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Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

The Sonoran Desert is a beautiful and rugged place like nowhere else on earth. For those of us who live here, the mountains, the cactus, and the wildlife are not only part of the scenery, they are a proud part of our culture and the way we live.

This is also one of the fastest growing regions in the country and most of this growth has occurred without adequate planning or comprehensive accounting of impacts. We now have a chance to ensure that future growth will not destroy the wild and rugged areas that we have all come to love. That chance lies in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP).

The goal of the SDCP is to allow our community to grow without destroying the things that make Pima County special — the mountain ranges, riparian areas, habitat that supports abundant wildlife, and places where we can enjoy the solitude of nature. The SDCP’s goal is to:

The goal of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is to ensure the long-term survival of the full spectrum of plants and animals that are indigenous to Pima County through maintaining or improving the habitat conditions and ecosystem functions necessary for their survival.

In October 1998, the Pima County Board of Supervisors adopted the multi-year planning process of the SDCP. The Coalition has been a part of this process since the beginning. With so many threatened and endangered species found in the area, which is still experiencing massive growth, it is necessary to implement a plan that will protect the long-term survival of these species and their habitat for generations to come.

The SDCP is a multi-faceted planning process with ongoing implementation. Major components include:

  • The completion of a Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP) as part of an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After nearly two decades, the MSCP was finalized in September 2016 and will be implemented over the next 30 years, protecting habitat for 44 vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species.
  • Adopting  the Conservation Lands System guidelines and policies into Pima County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2001 and applying these guidelines in appropriate cases on an on-going basis.
  • Developing a robust open space preserve system with funding from open space bonds and other sources. With $174 million in bond funds approved in the 2004 bond election, Pima County purchased over 31,000 acres of fee title lands and 170,000 acres of leased State Trust Lands. These lands will in part serve as mitigation for anticipated impacts under the County’s Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
  • Applying Riparian Habitat Mitigation Guidelines for impacts to important riparian habitat. The Coalition was closely involved with the development of these guidelines and continues to monitor how the guidelines are applied to specific development projects.
  • Working with local jurisdictions such as the City of Tucson, Town of Marana, Town of Oro Valley, and Town of Sahuarita on regional habitat conservation planning and the development of their conservation policies and ordinances. We also continually monitor how these policies and ordinances are applied to specific development projects.

With so many threatened and endangered species found in the area, which is still experiencing massive growth, it is necessary to implement a plan that will protect the long-term survival of these species and their habitat for generations to come.

The SDCP planning process has won both Pima County and the Coalition over a dozen local, regional and national awards, including awards for Best Plan & Multi-Agency Coordination (2001 Arizona Planning Association), Distinguished Leadership (2001 Arizona Planning Association), GIS Approach to Reserve Design (2001 ESRI User Conference, Best Instructional Presentation), Public Education (2002 Arizona Planning Association), and Priority Species Habitat Distribution Modeling (2001 Southwest Arc/Info Users Group, Map Poster Contest). The SDCP has also received national media attention from Time Magazine, National Audubon Magazine, and is featured in Nature-Friendly Communities, a book by Chris Duersken and Cara Snyder, and Safe Passages: Wildlife, Highways, and Habitat Connectivity, edited by Jon Beckmann et al.