Protected Lands

Protected Lands

Why we should we protect our wild places? Very simply, we want future generations to be able to explore and enjoy the landscapes and wildlife of Sky Islands just as we do. It is our role and our mission to protect these lands and the plants and animals that depend on these special places, in careful balance with human growth and use. Without this effort, we would lose the chance for our children, and their children, to experience the wildlife, solitude and beauty of our most wild and remote areas. We want to leave a legacy of willow-leaf oaks and Sandhill cranes calling for generations to come.

Our Protect program works in collaboration with all of SIA’s programs to share our knowledge and hands-on science with partners and decision makers.  We work with agency personnel, congressional representatives and other partners. Together we gather information, maps the landscape, define the best type of protection or action needed, and advocate for safeguarding these lands for the future.

Protecting intact habitat and the natural corridors that allow wildlife movement between them are essential to maintaining healthy landscapes and biodiversity.  Landscape level management considers what Conservation Biologists refer to as “core” landscapes or habitats. These lands provide intact habitat and refuge for wildlife species as well as solitude and refuge for people.

Wilderness is one tool we can use for core habitat protection. Wilderness is a bipartisan, American idea that values Wilderness lands as:

  • A functioning ecosystem and a clean watershed.
  • Intact habitat for magnificent creatures like jaguars and leopard frogs.
  • A natural classroom where we can learn how the world works.
  • A place for traditional hunting experiences.
  • A spiritual resource.
  • A natural escape from the bustle of town life for hikers, photographers, painters, naturalists, visitors, birders, picnickers, equestrians, and many others.

Today, settled places sprawl across the maps and the land has been largely converted to subdivisions, parking lots, highways, roads, and amusement areas. Today, it is wilderness that is surrounded, and in decreasing supply. In 1964, with the Wilderness Act, Congress created the National Wilderness Preservation System and with it a means for wild, intact public lands to be preserved with a special designation of “Wilderness.” Congress did this “to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…[and] to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

Wilderness designation, in the most basic sense, provides wild places for wild things to be wild. Certainly, that’s needed. It is through Wilderness protection that we have places like Mt. Wrightson, Rincon Mountains, Pusch Ridge, Aravaipa Canyon, and Sycamore Canyon protected for the people of southern Arizona to enjoy, now, and for generations to come.

We seek to permanently protect three separate areas managed by the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County, Arizona.  Our efforts incorporate not only Wilderness, but a combination of different designations and protection tools designed to give best and lasting protection to the these lands. Effective conservation draws on many options that work to accommodate the needs of our diverse community.

The Land of Legends effort seeks to protect lands found within the Whetstone, Dragoon and Northern Chiricahua mountains of southeastern Arizona. These mountain ranges are known far and wide for their beauty and their ecological and historic values. It is here, in these select places that we can connect with nature and our own history – linking the land with people and building a lasting legacy for the future.

Learn more about this community effort, and sign the petition showing your support:
Land of Legends for our Future Official Website

Whetstone Mountains

The Name: The Whetstone Mountains are a small rugged range named after a mineral found there called novaculite, a hard, fine-grained rock used for making whetstones for sharpening blades.
Highest Peak: The highest summit is Apache Peak at 7,711 feet.
Habitat
: The Whetstones contain a stunning mixture of plants and animals, with vegetation types ranging from semi desert grassland mixed scrub and Chihuahuan Desert scrub, to Madrean encinal, Madrean pine-oak woodland and ponderosa pine.
Fascinating Facts: This place is home to Kartchner Caverns State Park, an awe-inspiring living cave that is fed by water collected and filtered in the Whetstone Mountains, and is an important nursery roost for bats.  The Whetstones provide excellent backcountry hunting, hiking, camping, backpacking, horseback riding and birding. French Joe Canyon alone supports more than 147 species of birds.  Sky Island Alliance documented an ocelot in the Whetstones in 2009, and a local resident photographed a jaguar here in 2011.  A fossil hunter discovered exposed dinosaur bones in the Whetstone foothills in 1994, and this discovery of Sonorasaurus thompsoni marked the first new dinosaur species found in southern Arizona for many years. According to Arizona lore, Wyatt Earp shot and killed “Curly Bill” Brocius in a shootout at what is now Mescal Springs.

Dragoon Mountains

The Name: Once known as Sierra de la Peñascosa (Spanish for “a very rugged, rocky range) the Dragoons are named for the US Army’s Dragoon regiment of the late 1850s.
Highest Peak: The highest summit is at 7,519 feet on Mount Glenn.  
Habitat: 
Vegetation ranges from desert scrub and semi desert grassland to encinal savanna, mixed pine-oak woodland and Arizona cypress riparian forests. These cypress stands, once common in the region, are now quite rare.
Fascinating Facts:
 Fifteen species listed as threatened, endangered or of special concern are found in the Dragoons, including the peregrine falcon and Chiricahua leopard frog.  Historic records also document ocelots and jaguars. The Dragoons contain some of the most intact and species-rich grasslands in the Coronado National Forest.  Elsewhere in southern Arizona, grassland habitats are quickly vanishing.  This area’s high productivity provides year-round hunting and gathering, which enabled the Chiricahua Apaches to remain the only nonagricultural culture in the American Southwest.  This mountain range is part of the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. The tribe once sought refuge from the U. S. Cavalry in the core of the Dragoons in an area we now know as Cochise Stronghold.  On Oct. 12, 1872, the U.S. government signed a treaty with Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches, after several meetings near Stronghold Canyon at a site later named Council Rocks.  The Dragoon’s iconic rocky boulders and cliff sides have made this place a popular rock-climbing and bouldering destination.

Chiricahua Mountains

The Name: The word Chiricahuamay have come from the Opata Indian word chiguicagui, meaning “mountains of the wild turkeys.”
Highest Peak: The highest summit is at 9,759 feet at Chiricahua Peak. 
Habitat:
 Vegetation ranges from semi desert grasslands and Chihuahuan Desert scrub to montane mixed-conifer forest.
Fascinating Facts: The Chiricahuas are one of the largest Sky Islands in the United States. A world-renowned birding destination, the range is home to the subtropical elegant trogon and, until they were extirpated (wiped-out), thick-billed parrots.  The only recorded short-tailed hawk nesting in the United States outside Florida was documented here. In 9,000 B.C., this mountain range was home to Clovis hunters, whose spear points have been found in the fossilized remains of mammoths in the region. The Chiricahua Mountains provide excellent opportunities for tracking wild game, horseback riding or simply watching the changing patterns of light through the oak trees at Turkey Creek. The Apaches called these mountains “The Land of Standing-Up Rocks,” and the famous spires, columns, and balanced rocks are a favorite designation for people around the world.

We hope to protect the core of the Tumacacori, Pajarito and Atascosa Mountains as a future Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness. This area, west of Nogales, Arizona, is managed by the Coronado National Forest and is contiguous to the already existing Pajarito Wilderness. This effort boosts wide support of local communities and individuals partially because it offers boundless adventure, spectacular vistas, open rolling oak savannas and a sense of wonder derived from the overall beauty and solitude. But the Tumacacori Highlands go beyond our sense of beauty: the area serves as prime habitat for jaguar and several animal and plant species that extend their range north, from Mexico, into the United States only in the canyons and mountains found here. As congressionally designated Wilderness, it will serve as a refuge for wildlife and as a connection between the mountains of Mexico and the mountain habitat found to the north, east and west.

The Tumacacori Highlands

The Tumacacori Highlands play host to an incredible array of wild creatures. Jaguars, elegant trogons, gray hawks, black bear, mountain lions, javelina, coati, and many more amazing animals call this area home. Not only do the Tumacacori Highlands offer prime habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, they also provide sanctuary for over fifty plants and animals that are recognized as threatened, endangered or sensitive – one of the highest concentrations of vulnerable species in the Arizona. Many species that live primarily in tropical and sub-tropical climates, such as the five-stripped sparrow, Mexican vine snake, tropical kingbird, and the jaguar, reach their northern limits in the Tumacacori Highlands. This place also hosts sub-tropical epiphytes (a tree-dwelling bromeliad) and a wide variety of other plants that find their way north in the shaded canyons that give visitors a sense of hiking through a timeless landscape.

Atascosa Mountains, in the Tumacacori Highlands proposed Wilderness. The five mile round-trip hike to Atascosa Lookout is a popular day hike for visitors and locals alike.

Atascosa Mountains, in the Tumacacori Highlands proposed Wilderness. The five mile round-trip hike to Atascosa Lookout is a popular day hike for visitors and locals alike.

The region consists of broken lichen-drenched cliffs falling away from Atascosa Peak, undulating bajadas of oak savannah, spectacular intact canyons and highly valuable riparian habitat, alive with streams and precious pools. It is in this spectacular setting that hikers can spend days exploring ridge tops and canyons. Hunters search the hills and draws for the elusive Coues whitetail deer. History buffs can wander looking for the ancient grinding stones (called matates), petrogylphs, and pottery left by the Sobaipuri and Pima natives long ago, as well as the Hispanic, and early Anglo artifacts that still remain in this special place. Wildlife enthusiasts and botanists can revel in an area that boasts many endemic species that occur nowhere else on earth and more wildlife and plant species than those that inhabit some entire states.

From ancient cultures to modern life, people have depended upon the Tumacacori Highlands as a sanctuary, home and living laboratory. Today, these vast relatively untouched lands also provide a refuge from busy lives led elsewhere. This vast assemblage of wildlands, wild creatures and the traditional uses that occur in the Tumacacori Highlands should remain unchanged, sustaining a resource that can forever be appreciated by future generations. Designating this area as Wilderness will secure this future.