Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

Pima County pursues new protected open spaces

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Late last year, Pima County announced a slate of new protected open space acquisitions they are pursuing with the $2 million allocated for the acquisition of conservation land in the County’s 2022-2023 budget. The open space parcels include:

  • A set of parcels next to the wildlife crossing over the CAP canal in Avra Valley;
  • A set of private inholdings on the M-Diamond Ranch in the San Pedro River valley; and
  • A small inholding on the Buckelew Farm in Avra Valley. 

Want to learn more about these parcels? Head over to this Pima County memo that includes more details about each open space acquisition and maps of the parcels adjacent to the CAP canal wildlife crossing. 

All of these new open space acquisitions are part of Pima County’s continued implementation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

2022 Wildlife Camera Project Recap

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2022 was another successful year for our Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program, and also our 10th anniversary of this community science-based project! Big thanks to ALL the volunteers that have been the engine behind this project from day one! 

 

Oro Valley Linkage Wildlife Monitoring

This is the project that started it all, and gives us the distinction of having the oldest and longest lasting community science wildlife camera monitoring effort in southern Arizona. Today we have 24 active cameras on either side of Oracle Road, that have gathered over 300,000 images of wildlife, including a mountain lion who moved through the underpass this year. We have also identified 24 wildlife species in this area, with the addition of a black bear this past year. 

Watch a presentation about this project here.

This happy coyote was photographed near the Oracle Road wildlife underpass by our CONFORTI camera, monitored by Pat & Henry Miller.

 

Tucson Mountains Linkage Wildlife Monitoring

We have expanded this project this year, with 24 cameras on either side of I-10 between the Tucson Mountains and Tortolita Mountains, and 6 more planned to be placed in 2023. These cameras have captured nearly 124,000 wildlife photos over the life of the project! We have also identified 26 different wildlife species in this area, with the addition of the kit fox this past year.

Working with Pima County, this data is already informing a project to build a wildlife ramp from the only accessible wildlife crossings near Avra Valley Road, to provide entry into the Santa Cruz River over the water levy. We are also working on gaining permanent protection for the Tortolita Preserve, and planning a wildlife bridge over I-10 and another at Rattlesnake Pass.

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

 

Sopori Ranch Linkage Wildlife Monitoring

In partnership with the Arizona Land and Water Trust, we are monitoring this linkage and using the images to promote this wild corridor. Today we have 5 cameras that have produced nearly 4,000 images and growing.

Watch a video showcasing this area here.

A deer navigating a wash in the Sopori Creek area.

 

I-10 East Linkage Wildlife Monitoring

The I-10 East project involved two seasons of roadkill surveys and two years of monitoring key culverts and bridges for wildlife use and passage rates. Exactly 45 wildlife cameras were active between January 2020 and January 2022, during which time we collected over 789,000 photos and have identified over 36 species across our 10 monitoring sites, including both mule deer and white-tail deer, Mexican opossum, black bear, mountain lion, Gould’s turkey, white-nose coati, ringtail, striped skunk, hognose skunk, hooded skunk, Western spotted skunk, and badger.

Interesting records included a photo of a bobcat carrying a bull snake in its mouth, the Mexican opossum, and images of a likely mating pair of adult mountain lions traveling together.

 This data report is being incorporated into a proposal for wildlife funnel fencing and improved underpass and bridge structures for wildlife. Pima County is also using this data to justify a funding grant to make surface water improvements near these sites, and we collaborated to submit scoping comments in October 2022 for an upcoming ADOT project to help improve the area with highest roadkill mortality in our roadkill study between mileposts 292-294.

Read the Final Report here.

A deer heads towards a wildlife underpass in the I-10 East area with the lights of cars seen above. Photo by Raynor VanDeven.

 

The latest on I-11: Lawsuit sees its first day in court

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On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker heard arguments on the federal government’s motion to dismiss a portion of our challenge to Interstate 11 filed in April 2022 in collaboration with the Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson Audubon Society, and Friends of Ironwood Forest. Big thanks to the 30 Coalition supporters that showed up to support us at the hearing.

According to a press release about the hearing, “The lawsuit says the agency failed to consider other transportation alternatives, such as rail, and sidestepped the required environmental review before approving the 280-mile-long highway between Nogales and Wickenburg. The planned interstate’s west option would plow through desert wildlands in rural Avra Valley and between Saguaro National Park and Ironwood National Monument. It would disturb hundreds of archaeological and cultural sites and spread invasive buffelgrass known to fuel wildfires.” 

You can learn more at at a KVOA4 story that aired after the hearing and a KGUN 9 story that aired before the hearing. We will update you when we learn more about a timeline for Judge Hinderaker’s decision on the case.

Whatever his decision, we remain grateful for your support as we continue advocating against the West Option for Interstate 11 and for a connected and restored Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona for all. 

Want to learn about the history of Interstate 11 and ways to get involved today? Head over to our comprehensive set of webpages (also found at the top of this page under the “Our Work” tab), including a history of the planning process, a thorough list of media articles,  maps, and more. 

SnapShot USA in full swing

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The Snapshot USA project is a huge collaborative effort to sample mammal populations with camera traps across all of the United States. The study is designed to sample sites in all 50 states stratified across habitats and development zones (suburban/rural/wild/urban) with an objective of at least 400 “trap nights” (or days) per sub-project/ organization. 

This year we were able to contribute camera data from 12 cameras in our Oro Valley study area, for the study period of September and October.

Despite a few challenges with vegetation growth creating lots of blank images, we contributed 3,208 photos of species including javelina, jackrabbits, coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, white-tail deer… and even a surprise black bear on the MALLOW camera! The entire effort has collected photos of 384 species at over 2,000 camera sites across the U.S.

As science papers come out of this data, we will share the results and findings with you, and we look forward to contributing again next year!

Twelve wildlife camera images in a grid with the animals circled in a red, taken from a screenshot of website.

Kit Fox: CSDP Photographs Another First

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By Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director

It’s late morning in early May when my phone buzzes with a text message from my friend and long-time Desert Monitor Josh Skattum. It’s a black and white photo from our “UTA” camera in the Tucson-Tortolita Mountain corridor, a blurry ghost of a fox with large, pointed ears and a small animal in its mouth, trotting swiftly through a moonless desert night. “Kit fox?,” Josh types. It looks plausible… I promise to look at it more closely and confirm.

The desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) has exaggerated features and could easily be included in a sci-fi wildlife field guide, fitting comfortably among the illustrations of banthas, sandworms, or tribbles. They are tiny canines, just 3.5 to 6 pounds, the weight of a full-grown Chihuahua. That small package comes with oversized 3- to 4-inch-long ears that helps dissipate the heat, a fluffy tail that nearly doubles its body length, and fur packed between their toes creating custom-made sand shoes.

Their soft sandy-colored coats are sometimes trimmed in bright rusty orange as if their edges were dyed by the desert sunset. In the moonlight, you might only glimpse pale fur and a black-tipped tail that doesn’t sport the signature bold black stripe found on the more commonly seen gray fox. But the kit fox’s delicate pointy face, bright eyes, and overlarge ears give them the same playful and mischievous countenance.

Several more nocturnal photos later, and I am more confident in my ID. Josh even documents a likely burrow site. Just to be doubly sure (and for fun), I ask for the help of Raynor Vandeven, a talented photographer who builds his own custom-made camera traps to produce incredible wildlife images. He sets out to see if he can get a more photographic image for us – with almost instant success.

These photos are the first time a kit fox has triggered one of the wildlife cameras we use to monitor the movement patterns of animals that use Pima County’s wildlife corridors. These areas tend to be the most threatened by roads and development – and also exactly the kind of low desert habitat that is preferred by kit foxes. And here they are, fulfilling their special role in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem as mesocarnivores.

A mesocarnivore is a small to mid-sized mammal that eats mostly meat (50 – 75% of their diet) but also eats other things – fruits, plants, fungi, insects – and is therefore an omnivore. Ecologically, they serve a role similar to the fewer-in-number large carnivores, like mountain lions, with some differences, such as spreading seeds that help plant dispersal, influencing disease dynamics, and being able to drive community structure (the types and number of species that live in a place and how they interact with one another). The disappearance of mesocarnivores on the landscape, both in abundance and diversity of species, is a canary in the mine for ecological health.

For their part, kit foxes primarily eat cottontail rabbits and rodents like kangaroo rats for their meat course. Very rarely they will eat the jackrabbits that complete with them for size. They will also eat carrion, birds, lizards, insects, quail eggs, saguaro fruit, prickly pear fruit, and mesquite beans. When food is plentiful, they might cache their meals by burying them, squirrel-like, and marking the spot with pee – a fox’s version of the office refrigerator lunchbox post-it note: My Lunch. Do Not Eat.

Kit foxes are solitary hunters and are often seen alone but are part of small family groups of parents and their young. Mates form a monogamous, permanent bond and both parents care for a single litter of 5 to 7 kits, or pups, that are born blind in March and April and remain in their cool den, with its keyhole-shaped entrance, until the monsoon arrives in June or July.

They can find food and mates, raise young, and disperse surprisingly long distances to new habitats – despite the challenges of mange caused by rodenticides, canine distemper and rabies, and the very pressing concerns of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and wildlife-vehicle collisions. Time will tell if rising temperatures and other threats prove too much, or are averted too late, for a species that has been with us since the Great Ice Age and survived the extinction of the larger Pleistocene megafauna.

Photo by Raynor Vandeven

 

Today these tiny, playful desert den dwellers are considered vulnerable in Arizona but do not have any protected status. Their distribution is extensive throughout the Great Basin, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts, but populations have generally been declining by 10-30% across their range, according to data collected on NatureServe. A fox to watch. 

Our nocturnal kit foxes continue to bless the desert night with their yips, barks, and chuckles. Tonight, I allow myself to imagine that they sometimes gaze up at the stars, above the haze of nearby city lights and horizon of creosote, stars that for untold generations have been their only constant. The chuckle in the dark desert night I hear sounds like an echo of Josh’s laugh.

 

Kit fox habitat (in bright green), in eastern Pima County, along with two of our wildlife linkage study areas in the Tucson-Tortolita Mountains wildlife linkage and the Catalina-Tortolita Mountains wildlife linkage.

2022 Volunteer Awards

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Join us in celebrating our volunteers!

(Awardees are listed in no particular order)

 

Volunteer of the Year
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
in as many varied and worthy ways as there are species in the desert.
Virgil Swadley

Desert Tortoise Decade Award
In recognition of achieving 10 years of volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
and having earned the steadfast wisdom and momentum of a desert tortoise now entering its prime.
Virgil Swadley, Keith Kleber, Kathie Schroeder, Richard Sauer, Barbara Rose, Clive Probert,
Carl Boswell, Margie O’Hare, Terry Minks, Craig Lecroy, Peggy Hughes, Jan Cratty

Fifth Season in the Desert Award
In recognition of 5 years of volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection, an achievement as
welcome to desert dwellers as the monsoon season that thunders in after the hot, dry summer.
Don Broomall, Mike Froenher, Chuck & Mary Graf, Jefferson Stensrud, Pat & Henry Miller,
Frank Pitts, Evelyn Richards

Crepuscular Bobcat Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection, exceeding 50 hours
of time and skill in the last year, as active as a bobcat roaming morning, noon, and night.
Keith Kleber, Christine DeMatteo, Barbara Rose, Virgil Swadley

Jackrabbit of all Trades Award

In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
performing two or more different volunteer roles in the last year.
Christine DeMatteo, Jane “Middy” Henke, Josh Skattum, Virgil Swadley

Cactus Bee Achievement Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
repairing and building wildlife cameras from spare parts with all the skill of a solitary cactus bee
constructing nests with nothing more than homemade adobe, salvaged cactus pollen, and nectar. 
 Don Broomall, Chuck Graf, Aiden Doherty

Desert Deer Identification Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
sharpening your skills as an expert in Odocoileus species identification.
 Jane “Middy” Henke

Desert Roadies Roadkill Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
as the only person other than my children able to help me (Jessica Moreno)
complete roadkill surveys during state curfews and a pandemic.

Eduardo Moreno

Harris’s Hawk Teamwork Award
In recognition of seamless volunteer teamwork in service of Sonoran Desert protection,
an achievement as outstanding as a group Harris’s hawks cooperatively back-standing one on top of the other.

UA Environmental Law Society, UA Ramblers Club, Team DEER (Terry Minks, Margie O’Hare, Harold Wood),
Team THRASHER (Mike Froenher, Carol Bull, Dean Chapman, Vicki Ettleman)

Cactus Wren Advocate Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
advocating for smart decision-making with all the enthusiasm and passion of a calling cactus wren.
 Barbara Rose, Gay Russell, Pat Miller

Muddy Mud Turtle Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
navigating floods, mud, and other challenges in wildlife camera rescue.
Samantha Wilber, Aiden Doherty, Charles “Butch” Farabee, Pat McGowan, Gary & Lenora Brown, Diana Holmes

Javelina Squadron Leader Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
passing on your knowledge as a mentor and instructor, like the intrepid leader of a squadron of javelina.
Josh Skattum, Samantha Wilber, Mike Froenher, Vicki Ettleman, Kathie Schroeder, Terry Minks, Margie O’Hare,
Charles “Butch” Farabee, Pat McGowan, Carl Boswell, Christine DeMatteo

Bighorn Sheep Pathfinder Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
traversing over rough terrain, changing elevations, and long distances off-trail to reach disparate sites
and scout new locations, sometimes crossing mountain ranges like a bighorn setting off on a long journey.
Keith Kleber, Carl Boswell, Josh Skattum, Samantha Wilber, Josh Skattum, Ken Lamberton, Peter Vollmer

Exploring Mountain Lion Award
In recognition of your fearless volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
that you began during a global pandemic, much like a dispersing mountain lion seeking
new adventures in the face of the unknown.
 Patty Stern, Gay Russell, Scott Compton, David Rezits, Amy Pearse, Laurie & Bill Andel,
Harold Wood, Petra Gee, Robert Morse, Robert & Debra Kellerman, Zoe Benson, Kevin Kasper, John Hunt,
Darya Anderson, Taylor Macy, Michael Concincini, Brooke Caruthers, Maggie Pitts

Giant Crab Spider Award
In recognition of gentle and fearless volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
in the face of surprise spiders, insects, beetles, egg sacks, lizards, and snakes while opening your camera boxes.
 Henry Miller, Keith Kleber, Virgil Swadley, Christine DeMatteo, Vicki Ettleman, Kristi Lewis,
Lisa Caprina & Doug Vollgraff

Clay-colored Sparrow Naturalist Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection
while also using your wildlife observations in the field to add to our knowledge of nature.
Andres & Ruben Martinez, Alan & Karen Dahl, Josh Skattum, Courtney Neumeyer, Ken Lamberton

Innovative Coyote Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
taking initiative to offer new techniques, data, and ideas to further our conservation efforts.
 Matt Clark, Bruce Jacobsen, Josh Skattum, Raynor Vandeven

Home Sweet Home Creosote Award
In recognition of outstanding volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
working out of your home during a global pandemic, like a thriving solitary creosote
whose root system inhibits the growth of nearby plants around it to maintain social distancing.

Harriet Cowper, Lois Richardson, Gay Russell, Lainie, Gene McCormick, Joanne Devereau,
Peggy Hughes, Jefferson Stensrud, Kent Gearhiser, Mary Graf, Jeena Davidson, Jennifer Curtis,
Marcy Tigerman, Amy Rule, Breanne Quattlander

Spadefoot Patience Award
In recognition of steadfast volunteer service for Sonoran Desert protection by
maintaining the patience of an estivating spadefoot waiting to leap into action once I finally get back to you.
 This one goes to all our volunteers, with special call outs to:
Gay Russell, Lois Richardson, Gene McCormick, Virgil Swadley

 

Join us for the Tortolita BioBlitz!

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In partnership with Town of Marana Parks & Recreation, Arizona Master Naturalists, the Tortolita Alliance, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and others, we are hosting the first annual BIOBLITZ for Tortolita Preserve. Help us photograph and record as many plant and animal observations in one day as we can! How many species will we find? This data will help us protect this special place, currently a preserve under a long-term (but not permanent) lease from State Lands.

What is a BioBlitz?

A BioBlitz an event to inventory as many species as possible in a specific area during a specific time frame. Using apps like iNaturalist and eBird on smartphones, community scientists and biologists alike can collect high quality data by snapping pictures of wildlife and plants and having those observations verified by others. Data collected during a BioBlitz can be used to gain a stronger understanding of the ecosystem and may inform future research and management decisions. A BioBlitz is also an important opportunity for community members to learn about plants and wildlife, gain data collection skills, and build a stronger connection to the landscape.

One bobcat track in dirt with a tracking ID sheet next to it for scale

Bobcat tracks

CALLING VOLUNTEERS!

Interested in volunteering? Sign up today at the event webpage for free for the time slot and distance that works for you!

CSDP’s Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno will be leading the “Tracks, Scat, and Sign Survey” at 7am. That specific event sign-up can be found here

This is a family friendly event!

Questions? Contact Jessica at jessica.moreno@sonorandesert.org or leave us a message at (520) 388-9925!

A saguaro looms over the loop trail around the Tortolita Preserve.

Check out our 2021 Annual Gratitude Report!

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We can’t say it enough but we are grateful for you! Our 2021 Annual Gratitude Report is a place to celebrate many of the things we accomplished together in 2021. Thank you for supporting a protected and restored Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona!

You can view our 2021 Annual Gratitude Report as a “3D Flipbook” below or as a traditional pdf document. Click on the button in the bottom right to expand the 3D Flipbook into a full-screen view. You can then zoom in using the magnifying glass button in the bottom left. 

 

Welcome to our newest member group, the Arizona Master Naturalist Association!

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This month, we welcomed a new member group, the Arizona Master Naturalist Association (AZMNA)! For the last several years, we have partnered with the Pima Master Naturalists (a chapter of the statewide AZMNA) as a community organization that welcomes Arizona Master Naturalists to volunteer with us to complete their training and service hours. We are excited to elevate this partnership and find new and exciting ways to work together in the months and year ahead. 

The Arizona Master Naturalist Association serves to inspire leadership and community engagement through volunteer service to natural and cultural history organizations in the State of Arizona. Our corps of volunteers provide leadership service to partners who have education, community science, and stewardship projects. They are environmental educators, interpreters, and scientists seeking to help our communities understand the outdoors should be accessible to all and valued for preservation. 

Welcome AZMNA!

New paid Desert Wildlife Internship!

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We are excited to announce a new paid internship program with the Coalition. This August, we will be hiring our first paid Desert Wildlife Intern for the Fall 2022 semester.

The Desert Wildlife Intern will actively contribute to meaningful conservation projects to protect wildlife and open space. They will be mentored by CSDP staff, both collaboratively and independently completing tasks. Interns are provided opportunities for specific mentorship and training in an area of interest through a chosen final project. This position offers remote work-from-home and flexible hours. 

Head over to our Internships webpage to learn more and see the full job posting. And please share with anyone who would be interested in applying for this program. Thanks!