Sarah King – Collaborative Conservation in the American Southwest

Sarah King (photo credit: Roni Ziemba)

Sarah King is a rancher, conservationist, wife, and mother of two who lives and works on her family’s 55,000-acre cattle ranch in southern Arizona’s Altar Valley. The King’s Anvil Ranch was established in 1895 and has operated successfully within their family for generations, setting an example of how to run a financially viable agricultural business, while simultaneously protecting the long-term ecological health of their vast desert ranch. The Kings understand that in order for their business to thrive, the land must thrive, and they are leaders in pursuing a variety of outside-the-box land stewardship techniques, including the focused use of prescribed fires.

The King family spearheaded the creation of the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, a cutting-edge land conservation organization that collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders, including private landowners, ranchers, government entities, conservation non-profits, and environmental advocacy groups. Thanks to focused, diligent efforts over the course of two decades, the AVCA has managed to bring together groups that have historically been at odds, allowing them to focus on shared goals and creative solutions to complicated challenges, rather than dwelling on their differences. As you’ll hear Sarah explain, AVCA understands that open, honest, face-to-face communication has been the key to tackling the Altar Valley’s complex challenges, and their success gives me hope that other organizations throughout the West can adopt their approach and enjoy the same success.

This was a very enlightening episode for me, because I personally just don’t know enough about the landscapes and heritage of the deep southwest. We dig into many of the details of the King’s Anvil Ranch and its operation, including the unique climate and ecology of the Arizona desert. Sarah explains how the AVCA came to be, and offers some insights into exactly what they do and how they’ve managed to have such success. We discuss Sarah’s personal background, specifically how an east coast native ended up on an expansive cattle ranch in Arizona. We talk about the benefits of raising children on a ranch, and the lessons she hopes to impart as they grow up closely connected to the land. Given that the ranch is located less than 40 miles from the Mexico border, we discuss how illegal border crossings have a significant effect on the ranch’s operations. And, of course, we discuss favorite books and documentaries, with links to everything in the episode notes.

I had such a great time chatting with Sarah, and I walked away from the conversation with a much deeper understanding of ranching, conservation, and life in the American southwest. She and her colleagues at AVCA are doing important, groundbreaking conservation work, so I encourage you to follow them and learn from their efforts. Also, be sure to follow Sarah on Instagram—on top of everything else, she’s a talented photographer, too. Enjoy!

Header photo courtesy of Sarah King, other courtesy of Roni Ziemba

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Episode Notes

Topics Discussed:

3:30 – How Sarah describes her work
4:10 – King’s Anvil Ranch
5:20 – History of the ranch
7:10 – Details on the ranching operation
10:30 – History of Altar Valley Conservation Alliance
13:15 – Events leading to the Alliance’s formation
16:30 – Importance of fire in the Altar Valley
20:00 – Examples of AVCA collaborative projects
25:20 – Why has AVCA been able to be successful where others have not?
28:45 – Specific reasons for AVCA’s success
31:15 – The importance of private land in the West
35:30 – How Sarah ended up in the west, working in ranching
39:00 – Sarah’s college thesis on women dude ranchers
41:15 – Realities of moving West from the east coast
42:30 – Benefits of raising children on a ranch
45:30 – Sarah’s photography
47:15 – Illegal immigration and its effects on the King’s ranch
55:50 – Favorite books
57:55 – Favorite documentaries
59:35 – Surprising activities
1:00:30 – Most powerful experience in the outdoors
1:03:30 – Best advice ever received
1:05:00 – Sarah’s request of the listeners
1:06:00 – Connect with Sarah online
Information Referenced

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