BY ROBERT LUCAS
THE PIONEER .
The northern Arizona range is dry and very brown for this time of year. This past winter, reports SRP management, probably ranks with "the driest one-third historically, and con-firms to continuation of the 12-year drought." That's tough on ecosystems, tough on cattle and tough on the livelihoods of ranching families.
Fortunately, Arizona ranchers are proving resilient, imaginative and innovative..
Several northland families have turned to conservation ranching, maintaining family homesteads as sustain-able environments. Building upon the soil conservation efforts of decades past, these scientific ranchers are using state of the art technology to return a healthy green to ranges stressed by drought. In the face of soaring land prices and demand for subdivisions, a big threat to the ranching lifestyle according to one St. Johns cattle grower, family spreads are finding room for compact "green" development.
Now, with fuel costs sky high, cattle ranchers are seeing green in ambitious wind farms and biomass electric plants.
Jim Crosswhite. owner of the EC Bar Ranch in Nutrioso. adopted a conservation plan in 1997 that uses Best Management Practices to graze cattle along Nutrioso Creek, all the while restoring the deteriorated riparian area. Providing more than $2 million in matching funding out of his own pocket, he obtained state and federal water quality grants for years of work along the stream bank as a result, that section of Nutrioso Creek is the first waterway in Arizona to achieve the legal definition of "restored." In addition, the Crosswhite ranch is the first private land used for the relocation of an endangered fish species, the Little Colorado spinedace. At the same time, Crosswhite claims a 1200% increase in forage production and "livestock productive capacity on 400 acres greater than a 30,000 acre BLM grazing allotment."
One of the biggest examples of conservation ranching, and the most ambitious in north-eastern Arizona, is the NZ Legacy ranch managed by New Mexico and Arizona Land Company. The diversified company is a legacy of the historic Aztec Land and Cattle Company, the famed "hash knife outfit" originally based near Holbrook, that fattened Texas-bred beef on hundreds of square miles of Atlantic & Pacific Railroad land grant sections.
A number of companies are bundled under the NZ umbrella to market not only beef cattle, but a guest lodge, home sites, mineral resources and solar and windpower farms. The NZ subsidiary Snowflake White Mountain Power, LLC, is currently building a 24-mega-watt biomass-fueled electric generating plant at the Abitibi paper mill. The idea is to add Rodeo-Chediski . As salvage to waste from the paper mill, burned to provide power for Salt River Project customers in the valley.
Farther west, two long-time ranching families have joined to form the Diablo Trust. The Prosser family's Bar T Bar Ranch is based in Winslow, but operates along the Little Colorado River from Hunt near Concho to a huge block of alternate sections around Meteor Crater, stretching from I-40 south to the Coconino National Forest. Across Canyon Diablo to the west, the Metzger family has worked the Flying M Ranch for decades. Both ranches also have grazing allotments on the ' forest to the south.
The two families are using federal and state grants to restore grassland on the National Forest, clear juniper from state land, create wild-life corridors and monitor the health of the range. Recently, Bar T Bar joined with the Hopi tribe, another big landowner in the area, to develop the 60-megawatt Sunshine Wind Park west of Winslow. Coconino County gave permits for the project, and the backers have asked Arizona Public Service 1 to buy the power generated. Working with Foresight Energy, the Flying M Ranch is now installing wind-measuring instruments to support the feasibility of placing turbines on its land.
The Diablo Trust works closely with the Forest Service and Northern Arizona University to accommodate scientists. The relationship is bearing fruit. Researchers from NAU and Prescott College, working on Diablo Trust ranch land published a paper earlier this year on the "Impact of Grazing Intensity During Drought..." that found low levels of grazing by cattle to benefit plant species during an extended drought. Cattle tend to spread native plants, the researchers found, keeping "exotic species" at bay. Only when grazing reaches a level of "high impact" do negative effects appear, "a decline in perennial forb cover and an increase in annual plants."
In 2003, the Metzger and Prosser families persuaded Coconino County supervisors td establish Diablo Canyon Rural Planning Area, believed to be the first of its kind in Arizona. State law allows landowners in rural counties to petition super-visors to create a Planning Area so the landowners are involved in land use planning and, writing rural zoning ordinances. The next year, Diablo Trust met with Coconino County Development Director Bill Towler to discuss construction of low impact housing subdivisions on ranch land. Towler suggested following a model used in Colorado, "where ranchers are encouraged to create smaller parcels than allowed by zoning with protection of a large percentage of the land as open space." Subdivisions have not yet materialized on Diablo Trust land, but some profit is being harvested from the housing boom.
Many lawns in front of Arizona homes are created with turf grass or rolled sod actually grown in Arizona, at the Bar T Bar along Highway 180 in Hunt valley north of Concho. Established in 1984, it claims to be Arizona's oldest and largest turf farm. It's just another example of ranchers growing what the markets demands, be it green Dower or green grass.
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