination of three years of effort and bridges the gap between military training and graduate-level conservation practices,” said Steven Coffin, Range Management Office Director with the Melrose Air Force Range. “This union between the Department of Defense, State of New Mexico, The Conservation Fund, and private landowners demonstrates that uncommon partners can join for a common goal and protect both military training space and landowner interests. The 27 Special Operations Wing greatly appreciates the contributions of our State and DOD partners, the ceaseless efforts of The Conservation Fund, and the unwavering support of Mr. Davis.”
The Melrose Air Force Range has been operating since 1952 and is the primary training range for the 27th Special Operations Wing, providing more than 4,500 hours of training for U.S. and coalition Special Operations Forces each year. In recent years, however, Air Force officials have become increasingly concerned about the potential for encroaching development around the range. Development of the land could create vertical hazards and light pollution, negatively impacting flight paths and threatening the Air Force’s training operations.
“The successful completion of this REPI easement is the result of many individuals working together in support of the Air Force, Air Force Special Operations Command, the 27th Special Operations Wing, and Melrose Air Force Range,” said Retired Air Force Brigadier General Hanson Scott. “It underscores the commitment of New Mexico to the Special Operations Mission. Many, many thanks to Mike Ford and others for their diligence in pursuing a tough project.”
With funding from the REPI program and the State of New Mexico’s Economic Development Department, The Conservation Fund facilitated the purchase of a restrictive use conservation easement on a privately owned ranch located adjacent to the Range. Working closely with the landowner, Tom Davis, the Fund provided a practical solution that fulfills the training needs of the Air Force while ensuring that the land remains a privately-owned, working agricultural landscape. The New Mexico Land Conservancy will oversee and manage the easement.
“This historic conservation easement is a practical solution that benefits the landowner, the environment, and the U.S. Air Force’s efforts to ensure our national security,” said Mike Ford, Southwest Director for The Conservation Fund. “We are grateful to Mr. Davis for his foresight and dedication to preserving the natural qualities of his land, and we thank New Mexico’s U.S. Congressional delegation for supporting annual funding for the impactful REPI program.”
The conservation easement will also provide additional benefit for the lesser prairie-chicken. Known for its showy displays and “yodeling” during mating season, the vulnerable species is threatened by vertical development and habitat alteration and depends heavily on undisturbed land in southeastern New Mexico.
“The Davis Family has been a neighbor to the Melrose Range for 66 years,” said Tom and Sharon Davis. “We would like to thank President Donald Trump for working tirelessly to keep America’s defense strong and viable.”
“The state of New Mexico and the United States Air Force have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for over half a century,” said Colonel Stewart Hammons, 27th SOW Commander. “This effort demonstrates our commitment to that relationship and the preservation of the High Plains environment while ensuring that vital national training space and the 27 SOW mission are protected. On behalf of the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command, I want to express our gratitude to the state and federal lawmakers who provided early support, The Conservation Fund for providing strong leadership, and Tom and Sharon Davis for sticking with us through this challenging process,” Col. Hammons said. “The 27th SOW looks forward to continuing this program to further protect our sensitive environment and protect national interests while preserving a historic way of life.”
“We are grateful to The Conservation Fund and Tom Davis for giving us the opportunity to partner with them on this on this creative conservation project, “said Scott Wilber, Executive Director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy. “This is our first conservation easement in eastern New Mexico and it will help build upon the work we have already done in other parts of the state to conserve working lands and wildlife, and will hopefully generate more interest among the ranching community in private land conservation.”
Authorized by Congress, the REPI program supports cost-sharing partnerships between the military services, private conservation groups, and state and local governments to remove or avoid land-use conflicts near installations and address regulatory restrictions that inhibit military activities. For more than a decade, The Conservation Fund has worked with the Department of Defense to acquire easements or other interests in land from willing sellers in order to preserve working farms, forests and ranches and to protect wildlife habitat and open space near installations, which also sustains critical military mission capabilities. The REPI program is annually funded by the U.S. Congress, including the delegation representing Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Air Force Range: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben R. Luján and Xochitl Torres Small.
“This remarkable project demonstrates that protecting our landscape can bring together folks from across New Mexico to strengthen conservation, ensure military readiness, and safeguard essential resources,” said Senator Tom Udall. “I applaud the strong partnership between The Conservation Fund, the Department of Defense, and the state of New Mexico to protect over 30,000 acres of land to support the critical national security mission of Melrose Air Force Range and Cannon Air Force Base while benefitting surrounding communities, threatened wildlife, and landowners in southeastern New Mexico. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ll keep fighting for the resources we need to keep New Mexico, the nation, and our way of life in the West strong and safe.”
“This agreement is a win-win for both conservation and the critical military training missions at the Melrose Air Force Range,” said Senator Martin Heinrich. “This land is essential for protecting airspace for the Air Force and preserving vital short-grass prairie habitat. I’m grateful for all the work that went into getting this effort over the finish line.”
“Today is another powerful example of New Mexicans working together to protect our prairie lands in eastern New Mexico,” said Congressman Luján (D-NM), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker. “Landowners, the surrounding community, Cannon Air Force, and the environment will all benefit from protecting these 30,000 acres of ranchland. I applaud The Conservation Fund for pulling together this diverse group stakeholders to support a shared solution.”
“This project shows what can be done when stakeholders with varying interests come together to achieve a common goal,” said Representative Xochitl Torres Small. “As a result, the single largest DoD Readiness and Environmental Protection project in the program’s history is in New Mexico, and will protect natural resources, endangered species, and Cannon Air Force Base’s mission.”
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including more than 108,000 acres in New Mexico.