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Cannon part of historic land protection effort

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

In partnership with The Conservation Fund, Cannon announced May 6 the protection of 30,653 acres of land adjacent to Melrose Air Force Range.

The news came after a conservation easement had been placed on the acreage that limits development, encroachment and changes to the landscape that could negatively impact the operations of MAFR or the 27th Special Operations Wing. These efforts will also protect the agricultural nature of the land.

The easement is a result of coordination between Cannon and The Conservation Fund, with funding from the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program and the State of New Mexico Economic Development Department.  This accomplishment is the largest single transaction in the history of the REPI program.

“This major success is the culmination of three years of effort and bridges the gap between military training and graduate-level conservation practices,” said Steven Coffin, Range Management Office Director with MAFR. “This union between the Department of Defense, State of New Mexico, The Conservation Fund, and private landowners demonstrates that uncommon partners can join for a common goal and protect both military training space and landowner interests.  The 27th SOW greatly appreciates the contributions of our state and DOD partners, the ceaseless efforts of The Conservation Fund, and the unwavering support of the land owners.”

Under the project, The Conservation Fund worked with landowners, Tom and Sharon Davis, to facilitate the purchase of a restrictive-use conservation easement on a privately owned ranch that is adjacent to MAFR that will be overseen and managed by the New Mexico Land Conservancy.  

“The state of New Mexico and the United States Air Force have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for over half a century,” said Col. Stewart Hammons, 27th SOW commander.  “This effort demonstrates our commitment to that relationship and the preservation of the High plains environment while ensuring that vital national training space and the 27 SOW mission are protected.”

MAFR has been operating since 1952 and is the primary training range for the 27th SOW, providing more than 4,500 hours of training for U.S. and coalition Special Operations Forces each year. 

With the importance of the range to Cannon and the Air Force, the potential for encroaching development around the range is a concern for Wing leadership. Possible concerns include vertical hazards and light pollution, which could negatively impact flight paths and threaten training operations at MAFR.

In addition the conservation easement will also provide additional benefit for the lesser prairie-chicken.  The vulnerable species is threatened by vertical development and habitat alteration and depends heavily on undisturbed land in southeastern New Mexico.

As all the agencies work together, Cannon extends its appreciation to all those involved in the venture to protect the environment and the mission according to Hammons.

“On behalf of the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command, I want to express our gratitude to the state and federal lawmakers who provided early support, The Conservation Fund for providing strong leadership, and Tom and Sharon Davis for sticking with us through this challenging process,” Hammons said.  “The 27th SOW looks forward to continuing this program to further protect our sensitive environment and protect national interests while preserving a historic way of life.”