Pincushion Cactus
Pincushion Cactus

Twenty Years of Endangered Species

When the Malpai Group was getting started 20 years ago we really didn't plan on becoming endangered species experts.  Our region has one of the highest number of listed species known from any comparable area, with nearly 30 endangered species that live here full time, or migrate through during part of the year.  When we thought about endangered species at all, it was mostly to wonder what problems they would cause for us.  We certainly didn't think of them as an asset.  However, one-by-one, need arose to learn more about our listed species.  The Group's efforts have gradually taken a leading role in developing information about the ecology and management needs for several species. We discovered that in some situations their presence can actually be an aid to achieving our landscape goals.

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In early spring of 1996, Warner Glenn and his daughter Kelly were on a mountain lion hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains when they got on the trail of what appeared to be a large lion.  When Warner finally caught up to it, the “lion” turned out to be a jaguar.  As luck would have it, Warner had a full roll of film in his camera.  The photos he took of the jaguar were the first ever taken of a wild jaguar in the United States. Jaguars have occasionally been seen in Arizona over the years, one as far north as the Grand Canyon in 1932, but all seem to have been wandering individuals, with no clear evidence of a population north of the Mexican border. 

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New Mexico Ridge-Nose Rattlesnake

One of the Groups' major efforts has been to work with land managers to return fire to the landscape as a natural ecological process that is necessary to sustain and restore grassland and savanna woodland habitat. The early steps to accomplish this have been to plan a series of prescribed burns which are beginning to get vegetation structure back into a healthy equilibrium with periodic fire.

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Rio Yaqui Fishes

The San Bernardino Valley, on the West side of the Malpai region, is the northern   tip of the watershed for the Rio Yaqui, a river which flows for 300 miles south from here to its mouth on the Gulf of California. The species of fish found in the Rio Yaqui are different from any found in other rivers in the United States.

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The Lesser Long-Nosed Bat

The lesser long-nosed bat is a migratory species that spends the summer in the Malpai area. These bats spend most of the year to the south in Mexico, where they can find enough nectar and fruit from tropical trees to feed them through the winter.

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Chiricahua Leopard Frog

One of the first endangered species projects the Group got involved with was to help the Magoffin family develop reliable water for a Chiricahua leopard frog population. Beginning in 1994 a stock tank that had supported the frogs for many years began to go dry. The Magoffins started hauling water, 1,000 gallons per week, for what turned out to be over two years.

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2006 Jaguar

A new jaguar photo was taken by Warner Glenn in the Malpai Borderlands in 2006, 10 years after he photographed the first jaguar in the area.  It is not the same jaguar that Warner photographed in 1996. The spot patterns were different. This jaguar also was a large male. He was in beautiful shape. Looked to be an older cat. Seven people saw the cat as it went on its way.

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The Science Advisory Committee of the Malpai Borderlands Group is composed of scientists specializing in disciplines ranging from botany to zoology.

Did you know?

  • Malpai ranchers have cooperated with scientists to inventory the region’s rich biodiversity — including the most diverse lizard fauna in the US.
  • The Malpai region has the most extensive network of long-term vegetation monitoring plots in the Southwest. The data collected helps ranchers and public land managers to improve ongoing grassland restoration efforts.
  • The Malpai science program maintains over 200 monitoring plots to provide baseline data on the ecology of the region. Other research efforts focus on specific taxa like the tiny Cochise pincushion cactus.



The Jornada- Arid Lands Research Programs -

The Cuencos Los Ojos Foundation -

Jaguar Book -

Northern Jaguar Project -



2017 Science Conference

Malpai Borderlands Group

The 2017 MBG Science Conference was held on Tuesday, January 4th, at the new Geronimo Event Center north of Rodeo, New Mexico.  Attendance this year increased once again over the previous year.  The new location has proven to be more accessible for local ranchers and supporters than the previous Cochise College events. 

Larry Allen, Chair of the MBG Board, welcomed the speakers and those in attendance.  He then introduced Dr. Nathan Sayre, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and MBG board member, who moderated the morning session. 

Our keynote speaker this year was Tim Koopman, whose family owns and operates the Koopman Ranch in the Bay Area of California east of San Francisco.  Tim gave a history of the ranch that has been in his family for four generations.  He described how changes in land and water use, as well as developing environmental concerns have impacted agriculture in the watershed.  Water allocations and environmental restrictions there are probably as complex and contentious as anywhere in the nation.  He related how he and his family have participated in the development and application of a suite of tools to address and resolve environmental, political and social conflicts, as well as to deal with difficult issues of ranch succession.

Dr. Emile Elias, a research hydrologist with the Jornada Experimental Range, described approaches that ranchers can use to make sense of climate change projections and assess how such changes may affect their operations.  She described a suite of practical tools that are available online to assist ranchers in adapting their management to predicted changes in water tables, evaporation rates and surface water availability.

Next, Dr. Mollie Walton, the Land and Water Program Director for the Quivira Coalition, described her work with participating ranchers to apply simple monitoring methods to assess changes in ecological condition.  Her methods emphasize the measurement of changes in the proportion of bare ground in successive years as a metric of range condition and trend.

The last speaker in the morning session was Dr. Justin Congdon, a longtime collaborator and member of our science advisory group.  He and his colleagues have worked extensively to document the ecology of Sonoran mud turtles in ranch ponds.  He described the importance of these water sources to the continued survival of these unique creatures in the desert southwest, as our climate warms and becomes more arid.

After a lunch break, MBG board member Peter Warren, Field Representative for the Arizona Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, moderated the afternoon session. 
The first speaker was Geoff Bender, the Director of the American Museum of Natural History Southwestern Research Station.  Geoff described his work to restore and recover Chiricahua leopard frog populations in Cave Creek Canyon.  The species is currently federally listed as “threatened” and it has disappeared from over 80 percent of its original range.  Populations in the Cave Creek watershed, the type locality for the species, had declined to the point of extinction. He also gave an update on the status of the frog throughout its current range and progress being made toward recovery.

Next up was Dr. Mary Nichols, Research Hydraulic Engineer with the USDA-ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, another longtime collaborator.  She presented an update on new methodologies for measuring volumes of water in farm and ranch ponds using drones, lasers and remote sensing.

After a short mid-afternoon break, Dr. Andres Ciblis described the research that he and his colleagues have undertaken with the Rarimuri Criollo breed of cattle—animals directly descended from the first domestic cattle introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century.  The animals in his study are native to north-central Mexico and are drought-resistant and able to thrive in very arid regions.  His group has identified both physiological and behavioral adaptations that contribute to their drought-hardiness.

Myles Traphagen, Principal, Solar Biology LLC’ and one of our collaborating plant ecologists, gave the final presentation of the afternoon.  He described his work with remote sensing imagery to document thirty years of increases in shrub cover in the Malpai Borderlands and adjacent regions.  He described how these vegetation changes have affected the migration corridors and the connectivity of populations of grassland species that we share with our neighbors in Mexico.

On Wednesday, January 5th, MBG staff met with members of our science advisory group who were in attendance.  We conducted a post-mortem on the conference the preceding day and discussed research needs and projects.  We spent considerable time brainstorming themes for the 2018 conference, and potential subjects and speakers. 

If you have questions or comments about our conference this year, or ideas about subjects or speakers for our next conference, we would like to hear from you.  Please post any feedback to, HotDoodle™ Custom Web Design and Quality Affordable Website Designers for Small Businesses and Professionals
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