Desert Invasion - U.S.
Empire Cienega - Las Cienegas National Conservation Area
Since June 1988, the Empire and Cienega ranches, along with portions of the adjacent Rose Tree and Vera Earl ranches, have been under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management. The 45,000 acres of public land are in southeastern Pima County and northeastern Santa Cruz County.
Prior to BLM's acquisition, these rolling grasslands and woodlands faced an uncertain future that almost certainly included housing and commercial development. Such development would have eliminated the sweeping vistas and substantially harmed the watershed and habitat needed for rare native fish and a rich diversity of other wildlife. Pima and Santa Cruz county supervisors officially requested that BLM become involved in protecting this area. The area is now under public ownership and managed by the BLM under the principles of multiple-use and ecosystem management for future generations to use and enjoy.
These lands are located about 50 miles southeast of Tucson. Combined, the NCA and Acquisition Planning District total 142,800 acres of public, private, county, and state trust lands. They form a scenic landscape of vast desert grasslands and rolling oak-studded hills connecting several "sky island" mountain ranges. Cienega Creek, with its perennial flow and lush riparian corridor, forms the lifeblood of the NCA. The area is home to a great diversity of plant and animal life, including several threatened or endangered species. Protection of this regionally significant open space safeguards a network extending south of Interstate 10 to protected lands in northern Sonora, Mexico.
The Las Cienegas NCA includes a variety of unique and rare vegetative communities including five of the rarest habitat types in the American Southwest: cienegas (marshlands), cottonwood-willow riparian forests, sacaton grasslands, mesquite bosques, and semi-desert grasslands.
Fish and Wildlife: These vegetative communities on the NCA support a diverse assemblage of plants and animals; species include 60 mammals, 230 birds, 43 reptiles and amphibians, and three native fish. Included in this list are 33 species which are federally listed as threatened or endangered, identified as species of special concern by the State of Arizona, or designated as sensitive species by the BLM. Among the special status species are the endangered Gila topminnow, lesser long-nosed bat, and southwestern willow flycatcher; the Chiricahua leopard frog, proposed for endangered species listing; and the Gila chub, a candidate for federal listing. Large game animals include mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, javelina, and mountain lion.
Archaeological and Historical Values: Rare prehistoric sites, historic travel routes, mines, and mining towns are all present in the NCA and Acquisition Planning District. The Empire Ranch House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is being restored with the help of the Empire Ranch Foundation in partnership with the BLM. Contributions are being matched by a White House Save America's Treasures Millennium Grant.
(Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)
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