Rancher Sidney Spencer
Rancher Sidney Spencer

The borderlands of southeast Arizona, seemingly limitless and stretching “forever” from Interstate-10 to the Mexican border, are at risk for traditional ways of life, for wildlife and for water.

Ranches rich in history are being subdivided.  Wildlife is being forced into smaller patches of habitat, and its essential corridors and habitats are steadily threatened and degraded.  Water is getting scarcer and its availability more chaotic, due to development, destruction of riparian habitat, and accelerating climate change (which is hitting the Southwest harder than most other areas).

But ranchers and residents of the small communities spotted largely out of sight throughout the borderlands are finding new ways to preserve and protect their land and the plants and animals it has nourished.

Their efforts will be described in this year’s annual Academy Village Sustainability Seminars, to begin next Wednesday and continue for two more Wednesdays at the Academy Village, an active-adult community located off Old Spanish Trail six miles south of Saguaro National Park East.

The innovative approaches outlined in the seminars describe new ways that borderland ranchers are trying to keep ranching and avoid subdivision of large tracts while simultaneously restoring streams and other wildlife habitats.

Wednesday’s kickoff lecture, “Heritage, Cattle, and Conservation,” features Sidney Spencer, rancher, businesswoman and owner of the Lazy 2J Ranch in the San Rafael Valley.

The Feb 13 seminar,  “Restoration Ecology: Sparrow, Jaguar, Chinese Grain Speculation,” will feature Ron Pulliam, a distinguished ecosystem scientist, Patagonia resident, former Science Advisor to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and founder of Borderlands Restoration L3C, a new way to fund habitat restoration with private funds and while providing benefits to investors.

The seminars will conclude on Feb. 20 when Bob Sharp will discuss “Humans in the Borderlands: How Light is Our Footprint?” Sharp is a photographer, author of “Eight Valleys: A Linked Landscape” and a native of the Sharp Ranch (now a state park) in the San Rafael Valley.

Spencer, the kickoff speaker, hails from a San Rafael ranching family.  After successful careers in Wall Street and Hollywood, she returned to the Valley to her grandmother’s homestead aiming to assemble a working ranch.  She aggregated 1,100 acres of heritage ranch land, placed development restrictions on them and added 6,000 acres of federal permit National Forest lands.

She now runs, solo, her successful 230-head Angus-Hereford herd on her “no additives” ranch.  For 17 years she’s been perfecting her conservation-wise ranching, showing its sensibility.  Savvy and energetic, she deals with issues straight-up, preserving a 19th Century way of life in 21st Century conservation terms.

Along the way she, deals with border issues, the Border Patrol, Forest Service bureaucracy, fences, water, and marketing her beef personally in greater Tucson.  She presents her story, and the conservation challenge, in no-holds barred fashion, charming, tough – and persuasive.

Submitted by Ted Hullar, Academy Village Volunteer

Saving Arizona’s Borderlands: Feb. 2013
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