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Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

SR77 Wildlife Gate and Fencing Ribbon Cutting Event

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On April 19, 2023, the Town of Oro Valley hosted a ribbon cutting to celebrate the culmination of a years-long collaboration between the Town, surrounding neighbors and regional partners to preserve scenic views, fix fencing gaps, and protect wildlife along SR 77 near the wildlife crossings.


Pat Miller, a CSDP Desert Monitor volunteer and a local resident involved with the project, took this photo of the completed wildlife gate at Big Wash Overlook Place, one of two automatic gates installed near the wildlife underpass.


“This has been quite an effort on the part of groups with a wide variety of needs. Biologists, government agencies, and wildlife connectivity advocates were at odds with Oro Valley residents’ concerns about scenic views at the start of this project, with no solution seemingly possible. But collaboration won the day, with groups working literally for years to find a solution that works for both wildlife and residents. Today is a celebration of that effort,” said CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell

An artistic rendering of the new wildlife gates from 2021.


CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell speaks at the ribbon cutting for the Oracle Road wildlife gates and fencing. Photo courtesy Town of Oro Valley. 


The new wildlife gates in action. Photo courtesy Town of Oro Valley. 


Community partners celebrate the official completion and opening of the Oracle Road wildlife gates. Photo courtesy Town of Oro Valley.


About the project
The gate and fence project was funded by the Pima Association of Governments/Regional Transportation Authority (PAG/RTA). The Town of Oro Valley served as project administrator, with work done by AECOM, Sellers & Sons, Inc., Ninyo & Moore and Tucson Electric Power.

As part of the SR 77 road widening project improvements, game fences had been installed on both sides of the SR 77 corridor from Tangerine Road to the Pinal County line. In this area, a 10-foot-high fence was initially planned to be installed on the back side of homes along the Big Wash. This would route wildlife to the previously established SR 77 wildlife crossings. However, residents in the area expressed a desire to see wildlife from their homes, and not look at a tall game fence. The Town of Oro Valley and PAG/RTA worked with neighbors, Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection to make changes to the existing fence and add gates across the roads to prevent wildlife from dangerously crossing SR 77, keeping wildlife in the Big Wash wildlife corridor.

“Oro Valley takes great pride in our natural open spaces and wildlife,” said Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield. “While building upon a previously established wildlife route, this project is truly a group effort to find solutions to protect wildlife without compromising our scenic views. We are grateful for the residents, conservation groups and regional partners who share our community’s values and collaborated with the Town of Oro Valley on this wonderful project.”

The SR 77 Wildlife Bridge was the first of its kind in Southern Arizona when construction finished in 2016. The bridge provides a safe crossing over SR 77 for wildlife including bobcats, desert tortoises and mule deer. One mile to the south, a large wildlife underpass provides another safe crossing point; the underpass is located adjacent to new wildlife gates and fencing. Regional conservation groups now monitor wildlife near the bridge and underpass using cameras.

“The wildlife fencing project has been ongoing since 2016 and has been a collaborative effort between the homeowners, the Town of Oro Valley, the RTA, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The gates and gap wildlife fencing should serve well to protect animals from entering Oracle Road and to use the animal underpass. Congratulations to all for this wonderful outcome,” said Pat Miller, a resident who has been involved in this project.

[Adapted from a Town of Oro Valley press release issued on April 7, 2023]

An update on the Desert Fence Busters

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by Trica Oshant Hawkins, Conservation Programs Director, Arizona Wildlife Federation

[Excerpted from the Spring 2023 Friends of Ironwood Forest Newsletter]

I’ve been coordinating various volunteer conservation projects for well over 20 years now. In all that time, I can honestly say that the most gratifying work I have ever done (with or without volunteers) is removing old, abandoned barbed-wire fences.

Nothing says “accomplishment” like a wide open landscape you know is safer for wildlife and allows them freedom of movement for migration, foraging, finding mates, predator avoidance, etc. Sharing that satisfaction with a group of volunteers and other like-minded conservationists is, well, exhilarating.

Those “like-minded conservationists” I’m referring to are the Desert Fence Busters, who have collaborated over the past couple of years to make these impactful fence removal projects happen.

Through my work with the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF), I’ve been involved in projects to remove abandoned barbed-wire fence from public lands for several years now. However, working collaboratively with Desert Fence Busters takes this work to a whole other level.

In the past two years with AWF’s Volunteer for Wildlife program, I’ve organized four different projects, through which we’ve removed five miles of fencing. Those projects typically involve myself (representing AWF), a couple of agency partners, and volunteers (usually less than 20 folks per project).

In roughly that same amount of time, through six Desert Fence Busters projects, we’ve removed an estimated 21 miles of fence and taken 15,300 pounds of metal off the landscape to be recycled. Now that’s impact! See what we can do when we collaborate?

For a group of six different non-profit conser-vation organizations, a cadre of volunteers, and county, state, and federal agencies to collaborate and accomplish so much so quickly is nothing short of extraordinary. There is a certain magic with the Desert Fence Busters that one rarely experiences in the conservation field.

Collaborating among different organizations without “turf wars” or power struggles is rare indeed, yet somehow this group simply gets along and gets things done. We’ve come to honor, respect, and learn more about each other’s work and mission, but more than anything, we share the same goal: to help wildlife by getting aban-doned barbed wire off the landscape…to bust fence!

While fences serve many purposes, with both positive and negative effects on wildlife and people, abandoned barbed-wire fencing poses nothing but hazards for animals on the land-scape. Wildlife get entangled in the wire, often resulting in death. Fencing also disrupts the natural movement of wildlife, causing individual stress and population declines.

Many of these fences were installed during the era of intense cattle ranching in the south-west, which coincided with the invention of barbed wire in the late 1870s. To hold on to their public land grazing allotments, ranchers had to show “improvement” on the land. Building fences was (and still is) one of the primary methods of “improving” one’s grazing allotments.

However, there weren’t (and still aren’t) any directives stating that those fences had to be removed once ranchers and their cattle moved on. As land ownership and grazing allotments changed, the relics of the cattle industry remain-ed on the landscape. And they still do to this day.

It is estimated that there are 620,000 miles of fence on private, city, county, state and federal landscapes across the west. But no one really knows how much of that is abandoned barbed-wire fence, also known as “ghost fence.”

We do know it is a significant amount. As an example, in the 776 square miles that make up the Sonoran Desert National Monument (an AWF fence removal project site), it is estimated that there are at least 40 more miles of abandoned fence that needs removing…that we know of. So, there’s a lot of work to be done!

The beauty of the Desert Fence Busters is that we have a variety of agency land managers that identify and map abandoned fence that needs removing from their respective lands. Once a project site is scouted and identified, each of the different non-profit organizations reaches out to their respective database of volunteers, invit-ing them to participate in the project.

Agencies like the Arizona Game and Fish Department provide resources such as tools and fence rollers. Friends of Ironwood Forest sets up an information table and welcomes volunteers. BKW partners load and haul away the dropped fencing and T-posts. All of the groups help in organizing the projects and share costs of providing lunch, snacks, and beverages.

Through the Desert Fence Busters, we are truly making an impact on our beloved Sonoran desert landscape. We are improving the habitat for wildlife… and for people. Together, we are making a difference.

There are some who say the future of conservation is in collaboration. With the Desert Fence Busters, that future is now.

The Desert Fence Busters includes the following partner organizations: Friends of Ironwood Forest, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Arizona Game and Fish Department, BKW, Bureau of Reclamation, City of Tucson, Friend of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Mule Deer Foundation, Pima County, Saguaro National Park, and Tucson Audubon Society.

The I-11 lawsuit explained

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by Tom Hannagan, Friends of Ironwood Forest, President of the Board of Directors

(excerpted from the Friends of Ironwood Forest Spring 2023 Newsletter)

Usually in this space, I would review three or four things that Friends of Ironwood Forest has been involved in recently. This time I’d like to focus on one item. We were in federal court for the first time in FIF history, to stop the proposed interstate I-11.

The FIF took a huge step forward in advocacy last year by joining three partners in filing a legal claim against the new I-11 interstate route favored by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Our three partners in this action are the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (CSDP), and the Tuscon chapter of the Audubon Society.

The route chosen by ADOT, the so-called “west option,” would come very close to the eastern border of Ironwood Forest National Monument (IFNM) and bisect the Avra Valley, creating a barrier to wildlife connectivity between the mountains in IFNM and the Tucson Mountains, which include Saguaro National Park-West and Tucson Mountain Park. The ability of wildlife to move between mountain ranges is necessary for their genetic strength and in turn the continuing health of the species.

ADOT and the FHWA ignored the nearly unanimous objections of all bodies submitting public comments on their choice. In addition to conservation organizations, such as FIF and community organizations in Tucson, the governments of Pima County, the City of Tucson, and the Tohono O’odham Nation also filed formal objections. Even other departments of the federal government, including the National Park System, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed comments objecting to the west option.

Our lawsuit claims that ADOT/FHWA did not follow federal law in rushing through their Environmental Impact Study-Phase I (EIS). We feel ADOT ignored three separate federal laws affecting EIS requirements. Of critical importance to us was that the ADOT/FHWA excluded IFNM from any consideration as to environmental impact within the EIS. They felt that the IFNM did not qualify for consideration as a “park.”

Their rather flimsy justification for this is that the presidential proclamation creating IFNM did not use the term “park” or “recreation”. This is in spite of many references to recreational use in the BLM Resource Management Plan for the IFNM. It is clearly obvious that the IFNM is used for many public recreational activities from camping to hiking to photography to hunting and so on. It is also clear to all that the IFNM is a wildlife refuge for the only indigenous herd of desert bighorn sheep, along with other threatened plant and animal species.

Rather than waiting for the ADOT/FHWA juggernaut to proceed any further, we thought it was time to do everything possible to stop it. ADOT/ FHWA filed their EIS Record of Decision in November 2021. We began discussing a lawsuit by March 2022 and filed the legal claim in April 2022. See CBD’s press release about the lawsuit.

There were a series of minor filings by both parties regarding attorneys and other clarifying details. As expected, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss a part of our claim in August 2022. On January 25, 2023, we had our first appearance before a judge.

The attorney for FHWA/ADOT tried to justify their motion to dismiss by saying that taking into account the negative impact on the IFNM and other public lands was something they “might consider” in Phase II of the EIS process or sometime later. The judge repeatedly questioned the attorney as to why this wasn’t done, or shouldn’t have been done, sooner rather than later. Our CBD attorney argued that federal law clearly requires consideration covering impact as soon as possible in the overall process.

In fact, we all know that ADOT’s preference for the Avra Valley route could be materially affected by having to deal with the environmental impact on IFNM. The judge did not disagree with our line of argument. We conservationists in attendance (basically the only attendees other than members of the press) were very pleased to see the interest expressed by the judge and the performance of the CBD attorney, Wendy Park.

There is no deadline for the judge to rule on the motion to dismiss. He could decline the motion, grant it, or put it into some form of abeyance until later in the main trial. We will update you all when we get this ruling, and for other key stages of the legal claim over time. This is a rather long-term process.

I very much want to thank everyone of you who have continued to support FIF so that we have the capability to fight for the Monument. Your energy and goodwill are major factors in our continued efforts to protect the local treasure called Ironwood Forest National Monument.

Tucson-Tortolita Mountains Wildlife Linkage: The Latest Data and Looking Ahead

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Last month we shared that we expanded this project in 2022, with cameras on either side of I-10 between the Tucson Mountains and Tortolita Mountains, and six more planned to be placed in 2023. Here are some details on what we’ve found so far!

Our project is comparing five study areas, each with four cameras placed at least 200m apart. These areas are shown in the map below: Private lands in the northern Tucson Mountain range (1), Los Morteros & Rattlesnake Pass (2), El Rio Preserve (3), the Santa Cruz River (4), and Pima County Conservation lands east of Interstate 10 called Cascada (5). These study areas make up a large part of the Tucson-Tortolita Wildlife Linkage, and each has different topography, elevation, distance to water, and other unique habitat features.



Our results show that each study area is dominated by different species, but there are common species throughout, namely mule deer, coyote, bobcat, javelina, gray fox, and cottontail rabbit. Mountain lions have only been observed on Private lands, while kit fox and badger have only been photographed on Cascada lands. El Rio is thus far the least diverse in species (it is also the smallest area and the most impacted by people), while Private lands have been the most diverse – unless you count individual bird species, and then the Santa Cruz River area has them all beat. In addition to the exciting kit fox discovery, other notable species include hooded and spotted skunks, raccoon, and Mexican free-tailed bats.

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 large wildlife bridge over I-10, and a smaller crossing structure at Rattlesnake Pass. These crossings are being designed specifically with mule deer, mountain lion, and bighorn sheep in mind, but will benefit many species.

Thank you to all of our volunteers that are instrumental to this work and to our many member groups and community partners that are collaborating on this multi-pronged project! 

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. 

Desert Fence Busters tackle the Big Wash in Oro Valley

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In mid-November 2022, the Desert Fence Busters tackled a section of the Big Wash in Oro Valley. Over the course of a beautiful Saturday morning, 35 people removed 1.5 miles of old barbed-wire fencing from the wash, improving the safety of this area for both people and wildlife. The fencing added up to over 2,000 pounds of both barbed wire and t-posts. 

The Big Wash is a critical wildlife movement area between the Santa Catalina Mountains (including Catalina State Park) and the Tortolita Mountains. It is also a popular area for local hikers, wildlife watchers, and mountain bikers. Removing this fencing will allow wildlife to move more freely and safely and improve safety for nearby residents. 

The Desert Fence Busters officially formed in late 2021, but emerged from a long-time collaborative effort among a variety of public agencies and non-profits. This unique partnership began seven years ago to share information between agencies on projects centered in Avra Valley west of the Tucson Mountains. In 2021, it emerged that multiple land management agencies had outdated fencing that are impeding wildlife, with animal carcasses found hung up on barbed wire while attempting to jump or crawl through the fence. While the work of the Desert Fence Busters is largely focused in Avra Valley, it was exciting to remove old fencing from an area connected to the Oracle Road wildlife crossings and that has seen so much public investment and interest in recent years. 

Future Desert Fence Busters events will be announced on our main Desert Fence Busters webpage

Check out the slideshow below of the amazing group of volunteers that removed fencing in the Big Wash (click on the slideshow to view it in a larger format):

Remembering and Celebrating Josh

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Our community suffered a tragic loss when our first Desert Wildlife Intern and long-time volunteer Josh Skattum died tragically on October 22, 2022 after being involved in a serious car accident. 

Josh with his bright smile and his signature CSDP hard hat taking a selfie while checking wildlife cameras near I-10 East.

Josh was a force to be reckoned with, a ray of sunshine in an often dark world, and we miss him deeply. Folks have come from many different communities in Tucson and his home is Wisconsin to remember Josh and support the healing of his partner TJ. We are so grateful for this community, and for you, and are comforted to know that Josh’s light will never fade. His light and passion for life is amplified in everything we do.

Throughout his 4+ year tenure as a Coalition volunteer with his Desert Monitor teammates Sam Wilber and Courtney Neumeyer and as our intern this past fall, Josh deeply touched and impacted many of our projects and programs. Here is a sampling of how Josh positively contributed to Sonoran Desert conservation and protection:

Beginning in 2016 as our Desert Monitor “Zoo Crew” team with Sam Wilber, Josh monitored four east approach cameras on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, helping prove the success of the first wildlife bridge in the Sonoran Desert.

Assisted staff with wildlife camera placement and deployment decisions.

Recruited and trained new Desert Monitor volunteers for our program.

Documented the first badger using the wildlife bridge after searching for badger burrows and placing a camera to confirm. Josh’s cameras were very successful at finding badgers across all of our projects.

Taught close to 1,000 kids about wildlife tracks and wildlife corridors during our Critter Cam for Kids Field Days.

Was instrumental in launching and maintaining nearly 40 cameras for our I-10 East monitoring project, which has led to conservation plans for new crossing structures and funnel fencing for black bears and other wildlife, and the expansion of our Tucson-Tortolita linkage monitoring project east of I-10.

Documented the first kit fox ever photographed on one of our cameras.

Shared an enthusiasm for documenting species using the iNaturalist app, collecting records for 91 different species (including quite a few fungi!). Explore his observations here.

Promoted our work and organization in his other social circles, inlcuding the Feminist Birding Club, the Reid Park Zoo, and Pima County Master Naturalists. Josh is one of the reasons Arizona Master Naturalists became a CSDP member group this year. 

As our first Desert Wildlife Intern, Josh came up with new ideas to improve our volunteer training and science communications, ideas which we will continue to implement, and helped put on our Volunteer Appreciation events in September.

He was a big part of the planning team for the first Tortolita Preserve Bio Blitz, held shortly after his passing. The wildlife camera dedicated in his name is located here, and collected data during the Bio Blitz in his stead. This data will be used to protect the Preserve permanently.

Josh had an incalculable impact simply by being himself: authentic, enthusiastic, kind, curious, and patient, with bright ideas and an even brighter laugh.

Josh was an inspiration to those around him in other ways too. He bravely and humbly knew the life he wanted and threw himself towards it completely. As author T.J. Klune writes, “Sometimes… you were able to choose the life you wanted. And if you were the lucky sort, sometimes that life chose you back.”  Poet Richard Shelton writes in his poem “Desert”:

“Those who have lived here longest
and know best
are least conspicuous.
The oldest mountains are lowest
and the scorpion sleeps all day
beneath a broken stone.

If I stay here long enough
I will learn the art of silence.
When I have given up words
I will become what I have to say.”

Josh needs no more words. He lived what he had to say. He lived the life he wanted.


In addition to dedicated tree and saguaro plantings, and other ways we are each remembering him, the following planned events will be held in March 2023 in his memory:

Save the Date

Saturday March 4th
Join family and friends for a celebration of life event and hike in Sabino Canyon


Sunday March 5th
Bench and brick dedication event at the Reid Park Zoo



If you want to do something in Josh’s memory yourself, here are some ideas:

Share photos and stories with us to include in a memory scrapbook

Curl up and read one of Josh’s latest favorite cozy fantasy books,
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Kline

Raise a toast with Josh’s favorite iced lavender americano with oat milk, or an expresso,
and a jalapeño cheddar cream cheese bagel from his favorite Tucson coffee stop, The Coffee Exchange.

Visit the Reid Park Zoo and tell the Sun Bear that Josh says hello.

Rekindle your wonder and excitement in nature, and build your own iNaturalist or eBird observation list.
Teach a friend what you learn.

Live your life as Josh did: with joy and authenticity.

Drive with greater patience, kindness, and awareness, because every car on the road carries someone who is loved.



When Josh joined our staff as our first Desert Wildlife Intern in August 2022, he shared the following bio for our website, which we want to preserve here:

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! 


Josh was a Desert Monitor for so many of our cameras over the years that we have many candid photos of him checking cameras, along with a variety of other photos out volunteering in the desert and the community. We’ve put these photos together into the slideshow below (click on the slideshow below to make it bigger): 


Finally, in November 2022, we placed a new wildlife camera named for Josh, the SKATTUM camera, in the Tortolita-Tucson Mountains wildlife linkage. On the ID tag for the camera, Jessica Moreno, our Conservation Science Director, stamped in the quote, “Some bring a light so great that even after they are gone, the light remains.” The photos below are of our staff setting up Josh’s camera in a beautiful stretch of Sonoran Desert at the Tortolita Preserve, along with the first wildlife photos captured by the camera (click on the slideshow below to make it bigger). 

The latest on Interstate 11 and our lawsuit

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The Coalition has been involved in commenting on the proposal for a new southern Arizona federal highway, Interstate 11, for a decade. We first commented on the Corridor Justification Study in July 2013. As the project studies further progressed, the federal and state transportation agencies were seemingly bent on building a new freeway through the Sonoran Desert west of Tucson. However, you responded en masse, and by the time the Tier 1 (of 2 tiers) Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was complete, thousands of Tucsonans had registered our adamant opposition to this proposal, which would have impacted multiple protected parks – from Saguaro National Park and Ironwood Forest National Monument to our beloved Tucson Mountain Park – and sever wildlife movement throughout Avra Valley. Because of this overwhelming response, the federal agency partially backed off of pushing the western route, and instead included an I-10 “co-location” option, with both options going forward to a Tier 2 EIS.

Where is this now? The Coalition filed a lawsuit in April 2022, citing the failure of the federal transportation agency to fully consider the importance of the parks, and the direct and indirect impacts this freeway would have on the critical and sensitive resources of these lands. They also failed to follow the US Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, which necessitates a sign-on from other agencies to bisect certain protected areas, in this case the Bureau of Reclamation Tucson Mitigation Corridor. The Coalition’s lawsuit was filed in partnership with the Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson Audubon Society, and Friends of Ironwood Forest. The suit has been assigned to federal court judge John Hinderaker in Tucson.

The case has not been decided, as both parties filed for extensions of the deadlines for responding to documents. Most recently, the judge has given the federal government (defendants) until October 19 to respond to our (plaintiffs) latest filing. In summary, the federal government has asked the judge to throw out our lawsuit, and of course, we disagree and have filed a response to that effect.

As to funding for Tier 2, the Arizona legislature passed a bill that provides funding for the next round of studies, but only for the section in Maricopa County. We will continue to update all of you as this progresses. Thank you all for all your work to prevent this project!

Want to learn even more about the history of I-11? Head over to our comprehensive set of webpages about I-11 here