The wildfires of 2011 made their mark on the slopes of the Huachuca Mountains, burning many of the lush canyons of the Coronado National Forest.
However, Ramsey Canyon Preserve survived the fire, and members of the birding community breathed a collective sigh of relief.
KAYTEE ornithologist Mario Olmos has been conducting research in the Huachuca Mountains for four years, and he says the area is a haven for bird enthusiasts.
“These canyons are very rich in diversity of birds,” Olmos says.
Across the country, bird diversity has come to mean big business. Sierra Vista is now one of the best-known birding destinations, hosting the annual Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival, which is on its 20th year.
Julie Bradley is on the festival's board of directors. She says the economic impact that birders have in the state is significant. Despite the recent fires near Sierra Vista, visitors continue to flock to the area.
Bradley cites a 2006 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found birders generate $838 million each year from trips related to birding.
David Solis and Anne Bradley are two birders at the festival. They drove from Santa Fe, N.M., and plan to spend several days exploring the area.
“We plan to get outside of Sierra Vista to see Patagonia Preserve, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, and the San Pedro River,” Solis says.
“It’s very diverse,” Bradley says. "And, because it’s so close (to) the Mexico border-–for those of us (who don't get to go to) Mexico very often—we get to see things that are a little bit of a surprise, or unusual.”
Olmos says his company is providing wild bird food and nectar to make up for the fire-related loss of food sources in the area. He says restoration efforts are underway, and the growing community of birders can continue to look to this area as one of the country's premier bird-watching sites.