On November 22, 2000, Congress authorized the establishment of the Baca National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) located in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Authorization for establishment of the Refuge was included in Public Law 106-530 under Section 6 of the Act entitled, "The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000." In addition to the Refuge, the Act authorized the Federal acquisition of lands adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

In approving The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, Congress determined that the lands to be acquired under the Act offered unique hydrological, educational, wildlife, recreational, and other diverse resources deserving of preservation for the enjoyment of future generations. Total estimated acreage of lands included in the Act is approximately 203,632 acres.

Baca NWR consists of approximately 92,500 acres of wetlands, sagebrush, and riparian lands in Saguache and Alamosa Counties. Other features included within the Refuge are sand dunes, forested areas, and several thousand acres of ditch-serviced, irrigated hay meadows.

Establishment of the Baca NWR occurred in 2003 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the transfer of about 3,300 acres in Saugache County from the Bureau of Reclamation. Another 97,036 acres of land known as the Baca Grande (formerly Baca Location #4), were bought by The Nature Conservancy from the Cabeza de Baca Land & Cattle Co., LLC, a Colorado limited liability company.

Approximately 53,500 acres of the Baca Ranch land bought by the Nature Conservancy will, upon payment of Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF), be conveyed to the United States as part of the refuge. Of the remaining 36,000 acres needed to fill out the Refuge, 20,000 acres are owned by the State of Colorado and approximately 16,000 acres is privately-owned.

The Refuge boundary abuts lands owned and/or controlled by other conservation entities including The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Colorado Board of Land Commissioners (school land). These neighboring landowners, along with the Fish & Wildlife Service interests located in the San Luis Valley, will represent the largest and most diverse assemblage of wetlands in the State of Colorado.

The Baca Ranch

The 97,036-acre Baca Ranch is located in the San Luis Valley, which has historically been dominated by ranching, farming, timber extraction, and mining. Farming, ranching, and logging still persist in the valley, but more and more lands are being taken out of agricultural production and are being developed for rural recreation and residential home sites. The Baca Ranch comprises the majority of the former 100,000-acre Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca Land Grant No.4. The ranch has a carrying capacity of about 2,500 cow-calf pairs.

Approximately 20,000 acres of the ranch are irrigated acres having either natural, reliable water sources or are ditch-serviced or are periodically sub-irrigated by limited water supplied by ditch seepage or from the temporary flooding of natural channels and naturally high water tables.

As of 2009, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge is still closed to the public. Lexam Explorations (USA) Inc. owns the mineral rights under the Baca NWR and has given notice of its intent to drill 2 exploratory wells on the property. The Fish & Wildlife Service prepared an environmental impact assessment in regards to the proposed drilling and concluded that they were able to implement standards and environmental protective measures sufficient to protect the surface estate from any significant damage. As there is little belief that Lexam will find any commercially viable amounts of natural gas under the property and with the present (2009) drop in the price of natural gas, the proposed drilling may not take place for several years, if ever.