NATURALIST Tom Wood rounds the sun-dappled bend of a stream,
explaining why 14 species of ferns and seven species of wild
orchids are not what most people expect to find in this remote
section of Arizona.
Just ahead, frozen like pointers, three bird-watchers focus
their binoculars on a ruby-crowned kinglet, barely visible against
the speckled bark of a sycamore. Four fawns nibble unafraid on
"Psh psh ... psssssssh!" whispers Mr. Wood, trying to whisk the
kinglet into the open for better viewing.
We are standing on the hilly slope of a lush, riparian canyon,
as beautiful as it is refreshing, as diverse in flora and fauna as
it is seemingly out of place among the hundreds of miles of dusty
buttes that surround it.
This is the 280-acre Ramsey Canyon preserve, an ecological
crossroads on the eastern flank of the Huachuca Mountains in
southeastern Arizona. In the natural world, what comes together
here is unique: a mixture of plants and animals from the Sonoran
and Chihuahuan deserts, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madres, and
even the Eastern seaboard.
That mix means unlikely combinations of such vegetation as agave
next to big-tooth maples and prickly pear cactus next to bright red
manzanita or wild grape. It means rare birds, such as the earless
trogon - the iridescent plumes of its relatives were used in
ancient Mayan ceremonies - or an as-yet-named species of frog
discovered here recently.
But also coming together in the canyon are what were perhaps
once natural enemies: residents and ranchers, with their need for
amenities and commerce, and environmentalists, with what some once
called "vigilante" notions of keeping the abuses of man at bay.
"Regardless if they are ranchers, miners, retirees, or birders,
all sides are coming together and finding they want the same thing
- clean water, a productive ecosystem, and a protected watershed,"
says Greg Yumsovich, director of the San Pedro Riparian National
Conservation Area (RNCA).
For the past two years, Mr. Yumsovich has been coordinating a
growing number of local, state, and federal agencies to embrace
both conservation and land-use concerns region wide.
Residents, ranchers, and business interests have also begun to
network among themselves. One group has called formal meetings that
began in October. The push is coming with the collective
realization that the San Pedro River system - of which the Ramsey
Canyon stream is one of perhaps five major tributaries - is one of
the last, undammed watersheds in the Southwest. Without proper
stewardship, the San Pedro could easily go the way of 90 percent of
Arizona rivers that have dried up since the turn of the century.
The stakes are large.
With 400 species of birds - half of the total found in the
United States - the San Pedro region is one of three primary
resting stops for migratory birds flying to South America from
Alaska, Canada, and the western US. (The other two are the Colorado
River and the Rio Grande.) As such, it has become one of the
favorite bird-watching centers in North America. The region boasts
the largest number of birds of prey - as well as hummingbirds - in
Perhaps as a gauge to the fragility of this and other
ecosystems, 55 rare or endangered species can be found in the
narrow, 140-mile corridor, which runs north out of Sonora, Mexico,
until the San Pedro joins the Gila River near Winkelman, Ariz.
Ninety percent of the wildlife in Arizona depends upon riparian
(adjacent to water) corridors. …