Friends of the Desert #3

Friends of the Desert
E-News Issue # 3
January 19, 2001
*A project of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection*
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Local and national conservationists, archeology experts, and Native
Americans hailed President Clinton’s proclamation of the Sonoran
Desert National Monument Wednesday, January 19, which will protect
nearly one-half million acres of the desert in southwestern Arizona.
The area, which harbors rare plants, vulnerable wildlife, and
extraordinary and significant archeological resources, has been the
subject of protection efforts for years.

The area proposed for greater protection by conservationists includes
over 450,00 acres of public lands stretching from the North Maricopa
Mountains south of Buckeye, to the south across Interstate 8 to the
Sand Tank Mountains southwest of Gila Bend, then moving to the east
across the Vekol Valley to the lands around the Table Top Mountains
southwest of Casa Grande. In 1999, the federal Bureau of Land
Management (BLM), recognizing the area’s unique values, proposed
heightening the area’s protection by designating it as a National
Conservation Area. The area includes three designated wilderness
areas (North and South Maricopas, and Table Top), and the spectacular
Sand Tank Mountains.


In response to the unauthorized clearing of critical pygmy-owl
habitat along Cortaro and Thornydale Roads over the Veteran’s Day
holiday weekend last year, Pima County Administrator Chuck
Huckelberry established a citizen’s committee to identify and
recommend appropriate parcels for the County to purchase as
mitigation for the destruction of endangered species habitat. The
Cortaro/Thornydale Road Mitigation Site Selection Committee will also
be responsible for developing alternatives to the design of the road
improvement project which will better reflect a balance between
health and safety standards, compliance with the Endangered Species
Act, and community values. The committee has held three meetings
thus far, and the first course of study has been the biology and
requirements of the pygmy-owl. According to Christina McVie, who is
serving as chair of the committee, the biology is least flexible and
most critical element involved, and this information will govern all
decisions made by the committee.

Mr. Huckelberry has released the results of his investigation into
the incident in a memorandum to the Board of Supervisors dated
January 8, 2001. Among the highlights of his memo:

*The Pima County Department of Transportation "led the (US Fish
Wildlife) Service to believe, and then agreed to the Service’s
understanding, that the total project impact would involve the
removal of approximately 32 trees�" However, the DOT actually
removed 577 trees and saguaros from the site, and few were salvaged
despite the County’s Native Plant Preservation Ordinance. Of the
total, 113 were ironwoods, 14 were saguaros over six feet, 295 were
saguaros under six feet, and the remaining 155 were palo verde,
mesquite, acacia and hackberry.

*Despite the requirement of the Service that "there will be no
vegetation disturbance greater than 20% within 600 meters of a pygmy-
owl site," the blading on Cortaro and Thornydale Roads did occur
within 600 meters of an activity site. The DOT claims to have made
this mistake because the area was measured using feet rather than

*The Service understood that the area would be bladed to accommodate
four lanes. However, the DOT has admitted that it actually bladed
for six lanes without authorization from the Service.

*Blading occurred outside of the area along Thornydale Road which was
originally authorized by the Service, and also occurred in a wash
that was not covered by a federal permit.

*On the recommendation of Brooks Keenan, Director of the Department
of Transportation, important information about the project was not
disclosed to the Service, and project details were withheld from the
Service and County Administration. Huckelberry states, "The
Thornydale Road project record shows how staff from the Department of
Transportation did not really believe or respect the advice they
received from the Service and my staff about compliance with
endangered species rules."


From the Tucson Citizen, January 13, 2001: "Pima County
Chuck Huckelberry has stopped cold 15 developments in pygmy-owl
territory on the Northwest Side. According to his edict last month,
no new permit will be provided for projects in or near the owl’s
critical habitat until developers prove, in writing, that the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service has approved plans to protect the owl and its
habitat�Huckelberry’s action affects four planned
subdivisions, three
churches, two office complexes, several businesses, a fire station
and the expansion of Tohono Chul Park."


The comment period for the County’s first draft of the Sonoran
Conservation Plan ended January 1, 2001. Thanks to all of you who
wrote letters and commented on the Plan � it really does make a

The County expects to release the first draft of the Plan’s
Implementing Agreement and Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) in
July 2001. Pima County’s Comprehensive Plan is also being redone, as
mandated by the recently enacted Growing Smarter legislation, and
they expect the first draft of this to also be released in July.
Comment periods will follow the release of all these drafts and as
soon as they are out we will let you know.

To read the Coalition’s comments on the County’s Preliminary
Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan please visit our website at:


The next interim management meeting for the Ironwood National
Monument is February 7, 2001. It will be held at the Pinal Air Park,
building 18. (The Pinal Air Park is located in Pinal County, 30
miles northwest of downtown Tucson and approximately 4 miles west of
I-10 off the Pinal Air Park exit No. 232. From the entrance of the
Air Park follow the signs to the meeting.)

The BLM has also scheduled a clean-up day on the Ironwood Monument
this Saturday, January 20th at 8:30am. Volunteers will be meeting at
the southeast corner of El Tiro and Pump Station Roads. For more
information contact Tony Herrell at 520-722-4289.


Mark your calendars for an inspiring "Sky Islands" presentation by
national conservationist, Dave Foreman, at the University of
Arizona’s Harvill 150 Auditorium at 7 p.m. on January 23. Admission
is free of charge.

Foreman, Chairman of The Wildlands Project (TWP), will give a one-
hour talk and slide show describing the recently released "Sky
Islands Wildlands Network Conservation Plan," a first-of-its-kind
strategy to "rewild" 10.5 million acres in southeastern Arizona,
southwestern New Mexico and northern Mexico. The plan was written by
TWP and the Sky Island Alliance. Both groups are based in Tucson and
are Coalition members.

The Sky Islands plan, says Foreman, is a means for protecting and
restoring the region’s globally rare mountain "island" ecosystems,
which provide habitat for parrots, bears, jaguars and wolves, and
which are home to more than 4,000 plant species, half of all breeding
birds in North America, and one of the world’s most diverse
populations of reptiles and mammals.

Following the presentation, Foreman will sign copies of his newly-
published eco-fiction novel, "The Lobo Outback funeral Home." For
more information, please call The Wildlands Project at 884-0875.