January 27, 2017

Preserving a Lifeline for the Verde River

Photography | WRC's second project in the Verde River basin, in Arizona, will conserve a mile of the East Verde River, a crucial source of clean, cold water for the mainstem Verde River. Photo by Dan Sorensen.

This fall, Western Rivers Conservancy launched an effort to conserve a rare unprotected reach of Arizona’s East Verde River. Flowing from headwaters in forests of the Mogollon Rim, the East Verde courses through nearly 30 miles of backcountry within the Tonto National Forest and Mazatzal Wilderness, where it finally meets the Verde River against a backdrop of sunbaked boulders and saguaro cacti.

The Verde is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in Arizona, and the East Verde is the most intact part of the basin. It is a stream of great importance, providing crucial habitat for imperiled native fish populations, clean water for the communities of Payson and around, and opportunities to hike, paddle, hunt, swim and birdwatch in an area where heat is far more prevalent than water.

This is WRC’s second project in Arizona, following our recent work on Fossil Creek, which also flows into the Verde River. On the East Verde, we are working to conserve the 149-acre Doll Baby Ranch, which includes a mile of the river within the Tonto National Forest, immediately outside the eastern edge of the wilderness area. Our effort will preserve crucial habitat for a number of threatened species, including Mexican spotted owl, narrow-headed garter snake, northern Mexican garter snake and Chiricahua leopard frog. It will also benefit struggling populations of seven native warm-water fish species that still inhabit the river.

The East Verde River is also rich in human history and important to the Yavapai Apache Nation. Along and around the river it is possible to find ruins of prehistoric settlements, and hikers commonly encounter petroglyphs, potshards and grinding stones.

WRC’s effort to conserve Doll Baby Ranch is important for recreationists as well. The property controls a critical, private road that accesses the Mazatzal Wilderness, two trailheads and extensive hiking, backpacking, equestrian, hunting and birding opportunities in an area that is treasured by Arizonans from near and far.

As at Fossil Creek, our partner in this effort is the U.S. Forest Service, which will be the long-term stewards of Doll Baby Ranch. Once the lands are in public hands, a mile of the East Verde will be restored and forever managed for its fish and wildlife habitat and to guarantee permanent access for the people of Arizona to cherish and enjoy.

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