A Driving Force for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

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Carolyn Campbell: a driving force for conservation plan By Erica Meltzer Arizona Daily Star Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.26.2007

The terms of growth in Pima County are defined by the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a nationally recognized effort to preserve habitat and threatened species while accommodating development.

Carolyn Campbell was a driving force in the plan’s 1998 adoption, and she continues to spend more hours every week than she cares to count sitting through meetings, pushing the county to meet its own standards and urging developers to do the right thing.

Campbell, 49, is executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, an umbrella organization that includes groups as diverse as the Tucson Audubon Society and the Tortolita Homeowners Association. The coalition focuses on using land-use planning to achieve long-term conservation.

Campbell is a Navy brat who moved to Arizona for graduate school at Arizona State University. Though she always enjoyed the outdoors, her background is in political organizing, not environmental advocacy. She worked as an aide for former Tucson City Council member Molly McKasson.

McKasson decided not to run again in 1997, the same year the pygmy owl was listed as an endangered species.

Campbell went to work for the coalition, pushing the county to create a comprehensive response. The conservation plan was the county’s attempt to preserve habitat for the owl and other threatened species and comply with federal law.

Campbell believes her talent is for translating scientific information into public policy, then working the political process. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said Campbell brought a new level of organization and credibility to Tucson’s "eclectic and diverse"environmentalist community.

Because of her approach, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is on more sound footing than if environmentalists achieved change through a wave of populist, anti-growth sentiment, Huckelberry said.

"Because she could stay on point, on message and be reasonable, their position has more credibility," he said. "So it’s less likely to be reversed in a different political environment."

Campbell said she never thought, 10 years ago, that she’d still be at it.

She said she has too much invested to give up now.

"I’ve got a lot of ownership," she said. "I want to see it through."

Land-use codes don’t always reflect the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, creating conflicting guidelines. And not enough people are talking about the area’s long-term water supply, she said.

For her work to be done, local governments need to internalize and institutionalize conservation, she said.

"I don’t want to go to the Board of Supervisors every Tuesday for the next 40 years, arguing about 20 acres at a time," she said.

Contact reporter Erica Meltzer at emeltzer@azstarnet.com or 807-7790.