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Public comment period now open on I-11 Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement

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On July 16, 2021, the Arizona Department of Transportation and Federal Highways Administration released the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS now identifies TWO possible Preferred Alternatives, a West Option through Avra Valley AND an East Option that co-locates I-11 with I-19 and I-10 through the Tucson region.

Action #1: Please ACT TODAY and request an extension of the public comment deadline from 30 days to 120 days. 

You can read the comment letter we submitted with this request HERE. Feel free to copy the language in this letter and/or personalize with your own words. 

A summary of talking points from our letter requesting an extension of the public comment deadline include:

  • The 30-day comment period is insufficient for review of the documents and ensuring the public is aware of the opportunity to review and comment on the project.
  • Because the impacts of this project are intergenerational, we urge you to consider an extension to provide the public with a full and fair opportunity to participate in this process.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the Preferred Alternative Options within the Corridor Study area are minority and low-income populations who in many cases do not have access to the traditional means by which federal EIS processes are advertised and published. Both proposed alternatives will have disproportionate adverse effects on these populations and they will need adequate time to be notified via ground mail or other means.
  • The Western Alternative through Pima County is proposed through traditional Tohono O’odham lands where tribal members may have limited internet access.
  • The Draft EIS documents totaled close to 5000 pages of text, maps, and other figures – the length and breadth of this document warrants a longer public comment period to allow adequate review by the public.
  • A new Interstate freeway has not been built in this metropolitan area since 1961 – over two generations ago. Many of the issues will have long-lasting, significant impacts on our community and we need sufficient time to review the record, research issues and concerns, and provide a substantive response.

Action #2: Submit a comment stating your opposition to the West Preferred Alternative Option (can be done concurrently or separately from Action #1) 

The Tier 1 FEIS identifies TWO Preferred Alternative routes: 1) a West Option that runs through Avra Valley, and 2) an East Option that co-locates I-11 with I-19 and I-10 through the Tucson region. There is currently a 30-day public comment period for the FEIS, with public comments due on August 16, 2021 (see above for information on our efforts to extend this deadline to November 16, 2021). 

The overarching message we encourage in your comments is that ADOT/FHWA should ABANDON the West Preferred Alternative Option in Avra Valley. We are currently working on our comments and will be posting more details soon. Check back here for more information in the days ahead. 

Comments can be submitted in the following ways:

Smart PhoneOnline Provide Your Comments | Proporcionar sus comentarios

Smart PhonePhone: 1.844.544.8049 (bilingüe)

EmailEmail: i11study@azdot.gov

EnvelopeMail: I-11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team c/o ADOT Communications
                       1655 W. Jackson Street Mail Drop 126F
                       Phoenix, AZ 85007

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Head over to our main I-11 webpage for more ways to get involved. 

Background and History of I-11

Links to media articles and published Letters to the Editor about I-11

Past information on the 2019 I-11 Draft Environmental Impact Statement process

The main I-11 FEIS website is at: http://origin.i11study.com/Arizona/

A traditional PDF version of the FEIS (split into multiple documents) can be found at: http://origin.i11study.com/Arizona/Documents.asp

An interactive version of the FEIS can be accessed at: https://i11.ee.alytics.com/I11Arizona-Tier1EIS/

 

Questions? Please reach out anytime to our Associate Director Kathleen Kennedy at Kathleen.Kennedy@sonorandesert.org or leave us a voicemail at (520) 388-9925 and we’ll get back with you ASAP! 

Field Notes: a nest of great horned owls

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By Gay Russell

During the over twenty years I have lived in Sun City Oro Valley, we have had several sets of Great Horned Owls nest within our area.  In 2017, a pair made a nest in one of two large trees next to a golf cart path on the edge of the golf course and close to a major street.   Because of the location, I was able to document the progress of the owls. 

One of the parents was spotted outside the nest.  The first shots of the nest revealed fuzzy shapes of owlets; but not the exact number.   A few days later,  a single owlet was observed, peeking over the top of the nest.

 

 

 

As the owlets grew, they ventured out of the nest and it became clear that there were two owlets.  Shots of what are apparently some of the first ventures out of the nest were captured.  A parent was always on watch!  And, later, good close-ups of the owlets were taken.

 

 

It was a privilege to see the owls develop.  Even though the location was very close to a busy golf cart path and a major street in our development, the owls seemed to realize that they were safe within the area and would not be disturbed.  I felt fortunate to be able to document the process.

 

Thank you, Gay, for sharing this story and photos with all of us! 

Crossing Through Your Neighborhood: A Presentation

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Want to learn more about what’s happening around the Oracle Road wildlife crossings? Check out this recent presentation given by our Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno:

 

 

You can also view a pdf of the presentation HERE

Friends of the Desert Newsletter #59

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We hope our Spring 2021 newsletter brings some hope, joy, and positivity into your mailboxes and inboxes.

Check out the following articles in the newsletter:

  • Increasing our impact through community science
  • New strategies for protecting Sonoran Desert open spaces
  • Coalition volunteers continue to make an impact
  • And more!

And, as always, thank you for supporting a protected and restored Sonoran Desert!

Amor from the Desert by Mely Bohlman

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This piece was written on the stolen lands and waters of the Tohono O’odham and Yaqui/Yoeme.

Imagine yourself standing in the Sonoran Desert on a caliente summer day. Let’s paint the landscape by adding deep blue for the mountains that emerge in every cardinal direction and strokes of brown that create texture on the ground, the structural limbs of plants, and fill every crevice on this landscape.

You may feel the dusty, sturdy earth beneath your feet, the same sweeping surface that clouded the vision of indigenous ancestors’ eyes as they navigated through these desert lands. You may observe the occasional desert breeze that moves through your body, swaying nearby palo verde trees and breaking up the lull of the endless heat.

As you take a step, you might have a gentle creosote bush tapping you on your shoulder with its branch. It is full of waxy leaves and fuzzy globes from its flowers resembling planets in an out-of-focus telescope. Down in the wash, a catclaw acacia may have pulled on some fibers from your backpack, leaving a mark from its thorns that will remind you to watch out for it next time. You may see the sprinkles of desert confetti left behind from the blooming party that was hosted by the yellow petals of brittlebush, the red torches of the ocotillo, the pale-orange drapes of the globemallow, and the pink rays of starlight from the fairy duster. You make eye contact with a broad-billed hummingbird darting across- maybe spotting a flash of vibrant blue-green and blue-turquoise hues on its’ body and neck.

You may notice with only your ears the sounds of the desert spiny lizards scrambling through rocks and fallen mesquite tree branches. The cooing of the white-winged dove becomes your steady metronome, giving you the tempo, rhythm and heartbeat of the desert as the day unfolds. White-winged doves, you see, are warm and feathered fragments of saguaro flying in the desert- as the white-winged doves synchronize their migration with the reproductive cycle of the saguaro and maintain an asymmetrical ecological interaction.

The sweat beading up on the back of your neck feels cool, despite the powerful Sonoran Sun, beating down on your head. You may decide to seek refuge by stepping into the long and narrow shadow of an elder saguaro.

Support the 30×30 campaign

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Have you heard of the 30×30 campaign? While this campaign has circulated for a while, it hit the national news recently when President Biden pledged in an Executive Order to preserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This ambitious goal is being called a “moonshot.” 

According to this recent article in The Guardian:

“One of the real exciting opportunities for [30 by 30] is that it’s really not a top-down mandate, where someone in DC is drawing the map and getting us towards 30%,” said Sierra Club lands, water and wildlife director Dan Ritzman. “The idea is really locally driven conservation efforts – these are bottom-up campaigns, where people familiar with the land and affected by its management will be deeply involved in its conservation.”

Even more information about the 30×30 campaign can be found in this article at newscientist.com

Want to take action in support of the 30×30 campaign?

First, contact Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema today and express your support for the 30×30 campaign, including the recently introduced Grand Canyon Protection Act. 

Senator Kelly’s DC Office: (202) 224-2235

Senator Sinema’s DC Office: (202) 224-4521

Here’s a sample phone script to help with your phone call:

“My name is _______ and I live in _______, Arizona. I want to thank Senator ______ for his/her support of efforts to protect Arizona’s wild lands and for introducing the Grand Canyon Protection Act in the Senate. I care about this issue because _________.

As you know, scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30% of nature by 2030 if we are going to stop the worst impacts of climate change. That’s why I’d also like to ask Senator _____ to publicly support the Biden Administration’s efforts to protect 30% of nature by 2030. We need Senator _______to lead efforts to protect more public lands and nature at home here in Arizona and nationally. Supporting the Grand Canyon Protection Act and 30×30 is a great start. Thank you!”

Second, RSVP for the 30×30 Spotlight Event on the evening of March 25th (exact time TBD). Join us to learn more about the science, challenges, and opportunities of protecting 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 and learn more about opportunities to act in your state. At this event, there will be a speaker from National Geographic discussing the 30×30 campaign and the science behind it. RSVP today at https://forms.gle/TmLEV2YTaBRY4KGN8

Closing the Gap: Fencing gaps near the SR77 wildlife crossings are coming to a close

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by Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director

The last time I took a stroll down Big Wash, which runs along the west side of Oracle Road, the chill air pressed against my face mask but still managed to carry the smell of triangle leaf bursage and creosote. Gambel’s quail scurried away with their bustling chip-chip-chip alarm call. Dry for most of the year in that characteristic way our desert washes are, Big Wash has served as a connection for animals moving back and forth between the Cañada del Oro Wash and open space north of Rancho Vistoso. It has always been an important wildlife movement area, a key feature in a linkage connecting the Tortolita and Catalina mountains, and now, with two wildlife crossings in place and wildlife monitoring efforts nearing a decade milestone, we are learning more every day about the habits and movements of animals that often remain just out of sight.

Five year ago, when the wildlife bridge and underpass were built on SR77, the red ribbon was cut, the first critter crossed, and we celebrated. But the work wasn’t quite over. In addition to wildlife monitoring, Phase II of the project was to finish placing the last sections of wildlife funnel fencing. Wildlife fencing is an essential part of every successful wildlife crossing and is a vital component of this project to both effectively reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain a connected landscape for wildlife populations and gene flow. But a few jurisdictional issues and challenges to fencing placement threatened to hold up the whole project, so the decision was made to complete the difficult pieces after the crossing structures were done. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirmed hotpots associated with these fencing gaps. It was a problem, but addressing it had to be done right.

One of these fencing gaps was on either side of the wildlife underpass, at the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood of Vista Mirabella. We placed wildlife cameras to monitor the gaps and reached out to the residents and the HOA to help solve the problem. The solution, made possible thanks to the leadership of the Town of Oro Valley and the wise suggestion of one of the residents, is an elegant one. And it may very well be the first of its kind for wildlife exclusion: wildlife fencing connected to the sound wall will close the gaps at the north and south ends of the neighborhood, while specially designed automatic gates will secure the neighborhood entrances.

This is a unique circumstance since these are public streets and the gates, which are designed like a gated community entrance, will open to any approaching vehicle. They are planned to remain open during high volume traffic hours and close at night. The Regional Transportation Authority is covering the cost out of remaining funds from the original crossing construction budget, including re-vegetation and projected maintenance, and Oro Valley is taking responsibility to maintain the gates into the future.

After four years of outreach and problem solving as a community, we hope that construction on this final piece of the puzzle will begin this summer. There are still details to figure out, but light is at the end of the tunnel and the end result, I think, is something everyone can be proud to have taken part in.

A big thanks to Coalition volunteers Pat and Henry Miller for their help in monitoring the fencing gaps and their overall involvement in this project! And thank you to the Regional Transportation Authority, Pima County, the Town of Oro Valley, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for your shared persistence in this project. 

More information about this project can be found in a Power Point presentation recently created by the RTA and the Town of Oro Valley. 

 

A map of the wildlife fencing gaps near the Oracle Road wildlife crossings.

 

Artistic rendering of one of the proposed wildlife gate design.

 

Wildlife camera photo of a deer taken in one of the wildlife fencing gaps. Photo taken by our COYOTE camera and monitored by Pat and Henry Miller.

Remembering Bob Cratty

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by Terry Minks

Bob was a dear friend to all his acquaintances in Sun City, Oro Valley and to my wife and me ever since we came to live in Arizona 18 years ago. Bob delighted in introducing newcomers to his favorite places throughout Arizona. He was a history buff and was the first person to give us a tour of many historical sites in the state. As a native Arizonan growing up in Ajo, he took us on a fascinating tour of his home town, telling stories of John Greenway’s influence and adding first-hand historical tidbits all along the way. He also led many historical hikes for our Sun City Hiking Club, founded an astronomy program for 5th graders in Catalina that gave each student a telescope, and befriended countless others with his generous spirit. During our many bike rides throughout the Tucson area, always with a food destination, he would customarily leave an extra-generous tip and encourage us to do likewise.

In about 2006 he was instrumental in getting our SCOV board to buy several wildlife cameras to photograph wildlife in our neighborhood. By 2008 he became aware of the UofA Wild Cat study led by Lisa Haynes and arranged for several of us to be trained in wildlife tracking and camera monitoring with Jessica Moreno. We started with Sky Island Alliance and continued later with the CSDP until the present.

He was full of original ideas which he implemented in service to others. He never uttered a harsh word even against those with whom he disagreed and never argued, only presented his own views which were always based on deep reading and thinking on his part. He had a quick wit and was a master storyteller. Many of us recall his deeply researched stories of ants, which he often shared on our hikes and bike rides together.

Bob was certainly a gift to our entire community and will be deeply missed by all of us.

Bob passed away on December 20, 2020. The new CRATTY wildlife camera is named in his memory.

Bob acts like a bobcat to test a camera’s settings for the UA Wild Cat research study in 2008

 

Bob impersonating an early Tucson historical figure for a New Year’s Eve hiking trip in the Tortolita mountains.

 

Bob leading a history hike for a local hiking club.

 

Desert Monitor teammates Bob Cratty and Margie O’Hare check the DEER camera in Oro Valley.

 

All photos provided by Terry Minks. 

We Stand Against the Seditious Attack on Democracy

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We want to acknowledge the seditious attack on democracy at the U.S. Capitol that occurred on January 6th, and the events that continue to unfold as a result of actions by domestic terrorists and white nationalists. At a moment such as this, we cannot be business as usual, and silence is not neutral. From the public comment process to your vote, it is the power of the people that is a central – and imperative – tenet of America’s democracy. We must move forward with a commitment to accountability and justice, and a democracy that works for everyone equally. As we pause to process and witness where we are in American history, our hope for a better future is as strong as our determination that democracy will prevail.   

Read additional statements from other groups:

500 Women Scientists: This is America Don’t Look Away

Green Latinos Statement Condemning Terrorism on Capitol Hill

 

 

The future of our Community Science Program

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As we plan for 2021, we wanted to share with you where we are with each of our community science projects, and what’s new coming on the horizon!

Volunteers have thus far contributed over 1,100 hours and 4,600 miles this year! Whether you help as a community scientist, or as a volunteer writing comment letters, stuffing envelopes, or for outreach, THANK YOU all for your continued dedication and effort on behalf of the desert and our desert wildlife. 

Monitoring the Oro Valley Wildlife Crossings

Two deer on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge in March 2020. Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass in Oro Valley were constructed in 2016. Our cameras have been in place near here since 2012. To date we have gathered over 200,000 photos of wildlife across 52 sites. We’ve seen over 62 species, including bighorn sheep, badger, coati, and mountain lion. We currently have 28 active cameras.

In 2021, we will be reducing the number of cameras here a bit (don’t worry volunteers, you’ll be part of this team discussion!), sharing up ’til now data analysis, and settling in for a more focused monitoring effort as we finish re-vegetation efforts on the crossings and work to resolve a few remaining gaps in the wildlife fencing.

We are working in partnership with Arizona Game and Fish who is monitoring the animals using the crossing structures (over 10,000 crossings thus far!), conducting roadkill surveys, and mapping desert tortoise and mule deer movements with GPS trackers. You can see their most recent results here.

Safe Passages for Wildlife I-10 East

A bobcat uses an existing underpass in the I-10 East area. 

Our project to improve safe wildlife passage across I-10 near Cienega Creek has been underway for a couple years now. Roadkill surveys have been completed and that analysis will be available by the end of January. We have 34 active cameras that were placed early this year to track the passage rates of animals using culverts under the interstate. With over 300,000 images gathered so far (and plenty of blanks to weed out), we are still catching up on photo sorting (thank you Desert Identifiers!), but we’ve seen mule deer, whitetail deer, black bear, coati, mountain lion, ringtail, a badger, four different skunk species, and wild turkey, among many others. Here is the last video update we made of our results.

We will be extending this monitoring another year under our AZGFD Heritage Grant. So far this data has helped contribute to Pima County’s Cienega Corridor Management Plan. Improved crossings structures and wildlife funnel fencing is our goal.

Monitoring the Tucson Mountains & the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor

Two coyote pups in the Tucson Mountains. Photo by Raynor Vandeven.

Another priority area is the northern end of the Tucson Mountains and the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor across I-10 towards the Tortolita Mountains. CSDP has been advocating for protected open spaces here including the Tortolita Preserve and El Rio Preserve, the expansion of Tortolita Mountain Park, and protected open spaces within private developments. We also want to see wildlife crossings across the interstate. Currently, only a single abandoned railroad underpass may provide safe wildlife passage.

Since 2015, we have monitored 23 sites here, photographing more than 30 species including badger, mule deer, gray fox, and javelina. We have 16 active cameras now, but in 2021 we will be expanding this project to 22 camera sites, including in the El Rio Preserve and the Santa Cruz River, and for the first time expanding to cameras placed in the old railroad underpass and east of I-10 in newly acquired Pima County lands.

Monitoring the Proposed I-11 Route

A coyote in the proposed I-11 corridor. Photo by Raynor Vandeven.

As part of our work to fight the proposed I-11 freeway west of the Tucson Mountains that would harm Saguaro National Park West and established wildlife linkages, we placed cameras in 2016 to gather images and help outreach to local residents. This data is also used as part of our Tucson Mountains project. We currently have 2 active cameras in Avra Valley and we have photographed 14 different species, including bobcat, red-tail hawk, mule deer, coyote, and javelina. In 2021, we plan to shift these cameras to new locations to expand our reach. We are also assisting a new study that is monitoring CAP canal wildlife crossing points and following AZGFD’s work to track mule deer and bighorn sheep movements in this corridor using GPS collars.

NEW: Monitoring Sopori Wash near I-19

Just south of Canoa Ranch in the Tumacacori – Santa Rita Mountain Wildlife Linkage, Sopori Wash is a critical wildlife corridor that roughly follows Arivaca Road. We plan to work with partners and CSDP Members Groups in 2021 to start monitoring some new sites here, in relation to the I-11 route co-locating with I-19 and the possibility for wildlife crossing improvements across the Interstate.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING COMMUNITY SCIENCE IN THE SONORAN DESERT!