Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Cottonwood: During the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival here near the Verde River here a few years ago, a woman from Seattle became so excited about the unusual bird sightings at Dead Horse Ranch State Park that she asked a park ranger to whom she should write a check? To the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce, she was advised.
Impossible, the woman with the checkbook fussed. Whats a Chamber of Commerce sponsoring anything to do with birding?
You should have seen the look on her face, State Park Ranger Hart recalls. I told her that birding brings business to the area, and that creates jobs and protects habitat. Visitors from everywhere have taken to call this place Birdy Valley. Still looking dubious, the lady nonetheless wrote a generous check.
Another Earth Day is looming and in many places and in many articles and celebrations writers and speakers will invoke the words of one of the fathers of the conservation movement, forester Aldo Leopold. Before he died fighting a fire in 1948, he wrote The Sand County Almanac in which he evokes the American dream of perpetual harmony among self, society and non-human surroundings. A rousing, overarching vision, but as renowned author Damon Runyon once quipped, I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is 6-5 against.
Its undeniably true that 37 years after the first Earth Day, in many places the forces dedicated to protecting nature remain at loggerheads with developers and corporations. But not here in Cottonwood, Arizona a town that literally has gone to the birds. In just a few years its become a world-renown destination for birds and birders to flock together in amazing numbers, marvel at the hawks, fly catchers, falconsand spend money. Pursuing their passion for birding, people spend some $800 million a year in Arizona, reports Sam Campana, Executive Director of Audubon Arizona, and thats a larger economic impact than golf. And that could be just the beginning.
For the festival this year from April 26 to April 29, a variety of businesses, State agencies and non-profit organizations have stepped up with support ranging from funds to manpower and vehicles. The business community gets it that wildlife, the Verde River and birding are essential to our economy, observes Ranger Hart, one of the festivals founders seven years ago along with the Chamber of Commerce. It not like OK, Earth Day is coming and wed better protect the environment then everyone goes back to business as usual. It is widely understood here that if we were to lose the very things people come to see, like some of the best birding habitat in the U.S., they wont come back anymore.
Former Cottonwood Chamber President Pete Sesow concurs. Im no environmentalist but I sit on both sides, and I see both sides, and as a conservative I fought for the Verde River as an economic resource for years, battling the sand and gravel miners, and more. You can say that without the support of the Chamber, well the Verde might still be the mess it once was not many years ago.
No doubt about it, the Verde Valleys reputation as one of the greatest prime birding areas anywhere is rock-solidand spreading. Up to 175 different species were recorded last year–not including a Pacific Loon and a Pelican blown in by the powerful spring winds. Compared to the dig and drain we must attitude of the old days, theres been a shift in consciousness. More people are shooting cameras rather than guns around here, and industry isnt interested any longer in grabbing everything from the earth and nature states Margie Beach, current Cottonwood Chamber president who is also local business executive. Our job is to give visitors a positive experience. They spend money wildlife watching and get excited that rare species of fish exist in the river that are not to be found anywhere else. As for ecotourism, conservation of our beautiful streams and paths of wildlife helps business. Times are changing in relations between business and conservation interests. We have to get along.
Walking by the river one day recently with a friend, Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis mused, If more people can just understand that preserving whats important and valuable about nature can be an economic engine. What it will take is the dissolution of the groups who insist that resource conservation is the enemy of business and economic growth and visa versa.
Cottonwood, at least, has gotten message that having discovered that humans can actually change the way nature operates, they also have the power to restore what was once nearly ruinedthe habitat along the river that attracts birds and birders from all over the world, where nature presents herself says teacher and naturalist Dena Greenwood always on her terms, not on ours.
By James Bishop Jr, an author based in Sedona