My business, Bruzzi Vineyard, is based in Young. We also have a tasting room located in Superior. My regular commute between these two communities takes me through some of the most remote, wild, unspoiled lands in the state. This drive takes me across the Sierra Ancha Mountains, through Tonto Basin, past Roosevelt Lake, and through the Queen Creek Canyon. This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful and relatively untouched parts of the lower 48, a stunning transition zone connecting the Sonoran Desert with the Mogollon Rim.
Every day I notice something new – a black bear scampering across the road, an unnoticed rock formation hit in just the right light, skies of every color. While studying this landscape, wild as it is, environmental degradation is apparent. Tailings from abandoned asbestos mines litter pristine mountainsides. Tailings from current mines pick up and blow in the wind. Smoke from wildfires obscures the vistas for months every year. Burn scars stretch across an alarming percentage of the terrain. Invasive and nonnative flora fill the open spaces. Large numbers of trees in the forest are dead from extended drought. The creeks and springs that fill Roosevelt Lake run less and less. Make no mistake, these lands are rugged but they are not resilient.
Growing award winning wine grapes in the mountains of Arizona has an inherent series of challenges but we have seen weather related challenges increase over the last several years. Despite utilizing low water irrigation at our vineyard, drought has placed a strain on local wildlife, requiring a new fence to be built around our property to keep out hungry elk. Winters have less snow, frost comes later in the spring and earlier in the fall, and damaging hail is a regular occurrence during monsoon storms. When it does rain it is often either too little or too much too fast to have true benefit.
These trends continue year after year. Currently, around 10% of the Tonto National Forest is burned every year. These fires destroy iconic landscapes, historical resources and local tourism. The floods and burn scars continue after the fires for years, decades or longer. This year the Telegraph Fire came within miles of incinerating our tasting room in downtown Superior and threatened the entire town of Superior as well as Miami, Globe and many smaller communities.
Every year we live in fear of fire at our Young location. Government action to prevent these fires on public land and to follow up and restore after these fires is completely insufficient. Climate change is not a theoretical debate where we live because it affects our lives every day. Our rural communities are all close neighbors with the National Forests that surround us and we need action from our government representatives to address climate change and its many tragic effects. Our tourism and agriculture industries, a vital part of our local economies, culture and heritage, depend on it.
James Bruzzi is owner of Bruzzi Vineyard.