When Dick Kaler purchased his ranch in 2003 he was not aware of several environmental problems on the property. The ranch, located on the San Francisco River in Greeley County in the Upper Gila Watershed, had been used for livestock grazing for over 100 years. Primary grazing pastures were located along the San Francisco River. When it rained, runoff flowed across the pastures directly into the river carrying with it sediment and animal waste. To resolve the problem Kaler got an Environmental Quality Incentive program grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to level his fields to reduce runoff.
Another problem confronting Kaler were culverts, some large enough for a six-foot person to stand in upright, that drained a dirt road depositing the runoff onto his property. Although the culverts were installed to drain water to the river, they did not extend to the river’s edge; instead the culverts drained across the ranch’s livestock fields, washing soil and livestock waste into the river and breaking down river banks.
Kaler enlisted the support of the Gila Watershed Partnership to obtain various state grants, with the funds used to place the culverts underground and to extend them to drain directly into the river in areas where the banks are stable. With less sediment and cattle waste entering the river and greater bank stabilization, river conditions are improving. Improved water quality will ensure better habitat for the loach minnow, a threatened fish that lives in the river. Also the ranch will no longer be a major source of E. coli entering the river.
Since 1996 Nutrioso Creek in the White Mountains, which flows through the EC Bar Ranch, eventually reaching the Little Colorado River, has benefited from the management practices of ranch owner Jim Crosswhite. Originally homesteaded in 1882, the 400-acre ranch has a history of overgrazing. The riparian zone along the creek was non-functioning, and the turbid waters of the creek itself were officially classified as impaired by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
Over the past decade, Crosswhite has completed numerous government-recommended Best Management Practices. He fenced off the riparian area from cattle and elk during the growing season, seeded the banks with grass, and installed bank-stabilizing structures. He also drilled water wells and installed a more efficient irrigation system, which allowed him to divert less water from the creek to irrigate upland pasture. His actions significantly improved the riparian area through the ranch.
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