Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category
Reducing Roadkill: Safe Passages for Wildlife on Interstate-10 East
By Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
One of the best things about doing roadkill surveys is watching the sunrise. During the monsoons, the sun breaks across the eastern horizon and lights up the moisture laden air and morning cloud cover with light and throws the foothills into brilliant color. The sun feels hopeful and the day new. The second-best thing is knowing that every datapoint is helping us make things better.
The 20-mile stretch of Interstate-10 (I-10) between Vail and Benson, east of Tucson, Arizona, divides the regionally important Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains Wildlife Linkage. This wildlife pathway is one of only a few – somewhat safe – crossing points across I-10 found between Tucson and New Mexico, and it encompasses several protected areas and important waters, including Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, making it critically important for desert wildlife in the face of climate change.
This wildlife pathway is protected partially by federally protected lands including Saguaro National Park, Rincon Wilderness, and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Pima County has invested in securing additional conservation lands in this linkage as mitigation under the Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP), including Bar V Ranch, Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Rancho Agua Verde, and Colossal Cave Mountain Park, which are managed under the Cienega Creek Management Plan.
However, I-10 cuts through this area of wildlife movement, resulting in more wildlife-vehicle collisions for large animals such as black bear, mule deer, whitetail deer, javelina, coyote, and mountain lion, as well as smaller species like box turtles, opossum, Antelope jackrabbit, white-nose coati, raccoon, badger, and bobcat. It also serves as a potential movement area for jaguars and ocelots. Existing culverts and right of way fencing are not currently adequate at reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions or ensuring safe wildlife passage in this area. Future growth and increases in traffic volumes will only worsen the frequency of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
Since 2006, several qualitative assessments and reports have been produced that highlight the area’s importance for wildlife movement, but there has not been a study that has collected data to build a high accuracy model of wildlife movements and roadkill locations along this corridor. With the lack of such a product, nothing has been done on the ground to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and to improve safe wildlife passage by employing effective mitigation structures like winged highway fencing or wildlife overpasses. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, in conjunction with partners, is spearheading the effort to collect data to provide the information necessary to make this stretch of I-10 a safer passage for both wildlife and people in this important corridor.
In the spring of 2017, CSDP conducted comprehensive assessments and wildlife surveys of the nearly 80 existing concrete box culverts and metal plate pipe structures between milepost 277-302 (Houghton Road to SR90), with participants from several government, nonprofit, and community partners, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Cochise County, Pima County, Tucson Audubon Society, Sky Island Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wildlands Network. Our results indicated that this wildlife linkage could be made safer for wildlife and motorists by 1) installing wildlife funnel-fencing to keep animals off the highway and to direct wildlife toward existing crossing points; 2) retrofitting and widening existing drainage culverts located in high volume areas; and 3) construction of an additional wildlife crossing between Cienega Creek and the railroad underpass near Empirita Rd Exit 292.
Roadkill surveys were part of the next phase of this effort: to gather data on roadkill hotspots, together with wildlife passage rates using wildlife cameras in the best existing culverts. We hope this data will inform State and County highway and wildlife officials on where to focus mitigation efforts to improve highway safety and minimize wildlife-vehicle collisions with site-specific wildlife funnel-fencing installation, existing culvert retrofits, and new wildlife crossing structures. Our results illustrate the need to implement changes and provides baseline information to evaluate the success of future mitigation measures.
Our Desert Roadies project began with a team of volunteers to help collect wildlife-vehicle mortality data on Interstate-10 between SR83 and SR90, east of Tucson. Desert Roadies volunteers worked in teams of 2-4 people, including myself, to conduct driving roadkill surveys. Observations were recorded by our notetaker with the GPS coordinates. Surveys were conducted in the morning, starting up to 30 minutes before sunrise, every week for 6 weeks during the monsoon season in 2019 and 2020, beginning in July, except when conditions were bad for visibility or driving such as rain, dust storms, or other low visibility weather. In addition to these formal roadkill surveys, we collected other data on iNaturalist.org from community members and personally investigated reports about black bear mortalities. We also requested ADOT records on reported animal-vehicle crashes in the study area. This data was analyzed separately.
Due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, carpooling with volunteers was no longer a safe option. So, we adapted as best we could by canceling the planned spring 2020 survey and having another monsoon season survey instead, which was conducted by myself and my family, Eddie Moreno (who is also a biologist experienced in roadkill surveys) and my two toddlers munching on donuts and “helping” look for animals from the backseat. This survey was done when the state was under curfew and lockdown, resulting in reduced traffic volumes. This likely was one reason for fewer observations of roadkill during this survey window.
Walking surveys are the ideal method for complete and accurate data. But safety concerns eliminated that option because we are using volunteer participation and this is a busy interstate highway with narrow right of ways. Therefore, the roadkill survey portion of this project was designed to be a broad-brush stroke only and we anticipated a small sample size. Recording categories of small, medium, large animals and/or by clade (reptile, bird, small/med/large mammal) are adequate for our purpose. Because of the project design, we have near zero detectability of small animals, and instead our target species are deer, bear, coyote, bobcat, gray fox, javelina, and those larger animals that the Arizona Department of Transportation consider most hazardous to drivers. The data will hopefully serve to provide a preliminary look at potential roadkill hotspot areas. For best accuracy 1) our GPS units had a one-button click to mark points quickly, 2) volunteers could also use maps and mileposts to confirm locations, 3) we analyzed the data in 1-mile segments, which better informs the fencing solution strategy and somewhat addresses imprecise location information, and 4) a staff biologist was always present to provide corroborating identification.
We completed two monsoon survey seasons for roadkill observations in 2019 and 2020, resulting in 78 data points of at least 14 different species. We were able to detect animals as small as a rock squirrel or cottontail rabbit. Skunks, raptors, and deer were not identified to specific species. All of our deer mortality observations (n=2) occurred between mileposts 296-297, near the Pima-Cochise County line. A hotspot of roadkill observations occurred between mileposts 291-295 (between Cienega Creek and Empirita Rd), in an area that coincides with a gap in available culverts and crossing points, and near several culvert locations between mileposts 283-287.
I-10 has been identified as a significant barrier to black bears in southern Arizona. In 2011, Todd Atwood et al published a study describing I-10 as a more significant barrier to functional gene flow for black bears than the U.S.-Mexico border, identifying I-10 as the dividing line between the Border subpopulation of black bears to the south, and the White Mountain subpopulation to the north. In our study area, these subpopulations meet and Romeo and Juliet romances unfold, ensuring healthy black bear populations in Arizona and in Mexico. For black bears, I-10 may be a barrier to gene flow as well as a “population sink” due to wildlife-vehicle deaths. This could pose a significant issue for the Border subpopulation, which additionally faces barriers to movement at the U.S.-Mexico border due to the construction of the border wall and other border-related infrastructure such as roads and lighting. Without safe passage both north of I-10 or south of the border, our southern Arizona black bears are at risk of genetic isolation and disappearing all together (what we call extirpation).
We have gathered four records of black bear mortalities in recent years, and three of these are verified with photos. These records indicate that the bears attempted to cross I-10 by following higher elevation ridgelines closely associated with the two largest underpass structures at Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek. We also have animal track and camera trap data showing successful passage under I-10 at a few specific culverts. Most of our observations show bears moving south. April-May and August-September appear to be peak periods of activity for black bears in this area according to our data.
Black bears are just one example of the impact I-10 is having on native wildlife. In addition to large animals like bear, deer, and jaguar, smaller animals are at risk as well. Saguaro National Park has been monitoring a disturbing decline in “lost carnivores” over the last decade, including skunks, foxes, and badgers. Biologists are also concerned about the local disappearance of smaller range habitat specialist species affected by habitat fragmentation, including box turtles, Antelope jackrabbits, skunks, kit foxes, badgers, and white-nose coati. Increasing wildlife connectivity conditions for black bears and deer should allow struggling populations to repopulate from connected habitat areas and also benefit a wide array of other species.
With the data we’ve collected, we have solid evidence to back up the need for funding wildlife funnel fencing where it is most needed and make the case for new or improved wildlife crossings.
Read CSDP’s final project report to Arizona Game and Fish Department here.
(Please note: Photos of roadkill animals are included in the report)
Want to help?
Although collecting information on roadkill is not for the faint of heart, the data it provides is valuable. In the future, CSDP will be looking to continue our Desert Roadies program in more areas. In the meantime, folks can also document sightings of wildlife on roads in Pima County at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/csdp-safe-passages.
This work was made possible thanks to the time, effort, and skill of the following volunteers: Matt Clark, Sami Hammer, Bruce Jacobsen, Ken Lamberton, Eduardo Moreno, D’angelo Padilla, Raynor VanDeven, Althea Weeks, and Daisy Weeks.
We also want to thank Scott Sprague, Jeff Gagnon and Brit Oleson of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and give special thanks to our collaborating partners: Myles Traphagen with The Wildlands Network and Brian Powell with Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation.
This project was funded in part by the Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund.
Join us in removing old fencing and improving wildlife connectivity in Avra Valley!
Join us this week to remove old fencing and improve wildlife connectivity between the Tucson Mountains and the Tohono O’odham Nation!
This past December, over 65 volunteers came together one morning to remove three miles of old fencing, including three tons of fence posts and wire fencing, from an area in Avra Valley west of the Tucson Mountains. Removing this fencing is important to improve the critical wildlife linkage areas between Tucson Mountain Park, Saguaro National Park, Ironwood Forest National Monument, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. And now this collaborative project is moving forward with another opportunity to pitch in and remove even more fencing!
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – March 10, 11, and 12
Time: 8am-12pm, 12pm lunch (will be provided), Afternoon flexible
Where: Avra Valley area near Three Points (more detailed instructions on exactly where to meet will be sent out to volunteers after they sign up)
What to bring: Water bottle, work gloves, sturdy shoes, sun hat, etc. (again, more details to follow)
How to sign up: Head over to this GoogleForm to sign up
According to Don Swann, a biologist at Saguaro National Park, “Many studies have shown that barbed wire fences can stop large animals, change their movement patterns, and keep them away from water and food sources they need to survive. Animals can also be killed trying to jump over a barbed wire fence if they become entangled and are not able to free themselves.”
You can sign up for one, two, or all three days! All you need to do is sign up through our online form.
To see a slideshow and learn more about the December 2021 event and what’s in store for the March 2022 event, head over to this recent blog post on our website.
Questions? Feel free to reach out to CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell at Carolyn.Campbell@
SR86 Wildlife Bridges move to siting and design phase
In January 2022, a group of people from Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Department of Transportation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection conducted a scouting field trip to finalize the locations of two new wildlife bridges on SR86 near Kitt Peak. These bridges will complement two existing wildlife underpasses built nearby in 2013-2014. During the trip, the attendees also visited the underpasses and associated wildlife fencing and were able to identify ongoing maintenance tasks so these underpasses continue providing a safe crossing location for wildlife for many years to come.
The SR86 wildlife bridges will be built to attract local bighorn sheep and other wildlife so they can safely cross between the Baboquivari Mountains to the south and mountain ranges to the north. The Regional Transportation Authority is funding these crossings, under a plan approved by voters in 2006 from $45 million allocated for wildlife linkage infrastructure projects.
Check out some photos of the field trip below.
Avra Valley Fence Removal Volunteer Day a Big Success!
On December 11, 2021, a group of local organizations and state/federal agencies came together to celebrate National Public Lands Day by holding a Fence Removal Volunteer Day in Avra Valley. It was a wonderfully cool day with volunteers in high spirits to accomplish something tangible and positive for wildlife.
A few fun stats from this great event:
- Over 65 volunteers, a group from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) program, and staff from Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service joined together for the project.
- 3 miles of fence were removed from the landscape in one morning.
- 3 tons of metal, including fence posts and wire fencing, were hauled away.
This is a fantastic start to improving the permeability of the landscape for wildlife movement between the Tucson Mountains, Ironwood Forest National Monument, Pima County open space lands, and more. And a big thanks to the Coalition volunteers that came out and volunteered their time – we are so thankful for you.
This is the first of a few Fence Removal Volunteer Days – we plan to hold one to two more this winter and spring so keep your eye out for more details. We’d love to have you join in on the next event!
Thank you to all the organizations that helped make this event possible, including Friends of Ironwood Forest, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Saguaro National Park/National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, American Conservation Experience, Pima County, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Mule Deer Foundation.
Photos below are courtesy Carolyn Campbell and Lee Pagni.
2020 Annual Gratitude Report
We recently sent out our 2020 Annual Gratitude Report with our Fall 2021 Friends of the Desert Newsletter. Please check it out today and feel good about everything we accomplished together during a very challenging year! Thank you!
Updated COVID-19 Response Plan
Pima County is currently under a high rate of transmission as the Delta variant spreads (data here). The situation continues to evolve. Here is CSDP’s response plan to help slow the spread and to help keep our staff and volunteers safe:
- All CSDP staff are fully vaccinated. We have in place a Pandemic Policy that provides paid leave for staff in the case of illness due to Covid-19, and contingency plans in the event that staff must be out for an extended period of time.
- Staff are working remotely from home with short coordinated visits to the office as needed. Meetings and outreach, wherever possible, are being conducted virtually.
- Our office in Suite 205 in the Historic Y building is currently closed to visitors except by appointment. The Historic Y’s current policy is that all tenants of and visitors to The Historic Y building must be fully vaccinated, or are required to wear a mask and maintain 6 ft distance from others, or remain outside.
- Volunteers needing to receive or deliver camera equipment, SD cards, batteries or other supplies are coordinating hand-offs with Jessica. There is a drop off location at her house on the NW side of town, or she can leave/pick up supplies from your porch or at a mutual meeting location.
- Desert Monitors should wear a mask when within 6ft of each other, and are encouraged to share their vaccination status with their fellow team members before meeting, as appropriate. New information shows that vaccinated individuals are still able to transmit Covid-19 to others and the CDC recommends everyone wear masks indoors. While hiking outdoors it is safer, we still recommend wearing a mask to reduce risk when you are closer than 6ft.
- We adapted our Desert Identifier program so that volunteers can work remotely and on their own schedules. This has been highly successfully and will continue.
- Highway Cleanups remain suspended until this activity can be done safely for all participants and staff.
- Mailing Parties are now “On Tour” with supplies being delivered and picked up from your porch.
CSDP’s position is to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, wear a mask, and to isolate when feeling sick or if exposed.
These are challenging times, but also times to celebrate and spread our joys, extend understanding and grace, and help everyone get through this together. Many of our adaptions to this unprecedented crisis have made our community closer, our teams stronger, our work more efficient, and our outcomes better, simply because we are uplifting and caring for each other.
Thank you for doing your part.
Questions or comments? Feel free to send an email to our Associate Director Kathleen Kennedy at Kathleen.Kennedy@sonorandesert.org or leave us a voicemail at (520) 388-9925 and we’d be happy to chat with you!
Crossing Through Your Neighborhood: A Presentation
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.
Closing the Gap: Fencing gaps near the SR77 wildlife crossings are coming to a close
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.
Remembering Bob Cratty
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.
The future of our Community Science Program
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!