Arizona Open Land Trust Partners to Protect ‘Western Way of Life’
Accelerated development in southern Arizona threatens to stifle the Western way of life, especially ranching, but some landowners are fighting back.
Taking back the West
Dennis and Deborah Moroney have taken a stand with the permanent protection of 960 acres of their 22,000-acre working ranch.
The couple, which partnered with the Arizona Open Land Trust to conserve a portion of the 47 Ranch, said that this was just the beginning of many future conservation easements. Dennis Moroney said “The placing of the easement on the land will make it easier to hand it down to our children, who have expressed an interest in ranching one day.”
The Moroneys benefited from the expanded federal tax incentive included in the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which allows the couple to carry the tax deduction from the purchase of the easement over from year to year. The nature of agriculture means unpredictable yields from year to year, and Moroney said the tax incentive was extremely helpful because it will allow the couple to apply tax credits when it is most advantageous.
Critical protection against urban sprawl
The 47 Ranch is located in Cochise County, which has experienced growth at more than twice the national average.
“Protecting working ranches like the 47 is critical because we can also protect entire ecosystems at a regional scale,” said Diana Freshwater, executive director of the Arizona Open Land Trust.
Much of the private land in the area has been under a lot of development pressure, especially because of the demand for retirement housing in the area as well as exurban development. Ranchlands and habitat are being fragmented for rural residential uses.
“Unfortunately, this has put a tremendous hardship on the land,” Moroney said.
Saving Arizona’s precious resources
The ranch is located at the headwaters of the Hay Mountain Watershed, which drains into the Whitewater Draw Watershed. As southern Arizona’s most important waterway east of the San Pedro River, it is headwaters of the Rio Yaqui in Sonora, Mexico, and is also a stop for more than 100 species of migratory waterfowl. Moroney said that they are working with three neighboring ranches to address the restoration work on a watershed scale with the Hay Mountain Watershed Group.
Freshwater said the conservation easement would also protect crucial wildlife movement corridors, archaeological, historic, cultural, scenic and open space values.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has determined that the property contains significant habitat for at-risk plant species. The 47 Ranch has also been identified as a possible habitat for many of Arizona’s disappearing wildlife species, including the Chiricahua leopard frog; lowland leopard frog; Cochise pincushion cactus; jaguar; lesser long-nosed bat; northern aplomado falcon; ocelot; black-tailed prairie dog; and Gould’s turkey.
Protecting a way of life
The best way to protect Arizona’s land, air and water is to protect vast working landscapes like the 47 Ranch, Freshwater said. Local rural communities benefit from local agriculture, which in turn protects the cultural history of rural southern Arizona. “We are protecting our way of life,” she said.
Moroney said he is glad to protect his own family’s way of life for generations to come.
“Because of this conservation easement, the landscape can continue without development forever, and that’s a great legacy to have,” Moroney said.
by Tina Deines
Photo of Gadwell Canyon, courtesy of Arizona Open Land Trust.