The Malpai Borderlands Group began in 1993 in an effort to address threats to ranching by educating, looking for common ground, and by collaborating with local, state and federal agencies, universities, and environmental organizations. One area of general agreement was that the exclusion of wildfire from the
borderlands was contributing to a decline in herbaceous plant cover with
resulting loss of watershed stability, wildlife habitat, and livestock
forage. Thirty-five neighbors got together and created the first "Malpai
Fire Map", a document which showed their desires concerning fire
suppression. All involved land management agencies were invited to a meeting to review the map and discuss suppression strategies. All agencies agreed that current federal and state policy allows for a "confine/contain" strategy for range fires of this type.
Using this as a starting point, the Group's goal has evolved to a more comprehensive natural resource management and rural development agenda. The Group's goal is, "To preserve and maintain the natural processes that create and protect a healthy, unfragmented landscape to support a diverse, flourishing community of human, plant, and animal life in the borderlands region."
in 1990, The Nature Conservancy purchased the 300,000 acre Gray Ranch in the heart of the Borderlands. This purchase was an attempt to preserve the biological uniqueness of this ecologically rich area. After a period of inventory and planning, it was decided that the Conservancy would seek a buyer who shared their vision for the ranch. Rancher Drummond Hadley created a non-profit corporation, the Animas Foundation, for the purpose of buying and operating the Gray. They purchased the ranch, with certain conservation easements held by The Nature Conservancy. The objective of the Animas Foundation was to demonstrate sustainable agriculture in harmony with the environment - a goal which is completely compatible with the Malpai Group goals. The Animas Foundation then became one cooperating landowner within the Malpai Group. The foundation is particularly important to the group in that they own more than a third of the planning area.
One of the more innovative schemes devised by the group is the concept of a "grassbank". If a member rancher suffers a bad season (perhaps due to prolonged drought), he can move his cattle onto Gray Ranch until his own ranchland is able to recover. The rancher turns an amount of land of equal value over to the Malpai Borderlands Group, which puts the land into easement, prohibiting future subdivision. The Group then uses money from its contributing members and donors to pay back the "bank".
The Group believes that intelligent management of this landscape will require the best available science, and a science committee was formed to coordinate the effort. The U.S. Forest Service agreed to fund a five-year Borderlands Ecosystem Management Research Project. Also involved in the science effort are the University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico, and the U.S. Geological Survey Desert Lab.
So far the project has developed 1) a joint fire management plan for much of the area, 2) a "grass banking" program to help drought-stricken ranchers and protect overgrazed land, 3) re-seeding and good management practices programs; 4) cooperative relationships with research and management entities interested in resource management and protection.