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    Cannon AFB, Melrose range, and surrounding community designated ‘Eastern New Mexico Sentinel Landscape’

    Cannon AFB, Melrose Range and surrounding community designated 'Eastern New Mexico Sentinel Landscape'

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Nicholas Swift | Dr. Ladona Clayton, Executive Director of the Ogallala Land & Water Conservancy,...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Vernon Walter 

    27th Special Operations Wing

    Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. – A first for New Mexico -- Cannon Air Force Base, Melrose Air Force Range, and 2.4 million surrounding acres of land have been designated a sentinel landscape. The Eastern New Mexico Sentinel Landscape is one of five new landscapes designated by the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership -- a coalition comprised of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of the Interior (DOI), this year.

    Sentinel landscapes are areas where conservation, working lands, and national defense interests converge. They are anchored by at least one high-value military installation or range and contain high priority lands for USDA, DOD, and DOI. Critically, they encompass agricultural and/or forestry lands and are the appropriate size needed to address the ecological restoration objectives defined for each landscape.

    “We appreciate the sentinel landscapes partnership and their belief in our ability to positively impact Eastern New Mexico,” said Jeffrey Davis, the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) technical program manager with the 27th Special Operations Civil Engineering Squadron. “It starts with a spark of inspiration, a willingness to embrace change, and a belief that we can achieve our goals. Not even I imagined when I started this that we would be announcing a sentinel landscape designation today. This is generational support for Cannon AFB, MAFR, and eastern New Mexico.”

    Leadership from these agencies coordinate the partnership at the national level through the Federal Coordinating Committee (FCC). The FCC then works with state, local, and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, landowners, and land managers to develop and implement projects on the ground within the sentinel landscapes. This enables the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership to consider each individual landscape's unique geography, economic drivers, cultural heritage, and natural resource challenges.

    This designation builds on a successful first-of-its-kind Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) project that was initiated in 2021 when the 27th Special Operations Wing and local community partnered together, with local landowners, to focus on preserving the paleochannel aquifer that fed Cannon AFB wells.

    Through this partnership, it was determined that a long-term easement of water rights in the land above the aquifer channel would provide the best option for water security in the future.

    With 93% of water usage in the region being accounted for by pivot irrigation, aquifer depletion and water scarcity is something much of rural New Mexico and surrounding states are affected by.

    By 2022, the REPI project had grown to be one of the largest in the DoD, covering 21,000 acres of land northwest of Cannon as eight local farmers voluntarily joined this effort. The integration program currently leases 80% of the appraised groundwater from local, partnering farmers above the channel -- working to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. These short-term, three-year water right lease agreements provide the essential first step for securing the remaining groundwater. Long-term conservation easements aim to extend the water supply well into the future. The DOD, United States Air Force, USDA, State of New Mexico, Curry County, and City of Clovis have jointly funded the initial REPI project at a value of almost $18 million.

    Since initiation in March 2022, the decline in some well sites surrounding Cannon AFB has slowed from 2 feet per year to less than 8 inches per year. As additional farmers enter the program, the water levels will continue to stabilize, and the new designation will advance efforts to enhance water resilience.

    The Sentinel Landscape designation expands the 21,000 acres of land that is part of the REPI project to 2.44 million acres, an acreage amount that is 800% more than the previous largest Sentinel Landscape-designated area. Not only does this expand the area to more willing landowners and land managers to advance sustainable land use practices, but the designation also affords a more diverse funding source to protect vital water resources in the 2.44-million-acre area.

    With improved recognition at the local, state, and national levels – Cannon and MAFR will continue to cultivate partnerships that are essential to achieving water security, climate resilience, and compatible land use to sustain critical military mission capabilities. While conserving natural resources, we will continue to train to be ready for tomorrow, and importantly -- maintain the working and rural character of the designated area.

    The REPI project advanced the community-centered approach to water security, and today with the announcement of the Sentinel Landscape designation there are 29 federal, state, regional, and local partners, led by Dr. Ladona Clayton, Executive Director of the Ogallala Land & Water Conservancy.

    “This is about collective action,” said Clayton, “this is about collaboration. This is about community partnerships in their finest hour, where so many different partners have come to the forefront with their expertise, with their experiences, with their all-out gut-wrenching grit to get this work done. As we work together, these partnerships drive essential actions enabling all stakeholders to thrive.”

    The goals of the Eastern New Mexico Landscape are:
    1. Sustain installation and community resilience by mitigating the impacts of intensive agriculture, climate change, and declining water supply.
    2. Enhance climate-resilience and wildlife habitats by boosting groundwater recharge, promoting grasslands, and restoring playas.
    3. Promote agricultural vibrance by protecting working lands, supporting local viability, and advancing innovation for sustainable farming.
    4. Empower area stakeholders through comprehensive education, training, and capacity building.

    From Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 through FY 2022, projects across sentinel landscapes have attracted nearly $335 million in USDA funds, $233 million in DOD funds, $92 million in DOI funds, $341 million in state funds, $26 million in local funds, and $142 million in private funds. These contributions have permanently protected 677,100 acres of land through FY 2022 and enrolled over 4.4 million acres of land in financial and technical assistance programs in FY 2022 alone.

    “To our community partners, thank you for holding the line -- for all the work you put into the REPI program, and for aiming high, and ensuring that Eastern New Mexico, Cannon, and its surrounding 2.4 million acres of land would be designated a Sentinel Landscape," said U.S. Air Force Col. Jeremy Bergin, commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing.

    “Through this, you have secured the future for military training and readiness in the area…to ensure we are ready for whatever our Nation needs from us. Your steadfast commitment to Cannon AFB and our Nation’s security does not go unnoticed, and we look forward to the future of the Eastern New Mexico’s Sentinel Landscape and the good this milestone will bring to our entire community.”

    As of May 2024, there are eighteen designated sentinel landscapes. More information on each sentinel landscape can be found on their individual landscape webpages:



    Date Taken: 05.15.2024
    Date Posted: 05.15.2024 18:13
    Story ID: 471379

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