Posts Tagged ‘open space’

Badger, badger! New badger photos and data from our wildlife cameras

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For 10 years we have had wildlife cameras on the landscape monitoring important linkages. We first captured photos of badgers in 2012, and they have made consistent, if rare, appearances since. Badgers are an understudied animal in Arizona and we know very little about their status in Pima County. We now have a total of 40 images of badgers across 19 camera sites, with a 27% occupancy rate (the number of cameras that detected badgers versus the total number of cameras out there). We have seen badgers at two sites in the Tucson Mountains study area, and at 8 and 9 sites West and East, respectively, of Oracle Road in Oro Valley. Our partners at Arizona Game and Fish Department confirm that one of the badgers we photographed crossed the wildlife bridge, moving east to west, earlier this year. We are diving into the data to learn more about them in our Sonoran Desert landscape, including a fun look at identifying individuals!

We thought you would enjoy these photo highlights, and a neat look at our preliminary results showing more badger activity during new moon nights than full moon nights. Why do you think badgers might be more active on new moon nights than full moon nights, when it is darkest? Badgers are nocturnal, although females may come out in the day with her young in Spring. They are also fossorial carnivores, meaning they live most of the time underground and are very good diggers. Most of their prey live in burrows as well, including ground squirrels, pocket gophers, packrats, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes. Badgers may be appearing on our cameras more often during the new moon for a variety of reasons. One possibility is that badger activity is correlated with prey activity, and conditions that increase hunt success. Are rodents are more active during the dark new moon than the brighter full moon, too? Can badgers, adapted to hunting at night and underground, sense their prey better on dark nights? In science, the best answers lead to more questions!

Many thanks to Pat and Henry Miller for contributing three badger photos from their own camera to our study.

If you haven’t heard it, you may enjoy Petey Mesquitey’s song “The Coyote and the Badger” on KXCI radio!

 

This graph shows how our wildlife cameras have captured more badger activity during new moon nights than full moon nights. Fascinating!

 

Photo by our CSI wildlife camera, monitored by Sam Wilbur and Josh Skattum.

 

Photo by our former FOX wildlife camera, monitored by Judy and Paul Mercer.

 

Photo by our CSI wildlife camera, monitored by Sam Wilbur and Josh Skattum.

 

Photo by our DOVE camera, monitored by Gary and Lenora Brown and Steve and Diana Holmes.

 

Photo by our PEREGRINE camera, monitored by Josh Skattum and Sam Wilbur.

The latest and greatest monitoring results from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings

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In March 2019, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) released their latest monitoring results from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings. AGFD typically releases monitoring results twice a year so we should have an updated monitoring report sometime this fall. 

March 2019 AGFD Monitoring Report on the Oracle Road wildlife crossings

Two summary graphs from the report are highlighted below:

This graph shows the total mule deer crossings at both the Oracle Road underpass and bridge. Mule deer started using the bridge almost immediately after construction finished and have been used it steadily ever since (blue line). More recently, mule deer have become more acclimated to using the underpass, with increasing numbers successfully crossing all the way through the underpass since Winter 2018. It is well established that some wildlife species will use wildlife crossings right away with little acclimation while others may take years before they become acclimated and then will start using the crossing regularly.

 

This graph shows the total crossings by all wildlife species at both the Oracle Road underpass and bridge. Wildlife started using both crossings very soon after construction completed and have been using them steadily ever since. This new connectivity across Oracle Road increases the health of our local wildlife populations by allowing them to reach new home ranges and find mates (which then supports healthy genetic diversity) and also increases the safety of Oracle Road itself with a reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions. Miles of wildlife fencing was also installed as part of this project – the fencing directs wildlife to the crossings themselves and was designed using the best available science to accommodate a wide range of wildlife species.

 

Want to learn more about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings, why they are located where they are, how wildlife know to use them, how they were funded, and much more? Our website includes:

Coalition submits comments on the I-11 DEIS

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On July 4, 2019, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and additional signatories representing 27 community and environmental organizations, submitted comments on the Tier 1 Interstate 11 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Nogales to Wickenburg.

The full comment letter can be found HERE

Still haven’t submitted YOUR comments on the I-11 DEIS? There’s still time! The comment deadline is still 4 days away on Monday, July 8. 

You can submit public comments in multiple ways, including:    

Onlinei11study.com/Arizona

Phone: 1.844.544.8049 (bilingüe)

Email: I-11ADOTStudy@hdrinc.com

Mail: 

I-11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team c/o ADOT Communications               
1655 W. Jackson Street
Mail Drop 126F              
Phoenix, AZ 85007

For more information on this issue to help inform your comments, head to our Take Action Webpage.

Thank you for using your voice for the people and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert! 

Pima County acquires new open space properties

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February 25, 2019

Good news! According to Pima County Environmental Planning Manager Julia Fonseca, “In December 2018, the Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted a donation of 545 acres near the Ajo Scenic Loop in Western Pima County from a total of seven owners who wish to protect this natural desert over the long term. Pima County Regional Flood Control District also got full property rights to nearly 500 acres of the Big Wash near Rancho Vistoso Blvd. that was previously protected by a conservation easement.  The completion of the acquisition affords an opportunity to partner with the Regional Transportation Authority to address the gap in wildlife fencing between Rancho Vistoso Blvd and Oro Valley Hospital, supporting the Highway 77 Wildlife Crossing Structures.”

Pima County wrote in a memo about the 545-acre property near Ajo, AZ, “The properties are separated by a mountain ridge from the town and a large copper mining pit, and surrounded on the other three sides by mountains and federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Alley Road, a dirt road maintained by Pima County, traverses the valley and is promoted by the Ajo Chamber as part of a 10-mile scenic loop…as well as the gateway to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The properties are also in close proximity to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The properties are within the Multiple Use and Special Species Management Areas of Pima County’s Conservation Lands System. The properties are largely undeveloped and contain an interesting mix of large saguaros and organ-pipe cactus. Desert bighorn sheep have been seen on the properties, and endangered Sonoran pronghorn are known to occur nearby.”

We are also very excited about the new protected open space in the Big Wash, a crucial piece of the larger wildlife linkage between the Santa Catalina and Tortolita Mountains. Wth your support, the Coalition will continue to work with Pima County and the Regional Transportation Authority to finish filling in wildlife fencing gaps – this will ensure the Oracle Road wildlife crossings are as effective as possible for the benefit of wildlife and people. 

Oro Valley’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance produces results

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Bayer Vella, the Oro Valley Town Planning Manager, recently wrote an informative and exciting article for TucsonLocalMedia.com. Titled “Oro Valley Town Talk: Environmental Conservation values, balance, and results,” this article outlines the positive impacts from Oro Valley’s Environmentally-Sensitive Lands Ordinance (ESLO). In the article, Mr. Vella states,

“How did the community determine the right balance of land conservation and permissible development in the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance? Beginning in 2008, and over the course of two years, there were two advisory committees including residents and technical experts, community forums, stakeholder meetings and public hearings used to draft the ordinance, with final adoption by town council in 2010. 

Building upon the work of Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the ESL employs a tiered system of environmental resource categories. Each category has its own open space requirements based on scientific analysis and specific general plan land use designations. An extensive biological study was conducted within the town limits resulting in a town-wide ESL map of these categories.

So, has ESL truly made a difference since 2010? From where I stand, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

ESL results in tangible design changes that conserve significant environmental areas while also providing realistic development options. Due to legal constraints, ESL predominately applies to re-zonings, and has been applied to 12 subdivisions situated on a total of 771 acres. A full 432 acres of that area were conserved as permanent and natural open space, equaling 56 percent of the total land area.

How does this compare to the town’s previous efforts to conserve open space? We studied the same 12 subdivisions to measure a “what if” scenario using the pre-ESL zoning requirements. The amount of total open space conserved would have been 175 acres instead of 432 acres. Clearly, ESL provides a regulatory structure that yields consistent results, which is a far cry from the lower amounts and less refined mapping of the past.”

The Coalition was an active and involved member of the advisory committees that Mr. Vella cites and advocated strongly for the strong conservation policies present in Oro Valley’s ESLO. We are excited and gratified to hear that the ESLO has had such a tangible and positive impact on the biologically-important lands in Oro Valley. 

Pima County open space and tax base impacts

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In May 2018, Pima County released an important memo that explains succinctly why Pima County open space properties have a positive impact on the tax base. This was in response to an allegation made by Representative Vince Leach during the state legislative session that Pima County could receive more taxes if open space lands were sold to private development. 

Some highlights from the memo include that the “findings [of a 2016 analysis] showed that the impacts to the tax base had almost no measurable impact. For example, the highest percent reduction in the primary tax base due to these acquisitions was eight thousandths of one percent. The analysis also examined the reduction in property tax revenue, the highest of which was
a loss of $20,306 in revenue in 2015, which also equated to six thousandths of one percent of the total County primary property tax revenue that year.”

Furthermore, “This analysis also cited well known ways in which conserving important natural areas benefits the tax base and tax revenues. For instance, any homebuilder can tell you that they charge lot premiums for homes adjacent to natural areas, which are then reflected in the higher taxable values of those properties, and in turn, reflect higher tax revenues from those properties. This also applies to certain commercial properties. For instance, several large resorts in Pima County have chosen to locate next to Tucson Mountain Park, Tortolita Mountain Park, and the Coronado National Forest, and promote the recreational opportunities and stunning views provided by these natural areas. Westin La Paloma Resort and J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort are in fact two of Pima County’s top 20 highest property taxpayers. This goes along with the fact that Visit Tucson, our local visitors bureau, continues to find through surveys that one of the top reasons people travel here is our natural environment.”

If this is a topic that interests you, you can find even more arguments and data to support Pima County’s conclusions in the full memo

 

Pima County purchases 3,200 acres of new open space

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Great news! On June 19, 2018, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of 3,200 acres of new open space on the east side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The Tesoro Nueve Ranch contains parts of Buehman Canyon, an important tributary to the San Pedro River and a crucial wildlife linkage between the Catalinas and the Galiuro Mountains. The property is surrounded by other open space properties owned by the County and national forest, making it an important “piece of the puzzle.” Home to a variety of threatened fish, frogs, birds, and wildlife, including coatimudi and bears, we are very excited that Pima County will be adding this property to the county parks system. 

According to a Pima County press release, “The total purchase price is $1.55 million, with $488,000 to be paid by RFCD and the balance to be paid by the County Administrator’s Special Revenue Fund at closing, scheduled to occur before Aug. 17. That fund includes $1 million received from a 2014 Kinder Morgan mitigation agreement and can’t be used for purposes other than purchasing land for conservation. No general funds will be used to acquire the property.” Furthermore, “The property was part of the estate of Katheryne B. Willock, a noted archaeologist and a generous contributor to the University of Arizona Libraries, who died in January 2017.” 

More information can be foundation at the full Pima County press release

And check out this short but wonderful video of a large troop of coatimundis taken on the property:

Pima County adds 374 acres in Critical Wildlife Linkage

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Due to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan’s “Off-Site Mitigation” option for property going through Pima County’s rezoning process, hundreds of acres have been obtained in fee by Pima County for the purposes of managing and maintaining the land as perpetual open space.

One of the key elements of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is protecting open space as parcels located in biologically-sensitive areas go through the rezoning process. In most cases, the property owner opts to set aside a large percentage of land on their parcel and develop just a small portion. One lesser-used option allows for the property owner to acquire and preserve land in the same area and habitat-type. The SDCP also allows a combination of both options.

In the county’s most recent Comprehensive Land Use Update (referred to as Pima Prospers), language was added to define this “off-site mitigation” option:

The following guidelines apply to properties being considered for off-site mitigation:

a.The location of off-site mitigation properties should be within the same general geographic region of the original project site;

b. Off-site mitigation property should provide the same or better resource values as the original project site including, but not limited to:

1.CLS designations inclusive of 2004 Conservation Bond Habitat Protection Priority designations or subsequent conservation bond programs;

2.Vegetation community type (s);

3.Habitat values for applicable CLS Special Species (e.g., breeding, dispersal);

4.Surface water or unique landforms such as rock outcrops;

5.Contribution to landscape connectivity; and

6.Demonstration that the resource and conservation values of the off-site mitigation property will be protected in perpetuity.

c. Off-site mitigation of IRA may include the purchase and transfer of water rights that directly impact and/or support groundwater dependent ecosystems.

Last year, three parcels in the biologically-sensitive Tortolita Fan were rezoned by RedPoint Development, Inc. These parcels total 65.78 acres, and on-site preserved as open space totaled 26 acres. As such, there was a need to find additional land to “mitigate” the disturbance. This is where the option to mitigate off the site can be used as an option to “make up for” loss of habitat on the site. For every 1 acre disturbed, 4 acres need to be acquired off-site for permanent protection as open space.

The Coalition argued strenuously that these guidelines be applied fully. The ironwood habitat of the Tortolita Fan is not only biologically-rich but we are losing much of it to development in the towns of Marana and Oro Valley and in unincorporated Pima County.

In the end, a rezoning condition was adopted by the Board of Supervisors for the developed parcels and the owner deeded Pima County 374 acres for permanent protection. Our Tucson-Tortolita mountains wildlife linkage is now another step closer to reality!

Thanks to all of you who came out to support this action at both the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Supervisors hearings!

 

 

 

Lazy K Bar Ranch proposal is back on the table

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April 27, 2017

The Lazy K Bar Ranch development proposal is back on the table. On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Town of Marana Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of a new development proposal for the Lazy K Bar Ranch property, with Commissioner Marcia Jakab dissenting. The Marana Town Council rejected a similar proposal two years ago. 

In 2014, the owners of the Lazy K Bar property submitted a development proposal to Marana to construct 178 homes on the historic site and the Town Council rejected the proposal twice, both in late 2014 and early 2015. Councilmembers who voted “nay” cited concerns about the historic nature of the property and the density of the homes. There was also a large opposition from neighbors, Saguaro National Park (which lies only a 1/2-mile away from the property), and local conservation groups. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection ended up supporting the project at the last minute after receiving concessions from the property owner in regards to a larger buffer around the property, assurances that no riparian habitat would be impacted, and details about native plant protection. Our main priority was protecting a significant wildlife corridor on the property that is part of the larger threatened wildlife linkage between the Tucson Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains. 

This time around, the development proposal still involves the construction of 178 homes. Unfortunately, new elements of the project will infringe more on natural washes. We are in opposition to the proposal as it stands now. As Coalition Director Carolyn Campbell stated in a recent AZ Daily Star article, “We’ve been clear about what the wildlife needs. If they can provide that, we’re OK, but so far we haven’t seen it.” 

Now that the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission has made a positive recommendation about the proposal, the Marana Town Council will make a final decision about the proposal on May 16, 2017. 

To learn more, check out the official Marana staff report about the project, which includes the full development proposal, here

For an AZ Daily Star article from April 23, 2017, head here.

For an AZ Daily Star article published after the April 26 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, head here

For an AZ Daily Star article published on April 28 announcing the May 16, 2017 Mayor & Council meeting when a final decision will be made, head here

For a KVOA news story that aired before the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting that has some beautiful footage of the Lazy K Bar property, head here

And for some history on the failed proposal from 2014-2015, check out this AZ Daily Star article

If you want to express your opinion about this development proposal, send an email to the Town of Marana Town Clerk at clerk@maranaaz.gov

Thank you for supporting responsible development and the protection of open spaces and our critical wildlife linkages! 

Update: For the Coalition’s recommendation letter to the Marana Town Council on May 16, 2017, head here. The Marana Town Council did approve the Lazy K Bar Ranch development on May 16, 2017. However, we were also successful in advocating for the inclusion of an Open Space Covenant in the proposal and the protection of an important wildlife linkage area on the property.