Volunteers working to protect special river

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

SAN PEDRO RIVER, Ariz. -- The San Pedro River is the last free-flowing river the southwest and a bird lover's paradise.

When it comes to protecting this slice of green in the desert in southeastern Arizona, some of the state's residents are taking it into their own hands.

It is full-time home to the highest diversity of mammals in the United States and hundreds of bird species, but every summer, the San Pedro River also hosts some extra visitors, volunteers working with the Nature Conservancy.

"This is true citizen science. almost all of the data collection being done is by private citizens," said Ted Mouras.

For the last 15 years, volunteers like Mouras have hit the river to map how much, and how far north, water is flowing from headwaters in Mexico

This year, Mouras said there was some good news.

"We saw the river extending northward, thanks to some rainfall that had occurred over the previous couple of days," Mouras said.

While this year’s totals are not in yet, that is encouraging, because the 2012 mapping showed a steady decrease over the last several years.

Increased flow recharges the aquifer, benefiting ranchers, farmers and communities along the river.

It also helps build new habitat, which Mouras says they mapped as well, "We saw new stands of cottonwoods and willows."

Mouras said perhaps the best part, the river's future will not depend on the flow of federal dollars now and in the future, because volunteers are protecting this treasure.

"Budget constraints, which a lot of federal agencies are suffering through right now, should not affect the future of this really important study," said Mouras.