Celebrating 20 Years!

Can you believe it? We’ve been working together to protect and re-connect the Sonoran Desert for 20 years! As we celebrate this milestone with you, it’s been gratifying to both reflect back on everything we’ve accomplished together and look ahead to new dreams and goals. More than anything, this is an anniversary for all of us to celebrate together. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the Sonoran Desert over the last two decades – your time spent attending meetings, writing emails or letters, making phone calls, and volunteering; your financial donations; and your encouraging words and energy have all been so important. Thank you for sharing your passion for the Sonoran Desert with your friends and family, and with us. You are part of a true community of conservationists passionate about the beautiful Sonoran Desert. Together, we are making a positive difference every day.

In February 1998, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection was formed by a group of dedicated conservation leaders. 19 conservation groups, both large and small, banded together to advocate for Pima County’s approval of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. These leaders realized that speaking together as one voice would have a much larger impact in the community than working independently. And this strategy has worked, over and over again, throughout the last two decades.

Our Executive Director, Carolyn Campbell, has helmed the Coalition since the beginning and I have worked for the Coalition in various capacities for 11 years now. Other staff you may remember include Jenny Neeley, Susan Shobe, Lori Andersen, Sean Sullivan, Gabe Wigtil, and Hannah Stitzer – we are grateful for each of them and what they contributed to the Coalition over the years. Today, super-stars Sarah Whelan and Jessica Moreno round out our team. Our member groups, reaching over 40 at one point and now holding steady at 30, continue to be instrumental to our success, giving their time, expertise, and financial contributions towards Coalition projects. A huge thank you to our member groups, past and present. And you! You are the most important piece of this puzzle. Thank you for being a part of this journey – without you, none of this work would be possible.

As we look back on the last 20 years, thank you for being a critical part of so many important accomplishments that we can all be proud of, including:

  • THE SONORAN DESERT CONSERVATION PLAN: Created by Pima County in 1998, the SDCP is the foundation for our conservation projects and goals. It has been nationally-recognized and still serves as a model for habitat conservation plans around the country. With your support, the Coalition continues to be a lead community advocate for the SDCP.
  • IRONWOOD FOREST NATIONAL MONUMENT: Created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after the Coalition and other community groups campaigned for its protection. Ironwood Forest is located 25 miles northwest of Tucson and protects over 129,000 acres of beautiful and rugged Sonoran Desert habitat. Within the monument, over 470 species and subspecies of plants thrive. Ironwood Forest is home to up to 177 vertebrates and 821 invertebrates, including a herd of desert bighorn sheep. The Coalition also launched the Friends of Ironwood Forest, now a Coalition member group.
  • CONSERVATION LANDS SYSTEM: Under the direction of a team of renowned scientists and community partners such as the Coalition, Pima County adopted the Conservation Lands System (CLS) in 2001.This map and associated policies have resulted in the preservation of thousands of acres of important wildlife habitat around Pima County on both private and public lands. The CLS continues to be applied today to private developments and Pima County projects. It ensures that our important riparian areas and wildlife habitat remains protected and connected. The Coalition works directly with developers and homebuilders to make sure that their projects are compliant with the Conservation Lands System, leading to better projects for the people and wildlife of Pima County.
  • OPEN SPACE PROTECTION: In 2004, Pima County voters overwhelmingly approved the Open Space Bond with over ⅔ of voters giving the thumbs up to open space protection. The Coalition led the public education and outreach campaign leading up to the election. This bond included $174.3 million for the purchase of important open space. Pima County protected over 200,000 acres of open space with this money, an incredible accomplishment! The Coalition continues to advocate for new open space purchases as opportunities arise.
  • REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY PLAN: The Regional Transportation Authority Plan was approved by voters in 2006 and included $45 million in wildlife linkages infrastructure. These monies have funded the construction of wildlife crossings and wildlife fencing around Pima County such as the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, the protection of bat habitat on local bridges, and original and important research on Sonoran Desert wildlife. The Coalition led the effort to have this money included in the RTA Plan and serves on the RTA’s Wildlife Linkages SubCommittee. We are also the community leader in public education and outreach efforts to ensure Pima County citizens stay well-educated on the importance of protecting wildlife linkages and the specific RTA projects.
  • HABITAT CONSERVATION PLANNING: After over 15 years of planning, Pima County’s Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP) was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016. This ground-breaking plan protects 44 vulnerable, threatened and endangered species around Pima County. The Coalition worked with Pima County every step of the way to ensure the MSCP contains the most robust and scientifically-based conservation policies.
  • COMMUNITY SCIENCE: Most recently, the Coalition has been a leader in community science (formerly called citizen science). Our popular Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program launched in 2012 with four cameras and has grown to over 45 cameras deployed in our threatened wildlife linkages. The photos from these cameras provide important data on wildlife presence, diversity, and movement in three local wildlife linkages. Our new Critter Cam program engages local elementary school students and teaches them about wildlife linkages and Sonoran Desert wildlife.

With so many wonderful accomplishments to celebrate, what lies ahead? What new goals and projects are we dreaming up? First and foremost, with your support, we will continue to build on and leverage everything we’ve accomplished so far. Conservation is a never-ending process and all the projects listed above continue to evolve – new threats emerge and new opportunities arise all the time.

As a community, we will also:

  • Continue advocating for protected open spaces, both on public and private lands.
  • Work tirelessly to re-connect our threatened open space preserves. Along with continuing current projects, we’ll be shifting our sights to the Interstate 10-Davidson Canyon wildlife linkage area.
  • Strenuously oppose any proposed interstate in Avra Valley west of the Tucson Mountains. Working with a wide array of partners, we are advocating for the re-design of Interstate 10 to both accommodate increased traffic flow and re-connect our downtown area. We will also continue to oppose the Rosemont Mine and monitor this project as it evolves.
  • Improve and refine our Community Science projects to ensure they are collecting the best data possible with clear goals and objectives. This includes working with partners such as Arizona Game and Fish Department and Pima County and providing regular reports to our volunteers.
  • Maintain productive working relationships with local governments, state and federal agencies, community partners, and landowners to ensure we are poised to tackle new projects as they occur.

Last but not least, we want to hear from you! What are your dreams for the Sonoran Desert? What projects do you care about the most? And where can we improve? Keep your eye out for a quick survey this fall where you can let us know what you care about – we can’t wait to hear from you!

Once again, thank you for being such an important part of this community. Your support over the past 20 years has been absolutely essential and I hope you are as proud as we are of everything we’ve accomplished together.