Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
April 18, 2017
Did you know that southern Arizona bridges provide important roosting habitat for local bats? Many older bridges were built with long, thin expansion cracks underneath them. These cracks have turned out to be perfect roosting habitat for thousands and thousands of bats, and often pregnant females. Bats roost under the bridges during the day and then emerge at dusk in impressive swarms to forage, feed on mosquitoes and other insects, and pollinate local plants and crops.
Unfortunately, modern bridge designs have evolved and these long, thin expansion cracks are not used anymore. When old bridges are now replaced, we run the risk of also destroying this important bat habitat. Local biologists and conservationists are trying a new strategy of installing “bat boxes” under new bridges. These boxes are hung from underneath the new bridge and include a series of thin crevices where bats can roost. Each box can hold approximately 300-359 bats.
The new Ina Road bridge, currently under construction, is the first place where bat boxes are being deployed. First, bat boxes have been installed a mile to the south on the Cortaro Farms Road bridge. We hope that the bats currently roosting in the old Ina Road bridge will migrate down to these bat boxes when the Ina Road bridge is demolished. Then, when the new Ina Road bridge is finished, the bat boxes will be moved underneath this bridge. The Houghton Road bridge north of Interstate 10 is another project where bat boxes will be used to mitigate for the loss of existing bat habitat when this bridge is replaced in the near future.
Both of these bat box projects are funded by the “Wildlife Linkages” funding stream of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). With your support, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection has been a proud partner in all of the wildlife linkage projects funded by the RTA and we are very excited to see how these new “bat boxes” work!
Check out this Fox 11 News Story from April 14, 2017 to learn more about the new Ina Road Bridge bat boxes:
Check out this KVOA news story from September 29, 2015 about the Houghton Road bridge project:
April 6, 2017
Last week, on March 29, 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife – both Coalition member groups – won an important lawsuit over the denial of endangered species protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl. The new ruling establishes that the federal government must reconsider endangered species protection for this little owl, overturning a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity:
“The court also overturned a policy that made it far more difficult for species at risk of extinction in important portions of their range to gain federal protection. The pygmy owl faces serious threats to its survival in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and northern Mexico, but the agency denied protection anyway, arguing it was secure elsewhere.”
This part of the ruling has implications for all Sonoran Desert wildlife species that are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered and we will be keeping a close eye on how this ruling impacts other species in the future.
The cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl has a long and storied history in the Sonoran Desert. The initial listing of this small owl as an endangered species in 1997 was the main spark for the creation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and the formation of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. We are gratified that, with this new ruling, the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl may once again be granted the endangered species protection it deserves.
For the full press release on this ruling, head here.
And thank you for everything you do to protect all Sonoran Desert wildlife species!
March 28, 2017
Coalition Director Carolyn Campbell was interviewed for Arizona Public Media’s Metro Week TV spot recently. Joined by Arizona Game and Fish biologist Jeff Gagnon, both Carolyn and Jeff discuss the new Oracle Road wildlife crossings, what it took to get them constructed, plans for future crossings, citizen science efforts, and what has surprised them now that the first year of monitoring has finished.
Check out the interview below!
March 23, 2017
At the end of February, Pima County published its first required “Annual Report” on the implementation of the Multi-Species Conservation Plan (or MSCP). The MSCP was almost 18 years in the making and provides mitigation for impacts to 44 species in Pima County, seven of which are currently listed as endangered (scientists determined that the remaining species could become endangered over the 30-year life of the plan). The Coalition was an involved partner in the MSCP every step of the way and, with your support, advocated for the strongest conservation measures possible to be included in the plan. We continue to partner with Pima County as they implement the plan – in February, we facilitated an overflight of Pima County conservation lands by Pima County staff so they could do a “saguaro count” to assess habitat conditions. The flight was provided for free by LightHawk, Inc.
A few notable milestones outlined in the Annual Report include:
- In October 2016, Pima County permanently protected mitigation lands owned by the County or the Regional Flood Control District with restrictive covenants. This is something the Coalition strongly advocated for and we were very pleased when it finally happened.
- Private lands voluntary coverage officially began on January 9, 2017.
- The Bingham Cienega property was chosen as the first official mitigation property for impacts to habitat.
To read the full MSCP Annual report, head here.
And thank you again for all your support of the MSCP and the Coalition’s advocacy and involvement in this award-winning conservation plan!
March 14, 2017
It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since the Oracle Road wildlife crossings were finished and opened for business. Over the past 12 months, we have been heartened to see many beautiful photos of wildlife using the wildlife bridge and underpass and safely crossing Oracle Road.
Just a few weeks ago, the Arizona Game and Fish Department released their first “progress report” on the crossings. Game and Fish has been gathering data about wildlife use of the crossings using both still and video cameras. They have also begun tracking the movements of nine Sonoran desert tortoises that live near the crossings, with plans to track 12 more in 2017.
In the past year, almost 1200 animals have used the crossings, including mule deer, bobcats, and javelina, with a total of 13 species recorded. Plans for 2017 include continuing to monitor the crossings and also conducting a series of roadkill surveys along Oracle Road to ensure the wildlife fencing is doing its job. There are still a few areas that are un-fenced but we expect these gaps to be filled in 2017.
Check out the full progress report at the Regional Transportation Authority website here. And thanks again for your support of the Coalition’s collaboration with Game & Fish and many other community partners on this project!