Eduardo Gracia, watershed restoration technician at BRN, inspects an erosion control structure filled in with sediment. Photo by Tess Wagner

In the early 2000s, the most important jaguar migration corridor in the United States – which happens to be about 2.5 miles north of Patagonia – was almost obliterated by a residential development. The development, which included the planned construction of 186 homes, was approved in 2006 and would have turned the only remaining open space connection between the Huachuca Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains into a community roughly the size of the Town of Patagonia.

As plans for the first houses were put into place, researchers at Northern Arizona University released a study classifying the location of the planned development as the most important migration corridor for jaguar in the United States, as well as an important migration route for black bear, deer, and other wildlife. While Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) and their partners recognized the importance of this connecting landscape, it appeared too late to do anything to preserve it. It was a devastating blow to conservationists in the area.

But then, towards the end of 2008, after just 16 of the 186 plots were sold, the housing market crashed. The developer went bankrupt, and Ron Pulliam – founder of BRN, former science advisor to the Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton Administration, and all-around conservation giant – saw an opportunity. He organized partners to create and fund Wildlife Corridors LLC, a company whose purpose was to purchase the remaining 173 lots and place the majority of them under a conservation easement. In 2014, his vision became reality and what is now known as the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve was born.

Since 2014, Wildlife Corridors has purchased additional parcels on both sides of Highway 82, expanding the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve to more than 1400 acres. BRN co-manages the Preserve, and has actively sought funding from grants and private donors to conduct restoration work in the Preserve and in upstream U.S. Forest Service canyons.

In early 2021, BRN received a grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Climate Adaptation Fund for $245,000 to enhance and further improve the climate resiliency and adaptability of this landscape. The grant is funding the construction of rock erosion control structures, the collection and dispersal of native seeds, planting of native plants, and volunteer opportunities to help with the project, as well as public outreach to engage the general public and share knowledge with restoration professionals and others. This work will ensure a more climate resilient corridor that supports the vast wildlife found in the region.

Erosion control structures are built into eroding drainages, perpendicular to water flow. They slow water, trap sediment, and increase infiltration. This means that more water is retained in the landscape and erosion is reduced. To date, the BRN watershed restoration crew has repaired and built over 75 structures in the U.S. Forest Service headwaters of Smith Canyon for this project. Smith Canyon is the center of the identified critical wildlife corridor, and work in the headwaters will translate downstream through decreased sediment pollution and run-off. 

Throughout the project, which goes through fall 2022, BRN will build at least 200 erosion control structures in Smith and Stevens Canyon, which is just west of Smith Canyon and is also part of the migration corridor. BRN native plant staff will collect local native seed and produce seed pellets which will be incorporated into the structures to enhance native vegetative communities and provide important wildlife habitat and forage. Additionally, the establishment of native vegetation within the erosion control structures will help anchor and build soil while stabilizing the landscape.

This restoration work aims to heal and stabilize local and landscape-level interactions that have been disrupted and severed through contemporary human activity including historic over-grazing, development, and human-caused climatic changes. These human-caused impacts have resulted in drastic alterations to the flow of water, energy, material, and life across our landscapes, with cascading negative impacts. The spiraling of these flows away from their equilibrium state has resulted in problematic erosion, loss of native species, and infestations of exotic invasive species. The restoration work BRN conducts for this project focuses on restoring the flows and biological components that comprise these systems, and helping them regain long-term sustainability, biological richness, and balance.

In addition to the work conducted by BRN staff, BRN is actively engaging volunteers in planting and erosion control construction. In July, over 230 plants were planted with volunteer help around Dragonfly Pond. 

On Oct. 8, BRN will teach volunteers how to build erosion control structures. If you would like to participate in either of these opportunities or would like more information, please email Tess Wagner, BRN Watershed Restoration Program Manager, at to reserve your spot.