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Join us for our April Highway Cleanup!

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Our adopted one-mile stretch of road includes the new Oracle Road wildlife underpass. This is a fun way to meet fellow like-minded conservationists, get some exercise, and beautify one of our roadways, all with the spectacular backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains. For more information email sarah.whelan@sonorandesert.org

When: Saturday April 6, 2019

Time: 8am-10:30am

Meeting Place: See map link below.

What to bring: Sun hat, water bottle, closed toed shoes, we’ll provide bags, gloves, and garbage grabbers.

For more information or questions email Whelan at sarah.whelan@sonorandesert.org

The wildflowers along our adopted stretch of Oracle Rd are outrageous in all the best ways. Help us to help them by picking up some garbage April 6th!

Highway Clean up meet place

 

Clean and Quiet Shuttles Come to Sabino Canyon in 2019

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 The Coalition has been partnering with both Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) for many years, both on long-range transportation planning and passage and implementation of the RTA voter-approved plan that includes $45 million for wildlife crossing infrastructure. Recently, PAG and the RTA formed a non-profit called the Regional Partnering Center (RPC) to more widely engage in projects throughout the region.

We are especially excited about the component of RPC’s recently awarded project to operate the “Sabino Canyon Shuttle” service. This project focuses on new interpretive programming at Sabino Canyon, in multiple languages and on multiple topics. Given the ongoing popularity of Sabino Canyon with both locals and tourists, this is an incredible opportunity to share the most up-to-date and compelling information about the Sonoran Desert and all the accomplishments Pima County and partners have achieved under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. We are also excited about their plan to use electric vehicles in Sabino Canyon. This will reduce air and noise pollution, both of which will benefit the people and wildlife that visit and live in this spectacular and biologically-important area. The vehicles are scheduled to be introduced in January 2019.

Additionally, we applaud RPC’s commitment to managing the Sabino Canyon transit service in a way that provides underserved members of the community access to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area through a new link to the region’s public transit network. The Coalition is proud to be supporting the RPC’s efforts and to continue our partnership with the regional transportation entities in Pima County.

For a recent news article about the RPC’s plans for Sabino Canyon, head here

Leading the next generation out into the field!

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Manzanita students view the Oracle Road wildlife bridge with binoculars on loan from the Tucson Audubon Society. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

by Jessica Moreno

It was a clear, crisp day on March 6, and the freshly brewed coffee was almost as invigorating as the arrival of several school bus-loads of fourth graders and parents from Manzanita Elementary. Over 100 curious minds boiled out into the lower parking lot of the Santa Catalina Catholic Church on Oracle Road just south of the wildlife bridge. “Critter Cam Day” had arrived.

Coalition volunteers were already stationed around the seven activity tents laid out around the parking lot, as kids split into organized groups led by teachers Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti of the Manzanita Robotics Club. These students have been sorting and studying the Coalition’s wildlife camera photos as part of a new 4-week curriculum developed by Ackerman and DeBenedetti in partnership with CSDP. Today, they would have a field day.

Thanks to the Tucson Audubon Society, Manzanita students had access to spotting scopes for a better view of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It may not be surprising that the activities held their rapt attention and their colorful field guides, made especially for this day, were quick to be filled. Finely timed rotating activities included a spotting scope station to view the wildlife bridge and mapping points of interest. Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish Department taught wildlife tracks and track tracing skills. Wildlife rehabilitator and CSDP volunteer Kathie Schroeder and her outreach hawk Sueño shared the adaptations of Harris’s hawks and other birds of prey. Mr. Packrat brought a guest too – and shared the desert adaptions of native packrats. Stations also included games and activities to teach camouflage techniques and the importance of pheromones and scents. And of course, the day would not be complete without a guided nature walk to check a wildlife camera!

Throughout the morning, students and parents were absorbing the skills and knowledge of naturalists and scientists and giving back a thirst for more. As we met around the leftover coffee and homemade granola bars after the day was done, teachers, volunteers, and guest contributors all agreed that very few improvements could be made to this positive and inspiring day. The success of this event is something we hope to repeat, and expand next year. Eventually, we hope this will be a curriculum that can be packaged and adopted by other TUSD schools. Not unlike the critters now crossing new bridges, these students are poised to bridge the divide between knowing – and doing.

Coalition Desert Monitors Jeff Stensrud and Carl Boswell lead students out into the field to see their critter cameras in action! Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Read the latest story about Critter Cam Day in the Oro Valley Explorer, here.

Check out this fantastic video about Critter Cam Day produced by the Catalina Foothills School District:

Emerging issues with the Oracle Road wildlife crossings create opportunities for stronger community connections.

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by Jessica Moreno

Mesh wildlife fencing along Oracle Road funnels animals to the wildlife crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Once a wildlife crossing is built, the project still isn’t done. CSDP has remained actively involved with the wildlife bridge and underpass project on Oracle Road since its completion, helping to install educational signage, planning re-vegetation and erosion control, engaging on emerging issues like motorized use and other encroachments, and, of course, monitoring changes in local wildlife. For little over a year, we have also been focusing on building a stronger connection with the local Rancho Vistoso HOA and with the roughly 60 homeowners living near the crossings. Javelina, coyotes, desert tortoise, and a myriad of smaller wildlife have been slipping through gaps in the wildlife-funnel fencing, resulting in a two-mile plume of roadkill extending south of the underpass on Oracle Road. These open gaps are the cul-de-sacs and drainage areas within the underpass’s adjacent HOA neighborhood, where animals can access the street and bypass the wildlife underpass. While the idea of wildlife fencing in the neighborhood is understandably undesirable for most homeowners, we have been slowly coming together to find solutions and a compromise that works for all.

 

With some exceptions (there are always a few), wildlife are excellent neighbors. Quiet, shy except around the bird feeder, we mostly don’t even see them unless we make an effort to look. Yet they provide us with spontaneous joy when do catch a glimpse. The therapeutic hum of tiny wings at the feeder during a spring rain and the bright-eyed peaceful stare of a deer in the chill morning can make time stand still. Wildlife watching from our yards and community areas is part of why many of us choose to live here. According to a 2011 report conducted by the Tucson Audubon Society, in Pima County alone wildlife watching supported more than 2,700 jobs, and directly produced $19.8 million in local and state tax revenue from over $179 million in wildlife watching related spending. In one year! It’s nice to know that the pollinator plants and binoculars I bought contribute to a thriving economy, but I’m just as happy to see the tracks of the local bobcat when I go for stroll in the evening and to add another hummingbird to my yard list.

 

It is also good to know that our wildlife crossings on Oracle Road are working wonderfully, with mule deer, javelina, bobcats, coyotes, and more using them regularly. That investment has truly paid for itself, by supporting local wildlife watching opportunities and by reducing the taxpayer and personal costs of wildlife-vehicle collisions. There have been over 2,900 animal crossings on the bridge and underpass recorded to date, and – where the wildlife funnel-fencing is complete – roadkill is down to near zero. After the surprise of tortoises and bighorn sheep last season, one of the local homeowners photographed a beautiful badger (local nighttime rodent control, at your service) near their home west of the wildlife underpass in early February. We now have evidence of badgers on both sides of the wildlife crossings, and neighbors are sharing their sightings and their stories.

Wildlife fencing along Oracle Road helps to guide animals to the crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Here where people and nature encroach upon each other, finding balance can be challenging. The peaceful gaze of a deer tells me that the return in our investment, and the reward, is well worth some compromise. As wildlife adapt to their changing landscape, we can continue to enjoy their presence and strive to be a community of good neighbors in return. By bringing the community together as part of the process, we all share in that success.

CSDP Presents at The Wildlife Society Joint Annual Meeting!

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by Jessica Moreno

Coalition Program and Operations Manager Sarah Whelan presents the latest on the SR77 wildlife crossings and the power of citizen science at the Wildlife Society Joint Annual Meeting. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It was chilly outside in Flagstaff, AZ this February, when we presented our most recent wildlife camera results at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting of the Arizona and New Mexico Chapters of the Wildlife Society. Inside, the conference rooms were toasty warm – and when our Programs Manager Sarah Whelan took the stage it was to a packed house. Professional biologists and students of wildlife from across two states were there to hear her 15-minute presentation on “Monitoring the Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings in a Rapidly Developing Sonoran Desert Ecosystem.” In addition to the data and scientific process, Whelan highlighted the citizen science component and community engagement that made the project so successful. The two proceeding talks were led by well-respected wildlife corridor gurus Dr. Paul Beier, and Norris Dodd! We were in grand company. Also at the conference, we co-hosted a day-long workshop on wildlife camera monitoring, training participants in camera deployment strategies, study design, and sharing image management software resources.

 

Our full abstract can be read below:

Monitoring the Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings in a Rapidly Developing Sonoran Desert Ecosystem

The Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains wildlife linkage in Tucson, Arizona is one of the most threatened in the state. In response, Pima County and partners constructed a large wildlife bridge and a wildlife underpass across State Route 77, which bisects the linkage, in 2016. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is supplementing Arizona Game and Fish Department’s four-year post-construction monitoring efforts with a pre- and post-construction wildlife camera participatory research monitoring study, focusing primarily on mammal species. Our objective is to develop a baseline and monitor changes in species richness and wildlife activity patterns in the study area. In addition, the project’s goals include close collaboration and data sharing with partners, and to engage and train local residents as citizen scientists. We are using the data management and analysis protocols developed by Sanderson & Harris 2013. To date, we have collected 3 years of pre-construction data and two years of post-construction data, with 41 cameras deployed throughout the linkage, including 11 cameras at the wildlife crossing approaches, monitored and managed by 56 citizen science volunteers. No bait is used. We found 44 species, including notable records of American badger (Taxidea taxus), white-nosed coati (Nasua narica), and desert bighorn (Ovis canadensis nelson). Preliminary results also suggest increased mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) activity west of the crossings post-construction. We continue to gather data to help inform adaptive management needs as wildlife fencing gaps are addressed, and to highlight the effectiveness of wildlife crossings in a rapidly developing Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

Friends of the Desert Newsletter- Summer 2017

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In this issue you’ll find…

  • The Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings: A Year in Review

    Click on the image above to view the full web version of the newsletter!

  • Updates on our 2017 Remote Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program
  • How to Add Your Nature Observations to INaturalist
  • Engagement Opportunities
  • Impact Briefs on Local Conservation Issues
  • And More!

View/Download Friends of the Desert Newsletter-Summer 2017 here.

And if you would like to receive a hard copy of our newsletter, please email Sarah.Whelan@sonorandesert.org with your request. Thanks so much for your interest! 

Friends of the Desert #51

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#51

In this issue: What’s next for Oracle Road? Find out the progress of this project and what’s next now that the wildlife bridge is complete. More Cameras, More Critters: Learn more about the expansion of our wildlife monitoring program and how you can be apart of it. “You say goodbye and I say hello,” not just lyrics from the Beatles, we say a fond farewell and thank you to Hannah and welcome Sarah to the team. Comments on the I-11 proposal, notes on the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and more!

View/ download our newsletter here: Friends of the Desert #51

If you would like to receive a hard copy of our newsletter, please email sarah.whelan@sonorandesert.org with your request.