Open Space Preservation

One component of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is the creation of a vast open space preserve system in Pima County. Our work advocates for the acquisition of connected open space by local jurisdictions and the inclusion of appropriate open space in private developments.

Open space acquisitions

Since 1998, the Coalition has been a strong advocate for an adequate open space acquistion category in Pima County bond elections. In 2004, Pima County residents approved over $174 million in bond funds to acquire important conservation lands identified as “Habitat Protection Priorities.” Leading up to this successful election, the Coalition was a founding member of “Friend of the Sonoran Desert,” a group formed to campaign for the bond’s passage. Prior to that vote, in 1997, over $28 million was approved for the same purpose. Pima County, with the oversight of the citizen-run Conservation Acquisition Commission, has spent all of the $202 million bond funds. In total, these open space bond funds have successfully purchased over 71,000 acres of private land and leases on over 130,000 acres of State Trust Land!

The approval and diligent use of these funds has protected saguaro studded hillsides in the Tucson Mountains, canyon lands in the Tortolita Mountains, unique riparian lands near Cienega Creek and the Brawley Wash, desert grasslands in the southeast area of the County, the rolling hills of the Altar Valley, and much more.

Recent acquisitions of land include the 2,700 acre Empirita property located south of I-10 and adjacent to the Cochise County line, 160 acres adjacent to Saguaro National Park West, and 50 acres in the NW metro area along the Hardy Wash. All of the conservation acquisitions that have been made help protect the long-term ecological viability of the Sonoran Desert and the wildlife found here.

In March 2015, the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee (BAC) included $95 million for open space acquisition in a larger $815 million bond package. Pima County voters voted on this bond package on November 3, 2015 (seven separate bond questions). Unfortunately, all seven bond propositions failed. We are currently developing new strategies to protect more important open space in Pima County. Despite the failure of the 2015 bond election, the urgency for more connected open space still exists. We will continue to work for a protected and connected Sonoran Desert for both people and wildlife.

For a detailed interactive map of past projects completed with Pima County bond funds, visit this website.

For a detailed interactive map that identifies the projects proposed for funding in the 2015 Pima County bond election, visit this website.

For a map of open space acquisition priorities identified for the November 2015 bond election, click here.

During the 2015 Open Space Bond campaign, we developed a detailed list of FAQs about open space bonds. While some of this information is specific to the 2015 Open Space Bond, which ultimately failed, there is also detailed information about which lands were purchased with prior open space funding, how bonds are financed, and public access to County-owned conservation lands. You can access these detailed FAQs here.

Open space in private developments

Along with advocating for large open space purchases by Pima County and other local governments, the Coalition is an active consultant with private property owners on how to best incorporate functional open space into their projects. Open space increases property values, is attractive to prospective home-buyers, increases our quality of life, AND is essential for local wildlife. Yet, there are different ways to include open space in a project. Some open space configurations sound good on paper but are not functional in real life. For instance, if all the open space is located in fenced back-yards and is not connected to each other, it is not beneficial at all for wildlife. We work directly with private property owners as they develop their projects and advocate for connected open space that protects riparian areas and nearby wildlife linkages and (if applicable) fully complies with Pima County’s Conservation Lands System policies.

Here are examples of two proposed developments with different concepts for open space:

Development with Connected Open Space
This proposed development clusters lots together and leaves a wide swath of open space in the middle of the property, allowing wildlife adequate space to move.
Development with Un-Connected Open Space
The Ironwood Estates development included open space within each lot. The open space is dis-connected and does not provide adequate space for wildlife to move through the property.

Over the years, our involvement with private developments has waxed and waned depending on the economy. From 2011 to mid-2016, we worked on 21 separate projects around Pima County. In 2016 alone, we worked on eight projects that resulted in 345 acres of open space preservation, both within the projects themselves and in off-site mitigation areas. We also work on projects during various phases of the development process, from applications for Specific Plans to Comprehensive Plan Amendments to rezonings. In Pima County, our trigger for when to become involved in a project (assuming the property owner is interested in working with us) is whether the property is located within the Conservation Lands System.

If you have any questions about our involvement with advocating for open space acquisitions or open space in private development projects, please let us know! And thank you for supporting a connected open space preserve system in Pima County!