Conservationists, ranchers react to proposal for protected land in Cochise County

Updated: Jul. 3, 2018 at 8:28 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Just days after the release of an anticipated draft of proposals for the management of protected public property in Cochise County, those with stake in the land are preparing to make their case.

The Bureau of Land Management recently released its Draft Management Plan for the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA).

The land covers approximately 57,000 acres near the San Pedro River from the border with Mexico up to St. David.

Robert Weissler, with Friends of the San Pedro River, said there were several aspects of the draft proposal that stood out to him upon his first read of it.

The plan provides several options for how to manage different uses within SPRNCA and the potential spread of cattle grazing was a surprise to Weissler.

"Increased grazing doesn't really serve the purpose of the SPRNCA, but at least it's limited to the upland," he said.

Weissler said he's worried that cattle could wear down the areas they graze and ultimately have a negative impact on the land and the life it supports.

John Ladd, one of several ranchers with property bordering SPRNCA, said that just wouldn't happen. He said proper ranchers wouldn't allow it because over grazing wouldn't benefit them, plus the cows just won't do it.

"They have their favorite choice...well they're going to come in and graze it down," he said. "But they're not going to wipe it out. Cows are pretty lazy. If they have to work real hard, they'll move."

Ladd, who would apply for a lease to graze on SPRNCA if it were offered, said the draft proposal is in the best interest of the land. He said it's not meant to be blocked off, but used properly and maintained as it was before SPRNCA was formed in the late 1980s.

"Before BLM got ahold of it there were 3,500 head of cattle in SPRNCA and that's a substantial economic value," said Ladd.

Weissler worries the area will lose value if people don't visit as often. He said the proposal's option to allow hunting in areas where it is currently banned could be a problem for tour groups and visits from school children.

There's no mention of safety in the entire proposal, according to Weissler.

"The most glaring thing is that I looked in the index for the word 'safety ' and it's not even there," he said. "There's not a single page in the Resource Management Plan that addresses safety."

Both conservationists and ranchers plan to share their hopes and concerns for SPRNCA during the public comment period, which runs through September 27. There will be four public comment meetings from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in southern Arizona. The following is a list of locations and dates:

  • 7/30  at Sierra Vista Police Department, 911 N Coronado Dr
  • 8/8  at Benson Fire Department, 375 E 7th St
  • 8/22 at Sierra Vista Police Department, 911 N Coronado Dr
  • 8/23 at Pima Community College, 401 N Bonita Ave

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