In Colorado’s scenic San Luis Valley, at the confluence of the Conejos River and the Rio Grande, Western Rivers Conservancy is working to conserve a property of great importance to birds and other wildlife of southern Colorado. The property, called the Olguin Ranch, spans 1,180 acres, including 1.6 miles of the Conejos River and more than a mile of the Rio Grande.
WRC acquired the property while we were working to create the San Luis Hills State Wildlife Area, directly across the Rio Grande from the Olguin Ranch. We are now working in partnership with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust to permanently protect the ranch through a conservation easement that will safeguard wildlife habitat while allowing much of the property to remain productive for local agriculture. Small farms and working family ranches are the economic and cultural backbone of the San Luis Valley and often a key component of successful land conservation throughout the area.
The Olguin Ranch is an important link in a series of neighboring protected properties, including the Bureau of Land Management’s McIntyre-Simpson Wetlands Area to the west; the protected 3,200-acre Cross Arrow Ranch on the eastern boundary; and the new 17,019-acre San Luis Hills State Wildlife Area, directly across the Rio Grande. By conserving the ranch, WRC is adding a key parcel to this assemblage of protected lands along and around the Rio Grande.
The Olguin Ranch boasts excellent habitat for endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and threatened western yellow-billed cuckoo, as well as a wealth of other bird species, including bald eagle, ferruginous hawk and greater sandhill crane. It is also home to northern leopard frog and river otter, and provides important range for Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn, black bear and mountain lion.
WRC’s efforts at the Olguin Ranch will also be a boon for recreationists, especially boaters. Until now, a fence stretched across the Rio Grande near the Conejos confluence, preventing boaters from floating this part of the river. WRC will remove the fence, allowing boaters to float unimpeded for the first time in recent memory.
WRC’s Efforts in the San Luis Valley
WRC’s work at the Olguin Ranch is part of our larger effort to preserve habitat and connect people to the Rio Grande and its tributaries in the San Luis Valley. In 2015, we created the San Luis Valley Conservation Fund in partnership with the LOR Foundation and our local partners Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and Colorado Open Lands. The Fund is a collaborative effort to bolster local conservation efforts and to preserve the region’s rich cultural heritage, all while enhancing livability for valley communities. The fund includes a $2-million re-granting program called the San Luis Valley Conservation and Connection Initiative, which supports local conservation organizations and ensures healthy futures for the culture and communities that the Rio Grande has sustained for generations.
As part of this effort, Western Rivers Conservancy created the 17,019-acre San Luis Hills State Wildlife Area, directly across the Rio Grande from the Olguin Ranch. Upstream, we have two exceptional projects on the Rio de los Pinos; one near the old Freemon General Store on the main Rio Grande; and another near the near the city of Alamosa, where we are creating the Alamosa Riparian Park to protect an additional mile of the Rio Grande and connect the community of Alamosa to its backyard river.
Funding for the Conejos-Rio Grande project was made possible through generous contributions from multiple sources, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, the LOR Foundation, the San Luis Valley Conservation Fund, the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, The Conservation Alliance and with the generous support of many additional individuals, foundations and businesses.
This project was also made possible through funding from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act program.