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Remote Camera Wildlife Monitoring Project

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Since it’s implementation in 2012, the Coalition’s remote camera wildlife monitoring project has captured thousands of stunning photos of Sonoran Desert wildlife. This project gives local citizens the opportunity to monitor wildlife movement and activity in various areas of the Sonoran Desert. It also provides the Coalition with invaluable data to help with our advocacy for a protected and connected Sonoran Desert. We currently have 29 active cameras and have plans to further expand the project and strengthen our understanding of wildlife activity in multiple wildlife linkages around the region.

Project History

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Volunteers installing a wildlife camera in Catalina State Park.

The Coalition began its wildlife camera project in 2012 with four cameras. These original cameras were installed in open space along either side of Oracle Road between mileposts 81 and 84. The project area includes portions of Catalina State Park, Big Wash, and the Cañada del Oro wash in Oro Valley.

Since its implementation, the project has been successful in documenting thousands of photos of local Sonoran Desert wildlife. This includes uncommon species such as mountain lion, desert tortoise, badger, gila monster, and a coatimundi. More common wildlife include coyote, javelina, bobcat, gray fox, and mule deer.

Since it began in 2012, this project has documented tens of thousands of photos of Sonoran Desert wildlife, from the common to the rare.

In April and May of 2014, the Coalition received two grants from the Sun City Community Assistance Committee and the Sun City Community Foundation to purchase six additional cameras. The project has since been expanded to 17 cameras , including a team of cameras that monitor the approach areas to the Oracle Road wildlife bridge. In December 2015, we installed our first four cameras in the Tucson-Tortolita wildlife linkage, with two more cameras added a few months later. In 2016, we placed two cameras in Avra Valley to begin monitoring the wildlife linkage between the Tucson Mountains and Ironwood Forest National Monument. 

The project is largely driven by volunteers and has been a positive way for nearby residents to get involved in wildlife documentation. Volunteers are responsible for checking and maintaining the cameras, and have been the backbone of the success of this project. We also rely on volunteers to sort photos in the Coalition office, which is a necessary step to compile and analyze the camera data.

What is Remote Camera Monitoring?

Remote camera monitoring involves using motion-activated cameras to document wildlife activity. This technique is a widely used and very successful way to gather data and information about wildlife species without active tracking and provides strong, concrete data. Camera trapping is non-invasive and does not usually interfere with natural wildlife behavior.

Where are the wildlife camera located?

Our cameras are located in three critical wildlife linkages: 1) the Santa Catalina – Tortolita Mountains wildlife linkage, 2) the Tucson – Tortolita Mountains wildlife linkage, and 3) the wildlife linkage between the Tucson Mountains and Ironwood Forest National Monument in Avra Valley. When they are healthy and connected, these wildlife linkages provide Sonoran Desert wildlife with ample room to breed, forage, and colonize new home ranges while maintaining genetic diversity and healthy populations. Yet these linkages are threatened by development projects and a growing network of roads. Given the linkages many important functions, they need to be preserved to provide connectivity for wildlife far into the future.

The Coalition‘s goal is to document wildlife activity in these areas and gather data about the current state of the wildlife linkage, wildlife presence, and wildlife diversity. While these wildlife linkages do contain large areas of open space such as Catalina State Park and undeveloped State Trust Land, increased human population and potential future development could further fragment existing wildlife habitat and negatively impact ease of wildlife movement.

Our cameras provide valuable data for the protection of these wildlife linkages. These wildlife linkages, in turn, provide Sonoran Desert wildlife with ample room to roam, breed, forage, and colonize new home ranges while maintaining genetic diversity and healthy populations.

Oracle Road (also called State Route 77) bisects the Tortolita-Santa Catalina linkage to the north and south, creating a significant barrier to wildlife mobility. To help improve and facilitate wildlife movement between the Tortolita and Santa Catalina mountains, two crossing structures – one vegetated wildlife bridge and one large underpass – were built across Oracle Road, with construction concluding in March 2016. Our wildlife camera data was the only pre-construction monitoring data and successfully documented wildlife presence and diversity before construction began. They continue to collect data now that the structures are complete and “open for business.” This data is being shared with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the agency tasked with monitoring wildlife use of the crossings themselves.

The Tucson-Tortolita Mountains wildlife linkage is bisected by Interstate 10. A working group has established that a wildlife bridge over Interstate 10 is the best mitigation option for this area. However, a funding source for this project has yet to be identified.

The Tucson Mountains-Ironwood Forest National Monument wildlife linkage is potentially threatened by a proposed Interstate 11 and other development projects. This is the newest expansion area of our wildlife camera project.

How can I get more involved?

We recently launched an Adopt-A-Wildlife-Camera program to provide sustainable funding for this project. Check out both yearly and monthly sponsorship levels and the perks that come with sponsorship here

We always welcome new volunteers to help monitor wildlife cameras and assist with photo database management in our office. Please email Sarah Whelan at Sarah.Whelan@sonorandesert.org or call 520-388-9925 for more information about volunteer opportunities. We look forward to meeting you and working together!

Where I can see wildlife photos taken with the wildlife cameras?

Click here for wildlife photo data.

Click here to see the full wildlife photo gallery.