1150 acres of the Rose Tree Ranch in Elgin are now protected from development by an agreement between the owner and the AZ Land and Water Trust. Photo by Jo Dean

The historic Rose Tree Ranch located on Upper Elgin Road has made history again by entering into an agreement for conservation status with the Arizona Land and Water Trust (ALWT).

Originally a Spanish Land Grant in the early 1600s, the ranch provided grapes that were used to make the wine for the Catholic Mission in Santa Cruz Valley. Since the 1600s Rose Tree has managed to raise cattle almost continuously, even during the 1800s while the Sonoita Valley was the land of the Apache, controlled by Cochise and then Geronimo.

In April 2021, the Rose Tree entered an agreement with the Arizona Land and Water Trust to protect 1,150 acres of their private land from development. Owner Al Wilcox wants to improve the land’s natural resources and preserve it in its natural state, and has been working to improve wildlife habitat and the conservation of various species found on the ranch. Species found on or near the ranch include federally endangered ocelot and jaguar and several vulnerable species: the lesser long-nosed bat, Chiricahua leopard frog, Sprague’s pipit and pronghorn antelope.

Twenty years ago, soon after they bought the ranch, the owners partnered with University of Arizona, Arizona Game and Fish, the Arizona Antelope, Mule Deer and White Tail Deer Foundations to improve and protect wildlife habitat.

The total grazing allotment for the Rose Tree is approximately 9,000 acres leased from the Bureau of Land Management and Arizona State Land. The private land purchased by Arizona Land and Water Trust (AWLT) protects the grazing and agricultural rights of the Rose Tree Ranch while assuring the land will not be sold or developed beyond agreed agricultural use.

AWLT has purchased conservation easements on 60,500 acres of private ranch land in southern Arizona as of July 2021. Their purchases focus on native and restorable grassland and water sources. Conservation goals are protecting a network of connected properties expanding wildlife corridors in the Sonoita-Elgin and Upper San Pedro River Watershed. Other local ranch properties that have entered into agreement with the AWLT include the Babacomari, Pyeatt, and Mustang Ranches in Elgin, the High Haven Ranch north of Sonoita, the Circle Z in Patagonia and the Clyne, Sands and Rain Valley Ranches in Rain Valley.

Funding for land purchases in the Elgin-Sonoita area comes, in part, the USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, individual donations, and from the Department of Defense’s Readiness Environmental Protection Integration Program which serves to protect development encroachment on Fort Huachuca as well as providing conservation easements.

Rose Tree Ranch is an integral part of protecting the unique grasslands, habitat and wildlife of Santa Cruz County and surrounding areas of southern Arizona.