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11:48 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Talk of the Town: County needs to bar vehicles in area

Ace Patel

Hydrologist

Floodplain Unit

Yavapai County Development Services

Dear Mr. Patel:

I received your Jan. 22 letter about an anonymous complaint about a fence across the Agua Fria River. Parcel 402-07-051 does belong to my wife and me, but there is no fence on it.

This past summer members of the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance participated in the University of Arizona Wet/Dry mapping project and walked the full length of the channel of the Agua Fria River from State Highway 169 to the south border of Dewey-Humboldt.

I can report only one fence across the Agua Fria River in the Town of Dewey-Humboldt. It is a "water-gap/cattle guard" across the river built about nine years ago by Gary Young. It is entirely on property formerly owned by the Youngs and is almost a quarter of a mile north of our parcel. Gary said the water-gap was to keep motorized traffic out of the farm and to contain cattle grazing along the river.

Shortly after Young's Farm sold someone cut an opening through the water gap. Even before that people often saw a quad, Jeep, or truck driving in the river. Since the Youngs left and the cut in the water-gap, motorized vehicles have driven up the river more frequently. We reported some of them to the Sheriff's Office, but the sheriff can't watch the river all the time. This past summer someone repaired the water-gap.

Cattle grazing in riparian habitats produces an obvious impact. Cows eat or trample small shrubs and trees, compact the soil, and destroy sensitive plants growing along the edge of the river. Although the cattle eliminate much of the undergrowth, they are at least relatively quiet and slow moving and may be less of a problem for wildlife than the vehicle traffic.

Perhaps the water-gap is not the best kind of barrier to use, but someone needs to install some sort of protection for the river. The riparian habitat along the river from Prescott Street through our parcel and on north for about one-half mile is of concern for several reasons, but primarily as critical wildlife habitat.

The small cottonwood/willow forest on our parcel extends up the river supports two bird species listed by the Arizona State Game and Fish Heritage System as WSC species (Wildlife of Special Concern in Arizona whose occurrence is or may be in jeopardy, or with known or perceived threats or population declines).

They are the Common Blackhawk and the Belted Kingfisher. During the past 11 years Common Blackhawk nesting has been intermittent at this location, but pairs of the Belted Kingfisher are present every year. These species avoid areas frequented by people. At present the occasional recreational vehicle, hiker, biker, and horseback rider has not caused the WSC species to disappear, but the situation could change quickly. It's important to route vehicle and foot traffic of all kinds around the area.

Watchers have seen 87 non-game bird species and eight waterfowl species in and near the site. The waterfowl include hundreds of wild ducks and other migratory species foraging on the river and in nearby pools and ponds during the winter. The ducks are very sensitive to people and leave in panic when approached.

The Agua Fria Open Space Alliance, Inc. is beginning an intensive inventory and monitoring program for the Upper Agua Fria River Basin. It conducted the pilot study in the woods along this reach of the river. Initial results are available at http://aguafriaopenspace.org.

The study established permanent camera stations to make it possible to conduct minimally invasive condition and trend monitoring. The area is subject to a high degree of disturbance from flooding, and part of the scientific interest in the area is learning more about how the weeds and the native plant species respond to floods.

Flooding is a rare disturbance compared to even the current low level of human traffic. It might be difficult or impossible to isolate the effects of flooding if human traffic through the area continues.

I am very pleased that Yavapai County is participating in the Upper Agua Fria Watershed Management Study with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The concerns expressed in the Feasibility Study (August, 2008) parallel those of the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance (AFOSA).

Does your department have any recommendations for the Town of Dewey-Humboldt or the property owners along the river that wish to help control access? What types of structures, signs, or barricades would be appropriate? Perhaps nothing we can build would be appropriate or effective and we should simply try to be more diligent in reporting trespassers. We would appreciate your comments.

Garry F. Rogers, Ph.D, is an area resident, land owner and president of the Agua Fria Open Space Alliance, Inc.