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Our View: We back ‘Alternative C’

Concerns about grazing and water appeared to be the major topics at Monday night’s first public meeting on the Resource Management Plan for the San Pedro conservation area.

With more than 100 people in attendance, it’s evident local residents recognize the importance of what the federal Bureau of Land Management decides on the future of the San Pedro. The agency’s tentative finding, according to project manager Amy Markstein, embraces the “widest range of uses” for the almost-40,000-acre conservation area.

We agree with that idea.

Despite long-standing protests voiced by local environmental groups, the ongoing efforts to improve the health of the San Pedro River are consistent with allowing limited grazing and other activities in the conservation area.

Examples of what’s being done to protect the riparian and the San Pedro subwatershed include Cochise County recharge projects, stringent building code restrictions, and a grassland restoration project in Palominas that reduces soil erosion by utilizing livestock to revitalize properties near the river.

Those who raise the alarm that the San Pedro’s history demonstrates the extensive damage caused by overgrazing fail to recognize or appreciate modern-day efforts to restore local grasslands. This isn’t the 1800s, when massive ranches operated in the San Pedro basin and cattle roamed free to pollute the river and consume as much greenery as they could find.

Property at the intersection of Three Canyons Boulevard and South Palominas Road, less than a mile from the river, is the site of a statewide project where limited livestock grazing is a vital component in the restoration of native grasslands.

The result of this effort will dramatically reduce the volume of soil that is carried to the river during monsoon, helping to preserve the surface flow. In the BLM plan, only “upland” grazing is being considered under the RMP, keeping cattle a safe distance from the river.

Similar environmentally responsible projects are in place, or are being developed, all along the San Pedro. Cochise County, the city of Sierra Vista, The Nature Conservancy, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and other organizations have successfully developed recharge projects that are improving the San Pedro aquifer and protecting the the river in the long term. Several more of these projects are already in the planning stages.

All these efforts and the commitment by local officials and civic leaders are completely consistent with the tentative finding by the BLM in support of “Alternative C,” for the Resource Management Plan and for the San Pedro.

A failure to recognize the ongoing and dedicated commitment of local governments and organizations to secure the future of the river, while allowing for its “widest range of uses,” will limit the BLM to its current practice of doing almost nothing to manage the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

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