Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home pageNo. 39, Spring/Summer 1996

Dryland Use & Management: Student perspectives on a border county

by Barron Orr

At The University of Arizona, one of the core courses in the Arid Lands Resource Sciences (ALRS) doctoral program is entitled "Use and Management of Arid Lands" (ARL 596b). Currently taught by Charles F. Hutchinson, it is intended to introduce students to the major issues pertaining to land uses in the world's arid and semiarid zone.

Professor Hutchinson has moved away from the traditional seminar approach by bringing real issues faced by residents of one of Arizona's border counties to the students. He also has brought the students into direct contact with the stakeholders in that border county to help sort fact from hyperbole.

Santa Cruz County (along the Arizona-Sonora border) served students as an example of the problems currently being debated that will determine the future of land management in much of the arid and semiarid western United States. In particular, this has included the debate over the management of lands in relation to (1) ownership (public vs. private), (2) tenure and access (leases and regulation), (3) intergenerational transfers (i.e., inheritance), and (4) the economic, environmental, and social consequences of proposed changes in current arrangements.

A Lack of Data

The thought behind the class began several years earlier when Donna Chickering, of UA Cooperative Extension, and Hutchinson responded to requests from ranchers seeking to maintain the integrity of their property into the future. Initial investigations revealed that few data were available concerning the structure of ranching and its impact on household and local economies. Unlike the detailed agricultural profiles available in midwestern farming states, the nature of ranching is better known in descriptive terms than in quantifiable terms. The variety and volume of data necessary to work from an informed position necessitated the involvement of creative and motivated researchers, like those enrolled in Hutchinson's course.

The class got directly to the heart of the conflict with two opening lectures covering land rights movements, development pressures, and conservation concerns. Kirk Emerson, a conflict resolution specialist, provided perspective on the "wise use movement" as a response to public policy. Thomas Sheridan, a UA anthropologist and author of Arizona: A History , offered a regional historical perspective.

The lectures were capped by an interactive panel discussion arranged by Chickering and hosted by science students at Vail Middle School, which is situated near the northern border of the county. The panel included ranch owners and managers and several government agency employees responsible for managing public land in Santa Cruz County. It was followed two days later by an all-day field trip through the county, which included input from Richard Harris, of Santa Cruz County Cooperative Extension, and Bob Sharp, an important landholder in the San Rafael Valley. The excitement generated by the first three weeks of the course prompted The Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy to provide modest financial support for student data collection efforts, hoping the data gathered would contribute to a preliminary study of environmental conflict resolution in Santa Cruz County.

Data Gathering Begins

From here the students split into six thematically different groups, each responsible for collecting different kinds of information. On the physical side, Saad Al-Maharwi, Stuart Black, and Larry Cowles investigated land-related factors such as soils, vegetation, water, and precipitation. Sam Drake, Cindy Salo, and Diego Valdez attacked the problem from a use perspective, both on a county-wide and a more local scale. Contrasts in vegetation condition in areas of differing land management became the objective of Susan Carmody, Jim Mandaville, and Wilma Renken.

The cultural profile of the county also was researched. Recent and past U.S. Census data were evaluated by Garri Dryden and Curt Reynolds to gain a better idea of county demographics. Eric Ellman, Susan Kliman, and Yi Zheng considered the administrative angle, pursuing information held in county agency records to better understand land ownership and use patterns. These two efforts were supported in the field by a household survey conducted by Amy Eisenburg, Alejandro Leon, and Madelene Orton. Unifying these projects was a desire to achieve a better understanding of land use practices and constraints on ranching operations in today's economy.

In addition, Barron Orr and a number of Arizona Remote Sensing Center (ARSC) and ART Lab staff assisted Hutchinson in creating a 50(+)-layer instructional spatial database in ArcInfo and accessed by the students for data analysis in ArcView. Most of these data came from the Arizona State Land Department's ALRIS database and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The fieldwork phase is winding down and now the students are reconsidering the issues outlined at the beginning of the course. This transition has been accompanied by a lecture given by Luther Probst and Liz Rosan of the Sonoran Institute in Tucson on community workshops aimed at conflict resolution. Dan Dagget, author of Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, also will speak in coming weeks; he will be introduced by Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ).

Analysis and Presentations

The data collected are now being compiled as the students prepare oral presentations concerning the varying viewpoints on land use and management in Santa Cruz County. These presentations will focus on how current land use will be affected by different policy scenarios.

The information gathered over the semester has shed light on efforts by county residents to maintain the viability of their communities and the rural tax base, while addressing potential threats to land tenure. The students also have provided insight into environmental conservation strategies and the ever-growing pressures of development extending outward from urban bases such as Tucson and Nogales. In addition, it probably is safe to say that the initial attitudes of the students toward these varying viewpoints have evolved over the semester. The course has given students within and outside the ALRS program an opportunity to practice a wide variety of skills in a real-world situation under academic guidance. Moreover, the results obtained this semester will become the foundation for the course when it is next taught at The University of Arizona.

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Internet Resources Cited In This Article

The University of Arizona

The Arid Lands Resource Sciences Ph.D. Program

Course: Use and Management of Arid Lands (ARL 596b) [20 Nov. '98, site not found]

Charles F. Hutchinson

Map: Santa Cruz County, Arizona

The Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy

U.S. Census Data

The Arizona Remote Sensing Center (ARSC)

University of Arizona ART Lab [20 Nov. '98, site not found]



Arizona State Land Department

The ALRIS Database

Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)

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Barron Orr is a student in the ALRS doctoral program.

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