An accidental rancher
Repairing land pays off in dollars and sense
By: Terence Corrigan , White Mountain Outdoors
White Mountain Independent -"An Accidental Rancher"

"Like farmers we need to learn that we cannot sow and reap the same dasy."
- Source unknown

On the eve of Thanksgiving in 2003, Jim Crosswhite faced what he believed were going to be the final few hours of his life. "It felt like a heart attack," he says.
      Crosswhite's problem was not a heart attack, but it was life threatening - a huge blood clot in his leg.

As his mind raced, for 10 hours Crosswhite says he thinks his mind was "looking for some way out" of what at the time he thought was certain death. During this crisis Crosswhite settled on three main reasons he didn't want to die.
      He wanted to be around until his dog died; he wanted to see his wife again and he wanted to finish restoring the three miles of riparian area he owns along Nutrioso Creek.
      It's understandable that he'd want to see his wife again. It's understandable that he wanted to be around to care for his faithful companion, "Dorjee." But to finish the restoration of the riparian area along the creek?
      Crosswhite's passion for transforming the EC Bar Ranch from what was a nearly useless piece of over-grazed property with a long stretch of "dead" stream to its current state - lush, productive pastures with a three-mile stretch of ecologically healthy creek - is evident when you visit with him.
      He's anxious to tell anyone who will listen about his accomplishments in improving his property. He also stresses that most of work has been done following the plans and advice of government agencies and paid for in large part with grants.
      The success of Crosswhite's efforts is evident in the official recognition of various government agencies.
      * The only "legally restored" riparian area in Arizona. "Legally restored" means the riparian area of a specific stream reach in which all applicable criteria addressing specific resource issues regarding, for example: water quality concerns, wildlife habitat values, goals related to vegetation, and specific fish habitat, have been successfully implemented, and where no resource problems remain.
      * Establishment of the first "Safe Harbor Agreement" between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a private landowner in Arizona. Safe Harbor Agreements encourage landowners to create habitat suitable for specific endangered species. In Crosswhite's 50-year deal he agreed to restore riparian area along Nutrioso Creek to provide habitat for the Little Colorado Spinedace and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. In exchange for his efforts, Crosswhite was provided with a guarantee that he would not face future property-use restrictions if these endangered species take up residence on his property.

Photo courtesy EC Bar Ranch
Jim Crosswhite stands in front of the original Lund Homestead. He has retained the old cabin, likely the most historic storage shed in Apache County.

* Crosswhite's efforts resulted in what wildlife managers say may be the first instance in Arizona when a threatened fish species (Little Colorado Spinedace) was removed from public lands to a safer environment on private lands - the EC Bar Ranch. In an Aug. 26, 2006 letter to Crosswhite the FWS explained why it wanted to put the fish on the EC Bar Ranch. "The riparian restoration practices implemented in Nutrioso Creek on the EC Bar Ranch... have created an ideal natural aquatic habitat to relocate the Little Colorado River Spinedace, captured in degraded (lack of sufficient water) pools downstream on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. In May 2006, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) staff salvaged approximately 767 Little Colorado River spinedace from degraded habitat on U.S. Forest Service property and repatriated them to perennial habitat on the EC Bar Ranch."
      * Due to excessive erosion, Nutrioso Creek was loaded beyond the EPA standards for turbidity - suspended solid material. Due to Crosswhite's efforts in restoring the riparian area, and the resulting drop in turbidity, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality agreed in August this year to "recommend to EPA that the reach of Nutrioso Creek, above Nelson Reservoir, be delisted for turbidity." This is the first time in Arizona that mitigation efforts have resulted in such a recommendation.
      To repair the creek and its riparian area was in theory a simple process but labor intensive. Years of overuse by livestock and wildlife, primarily elk, had stripped the creek banks of vegetation. The fix involved fencing out the grazers and planting some 30,000 willows and lesser amounts of cottonwood and alder trees. Crosswhite has installed over 25,000 feet of livestock fencing and 8-foot elk fencing. He also built a livestock bridge to allow animals to cross the creek.
      One creature that has profited by Crosswhite's success also contributes to it. Beavers have moved in and set up housekeeping on his section of the creek. The beavers have established some 15 dams along the creek on the EC Bar Ranch. The beavers contribute to the creeks health, building dams that store water which in turn helps to maintain the fish populations and keep streamside vegetation healthy.

Photo by Terence Corrigan
Crosswhite maintained the original Lund homestead cabin, adding a modern home on the back. He doesn't mow the front yard to allow the wildflowers to grow. (At least that's how he justifies it to his wife.)

Although the primary element of the riparian area fix involved keeping grazers out of the stream, Crosswhite didn't want to stop using the land for livestock. To supply water for cows and to augment his irrigation supply, Crosswhite has, over the years, drilled wells and provides "waterers" for livestock and wildlife. The EC Bar has 16 "producing" wells.
      Crosswhite's labor has not been solely dedicated to ecological improvements to the creek and its banks. "I'm not an environmentalist," Crosswhite says. "I'm a conservationist." Crosswhite uses his land to graze livestock. "Cows convert sunlight into money." He's also followed, step-by-step, the plan developed for his property by the National Resource and Conservation Service to improve his pastures.
      One of his accomplishments: Crosswhite is the first landowner in Apache County to mitigate all the factors in the Arizona Resource Concerns and Quality Criteria Assessment for Crop and Pastureland.
      The NRCS plan paid off in terms of the property's fruitfulness.
      When he purchased the ranch in 1996 it was covered with rabbit brush, vegetation that is useless for ungulates, elk or cows. The ditch irrigation system was wasting millions gallons of water each year, lost through evaporation and seepage.
      By installing pipes to carry the irrigation water to a 250,000 gallon storage tank and using above ground sprinklers, significantly more of his share of the irrigation water is getting to where he wants it. By removing the rabbit brush and planting grasses suitable for livestock, the 400 acres of the EC Bar Ranch now provide sufficient forage for 120 cows plus elk. In 1997, the pastures produced an estimated 300 pounds of forage per acre. In 2000 it yielded 4,000 pounds per acre.
      As part of his pasture management plan, Crosswhite cross-fenced the property, allowing him to move cows off an area before it's over-grazed. Crosswhite doesn't run his own cows, he leases out the pastures.
      An accidental rancher Crosswhite's entry into the conservationist/ranching industry was accidental. "You could call it a mistake," he says. "I didn't know what I was getting into."
      His list of work experience before 1996 did not seem to be the resume builders for a rancher or land manager. After years of working as a financial instrument trader in the 1980s, Crosswhite, retired to become a professional traveler and runner. His "retirement party" consisted of resigning from his job in Sydney, Australia and making a six-month overland trek across Asia and the Middle East to Europe.
      For 15 years, he operated an adventure travel business, leading climbing groups and trekkers throughout the Himalaya.. In 1990 he created the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race in India. Before coming to Nutrioso in 1996, he lived in Flagstaff with his wife, Margaret, a physician. He came to the White Mountains to train for the first circumnavigation of the Himalayan mountain range.

Photo courtesy of EC Bar Ranch
Jim Crosswhite's dog, Dorjee, keeps tabs on the restoration of the riparian area of Nutrioso Creek He'd rather be hearding cows.

His Australian Shepard, Dorjee, was instrumental in the purchase of the EC Bar Ranch. Dorjee it seems "was born with the word 'cow,'" Crosswhite says. To partially sate Dorjee's cow herding instincts, Crosswhite bought the ranch and six heifers.
      "As it turned out, Dorjee learned about cows while I learned the ranching business." he says.
      Crosswhite preserved the original log cabin, homesteaded in the 1880s by the Lund Family. - he believes it's the oldest home in Nutrioso still used on a daily basis - intact and added on more space off the back. Once he had the ranch he started asking around to see who could help him make improvements.
      After getting help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Springerville to establish a conservation plan for the ranch, he began writing grant applications for financial assistance and as method of learning about conservation practices. "I'd never planted willows. I didn't know anything about a sprinkler irrigation system. I'd never operated a tractor or worked with livestock." As a rule, landscape restoration projects involve 10 percent planning and 90 percent hard work, he says.
      Crosswhite has written and received some 30 grants from a variety of state and federal many agencies, including the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Most of the grants require the landowner to cover 25-50 per cent of the project cost. Crosswhite claims that there's no secret to getting funding and implementing the steps to improve properties. He says that the various agencies can help make water quality, soil quality, and wildlife habitat recommendations and provide part of the funding. For the landowner it's just a matter of following directions and a willingness to learn something new. His success he credits to the agencies, his part being that over 8 years he "implemented all recommendations in every report that applied to his property."
      Many of the programs, even though they are backed with technical support and grant funding, are "less effective than they could be," Crosswhite says, because "people don't participate in them." People seem to avoid taking actions, learning something new because "it's a pain in the neck to learn something," he said. "When I started trying to write grants and implementing projects I didn't know much about what I was doing, but I have learned."
      With improvements completed, now it's time to protect and maintain successful practices. "Landscape restoration is an ongoing process", Crosswhite says. "I've worked myself out of projects that would qualify for funding," he says. There is still a big job ahead to maintain and protect the results of years of hard work. To that end, he hopes to participate in the Conservation Security Program, which he considers critical to the long term success of improvements to the ranch. He's also considering the creation of a conservation easement to protect the riparian area and open spaces along Nutrioso Creek.
      Crosswhite is also passionate in spreading the word on how to improve land. In addition to hosting hundreds of visitors on group tours of the ranch and 27,000 visitors to his website, www.ECBar Ranch.com, he's seemingly always ready to tell anyone who will listen about ways to improve riparian area aquatic and wildlife habitat, yet with all his successes, he still thinks of himself as an unlikely rancher.