Cooperatove Conservation Project

Sonoita Valley Planning Partnership

Local Collaboration to National Conservation Area

Location: South-Central/South-West Region: Arizona

Project Summary: Disparate and previously conflicted interests collaborated to develop a watershed-wide plan to promote ecological health, leading to the creation of the Las Cienegas National Recreation Area.
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View of Empire/Las Cienegas landscape in southern Arizona. (PHOTO BY BLM)
Resource Challenge

Sonoita Valley, just 50 miles southeast of Tucson, is a vast, high desert basin of oak-studded hills, rolling grasslands, and the lush riparian corridor along Cienega Creek. It is an important wildlife corridor, connecting the Sonoran desert of the Southwest and northern Mexico. Half public and half private land ownership, it has traditionally supported ranching, grazing, and mining. Recently rediscovered as a recreational paradise, the valley is feeling the effects of Tucson’s booming growth.

In a land exchange, the USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquired desert lands close to the Mexican border and filed an Environmental Impact Statement to extend grazing leases. In the early 1990s that process became litigious. The BLM drew together a large group of stakeholders, including federal, state, and local agencies, organized groups, and individuals who eventually realized their common interests, forming the Sonoita Valley Planning Partnership (SVPP) and expanding the planning area to include the watershed. The SVPP members share a common interest in the future of the Valley’s public lands. 

Examples of Key Partners

USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM), USDI Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Arizona Game and Fish, Santa Cruz and Pima Counties, Sonoita, Elgin, Tucson, Universities, a variety of non-government organizations, and others.

Results and Accomplishments
  • Produced a plan to nurture landscape health at the watershed level without regard to ownership.
  • Negotiated agreements and understandings that human uses need to be compatible with ecosystem functions and that the total capacity of the land to support plants, animals—and humans—is a composite, rather than a single use.
  • Reached consensus on balancing resource conservation objectives with traditional multiple uses.
  • Integrated the protection and celebration of cultural heritage with healthy environments that support balanced use.
  • Formed a foundation of understanding, trust, and responsibility that will mature into a forum where all owners and stakeholder groups can effectively implement strategies to protect the region’s natural assets for future generations.
  • Helped model and participated in integrating the work of the SVPP into the larger context of the Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a visionary plan to effectively integrate the interests of both natural and human communities. 

Developed an inclusive process that digs deep to fi nd commonality, sticks to core principles, takes the time needed to reach consensus, shares ownership for outcomes, and holds each other responsible and accountable.

Project Contact
Jeff Williamson
Arizona Zoological Society, Phoenix Zoo



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