Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

The latest numbers from our wildlife camera program

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Thanks to all of our supporters and volunteers for another year of successful wildlife camera monitoring in the Tucson Mountains and Oro Valley study areas! See an overview of our Tucson Mountain camera project results HERE and our Oro Valley camera project results HERE.

 
 

We have been monitoring wildlife with wildlife cameras in the northern portion of the Tucson Mountains and Avra Valley for four years. To date we’ve seen over 30 species across 23 camera sites, data which helps inform our I-11 work and knowledge about the Tucson-Tortolita Mountain Wildlife Linkage. Javelina have been photographed most frequently, and it is good to see these native seed dispersers out and about! Other notable results in the last year include more badgers, and bobcats with kittens in tow.

In Oro Valley, we have been monitoring east and west of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass for a total of seven years! We now have excellent comparative data pre- and post- construction of the crossings that were built in May 2016. With 62 species across 49 camera sites (and nearly 78,000 photos!), we are seeing lots of cottontails and quail that are plentiful prey for coyotes, bobcats, and gray foxes. We’ve seen white-nose coati and bighorn, and our resident female mountain lion has appeared again this year several times just west of the wildlife bridge.

We will post more detailed results as we finalize project reports and dive into the fun and useful information these cameras have in store!

Coalition comments on proposed changes to the Tortolita Preserve

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These mule deer and coyote are using new wildlife underpasses under Tangerine Road. Three more wildlife underpasses such as these are planned for western Tangerine Road. The Coalition hopes any changes to the Tortolita Preserve ensure connections with future wildlife underpasses and nearby core preserve areas such as Tortolita Mountain Park. Photos courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Arizona State Land Department and the Town of Marana have recently begun discussions about changes to the Tortolita Preserve. This 2,400 acre preserve was established in consultation, as required by the Endangered Species Act, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as mitigation for habitat disturbance and effects to listed species resulting from the construction of the Dove Mountain development. 

On October 9, 2019, the Coalition submitted comments to the Town of Marana with our recommendations on how to move forward with the future of the Tortolita Preserve. We recommend that any changes ensure the connection of the preserve with nearby core preserve areas and planned future wildlife crossings. 

The full text of our comments can be found HERE.

 “Marana negotiating Tortolita Preserve’s future” – Tucson Local Media (October 16, 2019)

Neighbors, conservationists closely monitor what’s next in Marana” – KOLD13 (October 18, 2019)

We’ll be updating this post as we learn more or there is additional news coverage on this issue. 

New report on I-11 calls it a “white elephant” and “unnecessary”

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On August 8, 2019, the Center for American Progress released a new report on the proposed Interstate 11 as part of its “White Elephant Watch” series, which “profiles projects that demonstrates the failures of the current U.S. policy approach to transportation infrastructure.” 

This report provides a detailed analysis of this proposed project, including a point-by-point analysis of the Purpose and Need section of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The report concludes the following:

“ADOT’s proposed I-11 corridor has four major flaws:

  • Fails to increase transportation choice or reduce local single-occupant vehicle trips made within the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas
  • Promotes low-density land use and dependence on automobility
  • Produces significant environmental harms
  • Is based on flawed travel demand models that do not adequately account for induced demand”

The report can be found online and as a pdf document. It is well worth a few minutes of your time to read this timely and well-written report! 

Pima County releases Aquatic Species Management Plan

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In July 2019, as part of the continued implementation of their Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP), Pima County released a new Aquatic Species Management Plan. According to Pima County Environmental Planning Manager, Julia Fonseca:

“The Plan identifies opportunities for releasing target species on County-managed conservation lands where they do not currently occur.

The Plan inventoried streams, springs, stock tanks and large ponds for opportunities for releasing target species where they do not currently occur.  Species with the most release opportunities are the Gila topminnow (15 sites) and Huachuca water umbel (14 sites).  The most widespread target species on County conservation lands is the lowland leopard frog; there are eight additional sites available for future releases of this species. Opportunities at small, confined sites also exist, like the recent release of topminnow and umbel species at Mission Garden.

The Plan is a required element of the Multi-species Conservation Plan (MSCP).  It supports implementation of Arizona Game and Fish Department’s (AZGFD’s) priorities for the Santa Cruz watershed, as well as recovery objectives established by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Plan does not direct, authorize or fund any particular action on land owned or managed by Pima County or the Regional Flood Control District. Implementation will depend on partnerships with AZGFD and other conservation partners over the 30-year term of the MSCP. 

The Plan includes guidelines prepared by USFWS for construction of wildlife-friendly water features.  These guidelines may be of interest to private property owners who wish to maximize benefits and minimize risks to Arizona’s wildlife.”

We commend Pima County for their continued implementation of the MSCP since it was approved by the USFWS in 2016. And thank you for supporting the conservation of our must vulnerable Sonoran Desert wildlife species through our work advocating for the MSCP since 2000. 

You can learn more about the MSCP at our Habitat Conservation Planning webpage

Monitoring results from the Tangerine Road wildlife crossings

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Did you know that there are now five wildlife underpasses under Tangerine Road?

As part of a larger project to improve Tangerine Road, five existing drainage structures were enhanced and improved to better accommodate safe wildlife movement across this popular roadway. This is a cost-effective way to increase connectivity across roadways that is less visible to the general public (as compared to a wildlife bridge) but still very important. Construction was completed on these wildlife underpasses in Spring 2018 with the cooperation of the Town of Marana, Pima County, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and other members of the RTA’s Wildlife Linkages Sub-Committee.

Starting in 2010, the AGFD completed pre-construction monitoring using roadkill surveys. After the underpasses were completed in Spring 2018, the AGFD started a 3-year post-construction monitoring project, including roadkill surveys and monitoring wildlife use of the crossings using wildlife cameras. According to an April 2019 progress report from AGFD:

Between May and September 2010 5,152 road mortalities representing 88 species were documented, helping to identify hot spots for future implementation of fencing and wildlife crossing structures.

[Using this data], the objectives of this construction project were to:

  • Increase the size of five drainage structures and modify inlets/outlets to accommodate medium-sized mammals.
  • Add funnel fencing at the crossings.
  • Conduct habitat establishment evaluations, for three seasons, beginning one year after project completion, to determine whether any adaptive management measures are necessary to improve the effectiveness of the wildlife crossing structures.

Post-construction roadkill surveys began in Spring 2019. An April 2019 progress report primarily includes data from wildlife cameras installed on the underpasses and can be found HERE. A few data points and photos from the report are highlighted below:

Data has been analyzed to January 7th, 2019, this represents two full months of monitoring data for all five structures. A combined total of 1049 crossings by 17 wildlife species have been documented across all 5 structures to date. Coyote, javelina, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 475, 365, and 130 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings.

Mule deer and coyotes have both successfully crossed Tangerine Road safely using five new wildlife underpasses. These underpasses were created by enhancing existing drainage structures using voter-approved money from the Regional Transportation Authority’s wildlife linkages infrastructure funds. Photos courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

This is exciting news for wildlife in the Tortolita Fan and motorists along Tangerine Road. With the inclusion of wildlife fencing on either side of these five underpasses, wildlife are now being funneled to cross Tangerine Road under the roadway, leading to increased safety for wildlife and motorists.** We will share new monitoring results from AGFD when they release their next progress report on this project sometime in the next year. 

Thank you for supporting connected wildlife linkages and wildlife habitat! 

**Some observant community members have noted that this wildlife fencing is shorter than the wildlife fencing along Oracle Road. Why is this? The Tangerine Road wildlife fencing was designed for the medium-sized mammals that are most likely to use these smaller culvert wildlife crossings. 

Badger, badger! New badger photos and data from our wildlife cameras

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For 10 years we have had wildlife cameras on the landscape monitoring important linkages. We first captured photos of badgers in 2012, and they have made consistent, if rare, appearances since. Badgers are an understudied animal in Arizona and we know very little about their status in Pima County. We now have a total of 40 images of badgers across 19 camera sites, with a 27% occupancy rate (the number of cameras that detected badgers versus the total number of cameras out there). We have seen badgers at two sites in the Tucson Mountains study area, and at 8 and 9 sites West and East, respectively, of Oracle Road in Oro Valley. Our partners at Arizona Game and Fish Department confirm that one of the badgers we photographed crossed the wildlife bridge, moving east to west, earlier this year. We are diving into the data to learn more about them in our Sonoran Desert landscape, including a fun look at identifying individuals!

We thought you would enjoy these photo highlights, and a neat look at our preliminary results showing more badger activity during new moon nights than full moon nights. Why do you think badgers might be more active on new moon nights than full moon nights, when it is darkest? Badgers are nocturnal, although females may come out in the day with her young in Spring. They are also fossorial carnivores, meaning they live most of the time underground and are very good diggers. Most of their prey live in burrows as well, including ground squirrels, pocket gophers, packrats, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes. Badgers may be appearing on our cameras more often during the new moon for a variety of reasons. One possibility is that badger activity is correlated with prey activity, and conditions that increase hunt success. Are rodents are more active during the dark new moon than the brighter full moon, too? Can badgers, adapted to hunting at night and underground, sense their prey better on dark nights? In science, the best answers lead to more questions!

Many thanks to Pat and Henry Miller for contributing three badger photos from their own camera to our study.

If you haven’t heard it, you may enjoy Petey Mesquitey’s song “The Coyote and the Badger” on KXCI radio!

 

This graph shows how our wildlife cameras have captured more badger activity during new moon nights than full moon nights. Fascinating!

 

Photo by our CSI wildlife camera, monitored by Sam Wilbur and Josh Skattum.

 

Photo by our former FOX wildlife camera, monitored by Judy and Paul Mercer.

 

Photo by our CSI wildlife camera, monitored by Sam Wilbur and Josh Skattum.

 

Photo by our DOVE camera, monitored by Gary and Lenora Brown and Steve and Diana Holmes.

 

Photo by our PEREGRINE camera, monitored by Josh Skattum and Sam Wilbur.

The latest and greatest monitoring results from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings

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In March 2019, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) released their latest monitoring results from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings. AGFD typically releases monitoring results twice a year so we should have an updated monitoring report sometime this fall. 

March 2019 AGFD Monitoring Report on the Oracle Road wildlife crossings

Two summary graphs from the report are highlighted below:

This graph shows the total mule deer crossings at both the Oracle Road underpass and bridge. Mule deer started using the bridge almost immediately after construction finished and have been used it steadily ever since (blue line). More recently, mule deer have become more acclimated to using the underpass, with increasing numbers successfully crossing all the way through the underpass since Winter 2018. It is well established that some wildlife species will use wildlife crossings right away with little acclimation while others may take years before they become acclimated and then will start using the crossing regularly.

 

This graph shows the total crossings by all wildlife species at both the Oracle Road underpass and bridge. Wildlife started using both crossings very soon after construction completed and have been using them steadily ever since. This new connectivity across Oracle Road increases the health of our local wildlife populations by allowing them to reach new home ranges and find mates (which then supports healthy genetic diversity) and also increases the safety of Oracle Road itself with a reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions. Miles of wildlife fencing was also installed as part of this project – the fencing directs wildlife to the crossings themselves and was designed using the best available science to accommodate a wide range of wildlife species.

 

Want to learn more about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings, why they are located where they are, how wildlife know to use them, how they were funded, and much more? Our website includes:

Pima County releases report on 2018 MSCP achievements

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Last month, Pima County’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation released their latest annual report outlining the achievements of their Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. According to an email from Environmental Planning Manager Julia Fonseca:

“Notable achievements during calendar year 2018 included:
•       The Section 10 permit covered impacts of 44 private development projects.
•       Forty-seven County Capital Improvement Projects were covered by the permit during calendar year 2018. 
•       A total of 974 acres of mitigation land was required to offset public and private impacts to habitat.  Over 4,000 acres is being allocated in the San Pedro and Cienega Creek valleys to compensate for current and future years of habitat loss.
•       The Regional Flood Control District (RFCD) estimates that the Section 10 permit saved them $200,000 in direct costs and $1.5 million indirectly due to avoided delays with one project.
•       The County developed a procedure allowing private developments to rely on Certificates of Coverage to streamline compliance with certain provisions of the County’s Native Plant Preservation Ordinance.
•       The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USFWS allowed a developer to rely on Certificates of Coverage to meet mitigation obligations for the Pima Pineapple Cactus under an existing Section 404 permit. This saved the developer an estimated $280,000.
•       The County RFCD reported a substantial increase in the number of riparian habitat reviews over last year.  Over 95% of applicants avoided impacting regulated riparian habitat, resulting in 2,196 instances of avoidance. 
•       Pima County staff, contractors, and volunteers removed or treated approximately 1,300 acres of buffelgrass on County preserve lands, and 90 tons of garbage from illegal dumpsites.

During the past year, Office of Sustainability and Conservation staff made 1,193 separate observations on Covered Species.  For me, one of the fun outcomes of staff’s efforts are their incidental observations, for instance this video of rattlesnake courtship at https://www.facebook.com/pimacountyarizona/videos/411068969458107   (Note, rattlesnakes are not Covered Species but careful observation will keep us all safe!)”

The full 2018 MSCP Annual Report  and 2018 MSCP Progress Report can be found HERE

Learn more about the history of CSDP on this new podcast episode!

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On May 12, 2019, CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell was interviewed by Amanda Shauger for the “30 minutes” program on local community radio station KXCI 91.3 FM. Over the half-hour show, Carolyn and Amanda discuss the history of the Coalition, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and what we’re working on these days. Topics covered include how and why the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan came to be, protecting Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages, our fight against the Rosemont Mine and Interstate 11, our Critter Cam program, and more! 

The full show can be listened to at:

https://kxci.org/podcast/coalition-for-sonoran-desert-protection/

Thanks for all your support over the last 21 years! 

Pima County acquires new open space properties

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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.