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Sands Ranch - Improving Plant Community Success Story

Sisters, Marilyn Harris and Kathy Williams, continue the legacy of their
Grandfather, caring about conservation on the Sands Ranch.

Marilyn and Kathy with Barry Wallace (Crop Production Services) and Gerry Gonzalez (Douglas NRCS District Conservationist) at the US/Mexico Border Ranch Tour.



A New Perspective

Sisters Keep Their Grandfather's Legacy Alive at the Sands Ranch

WHETSTONE, ARIZ. - April 30, 2012 - Sisters, Marilyn Harris and Kathy Williams own the Sands Ranch, a cow-calf operation on 100 sections of private, state, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Pima county lands in Whetstone, Arizona.

The historic Sands Ranch began with their grandfather, Louis Sands who moved to Arizona from Michigan in 1902. He began to buy ranchland in 1917. Louis Sands was a great horseman and passed on his passion for horses and his ranch to his children and grandchildren. Marilyn and Kathy are third generation ranchers and are proud to be the owners and operators of the Sands Ranch for the past 15 years. They work hard to continue the legacy their grandfather left behind of maintaining a successful family operated ranch.

It is unique to see women own and manage a full ranching enterprise and when asked what about the ranch they like most, Marilyn replied, “For me it is our heritage and the love for livestock and the land. Our grandfather had a vision and I want to help carry that out. It is about keeping a legacy alive”.

Part of keeping the legacy alive has been embracing the different land ownerships and working together to create a coordinated resource management plan. The Sands Ranch is edging toward 100 years of conservation efforts. Marilyn and Kathy began working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the late 90’s on assessing the condition of their resources through vegetation monitoring. During that time they also developed relationships with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the Forest Service to help identify natural resource issues.

Working with other agencies and groups to build a stronger and healthier ecosystem on the ranch has been a large part of what the sisters have done to leave their mark on the ranch. To help leverage the efforts of multiple agencies and groups on the ranch a coordinated resource management plan was developed. It is a well developed vision or goal of a farm or ranch that can be achieved through implementation of an agreed upon set of conservation practices that improve the health of the land. The coordinated plan for the Sands Ranch has several government agencies involved and many policies to be followed. At the end of the process, all entities have come together with one vision to improve the natural resources on the land.

Four primary resource concerns were identified by the group; change of plant communities (changed from grasses to shrubs), loss of soil surface, loss of ability to absorb and store rainfall, and a lack of water reliability for cattle and wildlife. Having a coordinated plan allows the ranch to have more options to request and apply for funds through different agencies and resources to improve the natural resource concerns identified.

The NRCS assisted Sands Ranch with restoring its natural plant community through the implementation of chemical brush removal using their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Removing brush to restore native grasslands provides livestock forage and wildlife habitat, while also enhancing the watershed. Chemical brush removal versus mechanical brush removal was chosen because it is less costly and more labor-effective.

The chemical is most effective on plants with shallow roots such as invasive brush species; creosote bush, whitethorn acacia, tarbush, and mariola. Chemical brush removal takes time. It works by inhibiting the plants ability to make its own food, and can take up to 2-3 years to show full response.

Marilyn said, “One of the pastures treated has always been a horse pasture. However, until now, we couldn’t see the horses! Chemical brush removal really works!”

“I am proud of all the improvements we have made. Things have gotten better since we first took over the ranch. We bring a new perspective to grazing management. The women have stepped up and made things happen,” said Kathy Williams.

Seventy-five years ago a man had a vision for his land. Today that vision still exists and has been improved through generations of different perspectives, coordinated efforts with others involved and impacted, and a focus of taking care of the natural resources that continue to provide on the Sands Ranch. Marilyn and Kathy are continuing the legacy of their grandfather, showing what it means to care about conservation.



Conservation Planning
Improving Plant Community
Success Stories