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"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed." Wallace Stegner

The White Tailed Antelope Squirrel, Ammospermophilus leucurus, is most common in grasslands and marginal piñon-juniper woodland. It is found in the low desert foothills of Arizona. Its food consists of seeds, berries, fruits, insects and green vegetation. Buds and new growth of mesquite trees and various cactus fruits are seasonal favorites. It uses several short, shallow burrow systems for protection from the heat and enemies, as well as places to store seeds. (photo: Wikipedia, public domain)

Our Heritage
The cultural richness of Southern Arizona is startling.  Recently, for instance, a series of canals was excavated along Interstate 10 in Tucson.  These are some of the historical cultural artifacts left by the area’s earliest inhabitants.  Layered alongside and atop them are the remains of the area’s more recent industries: namely, cattle ranching, mining, soldiering and religious conversion.

The first European explorers to the area were the Spanish who came in the 16th century, looking for fabled golden cities and finding none.  They encountered and recorded impressions of what was the primarily Pima-speaking populations, now represented by the Tohono O’odham nation.  The extensive prehistoric Hohokam population, which had stretched from the Phoenix basin to the middle of the Santa Cruz Valley and, in the western Tucson Basin had constructed the earliest known irrigation canals in North America.  They had largely disappeared from the region some two hundred years before the Spanish arrived, for reasons that are not clearly understood.  (The Center for Desert Archaeology has recently released a Feasibility Study for The Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, which is available at their website.)

The Spanish explorers introduced cattle ranching in the region, first for their own needs and then, by the 19th century, with huge Spanish land grants assigned along the banks of the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers, established a way of life that would clearly dominate the economy of the region up through World War II.  Similarly the mining industry got its first start in these early days as the Spanish explorers sought gold, lured by the tales of Friar Marcos de Niza.  Instead they found silver in 1736, near the present day border with Mexico, although there never was much of it.  Missionaries first came to the region in the 17th and 18th centuries, first the Jesuits, establishing a chain of missions near native settlements, and after the Jesuits were expelled in 1767, the Franciscans continuing their work.  Most of the structures that remain are theirs.  Especially prolific in building missions was, of course, Father Kino.  Fortified garrisons, or presidios, soon followed to protect newly formed communities of the converted and a growing number of settlers to the area, from raids, most notably of the Apache. In the opening decades of the 20th century southern Arizona became the largest producer of copper at the time of the advent of electricity and copper wiring

Early conservation Efforts
All this human activity has laid down an extremely rich past on the landscape that is the focus of much romantic interest – even if this romantic focus blurs the fact of so much destruction, of native things, and native places and especially native people and their cultures. No doubt for myriad reasons (having to do with the openness of the landscape, the lateness of the West to be more fully settled) but also because of that special romance of the West, the federal government has taken significant interest in Arizona.  The state ranks 4th in the country in terms of acreage owned by the U.S. government.  This is 12 million surface acres (and 36 million subsurface) and much of that acreage is managed by various entities like the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service or the National Park Service.  In southern Arizona there are four main national monuments, encompassing mountains, that frame the area where we work.  This region had been appreciated and used for its natural beauty since the middle of the nineteenth century, when people had left the heat of the low lying cultivated areas for these Sky Islands, as they are known today.  Coronado National Forest covers 1,780,000 acres of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, ranging in elevation from 3000 to 10,720 feet and over twelve widely scattered mountain ranges, including the Santa Catalinas and the Chiricahaus.  The next land set aside was the Saguaro National Monument, created in 1933 from what had been the Rincon Mountain District.  It was the first landscape set aside in this way to protect a species of plant..  In 1961 15,360 acres of the Tucson Mountain district were added to the monument.  In its present state the park comprises 91,327 acres.  The monument was finally elevated to national park status – the nation's 52nd – in a bill signed by President Bill Clinton in October, 1994.  In 1937 the 330,688 acres of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument were set aside and finally in 1952 the 4,750 acres of the Coronado National Memorial, and the four cornerstones of the national park system of southern Arizona were complete.