Spanning more than 360 square miles the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge has been a beautiful location for outdoor lovers in New Mexico both local and visiting since the land was established as a refuge in 1973 by the Campbell Family Foundation. Melanie Dabovich is the administrative officer for the area and welcomed El Defensor Chieftain in at the refuge’s visitor center just off of Interstate-25.
Question: How long have you been with this organization.
Answer: Around three years. I love the outdoors. Anything I can do to support the animals other than people I’m all for it (laughs).
Q: What is taking place at this point of the year for the area?
A: A lot. Right now we’re ramping up our tours and people can see a lot of birds are coming in which involves plenty of bird feeding and watching. Really exciting stuff as the temperature warms up.
Q: Roughly how many species of animals do you have in the area?
A: Counting birds I would guess over a hundred easy.
Q: How large is the staff here at the visitors center?
A: Six mighty people along with amazing local volunteers. We could not do this without our volunteers because we are such a small core group and to cover 272 thousand acres would not be possible without them.
Q: What does your facility offer to newcomers?
A: Our main goal is to get people familiar with the area and the desert. A lot of people think of desert and think that it’s going to look like Egypt. But it’s a high desert so we support a lot of vegetation and different types of geographies. Plus we also host UNM as they do a lot of research here at various sites.
Q: Is there a particular spot here at the refuge that is your favorite?
A: I really love the area around the Visitors Center. You can see the beauty you want to see. There is quail out every morning, snakes greeting us. I get my fix here at the Visitors Center because it’s just beautiful.
Q: What is it that you show visitors when weather conditions are not ideal?
A: We have a wonderful interactive visitors center here. People can watch for example a movie about the history of Sevilleta and can see examples of the wildlife. There are also several examples of stuffed animals they can view and learn about.
Q: Have you had any issues with the wildlife interacting with visitors of the area?
A: Not really. We ask that people not pick anything up. If you see something just take a picture of it, a snake for example, but don’t try to touch it. Just experience the animals in their natural habit.
Q: Is there a particular breed or animal that you enjoy most in the area?
A: I’ve been a life long lover of prairie dogs. When I grew up they were mainly used as target practice as I lived in a ranching community. But my mother would take us out to feed the prairie dogs and that is when I got to see how involved their society is and that they don’t mean any harm. And so some of the prairie dog relocation that we do here in Sevilleta is just amazing.
Q: What part of the world do most visitors come to Sevilleta from?
A: It’s all over the map. We have people from other countries to people from around the state. We have visitors whom have been here five or six times to random ones that stop in because they saw our sign off I-25. There really is not a typical visitor which is nice.
Q: A few random questions about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
A: I was born in Raton, the mountainous area of New Mexico. After getting tired of the cold weather and shoveling snow I moved down to Las Cruces, the opposite side of the state, to attend NM State. Then I moved to Albuquerque as it was a nice medium between the two sides of New Mexico.
Q: Did you major in some form of wildlife preservation studies?
A: No, I majored in journalism. Definitely different from what I’m doing now. But the nice thing is that I am a perpetual learner and even when I have to learn new things I love it. Being here I had to learn about the geology, climate, animals in the region. You have to be able to speak with authenticity when visitors come in. It was like getting another degree without having to get another degree.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Probably ‘The Godfather’. I love the development of characters and the scene setting involved. The way that they play with peoples emotions between family and the larger schemes of how it all works. I like the loyalty minus the level of killing somebody of course.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: ‘Huckleberry Finn’ because my favorite author is Mark Twain. Really beautiful characters. I feel like Mark Twain truly brushed the page with his stories that gave you a feeling of what they were experiencing in a place like the south.
Q: What is your favorite type of music or band?
A: I listen to it all but I would have to say rap because it’s the journalism of the streets. 2Pac was my favorite because he did the best job of telling stories from the level of the streets.
Q: If you could live anywhere else in the world where would it be?
A: Hawaii. It’s beautiful and at sea level. I’m definitely drawn to tropical. It was so beautiful when I went years ago. And it’s amazing the number of Albuquerqueans that live in Hawaii as well.
Q: If there was something that you could change about Socorro County, what would it be?
A: An improvement on healthcare. I know a lot of people that travel up to Albuquerque for proper treatment and basic services. Having grown up in a rural community myself that issue is very important to me. We don’t need to have centralized health care and to have everyone's needs met in the smaller towns.
If you and your family are looking to explore different areas of New Mexico this summer the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent choice. If you have questions ask for Melanie on what works best for you.