For more than 25 years, the New Mexico program has focused much of its conservation efforts along the Gila and Mimbres Rivers and their watersheds. 

A New Mexico Treasure

The diversity of the plant and animal life of the Gila-Mimbres Headwaters area is exceptional and surprisingly intact. However, many of these plants and animals are threatened with extinction due to a variety of historic and current human-induced changes to the land. Protection of the watershed is also important in safeguarding water quality for the region.

Gila River

There are no dams along New Mexico’s portion of the Gila River — a rarity among most Western rivers. It supports an astonishing array of plant and animal life including 40 at-risk species. The Conservancy’s Gila Riparian Preserve currently protects more than eight river miles, adjacent to one of the oldest wilderness areas in the country, and features exceptional examples of cottonwood-willow forests.

In 1999, the Conservancy purchased the Gila River Farm and subsequently transformed the main house into the Lichty Ecological Research Center, a home and laboratory where scientists and students can live and conduct research relevant to the Southwest. Past studies include an examination of the effects of flooding along the Gila River and Cliff High School project measuring water quality along the river. On the Gila River Farm, we are planting native trees and grasses, creating wetlands and establishing farming practices that are compatible with the conservation of a free-flowing, biologically-rich river.

In 2007, the Conservancy and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish purchased the Gila River Iron Bridge Conservation Area.

Mimbres River

The Mimbres, a small closed-basin stream, supports the country’s only remaining population of the Chihuahua chub, a native fish, and one of the largest remaining populations of Chiricahua leopard frogs in the world. In October 1994, TNC established the Mimbres River Preserve, which provides excellent habitat for the Chihuahua chub and the Chiricahua leopard frog. Farther downstream where perennial flows persist, additional parcels were added to create the Lower Mimbres River Preserve.

Headwaters Ranch

In 2000, the Conservancy launched an innovative experiment in conservation ranching. The Headwaters Ranch covers 165,000 acres spanning the headwaters of the Gila and Mimbres River watersheds in the Gila National Forest. The Conservancy created the ranch with the USDA Forest Service and local ranchers Greer & Winston Ltd. to protect and improve watershed and stream conditions.

Restoring Fire

The Conservancy and the Gila National Forest jointly hired a fire ecologist to determine priorities and guidelines for forest restoration, and identify opportunities for prescribed burns, tree thinning and other rehabilitation practices. The Gila National Forest is already among the nation’s most progressive national forests in restoring fire’s natural role and with the Conservancy’s fire management innovations they can provide even greater leadership nationally.


The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Action Plan for the Gila Headwaters (October 2010)

The Nature Conservancy recently updated its Conservation Action Plan for the Gila Headwaters. This paper describes TNC's planning process. The process involves defining the project area, identifying conservation targets, assessing conservation target viability, identifying critical threats to these targets, developing and implementing strategies to abate these threats and improve target viability, and measuring strategy effectiveness.

Download file (3 MB) Upper Mimbres Watershed Assessment (December 2009)

The Mimbres Fire Learning Network (FLN) demonstration project is located in southwest New Mexico, focused on a portion of the Wilderness District of the Gila National Forest. This report details the rapid landscape-scale resource assessment TNC conducted to provide a basis for developing a collaborative fire management plan for the Upper Mimbres Watershed.

Download file (8 MB) Iron Bridge Management Plan (September 2008)

This document summarizes the ecological significance, acquisition steps, and management activities for the Iron Bridge Conservation Area, that was purchased in 2008 in partnership with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish using Natural Lands Protection Act Funds.

Download file (1 MB)


Gila Conservation Coalition

Upper Gila Watershed Alliance

Bear Mountain Lodge

Tucked away on 178 acres adjacent to the Gila National Forest, Bear Mountain Lodge is a great location from which to explore the natural, cultural and historical diversity of this surprising region.