Turning ranch into public asset benefits wildlife

[Source: Opinions, AZ Republic]

A historic ranch, sitting in the middle of the Agua Fria National Monument, is about to be protected.

The 199-acre private inholding has rich riparian habitat and a collection of buildings that includes bunkhouses, two houses and a barn. With easy access to the Valley, right along Interstate 17, the site has enormous potential for education and outdoor recreation.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission stepped in to put this quintessentially Western site into public stewardship. In October, it approved the acquisition of Horseshoe Ranch with money from the Heritage Fund and other sources. A staff member will live on site, providing a much-needed layer of security for a place that’s so close to a major metropolitan area. The monument has petroglyphs and archaeological sites that need the extra oversight.

This is a winning move from many angles. Acquiring the ranch ensures easy public access to the national monument, which might otherwise be limited.

Wildlife benefits from keeping this vast landscape intact, avoiding fragmentation from development. The monument and ranch are home to animals that range from a large herd of pronghorn to javelinas and mountain lions. Endangered species there include the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Game and Fish will work with other agencies to restore grasslands and manage the critical Agua Fria watershed.

The public can enjoy the opportunities for hunting, fishing, exploring, viewing wildlife and bird watching. The Agua Fria was designated as an “important bird area” by the National Audubon Society.

It took a lot of partners to put this $3.3 million deal together. The owner had bought the land with the goal of a federal land exchange. When that didn’t work out, the Trust for Public Land helped carry the property.

No tax dollars from the state general fund are going toward the purchase, which will be paid through the Lottery-supported Heritage Fund (which has a dedicated land-acquisition fund) and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant. The ranch’s 68,000-acre grazing rights are being bought with help from the Arizona Antelope Foundation ($185,000) and the National Wild Turkey Federation ($1,000), using money raised from raffling special big-game tags.

The partnerships will continue to support the management of the ranch. A few strings remained to be tied, including a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Agua Fria National Monument.

Then this unique property will belong to all Arizonans from now on.

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