An illustration of wildlife and landscapes representing the Rio Grande River Valley

Salazar Center advances innovative conservation efforts in threatened Rio Grande River basin

By Emily Barbo and Griffin Moores

The Rio Grande River basin, known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico, supplies drinking water to more than 6 million people in the U.S. and Mexico, irrigates millions of acres of crops and contains some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in North America.

From lush riparian forests to expansive deserts and mountainous tundra, diverse landscapes provide habitat for more than 450 rare species of neotropical birds, mammals, and insects that migrate through the borderlands each year. Throughout the basin, the health of landscapes and communities are deeply intertwined, and the river is crucial to both.

However, the complex environmental system that sustains life in the region also faces direct threats from climate change, drought, and population growth.

Supporting solutions

Last year, the Salazar Center for North American Conservation launched the Peregrine Accelerator for Conservation Impact to help address complicated environmental challenges like those found in the basin. The program provides project teams with $10,000 in seed-funding to accelerate the pace and scale of their proposed conservation innovations, helping them improve ecological and human health.

For the inaugural cycle, the accelerator invited proposals for solutions focused on the Rio Grande River basin, which delineates more than half of the international border between the United States and Mexico, with approximately half the watershed in each country.

“[The proposals have] renewed and strengthened my hope and determination for a more resilient future”

– Breece Robertson, Proposal Evaluator and Director of Impact Assessment and Monitoring at One Tree Planted

Breece Robertson
Beth Conover
Beth Conover, director of the Salazar Center for North American Conservation

“The basin is a rich ecological, economic, and cultural landscape, but at the same time, the Rio Grande has seen a dearth of attention, resources, and philanthropic investment in comparison to the Colorado River,” explained Salazar Center director Beth Conover.

“These factors pose a unique set of challenges—but also opportunities—for new and different approaches to conservation,” Conover said.

After a competitive application process that received 28 eligible proposals, the Salazar Center, along with a diverse group of advisors and partners from across the US-Mexico border region, are proud to announce the first cohort of accelerator participants.

Building conservationists’ capacity

Images from across the Rio Grande River basin
Scenes from throughout the Rio Grande River basin, from the headwaters along Colorado's San Juan Mountains to Big Bend National Park in Texas and the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photos from the Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

In addition to the seed funding, the Peregrine Accelerator program will provide each of the project teams with tailored mentorship, training, and feedback over the course of six months in 2023.

At the conclusion of the program, each team will have developed an actionable implementation plan for its proposed innovation, and a final presentation event will offer participants the opportunity to receive one of several implementation grant awards provided by the Center as well as other funders with interest in the region.

Breece Robertson, director of impact assessment and monitoring for One Tree Planeted, served as one of the project evaluators, and was struck by how creative and forward-thinking the proposals were.

“I was thoroughly inspired by these organizations and their visions. They renewed and strengthened my hope and determination for a more resilient future,” Robertson said. “The Peregrine Accelerator is a much-needed initiative to spark ideas, build capacity and support knowledge sharing to increase the pace and scale of conservation and restoration.”

The program builds on the evolution of the Salazar Center’s two previous funding challenges, the Connectivity Challenge and the Thriving Cities Challenge, which together awarded more than $600,000 to support 16 different innovative conservation projects across North America in 2020 and 2021.

Funding for the accelerator has been provided by the VF Foundation, the Trinchera Blanca Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, founded by Louis Bacon; Gates Family Foundation; and the Kelley-Know Foundation.

Peregrine Accelerator Participants

Project Focus: Transboundary conservation through resilience in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo delta: developing a four-part Action Plan for success.

Overview: The team proposes developing a five-year Integrated Resilience Action Plan for South Texas and Northeastern Tamaulipas to identify integrated biodiversity and community resilience goals as well as joint research priorities, quantify impacts of reforestation efforts on ecosystem services within the region, establish formal transboundary information-sharing pathways between conservation partners, and identify sites where long-term restoration monitoring will be conducted on both sides of the river.

Learn more about American Forests

Project Focus: Addressing ecological and social challenges from the ground up: establishing community-based conservation at a landscape-scale to protect endangered bats and enhance local livelihoods

Overview: The team will implement community-based agave restoration and regenerative agriculture and ranching and create a network of community green business enterprises to support nectar bat foraging habitat and rural economies.

Learn more about Bat Conservation International

Project Focus: Capturing floods for farms with water banks in El Paso County, Texas

Overview: This project will build water banks with local El Paso County residents hardest hit by flooding and inadequate floodwater management to harvest and then sell the collected rainwater to local farms, ranches, and gardens at market price; thus, mitigating flood impacts while supporting local agriculture and the economy.

Learn more about the City of San Elizario Urban Agriculture Department

Project Focus: Community-river reconnection on the Rio Grande in Alamosa

Overview: The project team will plan and implement comprehensive river access, agricultural infrastructure improvements, and aquatic and riparian habitat restoration as part of a broader, long-term effort to protect and restore streams and rivers in the headwaters of the Rio Grande Basin.

Learn more about the Colorado Rio Grande Restoration Foundation

Project Focus: Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Refuge

Description: Hispanic Access is bringing Latino grassroots leadership to the forefront of a conservation effort to establish a wildlife refuge in Southeast Texas between the border wall and the Rio Grande. This refuge will protect wildlife and create access to greenspace and outdoor recreation for underrepresented community members.

Learn more about the Hispanic Access Foundation

Project Focus: Strengthening governance in the Rio Grande/Río Grande basin

Description: The proposed project will establish a binational working group with the Río Grande Joint Venture to promote collaboration and governance mechanisms in coordination with the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and the Comisión Internacional de Límites y Aguas (CILA) in order to improve the predictability and reliability of water deliveries from the Rio Grande to users in the United States and Mexico.

Learn more about Pronatura Noreste, A.C.

Project Focus: This project will make it possible to identify, characterize, and prioritize the recharge areas of the regional aquifer systems in Monterrey, Mexico in order to contribute to the planning of the use of groundwater and improve its sustainability, as well as design a payment mechanism for water services that allows the generation of additional financial resources for the management of sub-basins and priority recharge zones.

Learn about Terra Habitus A.C.

Project Focus: Going Regional: Amplifying Local-Scale Public and Private Conservation Efforts to Protect the Middle Rio Grande Ecosystem for Benefit of Citizens and Native Species

Description: The project will develop collaborative strategies in the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) with wildfire experts, riparian ecologists and scientists, and other MRG water stakeholders to reduce wildfire occurrence and severity, as well as post-fire revegetation designs that are climate-adapted and maximize native biodiversity.

Learn about the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District

To learn more, visit
Questions may be directed to Catie Boehmer.