The one-time mining town of Ajo has become the 65th community in the country - and only the second in Arizona - to be certified as a "Community Wildlife Habitat."
The National Wildlife Federation awards the certification based on residents' efforts to "create a community where people and wildlife can flourish."
Such recognition for Ajo, about 140 miles west of Tucson, marks a milestone for a town where a huge open pit copper mine once dominated the landscape more than wildlife. The mine ceased production in the mid-1980s.
The only other Arizona certification so far is held by the Sweetwater in the Foothills master-planned community on the west side of Tucson.
Wildlife Federation officials lauded Ajo residents for working since 2008 to earn the certification.
"Community certification includes the creation of habitat gardens at 57 residences, one park, three other public spaces, six local businesses, four community gardens, and Ajo Elementary School," the federation reported. "A display in the local library, a booth at community fairs, school science programs and periodic newspaper articles have helped educate the community about the project."
Regardless of the mining operations that once disrupted landscapes, Ajo is now an ideal spot for wildlife, according to the federation.
"Ajo is isolated from large urban areas by nearly 80 miles of open federal land, making it an ideal location for wildlife habitat," says a federation news release. "Wildlife and the native plants they depend upon are truly unique in Ajo, the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Wildlife sightings are common throughout town, ranging from coyote or javelina to the occasional mountain lion to rare birds."
REACTION IN AJO
"We're just absolutely thrilled that the community took this to heart and earned certification," said Vivian Sartori, a retired national park interpretive ranger who helped lead the certification effort.
Sartori said Ajo residents worked to showcase Ajo's many natural attractions.
"We have 28 different species of cacti, and mammals absolutely abound," she said. "We have all kinds of reptiles and an incredible variety of vegetation."
A representative of the National Wildlife Federation will present a Community Wildlife Habitat certificate to the Ajo community in an 11 a.m. ceremony Saturday at the Ajo Town Plaza.
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz