White Mountain Independent

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Conservation increases livestock on Nutrioso ranch

Jo Baeza
The Independent

NUTRIOSO —- Ever since Jim Cross-white bought the EC Bar Ranch on Nutrioso Creek in 1996, he has been thinking in acronyms.

For the past four years he has dealt with such organizations as the ADEQ, EPA, NRCS, AWPF, EQIP, NWP, and ULCR which Crosswhite calls "Ulcer:"

"What we are trying to do here is demonstrate how the integration of conservation and sustainable agricultural practices can improve ranching economics and wildlife habitat while meeting public policy objectives."

That’s quite a mouthful, but what it boils down to is, he is trying to improve the economics of his ranch.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) list d a 27-mile section of Nutrioso Creek as an impaired water source" in 1993. One and one-half miles of that was on Crosswhite’s ranch.

Originally, the ranch had been farmed. Over time, Rabbitbrush took over the fallow pastures. One of the first things Crosswhite did in 1996 when he bought the ranch was to get a professional evaluation of the riparian area. The consultant concluded that the stream was unstable and severely impacted from grazing. With each storm erosion accelerated. The water retention and recharge of underground water were minimal, and the water quality was poor. There was work to be done.

Brian Sorenson of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) prepared a conservation plan for Crosswhite in 1997. The plan included: fencing off the riparian corridor; installing stream grade stabilization structures; dril1~ng off-channel water wells on both sides of the corridor; grazing in winter during the dormant season and improving rangeland by eliminating Rabbit-brush.

One of the first measures Crosswhite took was fencing off a 60-acre riparian corridor with five-wire fence, smooth wire on the bottom, electric wire on top, to discourage elk. He received funding of $6,750 from the Arizona State Land Department’s Stewardship Incentive program for the fence.

Once the corridor was fenced, Crosswhite had two wells drilled and drinkers installed on opposite sides of the creek for his cattle. The Arizona Water Protection Fund paid $19,800 for this project. The rancher paid for the electric power and piping.

The next step was closing off the watergaps at each end of the riparian corridor to control livestock grazing. Following that, Crosswhite began installing stream grade stabilization structures at intervals. Almost as soon as he finished, a family of beavers moved in and completed the job. They succeeded in slowing the flow of the stream as well as controlling erosion.

By 1999 many positive changes had taken place on the EC Bar Ranch. The stream had been slowed, more sediment was filtered and captured instead of going down the creek. Stream banks developed and stream width stabilized. Flood water retention and recharge had increased. In addition, the wildlife and fishery values increased.

Once the stream was fenced, Crosswhite could keep his cattle out during the summer growing season.

By grazing cattle in the riparian area in winter, he saves money on supplemental feed, gets rid of the old grass, and spreads native grass seeds through fertilization.

Crosswhite has made many other improvements during the past four years, including planting windrows of barberry, sand cherry, honeysuckle, and butterfly bush behind the house and barn as a wind break.

His next project involves the irrigation system. "We lose approximately 100 million gallons in open earth ditches during the 150-day irrigation season from evaporation and seepage," he said. He plans to replace earth ditches with poly pipe to conserve water. He has also built new corrals, installed drinkers and run electric power to the drinkers to keep them from freezing in winter.

Range improvement projects are in progress, with plans to eliminate much of the noxious Rabbitbrush and reseed the range with a variety of grasses. Many of these land management and structural improvements will he eligible for funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Crosswhite is a modern rancher who has learned that working with the system instead of bucking it pays off. He has learned to live with acronyms.

He plans to share some of his ideas on conservation projects designed to improve ranching profits by offering workshops next year. In the future, his ranch will be open to groups for scheduled tours.