Thursday, October 08, 2009

Audubon Research Ranch - Elgin, AZ

I just got back from a fantastic "vacation". Some people might not consider it a vacation because we did work every day, but not me. Being isolated from the computer, from the TV, from my cellphone to a large part ... I truly had a vacation from the real world.

The Sierra Club service trip that I went on was the same trip that I made 4 years ago to the Audubon Research Ranch near Elgin in southeastern Arizona. This area of high elevation grasslands is a very unique area of the world called a "sky island". "Sky islands are mountains in ranges isolated by valleys in which other ecosystems are located. As a result, the mountain ecosystems are isolated from each other, and species can develop in parallel, as on island groups such as the Galápagos Islands." (from wikipedia). The animals and plants within that area are largely unique to that area. This particular sky island is one of the top 3 such areas in the world.

The particular work they do on this ranch:

"The Research Ranch is a cooperative partnership among the National Audubon Society, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, Swift Current Land & Cattle and The Research Ranch Foundation. The Research Ranch lies three miles south of Elgin, and 65 miles southeast of Tucson Arizona. It is surrounded by 5 million acres of semi-desert grassland and forested mountains covering southeastern Arizona and adjacent portions of Mexico and New Mexico. For more than 30 years, the Research Ranch has protected grassland ecosystems through conservation, research, and education ..."

How the Sierra Club comes into play is through providing volunteers to assist with various projects on the ranch. The permanent staff of the ranch is only two people with several part-timers that perform office and maintenance duties. College researchers will stay on the ranch for different periods of time to conduct studies.

The last time I did this trip, our primary duty was replacing barbed fences with pronghorn-friendly wire. Pronghorn are smaller animals, similar to an antelope, that would go under fences on the property. They would get hurt on the barbed wire. Our job on that trip was to replace old fence posts and to put barbless wire on the top and the bottom runs. Normal barbed wire would be in the middle. This would still keep the cattle out but would be harmless to the pronghorn.

That trip was great and I made several friends that I still keep in touch with. 4 of them came on this trip also, in addition to the fact that we had the same Sierra Club service trip leader.

On this trip, we did several things. Most notably, we replaced a damaged pipe from a solar-powered well that was providing water to a watering hole for wildlife.

On another day, we adjusted a fence around a natural spring so as to keep invasive bullfrogs out. Originally the fence had an overhang bent inward, so as to keep the bullfrogs in from getting out (so that they could be gathered and relocated). Once the frogs were gone, we changed the fence to hang outward to keep any more from getting in. This ranch is a working experiment to get back to all-native and non-invasive species, both plant and animal.

Other days were spent with the more mundane, painting of the main building. But even in that, you felt you were doing something that benefited the ranch and their mission as a whole.

We did get an off-day and traveled through Tombstone:

and Bisbee:

There were some cool artist galleries in Bisbee and we had a nice lunch at the historic Copper Queen hotel. Though it was a fun trip, we still saw things that reminded us why were on the trip.

Outside Bisbee is a large gaping hole caused by strip-mining of copper over the last 50 years. It's a blight that is both beautiful and scary. Water quality is diminished and waste from the mining is strewn about Bisbee, to the dismay of residents and tourists alike. The are of the strip-mining itself is unusable and is a danger to wildlife and a place where nothing will grow. Sadie had a great movie quote about this that she posted on Facebook:

Remember that quote in Jurassic Park by the Jeff Goldblum character? "Scientists were so excited that they could, they didn't wonder if they SHOULD."
Strip mining is the same thing. We discovered a cheap, easy way to get copper-but didn't ask ourselves if we should use it--what are the long term effects?

The trip wasn't all work and environmental guilt, however. We did our part to support the wineries of Elgin and Sonoita and drank entirely too much beer. If you ever get a chance to do a service trip or if you just want to volunteer locally, by all means, I highly recommend it.

Some links with more info about the places I was at:

Sky Island Alliance

Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch

Kief-Joshua Vineyards

Bisbee Chamber of Commerce - Arts


BIKE LADY said...

That sounds like a lot of fun and a great learning experience. Elgin and surrounding wine country is beautiful scenery. I'd love to do this and write about it. Thanks for the idea!

dbackdad said...

Thanks for stopping by Jackie. I like your website and I'm going to look for your book in the bookstores.

wunelle said...

A fabulous adventure. And yeah, I wonder at the strip mining. And our need / desire for energy and raw materials seems to grow and grow. What's next? Here's hoping we make some progress toward green energy.

Anonymous said...

It is an amazing place. I used to live in the small town right outside the west gate of Fort Huachuca. It's beautiful there. I never knew it was a sky island until now.

dbackdad said...

anon - Thanks for stopping by. The first time I did this service trip, we went through Fort Huachuca to the mountain park at the back. Went hiking there. Very pretty.