Bought in 1980 to prevent encroaching subdivision into 40-acre residential lots, today Cienega Ranch has nearly tripled in size. It is home to herds of cattle, a black-tailed prairie dog colony, and provides habitats for indigenous plants and animals. It encompasses one of the priority areas for Chihuahuan Desert grassland conservation targeted by the National Resource Defense Council (more information here!) and other groups focusing on stemming the rapid decline of grasslands (more information here!)
Josiah Austin has worked with the New Mexico Land Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to place the land under a conservation easement that permanently preserves open space and cattle ranching while preventing future subdivision and land development. Support for conservation easements have been reinvested into restoration, wildlife and water projects (see references at bottom of the page).
40,000 acres of Cienega Ranch are already protected by conservation easements, with another 6,000 acres pending approval!
Cienega Ranch is an innovation hub for watershed restoration projects that slow down water flows, build back degraded washes, and allow the water to seep back into the water table for improved watershed health. This is done through the use of gabions, check dams, and tree plantings which are not intended to hold the water, but instead allow the water to reenter the ground table.
In partnership with Arizona Game and Fish and US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cienega Ranch also works to restore wildlife. Arizona Game and Fish has created refuges in stock tanks and ponds across the ranch for several endangered species – including the Gila top minnow and Chiricahua leopard frog.
In late 2021, biologists from Arizona Game and Fish established a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs on the ranch, a longtime goal of the agency and the first such reintroduction project in Cochise County, Arizona.
On February 10th, 2023, Burrowing Owls that had been saved from a nearby construction site were introduced to the ranch where they are now making a new home!