Wildlife Corridors – A Progress Report
This article appeared in the February edition of the Patagonia Regional Times.
By Lynn Davison
It has now been a year since a new organization called Wildlife Corridors (WC) purchased the former Three Canyons development, 1250 acres just north of Patagonia, with the goal of preserving and enhancing wildlife habi- tat in a critical piece of the corridor connecting the Santa Ritas, Patagonias, Huachucas, Canelo Hills, and Sonoita Creek. Nine hundred acres are to be split into three specific uses: 1. a residential develop- ment, now known as Wildlife Haven, of no more than 40 lots 2. a buffer area of open space containing research and educational facilities and des- ignated recreational areas, and 3. the wildlife corridor which will be protected and restored to enhance wildlife habitat.
A lot has been accomplished this year; here are some of the highlights:
Wildlife Haven Property Owners Association
There is a new property owners’ association that allows owners to participate in decision making about the development of the residential portion of the property. There are currently six members, and the association will grow as additional residential lots become available for purchase later in 2016.
Three Canyons Domestic Water Improvement District
The original developers of Three Canyons formed a water district in 2006 and spent $3.6M to create the necessary infrastructure to supply water to 198 lots. However, although the system is 99% complete, it was never certified for use and the permits to complete it have now expired. The legal control of the water district by former Three Canyons developer, David Parsons, has been challenged by Ron Pulliam, of Wildlife Corridors, who believes Parsons is operating the water district without a legally-formed board of directors. Pulliam has asked the county supervisors to require the water district to hold a fair and open election. Until the district has a legally-constituted board to represent it, Wildlife Corridors has drilled a private well on its property to meet immediate needs.
“Undeveloping” Existing Lots
A significant element of WC’s vision is to extinguish the development rights of the majority of the residential lots. WC intends to purchase conservation easements for 158 lots, to be held by the Sonoran Institute. WC will then ask the county to “deplat” the portion of the original subdivision now protected from development by the conservation easements. In its first year, Wildlife Corridors has established a pattern of collaboration among a broad group of supporters: investors, public agency funders, and property owners. Their original six major investors remain optimistic. They plan to raise sufficient resources to pay off the mortgage, buy the conservation easements, pay for habi- tat restoration, offer research, educational, and recreational opportunities, provide good jobs, and maybe someday make a little profit. If they do make a profit, 80% will be re-invested into WC itself so that it can facilitate future collaborations in the borderlands region. If year one is any predictor, they may just get there.
David Seibert, the Executive Director of Borderlands Restoration, which manages the Wildlife Corridors property, says, “The 1,250 acres have been used intensively. It is not a pristine habitat, but it is a critical one that needs significant restoration.” Borderlands has secured grants from Arizona Game and Fish (AZGF), Arizona Forestry, and US Fish and Wildlife to support erosion control and habitat restoration projects. The work will employ 10-13 local people over the spring and summer, and more restoration and job-funding proposals are in the works. Kelly Fleming is leading a project that will help to establish baseline data on the impact of specific restoration activities to specific species in the area.
Public Access and Education
WC will create designated access to areas for hiking, biking, riding horses, and walking dogs. The first installment, the Wildlife Viewing Trail, is now under construction, with Chris Strom’s volunteer trail-building group providing the skilled labor. AZGF and the Arizona Trails Association with Zay Hartigan are funding viewing stations along the trail.
Alex Johnson is finishing construction of a kiosk to be located at the main entrance, and a second entry to the property will be opened this year for directed access to recreational and educational areas.
WC will schedule a third community meeting this spring. If you can’t wait that long, stop in and visit with David Seibert at the Border lands Restoration Office behind the Visitor Center. He is always happy to share the latest with you, and borderlandsrestoration.org is a great place to keep up with volun- teer and other events.