Misreading the Arizona landscape: Reframing analyses of environmental degradation in southeastern Arizona

Colin Thor West, Marcela Vásquez-León

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Landscape change in southeastern Arizona represents one of the most thoroughly studied examples of long-term ecological and hydrological change in the American West. Researchers have documented the diminution of grassland and alteration of rivers using historical texts, matched photographs, transects, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery. Their results generally paint a picture of widespread and irreversible ecological decline. In many cases, ranchers and farmers are identified as the primary agents of this destruction, but their views are rarely consulted within these analyses. This gives rise to measures that restrict their access to the land and water upon which these livelihoods are based, engendering local resentment toward environmental protection policies. This paper reframes the landscape history of grasslands and rivers around the local perspectives of contemporary farmers and ranchers. We compare perceptions held by farmers and ranchers regarding environmental change with more recent spatial data on vegetation and temporal data on seasonal precipitation. Analyses of these data corroborate local perceptions. Reading the landscape from the viewpoint of today's natural resource-based operators highlights the significance of climate variability as a driver, the need for policy-making to incorporate local views, and the positive role today's ranchers and farmers play in ecological stewardship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-383
Number of pages11
JournalHuman organization
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008


  • Climate variability
  • Environmental change
  • Local perceptions
  • Southeast Arizona

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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