Malpai Workshop

Notes from Malpai Borderlands Workshop, September 19-21, 2013

Norm “Mick” Meader

Review of Workshop

On September 19-21, 2013 Pat Corbett, Sue Newman, and Mick Meader from Cascabel attended a Malpai Borderlands Group workshop designed to introduce people to the Group’s work and to exchange ideas on starting and maintaining collaborative conservation groups. Participants met for an introductory dinner on Thursday, September 19, which was followed by an all-day field trip on September 20, a half-day field trip on September 21, and a follow-up group discussion. Warner and Wendy Glenn graciously hosted the three of us at the Malpai Ranch.

Peter Warren of the Nature Conservancy led the tours, and Don Decker of the Natural Resource Conservation Service contributed strongly to the discussion on the main field trip on Friday. As part of the tours we visited several ranches, most importantly the Diamond A (or Gray) Ranch in the Animas Valley. On Saturday we also got an overview of the border fence where it passes through the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. A principal objective of these tours was to see how ranchers manage their land, especially for brush control (mostly with fire) and erosion control.


Participants included several area ranchers; the Nature Conservancy (two individuals besides Peter Warren); representatives from the Arizona State Forestry Division and the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University; the Arizona Community Foundation; two scientists from the Jornada Experimental Range in New Mexico; representatives from the Blackfoot Challenge cooperative conservation group in Montana and Partners for Conservation in northern California and Texas; the new director for Cuenca de los Ojos, the Mexican counterpart to the Malpai Borderlands Group just south of the border; plus other individuals, including documentary film maker Jeannie Magill of “Milking the Rhino” and Southwest history author David Remley. The two representatives from the Blackfoot Challenge attended as part of a grant on building cooperative conservation groups and will distribute a report on the workshop to everyone.

Points to consider

The following are points that participants shared as we discussed how to build and maintain an effective collaborative conservation group.

A key point made by Bill McDonald is to get each prospective participant, even if he or she is not particularly willing or interested in the group, to develop a clear statement of what they want to see occur. From this, a group needs to develop strong mission and vision statements that reflect these shared goals. These statements then become the litmus test for future actions. This prevents a group from being taken over by others who may have contradictory interests or goals.

Building participation is the challenge. Creating social capital takes time and is part of what makes an organization effective. It is important to reach out to and include all stakeholders, even those who may oppose the organization or feel that it is irrelevant to them. It is equally important to maintain transparency and not hide actions or intentions. Any group should expect some opposition at first. While some individuals initially opposed the Malpai Borderlands Group, most opposition has since dissipated.

To involve others, a group needs to offer something that will help them. Many people will not come to meetings but will still be interested. Passion is important to the vitality of any such organization, having people with a long-term vested interest in the area and its well-being. It is as hard or harder to keep an organization going as it is to start one, and splitting responsibilities is important. Groups need to involve a leader in the ranching community because ranches are so important to the conservation of the whole. A strong organization with a good reputation is much more effective than a single landowner in dealing with agencies whose actions may be causing concerns.

The Blackfoot Challenge conducts tours for groups and foundations to familiarize them with their work. The group also has landowner tours so that neighbors get to know each other better. These tours showcase conservation projects and land management. Participants from the Blackfoot Challenge noted that their Chair, rancher Jim Stone, advises others to take the “long view” of what they are doing and not be concerned solely with immediate goals or shortcomings.

Other points made include the following:

    • Have clear goals.

    • Focus on issues that everyone can agree on; avoid issues that divide people.

    • Underpromise and overdeliver.

    • Use the best information possible.

    • Try to be proactive with issues rather than reactive.

    • Take concrete action to solve problems that affect everyone.