Ranchers voice concern with conservation plan - tell scientists and county officials they fear the Sonoran Desert proposal would get rid of cattleLARRY COPENHAVER
Aug. 8, 2002
While scientists and Pima County officials struggle to forge a desert conservation plan that will help residents coexist with the native flora and fauna, they were warned last night: "Keep ranches intact."
If ranchers are driven out of business, they might very well be forced to turn their land into housing developments, perhaps golf courses, said University of Arizona Professor Thomas E. Sheridan, chairman of one of four teams working on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Housing developments and golf courses would have a much greater negative impact on native plants and animals than ranching does, he said.
Sheridan made his comments at a symposium, part of the 14th annual International Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration and the Ecological Society of America at the Tucson Convention Center.
He heads the Ranch Team. The other teams are Science, Cultural Resources and Recreation.
"Ranching is not a lucrative business," Sheridan said. The plan should allow ranching to be economically viable, he added.
Sheridan said he is committed to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which covers 5.9 million acres in Pima County. He said ranchers' familiarity with the land could make them "the eyes and ears" for monitoring the plan.
Ranchers have had reason to be skeptical of the intentions of the plan, he said. The Science Team has published a study describing cattle as "pest species."
Although members of the team said the term meant that cattle were not native to the area, ranchers wondered if the idea was to get rid of cattle, said Maeveen Behan, a Pima County employee and project director for the plan.
The semantics issue was solved by dropping the word pest and using the phrase: "a potentially problematic species."
Discussion of grazing caused ranchers concern, Sheridan said. It took three months to convince ranchers the plan would not ban grazing.
William Shaw, a University of Arizona wildlife biologist who heads the Science Team said he agrees on the importance of ranching. "We have to find common ground." There must be an effort to better address ranchers' needs, he added. "We probably could have done more earlier."
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