Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category
Pima County recently released their 2021 MSCP Annual Report. The MSCP – or Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan – is an integral part of the larger Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. According to a recent e-update from Pima County:
“Each calendar year, County staff put together a report on implementation of the Pima County Multi-species Conservation Plan (MSCP). The MSCP covers 44 wildlife and plant species by prioritizing conservation of their habitats. At the same time, the plan provides a streamlined avenue for managers of ground-disturbing projects, both private and County-led, to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act on lands in unincorporated Pima County. The MSCP is a major part of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
- A total of 411 private projects have been authorized to receive coverage under the MSCP since it was initiated in 2016; 224 of these projects have been mitigated to date.
- The Regional Flood Control District reported that 95.6% of applicants avoided impacting regulated riparian habitat.
- Fourteen buffelgrass letters were issued to private property owners in 2021 by Pima County Department of Environmental Quality.
- Pima County staff, contractors, and volunteers mechanically removed or chemically treated approximately 4,942 acres of buffelgrass and other invasive plant species on County Conservation Lands and right-of-ways.
- The new MSCP-compliant management plan for the Cienega Creek Corridor was updated to include new areas and actions.
- Major fencing projects in the Edgar Canyon riparian area on M Diamond Ranch and along the Santa Cruz River were completed to protect species and stream health.
- Monitoring and analyses were completed on multiple MSCP species, including Sonoran desert tortoise, lowland leopard frogs, multiple bat species, Gila topminnow, and several species of talussnails.
- The first MSCP analyses of climate and land-use change were completed.
All MSCP-related reports, plans, and monitoring protocols are available online.
Thank you for supporting the Coalition’s ongoing partnership with Pima County to advise as needed on the implementation of the MSCP and help keep the public informed about the progress of this important conservation plan!
We are excited to announce and welcome our first Desert Wildlife Intern! Josh Skattum (he/him/his) will be joining our staff on a part-time basis from August-December and we are so excited for you to get to know him.
Here’s an introduction from Josh in his own words:
I first started to expand on my passion and interest surrounding wildlife conservation during my undergrad studies at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point where I studied Wildlife Research and Management, Biology, and Captive Wildlife Management. This academic setting led me into discovering the empowering experience of being involved in volunteer fueled non-profits that engage their local communities in land stewardship, environmental education, and community science. This passion continued on as I relocated to Tucson, Arizona in 2018 as I pursued my wildlife career as a zookeeper while also jumping into the Community Science Desert Wildlife Program for the Coalition as a Pima County Master Naturalist (PCMN). One of my service projects as a Master Naturalist is contributing towards the Coalition’s research on how wildlife linkages between our sky islands are impacted by roads and infrastructure. This project started with volunteering alongside PCMN Sam W, maintaining wildlife cameras at three sites: the Oro Valley wildlife overpass location, along I-10 (outside of Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon), and now currently outside of the Tucson Mountains. When I’m not checking wildlife cameras, I also serve on the PCMN Board as the Communications Committee Chair. Within this role I help create an inclusive environment while sharing the Cultural and Natural history of Arizona as well as our Pima County Master Naturalist’s experiences and volunteer work. Arizona is such an incredibly diverse landscape filled with so many incredible people! I’m excited to see how this desert internship interfaces with both wildlife science and science communication!
Our new paid internship program is funded by the Deupree Family Foundation. Thank you DFF for your generous support!
Pima County has invested heavily in acquiring conservation properties, especially in fulfilling the goals of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The County recently released a new report about all their open space conservation acquisitions. Along with providing a comprehensive overview of this decades-long program, the report specifically touches on the transparent public processes underlying the prioritization of eligible lands, funding mechanisms, and benefits these lands bring to the community.
You can check out the full report HERE.
Thank you for supporting our work as a partner and advocate for connected and robust protected open space in the Sonoran Desert!
By Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
One of the best things about doing roadkill surveys is watching the sunrise. During the monsoons, the sun breaks across the eastern horizon and lights up the moisture laden air and morning cloud cover with light and throws the foothills into brilliant color. The sun feels hopeful and the day new. The second-best thing is knowing that every datapoint is helping us make things better.
The 20-mile stretch of Interstate-10 (I-10) between Vail and Benson, east of Tucson, Arizona, divides the regionally important Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains Wildlife Linkage. This wildlife pathway is one of only a few – somewhat safe – crossing points across I-10 found between Tucson and New Mexico, and it encompasses several protected areas and important waters, including Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, making it critically important for desert wildlife in the face of climate change.
This wildlife pathway is protected partially by federally protected lands including Saguaro National Park, Rincon Wilderness, and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Pima County has invested in securing additional conservation lands in this linkage as mitigation under the Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP), including Bar V Ranch, Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Rancho Agua Verde, and Colossal Cave Mountain Park, which are managed under the Cienega Creek Management Plan.
However, I-10 cuts through this area of wildlife movement, resulting in more wildlife-vehicle collisions for large animals such as black bear, mule deer, whitetail deer, javelina, coyote, and mountain lion, as well as smaller species like box turtles, opossum, Antelope jackrabbit, white-nose coati, raccoon, badger, and bobcat. It also serves as a potential movement area for jaguars and ocelots. Existing culverts and right of way fencing are not currently adequate at reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions or ensuring safe wildlife passage in this area. Future growth and increases in traffic volumes will only worsen the frequency of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
Since 2006, several qualitative assessments and reports have been produced that highlight the area’s importance for wildlife movement, but there has not been a study that has collected data to build a high accuracy model of wildlife movements and roadkill locations along this corridor. With the lack of such a product, nothing has been done on the ground to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and to improve safe wildlife passage by employing effective mitigation structures like winged highway fencing or wildlife overpasses. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, in conjunction with partners, is spearheading the effort to collect data to provide the information necessary to make this stretch of I-10 a safer passage for both wildlife and people in this important corridor.
In the spring of 2017, CSDP conducted comprehensive assessments and wildlife surveys of the nearly 80 existing concrete box culverts and metal plate pipe structures between milepost 277-302 (Houghton Road to SR90), with participants from several government, nonprofit, and community partners, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Cochise County, Pima County, Tucson Audubon Society, Sky Island Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wildlands Network. Our results indicated that this wildlife linkage could be made safer for wildlife and motorists by 1) installing wildlife funnel-fencing to keep animals off the highway and to direct wildlife toward existing crossing points; 2) retrofitting and widening existing drainage culverts located in high volume areas; and 3) construction of an additional wildlife crossing between Cienega Creek and the railroad underpass near Empirita Rd Exit 292.
Roadkill surveys were part of the next phase of this effort: to gather data on roadkill hotspots, together with wildlife passage rates using wildlife cameras in the best existing culverts. We hope this data will inform State and County highway and wildlife officials on where to focus mitigation efforts to improve highway safety and minimize wildlife-vehicle collisions with site-specific wildlife funnel-fencing installation, existing culvert retrofits, and new wildlife crossing structures. Our results illustrate the need to implement changes and provides baseline information to evaluate the success of future mitigation measures.
Our Desert Roadies project began with a team of volunteers to help collect wildlife-vehicle mortality data on Interstate-10 between SR83 and SR90, east of Tucson. Desert Roadies volunteers worked in teams of 2-4 people, including myself, to conduct driving roadkill surveys. Observations were recorded by our notetaker with the GPS coordinates. Surveys were conducted in the morning, starting up to 30 minutes before sunrise, every week for 6 weeks during the monsoon season in 2019 and 2020, beginning in July, except when conditions were bad for visibility or driving such as rain, dust storms, or other low visibility weather. In addition to these formal roadkill surveys, we collected other data on iNaturalist.org from community members and personally investigated reports about black bear mortalities. We also requested ADOT records on reported animal-vehicle crashes in the study area. This data was analyzed separately.
Due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, carpooling with volunteers was no longer a safe option. So, we adapted as best we could by canceling the planned spring 2020 survey and having another monsoon season survey instead, which was conducted by myself and my family, Eddie Moreno (who is also a biologist experienced in roadkill surveys) and my two toddlers munching on donuts and “helping” look for animals from the backseat. This survey was done when the state was under curfew and lockdown, resulting in reduced traffic volumes. This likely was one reason for fewer observations of roadkill during this survey window.
Walking surveys are the ideal method for complete and accurate data. But safety concerns eliminated that option because we are using volunteer participation and this is a busy interstate highway with narrow right of ways. Therefore, the roadkill survey portion of this project was designed to be a broad-brush stroke only and we anticipated a small sample size. Recording categories of small, medium, large animals and/or by clade (reptile, bird, small/med/large mammal) are adequate for our purpose. Because of the project design, we have near zero detectability of small animals, and instead our target species are deer, bear, coyote, bobcat, gray fox, javelina, and those larger animals that the Arizona Department of Transportation consider most hazardous to drivers. The data will hopefully serve to provide a preliminary look at potential roadkill hotspot areas. For best accuracy 1) our GPS units had a one-button click to mark points quickly, 2) volunteers could also use maps and mileposts to confirm locations, 3) we analyzed the data in 1-mile segments, which better informs the fencing solution strategy and somewhat addresses imprecise location information, and 4) a staff biologist was always present to provide corroborating identification.
We completed two monsoon survey seasons for roadkill observations in 2019 and 2020, resulting in 78 data points of at least 14 different species. We were able to detect animals as small as a rock squirrel or cottontail rabbit. Skunks, raptors, and deer were not identified to specific species. All of our deer mortality observations (n=2) occurred between mileposts 296-297, near the Pima-Cochise County line. A hotspot of roadkill observations occurred between mileposts 291-295 (between Cienega Creek and Empirita Rd), in an area that coincides with a gap in available culverts and crossing points, and near several culvert locations between mileposts 283-287.
I-10 has been identified as a significant barrier to black bears in southern Arizona. In 2011, Todd Atwood et al published a study describing I-10 as a more significant barrier to functional gene flow for black bears than the U.S.-Mexico border, identifying I-10 as the dividing line between the Border subpopulation of black bears to the south, and the White Mountain subpopulation to the north. In our study area, these subpopulations meet and Romeo and Juliet romances unfold, ensuring healthy black bear populations in Arizona and in Mexico. For black bears, I-10 may be a barrier to gene flow as well as a “population sink” due to wildlife-vehicle deaths. This could pose a significant issue for the Border subpopulation, which additionally faces barriers to movement at the U.S.-Mexico border due to the construction of the border wall and other border-related infrastructure such as roads and lighting. Without safe passage both north of I-10 or south of the border, our southern Arizona black bears are at risk of genetic isolation and disappearing all together (what we call extirpation).
We have gathered four records of black bear mortalities in recent years, and three of these are verified with photos. These records indicate that the bears attempted to cross I-10 by following higher elevation ridgelines closely associated with the two largest underpass structures at Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek. We also have animal track and camera trap data showing successful passage under I-10 at a few specific culverts. Most of our observations show bears moving south. April-May and August-September appear to be peak periods of activity for black bears in this area according to our data.
Black bears are just one example of the impact I-10 is having on native wildlife. In addition to large animals like bear, deer, and jaguar, smaller animals are at risk as well. Saguaro National Park has been monitoring a disturbing decline in “lost carnivores” over the last decade, including skunks, foxes, and badgers. Biologists are also concerned about the local disappearance of smaller range habitat specialist species affected by habitat fragmentation, including box turtles, Antelope jackrabbits, skunks, kit foxes, badgers, and white-nose coati. Increasing wildlife connectivity conditions for black bears and deer should allow struggling populations to repopulate from connected habitat areas and also benefit a wide array of other species.
With the data we’ve collected, we have solid evidence to back up the need for funding wildlife funnel fencing where it is most needed and make the case for new or improved wildlife crossings.
Read CSDP’s final project report to Arizona Game and Fish Department here.
(Please note: Photos of roadkill animals are included in the report)
Want to help?
Although collecting information on roadkill is not for the faint of heart, the data it provides is valuable. In the future, CSDP will be looking to continue our Desert Roadies program in more areas. In the meantime, folks can also document sightings of wildlife on roads in Pima County at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/csdp-safe-passages.
This work was made possible thanks to the time, effort, and skill of the following volunteers: Matt Clark, Sami Hammer, Bruce Jacobsen, Ken Lamberton, Eduardo Moreno, D’angelo Padilla, Raynor VanDeven, Althea Weeks, and Daisy Weeks.
We also want to thank Scott Sprague, Jeff Gagnon and Brit Oleson of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and give special thanks to our collaborating partners: Myles Traphagen with The Wildlands Network and Brian Powell with Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation.
This project was funded in part by the Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund.
Join us this week to remove old fencing and improve wildlife connectivity between the Tucson Mountains and the Tohono O’odham Nation!
This past December, over 65 volunteers came together one morning to remove three miles of old fencing, including three tons of fence posts and wire fencing, from an area in Avra Valley west of the Tucson Mountains. Removing this fencing is important to improve the critical wildlife linkage areas between Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. And now this collaborative project is moving forward with another opportunity to pitch in and remove even more fencing!
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – March 10, 11, and 12
Time: 8am-12pm, 12pm lunch (will be provided), Afternoon flexible
Where: Avra Valley area near Three Points (more detailed instructions on exactly where to meet will be sent out to volunteers after they sign up)
What to bring: Water bottle, work gloves, sturdy shoes, sun hat, etc. (again, more details to follow)
How to sign up: Head over to this GoogleForm to sign up
According to Don Swann, a biologist at Saguaro National Park, “Many studies have shown that barbed wire fences can stop large animals, change their movement patterns, and keep them away from water and food sources they need to survive. Animals can also be killed trying to jump over a barbed wire fence if they become entangled and are not able to free themselves.”
You can sign up for one, two, or all three days! All you need to do is sign up through our online form.
To see a slideshow and learn more about the December 2021 event and what’s in store for the March 2022 event, head over to this recent blog post on our website.
Questions? Feel free to reach out to CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell at Carolyn.Campbell@
In January 2022, a group of people from Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Department of Transportation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection conducted a scouting field trip to finalize the locations of two new wildlife bridges on SR86 near Kitt Peak. These bridges will complement two existing wildlife underpasses built nearby in 2013-2014. During the trip, the attendees also visited the underpasses and associated wildlife fencing and were able to identify ongoing maintenance tasks so these underpasses continue providing a safe crossing location for wildlife for many years to come.
The SR86 wildlife bridges will be built to attract local bighorn sheep and other wildlife so they can safely cross between the Baboquivari Mountains to the south and mountain ranges to the north. The Regional Transportation Authority is funding these crossings, under a plan approved by voters in 2006 from $45 million allocated for wildlife linkage infrastructure projects.
Check out some photos of the field trip below.
On December 11, 2021, a group of local organizations and state/federal agencies came together to celebrate National Public Lands Day by holding a Fence Removal Volunteer Day in Avra Valley. It was a wonderfully cool day with volunteers in high spirits to accomplish something tangible and positive for wildlife.
A few fun stats from this great event:
- Over 65 volunteers, a group from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) program, and staff from Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service joined together for the project.
- 3 miles of fence were removed from the landscape in one morning.
- 3 tons of metal, including fence posts and wire fencing, were hauled away.
This is a fantastic start to improving the permeability of the landscape for wildlife movement between the Tucson Mountains, Ironwood Forest National Monument, Pima County open space lands, and more. And a big thanks to the Coalition volunteers that came out and volunteered their time – we are so thankful for you.
This is the first of a few Fence Removal Volunteer Days – we plan to hold one to two more this winter and spring so keep your eye out for more details. We’d love to have you join in on the next event!
Thank you to all the organizations that helped make this event possible, including Friends of Ironwood Forest, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Saguaro National Park/National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, American Conservation Experience, Pima County, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Mule Deer Foundation.
Photos below are courtesy Carolyn Campbell and Lee Pagni.
We recently sent out our 2020 Annual Gratitude Report with our Fall 2021 Friends of the Desert Newsletter. Please check it out today and feel good about everything we accomplished together during a very challenging year! Thank you!
Pima County is currently under a high rate of transmission as the Delta variant spreads (data here). The situation continues to evolve. Here is CSDP’s response plan to help slow the spread and to help keep our staff and volunteers safe:
- All CSDP staff are fully vaccinated. We have in place a Pandemic Policy that provides paid leave for staff in the case of illness due to Covid-19, and contingency plans in the event that staff must be out for an extended period of time.
- Staff are working remotely from home with short coordinated visits to the office as needed. Meetings and outreach, wherever possible, are being conducted virtually.
- Our office in Suite 205 in the Historic Y building is currently closed to visitors except by appointment. The Historic Y’s current policy is that all tenants of and visitors to The Historic Y building must be fully vaccinated, or are required to wear a mask and maintain 6 ft distance from others, or remain outside.
- Volunteers needing to receive or deliver camera equipment, SD cards, batteries or other supplies are coordinating hand-offs with Jessica. There is a drop off location at her house on the NW side of town, or she can leave/pick up supplies from your porch or at a mutual meeting location.
- Desert Monitors should wear a mask when within 6ft of each other, and are encouraged to share their vaccination status with their fellow team members before meeting, as appropriate. New information shows that vaccinated individuals are still able to transmit Covid-19 to others and the CDC recommends everyone wear masks indoors. While hiking outdoors it is safer, we still recommend wearing a mask to reduce risk when you are closer than 6ft.
- We adapted our Desert Identifier program so that volunteers can work remotely and on their own schedules. This has been highly successfully and will continue.
- Highway Cleanups remain suspended until this activity can be done safely for all participants and staff.
- Mailing Parties are now “On Tour” with supplies being delivered and picked up from your porch.
CSDP’s position is to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and to isolate when feeling sick or if exposed.
These are challenging times, but also times to celebrate and spread our joys, extend understanding and grace, and help everyone get through this together. Many of our adaptions to this unprecedented crisis have made our community closer, our teams stronger, our work more efficient, and our outcomes better, simply because we are uplifting and caring for each other.
Thank you for doing your part.
Questions or comments? Feel free to send an email to our Associate Director Kathleen Kennedy at Kathleen.Kennedy@sonorandesert.org or leave us a voicemail at (520) 388-9925 and we’d be happy to chat with you!
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.