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Arroyo Grande: Thousands of Acres of State
Trust Lands Planned for Development between
Tortolita and Catalina Mountain Ranges
by Carolyn Campbell, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection
Last month, the Arizona State Land Department released a report planning for the development of 9000+ acres of State Trust Land. The development is called “Arroyo Grande,” as some of the land is in the vicinity of the Big Wash. The Big Wash, appropriately named, parallels SR 77 (Oracle Road) in the undeveloped area west of Catalina State Park in unincorporated Pima County, north of the Town limits of Oro Valley. Did I say NINE THOUSAND ACRES? The area slated for development is far more than simply adjacent to the Big Wash west of Oracle Road; it stretches into the Tortolita Mountains, surrounding the County’s Tortolita Mountain Park on three sides. All of the land falls within the County’s Conservation Lands System. All of the land is designated by the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan as the Critical Landscape Linkage between the Catalina Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains. And all of the land is part of two Arizona Preserve Initiative (API) applications for 100% conservation; the western portion was re-classified for conservation as the “Tortolita Mountain Park Expansion” API, and the rest was submitted, but not yet re-classified for conservation, as the “Tortolita East Biological Corridor” API.
For the last 10 years, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection has been working with Pima County and other agencies and citizens to develop the visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Through this process, scientists have identified and prioritized important biological lands, which the County has targeted in their Comprehensive Land Use Plan for protection, either through acquisition or environmentally-sensitive development. These sensitive lands have been designated as the “Conservation Lands System” (CLS; learn more about it on page 3). Development standards in the CLS include open space setasides on biologically-sensitive lands and other standards that protect and enhance wildlife habitat and movement. Key elements of the conservation plan include assemblage of large tracts of preserve lands and connectivity between the preserve lands throughout Pima County. Categories of the “Conservation Lands System” adopted in the County’s land use plan include Important Riparian Areas, Biological Core Management Areas, Multiple Use Management Areas, and Critical Landscape Linkages (Linkages). Conservation guidelines in areas of the County designated as Linkages — there are 6 of these broadly-defined areas in eastern Pima County — include policies that protect existing biological linkages when land use changes occur. Connectivity is a critical issue in the establishment and protection of preserve areas. In particular, the mountain ranges surrounding the Tucson urban areas are in danger of becoming isolated, which means that many of the species in the various ranges will be extirpated, or lost, from our region. And even with protection of wildlife linkages and corridors, significant barriers such as roads exist that need to be redesigned in order to facilitate wildlife movement above or below these barriers. There is hope, however. A new body of science called “road ecology” has brought together biologists and road engineers and involves the design and installation of wildlife crossing infrastructure on new roads, road improvements (widening), or retrofits on existing roads.
Critical Wildlife Linkage and State Land Use Conceptual Plan
The State Land Department has recently completed and released to the public a “Conceptual Land Use Plan” regarding the 9000+ acre Arroyo Grande proposal. What is a “Conceptual Land Use Plan?” By state statute, the State Land Commissioner must create these plans for all urban state trust lands and “consult with the city, town or county in which the land is located…regarding integrating the conceptual plan into the general land use plan of the city, town or county.” The plans are not vague; they contain enough details to provide specific areas and acreage for low, medium and high residential densities along with commercial and open space components. While all of the land is in unincorporated Pima County, the State has decided to pursue a General Plan amendment with the Town of Oro Valley, who intends to annex the land, instead of pursuing an amendment with Pima County which would require compliance with the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
The State Land Department has committed to planning for 68% of the Arroyo Grande development to remain open space. While this is commendable, how the open space is configured and managed is vital to the functioning of the landscape for wildlife connectivity. Can we support the annexation into Oro Valley? Despite the fact that the Town has stated a commitment to respecting the goals of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the Town has not adopted the Plan, nor has it adopted an Environmentally-Sensitive Lands Ordinance, an Environmentally-Sensitive Roadway Design Ordinance, or a Water Resources General Plan policy, and has no development requirements for open space in environmentally-sensitive areas. Simply stated, the Town of Oro Valley does not currently have the tools in place to adequately protect this important biological linkage between the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are protected as state park and federal forest, and the Tortolita Mountains, parts of which are protected as a county park. Adopting Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan standards as policy or ordinance is our minimum expectation of Oro Valley as the state land parcels make their way through the planning and annexation process.
The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan was established through a community wide effort to ensure that future development is done in a manner that does not destroy the ecological integrity of the Sonoran Desert within Pima County boundaries. It is time for all jurisdictions in Pima County to adopt the principles and tools for achieving conservation within the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Assurances must be made if we are to achieve the conservation goals the Coalition has been advocating for the last 10 years. Wildlife does not recognize political boundaries. Habitat in which wildlife depends on can be found within all jurisdictional boundaries in eastern Pima County. Oro Valley, Tucson, Marana, and Sahuarita should take advantage of over 10 years worth of scientific study and work done on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and immediately work toward adopting the various tools necessary to implement the long range vision of the plan. Until there is regional cooperation on land use and water conservation, large scale developments in environmentally-sensitive lands such as within the Arroyo Grande proposal should not be approved.
On March 5, the Oro Valley Mayor and Council initiated a General Plan Amendment process for the 9000+ acres of State Trust Land north of their municipal boundaries. While these lands are outside of Oro Valley and in unincorporated Pima County, they do fall within the Town’s future planning boundary. It is heartening that one of the Town’s stated “guiding principles” in planning for these lands is to “(a)dhere to the Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan/Conservation Land System.” Over the next few months, there will be public meetings in the community as well as two public hearings before the Town’s Planning and Zoning and Commission. Following the Commission process, there will be a public hearing before the Mayor and Council prior to a Council vote to amend the General Plan. The Town staff will also soon begin drafting a “pre-annexation agreement” which will spell out commitments by both the Town and the State Land Department. Depending on the outcome of these processes, the Council will then vote on whether to annex the land into Oro Valley, and the State Land Commissioner will decide whether to agree to annexation. All of these steps are expected to occur within a year. The Mayor and Council also voted on March 5 to complete and adopt a Town Environmentally-Sensitive Lands Ordinance. Work on this ordinance began about 10 years ago, but was never completed nor adopted by the Town.
Every acre of this land planned for development is important for conservation efforts in the region, and the Coalition will continue to be involved in all aspects of planning for the 9000+ acres, whether through Oro Valley’s or Pima County’s processes.
Prior to annexation of the State Land identified in the Arroyo Grande Conceptual Plan, the Town of Oro Valley should implement the following measures to protect the biological values and landscape connectivity of the area:
Configure NUOS to provide for wildlife movement: NUOS should be configured in a way as to provide for contiguous open space throughout the entire project area.
Set-aside NUOS parcels in common areas and in perpetuity: Conserved land will be established as separate, natural open space parcel(s) from the development area, rather than outside the building envelope of individual lots. Legal safe guards such as conservation easements shall be approved to fully preserve all areas identified as open space in perpetuity.
Surround Tortolita Mountain Park with a NUOS Buffer: All of the following lands shall remain as Natural Undisturbed Open Space: Section 16, Section 10, Section 05, Section 04, Section 03, Section 10, and the southern half of Section 13.
Identify a hard-line Wildlife Linkage Area through the property: The Wildlife Linkage Area shall be Natural Undisturbed Open Space, identified on a map with distinct boundaries. The width of the corridor should be sufficient for wildlife movement and shall reflect the best available science.
Provide transition areas to the Tortolita Mountain Park Buffer Area, the Wildlife
Linkage Area, Important Riparian Areas, and other preserve lands such as Honey Bee
Canyon: Development adjacent to all of these areas shall be a very low density, and there shall be levels of density transition, with highest densities furthest from NUOS.
Support construction of span bridges on Oracle Road: A series of span bridges should be constructed during ADOT’s Oracle Road widening project in order to allow wildlife to safely move under Oracle Road.
Adopt a Management Plan: Areas set-aside as NUOS shall include a management plan in order to ensure the integrity of the conserved area is maintained. The management plan shall have a monitoring component.
Identify an assured funding source for management: An endowment or other assured funding should be secured that does not rely on general fund allocations or other discretionary sources.
Conservation Lands System and Pima County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan
The Conservation Lands System (CLS) is considered the backbone of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP). Sensitive lands within Pima County have designations based on the biological value of the habitat. The CLS was constructed based on the science of the SDCP with participation and oversight by the SDCP Science Technical Advisory Team (STAT) and according to the most current tenets of conservation biology and biological reserve design. The five tenets are as follows:
1 Perpetuates the comprehensive conservation of vulnerable species;
2 Retains those areas that contain large populations of focal vulnerable species;
3 Provide for the adjacency and proximity of habitat blocks;
4 Preserves the contiguity of habitat at the landscape level; and
5 Retains the connectivity of reserves with functional corridors.
The CLS conservation land categories reflect relative values of biodiversity for various lands across the landscape. Pima County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan has adopted both the CLS map and a set of guidelines that include open space set asides in development projects that go through the rezoning process. If a landowner develops on his/her property and does not request a higher density zoning, or request any other legislative action from the Board of Supervisors, then the CLS guidelines do not apply.
The categories are as follows:
Important Riparian Areas (IRA)
The guidelines call for 95% Open Space set aside in these areas. These areas are designated for their high water availability, vegetation density, and biological productivity. Not all washes are designated as IRAs. These areas are shown as blue on the CLS map.
The guidelines call for 80% Open Space set aside in the Biological Core areas. These lands fulfill the five tenets mentioned above and are designated for their potential to support high value habitat for 5 or more priority vulnerable species identified under the SDCP and provide greater biological diversity than Multiple Use Management Areas. These areas are shown as dark green on the CLS map
Special Species Management Areas
The guidelines call for 80% Open Space set aside in these areas. These areas are defined as crucial for the conservation of specific native floral & faunal species of special concern of Pima County. Management of these areas will focus on conservation, restoration, and enhancement of habitat for these species. Much of this designation overlaps with Multiple Use Management Areas, but will retain the 80% set aside percentage. These areas are shown as hash marks over other CLS designations on the CLS map.
Multiple Use Management Areas
The guidelines call for 66 2/3% Open Space set aside in these areas. These lands fulfill the five tenets mentioned above, but are not as biologically rich as those areas designated as Biological Core. These areas are primarily distinguished from other lands within the CLS by their potential to support high value habitat for 3-4 priority vulnerable species identified under the SDCP. Any overlap of the Special Species Management Areas over Multiple Use will use the 80% set aside percentage. These areas are shown as light green on the CLS map.
Critical Landscape Connections
These are broadly defined areas that provide connectivity for movement of native biological resources but which also contain potential or existing barriers that tend to isolate major conservation areas. Although there is not a prescribed percentage of Open Space set aside in this set of lands, any landuse change in these broadly defined areas should protect existing biological linkages. Where barriers already occur, those barriers should be removed or modified to allow biological movement through the landscape connections. These areas are numbered on the CLS map and show the general location of these connections.
Interstate 10 Bypass Wrong Turn for Arizona!
by Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is studying the feasibility of constructing a new 250-mile,
$6-8 billion highway bypass around the Tucson and Phoenix metro areas. The call for a study to assess the feasibility of this bypass idea originated from ADOT Board Chairman Si Schorr, professional real estate and corporate/business attorney in Tucson.
Put simply, this bypass proposal would be a wrong turn for Arizona. ADOT hired the URS Corporation to conduct a bypass feasibility study. The feasibility study found the proposed bypass will not solve the congestion we’re seeing in the Tucson area – the study anticipates a bypass would only reduce highway traffic by 5% in 2030. Traffic volume statistics demonstrate that the source of current congestion originates in and surrounding the cities of Tucson and Phoenix. Therefore, these congestion problems are best addressed at their source — in the immediate Tucson and Phoenix areas — with viable solutions such as improved public transportation. A regional solution could include commuter rail between the two areas and light rail within them.
Aside from failing to ameliorate traffic congestion, construction of such a bypass could compromise decades of progressive, collaborative work to preserve our wild lands, wildlife and cultural resources. And, at a time when global warming poses a significant and growing threat, ADOT is proposing to continue exactly the type of unsustainable transportation planning practices that got us into this hard spot in the first place. In many cases, new highways have been shown to create more development and traffic as opposed to relieving traffic.
After 100 years of road building, we have learned one undeniable fact: highways are bad for wildlife and other living things, including humans.When a major highway is built, it has major impacts that extend far beyond the pavement. In the last two decades, our understanding of how our highways impact wildlife, our environment and communities has grown considerably with the rise of the science of “Road Ecology.”Without question, we have made great strides in better understanding and mitigating the impacts roads and highways have on wildlife and habitat. Sadly, even the best mitigation cannot replace all the values lost when a highway is built through wildlife habitat. Coupled together, habitat destruction and fragmentation is the leading causes of species extinction globally. As such, proposals to build expressways through wild areas should be scrutinized and prevented at all costs.
Thus far, the vast majority of the public comments have been in opposition to ADOT’s I-10 bypass proposal. At a public meeting in Tucson to present feasibility study findings and gain public input, the Tucson Citizen reported in its 11/30/07 article I-10 bypass plan gets chilly reception, “Only one of about 40 speakers supported the proposal”. This is not just a “NIMBY” issue; there has been broad protest and opposition to the mere idea of a bypass from all sectors of society. For instance, both Cochise and Pima Counties have passed resolutions opposing the bypass. The Pima County Resolution reads in part: “ WHEREAS, Pima County’s landmark Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan identifies 55 rare local species of concern, whose areas of habitat and corridors between habitat areas already are under threat from development…[The Pima County Board of Supervisors] opposes the construction of any new highways in or around the County that have the stated purpose of bypassing the existing Interstate 10 as it is believed that the environmental, historic, archeological, and urban form impacts could not be adequately mitigated.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has expressed opposition to the idea. Numerous conservation organizations have rallied in opposition to the bypass. Many local landowners have been engaged and are organizing to stop this potential invasion into their quiet, rural communities and livelihoods. This local opposition is emulated by the Cascabel Working Group, which has led the charge to challenge the proposal with grassroots organizing and thoughtful analysis of the facts. The TTT Truckstop, located just off of I-10, has registered its opposition to the proposal, with concern that siphoning off truck traffic to circumvent Tucson will also drain its business base. In fact, supporters of the bypass concept are hard to find, and the few that are out there appear to be mostly land speculators.
The basis for this groundswell of public opposition is well-founded. The bypass proposal is inconsistent with Arizona’s Long Range Transportation Plan (MoveAZ), Arizona’s Growing Smarter Initiative, Pima County’s landmark Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and the ADOT-sponsored Arizona Wildlife Linkages Assessment (Figure 1), among other regional conservation plans such as the Nature Conservancy’s Ecoregional Assessments and the Sky Islands Wildlands Network. All of the proposed bypass routes are in direct opposition to the conservation of sensitive resources and the rural character of southern Arizona. All of the proposed bypass routes would require disturbing undeveloped areas that provide vital habitat and movement corridors for many of Arizona’s unique wildlife species, several of which — like the Sonoran desert tortoise, Tucson shovel-nosed snake, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and bighorn sheep — are already imperiled. A new highway bypass would cause direct mortality and block movements for more common species as well, such as mule deer, mountain lion, black bear and mesopredators such as coyote, bobcat and kit fox, among many others.
More specifically, each of the proposed routes would cut through and impact large, ecologically sensitive watersheds and landscapes. For instance, the San Pedro River Valley, where “Route 3” is proposed, supports one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America. This diversity stems from the San Pedro’s location at the convergence of four major ecosystems— the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. This is obviously not an appropriate route for a highway!
Locating a major highway in the Aravaipa and Avra Valleys (Routes 1 and 4, respectively) would put the integrity of nearby national forests, wilderness areas and national parks at stake. For instance, Route H, proposedthrough the Avra Valley, would negatively impact treasured public resources and recreation areas contained within the adjacent Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park, Ironwood National Monument, important elements of Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Arizona Project Canal Wildlife Mitigation Corridor in Avra Valley
In fact, the proposed alignment of the H segment would blow through the heart of this mitigation area, nullifying the purpose for which it was preserved. Management guidelines for this mitigation area explicitly state that future developments are prohibited in the area, and that the integrity of the area is to be maintained for both wildlife and special status plant species. Given the current land ownership configuration this mitigation area can not be avoided by proposed segment “H”. The proposed alignment of segment H would also come within 6630 feet of the Ironwood National Monument, within 3,260 feet of Saguaro National Park West, and would narrowly miss Pima County’s Tumamoc Globeberry Preserve by 640 feet. All of these conservation areas would be degraded by both direct and indirect impacts of a major highway in such close proximity. Similarly, segments L and M would degrade the ecological integrity of nearby wilderness areas in the immediate vicinity such as the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and other sensitive lands managed by the state and Coronado National Forest.
Construction of a freeway in any of the proposed route corridors would open adjacent areas up to new commercial and residential development far from existing urban centers, further fragmenting wildlife habitat, polluting the earth, air and water, and encouraging more unwanted car and truck travel. ADOT’s role in shaping the future of southern Arizona is critical. ADOT should be investigating and investing in alternatives to avoid the above-listed detrimental environmental impacts through intelligent and progressive transportation planning. ADOT should live up to commitments it has made to public safety, health and the environment. We can do better than a bypass!
Alternatives to a Bypass
Planning at a regional scale points to the need to integrate transit, water and utility needs along with available information on sensitive and valuable natural resources across political lines. Such an approach is more likely to result in a plan that is environmentally and economically sustainable, and thus more palatable to the public. Such a plan should capitalize on new alternatives and technologies that can more effectively address the problems at hand, such as double-decking the highway through traffic bottlenecks and investing in increased mass transit and rail infrastructure.
Anticipating increases in freight travel, a double track rail line would be a much more economical and practical choice than continuing to rely so heavily upon trucking for the shipment of goods. Rail would move freight three times as efficiently as trucks, reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase highway safety by eliminating hazards related to excessive truck traffic. The bottom line: we do not want or need an expensive, environmentally damaging bypass! However, the worsening traffic problem remains real. Now is the time to explore and invest in viable and more sustainable solutions to our traffic woes.
On March 21, the State Public Transportation Board, contrary to the desires of public sentiment, passed a motion to continue studying the costs, benefits, consequences, and environmental constraints of I-10 bypass routes. The newly-approved study follows a feasibility study that was recently released which concluded that a bypass is, indeed “feasible.” The Board did remove the San Pedro Valley route from consideration, but this does not lessen the need and urgency to adamantly oppose all remaining routes. Multimodal transportation was not included in the study. The feasibility study can be found at: tpd.azdot.gov/planning/i10bypass.php.
Contact Governor Napolitano and tell her NO ON ALL I-10 BYPASS ROUTES:
The full mailing address is: The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Telephone (602) 542-4331 Governor of Arizona
Toll Free 1-(800) 253-0883 1700 West Washington
for Effective Buffelgrass Control
by Travis Bean, University of Arizona School of Natural Resources, and Kathleen Kennedy, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection
It is widely known that roads are one of the primary pathways for plant invasions into desert regions by facilitating the dispersal of alien plant seeds. Roadsides not only experience high levels of disturbance, but they also have high levels of productivity from rainfall runoff onto road surfaces and adjacent roadside edges. According to a recent report written by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, roadways are “the primary source of [buffelgrass] seed for dispersal into natural vegetation” and the “distribution of buffelgrass in Arizona is shaped like a brittle star centered on Tucson, with the legs along the highways radiating out of town” (Van Devender and Dimmitt 2006). Buffelgrass is ubiquitous along surface streets and highways in the center and periphery of Tucson, being found on nearly every unpaved roadside, median and vacant lot.
Once established along a roadside, buffelgrass is then likely to disperse into the native vegetation, where it can be much more difficult and costly to control. Examples of this can be seen in the wildland urban interface in the Santa Catalina Foothills where infestations along City and County roads have escaped into natural area set asides in high end developments and also into the high value saguaro paloverde habitat in the lower elevations of the Coronado National Forest. Infestations along Interstates 10, 19, and 8 pose significant threats to adjacent native vegetation, as do infestations along the Ajo and Catalina Highways.
Some transportation departments have existing contracts with private companies to control roadside vegetation, but little emphasis or resources are placed on the control of invasive species, even serious threats like buffelgrass. A comprehensive control program requires mapping of the existing infestations, control using herbicides and hand-pulling, and diligent followup monitoring. Buffelgrass seeds can remain viable for 3-5 years in the soil, so a monitoring period of at least this long is recommended following initial control treatments. Ongoing control efforts in Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Tucson Mountain Park and elsewhere show that both herbicides and pulling can effectively control buffelgrass as long as follow-up treatments are continued.
As scientists, local governments, conservation groups, and others have recognized the imminent threat buffelgrass poses to the Sonoran Desert, various policy changes have been suggested to address the threat (for a more complete list of suggested actions, see the recently completed Buffelgrass Strategic Plan available at www.desertmuseum.org.
The Coalition supports the following transportation-related policy initiatives:
1) Include buffelgrass removal in the scopes of work for all roadway projects, both new roads and roadway improvements (e.g., lane expansion). As roadway projects are planned and completed, buffelgrass removal should be a standard and integral aspect of all projects. This will include training crews to recognize buffelgrass and in procedures for hand-pulling and herbicide application.
2) Increase the budgets of local, regional, and state transportation departments for roadside maintenance. Roadside maintenance includes activities such as controlling vegetation growth along right-of-ways, maintaining landscaped areas and medians, cleaning and maintaining culverts, maintaining roadway slopes, and maintaining and repairing fencing, guardrails, and gates. All of these activities present an opportunity to identify and remove new buffelgrass growth and to curb the spread of buffelgrass further into the Sonoran Desert. The Coalition recognizes that buffelgrass will be an ongoing and enduring conservation problem. Thus, including buffelgrass removal as a standard part of roadside maintenance will greatly contribute to the long-term buffelgrass control strategy.
Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) conducted by local governments. CIPs include roadway projects, new bridges, new parks, and water and sewer line installation, among others.
The Coalition, in collaboration with local scientists, recently organized a Buffelgrass Field Inspection in the Catalina Foothills. Dozens of community leaders and business representatives participated in a half-day field trip on March
3, 2008 that showcased the potentially devastating buffelgrass infestation in the Catalina Foothills area. The field trip was led by representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Rural Metro Fire Department, the National Park Service, and the National Forest Service. The goal of the field trip was to mobilize support and financial resources from the larger community for buffelgrass mapping, removal, and monitoring efforts. The field trip was a success, and follow-up meetings and trainings are planned with business groups.
Van Devender, T.R., and Dimmitt, M.A. 2006. “Conservation of Arizona Upland Sonoran DesertHabitat. Status and Threats of Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) in Arizona and Sonora. Project#2004-0013-003).” Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ. Accessed Feb. 15, 2008 atwww.desertmuseum.org/programs/buffel_survey_report.pdf
Opportunities and Challenges
Article and photos by Janice Przybyl, Sky Island Alliance
Imagine a mountain lion traveling from the Catalina Mountains to the Tucson Mountains, with a stop for dinner and a nap along the way in the Tortolita Mountains. Coming down off the western flank of the Catalinas — maybe passing through Catalina State Park — is not a problem. Even the few houses that the lion passes pose little threat — a few bar