Posts Tagged ‘bridges’

Leading the next generation out into the field!

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Manzanita students view the Oracle Road wildlife bridge with binoculars on loan from the Tucson Audubon Society. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

by Jessica Moreno

It was a clear, crisp day on March 6, and the freshly brewed coffee was almost as invigorating as the arrival of several school bus-loads of fourth graders and parents from Manzanita Elementary. Over 100 curious minds boiled out into the lower parking lot of the Santa Catalina Catholic Church on Oracle Road just south of the wildlife bridge. “Critter Cam Day” had arrived.

Coalition volunteers were already stationed around the seven activity tents laid out around the parking lot, as kids split into organized groups led by teachers Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti of the Manzanita Robotics Club. These students have been sorting and studying the Coalition’s wildlife camera photos as part of a new 4-week curriculum developed by Ackerman and DeBenedetti in partnership with CSDP. Today, they would have a field day.

Thanks to the Tucson Audubon Society, Manzanita students had access to spotting scopes for a better view of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It may not be surprising that the activities held their rapt attention and their colorful field guides, made especially for this day, were quick to be filled. Finely timed rotating activities included a spotting scope station to view the wildlife bridge and mapping points of interest. Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish Department taught wildlife tracks and track tracing skills. Wildlife rehabilitator and CSDP volunteer Kathie Schroeder and her outreach hawk Sueño shared the adaptations of Harris’s hawks and other birds of prey. Mr. Packrat brought a guest too – and shared the desert adaptions of native packrats. Stations also included games and activities to teach camouflage techniques and the importance of pheromones and scents. And of course, the day would not be complete without a guided nature walk to check a wildlife camera!

Throughout the morning, students and parents were absorbing the skills and knowledge of naturalists and scientists and giving back a thirst for more. As we met around the leftover coffee and homemade granola bars after the day was done, teachers, volunteers, and guest contributors all agreed that very few improvements could be made to this positive and inspiring day. The success of this event is something we hope to repeat, and expand next year. Eventually, we hope this will be a curriculum that can be packaged and adopted by other TUSD schools. Not unlike the critters now crossing new bridges, these students are poised to bridge the divide between knowing – and doing.

Coalition Desert Monitors Jeff Stensrud and Carl Boswell lead students out into the field to see their critter cameras in action! Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Read the latest story about Critter Cam Day in the Oro Valley Explorer, here.

Check out this fantastic video about Critter Cam Day produced by the Catalina Foothills School District:

Emerging issues with the Oracle Road wildlife crossings create opportunities for stronger community connections.

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by Jessica Moreno

Mesh wildlife fencing along Oracle Road funnels animals to the wildlife crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Once a wildlife crossing is built, the project still isn’t done. CSDP has remained actively involved with the wildlife bridge and underpass project on Oracle Road since its completion, helping to install educational signage, planning re-vegetation and erosion control, engaging on emerging issues like motorized use and other encroachments, and, of course, monitoring changes in local wildlife. For little over a year, we have also been focusing on building a stronger connection with the local Rancho Vistoso HOA and with the roughly 60 homeowners living near the crossings. Javelina, coyotes, desert tortoise, and a myriad of smaller wildlife have been slipping through gaps in the wildlife-funnel fencing, resulting in a two-mile plume of roadkill extending south of the underpass on Oracle Road. These open gaps are the cul-de-sacs and drainage areas within the underpass’s adjacent HOA neighborhood, where animals can access the street and bypass the wildlife underpass. While the idea of wildlife fencing in the neighborhood is understandably undesirable for most homeowners, we have been slowly coming together to find solutions and a compromise that works for all.

 

With some exceptions (there are always a few), wildlife are excellent neighbors. Quiet, shy except around the bird feeder, we mostly don’t even see them unless we make an effort to look. Yet they provide us with spontaneous joy when do catch a glimpse. The therapeutic hum of tiny wings at the feeder during a spring rain and the bright-eyed peaceful stare of a deer in the chill morning can make time stand still. Wildlife watching from our yards and community areas is part of why many of us choose to live here. According to a 2011 report conducted by the Tucson Audubon Society, in Pima County alone wildlife watching supported more than 2,700 jobs, and directly produced $19.8 million in local and state tax revenue from over $179 million in wildlife watching related spending. In one year! It’s nice to know that the pollinator plants and binoculars I bought contribute to a thriving economy, but I’m just as happy to see the tracks of the local bobcat when I go for stroll in the evening and to add another hummingbird to my yard list.

 

It is also good to know that our wildlife crossings on Oracle Road are working wonderfully, with mule deer, javelina, bobcats, coyotes, and more using them regularly. That investment has truly paid for itself, by supporting local wildlife watching opportunities and by reducing the taxpayer and personal costs of wildlife-vehicle collisions. There have been over 2,900 animal crossings on the bridge and underpass recorded to date, and – where the wildlife funnel-fencing is complete – roadkill is down to near zero. After the surprise of tortoises and bighorn sheep last season, one of the local homeowners photographed a beautiful badger (local nighttime rodent control, at your service) near their home west of the wildlife underpass in early February. We now have evidence of badgers on both sides of the wildlife crossings, and neighbors are sharing their sightings and their stories.

Wildlife fencing along Oracle Road helps to guide animals to the crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Here where people and nature encroach upon each other, finding balance can be challenging. The peaceful gaze of a deer tells me that the return in our investment, and the reward, is well worth some compromise. As wildlife adapt to their changing landscape, we can continue to enjoy their presence and strive to be a community of good neighbors in return. By bringing the community together as part of the process, we all share in that success.

“Bat boxes” provide a new home for displaced bats under local bridges

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Bats emerge at dusk from underneath the Houghton Road bridge. Photo courtesy KVOA.

April 18, 2017

Did you know that southern Arizona bridges provide important roosting habitat for local bats? Many older bridges were built with long, thin expansion cracks underneath them. These cracks have turned out to be perfect roosting habitat for thousands and thousands of bats, and often pregnant females. Bats roost under the bridges during the day and then emerge at dusk in impressive swarms to forage, feed on mosquitoes and other insects, and pollinate local plants and crops. 

Unfortunately, modern bridge designs have evolved and these long, thin expansion cracks are not used anymore. When old bridges are now replaced, we run the risk of also destroying this important bat habitat. Local biologists and conservationists are trying a new strategy of installing “bat boxes” under new bridges. These boxes are hung from underneath the new bridge and include a series of thin crevices where bats can roost. Each box can hold approximately 300-359 bats. 

The new Ina Road bridge, currently under construction, is the first place where bat boxes are being deployed. First, bat boxes have been installed a mile to the south on the Cortaro Farms Road bridge. We hope that the bats currently roosting in the old Ina Road bridge will migrate down to these bat boxes when the Ina Road bridge is demolished. Then, when the new Ina Road bridge is finished, the bat boxes will be moved underneath this bridge. The Houghton Road bridge north of Interstate 10 is another project where bat boxes will be used to mitigate for the loss of existing bat habitat when this bridge is replaced in the near future. 

Both of these bat box projects are funded by the “Wildlife Linkages” funding stream of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). With your support, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection has been a proud partner in all of the wildlife linkage projects funded by the RTA and we are very excited to see how these new “bat boxes” work! 

Check out this Fox 11 News Story from April 14, 2017 to learn more about the new Ina Road Bridge bat boxes:

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/35155657/workers-scramble-to-find-new-home-for-bats-displaced-by-construction

Check out this KVOA news story from September 29, 2015 about the Houghton Road bridge project:

http://www.kvoa.com/story/30147707/new-houghton-bridge-includes-plans-for-bats