Welcome to Denver Zoological Foundation at Rio Mora NWR

The Denver Zoological Foundation at Rio Mora NWR is a 501c3 organization dedicated to preserving the Southwestern ecological heritage through restoration, research, and education.

In 2005, philanthropists Eugene and Clare Thaw decided that they wanted to see their 4,500 acre Wind River Ranch serve a societal benefit. To that end, they formed the Wind River Ranch Foundation. From the beginning, the dream has been to create a center for ecological restoration, research, education for youth, and a place where the great minds of the conservation world could come together and create solutions to counter degrading ecological systems.

Explicitly, our goals in northern New Mexico have been:

  • To provide a refugia for native species and natural systems on the ranch, and to restore health to those systems that have been damaged in the past. This refugia lies along the Central Flyway.
  • To engage in scientific programs that make a meaningful contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem function, ecological restoration, and landscape permeability in the southwestern U.S.
  • To develop careers of young conservation biologists through undergraduate and graduate education,  particularly students from groups which are underrepresented in the fields of the Natural Sciences.
  • To develop and enhance environmental science curricula by working with school children and teachers in northern New Mexico.
  • To develop cooperation among landowners, agencies, NGOs, tribes, and local governments so that strategies  beneficial to conservation and management can be coordinated across a broader area.
  • To provide artistic programs that incorporate nature into the educational experience.
  • To hold think-tank sessions about key conservation issues.

In September of 2012, Eugene and Clare Thaw donated their ranch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to become the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and be part of the larger Northern New Mexico National Wildlife Refuge System. The Denver Zoological Foundation will manage the ranch for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as manage and expand the conservation, research, and education programs that occur on the refuge.

The education efforts with schoolchildren are an important part of our program. Damage to nature does not come about because we lack scientific expertise. It often occurs because ordinary people make poor choices in everyday life (or support corporate choices without questioning). The existing institutions that shape the world-view of people do so from an economic paradigm of constant growth (even though we live in a closed system), and that paradigm over-exploits nature and people. The minds of children are more open than those of adults, and changing values at such a large scale is a generational process.

Our efforts at ecological restoration have provided graduate projects and undergraduate internships. We and our partners have reduced soil erosion and raised the water table in arroyos and canyons, protected seeps and springs in canyons that feed the river, induced meander for river restoration, created new wetlands and restored degraded ones, and reintroduced extirpated species. We have worked with tribes and NGOs on the ecological role of bison and prairie dogs in maintaining grassland health. These activities alone offer research on about 25 potential graduate projects. The opportunities to expand conservation research and ecological restoration on the ranch are extensive and growing.

We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and all our partners for their efforts to restore nature on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge, to execute conservation research, and to educate local school children, and we thank all of you for your interest in what we do at the Denver Zoological Foundation on Rio Mora NWR.