Posts Tagged ‘community’
Tucson-Tortolita Mountains Wildlife Linkage: The Latest Data and Looking Ahead
Last month we shared that we expanded this project in 2022, with cameras on either side of I-10 between the Tucson Mountains and Tortolita Mountains, and six more planned to be placed in 2023. Here are some details on what we’ve found so far!
Our project is comparing five study areas, each with four cameras placed at least 200m apart. These areas are shown in the map below: Private lands in the northern Tucson Mountain range (1), Los Morteros & Rattlesnake Pass (2), El Rio Preserve (3), the Santa Cruz River (4), and Pima County Conservation lands east of Interstate 10 called Cascada (5). These study areas make up a large part of the Tucson-Tortolita Wildlife Linkage, and each has different topography, elevation, distance to water, and other unique habitat features.
Our results show that each study area is dominated by different species, but there are common species throughout, namely mule deer, coyote, bobcat, javelina, gray fox, and cottontail rabbit. Mountain lions have only been observed on Private lands, while kit fox and badger have only been photographed on Cascada lands. El Rio is thus far the least diverse in species (it is also the smallest area and the most impacted by people), while Private lands have been the most diverse – unless you count individual bird species, and then the Santa Cruz River area has them all beat. In addition to the exciting kit fox discovery, other notable species include hooded and spotted skunks, raccoon, and Mexican free-tailed bats.
Working with Pima County, this data is already informing a project to build a wildlife ramp from the only accessible wildlife crossings near Avra Valley Road, to provide entry into the Santa Cruz River over the water levy. We are also working on gaining permanent protection for the Tortolita Preserve and planning a large wildlife bridge over I-10, and a smaller crossing structure at Rattlesnake Pass. These crossings are being designed specifically with mule deer, mountain lion, and bighorn sheep in mind, but will benefit many species.
Thank you to all of our volunteers that are instrumental to this work and to our many member groups and community partners that are collaborating on this multi-pronged project!
2022 Wildlife Camera Project Recap
2022 was another successful year for our Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program, and also our 10th anniversary of this community science-based project! Big thanks to ALL the volunteers that have been the engine behind this project from day one!
Oro Valley Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
This is the project that started it all, and gives us the distinction of having the oldest and longest lasting community science wildlife camera monitoring effort in southern Arizona. Today we have 24 active cameras on either side of Oracle Road, that have gathered over 300,000 images of wildlife, including a mountain lion who moved through the underpass this year. We have also identified 24 wildlife species in this area, with the addition of a black bear this past year.
Watch a presentation about this project here.
Tucson Mountains Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
We have expanded this project this year, with 24 cameras on either side of I-10 between the Tucson Mountains and Tortolita Mountains, and 6 more planned to be placed in 2023. These cameras have captured nearly 124,000 wildlife photos over the life of the project! We have also identified 26 different wildlife species in this area, with the addition of the kit fox this past year.
Working with Pima County, this data is already informing a project to build a wildlife ramp from the only accessible wildlife crossings near Avra Valley Road, to provide entry into the Santa Cruz River over the water levy. We are also working on gaining permanent protection for the Tortolita Preserve, and planning a wildlife bridge over I-10 and another at Rattlesnake Pass.
Sopori Ranch Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
In partnership with the Arizona Land and Water Trust, we are monitoring this linkage and using the images to promote this wild corridor. Today we have 5 cameras that have produced nearly 4,000 images and growing.
Watch a video showcasing this area here.
I-10 East Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
The I-10 East project involved two seasons of roadkill surveys and two years of monitoring key culverts and bridges for wildlife use and passage rates. Exactly 45 wildlife cameras were active between January 2020 and January 2022, during which time we collected over 789,000 photos and have identified over 36 species across our 10 monitoring sites, including both mule deer and white-tail deer, Mexican opossum, black bear, mountain lion, Gould’s turkey, white-nose coati, ringtail, striped skunk, hognose skunk, hooded skunk, Western spotted skunk, and badger.
Interesting records included a photo of a bobcat carrying a bull snake in its mouth, the Mexican opossum, and images of a likely mating pair of adult mountain lions traveling together.
This data report is being incorporated into a proposal for wildlife funnel fencing and improved underpass and bridge structures for wildlife. Pima County is also using this data to justify a funding grant to make surface water improvements near these sites, and we collaborated to submit scoping comments in October 2022 for an upcoming ADOT project to help improve the area with highest roadkill mortality in our roadkill study between mileposts 292-294.
SnapShot USA in full swing
The Snapshot USA project is a huge collaborative effort to sample mammal populations with camera traps across all of the United States. The study is designed to sample sites in all 50 states stratified across habitats and development zones (suburban/rural/wild/urban) with an objective of at least 400 “trap nights” (or days) per sub-project/ organization.
This year we were able to contribute camera data from 12 cameras in our Oro Valley study area, for the study period of September and October.
Despite a few challenges with vegetation growth creating lots of blank images, we contributed 3,208 photos of species including javelina, jackrabbits, coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, white-tail deer… and even a surprise black bear on the MALLOW camera! The entire effort has collected photos of 384 species at over 2,000 camera sites across the U.S.
As science papers come out of this data, we will share the results and findings with you, and we look forward to contributing again next year!
The first Tortolita BioBlitz was a huge success!
On Saturday November 19th, 46 participants made almost 700 observations of over 135 species!
The first Tortolita Preserve BioBlitz was a huge success! What a great way to share and explore this amazing open space!
We held seven small group outings during the BioBlitz, and all the participants enjoyed getting a chance to explore with guides from Arizona Master Naturalists, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and Tortolita Alliance. One of the guided walks headed by CSDP’s Jessica Moreno focused on identifying animals by scat and tracks. Species identified included Grey Fox, Mule Deer, Bobcat, Coyote, and even the tiny and industrious Kangaroo Rat! Another walk conducted by Jennie McFarland from Tucson Audubon Society and Steven Prager from Audubon Southwest yielded a list of fifteen species including a Ruby-crowned Kinglet; the first time this species has been documented here on E-Bird. Another highlight was the identification of Gregg’s Nightblooming Cereus happily existing in the understory of a Palo Verde.
In addition to the outings, many people worked hard collecting observations on their own. We had several people visiting the Tortolita Preserve for the first time and others new to iNaturalist making a big contribution to the success of the event. Identifying observations made by others is another area in which our group really contributed. We had people making identifications during the BioBlitz. This is such an important part of the outreach component of iNaturalist, so a big thanks to people who worked on identifications!
Check out the project:
Tortolita Preserve Fall BioBlitz · iNaturalist
Kit Fox: CSDP Photographs Another First
By Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
It’s late morning in early May when my phone buzzes with a text message from my friend and long-time Desert Monitor Josh Skattum. It’s a black and white photo from our “UTA” camera in the Tucson-Tortolita Mountain corridor, a blurry ghost of a fox with large, pointed ears and a small animal in its mouth, trotting swiftly through a moonless desert night. “Kit fox?,” Josh types. It looks plausible… I promise to look at it more closely and confirm.
The desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) has exaggerated features and could easily be included in a sci-fi wildlife field guide, fitting comfortably among the illustrations of banthas, sandworms, or tribbles. They are tiny canines, just 3.5 to 6 pounds, the weight of a full-grown Chihuahua. That small package comes with oversized 3- to 4-inch-long ears that helps dissipate the heat, a fluffy tail that nearly doubles its body length, and fur packed between their toes creating custom-made sand shoes.
Their soft sandy-colored coats are sometimes trimmed in bright rusty orange as if their edges were dyed by the desert sunset. In the moonlight, you might only glimpse pale fur and a black-tipped tail that doesn’t sport the signature bold black stripe found on the more commonly seen gray fox. But the kit fox’s delicate pointy face, bright eyes, and overlarge ears give them the same playful and mischievous countenance.
Several more nocturnal photos later, and I am more confident in my ID. Josh even documents a likely burrow site. Just to be doubly sure (and for fun), I ask for the help of Raynor Vandeven, a talented photographer who builds his own custom-made camera traps to produce incredible wildlife images. He sets out to see if he can get a more photographic image for us – with almost instant success.
These photos are the first time a kit fox has triggered one of the wildlife cameras we use to monitor the movement patterns of animals that use Pima County’s wildlife corridors. These areas tend to be the most threatened by roads and development – and also exactly the kind of low desert habitat that is preferred by kit foxes. And here they are, fulfilling their special role in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem as mesocarnivores.
A mesocarnivore is a small to mid-sized mammal that eats mostly meat (50 – 75% of their diet) but also eats other things – fruits, plants, fungi, insects – and is therefore an omnivore. Ecologically, they serve a role similar to the fewer-in-number large carnivores, like mountain lions, with some differences, such as spreading seeds that help plant dispersal, influencing disease dynamics, and being able to drive community structure (the types and number of species that live in a place and how they interact with one another). The disappearance of mesocarnivores on the landscape, both in abundance and diversity of species, is a canary in the mine for ecological health.
For their part, kit foxes primarily eat cottontail rabbits and rodents like kangaroo rats for their meat course. Very rarely they will eat the jackrabbits that complete with them for size. They will also eat carrion, birds, lizards, insects, quail eggs, saguaro fruit, prickly pear fruit, and mesquite beans. When food is plentiful, they might cache their meals by burying them, squirrel-like, and marking the spot with pee – a fox’s version of the office refrigerator lunchbox post-it note: My Lunch. Do Not Eat.
Kit foxes are solitary hunters and are often seen alone but are part of small family groups of parents and their young. Mates form a monogamous, permanent bond and both parents care for a single litter of 5 to 7 kits, or pups, that are born blind in March and April and remain in their cool den, with its keyhole-shaped entrance, until the monsoon arrives in June or July.
They can find food and mates, raise young, and disperse surprisingly long distances to new habitats – despite the challenges of mange caused by rodenticides, canine distemper and rabies, and the very pressing concerns of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and wildlife-vehicle collisions. Time will tell if rising temperatures and other threats prove too much, or are averted too late, for a species that has been with us since the Great Ice Age and survived the extinction of the larger Pleistocene megafauna.
Today these tiny, playful desert den dwellers are considered vulnerable in Arizona but do not have any protected status. Their distribution is extensive throughout the Great Basin, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts, but populations have generally been declining by 10-30% across their range, according to data collected on NatureServe. A fox to watch.
Our nocturnal kit foxes continue to bless the desert night with their yips, barks, and chuckles. Tonight, I allow myself to imagine that they sometimes gaze up at the stars, above the haze of nearby city lights and horizon of creosote, stars that for untold generations have been their only constant. The chuckle in the dark desert night I hear sounds like an echo of Josh’s laugh.
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@
New data from the Tangerine Road wildlife underpasses
Did you know that there are five wildlife underpasses that traverse Tangerine Road? These wildlife underpasses were finished in 2018 and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) is now in the middle of a post-construction monitoring study of the crossings. In May 2020, AGFD released its latest monitoring progress report. We’re happy to report there were some very encouraging data and findings!
According to the AGFD report:
Data has been analyzed to April 7th, 2020. A combined total of 5,996 crossings by 23 wildlife species have been recorded across all 5 structures. Coyote, javelina, gambel’s quail, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 3,002, 1,695, 482, and 403 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings. Crossings of note include a gila monster at one underpass in April 2019, and a mountain lion at a different underpass in June 2019.
A total of 40 species have been detected across the five structures to date. The greatest diversity has been observed at underpass #2 where 29 species have been recorded. 16 species have been detected at underpass #1, which is the smallest monitored structure.
[Note: a species is “detected” when it is observed near the crossing structure. This is a different data point than documenting that a species successfully crossed through the structure.]
The full AGFD monitoring report can be found HERE.
Friends of the Desert newsletter #57 is out in the world!
Although we know most of us are pretty preoccupied with the current global pandemic, we decided to still send out our spring newsletter, hoping to inject a little joy and positivity into your mailboxes and inboxes.
Check out the following articles in our Spring 2020 Friends of the Desert newsletter:
- New project collecting data on Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone mountains wildlife linkage
- Healing scars in the desert: wildlife crossings an important piece of protecting the Sonoran Desert
- Local community rallies to save Tortolita Preserve
- And more!
And, as always, thank you for supporting a protected and connected Sonoran Desert!
Oracle Road wildlife crossings featured on FOX10 Drone Zone segment
The Oracle Road wildlife crossings were recently featured on TV station FOX10’s Drone Zone segment in Phoenix. Check out this 3+ minute segment to see some amazing drone footage of both the Oracle Road wildlife underpass and overpass, along with a great interview of our partner Jeff Gagnon with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (click on the image/link below to access the full TV segment).
Tortolita Preserve protected in new Marana General Plan
Good news for conservation in Marana!
On December 10, 2019, the Marana Town Council approved the new draft Marana General Plan with a few major changes we requested. This includes 1) solidifying the long-term protection of the Tortolita Preserve and 2) removing a “Special Planning Area” from lands southwest of the Tortolita Preserve so these lands will remain low density if they are ever developed.
Thank you to all the community members that showed up and voiced their concerns about these issues over the last couple months, including the newly formed Tortolita Alliance! Our voices can make a difference!
If you’d like more information, you can read our full comment letter that we submitted to the Marana Town Council on December 9, 2019 and our previous comment letter submitted to the Marana Planning & Zoning Commission in September 2019. The full draft Marana General Plan is available on the Make Marana 2020 website.
You can also read two media stories about the Marana General Plan and the future of the Tortolita Preserve published in December 2019, one from Arizona Public Media and one in the AZ Daily Star.
What’s next for the Marana General Plan? Marana voters will get to vote on this new General Plan in August.