Wildlife Conservation at Vermejo | Fauna Travel

Wildlife Conservation at Vermejo

Bison at Vermejo / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

By: Scott Dubois, Fauna Travel Designer

Vermejo is an incredible 580,000-acre guest ranch in Northern New Mexico and Colorado owned by Ted Turner Reserves, Ted Turner’s hospitality company. Through a massive conservation effort, they created what they dubbed “the American safari” on the property. Here, you can imagine what the American West might have looked like before colonization, with herds of bison, elk, and predators like black bears. The ranch also offers an unparalleled luxury hospitality experience with great food and various outdoor activities, including horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.

The Vermejo conservation projects are done in cooperation with the Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF), which has a mission of saving species from extinction worldwide. Turner Reserves lists their mission as:

To manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting native species and habitat.

While at Vermejo, you can see some of this conservation work and even meet some of the scientists and land managers who are making it happen. We’re sharing some of their most visible projects below to show that travel can truly be a force for good.

Castle Rock Bison Herd

Bison at Vermejo / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves luxury nature lodge
Bison at Vermejo / Sean Fitzgerald / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

The over 1,200 resident wild bison who live at Vermejo are the ranch’s most visible and iconic species. The herd, originally from Yellowstone National Park, has lived at the ranch since the 1920s and is genetically pure – meaning they are some of the few bison not interbred with cattle. These bison migrate freely across the 900-square-mile property, and land managers monitor their grazing to determine how many animals the landscape can support. It is a joy to see large numbers of wild bison in the landscape, but this herd is also part of Ted Turner’s more significant effort to preserve the bison. Once numbering in the millions across North America, their numbers dwindled to only a handful of animals. Fortunately, there are almost half a million today – though many are managed as livestock and do not roam freely as they do here.

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout at Vermejo / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is the state fish of New Mexico, but their numbers have fallen precipitously due to habitat loss and the introduction of nonnative trout. Vermejo has undertaken a 15-year project to remove nonnative fish from the Vermejo and Costilla watersheds. The population in the Vermejo River is genetically unique, but through habitat protection and research into trout reproduction, the TESF aims to save the species.

Riparian Preservation

Elk at Vermejo / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves luxury nature lodge
Elk at Vermejo / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

A vital part of the aforementioned riparian conservation projects are enclosures allowing native vegetation to recover from grazing along the Upper Vermejo River and Ricardo and Leandro creeks. Inside them, you will find willows, alders, and cottonwood trees regrowing and shading the waters below. This creates a cooler habitat for trout and nesting sites for birds while also reducing erosion. The additional cover has also led to the reestablishment of beaver, which is another step towards restoring a healthy watershed.

Predator Conservation

American Black Bear (in blonde coat) / Courtesy of Ted Turner Reserves

Vermejo understands the importance of predators to an ecosystem and is working to protect them through research and reintroduction. Black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, golden eagles, and bald eagles can all be found on the ranch. There are currently no populations of Mexican wolves, but TESF has been involved in their conservation efforts in Southern New Mexico. They are also working to return swift foxes and black-footed ferrets to the landscape someday.

For more information on visiting Vermejo, contact us or view the Vermejo page on our website.

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