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TUCSON – A historic creek-side farmhouse once targeted for residential development will instead be preserved as an agricultural and ecological oasis 40 miles south of Tucson.

The Arizona Land and Water Trust nonprofit purchased the first 371 acres of Sopori Creek and Farm in Amado, with an agreement in place to purchase the remainder of the 1,310 acres spread over the next three years.

The property, in northern Santa Cruz County west of Interstate 19, includes over a mile of the ephemeral cove where it empties into the Santa Cruz River. It also includes about 300 acres of irrigated farmland and enough groundwater rights to maintain it, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

The trust hopes to see the land used for everything from a grass bank for local ranchers to a pastoral proving ground, where farmers can practice or develop sustainable cultivation techniques for arid climates, while preserving an important wildlife corridor and a riparian zone.

“It’s about protecting a truly unique space that can play a truly unique role,” said Liz Petterson, executive director of the trust.

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The farm is said to be part of one of the oldest continuously occupied areas in the United States. Agriculture and ranching can be traced here to the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, who grazed cattle on the land during his stay at the presidio of Tubac, south of Tucson, in the second half of the 18th century.

From 1950 to 1993, the ranch straddling the border between Pima and Santa Cruz counties was owned by Hollywood movie mogul Jack Warner and his family.

In 2004, a developer purchased the property with plans to turn it into a planned community.

“Their plan was to build hundreds of homes, a golf course and a resort,” Petterson said. “Then the bottom fell from the (housing) market. “

Voters in Santa Cruz County dealt the project a death blow in November 2008, when they resoundingly rejected an amendment to the comprehensive plan for the development of 6,800 housing units.

A month later, Pima County paid the developer $ 18.6 million for 4,135 acres of the old ranch, as well as 10,000 acres of pasture and state farm leases, as part of the d county open spaces.

The trust purchased its own 2,550-acre strip of Sopori Ranch from the same developer in 2018 for an undisclosed sum. This land in Santa Cruz County also sits along Sopori Creek, approximately one mile west of the Trust’s most recent acquisition.

In accordance with the association’s mission statement, the property is still used for breeding. The trust is dedicated to protecting what it calls southern Arizona’s “endangered western landscapes” – its farms, ranches, wildlife habitat and the water that supports them.

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According to the organization’s website, the Sopori Farm property includes a mesquite grove and potential habitat for 33 wildlife species, including the endangered yellow-billed cuckoo and the endangered ocelot, the yellow-billed bat. long nose and the jaguar. There are some 67 plant species, including the endangered pineapple Pima cactus.

Securing the land could also lead to restoration work to control the occasional flow of Sopori Creek to maintain more wildlife habitat and prevent flooding in Amado, Petterson said.

The trust closed its first 371 acres on May 14, using a portion of the $ 2.96 million the group has raised so far. Petterson said they have until October 2024 to find an additional $ 5 million to purchase the rest of the land.

She hopes to see the trust start some of what she has planned for the farm before the entire property is acquired.

“I don’t think we have to wait until then,” she said.

The “agricultural apprenticeship program” envisioned by the trust would provide young farmers with affordable land on which to learn their trade and test new crops and farming practices in drylands.

“The trust places great importance on the idea of ​​food security and locally grown foods,” Petterson said, “with a strong emphasis on low-water crops.”

Her organization won’t be running the test farm itself, but she said she was in talks with some people who could, including the University of Arizona cooperative extension, Friends of the Santa River. Cruz and some local farmers, ranchers and conservationists.

“We really want this to be a property that gives back to the community and is embraced by the community,” said Petterson.

Read or share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-environment/2021/06/07/arizona-nonprofit-land-water-trust-buys-sopori-creek-farm- conservation / 7586456002 /