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Tucson Weekly Thanks for Not Breeding

Grasslands around the Santa Rita Mountains are suddenly infested with humans.

By Kevin Franklin

MARCH 2, 1998:  A NAUSEOUS FEELING rolls over me. The bulldozers have finally arrived.

I'm driving along Continental Road on my way to the north flank of the Santa Rita Mountains, a rolling landscape of tall grass and mesquite trees. I always thought this vast grassland defined the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon, much like Africa's Serengeti around Mount Kilimanjaro. It's a lowland retreat for wildlife and a psychological panacea for humans. You could look out here and know that this was a complete habitat. Except for a few structures tucked away in Madera Canyon, the open country extended in an unbroken mass all the way to the top of Mount Wrightson.

So of course someone had to come along and build a bunch of houses on it. Seemingly overnight, an entire development popped out like zits on a teenager.

Intellectually I was aware this would happen one day, but the reality of it hits my gut like a baseball bat. In one sense this is no big deal. It's a few tens of acres gone by the way. The wildlife will survive just fine in the remaining open country.

The problem is, it won't remain open. This is the first wave. There will be more developments coming to encircle the range, and probably sooner rather than later. It's the story of the Catalina Mountains and Pusch Ridge all over again. Eventually developments will blanket the land right up to the U.S. Forest Service boundary. Without the buffer of the rolling grasslands, the ecology of the mountain will atrophy, and before long creatures will begin disappearing.

All this goes through my mind as I drive along, looking at the new houses. They're the standard Santa Fe stucco crap getting slapped up all over the Southwest. I swear there must be a machine somewhere that spits these things out. I drive by the gate: "Madera Reserve," it says. That takes the cake. Where do these developers get off with these names? Madera Reserve, La Preserve, Dove Mountain, etc. Is it some private joke to name their clapboard white-collar ghettos after the wildlife they paved over in the process of building? The only "reserve" around here was the open country that buffered the mountains. I wonder if anyone would savor the irony if some inter-galactic colonizing species came here, wiped out all the humans and built the "Earthling Resort and Spa."

I continue down Box Canyon Road toward the Experimental Range Headquarters. The Experimental Range is a vast stretch of open country bordering the Forest Service land. It's owned by the state and used by the University of Arizona for agricultural research. Like everything else owned by the state, it's potentially up for sale. Unless an effort is made now to ensure its continued status, ultimately it will become "La Range." The headquarters are located at the mouth of Florida Canyon, my destination today.

The trail starts just before the main gate to the headquarters. Water is cascading down the often dry creek bed and under thick stands of oak and netleaf hackberry trees. I listen to the sound of the water running and enjoy the lonely trail. Still, I can't shake the feeling that this will be nothing more than a quasi-urban park by the time I'm an old man. The Central Park of the Tucson-Green Valley metro-area megalopolis.

The development back on the road ticks me off, but it's just a symptom. "Madera Reserve" is creeping into a lot of open space prematurely, but sooner or later population growth would demand its use. Which brings us to the root of the problem.

I scoff at the notion that in order to maintain our economy, our population needs to keep growing. Forget all the economic theory, think about the reality of that. It means that when there are 20 billion people on this planet, and we're up to our eyes in excrement and human debris, there will be some economist saying, "Keep making more, we don't want the economy to falter." It's got to stop somewhere, and the sooner the better.

I stop to snap a photo of a cow tank full of water with the Santa Cruz Valley as a backdrop. The tank looks like a giant petri dish and reminds me of a conversation I once had about how humans on Earth are like bacteria in a lab. Being mindless, bacteria continue to reproduce and expand, even as they begin to tax the resources of their little dish. Eventually, there are so many of them that they run out of space and food and begin poisoning themselves with their own waste. Ultimately, they all die.

Next week: Out There takes on the Arizona outback!

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