Newsletter Highlights:
  • Meet Your Local Conservationist: An Interview with Benny Aja
  • Featured District: Yuma NRCD Helps Rescue Rare, Hundred-Year-Old Tree
  • Conservation Corner: Conservation Crop Rotation, Conservation At Work Video Series by NRCS
  • Conservation Education Spotlight: The Verde NRCD Environmental Education Center Online Educational Programs
  • Saying Goodbye to Friend, Neighbor, and Conservationist Barbara Snow
Holiday 2020 Newsletter
Conserve. Grow. Live.
Meet Your Local Conservationist
An Interview with Benny Aja
Can you tell us some history about your ranch and family?

I am a third-generation rancher from Williams, Arizona. I have two daughters and two granddaughters. My grandparents purchased the ranch in 1944, 20 miles north of Williams, for their sheep operation. We no longer are in the sheep business but are raising angus cattle. 

What kind of conservation work have you done on your operation?
When my grandfather purchased the ranch he immediately began pushing and burning junipers – an invasive species. All of his neighbors said he was crazy but as they saw the transformation from woodland thickets to grasslands, they began to do the same. Also, there were only four dirt tanks and three of those were washed out, so he repaired those and began building more. Today we have 18 dirt tanks strategically located throughout the ranch to increase water distribution and availability to both wildlife and livestock.
What, in terms of conservation work, is next for your operation?

Through the NRCS EQIP program we have continued treating the invasive junipers and have installed eight miles of pipelines with five drinkers (pictured below). In coordination with my local NRCS office, I have developed an entire plan for the ranch to continue treating the junipers as well as adding to the pipeline throughout the ranch to further develop watering systems.
Can you speak a little to your involvement with your Conservation District?

I joined the Coconino NRCD Board approximately four years ago at the request of Mike Macauley, who was then the chairman. I look forward to continuing to serve on the board, working with our partners, and our very active Education Center.
Thank you, Benny Aja!
Featured District
Yuma NRCD Helps Rescue Rare, Hundred-Year-Old Tree
Written by Jennifer Hassan

In the annals of infamous American heists, the attempted theft of a sturdy old Elephant Tree in the Sonoran Desert around Yuma, Arizona, in December, won’t even be a footnote. And the brazen plant poacher, digging down into the roots of the tree in broad daylight, is no Cassidy or Dillinger. But when the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Office called the Yuma NRCD for help in saving the rare, hundred-year-old tree, it was big news and top priority. 

The story starts with a pair of good Samaritans who were out for a hike and witnessed the crime in progress. They promptly called BLM and police. After he was arrested and fined, the smuggler, from out of state, bragged that he travels the world acquiring rare flora to plant in his private botanical garden.

Yuma NRCD Chairman and AACD Vice President Mark Kuechel knew that special care would be required to keep the Elephant Tree alive. “Once the tree’s roots are disturbed, it needs to be carefully replanted, and watered, and supervised,” he explained, “so that it can continue to grow and thrive in its natural desert habitat.” Mark immediately took possession of the tree and gave it a new home at the 28-acre Yuma Conservation Garden, a Sonoran Desert botanical garden and community oasis operated by the Yuma NRCD. 
Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla, is a short, deciduous, succulent, aromatic tree native to Sonoran Desert ranges in Mexico, California, and Arizona. It is a member of the Torchwood plant family, which includes the species frankincense and myrrh of biblical fame. The Elephant Tree features a distinct trunk somewhat reminiscent of an elephant’s leg: grayish, flaring out at the bottom and tapering at the top.

There is growing evidence of interdependence between Elephant Trees and gray vireos, which rely heavily on the trees’ berries for food in their wintering habitat. In turn, the birds disperse viable seeds throughout the habitat. 

Elephant Trees are protected in Arizona under the Arizona Native Plant Law. In the Yuma area, these plants occur in the Tinajas Altas and Gila Mountain ranges. A good place to observe them in their natural habitat is Telegraph Pass where the small trees are most often seen growing on gravelly, north-facing slopes. Or plan a visit to the Yuma Conservation Garden and meet the Elephant Tree that almost got Grinched. 
Conservation Corner
Conservation Crop Rotation
Conservation At Work Video Series by NRCS
Getting conservation practices on the ground can be a challenge. Understanding what certain practices do and how they can benefit the land and your operation is also difficult. The USDA has videos that feature real farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners talking about conservation best management practices that they themselves have applied. Learn about Conservation Crop Rotation in the video below and how the practice helps Don Norwood improve his cropland by protecting the health of the soil on his operation. 
Conservation Education Spotlight
The Verde NRCD Environmental Education Center Online Educational Programs
With the Holidays rounding the corner and Christmas break approaching, are you wondering what on earth to do with your kids over the coming 2-week vacation? Sure, your kids may have some homework to attend to, depending on what grade they are in, but if you’re looking for something to do with your kids over the break besides sit inside, watch TV, play video games, etc., the Verde NRCD Environmental Education Center (EEC) has posted their educational programs online! 

In response to COVID, the EEC has converted their programs to video (click here). The “Kids Conserve Water” virtual program covers grades K-4 and focuses on some essential water questions: Where is water found on Earth? How does water get into and out of houses? Why is it important to save water and not waste water? How can I conserve water?

The “Water Stewardship” virtual program covers grades 5-8 and includes lessons AND virtual field trips concentrated on watershed topics like water connections, groundwater and springs, native and invasive species, and properties of water. 

Finally, there are the “Farm to Plate” virtual programs. In partnership with the Arizona Farm Bureau and Yavapai County Farm Bureau, Agriculture in the ClassroomArizona 5 Cs, and Food Connections are all virtual this year! Check out the “Pumpkin Lifecycle Ag Literacy Presentation” now (click here), and look forward to other videos in February and April, including Read Across America and Earth Day Reading Events!
Arizona Association of Conservation Districts
Saying Goodbye to Friend, Neighbor, and Conservationist
Barbara Snow
It is with a heavy heart this Holiday season that we say goodbye to long-time local conservationist Barbara Hartman Snow, who passed away on December 11th in Yuma, Arizona. She was a Cooperator and an elected Supervisor of the Yuma Natural Resource Conservation District for 14 years, known for her tireless work with the State on agriculture issues, and her steadfast commitment to farmers and ranchers. She loved attending Arizona Association of Conservation Districts meetings and conferences. Having grown up on her family’s farm in Yuma, Barbara had a deep, lifelong love of and appreciation for agriculture. Later in life, after living in and traveling to a myriad of locations around the globe, and promoted by the death of her father, Barbara returned to Yuma to help operate the family farm and raise her grandchildren. Barbara’s dedication to Arizona’s agriculture and natural resources will not be forgotten.
Please visit our website to learn more about AACD and the Districts, discover the important conservation work they do, and support them today!
Arizona Association
of Conservation Districts
7467 E. Broadway Blvd
Tucson, AZ 85710
Have a story you would like to share in our next newsletter?

Contact: Brooke Gladden
(520) 668-3348
"Conserving Natural Resources and Agriculture Since 1944"