David Henderson was twice hanged in effigy by ranchers who opposed his support for Mexican gray wolf reintroduction in the southwest. Yet this bushy mustached man, who loved the outdoors and Hawaiian shirts, surely had more friends than enemies. For more than a decade, Henderson served as state director for Audubon New Mexico and also headed Santa Fe’s Randall Davey Audubon Center for 22 years. The environmental champion for New Mexico’s wildlife and wild lands recently passed away at the age of 60.
Henderson was a natural facilitator when Audubon state offices were becoming established, says Chris Canfield, Audubon’s vice president for the Gulf and Mississippi Flyway, who met Henderson early in his career. “The second I saw him I knew he was someone I wanted to hang out with,” he says. “In those early pioneer days, levity was necessary, and he always brought that.”
During his Audubon tenure, Henderson was a vocal advocate for Mexican gray wolf reintroduction, despite enmity from ranchers. But Henderson’s vision of restoring these desert predators prevailed, and he witnessed the release of the first Mexican gray wolf into the wild in 1998.
For Henderson, conservation was more than just saving species and preserving land—it was about inspiring a love of the outdoors in others. He focused many of his efforts on the Randall Davey Audubon Center’s education program for children with his characteristic determination. “He had a particular knack for being able to communicate with children,” says friend and Santa Fe engineer Bill Miller.
Starting with simple field trips to the center, the curriculum has since expanded into statewide programs and camps designed to teach children about native birds and wildlife. “It was all about making sure New Mexicans know their own backyard, and the complexity and fragility and beauty of it,” says former Audubon colleague Anne Beckett.
Henderson’s dedication to the environment was not limited to his work with Audubon. He served on the board of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and was a state game commissioner.
Henderson was generous with both his time and his good humor. “He was one of the few people I know who could tell you where every donut shop in northern New Mexico was located,” says Miller. “Like the famed Cheshire cat of Alice and Wonderland, David Henderson’s mustached smile and twinkling eyes seemed to arrive in a room before the rest of him,” Canfield wrote in a tribute.
Henderson died of melanoma on August 4, in the company of his family, friends, and dogs. A memorial service was held on September 3 at the Randall Davey Audubon Center, where an education endowment will help fund the continuation of Henderson’s conservation legacy.
“I’m confident that David has touched many lives over the years,” says Canfield, “and there is a legacy and memory of his work and person that will live on.”