In 1995, two Altar Valley ranchers attending a cattle sale talked about the valley’s future. The chances of keeping the valley open for agriculture in the next generation seemed slim. Development pressures loomed. Some land was suffering from excessive erosion and the loss of grassland to woody species. Resource management was paralyzed by conflict. The two ranchers took action and invited their valley neighbors over for a visit and to hear what ranchers from southeast Arizona, working together as the Malpai Borderlands Group, were doing. The Malpai vision was inspiring, and their methods were convincing.
So began the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance.
From the beginning, the newly formed alliance of neighbors reached out to land and resource agencies with responsibilities in the watershed, many of whom were also stymied by conflict – some of whom were not at first considered allies. Countless “community meetings” took place. They weren’t always easy. Many meals were shared, and so were frustrations, fears, concerns, ideas and beliefs. People gradually became acquainted, found common ground, and worked to respect differences. Finally, these concerned parties agreed to take on collaborative projects to protect the land and lifestyles they loved.
A prescribed natural fire plan was the first big project. Then the ambitious Altar Valley Watershed Resource Assessment was completed in 2000, concurrent with establishment of the Alliance as an official tax exempt organization. Over the next 10 years, partnerships and project ideas evolved and the Alliance steadily worked to become an effective well-respected watershed-based organization.
The year 2010 marked the Alliance’s transition from a low budget volunteer group to a professional organization, with funding in place for restoration projects, part-time staff, and the Altar Valley Research Fellowship program. A valley-wide prescribed fire plan is in place. Over 200,000 acres of agricultural land that could have been sold into development have instead become part of Pima County’s Maeveen Behan Conservation Lands System.
Altar Valley partners have transcended late 20th century conflict between grazing and environmental protection. The watershed is a dynamic working landscape and laboratory. Cowboys and conservationists have joined forces to create 21st century history that celebrates and practices the best of the old and new ways of taking care of land, wildlife, and people. The next generations’ prospects here in the Altar Valley are much brighter.
For more detail, view Accomplishments, Grants, and Awards.