Let’s create a Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park in the Franklin and Organ Mountains
The other day I received a conservation alert from the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. The alert reported on City Council plans to discuss a conservation easement and Natural Open Space Zone to be placed on the lands that make up the Lost Dog Trail in Northwest El Paso. The alert stated that 89% of El Pasoans who voted in the May 4, 2019 election support long term preservation of this area and that the people who support it want it fully implemented with no further delay. Was I surprised by the vote? Not a chance, over the past two decades I have interacted with thousands of people living in our area and the vast majority support natural open space and habitat conservation.
The Lost Dog Trail is located on a very small parcel of desert. Overall very little of the lower elevation habitats in Northwest and Northeast El Paso remain intact from what I first experienced when I visited El Paso nearly 50 years ago. Most would agree that the Franklins are one of the most unique aspects of our city attracting many of the people who live here today. Now that so much of the Franklin Mountain’s wilderness has disappeared and been replaced by urban sprawl, the challenge of protecting what remains is greater today than when Franklin Mountains State Park was first opened to the public in 1987.
Recently I read a story about how a privately funded non-profit organization is creating a 3.2 million wildlife sanctuary – American Prairie Reserve– in northeastern Montana. When complete it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states and a haven for wolves, grizzly bears and bison. Wouldn’t it be great to have a similar reserve in the northern Franklin and Organ Mountains near Las Cruces? A large protected zone straddling the border of New Mexico and Texas would provide a very large area of habitat for a great diversity of desert mountain species and could someday be home to prairie dogs, bison, elk, pronghorn, wolves, bears and jaguars. Very few people living in El Paso and Las Cruces know this, but there was a documented report of a critically endangered Mexican wolf in this area as recently as January of 2017.
A Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park could be funded in many different ways including from both private and public entities. With 89% of El Pasoans going to the polls in support of protecting the Lost Dog Trail, I wonder how much support there would be for a grand conservation project like the American Prairie Reserve in our part of the world. Recently I was encouraged to learn that a similar reserve is being created southwest of El Paso in northern Chihuahua. It’s called the Janos Biosphere Reserve. The reserve is home to the largest prairie dog town in North America, bison and critically endangered black-footed ferrets and Mexican wolves.
What’s needed now more than ever is not just master plans for the development of infrastructure, but a master plan for the conservation of our desert and the Franklin Mountains. Want to help? Please use the contact form below.