Nurturing the Desert Southwest

Diane Luber, Jacob Chinn photo

Love of southern Arizona’s landscapes and a desire to preserve them for future generations brought Diana Freshwater ’83 and Liz Petterson ’95 together at the nonprofit Arizona Land and Water Trust.

The trust raises funds to protect large areas with water and high biodiversity — often farms and ranches — from development.

“Many areas are adjacent to already-protected public lands,” says Freshwater, who was the trust’s executive director from 1999 to 2011 and now is president of its board.

“It’s a bit like putting enough puzzle pieces together so people can enjoy these stunning landscapes and appreciate what we have in southern Arizona — and what we’ve been able to protect.”

Petterson, who joined the trust in 2007 and became its executive director in 2011, says it is an honor “to talk to farming and ranching families, gain their trust, learn what their dreams are for their land and be able to fulfill that dream for them.”

The trust has successfully protected more than 45,000 acres in southern Arizona.

Two of the biggest conservation projects the trust has facilitated are Pima County’s acquisition of Rancho Seco in 2005 and the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s purchase of Triangle Bar Ranch in 2012. Rancho Seco, at 10,000 acres plus 26,000 acres of grazing leases, was Pima County’s largest single private-land conservation project. Triangle Bar Ranch, in Pinal County, includes nearly 1,000 acres and 36,000 acres of grazing leases. Both remain working ranches.

Most recently, the trust has been working with federal funds to create a buffer around Fort Huachuca to prevent encroachment that might hamper the Fort’s military mission. 

“The trust is positioning itself to be the go-to organization in southern Arizona to employ federal dollars for land and water protection and be a really good partner for those funding sources,” Petterson says.

The trust routinely works with the UA College of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension on workshops for farmers and ranchers. Arizona’s first water trust, it also works with the UA Department of Hydrology and Water Resources to monitor the impact of the trust’s Desert Rivers Program, in which landowners are reimbursed for temporarily fallowing parts of their property to protect streams and restore riparian habitats.

“The lands and waters we are protecting,” says Freshwater, “will be able to be enjoyed by every citizen, present and future.”