Friends of the Desert #29

Friends of the Desert Issue #29

A project of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection

300 E. University Blvd. Suite 120, Tucson, AZ 85705

PH: (520) 388-9925

FX: (520) 620-6401

In This Issue:
·        Action Alert: Protect the Pygmy-Owl
·        Action Alert: Support Wildlife Crossings
·        The 508, A Race for the Coalition
·        Hats Are In



The Federal government has proposed removing Arizona’s pygmy-owls from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, despite the best available science which clearly shows this population is on the brink of extinction, with less than 20 owls left in the entire state.  In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s own biologists have argued that the Arizona population of pygmy-owls is significant and needs protection.


Please attend this public hearing and oppose removing the pygmy-owl from the endangered species list.


DATE:            Tuesday, September 20
TIME              6:30pm to 9pm
PLACE:          Tucson Convention Center, 260 South Church Avenue, Tucson AZ
                        Apache – Greenlee meeting rooms


If you cannot attend the hearing, you can still provide written comments on this proposal.  Send or fax them to:

Field Supervisor

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Arizona Ecological Services Field Office

2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103

Phoenix, Arizona 85021-4951

Fax: 602-242-2513

The public comment period ends October 3, 2005, so attend the public hearing on September 20, or send in your comments today!  You can find a sample letter, by clicking on the pygmy-owl action alert, on the Coalition website at, or call the Coalition office at (520) 388-9925 for more details.


Why the Pygmy-owl needs protection:

The proposed de-listing goes against the most recent scientific findings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service own biologists have argued that the Arizona population of pygmy-owls is significant and needs protection.  According to federal policy, the significance of a population can be determined by several factors, including:


1.   Evidence that the population exists in a unique ecological setting.

The AZ population is found in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem, a unique setting representing one-quarter of its total range.  While pygmy-owls in northern Sonora, Mexico are also found in this same setting, there is ongoing and large scale habitat loss occurring there, making the Arizona population even more important to the species’ survival. 


According to federal biologists: “This large-scale loss of Sonoran Desert biome communities in northern Sonora places the AZ [population] in a unique and unusual ecological setting.” (White Paper: Significance of the Western Population(s) of the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl; FWS, December 2003)


2.   Evidence that the loss of the population would result in a significant gap in the species’ range.

The Arizona population represents 50-60% of the owl’s historical range within the Sonoran desert.  It is also found at the edge of its range, making it especially important because these “peripheral” populations tend to contain unique genetic characteristics.  Losing genetic diversity reduces the species’ ability to adapt to environmental changes and may well hasten extinction of the entire species. 


According to federal biologists:  “The loss of the Arizona population would represent a gap in the range of the taxon and could represent the loss of genetic variability for the taxon as a whole.”  (Id.)


This proposal is politics at its worst.  The federal government claims that the proposed de-listing is in response to a court ruling on a lawsuit filed by corporate development interests; however, the court very clearly did not strip the owl of its endangered status, nor did it question the science behind the owls’ listing.  In essence, the court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not adequately explain its listing decision.  But, instead of simply addressing the court’s concerns and reaffirming the owl’s legal status as an endangered species, the federal government has jumped at the chance to strip the owl of its protections, ignoring scientific findings on the owl.  PLEASE ATTEND THE PUBLIC HEARING AND SUPPORT CONTINUED PROTECTIONS FOR ARZONA’S PYGMY-OWLS!


·        Action Alert: Tell the RTA that You Support Additional Funding for Wildlife Crossings

As many of you are aware, Coalition Executive Director Carolyn Campbell is a member of the Regional Transportation Authority Citizens’ Advisory Committee.  This committee is in the process of putting together a list of transportation projects that voters will be asked to approve, along with a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund those projects in 2006.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is also involved in this effort as Chair of the Technical Management Committee.  Mr. Huckelberry and Carolyn have been successful thus far in including funding for a "Critical Landscape Linkages" category that will fund wildlife crossing structures in transportation projects.  This funding is critical to accomplishing the vision of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. These crossing structures will, complement land acquisitions purchased with the 2004 Open Space Bond.

In the current draft plan which is available for public review, $25 million has been allocated for funding Critical Landscape Linkages.  We believe that a more appropriate amount is $45 million, or more, which is under review by the technical committee and will then be presented to the citizen committee for inclusion in the next draft of the plan.  The final RTA plan is scheduled to be completed in October 2005.

Without public support, funding for Critical Landscape Linkages may not be retained in the final plan, and funding certainly will not increase.

We ask that you take a moment to comment on this critical funding to protect and restore landscape connectivity through transportation planning, design and construction.  Comments can be made through the website at, or alternatively, letters can be sent to;

Regional Transportation Authority
177 N. Church, Suite 405
Tucson, Arizona 85701

Additionally, there are many other elements in the plan that you may want to comment on.  The details of road and intersection improvements, transit system enhancements, safety, bicycle and pedestrian facilities can all be found on the RTA website. 
Please contact Carolyn if you would like further information at 388-9925 or


To watch a video produced by the Humane Society on the importance of these linkages, use this link.


Talking points will be available on our website, by clicking on the Critical Landscape Linkage Action Alert, at, or you can call the office at (520)388-9925.


·        The Furnace Creek 508, A Race for the Coalition

Sergio Avila, of Coalition member group Sky Island Alliance, and Bruce Gungle, a long time Coalition supporter, are riding the Furnace Creek 508 as a team to raise funds for the Coalition.


This race begins on October 8th in Santa Clarita, CA, and finishes 508 miles later in 29 Palms, CA, passing through Death Valley and challenging riders with climbs over 10 significant passes, the highest and steepest being those entering and leaving Death Valley.  Throughout the race riders must climb a total of 35,000 feet in elevation change.  And, they have to finish within 46 hours! 


The race is split up into eight legs.  Sergio and Bruce will be alternating rides, so only one of them will be on the course at any given time.


Show Bruce, Sergio and their support crew, Cory Jones of Sky Island Alliance and Coalition staff Sean Sullivan, together known as Team Coonhound, that you support their ride and the Coalition’s work by making a per mile pledge or giving a gift in their honor.  Bruce himself has gotten things off the ground with a .25 per mile pledge, ( $0.25/mile = $25 should they manage 100 miles; $50 should they manage 200 miles; $100 should they manage 400 miles; or $127 should they manage to complete the entire 508 miles in the allowed time of 46 hours).


 For those of you who make a pledge, donation, or are just interested in the race, a support crew member will be phoning Tucson with periodic updates on the progress of the race that can be sent out to you via email.   After the race, we will have an update on our website as well.


To learn more about the Furnace Creek 508 you can go the official website at and you can also check out more details at the Coalition website  The race will be featured on our home page. We are currently in the process of putting information on the race up on our site.  If it is not up this weekend, please check back at the beginning of next week.  Please go to our website, call the office (520) 388-9925, or contact to make a pledge or donation. Thanks for your support!



·        Coalition Hats Are In
Only $15.00, available in an adjustable one size fits all.  The cap is desert green with a tan brim and has the Coalition saguaro logo on the front and our website address across the back.  They are a comfortable and eye-catchin’ way to show that you care about our Sonoran Desert home and support the Coalition’s efforts to protect it. 


We have been experiencing a bit of technical difficulty with our website, but we expect to have a picture of the hats posted to our website soon.  You can keep an eye out for them at or the call the Coalition office and order yours today 520) 388-9925.