Policies and Contexts: a Statement

In the late l880s cattle grazing in the upper Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts during a severe, extended drought led to serious degradation of rangelands in southeastern Arizona. Today scientific and political debate continues about how much to graze, how to regulate grazing on desert grasslands, or whether grazing is compatible at all with desert environments. Those of us working under current laws see wide agreement on the following proposition: ecologically sustainable grazing of desert environments requires careful control of numbers and movement of cattle. Grazing should be regularly monitored, and limited both in times of severe drought and for purposes of rotation recovery. The practice of limiting access of cattle to riparian areas has gained wide scientific support. Commitment to long-term sustainability and to maintaining the richness and diversity of both native vegetation and wildlife is central to the Saguaro Juniper covenant. Also important is our wish to integrate a "human presence" upon the land we steward. Our responsibility is to develop strategies of cattle management which complement both objectives.

In our experience this is not a simple task. When the Saguaro Juniper Corporation first bought riparian bottomlands and acquired grazing leases in the vicinity of Cascabel, Arizona in 1988-90, it faced a number of serious challenges concerning both control of cattle location and in particular control of their access to and use of our riparian areas -- including some precious perennial springs on the edges of the ranch and in the riparian corridor of Hot Springs Canyon with its perennial stream. Except for the boundary fence (which also needed repair in some areas) almost no other fences existed on these lands, which for years had functioned as a single open range pasture. Open access had allowed Hot Springs Canyon to be used frequently by off-road vehicles (ORVs), a use which promoted formation of channels in floodplain terraces. Some ORVs drove directly up the flowing stream well into The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Muleshoe Preserve. On one boundary of the ranch a completely new fence had to be constructed, while other boundary fences needed to be repaired or rebuilt. (See Fencing for better grazing control for further details.)

Like many arid land riparian systems, Hot Springs Canyon is flood adapted, but we have much to learn about how such lands respond to cycles of flood and recovery. After a series of very destructive floods in 1983, 1991, and 1993, the Hot Springs Canyon channel in our area had become greatly widened, appearing as a gravel bed scoured of vegetation. In Sections 6 and 7 of our holdings, several acres of mesquite-bosque secondary and tertiary alluvial terraces washed downstream in the 1993 flood. However, with improved watershed management on the Muleshoe Preserve upstream, we hoped that a healthy recovery cycle of re-vegetation and alluvial deposit would begin, and we wanted to ensure that our grazing management choices supported those recovery processes. (See, for example, HSC photostation #09 for some evidence of streambed recovery since 1988.)

In more central locations on the uplands, earthen water tanks built more than 40 years ago were largely defunct when we acquired the grazing leases, and other sources of water such as spring- or well-fed drinkers were unavailable. Improving these waters would allow us to manage grazing so that much less grazing pressure would be placed on Hot Springs Canyon and our other riparian areas. (See More dispersed water supplies for further details.)

We had the good fortune to enter the scene at a time when the Muleshoe Ecosystem Management Plan was emerging through the efforts of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, and The Nature Conservancy, in cooperation with both private landowners and state agencies. The plan, completed in 1998, will have a major impact on the Hot Springs Canyon watershed upstream from Saguaro Juniper, and reinforces our efforts downstream. It aims to sustain and enhance the natural ecosystem, including both riparian and aquatic zones and the transitional grasslands and shrub/grasslands of the uplands, in such a way as to provide high quality wildlife habitat. It also includes a variety of livestock-management projects, including provision of fencing systems to facilitate rotational grazing, construction of livestock-exclusionary fencing for riparian areas, and prescribed burns to foster recovery of grasslands. The plan recognizes the destructive effects of off-road vehicle use in riparian areas, and specifically includes the closing of the riparian corridor of Hot Springs Canyon to motor vehicle use as part of the plan.

Saguaro Juniper participated in the development of the Muleshoe Ecosystem Plan, and we have worked toward implementing it in our area, within the rather stringent limits of our own financial and human resources. With the assistance of the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and advice and assistance from the staff of our local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office (in installing range improvements, installing a monitoring system, and advising on general range management questions and issues), we have made great progress in the past decade toward meeting our goal of developing a sustainable grazing process which will not just maintain but, hopefully, will enhance the best natural qualities of our lands.

On the following pages of this web site can be found outlines and illustrations of a series of activities we have pursued which serve these long-term aims (and those of the Muleshoe Ecosystem Management Plan) for the Saguaro Juniper ranch. Proceed to the following links:

Developing a monitoring system for grazing and its effects on the land

Work in Hot Springs Canyon

Changes in Sierra Blanca Canyon

Fencing for better grazing control

Providing more dispersed water supplies for cows and wildlife

Increasing rainfall infiltration in the uplands

Some Saguaro-Juniper domestic animals

Conservation Ranching: articles and links

Hot Springs Canyon: 4 Longitudinal Sets of Photo Comparisons


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