Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch
How Healing a Southwest Oasis Holds Promise for Our Endangered Land
Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch tells the story of a decades-long habitat restoration project in southwestern New Mexico. A. Thomas Cole explains what inspired him and his wife, Lucinda, to turn their retirement into years dedicated to hard work and renewal. The book shares the past and present history of a very special ranch south of Silver City, which is home to a rare type of regional wetland, a fragile desert grassland ecosystem, archaeological sites, and a critical wildlife corridor in a drought-stricken landscape.
Today the 11,300 acres that make up the Pitchfork Ranch provide an important setting for carbon sequestration, wildlife habitats, and space for the reintroduction of endangered or threatened species. Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch weaves together stories of mine strikers, cattle ranching, and the climate crisis into an important and inspiring call to action. For anyone who has wondered how they can help, the Pitchfork Ranch provides an inspiring way forward.
“A. T. Cole is as great a writer as he is a practitioner of stewarding rangelands and their community. In a region currently being devastated by drought, wildfires, and political divisiveness, Tom is not restoring valuable relationships but re-storying the way we relate to the land. Bravo!”—Gary Paul Nabhan, co-author of Agave Spirits: The Past, Present, and Future of Mezcals
“The great American conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote that ‘One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.’ Tom and Cinda Cole learned this wisdom firsthand when they purchased the Pitchfork Ranch. Decades of hard use had created a variety of ecological wounds—some easy to recognize, others only revealed as the Coles came to know their land. In the finest Leopold tradition, they set out to heal these wounds and make the land healthy again, which will be increasingly important under climate change. It is a story for our times—and it’s an inspiring one!”—Courtney White, author of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country
"A riveting tale that combines history, advocacy, and how-to, Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch is both a kick-in-the-butt call for individual action on climate change and an inspiring story of what one couple with a passion for restoring the land can accomplish."—Susan J. Tweit, author of Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying
“A. T. Cole’s book has arrived in desperate times. Cole gives us a road map out of the morass of climate change, species extinctions, and catastrophic soil loss. Using their Pitchfork Ranch as a learning lab, he and Lucinda, his wife, demonstrate how restoring lands and waters can address this trifecta, whether you are urban, suburban, or rural. Critically, it gives us hope for a future where people and land get on better together.”—Richard L. Knight, Colorado State University
“A. T. Cole’s story of land restoration on the Pitchfork Ranch rests on a firm premise and a promise: that however daunting the world’s multiple and intersecting crises may be, all of us can be agents of positive change. In this corner of New Mexico’s high desert grasslands, Cole and his wife, Lucinda, have devoted themselves to repairing a wounded place. In sharing the story of their work, Cole encourages us all to take up our part in healing a wounded world.”—Curt Meine, author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work
“For the past 140 years, Arizona and New Mexico’s precious ciénagas have been extensively drained, degraded, and destroyed. Twenty years ago, at Burro Ciénaga, the Coles reversed the process. After removing the cattle and installing hundreds of stream stabilization structures, gully erosion has ceased and recovery is now well underway. Much of the ciénaga has been re-wetted. Wetland vegetation and wildlife have returned. My favorite rule applies: When it stops getting worse, it starts getting better. Well done, you two!”—Bill Zeedyk, co-author of Let the Water Do the Work: Induced Meandering, an Evolving Method for Restoring Incised Channels
“Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch is not about trying to put an arid landscape back the way it once was. It’s about water retention, soil building, biodiversity conservation, and carbon sequestration. All this alongside responsible cattle grazing. Passionately written, it’s ultimately about hope and how together we can overcome the intersecting environmental crises that imperil our very existence on Planet Earth.”—J. Baird Callicott, author of Thinking Like a Planet: The Land Ethic and the Earth Ethic
“There are 770 million acres of rangeland in the United States, much of it desertified through watershed destruction and overgrazing. In a masterfully written account of the restoration of the Pitchfork Ranch, A. T. Cole describes what this land used to be, what it can become once again, and the steps necessary to make that transition. This is more than just another account of nature’s resiliency. It is a road map for enlisting the largest agricultural acreage in the country in the fight against climate change, biodiversity declines, and soil loss, all while remaining productive cattle lands. If you are looking for an upbeat view of the future, start here.”—Douglas W. Tallamy, author of The Nature of Oaks