Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

Oro Valley’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance produces results

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Bayer Vella, the Oro Valley Town Planning Manager, recently wrote an informative and exciting article for TucsonLocalMedia.com. Titled “Oro Valley Town Talk: Environmental Conservation values, balance, and results,” this article outlines the positive impacts from Oro Valley’s Environmentally-Sensitive Lands Ordinance (ESLO). In the article, Mr. Vella states,

“How did the community determine the right balance of land conservation and permissible development in the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance? Beginning in 2008, and over the course of two years, there were two advisory committees including residents and technical experts, community forums, stakeholder meetings and public hearings used to draft the ordinance, with final adoption by town council in 2010. 

Building upon the work of Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the ESL employs a tiered system of environmental resource categories. Each category has its own open space requirements based on scientific analysis and specific general plan land use designations. An extensive biological study was conducted within the town limits resulting in a town-wide ESL map of these categories.

So, has ESL truly made a difference since 2010? From where I stand, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

ESL results in tangible design changes that conserve significant environmental areas while also providing realistic development options. Due to legal constraints, ESL predominately applies to re-zonings, and has been applied to 12 subdivisions situated on a total of 771 acres. A full 432 acres of that area were conserved as permanent and natural open space, equaling 56 percent of the total land area.

How does this compare to the town’s previous efforts to conserve open space? We studied the same 12 subdivisions to measure a “what if” scenario using the pre-ESL zoning requirements. The amount of total open space conserved would have been 175 acres instead of 432 acres. Clearly, ESL provides a regulatory structure that yields consistent results, which is a far cry from the lower amounts and less refined mapping of the past.”

The Coalition was an active and involved member of the advisory committees that Mr. Vella cites and advocated strongly for the strong conservation policies present in Oro Valley’s ESLO. We are excited and gratified to hear that the ESLO has had such a tangible and positive impact on the biologically-important lands in Oro Valley. 

Opposition to any proposed interstate in Avra Valley grows

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The recently convened I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group has released a press release and position statement opposing any proposed route for Interstate 11 in Avra Valley. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is a proud leader of this new community stakeholder group. The full press release is below:

Citizens Convened by Federal and State Highway Departments Strongly Oppose Highway in Avra Valley

Stakeholders find Common Ground in Downtown Route to Create a Sustainable City

Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) recently convened representatives of several stakeholder organizations in a process to explore two alternative routes for the proposed Interstate 11 through Pima County. Stakeholders have developed a consensus position that re-designing I-10 and I-19 to accommodate co-location with I-11 could have a positive effect on downtown revitalization, while stating strong opposition to an “I-10 bypass” in Avra Valley. See letter here. “A freeway that borders Tucson Mountain Park, Tohono O’odham tribal lands, Saguaro National Park, and Ironwood Forest National Monument makes absolutely zero sense,” stated Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “The direct and cumulative effects of a freeway to these natural and cultural iconic places of the Sonoran Desert simply cannot be mitigated. This route should not be under consideration.”

Stakeholders believe that there are shortcomings associated with the federal review process that focuses on new highway construction.  However, “we believe that there could be a significant opportunity to address some of the historic negative consequences that resulted from the construction of I-10,” said Gene Einfrank, Menlo Park Neighborhood Association President. “The building of I-10 physically divided our community and diminished the quality of life of our downtown and other neighborhoods along the highway. Instead of simply adding new lanes to our existing highway, we should consider redesigning portions of it—either going underground or suspended—so that we can reconnect our city.” 

Moreover, stakeholders encourage a broader look at future transportation options, focusing on changes to the management of the existing highway to reduce congestion, including pricing, scheduling, and other programs; technologies that improve traffic flows; and enhancements to the rail system, including light rail and intermodal transportation.

The group recommends ADOT and FHwA refer to the I-11 Super Corridor study final document, which was submitted to ADOT in 2016, to draw inspiration on a comprehensive design. The Sustainable Cities Lab, hosted at the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, completed this transdisciplinary study on the I-11 corridor along with Arizona State University and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UA’s study area focused on opportunities from Marana to south of downtown Tucson. Their outcomes incorporate the addition of light and heavy rail, walking, cycling, new technology for controlling traffic as well as incorporating alternative forms of energy production and transportation.

A huge welcome to our new Conservation Science Director, Jessica Moreno!

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The Coalition is excited to announce the hiring of our new Conservation Science Director, Jessica Moreno. Jessica has been working with the Coalition for the past year and a half as an Independent Contractor on a few specific wildlife linkages projects. She is going to be an important and valuable member of our team moving forward. In her new position, Jessica will be monitoring and protecting wildlife, connected habitat, and ecosystem health in the Sonoran Desert, along with engaging people to create stronger community connections and values with desert wildlife and open space. Jessica will be taking over the reigns of our popular Wildlife Camera Monitoring Project and our Critter Cam Program. In collaboration with our Program and Operations Manager, Sarah Whelan, and our amazing volunteers, she will be refining and further strengthening these programs, along with her many other projects. 

Jessica brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this position. In her own words, here’s a brief biography:

I was raised by the desert. I don’t know exactly when this led to my decision to be a biologist, but maybe it was that moment, shin-dagger thorns in my jeans, when I saw the sunset light up the Atascosa mountains after my first volunteer trip setting wildlife cameras. Or maybe it was leaving my bed at night with a flashlight to find the spadefoots calling after a flash flood. But the desert led me right here.

After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in Wildlife Management in 2007, I coordinated mountain lion and bobcat studies in the Tucson Mountains for the UA Wild Cat Research and Conservation Center. For the next seven years I work with Sky Island Alliance, leading the Wildlife Linkages Program, studying jaguars and ocelots in the borderlands, and protecting Wilderness through outreach, research, policy, and planning. I have served on the Arizona Wildlife Linkages Working Group, the Pima and Cochise County Wildlife Linkages Assessment Working Groups, and the RTA Wildlife Linkages Committee. 

With the Coalition I have found a community that brings my experience and passion full circle to protect the desert that I call home. CSDP’s superhero team of staff, partners, and volunteers is a joy to work with. I focus on our community science wildlife monitoring projects, from volunteer data collection to analysis, and applying what we know to build safe passages for wildlife.

I also serve on the Executive Board of the Arizona Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and in my spare time explore website design, writing, and photography. I have two children, Sofia and Mateo, and love outdoor cooking, wading barefoot in creeks, and the scent of wild open spaces. 

Want to meet Jessica? Please join us for our Member Group & Supporter Happy Hour on Thursday, September 20th from 5-7pm at the Public Brewhouse at 209 N. Hoff Ave. in downtown Tucson. 

Welcome Jessica! 

Saguaro National Park adds $88 million+ to local economy

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According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, “…964,759 visitors to Saguaro National Park in 2017 spent $60,716,800 in Tucson and other communities near the park. That spending supported 866 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $88,682,500.”

On the national level, “The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion.”

Saguaro National Park is a crown jewel of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and we are proud to have them as a community partner. Founded in 1996, Friends of Saguaro National Park is a member group of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and works actively to “help protect wildlife and habitat, promote environmental education, improve recreational trails, enhance visitor experiences, and build environmental stewardship for the Park.”

More information and access to an interactive tool that houses the report’s data can be found in the official press release for the report. 

Endangered Gila topminnow once again swims the Santa Cruz River

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In fall 2017, local scientists had a surprising discovery in the Santa Cruz River – the return of the endangered Gila topminnow. This small inch-long fish is one of 44 species targeted by Pima County’s Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Scientists speculate that Pima County’s efforts to clean up the treated effluent that feeds this stretch of the Santa Cruz River contributed to the return of the Gila topminnow. 

It is always exciting and positive news when an endangered species establishes new habitat!

More information can be found in a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners and a story in the AZ Daily Star

Pima County also wrote a memo that addresses how the Section 10 permit associated with the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan helped the county save money (as compared to what they would have had to spend if they did not have a Section 10 permit) after the discovery of the Gila topminnow in the Santa Cruz River. 

Pima County open space and tax base impacts

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In May 2018, Pima County released an important memo that explains succinctly why Pima County open space properties have a positive impact on the tax base. This was in response to an allegation made by Representative Vince Leach during the state legislative session that Pima County could receive more taxes if open space lands were sold to private development. 

Some highlights from the memo include that the “findings [of a 2016 analysis] showed that the impacts to the tax base had almost no measurable impact. For example, the highest percent reduction in the primary tax base due to these acquisitions was eight thousandths of one percent. The analysis also examined the reduction in property tax revenue, the highest of which was
a loss of $20,306 in revenue in 2015, which also equated to six thousandths of one percent of the total County primary property tax revenue that year.”

Furthermore, “This analysis also cited well known ways in which conserving important natural areas benefits the tax base and tax revenues. For instance, any homebuilder can tell you that they charge lot premiums for homes adjacent to natural areas, which are then reflected in the higher taxable values of those properties, and in turn, reflect higher tax revenues from those properties. This also applies to certain commercial properties. For instance, several large resorts in Pima County have chosen to locate next to Tucson Mountain Park, Tortolita Mountain Park, and the Coronado National Forest, and promote the recreational opportunities and stunning views provided by these natural areas. Westin La Paloma Resort and J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort are in fact two of Pima County’s top 20 highest property taxpayers. This goes along with the fact that Visit Tucson, our local visitors bureau, continues to find through surveys that one of the top reasons people travel here is our natural environment.”

If this is a topic that interests you, you can find even more arguments and data to support Pima County’s conclusions in the full memo

 

Pima County purchases 3,200 acres of new open space

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Great news! On June 19, 2018, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of 3,200 acres of new open space on the east side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The Tesoro Nueve Ranch contains parts of Buehman Canyon, an important tributary to the San Pedro River and a crucial wildlife linkage between the Catalinas and the Galiuro Mountains. The property is surrounded by other open space properties owned by the County and national forest, making it an important “piece of the puzzle.” Home to a variety of threatened fish, frogs, birds, and wildlife, including coatimudi and bears, we are very excited that Pima County will be adding this property to the county parks system. 

According to a Pima County press release, “The total purchase price is $1.55 million, with $488,000 to be paid by RFCD and the balance to be paid by the County Administrator’s Special Revenue Fund at closing, scheduled to occur before Aug. 17. That fund includes $1 million received from a 2014 Kinder Morgan mitigation agreement and can’t be used for purposes other than purchasing land for conservation. No general funds will be used to acquire the property.” Furthermore, “The property was part of the estate of Katheryne B. Willock, a noted archaeologist and a generous contributor to the University of Arizona Libraries, who died in January 2017.” 

More information can be foundation at the full Pima County press release

And check out this short but wonderful video of a large troop of coatimundis taken on the property:

Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings featured in Zocalo magazine

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The Oracle Road wildlife bridge is one of a few projects featured in a new article in Zocalo magazine about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings. Photo by Thomas Wiewandt.

Zocalo magazine published a fantastic article about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings in its April issue. Titled Animal Avenues, this article features both the successful Oracle Road wildlife crossings and plans for more wildlife crossings on Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard. Check out the full article, including a new aerial photo of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, here.

Lesser long-nosed bat removed from Endangered Species List

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A lesser long-nosed bat pollinates a saguaro cactus flower. Photo courtesy Merlin B. Tuttle/Bat Conservation International.

Last month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the lesser long-nosed is being removed from the endangered species list. The lesser-long nosed bat is one of Pima County’s Priority Vulnerable Species and is covered by the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

More than anything, we are glad the bats are doing well! We support efforts to protect the bats and their maternity roosts and are pleased that this has led to increased populations. However, with climate change and other anthropogenic threats, we are cautiously optimistic that this de-listing was not premature. We’ll keep you updated as any more news is released about this important desert wildlife species. For a recent news article about the delisting, head here.

Pima County Publishes 2017 Annual Report on the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan

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In early March, Pima County published its 2017 Annual Report on the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. According to Pima County, highlights of the report include: 

  • The permit was used to cover impacts of 14 private development projects and 33 County Capital Improvement Projects. 
  • Over 200 acres of land has been allocated as mitigation so far, triggering an obligation to develop a new management plan for the Bingham Cienega Natural Preserve, a key protected area located along the San Pedro River.
  • The Gila topminnow has colonized the effluent-dominated stretch of the Santa Cruz River downstream of Tucson. 
  • Pima County Regional Flood Control District received an in-stream flow certificate to protect water for wildlife at Buehman Canyon.
  • Staff provided the first set of Biennial Inspection Reports to Arizona Land and Water Trust as evidence of our responsibility to uphold the restrictions placed on thousands of acres of mitigation lands.
  • Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls were detected at least once on all properties surveyed for that species in the Altar Valley. No owls were detected in the Tucson Mountain Park.
  • Tucson Audubon Society and County staff found yellow-billed cuckoos in three County riparian areas.
  • County staff implemented a geodatabase housing all observations of MSCP Covered Species.
  • In partnership with the National Park Service and Tucson Audubon Society, the first set of long-term soil and vegetation monitoring plots were set up and completed.
  • The County has convened a new panel of experts to help inform our monitoring efforts.  Please welcome: Angela Dahlby, Gita Bodner, Carianne Campbell, Andy Hubbard, Shawn Lowery, Cheryl McIntyre, and Don Swann to the new Science and Technical Advisory Team.
  • The County hired Karen Simms—formerly with U. S. Bureau of Land Management—to head the Natural Resources division at the Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department.

Check out the full report here.