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The Big Picture: Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains Wildlife Linkage

The preservation of the Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains wildlife linkage has been a priority of the Coalition for many years. Although our “to do” list never seems to stop growing, we have a lot to celebrate in the re-connection and preservation of this critical wildlife linkage.

Establishing the Arroyo Grande wildlife corridor

“Arroyo Grande” is a 9,000-acre area of state trust land currently in unincorporated Pima County within the Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains wildlife linkage. In 2008, during the development of a “conceptual plan” for this area by the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD), the Coalition successfully worked with the Town of Oro Valley, Pima County, and the ASLD on the inclusion of significant open space and a designated 1-km wide wildlife corridor within Arroyo Grande. This wildlife corridor, totaling over 6,000 acres, will provide crucial open space for wildlife traveling within the larger Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina wildlife linkage. The next steps of this project, including the adoption of a development agreement, annexation, rezoning, and the purchase of the open space by Pima County, are currently on hold until the ASLD decides to move forward with the sale of these State Trust Lands.

Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings

In 2009, the Coalition partnered with the Arizona Department of Transportation on a proposal to the Regional Transportation Authority Wildlife Linkages Committee for $8.2 million to build three crossing structures across Oracle Road in the Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains linkage. This proposal was approved by the RTA in December 2009. Construction on the crossings began in Spring 2014 and was completed in Spring 2016. The crossings are now “open for business.” For more information about this project, head here.

Remote Camera Wildlife Monitoring

In 2012, the Coalition began its remote camera wildlife monitoring project within the Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains wildlife linkage. Starting with four cameras, the project now has 17 cameras on either side of Oracle Road within protected open space. 30+ volunteers maintain the cameras regularly and thousands of wildlife photos have been captured. In December 2015, we expanded the project to the northern end of the Tucson Mountains. Six cameras are now out capturing wildlife photos in this area, with future plans to add four more. For more information about the project, including photo galleries, head here.

Avra Valley/I-10 Wildlife Overpass

The Coalition has coordinated stakeholders around a proposal for a wildlife overpass at the Avra Valley Road/Interstate 10 crossing point between the Tucson and Tortolita Mountains. These stakeholders include Pima County, Arizona Department of Transportation, Regional Flood Control District, Town of Marana, Arizona Land and Water Trust, Saguaro National Park, Tucson Electric Power Company, private landowners, Federal Highways Administration, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Coalition has also reached out to involve Union Pacific Railroad.

Pima County has purchased open space lands adjacent to the future overpass location. The Coalition works closely with Pima County on these endeavors, providing guidance and recommendations as decisions are made and plans put into action.

NAU scientists design an ideal wildlife linkage

In 2008, researchers at Northern Arizona University released a report about the Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina wildlife linkage and identified it as one of the most compromised and threatened in all of Arizona.

The report states, “In April 2004, a statewide workshop called ‘Arizona Missing Linkages: Biodiversity at the Crossroads’ brought together over 100 land managers and biologists from federal, state, and local agencies, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations to delineate habitat linkages critical for preserving the State’s biodiversity.”

Furthermore, “To begin the process of designing this linkage, academic scientists, agency biologists, and conservation organizations identified 21 focal species that are sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation… These focal species cover a broad range of habitat and movement requirements… All the focal species are part of the natural heritage of this mosaic of Sonoran Desert. Together, these 21 species use diverse habitats, so that the linkage design should address connectivity needs for other species as well.”

And finally, “The Tucson Mountains-Tortolita Mountains linkage is the most compromised of the 16 linkage designs… Certainly without prompt and strong action to shape development in the linkage design, this linkage will be lost within a few years.”