Supervisors direct County to develop conservation lands policy

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County taxpayers understand the need to protect the unique Sonoran Desert landscape that surrounds the community. 

Through the Pima County’s bond program as well as other conservation measures, the public has authorized the County to purchase thousands of acres of wilderness, riparian, and ranch areas. These lands require active stewardship, which the County has an obligation to manage. 

It is with this obligation in mind that the Pima County Board of Supervisors directed the County Administrator on Dec. 1 to develop a coordinated Conservation Lands Policy to protect these taxpayer assets. 

“This policy reassures the public the County is acting in good faith on their authorization,” said Linda Mayro, Director of the Pima County Office of Sustainability and Conservation. 

Mayro said the policy also ensures the cooperative efforts of various County departments charged with managing conservation lands — especially Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation and the Regional Flood Control District — will continue over the generations. The County owns more than 100,000 acres of land and maintains leases on more than 140,000 additional acres. 

Pima County fish survey for conservation lands policy

The Conservation Lands Policy

The Conservation Lands Policy safeguards the investment of public funds by ensuring that the various Pima County departments will protect as well as maintain the properties’ natural, biological, riparian, and cultural resources.   

As noted in County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s memo on the policy, the intrinsic values of these public lands include:

  • Meeting the biological goal of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and preserving the Sonoran Desert ecosystem
  • Maintaining regional, national, and international continuity of ecosystems, biological diversity and cultural heritage
  • Mitigating for impacts permitted under the County’s Endangered Species Act Section 10 permit
  • Protecting floodplains and riparian habitat areas
  • Maintaining natural hydrologic and hydraulic stream flow processes
  • Facilitating groundwater recharge
  • Preserving archaeological, cultural, and historic resources
  • Protecting farm and ranch lands
  • Providing outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors
  • Conserving scenic views 
  • Supporting ecotourism and economic opportunities based on natural and cultural areas.

Properties Included in the Policy

Areas like the Historic Canoa Ranch property were purchased with General Obligation Bonds and Flood Control District funds. The area holds historic as well as environmental value. The property provides insights into the deep cultural history of the region and the introduction of ranching during the Spanish and Mexican periods. The 4,800-acre former Spanish land grant is also exceptionally important to environmental mitigation and water conservation efforts. 

Other properties are active watershed management and wildlife preservation areas. The Cienega Creek Nature Preserve, which the County has owned for many years is one of these. The Cienega holds high value for wildlife habitat, recreation, and scenic quality. 

The County also owns and leases numerous ranch properties. It purchased Rancho Seco in 2005. This conserves more than 9,500 acres of open space and 27,000 acres of grazing lease under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Rancho Seco is an active ranch. Its continued use helps to maintain a rural economy as well as lessen the effects of urban sprawl. Finally, it maintains unfragmented open space for conservation and outdoor recreation.

“We’re fulfilling the commitment we made to the public to manage these lands and ensure the continuation of their intended uses, whether that be as historic landmarks, riparian areas, environmental mitigation, or as active ranchlands,” Mayro said. 

The new policy establishes a goal of periodic evaluation of conservation land parcels to determine if specific protections are necessary to protect their intrinsic value. An inventory of County Conservation lands will be maintained in a public GIS database and updated as necessary.

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