Malpai Borderlands Group 2016 Annual Science Conference
Photos by Bill Radke
The Malpai Borderlands Group hosted our annual Science Conference on January 5th at the Chiricahua Event Center near Rodeo, New Mexico. Despite the damp, blustery weather, we had a record turnout. Estimated attendance was somewhere around 125, with many locals in attendance. Bill McDonald, our Executive Director and a member of our Board, extended a warm welcome to those who braved the weather and a last minute change of venue.
We dedicated our conference this year to the memory of one of our key founders, Drum Hadley, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day last year. Drum was instrumental in seeing that sound science was a key element in our decision-making and he championed management-oriented research.
This year, we had two keynote speakers to start things off. Dr. Nathan Sayre, Head of the Department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke first. He described how the economic and the political climates early in the 20th century combined to lead range science down a path that was based largely on a faulty assumption—that ecological succession was linear and reversible. He charted the ultimate rejection of conventional range science dogma and described the role of range scientists in the southwest in adopting a more complex idea of how rangeland succession works.
Dr. Tom Sheridan, Research Anthropologist at the University of Arizona School of Anthropology Southwest Center, gave the second keynote address. Tom’s presentation addressed recent efforts to deal with the often conflicting aims of public land users and ranchers. He described the birth and growth of collaboratives in the southwest, and their role in preserving and protecting traditional ranching and the rangelands on which they depend. He described the beginnings in Pima County, starting with the formation of Arizona Common Ground Round Table and the subsequent development of the Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. He finished up with an account of the formation and work of the Altar Valley Alliance, a collaborative group that operates much like the Malpai Borderlands Group.
In the last morning presentation, Dr. Kris Havstad, Senior Supervisory Scientist at the Jornada Experimental Range, described demographic and land use changes in the Malpai Borderlands. These changes have, and will continue, to impact planning and implementation of efforts to restore and protect working rangelands and the people and inhabitants. He noted that the Malpai Borderlands Planning Area captures, stores and releases groundwater that ultimately supports irrigated agriculture surrounding our planning area.
After a break for lunch, Doug Tolleson, a range management specialist with the University of Arizona V Bar V Ranch, presented a practical and hard-hitting look at drought planning for ranchers. He noted that the optimum time to start drought planning is when we are currently enjoying periods of good precipitation. He charted the progression of urgency as drought begins to set in which results in a diminishing array of options.
Dennis Moroney described his family’s efforts to develop a plan for succession that would ensure the continued existence and operations of the family ranch. Faced with the expectation that his children would not be interested in ranching, he and his wife have worked with other young people who do want to ranch. He described various strategies that they have considered and tried, and the promises and pitfalls that they have encountered.
After a short break, Denny Iversen and Jennifer Schoonen described the organization and efforts of the Blackfoot Challenge, a ranching collaborative in western Montana. The Blackfoot Challenge is facing many of the same issues that we face here in the Malpai area, but water issues in their part of the world are much more challenging. They employ a fulltime professional staff and have a strong board to effectively deal with the scope and intricacies of their issues. Jennifer and Denny shared some of their thoughts about how we might proceed as we move into the next phase of our operations.
The final presenter was Ken Mirr, of the Mirr Ranch Group. The Mirr Ranch Group is a commercial real estate operation that deals not only with identifying potential conservation buyers for ranches that are at risk, but which also provides legal and financial planning services for both sellers and buyers. He described many of the issues that must be confronted in the transfer of ranch properties from working ranchers to buyers who may not have experience in the management of working ranches.
On January 6th, MBG staff met at the Event Center with members of our science advisory panel who were in attendance. We conducted a post-mortem on the conference the preceding day and discussed research needs identified by the MBG staff. We also had a very rewarding dialogue concerning ideas and themes for our 2017 Science Conference.
If you have questions, comments or suggestions about our science conference this year or ideas for future conferences, we would appreciate your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.