Steve Prager is the new director of Audubon’s 8,000-acre Elgin ranch. Photo by Pat McNamara

As a young field biologist and educator not long out of university, Steve Prager started making annual visits to the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society (AWRR) in Elgin in 2011. Now, 12 years later, he’s the Research Ranch’s new boss.

Having grown up next to a wash in Phoenix, Prager, a self-described ‘desert rat,’ developed an early interest in the desert flora and fauna as he wandered about his ‘wild’ neighborhood.

As he grew older he watched much of that area get paved over due to the rapid growth of Phoenix. This sparked his interest in preserving rapidly disappearing wilderness, and so he entered ASU with a definite goal in mind.

Upon graduation in 2010, Prager did an internship with Arizona Fish and Game in the Gila River Native Fisheries Region Rio Salado program. Later, as a field biologist and educator, he ran an educational program for high school students in the area for Audubon Southwest.

Through this exposure to these students, Prager realized a desire to share his knowledge with others. This also spurred him to become a community organizer and engage the public in helping preserve the natural areas by removing invasive species and doing other beneficial research and fieldwork, such as bird surveys. “Hopefully those individuals will be inspired with conservation and take that inspiration home,” he said.

Prager’s fieldwork and research brought him each summer to the 8,000-acre AWRR, where he fell in love with Elgin. Earlier this year he became the director of this remote and beautiful part of Arizona.

“For me to be successful in this new role, I will need to look beyond myself and toward our neighbors, visitors, partners, volunteers, past leaders and all those who find inspiration on the AWRR,” Prager wrote in a reflective post on the Ranch’s website. “So, with the Huachuca Mountains on the horizon and scaled quail scurrying beneath my office window, I find myself humbled and honored by the opportunity to add myself to the potential of the AWRR. I look forward to everything we will achieve together.”

In his free time, Prager enjoys kayaking, rock climbing, searching for reptiles and playing acoustic guitar.

For more information about the AWRR, visit The Research Ranch is located at 366 Research Ranch Road in Elgin.