The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Tucson Field Office manages the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) in southeastern Arizona. This 56,431-acre area was designated by Congress in 1988 as the nation’s first Riparian National Conservation Area.
The SPRNCA was created to “conserve, protect and enhance the riparian area and the aquatic, wildlife, archaeological, paleontological, scientific, cultural, educational, and recreational resources of the conservation area.” It is now part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System or National Conservation Lands. The San Pedro RNCA is located in Cochise County, with 40 miles of the upper San Pedro River flowing north from the U.S.-Mexico border near Palominas to St. David near Benson. Management has been guided by the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Plan since it was approved in 1989, as well as the Safford District Resource Management Plan.
The Tucson Field Office is beginning work on a Resource Management Plan (RMP)/ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SPRNCA. A Notice of Intent was published in the Federal Register on April 30, 2013, announcing the beginning of the scoping process that will solicit public comments and identify issues. The public is invited to participate throughout the planning process to share their ideas and concerns. Formal scoping meeting dates and locations are posted under Meeting Information on this page.
The planning effort encompasses all public lands within the SPRNCA and possibly additional lands within the watershed identified through scoping and considered during the planning process.
An important riparian area, the San Pedro River flows through the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts. This ribbon of green, composed of riparian habitat and surrounding grasslands, provides an important migratory bird corridor. More than100 species of breeding birds and 250 species of migrant and wintering birds depend on this invaluable habitat. The San Pedro RNCA was formally designated as the nation’s first Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy in 1995 and Arizona Audubon reaffirmed that designation in 2013.
The river’s stretch is also home to 84 species of mammals, 14 species of fish, and 41 species of reptiles and amphibians. This diversity of wildlife presents an incredible watchable wildlife viewing area.
The San Pedro River nourishes this ribbon of life in the RNCA. Numerous threats to the health of the river include urban development, drought, and contaminants from upstream in Mexico. The National Riparian Service Team concluded in their 2012 report that “Pumping of groundwater that serves as the lifeblood for the San Pedro River and its tributaries poses significant threats to its long-term function and sustainability.”
The river was also important to prehistoric cultures. Two cultural sites, the Murray Springs Clovis Site and Lehner Mammoth-Kill Site, have been designated as National Historic Landmarks; these represent the remains of human occupation from 13,000 years ago. Petroglyphs and pictographs are scattered throughout the area. The Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate is the ruins of a Spanish fortress that was occupied between 1776 and 1780, but some soldiers continued to live there until 1788. Numerous mining towns and mills represent the heyday of silver mining in the Southwest.
These cultural resources, combined with the diversity of wildlife, provide locations for walks and hikes. Other recreation activities with the SPRNCA include picnicking, primitive camping, hunting, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and organized tours and children’s programs. The San Pedro House, a 1930s-era ranch house and the 1920s-era Fairbank Schoolhouse, serve as visitor centers and bookstores.
The Planning Process
The planning process follows requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 (NEPA): scoping, draft RMP/EIS, proposed RMP/Final EIS, and a Record of Decision for the Approved RMP/EIS. Each step includes opportunities for public involvement.
Preliminary issues have been identified by BLM personnel; Federal, State and local agencies; and other stakeholders while incorporating management direction mandated by Public Law 100-696 which established the SPRNCA.
- Geographic extent of the planning area (planning area boundary)
- Desired future conditions for water quantity
- Desired future conditions for riparian and upland plant communities
- Management of riparian vegetation along the San Pedro River
- SPRNCA’s designation as a Globally Important Bird Area
- Areas open and closed to grazing
- Use restrictions for resource protection
- Management of resources near the urban interface
The public will have numerous opportunities for involvement via meetings, working groups, and public comment periods. Through the SPRNCA RMP/EIS process, specific decisions will be made to:
- Set desired future conditions for the SPRNCA.
- Designate visual resource management classes.
- Designate roads as open, limited, or closed to motorized vehicles.
- Determine which areas are open and closed to grazing.
The RMP/EIS process will end with a Record of Decision (ROD) being signed by the Arizona State Director. The Approved RMP/Final EIS will set land use planning-level decisions for management of the SPRNCA for the next 15 years or longer.
This RMP will replace decisions made in the Safford District RMP/EIS RODs in1992 and 1994 for the BLM public land within the SPRNCA planning area.
Land Use Plans
The Tucson Field Office currently manages public lands covered by three land use plans (LUPs), one of which applies to the SPRNCA:
Eight amendments apply to that plan:
The new RMP will replace the management guidance for the SPRNCA within the Safford District RMP and these eight amendments. It will also replace the original San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (9M) that was approved in 1989.
Get involved in the future of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
Tucson Field Office
3201 E. Universal Way
Tucson, AZ 85756
Phone: (520) 258-7200
Fax: (520) 258-7238
Field Manager: Brian Bellew
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., M-F