Conservation measures improve profits
On the EC Bar Ranch in northeastern Arizona, Jim Crosswhite got radical—and started cooperating with government scientists to implement environmental restoration strategies on his land. Eight years later, he counts a wealth of economic as well as ecological benefits.

By Courtney White
Posted August 31, 2004

Farm at a Glance

EC Bar Ranch
Spingerville, AZ

Land: 300-acres with 15 separate pastures for rotational grazing

• Uplands infested with rabbitbrush and sumac
• Raw, exposed streambanks
• High on the EPA's action list for excessive sediment washing into Nutrioso Creek

• Built elk-proof fence, riparian and buffer strip fencing
• Controlled and eradicated rabbitbrush by mowing, fire, and root plowing, followed by overseeding with native cool-season grasses
• Added more than 20 riffle weirs, 15 post vanes, and 80,000 willows to slow water down, protect streambanks, increase habitat and raise the water table
• Installed off-channel water wells with drinkers for livestock and wildlife
• Put in a 250,000 gallon water storage tank, 2,000 gallon per minute water pump, 20,000 feet of above-ground pipe, and 100 “big gun” sprinklers to replace an earth ditch system that wasted 100 million gallons of water annually

For more information

For more – much more – about Jim Crosswhite's management practices, visit the EC Bar Ranch website at:

In partnership with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, Crosswhite has also produced a 19-minute film describing practices implemented at EC Bar Ranch through the ADEQ Water Quality Improvement Grant Program. To receive a copy of the film, mail a check for $10 to:

Jim Crosswhite,
EC Bar Ranch,
PO Box 44
Nutrioso, AZ 85932

Please state whether you prefer DVD, VCD, or VHS format.

To read, or sign, the Invitation to the Radical Center, visit:

To learn more about Bill Zeedyk’s ideas, including Induced Meandering, contact the Quivira Coalition at:

For more information on the Rosgen system of stream classification see:

It's no coincidence that for ten years Jim Crosswhite ran circles around the Himalaya Mountains—literally. To say he enjoys a challenge is like saying a fish enjoys water, or a cow enjoys grass. After successful careers as a broker on the Chicago Board of Trade, adventure travel guide, and organizer of high-altitude endurance trials, it's little wonder that for Crosswhite, “retiring” to a mountain meadow near Springerville, Arizona, would mean trying to cut the Gordian knot of ranch economics in the American West.

He may very well have succeeded.

When Crosswhite purchased the 300-acre EC Bar Ranch in 1996, he knew it was in trouble. Rabbitbrush and sumac infested the uplands; blue grama, the predominate native grass, yielded only 300 pounds of production per acre; the riparian area was rated “non-functional” due to raw, exposed streambanks; there were no cross fences; elk were a problem; and the ranch’s infrastructure was in disrepair.

Moreover, Crosswhite soon learned that Nutrioso Creek is native habitat for a federally listed threatened fish species – the Little Colorado River spinedace (Lepidomeda vittata).

Things became even more “challenging” in 2000, when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) completed the “Nutrioso Creek TMDL for Turbidity.” This report identified seven out of 27 miles of Nutrioso Creek, including Crosswhite’s three-mile stretch, as exceeding Total Maximum Daily Load standards for clean water due to exposed streambanks aggravated by historical activity of livestock and elk.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency coordinates with state agencies on efforts to reduce non-point source pollution, including excessive levels of water-borne sediment, or turbidity, which reduces water quality to the detriment of wildlife and human populations. Crosswhite’s ranch was high on the list for action. In fact, without a change in ranch management practices to improve water quality and aquatic habitat, Crosswhite felt there was a risk of losing water and property rights.

The Radical Center

The EC Bar Ranch was primed to demonstrate Mark Twain’s famous observation about the American West: that whiskey is for drinkin’ and water is for fightin’. Nearly every modern conflict over water and land management – endangered species protection, riparian recovery, TMDLs, cattle grazing, private property rights, government regulation, and ranch economics – were rolled into one tidy mess on the EC Bar.

For decades, ranchers and other landowners had marshaled a single response to these challenges: resistance. And for the most part, it had worked: ranchers' patient resistance to drought, low commodity prices, and social change had seen them through such troubles. Today, however, patience has given way to frustration as the challenges begin to outlast the ranchers. In a few cases, it has given way to fighting.

But it is a fight ranchers are destined to lose.

Persistently poor economics, tenacious environmental opponents, shifting values on public lands, changing rural demographics, political disenfranchisement, and rapidly rising land values for subdivision development have all combined to push ranching right to the edge. If the experts are correct – that the current drought could rival the decade-long ‘megadrought’ of the 1950s for ecological, and thus economic, devastation – then the tenuous grip of ranchers on the future will be loosened, perhaps permanently.

Dismayed by the fighting, and worried about the future, twenty ranchers, environmentalists (including this one), and scientists met in 2003 and declared an “end to the grazing wars.” Too much was at stake for the brawl to continue – something needed to be done.

That something was an Invitation to Join the Radical Center. In it, the authors rejected the extremes of the grazing debate, noting that they “yielded little but hard feelings among people who are united by their common love of land and who should be natural allies.” That was the “Center” part; here was the “Radical” part:

“We know that poor management has damaged land in the past and in some areas continues to do so, but we also believe appropriate ranching practices can restore land to health. We believe that some lands should not be grazed by livestock; but also that much of the West can be grazed in an ecologically sound manner. We know that management practices have changed in recent years, ecological sciences have generated new and valuable tools for assessing and improving land, and new models of sustainable use of land have proved their worth.”

The Invitation was quickly signed by Wendell Berry, Nina Leopold Bradley, Linda Hasseltrom, Wes Jackson, Bill Kittredge, Peter Raven, Patricia Limerick, Theodore Roosevelt IV and many others.

The Invitation makes a series of tough demands on various populations in the West: of environmentalists, it asks that they “work constructively with the people who occupy and use the lands it would protect.” Of public land managers, it asks that they “focus not on the defense of procedure but on the production of tangible results.” Of scientists, it asks that they strive “to make their work more relevant to broader constituencies.”

Of ranchers, it asks this: to accept and aspire "to a progressively higher standard of environmental performance.”

Achieving this higher standard was the challenge confronting the EC Bar Ranch.

Making it work

Although he didn’t think of it in these terms at the time, Jim Crosswhite decided to join the Radical Center. Rather than get mad, get even, or give up, Crosswhite decided to cooperate with the agencies. “When a Game and Fish guy came to our valley,” he said, “one of my neighbors pulled out his gun and ran him off. But after realizing the benefits of partnering with agencies to improve my property, I invited him to talk.”

“When a Game and Fish guy came to our valley, one of my neighbors pulled out his gun and ran him off. But after realizing the benefits of partnering with agencies to improve my property, I invited him to talk.”

--Jim Crosswhite

To his surprise, Crosswhite liked what he heard. So, rather than struggle against the regulations, he took a long look at the list of recommendations in the species recovery plan and TMDL report. Some were already being implemented on the ranch through a comprehensive Conservation Plan prepared by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1997. He decided to give the rest of them a try, plus a few extra.

“I didn’t feel like I was giving in,” said Crosswhite. “They had good workable ideas. And they wanted to help. In fact, I haven’t met a government employee that I couldn’t work with.”

Crosswhite swung into action with the energy and determination of a long-distance runner. Here is a short list of the most successful Best Management Practices (BMPs) that he has implemented on the EC Bar so far:

Riparian fencing allows dormant
season rotational livestock grazing.

Pasture improvements. Crosswhite built elk-proof fence, riparian and buffer strip fencing to create fifteen separate pastures for rotational grazing. He limits grazing by cattle in riparian and buffer pastures to the dormant season only, with careful monitoring. Rabbitbrush has been controlled and eradicated by mowing, fire, and root plowing, followed by overseeding with native cool-season grasses. Erosion has been reduced, habitat improved, and annual livestock forage production has increased from 300 lbs/acre in 1996 to 5,000 lbs/acre in riparian pastures and 2,000 lbs/acre in irrigated upland pastures.

Post vanes designed by Bill Zeedyk help
divert water from banks to reduce erosion.

Riparian restoration. Crosswhite hired riparian specialist Bill Zeedyk to develop a riparian restoration plan after hearing Bill speak at a Quivira Coalition meeting about the benefits of induced meandering and stream stabilization structures. More than 20 riffle weirs, 15 post vanes, and 80,000 willows were pounded and planted to address TMDL and habitat concerns. The objective is to slow water down (so sediment will naturally filter out to reduce turbidity), protect streambanks from erosion, and increase aquatic and wildlife habitat while raising the water table. This is an upward cycle that means more forage and less irrigation on upland pastures.

Willow plantings improve water quality and provide
sustainable plant materials for other riparian areas.

Improved irrigation. Crosswhite installed off-channel water wells with drinkers for livestock and wildlife. He put in a 250,000 gallon water storage tank, 2,000 gallon per minute diesel-powered water pump, 20,000 feet of above-ground pipe, and 100 “big gun” sprinklers to replace an earth ditch system that wasted 100 million gallons of water annually due to seepage and evaporation. About half the sprinklers are located along two miles of riparian corridor to help establish and maintain riparian vegetation as surface flows dry up during drought conditions. The vegetation is grazed by livestock in the dormant season and willow branches are sold for transplanting in other riparian areas.

Crosswhite has enjoyed significant success with his restoration work. In June, 2002, for instance, he hosted Arizona Gov. Jane Hull and other dignitaries in a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Clean Water Act. The Director of ADEQ was quoted in a press release as saying the “EC Bar’s achievements serve as an excellent example of the power of environmental stewardship on private land.”

To Crosswhite, however, the best indicator of his success didn’t involve a press release. It happened in late 2003, when the ADEQ decided to relocate the “reference reach” for 27 miles of Nutrioso Creek from a site 10 miles downstream to “Reach 3” on the EC Bar Ranch. This is significant because in 1996, “Reach 3” was officially rated as “nonfunctional” by hydrologists.

“Now it’s a beautiful, properly-functioning E-type channel, producing over 4,000 pounds per acre,” said Crosswhite, referring to the Rosgen system of stream classification (a widely-accepted classification scheme based on slope, channel characteristics and other factors).

“While I didn’t say anything to the ADEQ at the time,” he continued, “I consider this to be about the highest award I may ever receive for riparian restoration, and it means a great deal to me. From a practical perspective, after traveling to more than 70 countries and around the world for 30 years, walking down the creek on a summer’s evening with my wife and old dog is as good as it gets.”

Making it pay

The other element to the EC Bar story is how Crosswhite paid for all this restoration work: he applied for public funding through specific grant programs. This way, Crosswhite figured, if the government wanted something done on the EC Bar, it could help pay for the improvements.

“My philosophy is a simple one,” said Crosswhite. “When a government agency produces a report that identifies a problem affecting my property and recommends solutions, then I want to participate in any grant program they may offer, including matching with my own funds.”

So far, Crosswhite has written over 20 grant proposals, with about a 90 percent approval rate. Approximately $1.3 million in projects have been completed on the EC Bar Ranch, with Crosswhite matching 50 percent of public funds. Recently, he was awarded an ADEQ grant to plant 50,000 willows downstream on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to improve water quality and help meet turbidity standards.

Jim Crosswhite's work at the EC Bar
was included in a 45-minute film
entitled 'Keeping our Waters Clean,'
which aired on CNBC December 8, 2001.

Crosswhite is not doing all this work, and spending all that money, out of an altruistic impulse, however. Nor is he simply trying to avoid conflict. The businessman in him remains solidly focused on the bottom line.

“Conservation improves profits,” he said. “I’ve more than doubled the number of animal units per acre by improving water quality through best management practices. More importantly, all the water quality and habitat improvement projects I’ve done have increased my property values, no question about it.”

It’s all about incentives. “These days, society would rather pay me to grow grass, protect fish and raise willows rather than just cows,” Crosswhite said. “If that’s the market, then I’ll deliver conservation practices and cows.”

But it’s not just about money either. On Thanksgiving Day, 2003, Crosswhite suffered a sudden massive blood clot in this right leg that moved to his lungs, stopping his heart. “I prayed to finish my riparian restoration projects, be with my dog when he eventually dies, and see my wife again,” he said.

“As the first person in history to ever pray to finish riparian restoration,” Crosswhite said, “I guess it must have been important because after a few months, I was back to normal.” The only medical explanation offered by his doctors is that a “miracle” occurred that restarted his heart, prevented damage, and allowed an exceptionally rapid recovery. “I am grateful for a second chance. I work faster and on more projects now,” Crosswhite said.

Making the steps

Crosswhite offers the following advice for anyone participating with state and federal agencies, especially for those private landowners with TMDL or species recovery plans available.

First, ask the local NRCS Conservationist to help develop a comprehensive conservation plan on your farm or ranch. If Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds are insufficient to meet the objectives, use the Plan as a guide to apply to other agency grant programs.”

Second, focus on the highest and best assets on your property. Since we are in a long-term drought, perhaps 40 years or longer, the ‘old ways’ experienced over the last 30 years may not work very well. If you own a riparian zone, concentrate on restoring and protecting it. While there is substantial public funding available for water quality and habitat improvements, a national riparian restoration incentive program is needed.”

Third, learn what public programs are available to improve your assets. Even when a match is involved, it can be to your advantage to use grant funding rather than borrow money at the bank. There are favorable tax treatments for conservation projects leading to expectations of improved ranching profits.”

Fourth, spend bad weather days inside writing grants, which is an excellent way to learn how practices work from both the perspective of an agency focus, like water quality improvements to reduce turbidity, and your own objectives to improve operational profits. Lead times to complete a grant application, receive an award, and implement practices can take years, so try to have as many different projects underway as possible so there is always something coming along. This is how any successful business operates.”

Finally, create a website where progress on various projects can be documented. Eventually, this outreach effort becomes an asset when writing grants, communicating with others, and developing new ideas. Keeping the website updated is like taking baby steps that can eventually leave a big footprint. I recently created a 20-minute film for use by the ADEQ at grant workshops all across Arizona that describes water quality improvement projects using information from my website.”

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