Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

Challenges to a Shared Vision

But even with the commitment of the Donaldsons and others in the community, Las Cienegas was not a complete victory. During negotiations over the bill, Congress and the Arizona State Land Department removed the area between I-10 and the wilderness area, thus creating the missing link. Congress instead mandated preparation of an assessment to explore the regional significance of that link, now called the Cienega Corridor, and offered recommendations for its management and protection. That assessment concluded that protection of the Cienega Corridor is crucial for regional biological and economic health, as well as preservation of cultural heritage and archaeological sites.

The assessment recommended a community-based collaborative management approach for the Cienega Corridor. Partly in response, an ad hoc coalition of more than forty landowners, business leaders, land managers, and environmental advocates formed the Cienega Corridor Conservation Council. That group is developing a protection plan for the corridor, giving presentations throughout the region, developing brochures, and sponsoring media events to spread the word about the corridor and its importance for conservation.

In 2004, the Cultural Landscape Foundation recognized the Cienega Corridor as one of the nation’s top seven endangered cultural landscapes, expanding our conception of what a protected area means. It was chosen based on the presence of archaeological sites, ghost towns, railroad camps, and current and historic ranches and transportation routes. Those cultural resources are at risk because of rapid growth and development in the adjacent urban edge of Tucson. In its designation, the Cultural Landscape Foundation recognized not only the values of the Cienega Corridor landscape, but also the value of a diverse group of citizens, land managers, scientists, and other stakeholders who formed the Cienega Corridor Conservation Council.

The efforts to protect the Cienega Corridor show promise, but there are no guarantees. The fabric of the community, its social capital, must remain intact. That lesson may well hold for any broad-scale conservation efforts. Such efforts attempt to address large, complex landscapes and often contain national parks or other protected areas, like Las Cienegas, at their core. The success of those efforts, however, may boil down not to the protected areas themselves but to the ability of communities to come together over a shared vision for the land.

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