This week, The Nature Conservancy and its partners made a significant step in the protection of the Verde River through the acquisition of the historic Shield Ranch, a biologically important property in the Verde Valley that is adjacent to the river and between the Prescott and Coconino National Forests.
This 306-acre property, which was settled in the mid-1800s and the Shill family owned and operated as a cattle ranch since 1944, is located at the confluence of the Verde River and one of its important tributaries, West Clear Creek, just outside of Camp Verde. The property sustains a lush riverside plant community that supports a large wildlife population, including river otter, beaver, bald eagles, several endangered bird species and native fish.
“We’re proud of this land and we want future generations to enjoy it as much as our family has,” said 87-year-old Henry Shill, who worked the ranch with his parents and brother Don. “We wanted to see its history and beauty preserved; we didn’t want to see it covered in houses.”
The Shield Ranch is part of a collaborative effort to conserve the Verde River, one of the Southwest’s few remaining free-flowing rivers. The Verde River is an important water source for people and wildlife along its 189-mile course, including communities in the Verde Valley and in the Phoenix metro area. The property is directly across the river from the 209-acre Rockin River Ranch, which is the southern anchor for the 36-mile Verde River Greenway, a public-private effort to conserve the Verde Valley’s river corridor for wildlife habitat and public recreation.
“The Verde River is a lifeline for people and nature and is vital to the economic, recreational and natural future of the Verde Valley,” said Patrick Graham, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. “The Shield Ranch is an important part of Arizona’s history. We’re pleased to partner with the Shill family, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and others to conserve this special place and the Verde River for future generations.”
The Shield Ranch was one of the first homesteads settled as a farm in the Verde Valley in the mid-1800s. According to historical documents at Fort Verde State Park, present-day ranch land near West Clear Creek was the site of a tent camp of soldiers sent to protect the farms in the area.
Partial funding for the project was provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of the foundation’s $13 million grant to The Nature Conservancy to support state wildlife action plans across five Rocky Mountain states: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming.
The Conservancy has agreed to a short-term farming lease with Miedema Produce. Miedema will farm two existing fields to evaluate whether vegetables such as carrots and radishes can be successfully cultivated on this property and elsewhere in the Verde Valley.
The property forms a link between the Coconino and Prescott National Forests. Eventually, the Conservancy plans to transfer ownership of most of the property to the Coconino National Forest to be managed as part of the National Forest System.
In recent years, the Conservancy and its partners have conserved nearly 6,000 acres along the Verde’s headwaters and the Verde River Greenway Natural Area in the Verde Valley.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.