Pincushion Cactus
Pincushion Cactus

Twenty Years of Endangered Species

When the Malpai Group was getting started 20 years ago we really didn't plan on becoming endangered species experts.  Our region has one of the highest number of listed species known from any comparable area, with nearly 30 endangered species that live here full time, or migrate through during part of the year.  When we thought about endangered species at all, it was mostly to wonder what problems they would cause for us.  We certainly didn't think of them as an asset.  However, one-by-one, need arose to learn more about our listed species.  The Group's efforts have gradually taken a leading role in developing information about the ecology and management needs for several species. We discovered that in some situations their presence can actually be an aid to achieving our landscape goals.

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In early spring of 1996, Warner Glenn and his daughter Kelly were on a mountain lion hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains when they got on the trail of what appeared to be a large lion.  When Warner finally caught up to it, the “lion” turned out to be a jaguar.  As luck would have it, Warner had a full roll of film in his camera.  The photos he took of the jaguar were the first ever taken of a wild jaguar in the United States. Jaguars have occasionally been seen in Arizona over the years, one as far north as the Grand Canyon in 1932, but all seem to have been wandering individuals, with no clear evidence of a population north of the Mexican border. 

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New Mexico Ridge-Nose Rattlesnake

One of the Groups' major efforts has been to work with land managers to return fire to the landscape as a natural ecological process that is necessary to sustain and restore grassland and savanna woodland habitat. The early steps to accomplish this have been to plan a series of prescribed burns which are beginning to get vegetation structure back into a healthy equilibrium with periodic fire.

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Rio Yaqui Fishes

The San Bernardino Valley, on the West side of the Malpai region, is the northern   tip of the watershed for the Rio Yaqui, a river which flows for 300 miles south from here to its mouth on the Gulf of California. The species of fish found in the Rio Yaqui are different from any found in other rivers in the United States.

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The Lesser Long-Nosed Bat

The lesser long-nosed bat is a migratory species that spends the summer in the Malpai area. These bats spend most of the year to the south in Mexico, where they can find enough nectar and fruit from tropical trees to feed them through the winter.

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Chiricahua Leopard Frog

One of the first endangered species projects the Group got involved with was to help the Magoffin family develop reliable water for a Chiricahua leopard frog population. Beginning in 1994 a stock tank that had supported the frogs for many years began to go dry. The Magoffins started hauling water, 1,000 gallons per week, for what turned out to be over two years.

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2006 Jaguar

A new jaguar photo was taken by Warner Glenn in the Malpai Borderlands in 2006, 10 years after he photographed the first jaguar in the area.  It is not the same jaguar that Warner photographed in 1996. The spot patterns were different. This jaguar also was a large male. He was in beautiful shape. Looked to be an older cat. Seven people saw the cat as it went on its way.

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The Science Advisory Committee of the Malpai Borderlands Group is composed of scientists specializing in disciplines ranging from botany to zoology.

Did you know?

  • Malpai ranchers have cooperated with scientists to inventory the region’s rich biodiversity — including the most diverse lizard fauna in the US.
  • The Malpai region has the most extensive network of long-term vegetation monitoring plots in the Southwest. The data collected helps ranchers and public land managers to improve ongoing grassland restoration efforts.
  • The Malpai science program maintains over 200 monitoring plots to provide baseline data on the ecology of the region. Other research efforts focus on specific taxa like the tiny Cochise pincushion cactus.



The Jornada- Arid Lands Research Programs -

The Cuencos Los Ojos Foundation -

Jaguar Book -

Northern Jaguar Project -


Malpai Borderlands Group 2016 Annual Science Conference

The Malpai Borderlands Group hosted our annual Science Conference on January 5th at the Chiricahua Event Center near Rodeo, New Mexico. Despite the damp, blustery weather, we had a record turnout.  Estimated attendance was somewhere around 125, with many locals in attendance. Bill McDonald, our Executive Director and a member of our Board, extended a warm welcome to those who braved the weather and a last minute change of venue. 

We dedicated our conference this year to the memory of one of our key founders, Drum Hadley, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day last year.  Drum was instrumental in seeing that sound science was a key element in our decision-making and he championed management-oriented research.

This year, we had two keynote speakers to start things off.  Dr. Nathan Sayre, Head of the Department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke first. He described how the economic and the political climates early in the 20th century combined to lead range science down a path that was based largely on a faulty assumption—that ecological succession was linear and reversible.  He charted the ultimate rejection of conventional range science dogma and described the role of range scientists in the southwest in adopting a more complex idea of how rangeland succession works.

Dr. Tom Sheridan, Research Anthropologist at the University of Arizona School of Anthropology Southwest Center, gave the second keynote address.  Tom’s presentation addressed recent efforts to deal with the often conflicting aims of public land users and ranchers.  He described the birth and growth of collaboratives in the southwest, and their role in preserving and protecting traditional ranching and the rangelands on which they depend.  He described the beginnings in Pima County, starting with the formation of Arizona Common Ground Round Table and the subsequent development of the Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.  He finished up with an account of the formation and work of the Altar Valley Alliance, a collaborative group that operates much like the Malpai Borderlands Group.

In the last morning presentation, Dr. Kris Havstad, Senior Supervisory Scientist at the Jornada Experimental Range, described demographic and land use changes in the Malpai Borderlands.  These changes have, and will continue, to impact planning and implementation of efforts to restore and protect working rangelands and the people and inhabitants.   He noted that the Malpai Borderlands Planning Area captures, stores and releases groundwater that ultimately supports irrigated agriculture surrounding our planning area.

After a break for lunch, Doug Tolleson, a range management specialist with the University of Arizona V Bar V Ranch, presented a practical and hard-hitting look at drought planning for ranchers.  He noted that the optimum time to start drought planning is when we are currently enjoying periods of good precipitation.  He charted the progression of urgency as drought begins to set in which results in a diminishing array of options.

Dennis Moroney described his family’s efforts to develop a plan for succession that would ensure the continued existence and operations of the family ranch.  Faced with the expectation that his children would not be interested in ranching, he and his wife have worked with other young people who do want to ranch.  He described various strategies that they have considered and tried, and the promises and pitfalls that they have encountered. 

After a short break, Denny Iversen and Jennifer Schoonen described the organization and efforts of the Blackfoot Challenge, a ranching collaborative in western Montana.  The Blackfoot Challenge is facing many of the same issues that we face here in the Malpai area, but water issues in their part of the world are much more challenging.  They employ a fulltime professional staff and have a strong board to effectively deal with the scope and intricacies of their issues.  Jennifer and Denny shared some of their thoughts about how we might proceed as we move into the next phase of our operations.

The final presenter was Ken Mirr, of the Mirr Ranch Group.  The Mirr Ranch Group is a commercial real estate operation that deals not only with identifying potential conservation buyers for ranches that are at risk, but which also provides legal and financial planning services for both sellers and buyers.  He described many of the issues that must be confronted in the transfer of ranch properties from working ranchers to buyers who may not have experience in the management of working ranches.

On January 6th, MBG staff met at the Event Center with members of our science advisory panel who were in attendance.  We conducted a post-mortem on the conference the preceding day and discussed research needs identified by the MBG staff.  We also had a very rewarding dialogue concerning ideas and themes for our 2017 Science Conference.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions about our science conference this year or ideas for future conferences, we would appreciate your feedback at
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