The Nature Conservancy (finally) arrives in the SLV

Brief by Marcia Darnell

Nature Conservancy – May 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Nature Conservancy (Finally!) arrives in the San Luis Valley

After months of delays, The Nature Conservancy has finally established a field office in the San Luis Valley, run by Nancy and Chuck Warner in Alamosa.

The Nature Conservancy, based in Arlington, Virginia, takes “a coöperative, non-confrontational approach” to land and water use issues, often buying land to keep it pristine.

The Warners (along with their dog, Tucker) have been ensconced in a cozy office above Café Maya since November.

“Tucker manages the office,” Nancy laughs. “He just lets us work here.”

The Warners began working for the Nature Conservancy in the late ’70s, when they volunteered to count birds on the Mueller Ranch west of Pike’s Peak while attending the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The couple attended graduate school at Utah State in Logan. Nancy holds degrees in ecology and American studies. Chuck has a master’s in range ecology and did doctorate work in resource economics.

The Warners most recently worked for the Conservancy in California for eight years, in San Luis Obispo County. Both consider Colorado home, though. Nancy grew up in Pueblo and Littleton, Chuck in Colorado Springs. They’ve been married for 22 years.

The couple’s immediate plans are to lead tours of Mishak Lakes, scheduled for June 14, July 26, and August 16.

Mishak Lakes, the San Luis Valley’s only Conservancy holding, is in Saguache County about five miles west and five miles south of Moffat. It’s 2,300 acres of shallow-water wetland with many seasonal ponds which develop in April and last until July. Rare species include the greater sandhill crane, Wilson’s phalarope, white-faced ibis, American avocet, slender spiderflower, least chipmunk, and Ord’s kangaroo rat. The sand hills skipper, a butterfly indigenous to the San Luis Valley, can also be seen.

“We want to invite the general public,” says Nancy, “and give them a chance to see the preserve. It’s been inaccessible for so long.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Alamosa office is initially funded by grants from Coors Brewing and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust.

“We’re looking for ways to help Valley conservation efforts beyond Mishak Lakes,” says Chuck.

The Conservancy plans to set up a local advisory board, modeled on its Yampa River Valley program in northwestern Colorado. That advisory board comprises 15 people from agriculture, mining, resorts, ranches, real estate, and the Department of Wildlife.

Toward that end, the Warners planned a workshop in Saguache County in April with 36 community leaders to discuss economic development which will balance conservation with other community needs.

Tour details and reservations are available at 719-589-2421.

–Marcia Darnell