Santa Ana Pueblo
The Pueblo of Santa Ana in New Mexico has become a role model for other tribal communities in how to effectively restore and protect wildlife habitat in the Upper Rio Grande. Located north of Albuquerque and south of the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests, Santa Ana wasn’t always a success story. Thirty years ago, the 79,000-acre parcel that the tribe owned was over-grazed, over-hunted and over-driven by off-road vehicles. Pronghorn and wild turkeys – two species that are culturally important to the pueblo—had disappeared completely from the land.
Tribal leaders knew they had to act quickly so they formed a Department of Natural Resources, which would use best scientific practices to study wildlife, launch habitat improvements and reintroduce wildlife. They also started an environmental education and community outreach program so young people would learn how important it was to become good stewards of the land. Perhaps most importantly, the Pueblo’s Tribal Council passed both a wildlife and a livestock code which put limits on hunting, grazing and off-road vehicle use.
“The 2005 Wildlife Conservation Code is why the Santa Ana has had so much success. Members of the Tribal Council said ‘we want to protect wildlife’ and that is exactly what they have done,” said Alan Hatch, director of the Department of Natural Resources at Santa Ana. “We’ve put a lot of protections in place and we’ve seen wildlife populations increase. We have shared our Wildlife Conservation Code with several of our neighboring tribes and hope that eventually other tribes will find ways to protect their wildlife populations as well.”
Land managers have restored grasslands, woodlands and riparian areas and have successfully reintroduced pronghorn and wild turkeys. They’ve installed solar powered wells so that wildlife can drink from troughs and pans. In addition to the turkeys and pronghorn, bears, elk, cougars and deer now roam the lands in greater abundance. The tribe recently bought a nearby ranch which adds an additional 60,000 acres of land that they intend to use for traditional purposes, including wildlife management. Even so, the land managers at Santa Ana know that improving their land is only part of the solution to encouraging healthier wildlife populations.
“Urban development is pushing out near us. So for the large, charismatic species like elk, bear, mountain lion, and deer, they need more contiguous land than what the pueblo owns. That’s why migration or movement corridors that cross jurisdictions are so important,” said Glenn Harper, range and wildlife division manager at Santa Ana.
The Santa Ana Pueblo is surrounded by a patchwork of national forests, state and private lands and other tribal communities. Interstate 25 and US Highway 550 – which carry some 50,000 cars a day — border the Santa Ana Pueblo and have become significant barriers to wildlife migration in the area. Harper and others at the pueblo have instituted an ambitious program of collaring animals so they can better understand the migration patterns as wildlife cross the land and determine the best ways to protect those routes.
Both Harper and Hatch say they are eager to see how the newly passed state law to protect wildlife corridors might benefit the migration corridors near the pueblo. They are also hoping that land managers at the nearby Carson and Santa Fe National Forests will designate several special management areas to protect corridors and the habitats within them.
“It’s very important to the pueblo to protect and improve the quality of its lands and waters. We’ve made changes here to help the landscape be more resilient to changing climate conditions,” said Harper. “But we can’t do this work in isolation. To have a real meaningful impact at a landscape scale, our neighbors—whether it’s other tribal communities, private land owners or federal and state land managers – they also need to be pro-active in protecting migration corridors and restoring and improving wildlife habitats on their lands.”