The ironwood tree, long a symbol of desert abundance, may soon be protected by a new national monument in southern Arizona. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt toured an ironwood forest near Tucson in mid-March, and expressed interest in protecting about 71,000 acres of BLM land.
A recent report
by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson says the tree is
imperiled by Sunbelt development and overlogging. Ironwood trees
live for centuries, and museum researchers discovered that the
species is ecologically important throughout the Sonoran Desert; in
one area northwest of Tucson, they found that ironwood trees
coexist with 674 plant and animal
"That's an extraordinarily high number
for a single site," " says Gary Paul Nabhan, an author of the
report and the Desert Museum's science and conservation director.
The trees have been a part of human life in the border region for
centuries. Indian tribes use ironwood beans and seeds as food; its
flowers, leaves, bark and roots as medicine; and its wood to make
rosary beads and crosses for religious ceremonies. Hundreds of
thousands of the slow-growing trees still exist in five U.S. and
Mexican states, but their habitat needs protection, says Nabhan.
Right now, ironwood trees have less legal protection in the United
States than they do in Mexico. Since 1994, the Mexican government
has protected the tree and required permits for those wishing to
cut them for fuel or charcoal, but while Arizona and California
also require permits to own, possess or transport ironwood, Nabhan
says enforcement has been weak.
A summary of the
100-page Desert Ironwood Primer can be found on
the museum's Web site at
www.desertmuseum.org/-research/ironwood\_primer.htm. A full-length
version is available for $10; to order or for more information,
call the museum at 520/883-1380.