On 14 February 1912 Arizona became the 48th state admitted to the union. Its upcoming centennial provides an opportunity to reflect on the state’s conservation history. If you were educated in Arizona during the 1950s, ‘60s, or ‘70s, you were probably drilled in Arizona’s “Five C’s”. The Five C’s—copper, cattle, citrus, cotton, and climate—represented the industries on which the state’s economy was based. While the “C’s” have proven a boon to the economy, they have proven a bust to the state’s environment.
Arizona produces more copper than all other 49 states combined. Unfortunately, decades of mining has damned the neighboring environs. In 2011 the EPA found the Arasco smelter in Hayden emitting illegal amounts of lead, arsenic, and eight other dangerous compounds. While Ascaro disagrees and “promises a vigorous challenge”, residents recall clouds of blue smoke, excessive coughing, and burning eyes. Smelters are also thought to contribute to declining populations of amphibians such as the Tarahumara Leopard Frog.
Citrus and cotton have long been critical to Arizona’s economy. In 1889, WJ Murphy planted Arizona’s first citrus grove near Phoenix. Today, Arizona rates second in the nation in lemon production, third in tangerines, and in the top ten in oranges and grapefruit. Cotton first became a major crop in Arizona during World War I, when the government sought out material for airplanes, tires, and dirigibles following an embargo on Egypt. Farming in arid climates has always been a challenge. The Hohokam are famous for their complex network of irrigation canals. In 1868 Jack Swilling began retracing them and created one of the first modern irrigation canals near 40th Street and Van Buren in Phoenix. Since then, the state has developed a veritable web of artificial waterways serving as sieves from the state’s natural waterways.
Cattle first arrived in Arizona when Father Kino herded them into the Santa Cruz Valley in the 1600s. Today beef is the state’s leading agricultural product. Arizona produces over 3 billion pounds of milk a year and produces enough beef annually to feed over 4.6 million Americans. Cattle ranching has had an immense impact on the state: fires have been suppressed, predators decimated, and watersheds destroyed. Today we find ourselves in a race to recover endangered predators such as the black footed ferret, Mexican gray wolf, and jaguar, as well as the many species impacted by streambed erosion, including the vermillion flycatcher and native fishes.
Finally, the state’s temperate climate (combined with the promise of wealth) has resulted in a population explosion. At the time of its 1912 statehood, Arizona’s population was 205,000. One hundred years later the population stands at over 6,400,000. While we are slowly learning to decrease our ecological footprint through the use of public transportation, solar power, gray water recycling, xeriscaping, and more, we have a way to go. It is imperative that we reassess our “5 C’s”. Adding “conservation” might be a good start.