White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area
On June 25, 1999, the Cross L Ranch, consisting of 1,713 deeded acres, was purchased by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (Department). On August 8, 2000, purchase of the adjacent Ocote Ranch added another 1,137 acres to the White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area, bringing its total size to deeded 2,850 acres. The land and resource values associated with this acquisition provide opportunities to meet objectives of Arizona's Heritage Fund Program for Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive (TES) species and their habitats, as well as provide benefits for other wildlife species and recreational opportunities for the public. The $4,116,940 acquisition was accomplished utilizing funds from the Commission's Heritage Fund.
Visiting the Wildlife Area
The White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area is located in east-central Arizona, approximately seven miles west of the towns of Springerville and Eagar. To get there, from Eagar, drive west on State Highway 260 about five miles to the junction of the road to the Springerville transfer station at milepost 391.4. Follow the paved road north, then west .6 miles to the southwest corner of the first hill. When the road turns north again, take the dirt road to the left three miles, in a northwest direction, to a cattle guard on the fence line boundary. Cross the cattle guard and proceed a short distance to the parking area. Park at designated sites only. The road is suitable for passenger cars. The wildlife area is open from sunrise to sunset.
The Ocote Trail is a 2.6-mile hiking trail of moderate difficulty that overlooks and loops a large draw containing juniper woodland, grassland and ponds. There’s a high probability of seeing pronghorn antelope, rock and golden-mantled squirrel, chipmunks and rabbits. There’s also a possibility of seeing elk, coyote, badger, striped skunk and gray fox. Both mountain and western bluebird are found in the junipers in winter. The meadows and grasslands offer opportunities to see golden eagle, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk and other raptors. Birding is best in spring, summer and fall.
Hunting in season is allowed on the property.
Narrative Description and Vegetation Types: The 2,850-acre White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area property includes: 1) riparian habitat (2%) along the Carnero Creek drainage; 2) irrigated pasture (5%) that has rich soils and high production potential; 3) pond and open water habitats (3%); 4) plains grassland habitat (90%) on gently rolling hills, knolls and flat terrain; 5) storage rights in Carnero Lake (77.5%) and Wiltbank Reservoir (85%), along with irrigation water rights in Carnero and Fish Creeks for 211.5 acres on the Ocote Ranch. In addition, there are water rights held in Geneva and Norton Reservoirs and Fish Creek upstream from Wiltbank Reservoir; and 6) physical features including a main residence house, a bunkhouse, saddle room, shop, 12 stock ponds and fencing.
Management Objective Goals
- To meet objectives of the Little Colorado Spinedace Recovery Plan by providing habitats that can be utilized for refugia sites for captive populations of at least two of the five sub-populations of this federally-threatened fish. This will significantly facilitate recovery efforts to delist the species.
- To improve grassland habitat conditions through managed livestock grazing to enhance the property for nesting and foraging requirements of mountain plover.
- To improve habitats, particularly sensitive plains grassland and riparian/wetland areas, for big game (pronghorn antelope, elk and mule deer), waterfowl, nongame and Department "Species of Special Concern," such as leopard frogs and ferruginous hawks.
- To enhance opportunities for public education regarding conservation of threatened and endangered species like the Little Colorado spinedace and mountain plover.
- To enhance opportunities for public outdoor recreation related to wildlife resources, such as coldwater fishing, wildlife viewing, photography and hunting, through improved habitat conditions, water management and access.
Public Use Opportunities and Resource Management Emphasis
The Department is in the process of developing refugia sites for captive propagation of the Little Colorado spinedace with the current system of ditches and ponds on the property. These actions will meet significant goals and objectives of the Colorado Spinedace Recovery Plan.
The Department is also enhancing the habitats present on the wildlife area, particularly sensitive plains grassland and riparian/wetland areas on the properties to benefit mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), which is a candidate for federal listing. Grassland enhancement actions will also benefit big game, such as pronghorn antelope and wintering elk, and waterfowl, and provide opportunities for establishment and enhancement of populations of special status species and Department "Species of Special Concern."
The grasslands contain important foraging and nesting habitat for mountain plover. Habitat improvement of the plains grassland resources will greatly benefit pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and wintering elk (Cervus elaphus).
Riparian and Wetland
Habitat improvement of the riparian and wetland resources will assist in developing habitat refugia for rearing populations of the threatened Little Colorado spinedace (Lepidomeda vittata), which will assist in meeting objectives of the Recovery Plan and could greatly benefit waterfowl populations.
Special Status Species occurring on or near the White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area have been identified through the Department's Heritage Data Management System and are listed below. This includes the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), the federally threatened bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida), and Little Colorado spinedace, and the federally-proposed threatened mountain plover.
Those special status species that potentially occur on or near the wildlife area include meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonicus), and narrow-headed garter snake. (Thamnophis rufipunctatus)