Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category
Want to learn more about what’s happening around the Oracle Road wildlife crossings? Check out this recent presentation given by our Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno:
You can also view a pdf of the presentation HERE.
by Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
The last time I took a stroll down Big Wash, which runs along the west side of Oracle Road, the chill air pressed against my face mask but still managed to carry the smell of triangle leaf bursage and creosote. Gambel’s quail scurried away with their bustling chip-chip-chip alarm call. Dry for most of the year in that characteristic way our desert washes are, Big Wash has served as a connection for animals moving back and forth between the Cañada del Oro Wash and open space north of Rancho Vistoso. It has always been an important wildlife movement area, a key feature in a linkage connecting the Tortolita and Catalina mountains, and now, with two wildlife crossings in place and wildlife monitoring efforts nearing a decade milestone, we are learning more every day about the habits and movements of animals that often remain just out of sight.
Five year ago, when the wildlife bridge and underpass were built on SR77, the red ribbon was cut, the first critter crossed, and we celebrated. But the work wasn’t quite over. In addition to wildlife monitoring, Phase II of the project was to finish placing the last sections of wildlife funnel fencing. Wildlife fencing is an essential part of every successful wildlife crossing and is a vital component of this project to both effectively reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain a connected landscape for wildlife populations and gene flow. But a few jurisdictional issues and challenges to fencing placement threatened to hold up the whole project, so the decision was made to complete the difficult pieces after the crossing structures were done. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirmed hotpots associated with these fencing gaps. It was a problem, but addressing it had to be done right.
One of these fencing gaps was on either side of the wildlife underpass, at the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood of Vista Mirabella. We placed wildlife cameras to monitor the gaps and reached out to the residents and the HOA to help solve the problem. The solution, made possible thanks to the leadership of the Town of Oro Valley and the wise suggestion of one of the residents, is an elegant one. And it may very well be the first of its kind for wildlife exclusion: wildlife fencing connected to the sound wall will close the gaps at the north and south ends of the neighborhood, while specially designed automatic gates will secure the neighborhood entrances.
This is a unique circumstance since these are public streets and the gates, which are designed like a gated community entrance, will open to any approaching vehicle. They are planned to remain open during high volume traffic hours and close at night. The Regional Transportation Authority is covering the cost out of remaining funds from the original crossing construction budget, including re-vegetation and projected maintenance, and Oro Valley is taking responsibility to maintain the gates into the future.
After four years of outreach and problem solving as a community, we hope that construction on this final piece of the puzzle will begin this summer. There are still details to figure out, but light is at the end of the tunnel and the end result, I think, is something everyone can be proud to have taken part in.
A big thanks to Coalition volunteers Pat and Henry Miller for their help in monitoring the fencing gaps and their overall involvement in this project! And thank you to the Regional Transportation Authority, Pima County, the Town of Oro Valley, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for your shared persistence in this project.
More information about this project can be found in a Power Point presentation recently created by the RTA and the Town of Oro Valley.
by Terry Minks
Bob was a dear friend to all his acquaintances in Sun City, Oro Valley and to my wife and me ever since we came to live in Arizona 18 years ago. Bob delighted in introducing newcomers to his favorite places throughout Arizona. He was a history buff and was the first person to give us a tour of many historical sites in the state. As a native Arizonan growing up in Ajo, he took us on a fascinating tour of his home town, telling stories of John Greenway’s influence and adding first-hand historical tidbits all along the way. He also led many historical hikes for our Sun City Hiking Club, founded an astronomy program for 5th graders in Catalina that gave each student a telescope, and befriended countless others with his generous spirit. During our many bike rides throughout the Tucson area, always with a food destination, he would customarily leave an extra-generous tip and encourage us to do likewise.
In about 2006 he was instrumental in getting our SCOV board to buy several wildlife cameras to photograph wildlife in our neighborhood. By 2008 he became aware of the UofA Wild Cat study led by Lisa Haynes and arranged for several of us to be trained in wildlife tracking and camera monitoring with Jessica Moreno. We started with Sky Island Alliance and continued later with the CSDP until the present.
He was full of original ideas which he implemented in service to others. He never uttered a harsh word even against those with whom he disagreed and never argued, only presented his own views which were always based on deep reading and thinking on his part. He had a quick wit and was a master storyteller. Many of us recall his deeply researched stories of ants, which he often shared on our hikes and bike rides together.
Bob was certainly a gift to our entire community and will be deeply missed by all of us.
Bob passed away on December 20, 2020. The new CRATTY wildlife camera is named in his memory.
All photos provided by Terry Minks.
As we plan for 2021, we wanted to share with you where we are with each of our community science projects, and what’s new coming on the horizon!
Volunteers have thus far contributed over 1,100 hours and 4,600 miles this year! Whether you help as a community scientist, or as a volunteer writing comment letters, stuffing envelopes, or for outreach, THANK YOU all for your continued dedication and effort on behalf of the desert and our desert wildlife.
Monitoring the Oro Valley Wildlife Crossings
The Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass in Oro Valley were constructed in 2016. Our cameras have been in place near here since 2012. To date we have gathered over 200,000 photos of wildlife across 52 sites. We’ve seen over 62 species, including bighorn sheep, badger, coati, and mountain lion. We currently have 28 active cameras.
In 2021, we will be reducing the number of cameras here a bit (don’t worry volunteers, you’ll be part of this team discussion!), sharing up ’til now data analysis, and settling in for a more focused monitoring effort as we finish re-vegetation efforts on the crossings and work to resolve a few remaining gaps in the wildlife fencing.
We are working in partnership with Arizona Game and Fish who is monitoring the animals using the crossing structures (over 10,000 crossings thus far!), conducting roadkill surveys, and mapping desert tortoise and mule deer movements with GPS trackers. You can see their most recent results here.
Safe Passages for Wildlife I-10 East
Our project to improve safe wildlife passage across I-10 near Cienega Creek has been underway for a couple years now. Roadkill surveys have been completed and that analysis will be available by the end of January. We have 34 active cameras that were placed early this year to track the passage rates of animals using culverts under the interstate. With over 300,000 images gathered so far (and plenty of blanks to weed out), we are still catching up on photo sorting (thank you Desert Identifiers!), but we’ve seen mule deer, whitetail deer, black bear, coati, mountain lion, ringtail, a badger, four different skunk species, and wild turkey, among many others. Here is the last video update we made of our results.
We will be extending this monitoring another year under our AZGFD Heritage Grant. So far this data has helped contribute to Pima County’s Cienega Corridor Management Plan. Improved crossings structures and wildlife funnel fencing is our goal.
Monitoring the Tucson Mountains & the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor
Another priority area is the northern end of the Tucson Mountains and the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor across I-10 towards the Tortolita Mountains. CSDP has been advocating for protected open spaces here including the Tortolita Preserve and El Rio Preserve, the expansion of Tortolita Mountain Park, and protected open spaces within private developments. We also want to see wildlife crossings across the interstate. Currently, only a single abandoned railroad underpass may provide safe wildlife passage.
Since 2015, we have monitored 23 sites here, photographing more than 30 species including badger, mule deer, gray fox, and javelina. We have 16 active cameras now, but in 2021 we will be expanding this project to 22 camera sites, including in the El Rio Preserve and the Santa Cruz River, and for the first time expanding to cameras placed in the old railroad underpass and east of I-10 in newly acquired Pima County lands.
Monitoring the Proposed I-11 Route
As part of our work to fight the proposed I-11 freeway west of the Tucson Mountains that would harm Saguaro National Park West and established wildlife linkages, we placed cameras in 2016 to gather images and help outreach to local residents. This data is also used as part of our Tucson Mountains project. We currently have 2 active cameras in Avra Valley and we have photographed 14 different species, including bobcat, red-tail hawk, mule deer, coyote, and javelina. In 2021, we plan to shift these cameras to new locations to expand our reach. We are also assisting a new study that is monitoring CAP canal wildlife crossing points and following AZGFD’s work to track mule deer and bighorn sheep movements in this corridor using GPS collars.
NEW: Monitoring Sopori Wash near I-19
Just south of Canoa Ranch in the Tumacacori – Santa Rita Mountain Wildlife Linkage, Sopori Wash is a critical wildlife corridor that roughly follows Arivaca Road. We plan to work with partners and CSDP Members Groups in 2021 to start monitoring some new sites here, in relation to the I-11 route co-locating with I-19 and the possibility for wildlife crossing improvements across the Interstate.
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING COMMUNITY SCIENCE IN THE SONORAN DESERT!
When did you fall in love with the Sonoran Desert? I suspect your answer and mine are the same – you fell in love the first time you wandered into it. For me, this was in early April 2009 on my first visit to Tucson. There’s something so transfixing about all of it: the majestic, arborescent Saguaro; the fascinating varieties of chollas; the stately Ocotillo; and the incredible biodiversity in terms of wildlife that though I did not see on that first visit, were very much there.
I had many options for post-grad institutions, and all things being more or less equal, academically, between different Public Administration Programs, I wanted to live in a place where I could hike and explore year-round. Clearly Tucson, in the lower Sonoran Desert and surrounded by imposing Sky Islands, fit the bill.
I’ve always been a preservationist; that value was instilled early in my life when year after year my family would visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, but that sense has greatly expanded every time I’ve stepped onto a trail here. This was the driving factor in me pursuing an internship with the Coalition. I was brought on board, first and foremost, to take on the discovery of records related to the proposed Interstate 11 project, which would run through – and destroy – the Avra Valley as it exists today. I wrote several Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple stakeholders in the process, a sometimes arduous and frustrating task but also a greatly rewarding one that revealed among many things: the legal questionability of running I-11 thru the Tucson Mitigation Corridor, a lackluster archaeological survey, the likely inappropriateness of the exclusion of Ironwood Forest National Monument from the Tier I analysis, the questionable exclusion of the potential impacts of a high speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix on traffic on I-10, ADOT’s own models showing a merely 4 minute “negligible” time saving between Nogales and Casa Grande on I-11 versus the existing I-10 at peak driving times and a “negligible” amount of truck traffic expected to move from I-10 to I-11, and an overall general Tier I analysis that could not be considered sufficient to presenting the impacts of I-11 on the environment. Though I-11 was my main focus, I also got to work on (and get a crash course in) Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System, and the Multi-species Conservation Plan – all projects CSDP put considerable time and energy into developing. Finally, I was able to get my hands dirty in the field while helping install cameras.
In my time at the Coalition, I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to work with a committed group of people in Carolyn, Jessica, Whelan, and Kathleen, plus Kevin Dahl with NPCA and Cyndi Tuell with Western Watersheds Project, whom are just as good people as they are advocates. It was truly a pleasure to come in every Tuesday to the CSDP Office to work. It was as much a pleasure as it was to be with them as it is to step into the desert on an early Spring hike, and this is not something I say lightly.
The Sonoran Desert is an incredibly beautiful, timeless place, as best exemplified by its ancient Saguaros, but it is not invulnerable. Buffelgrass and other invasive species and continued, mindless sprawl are immediate, serious threats in many places. These threats are exemplified by I-11 itself and the Bighorn Fire, which though spared the majority of the lower Sonoran Desert and its Saguaros, burned (and thus killed) countless higher elevation Saguaros. Had the Bighorn Fire dipped further into the many canyons in the Catalinas, the effect of Buffelgrass would have been total devastation of the Sonoran ecosystem in those areas. Further, Climate Change threatens not just the Sonoran Desert, but landscapes (and more importantly, people) across the planet. Other additional threats exist including but not limited to: mining, overgrazing, and the border wall. But I am not resigned to defeat in the face of these – there are so many organizations in addition to the Coalition fighting these threats, too numerous to name, who are making a difference.
As for me, my future is uncertain at the moment. I graduated in May with a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Arizona and entered a world ravaged by the impacts of the Coronavirus. Thus far my employment endeavors have proven fruitless and I will likely have to leave Tucson as a result. I hope to stay connected with the Coalition and even provide help, if the need arises, particularly with regards to I-11, during my time in between finding work. Yet it is not all bad news – I’m proud of the work I was able to do that has brought important facts about I-11 into the light and I’m proud to have been part of an organization that is so committed to protecting the Sonoran Desert and its biodiversity.
A HUGE thank you to Rob from all of us at the Coalition for all your work for us and the Sonoran Desert during your internship. We are so grateful for everything you contributed to our mission and can’t wait to see what you do next!
By Janine Spencer-Glasson, Friends of El Rio Preserve
The Santa Cruz River serves as an important resource for migrating birds in the southwestern United States. Migrating birds depend upon riparian habitat more than any other type of habitat in Arizona. There are several links along the chain of stopovers for migrating birds on the Santa Cruz River. One of them is the El Rio Preserve in Marana. To date, over 240 species of birds have been identified at the Preserve (go to ebird.org and search in Hotspots for El Rio Open Space Preserve to view the complete list of birds).
El Rio Preserve is a 104-acre property located along the western bank of the Santa Cruz River. The site has a long history of human use; it is located at the northern end of the Los Morteros Archaeological site and was occupied from approximately 850-1,300 AD. In the 1960’s, a gravel pit was created there to provide material to build Interstate-10. Later, it was used as a disc golf course. In addition to the Preserve’s role in providing bird habitat, the Preserve also serves as a link between the Tortolita Mountains and the Tucson Mountains, allowing wildlife to access water and move about.
This site has flooded periodically over the years, and water tends to remain ponded for six months or more, with periods where it is completely dry. This has created intermittent habitat for birds that need a site with surface water. Throughout this time, birders knew the spot as the “Coachline Gravel Pit.” Occasionally some interesting avian species would appear, including blue grosbeak, grey hawk, peregrine falcon, white-faced ibis, osprey, belted kingfisher, Bell’s vireo, Inca dove, and hooded orioles, to name a few.
During a major rainstorm in 2014, the soil berm was breached between the gravel pit and the Santa Cruz River, and water filled the property almost completely, creating a beautiful lake and much buzz among people familiar with the area. Rare birds showed up, like the white-fronted goose, a white pelican, and plenty of ducks. Birders flocked to see the new lake’s avian inhabitants, and the parking area often hosted out-of-state vehicles. This prompted the Town of Marana to take a new look at what was now called the El Rio Preserve.
There were many problems at the Preserve, however. During storm events, invasive weed seeds and huge patches of trash would flow in and settle in the basin. Mosquitoes would breed where water remained under spots of dense vegetation. Much planning and work was needed to create a riparian site that would be an amenity to the neighborhood, while maintaining a natural state for birds, wildlife, and nature-lovers.
Improvements at El Rio Preserve have been a collaborative effort. The Town of Marana dedicated funding for design and implementation of riparian restoration. The Arizona State Forestry Department researched the area and wrote a comprehensive Forestry Management Plan that focuses on invasive species. Pima County and Marana extended the Loop Trail and constructed a parking lot with a ramada. Marana worked with a University of Arizona student, Alex Stoicof, to create a community survey, which identified riparian restoration as the top priority for the Preserve. She then designed a preliminary landscape plan. Marana has constructed a viewing deck, a water fountain, toilet, and interpretive signs, and planted native landscaping
Environmental education is an important element of the El Rio Preserve. Michael Bogan, Professor at the University of Arizona, has led a damselfly and dragonfly viewing and provided information and photos for an interpretive sign at the Preserve. The Town is coordinating with the Marana Unified School District and classes of students have toured the site and focused on science relevant to their studies. Boy Scouts have volunteered, putting up bee boards and bird boxes for kestrels and brown-crested flycatchers.
Tucson Audubon Society supplied plants and members helped plant a pollinator garden at the entrance to the Preserve. Bat Conservation International provided agaves and helped volunteers plant them. This spring, the pollinator garden was in full bloom, with butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees enjoying the gaillardia, penstemon, native salvias, desert marigolds, and other flowers.
The Friends of El Rio Preserve group has been formed to include neighbors and a diverse group of members from other environmental organizations. Friends of El Rio Preserve’s mission is “to promote wildlife habitat and connectivity in this beautiful, diverse natural area, so residents of all ages and interests can enjoy this urban oasis,” and we have planted pollinators, helped with weeding, and provided input on design elements and on interpretive signs. If you would like to learn more about Friends of El Rio Preserve, you can find us on Facebook or Instagram. You can become a Friend if you are willing to roll up your sleeves, join the team, and make a vital contribution to enhancing and protecting El Rio Preserve; contact Kathy at email@example.com or Janine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It has been wonderful to see so many organizations and volunteers work to create a beautiful spot for people and birds!
Currently, more improvements are underway. Pima County Flood Control is in the early stages of constructing bank protection which will cost nearly $1.9 M (nesting bird and archaeological surveys have been completed prior to ground disturbance). The bank protection is designed to allow overflow connectivity with the Santa Cruz River during large rain events. Bank protection should be completed by this fall. There is currently no water flowing into the Preserve while bank protection is being constructed.
This fall, Marana will construct a connection to purchase water from the Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District and create a permanent pond approximately 5 acres in size. The Town is currently in the process of building an island to provide a safe place for birds to wade and rest once the pond is filled. The Friends of El Rio Preserve looks forward to assisting with pole planting native trees such as cottonwoods and willows and seeding other native annuals and perennials on the island.
Come visit El Rio Preserve once construction work is completed – you will be surprised at this lush natural site in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.
In March 2020, Pima County released its fourth annual report on its Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP). The full report can be found on the Pima County website HERE. According to the Executive Summary, six Pima County capital improvement projects and 52 private development projects were “covered” by the MSCP in 2019. While these projects cumulatively had 196.8 acres of impact to the habitat of vulnerable wildlife species, the MSCP required 767.7 acres of mitigation to offset these impacts.
Some other highlights from the report include:
- The Regional Flood Control District reported that 94.5% of applicants avoided impacting regulated riparian habitat.
- The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved several land-use policies that promote reuse or infill instead of sprawl.
- U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan for augmenting populations of covered species on our mitigation lands, and another for managing properties along the San Pedro River.
- A new population of Gila topminnow was established in a stream on the County’s M Diamond Ranch.
- During 2019, the portfolio of potential mitigation lands increased by approximately 250 acres.
- Pima County staff, contractors, and volunteers mechanically removed or chemically treated approximately 1,470 acres of buffelgrass on County preserve lands.
- Office of Sustainability and Conservation staff made 623 separate observations on Covered Species; these were reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
- County staff developed comprehensive monitoring protocols for seven monitoring elements, including upland habitat, water resources, landscape pattern change, invasive aquatic and plant species, off-highway vehicles, and climate.
- County staff in partnership with Tucson Audubon Society and the National Park Service established an additional 21 long-term vegetation and soils monitoring plots on County preserve lands.
Did you know that there are five wildlife underpasses that traverse Tangerine Road? These wildlife underpasses were finished in 2018 and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) is now in the middle of a post-construction monitoring study of the crossings. In May 2020, AGFD released its latest monitoring progress report. We’re happy to report there were some very encouraging data and findings!
According to the AGFD report:
Data has been analyzed to April 7th, 2020. A combined total of 5,996 crossings by 23 wildlife species have been recorded across all 5 structures. Coyote, javelina, gambel’s quail, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 3,002, 1,695, 482, and 403 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings. Crossings of note include a gila monster at one underpass in April 2019, and a mountain lion at a different underpass in June 2019.
A total of 40 species have been detected across the five structures to date. The greatest diversity has been observed at underpass #2 where 29 species have been recorded. 16 species have been detected at underpass #1, which is the smallest monitored structure.
[Note: a species is “detected” when it is observed near the crossing structure. This is a different data point than documenting that a species successfully crossed through the structure.]
The full AGFD monitoring report can be found HERE.
Over the last year or so, we have expanded our work protecting Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages to the Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains wildlife linkage that is fragmented by Interstate 10 east of Tucson. 40 wildlife cameras are now collecting data in this wildlife linkage thanks to the amazing help of our volunteers and community partners!
A few updates to share:
*With our Desert Identifier volunteers that sort our wildlife camera photos currently on hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a backlog of photos waiting to be sorted at a future date. Jessica Moreno, our Conservation Science Director, is currently transitioning our sorting software and database to a remote platform. This will allow volunteers to access and sort photos safely from their homes! We are excited about this development and will let you know when the new system is up and running.
*So far, with the photos we have been able to analyze, we have photos of 11 different mammal species plus turkeys. This includes coyote, two species of skunk, fox, bobcat, bats, badger, mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, and opossum. See photos below for some of this amazing wildlife!
*This data is being used to develop a funding proposal with our community partners for the Regional Transportation Authority Wildlife Linkages Working Group. The proposal will be requesting funds to install wildlife fencing and complete culvert enhancements to make this wildlife linkage area safer for both wildlife and people.
Thank you for supporting the protection of Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages!
Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) just released the latest and greatest monitoring data from the Oracle Road wildlife overpass and underpass. This represents FOUR FULL YEARS of monitoring these wildlife crossings since construction finished in March 2016.
Some notable data and results include:
- 26 different species have been observed using the crossings, including 11 species at the overpass and 25 species at the underpass.
- Over 10,000 wildlife crossings have been documented by AGFD cameras – 10,843 to be exact. These crossings are fairly evenly split between both structures, with 5,490 crossings at the overpass and 5,353 at the underpass.
- Over 98% of the crossings are by four species: mule deer, javelina, bobcat, and coyote.
- Total crossings at each structure have increased year upon year since construction finished. This means each year more and more wildlife are using these wildlife crossings.
For more results, you can read the full monitoring report HERE.
To learn more about why these crossings were built, how they were funded, and more, head over to the following webpages:
- Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings Overview
- Wildlife Results: It Works!
- The Big Picture: Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains Wildlife Linkage
- Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings: Frequently Asked Questions