22 June 2009 - The directions to the ranch are basically as follows: Leave problems of Ciudad Juarez behind. Cross Chihuahuan Desert. Climb Continental Divide. Hit Sonoran Desert. When you see some of the prettiest country in the west, slow down and watch out for the migrating hummingbirds. The ranch is on the left.

“This is as wild as you can get,” Valer Austin told us at her cattle gate, and she didn’t mean the usual kind of bad wild you could stumble into along the border -- but the good wild.

There are bear, antelope, coyote in these borderlands. There are lions and bison. There are 400 species of bees, the rare black hawk and endangered Mexican stoneroller, which is a fish.

In the video, you can meet Valer Austin, a visual artist from New York City who moved to the desert southwest with her husband Josiah, a Dallas investor. The couple bought a ranch in Arizona and a few more in Mexico. She is possessed by the challenge of restoring land degraded by a century of cattle. She’s as tenacious as a strand of barbed wire.

To revive rivers, the Austins and their ranch hands have erected tens of thousands of low rock dams along the creek beds in Mexico, to use the summer rains to bring water to the desert and recreate the wetlands that were once here.

This is a big, unpeopled place. Scientists have found jaguar here, sharing the ground with drug runners carrying AK-47s and bales of weed.

Austin and her fellow ranchers, Mexican and American, along with a coalition of binational environmentalists (cuencalosojos.org) want to protect this vital corridor for migratory animals.

“We’re trying to manage landscapes on both sides of the border as a single corridor, connected,” Austin said. “Our government put a fence right through the habitat.”

Asked what would be better than a fence, Austin said native grasses and restored rivers and flourishing wildlife. It all depends on what you think is most important. “And I think this is the most important place in the world,” she said.

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