Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Park Protection
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It was concern over the dwindling population of desert bighorn sheep that moved conservationists in the mid-1930s to promote the idea of a four-million-acre desert refuge for their protection. Withdrawn from the public domain, the land would no longer be open for commercial use. Cattle growers, miners, and local politicians were infuriated. "A damned billy-goat pasture," is how Arizona's governor reacted.

But proponents mounted a winning campaign, persuading President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the neighboring 336,000-acre Organ Pipe National Monument in 1938 and Cabeza Prieta and Kofa national game ranges, a combined total of 1.4 million acres, in 1939. The ranges became national wildlife refuges in 1976. The remainder of the original proposal is contained in the 2.7-million-acre Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range on the north and west sides of Cabeza Prieta NWR.

So what is the future for this magnificent wilderness and haven for unique wildlife? One proposal is the designation of Cabeza Prieta, as well as neighboring federal lands, as part of a 76.4-million-acre Sonoran desert biosphere reserve of Arizona and Mexico, an element of the United Nations Man and Biosphere program. More than 70 nations participate in the program to protect major ecosystems as baselines against which human impact can be measured.

Establishment of a National Park overlay is another proposal being promoted as a means for more rigorous enforcement of desert protection regulations. Backpacking and camping are growing activities.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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