Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category
February 25, 2019
Good news! According to Pima County Environmental Planning Manager Julia Fonseca, “In December 2018, the Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted a donation of 545 acres near the Ajo Scenic Loop in Western Pima County from a total of seven owners who wish to protect this natural desert over the long term. Pima County Regional Flood Control District also got full property rights to nearly 500 acres of the Big Wash near Rancho Vistoso Blvd. that was previously protected by a conservation easement. The completion of the acquisition affords an opportunity to partner with the Regional Transportation Authority to address the gap in wildlife fencing between Rancho Vistoso Blvd and Oro Valley Hospital, supporting the Highway 77 Wildlife Crossing Structures.”
Pima County wrote in a memo about the 545-acre property near Ajo, AZ, “The properties are separated by a mountain ridge from the town and a large copper mining pit, and surrounded on the other three sides by mountains and federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Alley Road, a dirt road maintained by Pima County, traverses the valley and is promoted by the Ajo Chamber as part of a 10-mile scenic loop…as well as the gateway to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The properties are also in close proximity to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The properties are within the Multiple Use and Special Species Management Areas of Pima County’s Conservation Lands System. The properties are largely undeveloped and contain an interesting mix of large saguaros and organ-pipe cactus. Desert bighorn sheep have been seen on the properties, and endangered Sonoran pronghorn are known to occur nearby.”
We are also very excited about the new protected open space in the Big Wash, a crucial piece of the larger wildlife linkage between the Santa Catalina and Tortolita Mountains. Wth your support, the Coalition will continue to work with Pima County and the Regional Transportation Authority to finish filling in wildlife fencing gaps – this will ensure the Oracle Road wildlife crossings are as effective as possible for the benefit of wildlife and people.
A new interactive case study about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings was just launched through the work of the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This case study features both a 2-page summary and an interactive map with more detailed information. You can check out the case study at https://arcg.is/09arn8 or look at it in the box below. [In the box below, click on the blue left and right arrows at the bottom to access the different sections of the case study. Within each section, click on the blue “i” in the top right corner to read the narrative about each section.] And thank you for all your support for this innovative project!
CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno published a new article in the most recent edition of the Desert Leaf magazine. Jessica’s article provides a fantastic summary of the history of wildlife linkages protection in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert, along with anecdotes and reflections on both black bears and Sonoran Desert tortoises and why they both need connected wildlife linkages to thrive.
Like black bears, tortoises have plant-based eating preferences. They also have few natural predators, can roam with compass-like precision and determination over hundreds of miles, and hibernate in the cold months. Tortoises get most of their water from the plants they eat, carrying it in canteen-like bladders. (Handling a tortoise can cause it to become anxious, pee, and thereby lose an entire summer’s water supply.) Roads and development are perilous hazards for them. But with thoughtful planning and community support, the threats posed by these hazards can be reduced or eliminated. In addition, safe crossings and open spaces benefit more than fuzzy bunnies, tortoises, and bears; they provide a beautiful, thriving, and resilient place for us to live.
The full article is available here.
And the full issue of the Desert Leaf magazine can be found at this website.
Great work, Jessica!
New Game and Fish monitoring report documents over 4,400 animals using Oracle Road wildlife crossings in first 2 years
The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently released their latest monitoring report on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass. Game and Fish is in the middle of four years of post-construction monitoring of these wildlife crossings. According to the report, as of June 2018, 2,477 animals have used the wildlife bridge and 1,941 animals have used the underpass. The most common animals to use the bridge are mule deer, whereas the underpass sees a lot of javelina and coyote. One interesting finding is that with time, more mule deer are using the underpass as they become acclimated to it. Other notable species seen in smaller numbers include bobcats, white-nosed coati, raccoons, and skunks.
Game and Fish also continues to monitor a large group of desert tortoises on either side of the crossings with radio-telemetry devices attached to the tortoises’ shells. While none of these tortoises have been documented using the crossings yet, we are hopeful that eventually they will.
Check out some new photos taken on the crossings from Game and Fish below. You can also view the full monitoring report here.
The Oracle Road wildlife bridge has a new name. On August 8, 2018, the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names approved the re-naming of the Sonoran Desert’s first wildlife bridge to the Ann Day Memorial Wildlife Bridge. Ann Day served as a Pima County Supervisor from 2000 to 2012 and was a champion of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Supervisor Day valued wildlife, protected open spaces, and building wildlife crossings throughout her tenure and service. She was tragically killed in a car accident inn May 2016 just days before the wildlife bridge was officially opened at a community celebration on May 10, 2016.
We are proud and gratified that Ann Day’s name will live on, both in the annals of Pima County history and as the official name for this important wildlife bridge that is keeping wildlife safe and reconnecting one of our critical wildlife linkages.
Bayer Vella, the Oro Valley Town Planning Manager, recently wrote an informative and exciting article for TucsonLocalMedia.com. Titled “Oro Valley Town Talk: Environmental Conservation values, balance, and results,” this article outlines the positive impacts from Oro Valley’s Environmentally-Sensitive Lands Ordinance (ESLO). In the article, Mr. Vella states,
“How did the community determine the right balance of land conservation and permissible development in the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance? Beginning in 2008, and over the course of two years, there were two advisory committees including residents and technical experts, community forums, stakeholder meetings and public hearings used to draft the ordinance, with final adoption by town council in 2010.
Building upon the work of Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the ESL employs a tiered system of environmental resource categories. Each category has its own open space requirements based on scientific analysis and specific general plan land use designations. An extensive biological study was conducted within the town limits resulting in a town-wide ESL map of these categories.
So, has ESL truly made a difference since 2010? From where I stand, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
ESL results in tangible design changes that conserve significant environmental areas while also providing realistic development options. Due to legal constraints, ESL predominately applies to re-zonings, and has been applied to 12 subdivisions situated on a total of 771 acres. A full 432 acres of that area were conserved as permanent and natural open space, equaling 56 percent of the total land area.
How does this compare to the town’s previous efforts to conserve open space? We studied the same 12 subdivisions to measure a “what if” scenario using the pre-ESL zoning requirements. The amount of total open space conserved would have been 175 acres instead of 432 acres. Clearly, ESL provides a regulatory structure that yields consistent results, which is a far cry from the lower amounts and less refined mapping of the past.”
The Coalition was an active and involved member of the advisory committees that Mr. Vella cites and advocated strongly for the strong conservation policies present in Oro Valley’s ESLO. We are excited and gratified to hear that the ESLO has had such a tangible and positive impact on the biologically-important lands in Oro Valley.
The recently convened I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group has released a press release and position statement opposing any proposed route for Interstate 11 in Avra Valley. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is a proud leader of this new community stakeholder group. The full press release is below:
Citizens Convened by Federal and State Highway Departments Strongly Oppose Highway in Avra Valley
Stakeholders find Common Ground in Downtown Route to Create a Sustainable City
Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) recently convened representatives of several stakeholder organizations in a process to explore two alternative routes for the proposed Interstate 11 through Pima County. Stakeholders have developed a consensus position that re-designing I-10 and I-19 to accommodate co-location with I-11 could have a positive effect on downtown revitalization, while stating strong opposition to an “I-10 bypass” in Avra Valley. See letter here. “A freeway that borders Tucson Mountain Park, Tohono O’odham tribal lands, Saguaro National Park, and Ironwood Forest National Monument makes absolutely zero sense,” stated Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “The direct and cumulative effects of a freeway to these natural and cultural iconic places of the Sonoran Desert simply cannot be mitigated. This route should not be under consideration.”
Stakeholders believe that there are shortcomings associated with the federal review process that focuses on new highway construction. However, “we believe that there could be a significant opportunity to address some of the historic negative consequences that resulted from the construction of I-10,” said Gene Einfrank, Menlo Park Neighborhood Association President. “The building of I-10 physically divided our community and diminished the quality of life of our downtown and other neighborhoods along the highway. Instead of simply adding new lanes to our existing highway, we should consider redesigning portions of it—either going underground or suspended—so that we can reconnect our city.”
Moreover, stakeholders encourage a broader look at future transportation options, focusing on changes to the management of the existing highway to reduce congestion, including pricing, scheduling, and other programs; technologies that improve traffic flows; and enhancements to the rail system, including light rail and intermodal transportation.
The group recommends ADOT and FHwA refer to the I-11 Super Corridor study final document, which was submitted to ADOT in 2016, to draw inspiration on a comprehensive design. The Sustainable Cities Lab, hosted at the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, completed this transdisciplinary study on the I-11 corridor along with Arizona State University and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UA’s study area focused on opportunities from Marana to south of downtown Tucson. Their outcomes incorporate the addition of light and heavy rail, walking, cycling, new technology for controlling traffic as well as incorporating alternative forms of energy production and transportation.
The Coalition is excited to announce the hiring of our new Conservation Science Director, Jessica Moreno. Jessica has been working with the Coalition for the past year and a half as an Independent Contractor on a few specific wildlife linkages projects. She is going to be an important and valuable member of our team moving forward. In her new position, Jessica will be monitoring and protecting wildlife, connected habitat, and ecosystem health in the Sonoran Desert, along with engaging people to create stronger community connections and values with desert wildlife and open space. Jessica will be taking over the reigns of our popular Wildlife Camera Monitoring Project and our Critter Cam Program. In collaboration with our Program and Operations Manager, Sarah Whelan, and our amazing volunteers, she will be refining and further strengthening these programs, along with her many other projects.
Jessica brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this position. In her own words, here’s a brief biography:
I was raised by the desert. I don’t know exactly when this led to my decision to be a biologist, but maybe it was that moment, shin-dagger thorns in my jeans, when I saw the sunset light up the Atascosa mountains after my first volunteer trip setting wildlife cameras. Or maybe it was leaving my bed at night with a flashlight to find the spadefoots calling after a flash flood. But the desert led me right here.
After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in Wildlife Management in 2007, I coordinated mountain lion and bobcat studies in the Tucson Mountains for the UA Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center. For the next seven years I work with Sky Island Alliance, leading the Wildlife Linkages Program, studying jaguars and ocelots in the borderlands, and protecting Wilderness through outreach, research, policy, and planning. I have served on the Arizona Wildlife Linkages Working Group, the Pima and Cochise County Wildlife Linkages Assessment Working Groups, and the RTA Wildlife Linkages Committee.
With the Coalition I have found a community that brings my experience and passion full circle to protect the desert that I call home. CSDP’s superhero team of staff, partners, and volunteers is a joy to work with. I focus on our community science wildlife monitoring projects, from volunteer data collection to analysis, and applying what we know to build safe passages for wildlife.
I also serve on the Executive Board of the Arizona Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and in my spare time explore website design, writing, and photography. I have two children, Sofia and Mateo, and love outdoor cooking, wading barefoot in creeks, and the scent of wild open spaces.
Want to meet Jessica? Please join us for our Member Group & Supporter Happy Hour on Thursday, September 20th from 5-7pm at the Public Brewhouse at 209 N. Hoff Ave. in downtown Tucson.
According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, “…964,759 visitors to Saguaro National Park in 2017 spent $60,716,800 in Tucson and other communities near the park. That spending supported 866 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $88,682,500.”
On the national level, “The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion.”
Saguaro National Park is a crown jewel of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and we are proud to have them as a community partner. Founded in 1996, Friends of Saguaro National Park is a member group of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and works actively to “help protect wildlife and habitat, promote environmental education, improve recreational trails, enhance visitor experiences, and build environmental stewardship for the Park.”
More information and access to an interactive tool that houses the report’s data can be found in the official press release for the report.
In fall 2017, local scientists had a surprising discovery in the Santa Cruz River – the return of the endangered Gila topminnow. This small inch-long fish is one of 44 species targeted by Pima County’s Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Scientists speculate that Pima County’s efforts to clean up the treated effluent that feeds this stretch of the Santa Cruz River contributed to the return of the Gila topminnow.
It is always exciting and positive news when an endangered species establishes new habitat!
More information can be found in a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners and a story in the AZ Daily Star.
Pima County also wrote a memo that addresses how the Section 10 permit associated with the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan helped the county save money (as compared to what they would have had to spend if they did not have a Section 10 permit) after the discovery of the Gila topminnow in the Santa Cruz River.