Water and Wildlife on Working Lands: bringing landowners together in the radical center

People meeting on the land for observation, discussion, and community – that was the purpose of a recent series of Water and Wildlife on Working Lands field days, coordinated by landowners and conservation partners in New Mexico that all focus on the critical work of the radical center. This concept emerged in the 1990’s following more than a decade of polarizing attacks from some radical environmental groups targeting grazing, timber harvest and other economically relevant resource management strategies on Western landscapes. The term was coined in New Mexico, where a group of unlikely partners came together to work on a consensus-based approach to land management, at the same time as such groups were beginning to form in communities across the West. 

The process of gathering on the land can take more time for both the attendees and the hosts, but the results are powerful. The land is both where the work is done and where the results in the form of food and fiber, water, and wildlife are generated and sustained. It is where the connection between rural and urban becomes real in the form of ecosystem services that we all rely on.

And it is where we can have meaningful conversation about how policies, regulations, and market structures create challenges and opportunities for stewardship at this local level. In a recent piece in On Land, Louis Wertz highlighted the importance of locally-led conservation and its foundations in culture, writing, “it is culture that holds the deep memory of all the changes that have come before: of both the failed and successful experiments, year-in and year-out, in making a sustainable living within a particular place.” 

Conversations on the land support shared understanding of this cultural knowledge like no other gatherings or communication efforts can. I am grateful to our partners in this effort, Quivira Coalition, New Mexico’s State Lands Office, and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, along with Bret Riley and family of Sand Ranch, Tuda and Jack Crews of Ute Creek Cattle Co., and Jim Berlier of Berlier Ranch, the amazing hosts and land stewards. We offer appreciation and support to our friends at Ft. Union Ranch, who were prepared to host a field day until nearby wildfires forced them to postpone until next time.

Photo of the gathering at Berlier Ranch, above, is by Megan O’Connell.

Breanna (Bre) Owens is a rancher, board president of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, and stewardship coordinator for Western Landowners Alliance.