“Preposterously beautiful.” That’s how novelist Jim Harrison once described Patagonia, Arizona, a town on the edge of the Sonoran Desert. Rachel’s Network members confirmed this view on a recent trip to the Sky Island region where they learned about local efforts to preserve this unique and biodiverse landscape.
The trip was led by local Rachel’s Network Member Diana Hadley who supports a number of conservation programs on both sides of the US-Mexico border and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the area. Her Northern Jaguar Project is saving vital habitat for the species through research, education, and protected areas.
Members were introduced to Borderlands Restoration an L3c working to seamlessly integrate conservation and economic opportunities for people in the community. They provide training and jobs for youth, run citizen science programs, and save native seeds, among other activities.
The Sky Island region is home to 15 species of hummingbirds and at least four species of native cats. Borderlands and partners are working to link the Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains and the wildlife that move between them.
One local NGO, the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, operates a banding program throughout the Americas to understand how hummingbird populations are responding to human impacts like agriculture, logging, urban development and climate change. The program provides training opportunities and internships to students and professional biologists from around Latin America and locally.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Land and Water Trust is acquiring land and working with other landowners to build corridors for wildlife habitat and steward water resources, while preserving a local food economy.
“It was fascinating to learn more about the environmental challenges this gorgeous part of the US faces and what dedicated people are doing here to improve conditions for the flora and fauna,” said Member Janet Montgomery.
Several hundred miles of border wall between the US and Mexico is posing a serious challenge to conservation work here. The wall cuts through vital wildlife corridors, increases flooding and degrades ecosystems. Defenders of Wildlife is advocating for new borderlands policies that would simultaneously ensure more effective border security and protect wildlife.
Members weren’t just struck by the natural beauty of the place, but by the positive spirit of the many people there. People like Carlos Mingura, a high school student who started his own nonprofit, and Kate Tirion who founded Deep Dirt Farm Institute.
“My favorite part of the day was going to Deep Dirt Farm and learning about ‘Urbanite’ from Kate,” said Member Barbara Gilmore. “She takes broken-up chunks of cement that usually goes to the landfill and uses them to creatively manage rain water. How ingenious!”
“We were so inspired by the spirit of collaboration, from funders to academics to advocates to community leaders to students,” said Rachel’s Network President Thu Pham. “There was a clear commitment to not only protecting the pristine landscape, but also giving back to the local community.”
Rachel’s Network members came away from their Patagonia trip with inspiration for their projects back home and a practical understanding for the ways that human communities can live in harmony with their surroundings.