By Susan Johnson

Larson Newspapers


Helen Campbell got on her first horse at the age of 6, riding the trails of Carmel Valley, Calif., until she married in 1970, leaving leather chaps behind to travel the world with her husband Dean, a career naval officer.

Today, she’s sitting a trot once again, patrolling the well-worn paths and rocky outreaches of the Verde Valley as a Wrangler, the mounted division of Friends of the Forest.

Friends of the Forest is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that partners with the U.S. Forest Service to protect, maintain and restore public lands near Sedona.

Initiated in 2006 at the request of the USFS, the Wranglers’ mission is to carry out assignments given them by Red Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio.

“The Wrangler program has provided valuable assistance in caring for our livestock. They also helped get the tack room in working order and generously donated quite a bit of equestrian equipment to the district,” Provencio said. “In addition to exercising the animals, they provide patrols and public contact out on our trails where the horses are wonderful Forest Service ambassadors. The group is also assisting with trash pickup in remote wilderness areas like Fossil Springs and assists us with packing materials in for backcountry projects.”

Far from being a riding club, the Wranglers are expert

equestrians who must pass an annual certification from the USFS as well as their own demanding tests of ability.

They also have to be able to ride hard in every kind of weather.

Last fall, the all-volunteer division participated in a three-day joint agency project at Wupatki National Monument, moving 11,800 pounds of fencing materials using horses and mules.

This month, the Wranglers are inspecting 130 miles of allotment fence, looking for breaks and damage and checking to see that every bit of it is wildlife compliant, meaning the bottom strand must be smooth, not barbed, and no less than 18 inches off the ground.

That much clearance is necessary because while deer and elk think nothing of hopping cattle barriers, the ever-fussy pronghorns will not, preferring to shimmy underneath.

To check on the fences, the Wranglers ride in pairs, using a Global Positioning System, plotting the allotments and noting where repairs are needed.

At present, there are 14 certified riders in the group along with a non-riding ground support team, mostly comprised of people who no longer ride but still enjoy the pleasures of feeding and grooming the animals and maintaining their tack.

Five horses and three mules currently stand ready to help, all of them shared resources among three ranger districts — Red Rock, Verde and Peaks.

“Horses are not cheap when they’re just sitting around,” Campbell said. “But they’re a bargain when you put them to good use.”

Three of the horses and one of the mules belong to the Peaks District in Flagstaff, wintering in the relatively pleasant temperatures of the Verde Valley.

Two other horses belong to the Verde District in Camp Verde and the remaining two mules belong to Red Rock, gifts from a local resident.

The animals are also used by USFS staff members assisting in many departments including those devoted to biology, fire, range, recreation and law enforcement.

Stabled at the historic Beaver Creek Ranger District, they have the run of two five-acre pastures reclaimed by the Wranglers during a 10-day project to remove overgrown snarls of mesquite and catclaw acacia.

The same group cleaned up the long neglected barn, and broken fencing for the pastures was repaired and replaced with the help of Al Gilson, another member of the riding team.

More information on Friends of the Forest is available at www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org.


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