Grasslands of the Altar Valley likely burned every 8-12 years, prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1880s. Fire regimes likely played a crucial role in maintaining the area’s grasslands by suppressing woody species and encouraging new growth. Like much of the western United States, the presence of fire in the Altar Valley diminished throughout the 20th century, and the dominance of woody species steadily increased. Returning fire to the watershed ecosystem was a goal that drew people together to form the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance in the mid 1990s.
After years of effort, a consortium of watershed partners led by the US Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Alliance completed a landmark watershed wide fire management plan in February of 2009. The plan addressed the entire watershed, except the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which has an extensive fire program already in place. Learn more by looking at the actual fire plan!
Thanks to two major grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alliance and its partners are now working on plans for specific fires. In 2010, the Alliance received its first multi-year fire research and implementation grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Under that grant, the Alliance and partners created five state-approved, surveyed, and mapped prescribed burn plans totaling more than 17,000 acres of mixed private, county, state and federal lands: Keystone Peak, West Mill, Pig Mountain, Las Delicias and Rancho Seco. In the fall of 2012, the Alliance was awarded a second grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create two additional burn plans, add erosion control measures to all seven of the burn sites prior burning, and, if conditions allow, execute the seven prescribed burns.
Fire has a way of operating of its own accord too. Many major wildfires have occurred in the watershed since 2000, many caused by humans. To learn more, read about the Elkhorn Fire 2009.
To read more about the Alliance's efforts to return fire to the Altar Valley, click here to read Tana Kappel's article "Burning Desire," which appeared in Field Notes, the Nature Conservancy's magazine for Arizona members.