By Robert Blood
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Jeanne Trupiano, Coldwater Farm project manager with Central Arizona Land Trust. Find out more at CentralAZLandTrust.Org.]
So what is Coldwater Farm and how did it get involved with the Central Arizona Land Trust?
It’s 20 acres of land along the Agua Fria River in Dewey-Humboldt owned by Garry and Denise Rogers. They approached the Central Arizona Land Trust in 2017 with the desire to permanently protect their acreage, which spans the river there. The property contains a major Cottonwood-Willow gallery forest and perennial water, so it’s very lush, like an oasis, with very dense vegetation. They also have two large ponds that waterfowl like to use. Also in 2017, the Arizona Game and Fish Department observed two threatened or endangered bird species nesting and breeding there: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
This is private property, though. Why does it need protection?
The property has zoning that would allow for one unit for every two acres. So, whoever has the land, down the line, could develop it to that density. Eventually everything sells, and this is a way for property owners to protect sensitive areas. … Typically, it’s the landowners who approach us about this. We do some outreach and education, but typically it’s such a big decision that landowners think it over for a long period of time and make it a part of their estate planning, then approach us.
What exactly is the Central Arizona Land Trust and how is it related to conservation?
It’s a nonprofit that was formed in Prescott in 1989. The trust’s initial conservation easements were located in the Greater Prescott Region. Protected lands can be found on Thumb Butte, along Granite Creek, and on a working ranch in Skull Valley. Coldwater Farm would be a new area for us. Right now we oversee nearly 5,000 acres. We don’t own the land, but take care of the conservation easement, which is a tool to protect property from being developed. The beauty of that is that the landowner retains ownership for use — they just can’t subdivide it. It can be passed on to heirs and stays on the local tax rolls in the existing land use. There’s no federal government involvement. These easements are an agreement between the land trust and the landowners. The conservation easement is defined by state law, and the Central Arizona Land Trust meets the requirements as one of the groups qualified to take responsibility for it. The benefit to the private landowner is that they can obtain federal tax benefits for the donation in some cases.
What’s the state of the Coldwater Farm easement?
Well, we launched a fundraising campaign, “It’s For the Birds,” on May 12 with a fundraising goal of $65,000. None of that goes to the landowner. The donated funds are dedicated to cover the due diligence to accept the easement and to fund the perpetual stewardship. The Land Trust invests the stewardship funds with the Arizona Community Foundation to ensure long-term protection of the easement.
What’s so special about that area?
Riparian areas in Arizona are so important, and Cottonwood-Willow gallery forests are a rare habitat type. There’s permanent water here, year-round, so it’s valuable to animals and attracts rare species that need specific resources. In addition to the birds, there are a host of plants and animals including mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that use or take up residence in these riparian areas. Garry Rogers, the landowner, has actually published a book about the birds of Dewey-Humboldt and, since having lived at the property since the 1990s, has observed 127 different species there. The Prescott chapter of the Native Plant Society has visited the property and noted that in addition to the beautiful, mature Cottonwood-Willow gallery forest, the understory is in great shape. With special respect to the birds, Arizona is part of what’s called the Pacific Flyway. Birds use the flyways, often along rivers going north and south, to migrate. Even the American Robin is a migratory bird — my point being that there are a lot of different bird species that use it, common and rare. What’s more, to have two threatened or endangered species using it is really encouraging. Migratory birds may live in different areas along the flyway to sustain their life cycle. Coldwater Farm can help promote breeding and the continuation of their species. It’s as if the rivers can be seen as a string of pearls in which each pearl contributes to a larger sustaining ecosystem.
So what’s the goal for that area? It sounds like it’s in pretty good shape as is.
It is. I think over time the conservation easement can aid in any restoration, but the main goal is just to maintain the area. … Ten years from now, if all goes well, we’re hoping it doesn’t look much different than it does today. We want to maintain the integrity of the forest and make sure no invasive plant species establish themselves. … One thing I wanted to mention is that if there are any water rights on a conservation easement, as there are with Coldwater Farm, they’re held with the property to ensure they’re protected as well.
You mentioned the Arizona Native Plant Society earlier. What other Prescott groups have been involved with the Central Arizona Land Trust’s efforts?
The Prescott Audubon Society, the Highlands Center for Natural History, the Citizens’ Water Advocacy Group, the Sierra Club Yavapai Group, the Prescott chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society, as well as the Arizona Riparian Council and the Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument. The town council of Dewey-Humboldt has also been very supportive and has donated $2,500 to the cause.
Could you discuss a little more how the $65,000 goal would be divvied up?
As with all conservation easement projects, the funds support transactional expenses such as the required baseline reports, appraisal, land surveys, and title work. To ensure perpetual protection of the easement, approximately one-half of the funds will support stewardship. We hold that money in a trust and only take money out for two purposes. One is annual monitoring to make sure the easement is adhered to. The other reason is to have the financial ability to defend the easement if we’re legally challenged, that is, if anyone tries to develop or subdivide the property.
What happens next?
Moving forward, we’ll continue to raise money and have a fundraiser in August, which you can find out about on our Facebook page. We’ve partnered with an architectural firm in Phoenix who’s using this program to offset some developments they’re doing in the valley. There are a lot of chances to get involved with this protection effort, from joining the fundraising committee to donating online at CentralAZLandTrust.Org … If we don’t meet our goal, we’ll just keep working at it to make it happen. The goal is to raise the money by the end of December of this year, but if we don’t we’ll just keep working toward it. … For most people, giving up development rights forever is a big deal, and you’re not guaranteed the tax benefits. That’s why we make an effort to raise funds: So that generous people can donate the conservation easements to us without having to pay for them.
Find out more about the Central Arizona Land Trust and Coldwater Farm at CentralAZLandTrust.Org.
Robert Blood is a Mayer-ish-based freelance writer and ne’er-do-well who’s working on his last book, which, incidentally, will be his first. Contact him at BloodyBobby5@Gmail.Com.
Tags: Arizona Native Plant Society, Arizona Riparian Council, Central Arizona Land Trust, Citizens Water Advocacy Group, Coldwater Farm, conservation easement, Denise Rogers, Dewey-Humboldt, Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument, Garry Rogers, Highlands Center for Natural History, It's For the Birds, Jeanne Trupiano, Prescott Audubon Society, Robert Blood, Sierra Club Yavapai Group, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo