The Kitt Peak Wildlife Linkage lies between milepost 130-138 on State Route 86 (SR 86) on the Tohono O’odham Nation in southwest Arizona. This linkage ranks as one of the 28 “highest priority” linkages of the 152 main wildlife linkages in Arizona due to its habitat value for mule deer, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, Sonoran desert tortoise, and other wildlife species. It serves as a landscape-scale corridor between the Baboquivari Mountains to the south and the Camobabi Mountains to the north.
Between November 2013 and February 2014, two pre-cast concrete arch wildlife underpasses were constructed on SR 86. These underpasses were funded by Pima County’s voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and incorporated into an Arizona Department of Transportation widening project on SR 86. The eastern underpass is 12 feet high, 32 feet wide, and 90 feet in length. The western underpass is 7 feet high, 32 feet wide, and 88 feet in length.
Previously, narrow box culverts served as the only means for wildlife to move under the roadway; these constrained culverts were ineffective for wildlife passage and resulted in many animals trying to cross SR 86 at-grade. The new wildlife underpasses have increased wildlife and motorist safety by reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Four motion-activated wildlife cameras were installed in each of the underpasses in September 2014 to monitor and document wildlife use. 8.5 miles of wildlife fencing linking the wildlife underpasses was installed in early 2015 on both sides of SR 86.
Since the Kitt Peak wildlife underpasses and wildlife fencing were finished, wildlife-vehicle collisions have decreased dramatically. Ongoing challenges include persistent use of the underpasses by free-ranging cattle and feral horses, sedimentation from flooding events, and establishing expectations of use by the U.S. Border Patrol.
To further strengthen and re-connect this wildlife linkage, the Tohono O’odham Nation presented a funding proposal to the RTA in September 2014 for two wildlife bridges in the Kitt Peak Wildlife Linkage. The RTA Board approved $6.6 million for the design and construction of these wildlife bridges on September 25, 2014. The two wildlife bridges will be constructed at mileposts 127.5 and 133.5 in 2017-2018.
Click the links below for video, photos, and picture slideshows (courtesy of Norris Dodd, ADOT Environmental Services, Wildlife Connectivity Coordinator).