[Source: Associated Press] -- The Nature Conservancy has bought the last major parcel of private land along the Upper Verde River, a rare strip of riparian habitat. The Nature Conservancy bought 312 acres for an undisclosed price from a Paulden couple, who also donated two major conservation easements on the uplands portion of their ranch to The Nature Conservancy (160 acres) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (2,440 acres). The easements prevent development. The Upper Verde River is one of the two best remaining native fisheries in Arizona and is home to three endangered and threatened species, Nature Conservancy officials said Friday. The Upper Verde has been at the center of controversy in recent years as Prescott-area communities move forward with their plans to pump groundwater from the Big Chino Sub-basin south about 20 miles to their water-strapped region.
Those plans prompted American Rivers to name the Verde one of the most endangered rivers in the country in 2006. Scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies 80 percent of the base flow of the Upper Verde River. The new Nature Conservancy property encompasses the first mile of the river, where springs help keep the first 24 miles of the river flowing during the dry seasons. The Arizona Game and Fish Department already bought 700 acres on three parcels along about three miles of the river that are interspersed with the new Nature Conservancy property. The Prescott National Forest and State Land Department are the other major landowners along the Upper Verde. Nature Conservancy and state wildlife officials say the new purchase will foster efforts to protect and restore native fish threatened by at least eight non-native fish species.