By: Karen Warnick, The Independent
Photo provided by EC Bar
It's taken Jim Crosswhite almost 15 years to make sure the three-mile section of Nutrioso Creek that runs through his EC Bar Ranch meets the government's standards for water quality and aquatic/wildlife habitat.
Now that he has achieved that goal through a lot of hard work, time and money, he is making sure the 94- acre riparian corridor will be preserved into perpetuity by donating a conservation easement to the New Mexico Land Conservancy, which holds 31 easements in the Southwestern United States.
In 1998, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality determined Nutrioso Creek did not meet water quality standards and placed it on a list of "nonattaining" water bodies, which is a section of the Clean Water Act, called 303(d).
Decades of over-grazing by livestock and elk had caused severe erosion of the stream banks leading to non-functional riparian conditions and high levels of "turbidity" or suspended sediment. Crosswhite voluntarily implemented all state and federal recommendations to improve water quality and aquatic/wildlife habitat.
In 2003, as part of the restoration process, Crosswhite created a 50-year Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect the habitat, including two endangered species; the Little Colorado River Spinedance and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Crosswhite was the first private landowner in Arizona to enter such an agreement.
By 2006, riparian conditions had improved to such an extent the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and the USFWS captured hundreds of threatened native fish trapped in drying pools downstream on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest and released them in restored sections of the creek on his ranch. A USFWS spokesperson stated "The practice of salvaging a listed species from public land and placing them on private land is rarely warranted and demonstrates Crosswhite's commitment to threatened and endangered species ... In fact; it may be the only instance where this has occurred in Arizona."
Also in 2006, the ADEQ determined due to restoration by Crosswhite, water quality standards had been met on Nutrioso Creek, leading the EPA in 2009 to remove about 13 miles of the creek from the 303(d) list of nonattaining water bodies. This was the first instance a water body in Arizona has been delisted due to mitigation.
Crosswhite's work with riparian restoration and sustainable livestock practices has helped EC Bar Ranch to attain the highest water quality and aquatic/wildlife habitat standards of any landowner, public or private, in Arizona, while still maintaining a viable ranching operation.
Besides the protections to land, water and habitat that are preserved by the EC Bar Ranch Conservation Easement, scenic open space values are also protected since the easement property is visible from the Coronado Scenic Byway (Highway 191). The easement also preserves agricultural values, allowing livestock management practices compatible with conservation values, to continue.
When asked about the future, Crosswhite said he would like to "continue to implement conservation practices and work with Arizona legislators to create incentives for others to donate conservation easements to qualified organizations. Such incentives may include tax credits and education to the public about restoration and protection strategies."
For over 10 years, Crosswhite has hosted field trips on his ranch to provide information about his conservation methods.
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