In Cochise County, the proposed refuge would begin as the river narrows between Benson and Cascabel and run northwestward to and beyond the county line, according to the plan. The refuge would extend for two miles on both sides of the river’s banks.
According to information provided by Jeannie Wagner-Greven, FWS lead planner, the initiative would involve interested landowners, land-managing agencies, local communities, non-profit organizations, businesses and the public “… who share a vision of a healthy river system while contributing to, rather than detracting from, local economies and the livelihoods of area residents.”
“We have discussed this proposal with many local stakeholders over the past year and learned what people care about in the river valley,” stated Walker-Wagner.
The San Pedro River is the last major free-flowing river in the Southwest that does not have a dam, and is recognized as one of the primary bird migratory corridors with estimates of up to 4 million birds traversing the green corridor between Mexico and breeding grounds in the West.
“The San Pedro River basin is considered to be a ‘keystone’ transition zone that sustains biodiversity in other eco-regions. The San Pedro contains vital habitat for approximately 250 species of migrant and wintering birds and over 100 species of breeding birds. The river is designated critical habitat for southwestern willow flycatchers,” she continues.
With the federal protection provided through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, the Upper San Pedro River Valley, while fragile, has been successful in preserving this corridor for wildlife while creating an economic benefit through birding tourism. Actions taken by the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the SPRNCA have been beneficial in bringing water flow back, albeit in small quantities, through the retirement of agricultural wells, desert scrub brush removal, conservation easements and ending cattle grazing along the river