The Verde River is a green artery pulsing through the heart of Arizona, a jewel of the Southwest. Here are 10 reasons we should protect the Verde:
Economy: The Verde sustains over 700 jobs and over $100 million in economic value in the Verde Valley, plus 40 percent of the Phoenix area water supply. Natural areas are proven to benefit local economies.
Quality of Life: Clean air, unfettered open spaces and bodies of water, and opportunities to view wildlife enhance our daily living.
Recreation: As our population grows, we require more recreational area. The Upper Verde is a wonderful place for people to hike, hunt, fish, camp, backpack, kayak, canoe, view wildlife, photograph, ride horses, climb rocks, and observe birds.
Scenic: Primal colors and spectacular rock formations create scenery second to none in the state - red rocks, green plants, blue sky, white clouds. To see what I mean, visit www.cwagaz.org and look at the photo gallery.
Cultural & Historic: The entire river corridor is laced with ancient rock art, campsites, structures, and artifacts revealing the historical lifestyle of Native Americans. The river and its springs are an essential spiritual and cultural foundation for the Yavapai-Apache Nation. Also, remnants of early Arizona ranching history dot the canyon.
Wildlife: Although the Verde River watershed comprises only 5.8 percent of the land area in Arizona, it contains the best remaining riparian areas - lush, green ribbons full of life. The Verde supports a surprisingly large fraction of Arizona's vertebrate species: 78 percent of breeding bird species, 89 percent of bat and carnivore species, 83 percent of native ungulate species, and 76 percent of reptiles and amphibian genera - an impressive concentration of wildlife. The Verde River, the lifeblood of the watershed, is essential life support for most of Arizona's wildlife species, a heritage we all share.
Endangered Species: The Verde supports a rich and diverse variety of plants, animals, and fish, including a score of threatened, endangered, and watched species. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides critical habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The yellow-billed cuckoo and the candidate Mexican garter snake will be listed soon. Additional species of concern include garter snakes and the lowland leopard frog. Arizona supports a resident population of over 60 breeding pairs of majestic bald eagles. Over 300 eagles overwinter here, and many nest on the Verde; five chicks have fledged at Del Rio Springs in the last three years.
Native Fish: Of Arizona's original 33 native fish, the ESA protects 17 and three are extinct. Many surviving native fish live in the Verde, one of the best remaining native fish streams in the state. The Upper Verde is critical habitat for the spikedace, loach minnow, and razorback sucker. The roundtail chub will be added to the list this year. Now rare throughout the Southwest, Sonora and desert suckers are abundant in the Verde.
Moral: Because we exploit our forests, rivers, and land for the resources that support our society, some environmental degradation is inevitable. Our challenge is to manage this rich and amazing world sustainably so our kids, and their children, can also live comfortably and enjoy nature and wildlife. We can learn from our local Native Americans, the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Camp Verde. Monica Marquez, a Yavapai, told me: "Water is Life. You never take it all." Vince Randall, past tribal chairman, asks: "When are you going to learn to share with all living things? When will you learn the true meaning of stewardship? Will it be when there is only one of you left?"
Unique: Of Arizona's six major perennial rivers, the Gila, Salt, and Santa Cruz Rivers have been consumed by dams and groundwater pumping, the Colorado is fully diverted and no longer flows to the Gulf of California, and the San Pedro is struggling for life. The Verde River is the longest surviving living river in Arizona.
But for most citizens, the upper Verde River, tucked away deep within the Prescott National Forest between Paulden and Clarkdale, is remote, unknown, and under appreciated. The upper Verde's future is clouded - unmitigated groundwater mining in the Big Chino Valley will convert 25 miles of a living river into a dead, dry wash. I believe that we are smart enough to live here responsibly, enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while protecting our natural areas and our wildlife. The question remains: Do we have the political will?
Gary Beverly is education committee chair for the Citizens Water Advocacy Group and a retired business man working to protect the Verde River.