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Arizona Ranch Owner Protects Grasslands and Wildlife Habitat Through a Conservation Easement

July 20, 2017.
New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC), a statewide land trust operating in both New Mexico and southeast Arizona, announced today that 6,043 acres were protected on the Cienega Ranch in southern Arizona, through the purchase of a conservation easement by ranch owner Josiah Austin, using funds from the National Resources Conservation Services’ (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This success was the result of a collaboration between Mr. Austin, the Trust for Public Land, NRCS, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, and NMLC who will be holding the conservation easement.

Cienega Ranch lies on the Southern Sulphur Springs Valley just northwest of the Chiricahua Mountains—the largest of the “Sky Island” mountain ranges in the U.S. The ranch is also next to the Dos Cabezas Mountains, where a new jaguar was photographed last November by a BLM remote trail camera.  The protected land is immediately adjacent to important federal lands: Fort Bowie National Historic Site owned by the National Park Service, and the Bowie Mountain Scenic Area of Critical Environmental Concerned owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
 
“Once you have seen this incredible landscape, you know why it’s important to help ranchers like Josiah Austin to protect and restore it,” said Michael Patrick, Arizona project manager for The Trust for Public Land.

“Working on wildlife and ranchland conservation in southeast Arizona was a logical extension of the work we had already been doing for years in southwest New Mexico,” said Scott Wilber, Executive Director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy.  “We have successfully partnered with The Trust for Public Land and NRCS on other projects and were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them again on this exciting land conservation project along the west flank of the Chiricahuas.”

The easement protects high-quality grasslands and critical wildlife habitat while keeping the land as a working cattle ranch for Mr. Austin, who is committed to long-term land protection and restoration efforts. 
Ron Troy, NMLC’s Southern New Mexico Project Manager, who worked closely with the landowner, NRCS and TPL, added “Mr. Austin is not only a good cattle ranch operator, but he takes great pride in conserving the rich biodiversity that exists on the ranch. Mr. Austin has contributed a great deal of his own personal time and financial resources in this effort to help ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy this ranch’s biodiversity, open space, and agricultural products produced here at home.”

The landowner intends to reinvest the funds from the sale of the conservation easement in additional land protection and restoration efforts. Part of the proceeds are being used to acquire eight 40-acre “ranchette” lots that were previously subdivided and are adjacent to the ranch and a 360-acre property located less than a mile from Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Mr. Austin is also working on multiple land restoration and wildlife projects across the ranch, including a project with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on efforts to restore the watershed and bring back cienegas and wetlands in Cienega Canyon.

“This whole valley contains some spectacular grassland that is home for birds, bats, jaguar, deer and, of course, cattle”, says Mr. Austin. “I hope people understand that keeping land like this in ranching is one of the best options for our society to keep those open spaces and protect the wildlife that rely on this country. It’s really important to me that Cienega Ranch stays wild and undeveloped in the future, and I am happy to have placed this conservation easement on the land. I would like to thank all the amazing partners that have helped me over the years with projects to restore these grasslands, help with wildlife projects, and now permanently protect the ranch.”

Mr. Austin has been working to conserve and restore land in this valley for decades. On the nearby El Coronado Ranch in Turkey Creek Canyon of the Chiricahua Mountains, the successful techniques developed by Mr. Austin and Anna Valer Clark to reduce erosion and restore the vegetation, soils and creek – through the building of gabions and tricheras across the landscape—are being replicated elsewhere in southeast Arizona as a model for restoration of lands in the arid Southwest.  His prior work with government partners and organizations like University of Arizona and National Wild Turkey Federation has also included the reintroduction of the Gould’s turkey to the Chiricahua Mountains and the protection on the El Coronado Ranch of several federally-listed fish.

On another large grassland ranch, the 14,000-acre Bar Boot Ranch located between the Chiricahua Mountains and the Swisshelm Mountains, Mr. Austin had previously sold a conservation easement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an addition to the nearby Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge. He has also been involved in scientific research on these ranches and providing environmental education initiatives for youth. 
“Cienega Ranch, at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains in my district, boasts significant native grassland—one of Arizona’s most valuable natural resources,” said Congresswoman McSally, R-AZ2. That’s why I have called to strengthen its conservation and worked to secure funding to protect it. I appreciate the support of NRCS through its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The protection of these 6,043 acres is an important win for Arizona.”

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New Mexico Land Conservancy is a statewide, non-profit land trust dedicated to preserving New Mexico’s land heritage by protecting working farms and ranches, significant grasslands and wildlife habitat, scenic open space, cultural and historic resources, and recreational lands. To date, NMLC holds 78 easements and has helped conserved 160,000 acres of high conservation value land throughout the state. NMLC is headquartered in Santa Fe and has a Southern Project Manager, Ron Troy, onsite in Silver City, NM.

The Trust for Public Land’s mission is to create parks and protect land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To share your story or learn more, visit www.tpl.org.

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