The Gila County Board of Supervisors approved an Intergovernmental Agreement with Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District (NRCD) at its April 20 meeting. The IGA with the NRCD makes it possible for the county to award a $30,000 economic development grant to the ongoing Reading the Range program.
In 2000, a collaborative range-monitoring program, Reading the Range, was established with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Gila County, Gila County Cattle Growers Association, and the Tonto National Forest with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Renewable Resources Extension Act grant program.
Reading the Range was originally funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but has grown and is now funded from a variety of contributors with 45% being federal funding sources, 5% being state and local government funding sources, and 49% from private funding sources. Collaborators include ranchers, U.S. Forest Service, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Tonto Natural Resources Conservation District.
Funding for Reading the Range has continued with help from the U.S. Forest Service, Gila County Board of Supervisors, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Tonto Natural Resources Conservation District.
On March 2, 2021, Lori Brown, Tonto NRCD chair, and Ashley Hall with the University of Arizona Extension Office provided an update regarding the program to the Board of Supervisors and requested funding in the amount of $30,000 that will be utilized as match funds to the U.S. Forest Service to continue the Reading the Range monitoring program.
The program uses standardized monitoring techniques to assess rangelands. The information is used to assist in management decisions. The Reading the Range program teaches adaptive management, which is a structured, interactive process of robust decision-making in the face of uncertainty with an aim to reduce uncertainty over time via system monitoring. This method is similar to the scientific method, where a hypothesis that something is going to work is developed, applied on the ground, and then the effects on the ground are studied to see how it worked.
The program has seen an increase from a 2% adoption rate to a 50% adoption rate from ranchers in Gila County.
The Reading the Range program has proved to provide beneficial information on ways to improve grazing by increasing ground cover, creating better watershed conditions, and creating more diversity of vegetation. These improvements help increase the chance for success for Gila County ranchers while improving the environment impacted by public grazing.