County spends $21M for grasslands
Courtesy photo, The Sands Ranch is located near the Whetstone Mountains in eastern Pima County

Pima County Supervisors have approved the purchase of 5,040 acres of the Sands Ranch near Whetstone.

Funding for the $21 million — $4,167 per acre — acquisition is coming from the sale of bonds approved by Pima County voters as part of the 2004 Conservation Acquisition Bond Program. The acquisition secures the missing link between the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and the Whetstone Mountains, “and is the most significant grasslands habitat acquisition in Pima County’s history,” according to a release from the Arizona Land and Water Trust.

The trust has been working for months with the landowners, Sands Properties, LLC, to find a way to permanently protect the ranch.

“The acquisition of Sands Ranch adds 5,040 acres of conserved lands to the conservation lands system, providing a critical landscape connection for healthy ecological function and wildlife movement,” said Diana Freshwater, executive director of Arizona Land and Water Trust, which assisted Pima County with the acquisition.

According to Freshwater, the acquisition is expanding and connecting already conserved lands along the critically important Cienega Creek, the Whetstone Mountains of the Coronado National Forest, the Empire Ranch and the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. The county’s acquisition will also protect wildlife movement corridors between the Santa Rita and Whetstone mountains, and conserve a direct connection between significant riparian areas such as Sonoita Creek, Babocomari River and Cienega Creek, Freshwater said.

The Sands Ranch in its entirety stretches from just east of the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Pima County and Santa Cruz County, east into Cochise County to the San Pedro River. The Sands Family has owned the ranch since 1920. Through a ranch management agreement reached as part of the acquisition, Sands Properties will continue to manage the Pima County portion of the ranch for 10 years, with an option for another 10 years.

“Arizona Land and Water Trust is pleased to have been able to partner with Pima County to protect this historic working ranch and critical eco-system” said Freshwater.

The trust is a nonprofit land and water conservation organization dedicated to protecting southern Arizona’s vanishing western landscapes and wildlife habitat by acquiring and managing sensitive lands, the release said. For more information contact the trust at 577-8564, or go to

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