ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On July 21, 1914, Aldo Leopold called a meeting of sportsmen and conservationists in Albuquerque. Leopold had arrived in New Mexico five years earlier to work for the U.S. Forest Service, and his experiences here would inspire him to become one of the leading voices of conservation in the nation.
The purpose of the 1914 meeting was to organize a group of volunteers to advocate for the protection of wild animal species – and the mission was an urgent one.
Fourteen years earlier, the last wild passenger pigeon had been killed. Over three billion of these birds had once filled the skies above North America.
Similarly, during the late 1800s, Leopold had witnessed the near-extermination of the American bison. A species that once numbered in the tens of millions had been reduced to 541 animals in less than a human lifetime.
If things were to continue this way, the future looked grim. But Leopold was convinced that we could learn from the mistakes of the past and prevent other species from meeting the sad fate of the passenger pigeon.
That was how the Albuquerque Game Protective Association came to be founded, with the rousing motto, “Remember the Buffalo!”
From the start, the organization was all-volunteer. Members donated their time and effort to push for the passage of federal laws like the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act , one of the earliest species-protection laws enacted in the U.S.; promote the setting aside of public lands as game and fish refuges; and even draft and advocate for the law that created the New Mexico Game Commission in 1921. Their work made a profound difference in changing how wildlife was managed and preventing more species from going extinct in the years that followed.
Although Aldo Leopold left New Mexico in 1924, the organization he founded continued to thrive. Over the years, its mission and scope broadened from the conservation of game animals to the protection of all wild creatures and the wild lands they depend on. Reflecting this broader vision, the name of the organization was changed from the Albuquerque Game Protective Association to the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation.
By the mid-1970s, much of AWF’s work had shifted to habitat restoration, since land degradation caused by human activities like poorly managed logging and livestock grazing now posed a larger threat to wildlife than overhunting.
Today, AWF organizes eight restoration service projects a year on public lands ranging from the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the north to the San Mateo Mountains south of Socorro and from the Zuni Mountains in the west to the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge east of Las Vegas.
During these projects, volunteers plant native vegetation, remove old roads and fences and build rock structures to improve the integrity of vital wetlands. AWF volunteers return to many of the same sites year after year and have the satisfaction of seeing how their work has made a tangible difference on the ground. For example, at one site AWF’s work over several years increased the water retained in a long-dry streambed so much that cottonwoods germinated along the stream for the first time in decades.
On Saturday, AWF will celebrate its 100th birthday with a public festival at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in the South Valley of Albuquerque. It is a location that likely would have pleased Aldo Leopold and the other founders, who worked both to protect the Rio Grande bosque and to create a national system of wildlife refuges.
We encourage readers to join us for an afternoon of live music, tours of the refuge, games and family activities, food trucks, and a keynote talk by renowned environmental historian and author Jack Loeffler. Details and directions can be found at abq.nmwildlife.org. Help us celebrate AWF’s first century of conservation and lay the foundation for carrying Leopold’s legacy into the next 100 years.