Albuquerque residents currently have the opportunity to observe and learn about a two-decade long wildlife restoration project that’s only just in its infancy.
On the last Friday of each month, the City of Albuquerque Open Space division is offering tours of the Candelaria Nature Preserve, an approximately 167-acre space in the North Valley that is intended to be both a nature study area and a wildlife preserve while also providing outdoor public recreation opportunities.
That wasn’t always the case. When the city purchased the land in 1977, it was commercially farmed for some 40 years – at the expense of the soil and wildlife in the area. In 2020, the city began a long-term process to rewild the preserve through a Resource and Management plan, a collaborative effort that involves contractors from Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District and Rio Grande Return, as well as volunteer work from Friends of the Candelaria Nature Preserve.
“Essentially it’s to become a mosaic of habitat types that will support wildlife so that we can have nature study area for understanding things better through time,” says Jeannie Allen, lead of the Friends of Candelaria Nature Preserve. “So it will not have a completely open visitor access the way most open spaces do. It’s gonna have guided tours and wildlife viewing areas that will extend into the preserve maybe 15 to 20 feet where people can go and watch and see what’s happening.”
Tours are free, though registration is required, and are led by staff and volunteer experts. Visitors should bring water and expect to traverse some rough terrain during a two-hour walk that begins at the entry gate located at the west end of Arbor Road. The educational aspect is integral to the tours, especially since the rewilding effort is a very public endeavor.
“I think anybody who’s interested in our natural surroundings, and especially the Bosque ecosystem, would benefit seeing this process early on and seeing how it changes over time,” said Sean Ludden, programs coordinator for the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District.
“… We do have to become involved in really intentional ways. I think through that, there’s a lot of healing and connection that comes when people step into a site that’s been dedicated to wildlife habitat as opposed to commercial production … It’s a great place for young, old, anybody who’s really interested in this process to see from the start and lend a hand and get involved.”
Since the rewilding process is expected to last 20 years, the types of animal life seen at the Candelaria Nature Preserve will change over time. Depending upon the season, visitors might run across the likes of coyotes, roadrunners, cranes, hawks and owls. A pollinator area is also in the works to accommodate birds, bats, butterflies and other insects.
A key component to bring more wildlife back to the area is restoring the health of the soil, which was damaged due to agricultural use over the years.
“Instead of using heavy equipment that will compact the soil, and instead of using plows that turn the soil over when there’s planting, it’s done with a no-till drill, a really wonderful machine that just digs a hole, plunks the feed in and covers it up,” Allen said. “Species are being planted that are good covering the soil so that the invasive species can’t get in. The big problem is that there’s a lot of invasive species from the farming. All that’s being worked.”
Virtually anyone who wants to help with the project is welcome. The Friends of the Candelaria Nature Preserve is composed entirely of volunteers. The group shows up each Friday and does whatever work is needed in the fields. Those interested in volunteering can sign up on the website at friendsofcandelarianaturepreserve.org.
“This really presents an opportunity for people to get knowledgeable for those other parts of our Bosque ecosystem and also get involved in the process of restoring those,” Ludden said. “They can understand the plants and the animal communities and all the other environmental conditions like soils, precipitation, climate and how those all kind of interplay.”