Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings featured in Zocalo magazine

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The Oracle Road wildlife bridge is one of a few projects featured in a new article in Zocalo magazine about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings. Photo by Thomas Wiewandt.

Zocalo magazine published a fantastic article about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings in its April issue. Titled Animal Avenues, this article features both the successful Oracle Road wildlife crossings and plans for more wildlife crossings on Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard. Check out the full article, including a new aerial photo of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, here.

Lesser long-nosed bat removed from Endangered Species List

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A lesser long-nosed bat pollinates a saguaro cactus flower. Photo courtesy Merlin B. Tuttle/Bat Conservation International.

Last month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the lesser long-nosed is being removed from the endangered species list. The lesser-long nosed bat is one of Pima County’s Priority Vulnerable Species and is covered by the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

More than anything, we are glad the bats are doing well! We support efforts to protect the bats and their maternity roosts and are pleased that this has led to increased populations. However, with climate change and other anthropogenic threats, we are cautiously optimistic that this de-listing was not premature. We’ll keep you updated as any more news is released about this important desert wildlife species. For a recent news article about the delisting, head here.

Pima County Publishes 2017 Annual Report on the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan

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In early March, Pima County published its 2017 Annual Report on the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. According to Pima County, highlights of the report include: 

  • The permit was used to cover impacts of 14 private development projects and 33 County Capital Improvement Projects. 
  • Over 200 acres of land has been allocated as mitigation so far, triggering an obligation to develop a new management plan for the Bingham Cienega Natural Preserve, a key protected area located along the San Pedro River.
  • The Gila topminnow has colonized the effluent-dominated stretch of the Santa Cruz River downstream of Tucson. 
  • Pima County Regional Flood Control District received an in-stream flow certificate to protect water for wildlife at Buehman Canyon.
  • Staff provided the first set of Biennial Inspection Reports to Arizona Land and Water Trust as evidence of our responsibility to uphold the restrictions placed on thousands of acres of mitigation lands.
  • Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls were detected at least once on all properties surveyed for that species in the Altar Valley. No owls were detected in the Tucson Mountain Park.
  • Tucson Audubon Society and County staff found yellow-billed cuckoos in three County riparian areas.
  • County staff implemented a geodatabase housing all observations of MSCP Covered Species.
  • In partnership with the National Park Service and Tucson Audubon Society, the first set of long-term soil and vegetation monitoring plots were set up and completed.
  • The County has convened a new panel of experts to help inform our monitoring efforts.  Please welcome: Angela Dahlby, Gita Bodner, Carianne Campbell, Andy Hubbard, Shawn Lowery, Cheryl McIntyre, and Don Swann to the new Science and Technical Advisory Team.
  • The County hired Karen Simms—formerly with U. S. Bureau of Land Management—to head the Natural Resources division at the Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department.

Check out the full report 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:

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.

In wonder of bighorns and tortoises

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A Sonoran Desert tortoise, affectionately nicknamed “Calypso” by the family that found him, gets ready to be released back into the wild with a tracking device affixed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

by Jessica Moreno

Calypso is a healthy desert tortoise of about 25-30 years and a tortoise on a mission. He was named by a caring, bright 7-year old, whose family found him on their front doorstep no less than three times – after several kindly reminders to return to Big Wash and to stay on his side of the street. When they called us, I was eager to meet them. Arizona Game and Fish biologists joined me and placed a tracker on his shell using special putty, offered him a drink, and we returned him with ceremony once again to Big Wash, carrying him low as we crossed back over the street. Calypso was trying doggedly to travel east, but instead of using the very accessible wildlife underpass, he was taking the open high road: climbing up a rocky embankment, crossing the busy neighborhood street, and wandering just yards from the highway. (His tracker confirms he is now finally snuggled in for hibernation over winter, southwest of the wildlife bridge.)

Calypso may live to reach the ripe age of 80. But his story almost ended differently, and there are still animals getting killed on Oracle Road by moving through openings in nearby neighborhood streets, where either cattle guards couldn’t be installed at the highway entrance or the sound wall ends. We have identified the last remaining areas like this where animals like Calypso are accessing the street – and the highway – near the wildlife underpass in the Vista Mirabella and Vistoso Vistas neighborhoods. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirm a growing hotspot of animals being killed on the highway south of the underpass crossing, where these gaps in the wildlife funnel-fence begin. The Regional Transportation Authority, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and your Rancho Vistoso HOA have joined together with neighbors to solve this problem. We’ve been communicating closely with residents living next to these openings to find the best fencing solutions.

Thanks to residents’ help and feedback, the first of these gaps have been closed to wildlife at the end of N. Big Wash Overlook Place. A pedestrian gate was included for trail access to Big Wash. The wildlife fence has been a critical part of the effectiveness of the wildlife crossings, and we look forward to working with residents to close the remaining few gaps so wildlife like Calypso can continue to travel between Big Wash and Catalina State Park without risk of traffic accidents or casualty.

The promise of that remains. Recently, a young desert bighorn ram trotted down a small desert wash east of Oracle Road – the wildlife underpass directly before him, and the Catalina mountains behind him. This rare and memorable wildlife camera photo out of hundreds collected that morning caused us all to cheer! The potential is there for the Big Wash Wildlife Corridor to become a path for Tortolita-bound bighorns.

A young desert bighorn sheep ram trots north near the Oracle Road wildlife underpass.

 

The importance of this effort lies still in my heart. It comes with the wonder, excitement, and hope that a bighorn and a tortoise bring. For all of us desert dwellers, what better gift is there than that?

For more information:
Visit www.sonoranwildlifecorridors.org for local wildlife monitoring results and wildlife crossing info, or email us at admin@sonorandesert.org. The Coalition will provide brief updates at the Rancho Vistoso HOA Board Meetings.

The new Big Wash Multi-Use Trail has been in Pima County’s planning books for decades. However, with wildlife funnel-fencing guiding animals into the area near the wildlife crossings, and surrounding development constraining open space, Big Wash has gone from an important wildlife movement area to a wilderness-style traffic jam of animals moving and living in this natural corridor. The Coalition successfully worked with Pima County to move the multi-use trail further west, away from the crossing structures. And, by asking people to stay on the trail, we can give people the chance to enjoy the desert without disturbing the larger area and the needs of the critters that rely more than ever on Big Wash. We are also working with Pima County after some erosion-control work in Big Wash resulted in re-vegetation needs near the wildlife underpass. Wildlife are moving around with a bit more frequency before the cold of winter sets in, and we’ve seen quite a few other surprises.

In the News: Manzanita Elementary students contribute to wildlife camera project

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October 3, 2017

The AZ Daily Star published a feature story about our partnership with Manzanita Elementary School on October 1, 2017. We are excited these students and teachers are getting recognition for their contribution to our Remote Wildlife Camera Monitoring Project and that this project is growing beyond our dreams. Lead teachers Jennifer DeBenedetti and Charlotte Ackerman have even developed a four-week curriculum based around the project called Critter Cams for Kids that provides a deeper foundation of knowledge about wildlife linkages and habitat fragmentation. 

To read the Daily Star article in its entirety, including photos of our youngest camera volunteers and Coalition Program & Outreach Associate Sarah Whelan, head here

You can also check out a wonderful YouTube video about the project and the curriculum that was developed to support the Critter Cams below.

Meet our youngest camera volunteers

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Our Remote Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program is continuing to grow! This past year, we recruited some new help from our friends with the Manzanita Elementary Robotics Club. Interested in exploring the use of technology for use in pulling data from the field, data management, species identification, and how this data can be used for public planning purposes, the Robotics Club asked to aid in our work while learning the ins and outs themselves. Led by two enthusiastic teachers, Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti, the Manzanita Robotics Club funded and helped place two cameras in our Oro Valley study. Continuing forward as we pull data from these cameras, students of the club will work to help sort, identify, and analyze the data. We’re excited to engage young minds about the importance of open spaces and understanding the ecosystems that surround us. Looking ahead, we are hoping to continue this partnership by expanding the number of camera monitored by the Robotics Club and assisting the participating teachers in the development of their new curriculum around this project. 

Thank you to Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti for spearheading this project!

For more information about our Remote Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program and to learn how to support this program with your time or your donation, head here

To read an AZ Daily Star article about this partnership published on October 1, 2017, head here

 

CSDP Program & Outreach Associate Sarah Whelan instructs Manzanita Elementary School students about the ins and outs of a remote wildlife camera before placing two new cameras out in the field in our Oro Valley Study Area.

New Video on Wildlife Crossings: Cost-Effective, Improving Safety, and Re-connecting Habitat

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We all know the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A recently released Vox video about wildlife crossings demonstrates this. 

Grab a cup of coffee and take a look at this great introductory video about wildlife crossings, why they are so important, why we should build many more, and how they are cost-effective in the long term. Coalition staff even saw some footage of crossings that they’d never seen before! 

https://www.vox.com/videos/2017/7/3/15914648/wildlife-crossings-roadkill-highway-design

 

New wildlife crossings on the horizon for Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard

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April 20, 2017

Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard will soon be the home of more new wildlife crossings in Pima County. Five new wildlife underpasses are currently under construction on Tangerine Road and three new wildlife underpasses are currently in the design phase for La Cholla Boulevard. The Tangerine crossings are in the Town of Marana near the intersection of Tangerine and Thornydale. The La Cholla crossings will be between Tangerine and Overton Roads. 

All of the new wildlife underpasses are being designed for small mammals and will be 6-9 feet in height. We expect a wide range of animals to use the crossings, including coyotes, javelinas, foxes, desert tortoises, and more. 

These crossings are being funded by the “Wildlife Linkages” funding stream of the Regional Transportation Authority. This funding stream is $45 million of the $2 billion RTA budget and is dedicated to infrastructure projects that promote connected wildlife linkages. 

As this area of Pima County continues to grow, these new wildlife underpasses  will make our roadways safer for motorists and connect critical open spaces for wildlife to migrate, forage, and seek out mates. 

To learn more about the new La Cholla Road wildlife crossings, check out this recent Fox 11 News story: http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/35151207/three-new-wildlife-crossings-to-be-built-along-la-cholla

Thank you for your continued support of connected Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages and safe roadways for motorists and wildlife!