Face Of This Place

Mike Ford, North Rim of the Grand Canyon

How did our work on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon come about?

I first became aware of the Kane and Two Mile Ranches prior to working with The Conservation Fund, back when I was working with the Bureau of Land Management, I was in Washington, DC at the time working as Director of Lands for BLM, and Bruce Babbitt was the Secretary of Interior. In those days Secretary Babbitt and the Clinton Administration were looking to establish large units of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), iconic areas of public land primairily managed by the BLM. Bruce had a big map on his wall in the Secretary’s office showing the Southwest and at that time they were looking at possibly designating the Grand Canyon Parashant and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and other areas as new units of the NLCS. This map ecologically tied together three national monuments, two national recreational areas, eight wilderness areas, and one of our nation’s crown jewel national parks, the Grand Canyon National Park. In the middle of the map was this big donut hole and that big donut hole was the Kane and Two Mile Ranches.

Fast forward to my joining The Conservation Fund and I thought ‘ah ha’, here’s our chance to connect the Kane and Two Miles Ranches! We started by building partnerships, first with the Grand Canyon Trust, and together we were able to begin pulling all of the pieces together.

What would you say makes the North Rim of the Grand Canyon so special?

Obviously this is a place that welcomes a lot of tourists, many of them international tourists. The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the iconic places in the world. People that are not familiar with Western landscapes and their vastness and openness may not understand the relationship between public and private lands that exist here. They also may not understand the activities that take place on those lands and how important they are to the local and regional communities. For instance, you can stand on the South Rim and look into the Grand Canyon, or stand on the North Rim at the Kane and Two Mile Ranches, but it’s hard to understand who owns what and how those private and public lands are operate together on a sustainable basis.   These lands are used and enjoyed for recreation, wildlife, and their scenic value, in conjunction with ranching, mining, and off-roading. The challenge is to ensure those uses are integrated in a way that balances the environment and the economy of the local area. Our involvement, along with our partner the Grand Canyon Trust, is an opportunity to show how you can work together for conservation efforts and for economic development opportunities.

Out on the Kane and Two Miles Ranches is one of the most sensitive landscapes in the country; less than 3 inches of rain a year, it’s an arid, desert environment. It’s scenically and visually spectacular but water is a premium. There is water at the bottom of the Canyon, where the Colorado River flows, but the higher ground relies on springs and seeps; they are much less obvious but much more critical. The competition for water and green areas for the native species is significant. Many iconic species use the Kane and Two Mile Ranches and when you have to balance the ecological needs with domestic use, in this case livestock grazing, you have an enormous challenge. Native wildlife and species are competing with introduced species, cattle and sheep, and there is only so much grass and only so much water. You’ve got to find the balance and that takes a lot of effort. It’s the key conservation element of this project and our friends from the Grand Canyon Trust have been doing a terrific job educating the public and others about those challenges

How were you able to accomplish the transactionit?

Like all of the projects we do at The Conservation Fund, it had a lot of moving parts. It was innovative because we were acquiring private land and interest in land, but we were also acquiring almost 850,000 acres of federal grazing permits that were on US Forest Service and BLM lands that were part of the Kane and Two Mile ranches and bordered around the other properties. We were also sensitive to the political climate in Arizona and Utah regarding the establishment of monuments and inclusion of additional public land. This project required us to bring everyone’s interests to the table and find common ground to move forward. And the biggest challenge was that it was a significant transaction and we needed to raise the money—$4.5 million.

Can you explain what grazing permits are?

Federal grazing permits are authorizations for private landowners to use public land and their associated resources for the production of domestic livestock. They have been associated with public land for many generations and largely administered by the US Forest Service or the BLM.  The ability to hold and control those permits is tied to adjacent private land. They are permits, not rights, but they are often held in families for many generations, banks can make loans against them and they are a recognized financial and business interest. Being able to graze on public lands is how many families make their living out in the West, by holding those permits and operating a domestic livestock operation. So, dealing with grazing permits is always a tricky negotiation and a very sensitive issue.

What’s happened since you began working on the North Rim?

We closed on the project in September of 2005, so it’s been a decade now, and we began the work two years prior to closing. The Grand Canyon Trust has been managing the lands since then. After closing, they convened a science council, made up of regionally and nationally recognized scientists, who created a baseline ecological assessment to get a better idea of the condition of the land and its historic condition. That information combined with the existing agency data that the Forest Service, Park Service, and BLM had developed over many years, really provided the foundation for working together with those land management agencies to implement projects that have helped achieve our conservation and preservation goals. For instance, in addition to all of the wildlife, the Kane and Two Mile Ranches are home to some of the highest density old-growth ponderosa pine and fir forest in the entire Southwest, there are 17 natural lakes and spectacular slot canyons. The ranch supports the purest remaining stream of apache trout in the world. It’s one of the best remaining sites in the entire Southwest for the reintroduction of wolves; that’s another sensitive issue. It is the epicenter for the reintroduction efforts for the endangered California condor.  Lots and lots of efforts have been happening over the last decade; it’s been a collective effort between us, the Grand Canyon Trust, the agencies, and members of the public. We know way more about the Kane and Two Mile Ranches than we did 10 years ago. It’s being managed on a more sustainable basis and the health and condition of the land has improved significantly and that’s remarkable considering we have been in a 10-year drought in the Southwest. Some pretty amazing results.

I said at the time and stand on it to this day, that completing the Kane and Two Mile Ranches is probably the most important and innovative private conservation effort that I have ever been involved with. It was something that I don’t think any of us thought was possible when we started. The fact that we achieved it and we now have 10 years of success and we did it without a huge controversy is still a pretty remarkable achievement. In the 40+ years I have been working in land conservation and land management, I’d put this project right at the top. 

Learn More

The Conservation Fund's 30th Anniversary
North Rim of the Grand Canyon
More Face Of This Place