Malpai Borderlands Group


The Malpai Borderlands Group works to conserve land, protect the environment, protect the ranching lifestyle and enhance the local economy through collaborations of ranchers, conservationists, government and scientists.

Project Description

The Malpai Borderlands area is a study in contradictions: the number of species in the area dwarfs the number of humans; ranchers welcome fire as a way to keep down brush, even as wildfires threaten homes and livestock; and the balance of land ownership (53% private; 47% public) means that even ranchers and government sometimes get along.

Initially called the Malpai Group, partners focused on implementing an existing vision for a protecting the ranching lifestyle and creating a healthy economy and environment. While ranchers are often at odds with environmentalists and the government in other parts of the west, Malpai Borderlands Group (MBG) focused on building an innovative partnership and collaboration between these groups, recognizing that they shared a common interest. The goal of protecting ranching meant conserving land, preventing sprawl, and boosting the economy, which in turn would improve the environment and the character of the region.

Residents felt that cattle grazing on public and private lands was threatened; that fire suppression led to loss of grassland, which in turn led to loss of jobs and income; and that development trends were likely to lead to a region of “20 acre ranchettes,” which alone could spell the end of ranching.

Working with a local scientist, the group first drafted proposals for protecting open space and improving the health of the land. Around the same time, The Nature Conservancy purchased one of the largest and longest-running ranches in the area, and residents feared that it would be sold again to the federal government.  The Malpai Group instead approached a wealthy local ranching family, which formed the Animas Foundation and bought the ranch.

Subject to conservation easements and monitoring procedures, the Gray Ranch became a resource for local ranchers and the center of MBG’s new Grassbanking programs. A concept developed by MBG, grassbanking allows ranchers to graze their cattle on other ranches, in exchange for applying conservation easements and sustainable management strategies to their own properties. In the case of the Gray Ranch, locals can graze cattle there while letting their own lands recover from drought or overuse; through the process, their ranches are added to the roster of lands that will not be developed and will undergo scientific monitoring and improvements. 

MBG further assists ranchers with private projects that will improve the overall health of the region, including reconstruction of waterways, development of wildlife habitat, or microfinance programs that will help the ranching economy to recover.  Staff also research, implement, and lobby for changes relating to prescribed burns and fire suppression, endangered species protection, and habitat conservation planning.

MBG’s strategy continues to combine land conservation, assistance to ranchers, and improvements in land management practices, all facilitated by an increase in technical knowledge and collaboration.

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Last Updated: April 27, 2012, 8:49 pm