When we say that everyone has a role to play as we work together to create a stable and vibrant future for Arizona, who comes to mind? Policy makers, government agencies, municipalities, water providers, and individual advocates certainly make the list, but what about breweries? To find the answer, take a trip to Gilbert and visit Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., the Phoenix suburb’s first craft brewery and Audubon Arizona’s Birds n’ Beer partner.
Upon entering Wilderness’ brewpub, you’ll immediately realize that it’s not your typical bar. The obligatory big- screen televisions adorn the walls but instead of sports, they display high definition photos of Arizona’s most wild places – all taken by the brewery’s founder. The menu tells stories of locally-sourced ingredients, community partnerships, and conservation efforts. Wilderness’ passion for Arizona translates into a great atmosphere, even better food, and, perhaps most importantly, some fantastic beer.
Consider one of Wilderness’ latest creations – Connection Saison. This brew starts in Camp Verde where, in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, Hauser and Hauser Farms is growing one of the beer’s main ingredients – barley. Barley is less thirsty than other popular Verde Valley crops like alfalfa and it’s grown in the winter when the water draw has less of an impact on the river. For the hops used in Connection Saison, Wilderness is working with one of only two hop farmers in the state – Copper Hop Ranch in Elgin Arizona (just down the road from our very own Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch IBA!). The species of hops used is native to Arizona and Mexico and makes the brew truly unique to our state.
It’s hard to have a pint of Connection Saison without feeling the urge to get outside and to take some conservation action of your own. Lucky for you, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. has great opportunities to do both nearby.
Just east of the brewpub is the Gilbert Riparian Preserves Important Bird Area (IBA). The wetland areas in this IBA are part of Gilbert’s wastewater storage system and were originally developed to help the city adhere to Groundwater Management Act requirements, meet demand during peak seasons, and withstand periods of drought. With the majority of the Colorado River Basin’s natural wetlands lost, water reclamation projects such as this have become increasingly important to birds and other wildlife. Fall and winter are the best times to visit this IBA because Long-billed Dowitchers, American Avocets, and other wintering shorebirds fill the wetland ponds.
Just south of Wilderness is Summer Winds Nursery. Summer Winds is one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the nation and Audubon Arizona’s primary Plants for Birds partner. Just as artificial wetlands like Gilbert Riparian have become increasingly important, so have other pockets of habitat within our urban environment. Urban sprawl can wipe native landscapes off the map and leave what remains as disconnected patches. By including native plants in your landscaping, you are helping to reverse this trend by creating habitat within the city and corridors between more wild places. You won’t be able to find any of Wilderness’ delicious native hops at Summer Winds, but you can find lots of other native plants to take home – if you have questions, freel free to ask the friendly and knowledgable staff!
We’re going to be asking a lot of you in the coming months. We’ll be asking you to speak up for federal programs that keep water in Lake Mead, to stay engaged with the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ ongoing planning process, to work with us during the next state legislative session to drive water policy that balances human and environmental needs, and more. We know it’s a lot, which is why we’re asking you to get out there and be inspired - go birding at the Gilbert Riparian Preserves IBA, enjoy a pint of Arizona’s finest at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., and bring home a native plant or two from Summer Winds.
When we say everyone has a role to play in protecting our state’s rivers, birds, and other wildlife, we really mean everyone. Thanks as always for everything you do for western rivers. We’re all in this together.