During kindergarten, my teacher asked what we’d like to be when we grew up. My answer, “either a cowgirl or a princess” and truth be told, I’m probably still stuck somewhere in that dilemma. Of course, Bonanza Jellybean, the heroine of a Tom Robbin’s novel strengthened the cause. And there was Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand. But this past week, cowgirls weren’t a distant memory or a writer’s muse, they were up-close and in-person.
I first became aware of Kelly in February of 2006 when her photo graced the cover of Arizona Highways magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the publication, the cover is reserved for gorgeous Southwestern scenery. That, she is. In this issue, she’s referred to as the Environmentalist Rancher – a concept that she and her father invented.
Kelly Glenn Kimbro is a real life cowgirl who lives and works in the Malpai. Malpai is a Spanish word for bad lands and is an 800,000 acre area across Southern Arizona and New Mexico nestled against the Mexican Border.
The Malpai Borderlands Group is a collaborative effort that originated as a conversation amongst neighbors who recognized that their way of life and the natural landscape that they loved was being threatened by development and subdivision from growth in nearby towns. Since 1994, the group has pursued activities directed at protecting and restoring ecological diversity and productivity. Their programs include:
Land protection: More than 75,000 acres of private land has been designated as ranch land in perpetuity through conservation easements. This protects it as natural wildlife habitat and productive ranch land by preventing subdivision and development.
Innovative cooperative land management: The group invented the concept of “Grassbanking” where neighboring ranchers who are experiencing drought can “rest” their ranches from over-grazing by moving their herds to an area under reciprocal conservation agreements.
Habitat restoration: They’ve undertaken many restoration projects to restore native grassland and savanna habitat, including an ambitious goal of restoring fire as a natural landscape process. Working with numerous agency and private partners, the group has conducted prescribed fire over 69,000 acres. Monitoring shows that their projects are resulting in improved ecological conditions.
Now, this work handed from Kelly’s father to her is transcending another generation. Kelly’s daughter, MacKenzie is stepping into the roles carved out by her mother. As a member of Future Farmer’s of America and 4-H, she has created a partnership with Arizona Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and she and her mother are creating an aquatic habitat to help native fish and leopard frogs.
This project has included a great deal of hard physical labor clearing invasive plants and building out a pond area. Their intention is to turn this area into an outdoor classroom where high school students can observe and learn about nature. Once complete, they’re eager to move on to the community garden and other agricultural aspects of the project in order to educate kids on where their food comes from. In addition, they’re eager to showcase the project as a place where area teens can come to learn about careers in farming, ranching and food production.
It’s rare to find the combination of rancher and environmentalist and it is an honor to introduce you to this amazing mother – daughter team – cowgirls to the core! To learn more about the Malpai, click here.