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40,000 Acres of Public Land Opened in Arizona

November 3, 2021

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) applauds the collaborative efforts that led to completing a twenty-plus year project in Arizona that will open public access for hunting, hiking, equestrian, and other outdoor recreational uses in an area that has historically been locked off to the public. This Aravaipa Canyon Recreation Access project was the BLM's highest ranked FY 2020 acquisition priority for the use of Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in the country.

"Protecting the Cross F Ranch was a huge lift, but is a classic example of a multiple benefit action with multiple partners that could not have been done without them," said Gray N. Thornton President and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. "Amid all the benefits is preserving a critical migration corridor for the area's desert bighorn sheep."

The Cross F Ranch acquisition is now a connecter between Aravaipa Creek and the BLM's Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness on its west side with the Santa Teresa Mountains and the Forest Service's Santa Teresa Wilderness area to the east. The acquisition contains nearly 22,000 acres of public and private lands, with the ranch being 2,831 acres of private lands that the Trust for Public Land has conveyed to BLM, plus an additional 323 acres of private lands (that lie within the Coronado National Forest) that were conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service.   The ranch lies just north of the community of Klondyke and is also adjacent to both the San Carlos Apache reservation and The Nature Conservancy's Aravaipa Canyon Preserve.

"WSF and two of our Chapters and Affiliates, our Midwest Chapter and the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, have been providing funding for the past two years to help get this done," Thornton continued. "But as I said, this was a collaborative effort, which is how some of the best conservation actions come about."

The partners involved in the success of this project include the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish, rancher Kathy Sergent, and The Nature Conservancy of Arizona. Additional funding to support the substantial project costs was provided by the Trust for Public Lands, the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, National Wild Turkey Federation (Arizona chapter), Wild Sheep Foundation (Midwest chapter), Southern Arizona Hiking Club, Arizona Deer Association, and Safari Club International (Arizona chapter) and The Nature Conservancy. 

"Access into Aravaipa Canyon and areas beyond has been an issue for decades for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts," said Charlie Kelly, treasurer for the Wild Sheep Foundation and Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, as well as past president for the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society. "After several years of hard work by the Trust for Public Land, access has finally been secured permanently by the acquisition of the Cross F Ranch. This project was made possible in large part with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), as well as generous contributions from several environmental and wildlife conservation groups. This vital project is proof of what can be accomplished when groups with somewhat different perspectives can come together in unison to accomplish great things!"

Funding for the purchase of the ranch by the BLM and Forest Service was provided through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is the primary source of funding that invests in protecting the critical natural resource and outdoor recreation lands from development, enhancing public access for recreation, protecting key wildlife habitat, and conserving land and water resources on federally designated and managed lands. In August 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funds the LWCF at $900 million annually, was signed into law with broad, bipartisan support. 

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF), based in Bozeman, Mont., was founded in 1977 by wild sheep conservationists and enthusiasts. With a membership of more than 10,000 worldwide, WSF is the premier advocate for wild sheep and other mountain wildlife and their habitats. WSF has raised and expended more than $135 million on wild sheep habitat and population enhancements, education, and conservation advocacy programs in North America, Europe, and Asia to “Put and Keep Wild Sheep on the Mountain®.” These and other efforts have increased bighorn sheep populations in North America from historic lows in the 1950-60s of 25,000 to more than 85,000 today.

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