Volume 18, Number 3

 

September 2005

EC BAR RANCH ON NUTRIOSO CREEK, ARIZONA
by Jim Crosswhite, Owner


For those interested in attending the ARC Fall Campout at the EC Bar Ranch, in the Nutnoso Valley and part of the White Mountains near Springerville, you may be interested in some background on the area and EC Bar Ranch conservation projects.

Nutrioso Creek is located in the Little Colorado River Basin in southern Apache County, along the eastern border in the White Mountains of Arizona. It is a 27-mile (mi)-long tributary to the Little Colorado River. Over the last 100 years, streambanks have become incised on a 7-mi section leading to water-quality concerns. Erosion of the exposed streambanks have been aggravated by historical overuse by large ungulates, such as livestock and elk.

In 1993, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) listed Nutrioso Creek as an impaired water for violating the turbidity standard for aquatic and wildlife cold water streams. The entire 27-mi reach of Nutrioso Creek was listed on the state's 303(d) list, requiring the development of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the watershed. The "Nutrioso Creek TMDL for Turbidity" report, issued in July 2000, focused recommendations on 3 mi of private property and 4 mi of property owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

Primary goals of TMDL implementation include:

In 2000, I began applying for Water Quality Improvement Grants to provide financial assistance to help implement TMDL recommendations focused on: (1) fencing to control large ungulate activities, (2) riparian and upland pasture revegetation, and (3) improved irrigation to help establish and maintain vegetative practices. As I acquired neighboring properties along Nutrioso Creek, additional practices were installed. For those attending the Fall Campout, I will describe water quality and habitat improvement practices during a walking tour along 2 mi of Nutrioso Creek on Saturday, October 1st.

After five years and eight Section 319 grants, I have treated about 3 mi of Nutrioso Creek and hundreds of acres of riparian and upland pastures on the EC Bar Ranch, plus helped revegetate about 3 mi of streambanks downstream on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. In doing so, some people believe I have effectively created a new "paradigm" by demonstrating how the integration of conservation and sustainable agricultural practices can improve water quality, wildlife habitat, and ranching economics while meeting public policy objectives. A paradigm is a set of rules and regulations (written and unwritten) that tells people how to behave to be successful.

I have tried to merge accepted ranching and environmental paradigms into a new model that has included financial and technical support from state and federal agencies, including ADEQ, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), Arizona State Land Department, Arizona Department of Water Resources Water Protection Fund, Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and US Forest Service. The approximate value of conservation projects installed on the EC Bar Ranch is $1.6 million, with a 50% match from myself.

So far, I believe the EC Bar Ranch "model" is a successful new approach that has helped me become the first private landowner in Arizona who has completed all the recommendations in a TMDL report, species recovery plan, watershed-based plan, and a Safe Harbor Agreement, specifically, the Nutrioso Creek TMDL for Turbidity; Little Colorado River Spinedace Recovery Plan; Nutrioso Creek Fish Management Report; Upper Little Colorado River Watershed-based Plan; and Safe Harbor Agreement With James W. Crosswhite for Voluntary Enhancement and Restoration Activities Benefiting the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Little Colorado Spinedace in Nutrioso Creek, Arizona.

The new paradigm not only includes practice implementation, but maintenance and pro tection of successful practices. With the implementation phase completed, maintenance is expected through the Conservation Security Program (CSP) when the Upper Little Colorado River Watershed (ID15020001) is opened by the NRCS. The CSP is only available to producers who have completed soil quality, water quality, and habitat improvement practices after their watershed is opened. In the meantime, I have received support from a state agency to apply sprinkler irrigation along 2 mi of riparian corridor to help establish and maintain vegetative practices previously installed by the ADEQ and other agencies.

Since early 2004, I have been working to protect practices through negotiations with a state agency to hold a conservation easement to protect 2.5 mi of riparian channel located inside riparian fencing on the EC Bar Ranch. When completed, the conservation easement will prohibit future real estate development and management practices that would adversely impact water quality and habitat conservation values on the easement property.

The unique feature of the EC Bar Ranch paradigm is that water quality, soil quality, and habitat improvements are compatible and sustainable with increased ranching economics. This feature is critically important to preserve open spaces and conservation values over the long term.

Some of the ranching economic benefits include:

In addition to the implementation, maintenance, and protection of complimentary and sustainable conservation practices, the EC Bar Ranch paradigm also includes monitoring and outreach components. In 1998,1 began an extensive annual monitoring program that included photo points and expert observations. The program was expanded in 2000 through support from the ADEQ Water Quality Improvement Grant Program and periodic site monitoring by the ADEQ, AGFD, and FWS, including a 50-year Safe Harbor Agreement monitoring commitment. In 1999, the ECBarRanch.com website was created. To date, information about conservation projects has been provided to more than 17,000 visitors. In addition, over 30 groups and 400 people have toured the projects, including the ADEQ Year of Clean Water Celebration in 2002. The website includes over 15 newspaper, magazine, and newsletter articles, including a recent article by Environmental Defense, a leading environmental organization. Over the years, I have made numerous presentations to groups interested in ecosystem restoration, often as the only private landowner in the State of Arizona sharing information about completed projects. In their 2004 Water Quality Improvement Grant Workshops, the ADEQ used a DVD describing conservation projects on the EC Bar Ranch to help illustrate the benefits of water quality practices.

In summary, I have tried to create a new and successful approach, or paradigm, that bridges the gap between traditional ranching practices based on a profit motive and the environmentally based water quality and habitat improvement programs available through state and federal agencies. Viewed independently, the ranching and environmental paradigms are having limited success at achieving desirable social goals, whereas the EC Bar Ranch paradigm has demonstrated short and potential long term success at meeting public policy objectives.

2005 FALL CAMPOUT AND GET TOGETHER

For registration information please go to the Arizona Riparian Council website at http://azriparian.asu.edu/Meetings.htm and scroll down to Fall Meetings 2005.

There is a draft agenda, links to directions on how to get to EC Bar Ranch, and a registration form there that may be printed and mailed prior to September 23rd to: Theresa Pinto, Arizona Riparian Council, Flood Control District of Maricopa County, 2801 W Durango St, Phoenix AZ 85009

Remember that it could be chilly at night and that it is a campout so be prepared to do so. Hope to see you there!

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