The Diablo Trust, founded in 1993, is a grassroots collaborative land management team specific to 426,000 acres of intermingled ownership (private, state and federal) lands. Participants in the 501(c) (3) non-profit organization include environmentalists, ranchers, agency personnel, college faculty, students, artists, elected officials and other interested persons. Approximately one-third of the Diablo Trust land base is private lands owned by two historic Arizona ranches, the Flying M Ranch and the Bar T Bar Ranch. The remaining two-thirds are comprised of federal lands managed by the Forest Service and state trust lands managed by the Arizona State Land Department. The purpose of the Diablo Trust is to "maintain ranches as long-term, economically viable enterprises managed in harmony with the natural environment and the broader community." In order to achieve this goal, the land has been divided into six ecological zones ranging from riparian and forested areas to high desert plains. The Trust has developed a "desired future condition" for each zone and conducts goal-driven management actions to achieve the stated objectives. In addition, this vast open landscape is utilized by thousands providing recreational opportunities, critical wildlife habitat, protection for historic sites, and healthy watersheds.
Increasingly, the rising cost to protect open space and provide for a high level of stewardship has placed additional economic burdens on landowners in the West. In the past, ranchers struggling with the rising costs of stewardship and livestock production, have frequently split off their private parcels and sold them as 40-acre ranchettes, thereby endangering wildlife habitat, healthy watersheds and other sensitive ecological areas. To address this issue, the Diablo Trust’s two private ranches created the Diablo Canyon Rural Planning Area in 2003. Provided for under Arizona statute and designated by Coconino County, the rural planning area is the first of its kind in Arizona. The innovative pilot project seeks to address sustainability and stewardship issues by creating viable alternatives to the development of open space.
Examples of Key Partners
The planning team was comprised of the Bar T Bar Ranch, the Flying M Ranch and their families. Representatives from the United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona State Land Department, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Coconino County Community Development Department Staff, researchers from Northern Arizona University and members of the Diablo Trust, and others. The initial kick-off was a tour of part of the Rural Planning Area lands, and a retreat at the Flying M headquarters in September 2003. The retreat served as a brainstorming session to identify the purpose, goal and vision of the RPA process. For the next year and a half the committee met on a regular basis. A total of fifteen meetings were held. In addition to sit down meetings the process involved an air tour over the planning area, and several field trips to both ranches to view various stewardship and monitoring projects and other ranching operations.
Results and Accomplishments
The plan has been completed and includes a toolbox of economic opportunities for maintaining the viability and sustainability of the ranches. Commercial ventures discussed in some detail include value-added beef, tourism, recreation and education, alternative energy development, limited housing, wood products, native seed production and mining. The purpose of developing the alternatives through the county planning process was to ensure that each of the economic options is realistic and approvable and meets the goals and policies of the County Comprehensive Plan. Since draft plan completion, the first project has been approved, a 27-tower, 40-megawatt wind energy project on the Bar T Bar Ranch. In addition a very thoughtful proposal has been submitted to the City of Flagstaff under the auspices of the RPA that would provide water rights to the city for future growth, would put the wind project under the control of the city, and would establish conservation easements on 45,000 acres of the Bar T Bar Ranch.
Such planning methods may include: 1) designating certain portions of ranches for higher-density development; 2) gaining state statutory authority for the transfer of development rights; and, 3) encouraging the use of conservation easements/leases – for example, by allowing development or other economic land uses on portions of the property to preserve the ranchlands overall values.
The unique nature of the lands and livelihoods within the Diablo Canyon RPA requires a specialized planning process. Items of consideration for the RPA include:
Environmental stewardship and landscape and open space protection;
Growth, development, and the viability of the working ranch; and
Changes to the character, culture, and lifestyle of the ranching industry.