Sid Goodloe grows grass. Lots of it. His ranch near the village of Capitan is a green oasis in a southern New Mexico desert seared by drought. It's not that his land isn't hurting. Ponds and creeks are drying, and hip-high grasses now reach only to the knee. Still, his ranch has some water and grass.
Yet his Carrizo Valley Ranch is not a preserve;
it is a working landscape where economics and ecology go
hand-in-hand to ensure a good living for Goodloe and a sustainable
living for the plants and wildlife that live on the ranch's 3,450
When Goodloe bought the ranch in 1956,
the land was beat up. Roads from early homesteads had turned into
deepening gullies, and cattle numbers had climbed to 60, which was
double what the ranch could actually bear. He knew he had a problem
when he found a rock cairn marking a section corner in a dense pine
and cedar stand. Then he figured it out: The surveyor had put it
there in 1880, because back then there was no witness tree to mark
the corner or, for that matter, any tree at all within100 yards.
With the zeal of Johnny Appleseed, but with a
much different goal in mind, Goodloe has spent almost three decades
working the Carrizo Valley Ranch back to health. He thinned the
forest that had invaded the ranch. He recreated an open cedar-pine
savannah at lower elevations and, at higher elevations, an open
ponderosa pine forest that would, in 1994, stop the Patos Mountain
burn right at his fence line.
Grass grew as it
had not for 50 years. Runoff from rainfall slowed, soil was held in
place, water storage increased and more grass grew. The rock dams
Goodloe placed in the gullies turned torrents into trickles and
allowed soil to fill in century-old road cuts. The landscape
Goodloe says his ranch has produced more
than he could imagine in 1956. The land produces three times the
tonnage of beef as before, yet leaves much grass ungrazed for
wildlife and watershed health. More important in this dry land, it
produces water; creeks that ran only when it rained now run
year-round. That means mule deer in jeopardy elsewhere in the West
are thriving on the ranch and producing hunting income. Erosion has
stopped, gullies have healed and creeks are running clear.
And while fires rage destructively in next-door
Lincoln National Forest, Goodloe's managed fires burn purposefully
on the ranch, mimicking nature's way to keep ponderosa pine stands
of old-growth, open, healthy and productive for humans, livestock
Goodloe's ranch also produces
firewood for nearby Ruidoso, and those earnings pay for more land
restoration. He says an occasional harvest of an old-growth
ponderosa for adobe vigas commands top dollar.
All of this activity on the ranch produces open
space at the very moment development near the ranch is turning $180
an acre range into $4,000 an acre home sites.
Goodloe hopes his Southern Rockies Agricultural
Land Trust will protect this open space through voluntary, private
conservation easements. He is putting am easement on his own ranch
to ensure his family will always have a place to call home.
His working landscape is working overtime with
his ideas to develop a cogeneration plant using forest slash and
building a market for wildlife viewing. At the same time, his ranch
is teaching others how to conserve their landscapes. After years of
resisting his vision, public land managers are mimicking his
There's every reason to believe that
landscapes that work for private lands will also work for public
lands. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton is committed to the
President's vision of a nation of citizen stewards and to the
belief that working landscapes are central to conservation. This is
the heart of the Secretary's 4 C's agenda: conservation through
consultation, communication and cooperation. It is also the spirit
of the Bush administration's environmentalism.
The real lesson from Sid Goodloe's ranch is that
the job of conservation on federal lands is too big and too
important for government alone.
The role of the
federal government is to make the work of citizen stewardship
easier and more effective. That is why the Interior Department will
be unveiling ideas for 4 C's initiatives to make citizen
stewardship the national standard for conservation.
If Sid Goodloe's working landscape is the legacy
he plans to leave to his children, it is also a vision worthy of
the West. It's a strategy that can save America's wildlands and
wildlife, reconciling people and nature, economics and ecology.