Major Achievements

The Coalition is a regional leader in Sonoran Desert conservation. Through dedication and hard work, we have created tangible and long-lasting positive change for the Sonoran Desert and are on our way to fully implementing the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, including the best regional Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan in the nation. Below is a list of some of major achievements.

Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

In 1998, the Coalition persuaded Pima County to adopt the far reaching Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) planning process. Since then, the Coalition has remained a key player in that process, maintaining strong relationships wityh county staff and elected officials. The SDCP has gained national media attention, awards, and has become the standard for other communities to follow.

Through education, outreach, and close work with various stakeholders and county staff, Coalition-proposed conservation measures were created and approved by the Pima County Board of Supervisors. These conservation measures include the Conservation Lands System (CLS), a science-based land classification system that directs development to less biologically-sensitive areas in Pima County. Since the CLS was first adopted in 2001, the Coalition has successfully worked with private property owners to help them comply with CLS guidelines, largely consisting of contiguous open space set-asides on their properties. We are the primary organization in Pima County to conduct this important work.

Through education, outreach, and close work with various stakeholders and county staff, Coalition-proposed conservation measures were created and approved by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Through our efforts on the SDCP Steering Committee, we achieved common ground with various stakeholder groups traditionally at odds with conservationists, including ranchers, developers, property rights advocates, realtors, and others. We have established a reputation as an organization that works constructively with a wide variety of stakeholder groups.

We created a public forum series to direct public input into the development of the SDCP. The forums’ topics included “Livestock Grazing and the SDCP,” “Natural Resource Based Outdoor Recreation and the SDCP,” “Endangered Species Act & Habitat Conservation Plans,” “Economic Benefits of Conservation,” and others.

We created a “Community Vision” for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The community vision outlines important next steps to achieve species and habitat conservation goals under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. This vision reflects and builds upon recommendations of the SDCP Citizen’s Steering Committee.

We have been involved in the entire planning process for Pima County’s Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP). After nearly two decades of development. the MSCP finally became a reality on September 6, 2016 when the Pima County Board of Supervisors officially approved the Implementation Agreement for the MSCP. We will remain involved as this plan, which addresses endangered species protection and mitigation, begins monitoring and management.

Ironwood Forest National Monument

The Coalition was a key leader in the movement for the conception, promotion, design, and designation of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which was established in June 2000. Managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the monument is located 25 miles northwest of Tucson and protects over 129,000 acres of beautiful and rugged Sonoran Desert habitat.

The Coalition was a key leader in the movement for the conception, promotion, design, and designation of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which was established in June 2000.

Within the Monument over 470 species and subspecies of plants thrive. The monument is also home to up to 177 vertebrates and 821 invertebrates, including a herd of desert bighorn sheep. For up-to-date information about the Ironwood Forest National Monument, visit our member group, Friends of Ironwood Forest.

2004 Open Space Bond

As a member of the “Friends of the Sonoran Desert” campaign committee, the Coalition facilitated a grassroots campaign to convince the Pima County Board of Supervisors to hold an open space bond election in May 2004. The bond, which passed with nearly two-thirds of the vote, has provided $174.3 million to fund protection of lands identified under the SDCP. The 2004 Open Space Bond purchased over 71,000 acres of fee-owned lands and over 130,000 acres of leased state trust lands.

Over 200,000 acres of open space were protected with 2004 bond funds. This open space protects crucial wildlife habitat, reduces sprawl, provides flood control, and increases the quality of life for Pima County residents.

All bond funds have been spent. These new open space purchases are a significant step forward in creating a truly protected and connected Sonoran Desert in Pima County.

Arizona State Trust Land Reform

The Coalition has been involved with many efforts to reform the State Trust Land system in Arizona. We have been most successful working with the State Land Department and local jurisdictions on the design of conceptual plans for State Trust Land parcels.

In 2008 and 2009, a successful collaborative process between the Coalition, Town of Oro Valley, Pima County, and the Arizona State Land Department resulted in a planned wildlife linkage between the Tortolita and Santa Catalina Mountains that runs through the proposed 9000-acre “Arroyo Grande” development just south of the Pima-Pinal County line. In tandem with this process, the Oro Valley Mayor and Council adopted the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan’s development guidelines for future annexations, which will help ensure that important biological resources within the Arroyo Grande planning area will be protected. Natural undisturbed open space, including a kilometer-wide wildlife linkage, will be located in contiguous common areas rather than in backyards, and will provide a buffer to the already protected Tortolita Mountain Park. While Arroyo Grande has yet to be sold by the State Land Department, we will remain involved with land -use planning for this area until the wildlife linkage is permanently protected.

Regional Transportation Authority – Wildlife Linkages

While the County was developing the 2004 Open Space bond, local citizens began investigating the feasibility of forming a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to address comprehensive transportation funding across the region. The nine-member RTA Board, representing local, state and tribal governments in the region, met for the first time in September 2004. During the ten-month planning process, the Coalition presented information about the effect of transportation infrastructure on wildlife habitat and linkages to the RTA Board and RTA advisory committees. The RTA was approved by Pima County voters in 2006, funded by a 1/2-cent sales tax over 20 years. Included in the package was $45 million of dedicated funding to protect and enhance wildlife linkages, the first time nationwide that such dedicated funding was including in a regional transportation program.

Aerial photograph of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge captured during a flight with Lighthawk over the Tucson, Arizona area on February 10, 2016. Photo courtesy Thomas Wiewandt.

Aerial photograph of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge captured during a flight with Lighthawk over the Tucson, Arizona area on February 10, 2016. Photo courtesy Thomas Wiewandt.

The Coalition, Arizona Department of Transportation, and other partners submitted a joint proposal to the Regional Transportation Authority Wildlife Linkages Sub-committee in September 2009 to construct wildlife crossing structures over and under Oracle Road. This project was approved for $8.2 million in funding in December 2009, and was increased to $11 million in 2011. Construction on these wildlife crossings began in June 2014 and finished in Spring 2016. These structures were built solely for the purpose of facilitating wildlife movement over and under Oracle Road between vast preserve lands. Miles of specially-designed wildlife fencing on either side of Oracle Road will “funnel” wildlife to the crossings and minimize the chance of wildlife trying to cross Oracle Road at-grade. This will increase the safety of the nearby community and drastically reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. The Coalition’s Executive Director chaired the project’s Technical Advisory Committee which assisted in the design of the SR77 wildlife crossings. For more detailed information about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page about the project here.

New wildlife crossings funded by the Regional Transportation Authority help re-connect our wildlife linkages and increase the safety of our roadways for motorists.

Another major project completed by the RTA is the construction of two large wildlife underpasses on State Route 86 near Kitt Peak on the Tohono O’odham Nation. These crossings were completed in early 2014, with wildlife fencing installed in 2015. Motion-activated cameras have documented a wide diversity of wildlife using these underpasses and wildlife-vehicle collisions have dropped to almost zero along this stretch of roadway (which was previously a hotspot for wildlife-vehicle collisions). For more information about this project, visit our detailed page about the protection of the Kitt Peak Wildlife Linkage here.

The RTA continues to fund other smaller projects around the region, including wildlife underpasses along Tangerine Road as that road is widened, bat houses in new bridges, and small research studies to determine the best locations for future wildlife crossings. For more information about the RTA and the RTA Wildlife Linkages Working Group, go here.