The Cerrillos Hills are representative of the piñon-juniper ecosystem, roughly from 4500' to 6500' [1400-2000 m.] in elevation. The widely spaced, mixed stands of piñon and juniper give this belt or life zone a distinctive individuality entirely different from that of any other place. It is often referred to as the Pygmy Forest.
Grassland is the dominant vegetative type along with piñon, juniper, and occasional mountain mahogany. In the arroyo bottoms a shrub community of rabbit bush (chamisa), Gambel oak, wavyleaf oak, New Mexico olive, Apache plume, four-wing saltbush, wafer ash, and introduced Russian olive and salt cedar occur.
Cacti are represented by prickly pear, candelabra cholla and dagger cholla, and the green-flowered torch cactus. Our yuccas are the Banana yucca, the Narrowleaf yucca, and the Soaptree yucca.
Several significant permanent springs occur in the Cerrillos Hills which are focal points for a wealth of diverse plants and animals including some small valley cottonwoods and willows. As nearly all of these springs had been degraded by modern grazing and land use practices, protection and restoration of riparian areas are critical to maintaining the ecological integrity of the area.
The area supports a diverse population of wildlife. Vertebrate animals inhabiting the Cerrillos Hills are those one might expect in hilly grassland and woodland in central New Mexico: At least twenty-five species of wild mammals (including bobcats, porcupine, coyote and mule deer), four species of bats, numerous rodents, reptiles and amphibians, as well as innumerable invertebrates. More than thirty species of birds have been identified including great horned owls and golden eagles.
While the systematic inventory of the area is not yet complete, it is likely that the abandoned mines and natural habitats of the Cerrillos Hills are home to avian species and bats. For bats, ten species of concern that are tracked by the Natural Heritage New Mexico Program are know to occur in Santa Fe County and all have the potential to exist in this area. In general, bat populations are declining because they are highly sensitive to habitat disturbances. Protection of the hills provides an important refuge for their future protection and study. In a natural area this large, it is also possible that a systematic biological survey would reveal additional rare, threatened or endangered species.
EMNRD endeavors to manage and preserve County, Bureau of Land Management, and State Trust Lands under a partnership arrangement that connects critical resources and habitats and protect riparian areas and springs for wildlife access. This four thousand acre undeveloped area will also provide some relief for the county recharge/watershed resources, which will in turn sustain populations of both people and wildlife, and we are preserving the viewshed of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, with its scenic vistas and unique geological features such as the colorful sandstone Galisteo Formation out-croppings in the Garden of the Gods.