AZ Game and Fish Youth Conservationist of the Year: Arielle O’Connor

While it may be an academic subject to some high schoolers active with FFA, ‘range management’ was a far more personal, hands-on and sometimes daily experience for Arielle O’Connor, raised on the Y Ranch about 10 miles north of Globe. A 14,000 acre spread in the shadow of the Apache Peaks mountain range, it’s where she spent her teens working alongside her parents and brother tending about 200 corriente cattle, sheep and other stock.

Arielle learned to differentiate grasses, name the surrounding canyons, creeks and other landmarks and recognize wildlife. She saddled-up to join her dad and U.S. Forest Service ‘Range Con’ monitoring staff for once-a-month treks into the chaparral, checking grasses to maintain appropriate forage percentage. She learned about fixing water lines, pipelines and tanks to assure reliable H20 for thirsty wildlife and livestock.

Saturday, Jan. 25, Arielle traded jeans for something more formal to join a dozen other award winners at the Arizona Game and Fish Department annual banquet, where she was recognized as Arizona Youth Conservationist of the Year.

Taking Care of the Land

“The award means a lot, I grew up on a Gila County cattle ranch and have learned how important range management is within the ranching community: taking care of the land while taking care of livestock, such an important balance. As a high school freshman I learned about the annual FFA rangeland competition and immediate went for it – I didn’t score well my freshman year, but it was a learning experience and I moved into the top 10 as I progressed through high school. In my senior year I placed second, and won a buckle at the Riggs Field Day competition down in Cochise County.”

Arielle graduated Globe High School last spring, worked for Gila County during the summer months and headed for Tucson as a University of Arizona freshman last semester. Her Globe High dedication to FFA and Southern Gila County 4H along with solid academics, spurred the community’s FFA alumni to nominate her for the award.  They wrote on her nomination: “beyond the classroom and her community activities, Ms. O’Connor is a hard-working ranch-hand assisting her parents and brother in operating their family business while consistently raising grand-champion lambs for the Gila County Fair. Arielle’s leadership in FFA began when she was in eight grade as Greenhand President. Her servant-leadership continued throughout high school where her efforts supported the Globe FFA program in its growth and engagement of new members. Globe FFA includes both classroom, hands-on work, independent projects, travel within Arizona and to Indianapolis. Arielle consistently represents herself, her family, her school, her community, and the state of Arizona well in all she does.”

Raised caring for cattle and sheep, Arielle also grew up hunting – learning alongside her dad, with a keen appreciation for Grand Canyon State wildlife.

Raised to Hunt, Too

“I have hunted ever since I was legally old enough for a license: deer, elk, javelina. My favorite overall is probably deer but the memory I’ll always cherish is my first, and so far my only, javelina hunt up near Payson. My dad had tags for the same unit, so that was a father-daughter hunt. Its such a thrill to see wildlife, over the years I’ve seen bears and just once I saw a mama bear and her cubs together up near a water hole, and watched the cubs climb up a tree.”

Being chosen AZGF’s Youth Conservationist of the Year adds to Arielle’s ability to be an exemplary role model for Grand Canyon State youths involved in rangeland or wildlife management. After adjusting to Tucson’s urban environs and settling into rigorous course load during her first semester at UA, she’s eyeing a possible internship with a Natural Resource Conservation District, or the U.S. Forest Service; possibly joining UA’s range management club or the Society For Range Management.

She would quickly prove to be an asset: Arielle was a leader of the 2018-2019 Globe FFA Wildlife Career Development Event team.

Nominators wrote: “Arielle possesses both textbook and hands-on expertise in the areas of wildlife and habitat management, GPS map and compass navigation of wildlife habitats, ecology and natural resources, soil and water management practices, range management practices, and wildlife management practices. In the Hands-On area, Arielle successfully identifies 76 species of birds, 53 species of mammals, 32 species of reptiles, 39 species of fish, 10 species of amphibians, and 32 common invasive species. Her skills include identifying an animal by its: hide or feathers, tracks, skull, antlers/horns, scat, sounds, pictures, mounts, and other tracking signs.”

Academic Leadership

“In addition, Arielle’s test scores at the State level in Arizona Association FFA Wildlife CDE show her knowledge about habitats, life zones, biology, breeding information, special needs/characteristics of wildlife. Competing at the state level, Arielle successfully demonstrated the ability to both complete a subject-matter test on wildlife, individual expertise in the area, and the capacity to successfully plan and complete a group activity. Ms. O’Connor first learned from older students and, as a senior, embraced a leadership role in the team.

Beyond wrangling livestock, Arielle has valuable ‘people skills,’ too. Here’s an example of her talent for networking: during her senior year at Globe High she connected the FFA Wildlife team with guest experts who could coach the students in specific skills – for one, Gila County District 2 Supervisor Tim Humphrey. A lifelong outdoorsman and accomplished hunter, he shared his wildlife knowledge - and brought along ‘hides and horns’ Arielle and her teammates studied for hands-on knowledge prior to the competition.

And she’s quick to give credit to those who have been a positive influence.

“I really want to give a shout-out to John and Susan Sutphin, the owners of J Bar S Ranches; where I was raised – and my family still manages for them, but now up in Payson. Without them, and without my family, I would not have had the opportunities that I did through High School. Justen Ollendick is another I want to thank, he nominated me for the award, and has been a role model and influential person in my life.


Video News