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Rural Programs



 

Eagle Creek
 

THE EAGLE CREEK WATERSHED

The Physical Environment

 

The Eagle Creek Watershed is located in central eastern Arizona at the base of the White Mountain range. It is a tributary to the Gila River, an important source of water for southern Arizona.

The watershed is unique in that it consists of elements of the upper Sonoran desert, grasslands, and Ponderosa forests. The watershed is remote and undeveloped. Because of its remoteness and unique ecological characteristics it was chosen as the primary recovery zone for the Mexican wolf reintroduction, and is one of the few places in Arizona where antelope aren’t being threatened by development.

The watershed is split down the middle between the San Carlos Apache reservation and the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The primary industry on the watershed is cattle ranching, with small amounts of private land supporting forest service leases.

Watershed Studies

[ Back to Watershed Map ]

The Eagle Creek Watershed is located in central eastern Arizona at the base of the White Mountain range. It is a tributary to the Gila River, an important source of water for southern Arizona.

The watershed is unique in that it consists of elements of the upper Sonoran desert, grasslands, and Ponderosa forests. The watershed is remote and undeveloped. Because of its remoteness and unique ecological characteristics it was chosen as the primary recovery zone for the Mexican wolf reintroduction, and is one of the few places in Arizona where antelope aren’t being threatened by development.

The watershed is split down the middle between the San Carlos Apache reservation and the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The primary industry on the watershed is cattle ranching, with small amounts of private land supporting forest service leases.

The Eagle Creek Watershed Group

The watershed group was formed in 1998, when a local rancher, and his ranch’s management team, decided that in order to affect meaningful change in watershed restoration, a larger, more diverse group must be included. It was decided that the group would take a holistic approach to its work, addressing the environmental, social and economic aspects of all opportunities and challenges. The group expanded to include the forest service permitees, Apache tribal members, hunters, recreationists, county leaders, Arizona Game & Fish, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Arizona Department of Water Quality, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Forest Service, and university personnel.

The initial issues identified included: non-point source pollution, riparian erosion, rangeland restoration, the change of Eagle Creek from a perennial to an ephemeral stream, the drought, and the effects of threatened, endangered and reintroduced species.

By holding workshops and facilitated meetings, the group has been able to see the value of a collaborative approach. The group is on the path to translating that spirit of cooperation into meaningful on-the-ground projects, monitoring, and mutually beneficial environmentally sensitive economic ventures.

Current Focus

Goals:

1) Conservation of natural resources and enhancement of the environment for all users while maintaining or improving the economy in the local watershed.


2) Increased recreational opportunities, increased water quantity and improved water quality, and reduced damage from large storms, floods and other natural disasters.

Objectives:

1) Improve communication and cooperation through:

a. Develop a “good neighbor” policy in regards to stray cattle and fences
b. Work to enhance communication and cooperation, in the local community, across agency linesand across tribal borders

2) Incorporate monitoring and restoration activities into rangeland management by:

a. Improve rangeland and riparian conservation education
b. Establish a cooperative demonstration area that will focus on rangeland and riparian restoration
c. Establishing a watershed-wide monitoring program

3) Explore alternatives that would reduce the interactions between cattle and threatened, endangered, and reintroduced species
4) Explore economic development and/or diversification

On-Going Projects

1) The Eagle Creek Watershed Group has applied for a grant from the EPA for improvement of the Point-of Pines Gate. Improving this gate area will decrease the sediment load in Eagle and Willow Creeks, allow for the natural migration of wildlife, and decrease the number of San Carlos Apache cattle entering the riparian area.

2) A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agencies and the permitees. The MOU will base management decisions for rangeland and riparian habitat on a more thorough monitoring system, rather than the controversial and limited method of Utilization monitoring. This will give ranchers more knowledge and help them to make better decisions.

3) The formation of a community herd. A community herd has several advantages including:

- Decreased grazing time
- Increased rest of grazed areas
- Enable the community to hire a 24-hour herder, effectively eliminating cattle in sensitive areas,
reducing fencing, proactively reducing predator problems, and maximizing grazing utilization.
- Decrease our labor costs by 50% or more.
- Enable the community to economically diversify by offering “working ranch vacations”

This past winter, a community herding demonstration project was held in the Eagle Creek area. Cattle were moved from a ranch that was having numerous predator problems, to a neighboring ranch where the cattle could be monitored more effectively. The local community saved taxpayers many thousands of dollars by avoiding having a wolf trapped and relocated because of predation.

 





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