Nancy’s Life Work

Rio Grande Land Management

Our Mission

To conserve our land, water, and way of life in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Founded in 1999 to help secure water for the future, the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is the only local land trust that serves the entire San Luis Valley. As the community’s land trust, RiGHT is committed to working with private landowners, public agencies, and other conservation organizations to preserve the natural beauty and wildlife habitat of the area and to promote a sustainable agricultural way of life. Our goals are to protect and support working ranches and farms, water resources, wildlife habitat, and scenic landscapes while inspiring a culture of conservation in the San Luis Valley.

Nancy’s Legacy in Statistics

Nancy Butler worked for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) from 2002-2019, starting 3 years after its founding in 1999. For the majority of those years Nancy worked as the Executive Director of the organization, guiding RiGHT through years of growth and prosperity with her dedication, intelligence, and amicable leadership. Under Nancy’s leadership RiGHT grew to be a trusted partner in conservation and achieve its Rio Grande Initiative goal of protecting 25,000 acres along the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

  • 38 conservation easements were facilitated (from 3 in 2002 to 41 in 2018)
  • 25,700 acres of land became protected by RiGHT’s conservation easements
  • 27,000 acres of land became protected by the Rio Grande Initiative by RiGHT
  • 40 miles of river became protected by RiGHT and its partners
  • 34 families were helped through RiGHT’s conservation easements
  • RiGHT grew from .5 employees in 2002 to 4.5 in 2018
  • Garnered roughly $40million in conservation projects


Reyes Garcia
Community Member
Nancy was a fountain of energy radiating waves of healing practices that effectively protected the lands and waters of her adopted homeland here in the San Luis valley. She was a faithful daughter of our sacred earth and as such, she herself was a holy woman.
Margy Robertson
Community Member
[Nancy’s] been my mentor, my rock, easily made me a real believer in permanent land conservation. Her A+ negotiating skills have been so successful in creating many easements, all of which benefit landowners and future generations here in slv…
Allen Law
Executive Director, RiGHT
Nancy… here in the desert more of the biggest and most beautiful plants usually crowd out everything else. Not you. Your positive and totally selfless vision of conservation along the Rio Grande has brought together an amazing, and amazingly diverse, community.” -
Pere, Leah, and Wyatt Clark
Clarke Ranch, Community Members
Dear Nancy… you have been the heart and soul of this organization for many years and you can look back with pride on your many accomplishments. We greatly admire your tenacity and ability to overcome adversity. You have seemingly ignored significant health issues and gone on to achieve more for natural resource conservation than just about anyone I can think of. You are not only a model for people wanting to succeed in the business of conservation, but you are a true role model for people who must deal with difficult issues… I know that without people like you and without organizations like RiGHT we would quickly lose what remains of our heritage and it would be impossible for people like us to enjoy the lifestyle we have.”
Rick and Lugail Davie
Community Members
Nancy reminds me of a winning bull rider. She rides most of the bulls she gets on, but even the best get tossed off now and then. No matter the angle of the fall she gets up, dusts herself off, looks up with a big smile on her face and gets ready to ride again! One of the toughest and most pleasant people I know.
Steve Russell

I have been impressed with [Nancy’s] knowledgeable ability to navigate dealing with public entities like NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), USFWS ( US Fish and Wildlife Service), USFS (United States Forest Service), and others as well as the highly varied landowner base. Some of the clientele were local seasoned farmers and ranchers, while others were new to the area or had an urban background. Somehow she was able to mesh these different interests together… In all modesty I can say that while we have an excellent board, there is no doubt in my mind that Nancy is the primary reason that the land trust has expanded to the point it is today and why it has the reputation that it does. For many years, she has been the face of the land trust… She was doing all of this while dealing with increasingly severe health issues… There is no one in our community that I admire more” -

Pete and Lindsey Leavell
Community Members
Dear Nancy, we can’t imagine what the conservation community would have looked like without all your years of leadership and visions. We send you our heartfelt thanks for all your heard work and guiding our family and the 4UR Ranch through our easement.
Jenny Nehring
Community Member
Dear Nancy… Your contributions to conservation in the slv are beyond admirable… if there was a ‘hall of fame’ for conservation, you’d be a shoo-in!
Rio de la Vista Community Member
Nancy Butler’s living legacy is a visible one: all across the San Luis Valley, along the rivers, in the working ranches, in the wetlands teeming with life, and in the water that flows through the Rio Grande, the Conejos, and many tributaries. Her memory and years of trusted leadership in conservation is a blessing to all who knew and loved her and a lasting gift to future generations.
Cary Aloia
Community Member

Dear Nancy... I have to say thank you for many things. Mostly things you probably don’t even know or realize. As I’ve gone from grad student to professional here in the slv you have always been someone who has inspired me to be better, not only in work but as a human being. Your unswerving optimism, passion, and caring for others in work and life have been a constant reminder for me to live each day to the fullest and not sweat the small stuff. Thank you for all of your help, your guidance through your professionalism, and all you have done for conservation in the slv. Your accomplishments are a testament to your hard work and will be something that generations to come will be grateful for and appreciate.

BrokenArrow Ranch and Land Co., Community Member
Girlfriend, your courage, grit and tenacity inspire this tough Colorado Cowboy who wishes he was half as strong. None of us, not a single one of us would be where we are without you. RiGHT would not be where it is without you. The San Luis valley of Colorado would not be where it is without you. Being from the San Luis valley I want to truly thank you for what you have done for us and for our valley.
Angie Krall
Former RiGHT Board Member and President, “current admirer and friend”, Community Member

My Sweet Nancy, how does one begin to express, mark, document, quantify the exquisite impact you have had in the realm of conservation globally, and the ripples of the long term efficacy specifically within the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust organization and the land trust community itself? Oh how!? … You have lived by it, breathed it and put your soul into the work. RiGHT is now a reflection [of] you in so many ways: solid yet fluid, respected and loved. It is truly your legacy. How many people can say they have contributed to such meaningful work for so long, tok do the work that feeds your soul? Not many, not many.

Christine Canaly
Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Thank you Nancy, for making the world a better place for humans and our myriad of species relatives in the upper Rio Grande.
Erik Glenn
Executive Director, CCALT (Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust) 
Nancy… Your work has had a profoundly positive impact on shaping the future of the San Luis valley. Generations of Coloradans will benefit from your vision, leadership, and dedication for making the valley more  sustainable. What an incredible legacy… p.s. Thank you for being a great role model for me in this work.
Nancy Fishbein, Heidi Sherk
Colorado Nature Conservancy
Nancy, you have been the heart and soul of RiGHT [Rio Grande HeadWaters Land Trust] for so many years. You built a land trust that will carry on long into the future, that is a testament to your incredible ability to connect with people and place and truly understand what a community needs.
Mary Russel
Member, Woman’s Citizenship Club in Alamosa
Dear Nancy, I am a member of the Woman’s Citizenship Club in Alamosa, an organization that is part of the General Foundation of Women’s Clubs that strives to make a difference in their communities by ‘living the volunteer spirit’... we recently decided to recognize and thank people in our community, who have made a difference, and would like to honor you as one of those people… I have observed your dedication and passion for the work you do as director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) for many years now. Through your leadership, the San Luis valley has seen the conservation of over 21,000 acres of working ranches and farms, water resources, wildlife habitat, and scenic landscapes. Landowners, board members, and the community have benefited from your vision ‘to preserve the natural beauty and wildlife habitat of the area and to promote a sustainable agricultural way of life’... those who [work with you] describe you as ‘ethical, passionate, open, and flexible and as someone who ‘thinks outside of the box... You helped create RiGHT as the immensely successful conservation program it is today. Our community is lucky to have had your leadership guiding it every step of the way.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

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