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Posts Tagged ‘Oracle Road’

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.

Oracle Road Highway Cleanup

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Give back to our community by joining the Coalition for our next highway cleanup along Oracle Road!

Our adopted one-mile stretch of road includes the new Oracle Road wildlife underpass. This is a fun way to meet fellow like-minded conservationists, get some exercise, and beautify one of our roadways, all with the spectacular backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

When: Saturday, January 13, 2018
Time: 8am- 10:30am 
Where: Contact Sarah.Whelan@sonorandesert.org for a map to the meeting location. 
What to wear/bring: Sturdy shoes, comfortable clothing, sun hat, and a water bottle. We’ll provide snacks safety vests, gloves, and beverages!

R.S.V.P. to Whelan by email at Sarah.Whelan@sonorandesert.org or call 520-338-9925.

We hope to see you there!

In wonder of bighorns and tortoises

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A Sonoran Desert tortoise, affectionately nicknamed “Calypso” by the family that found him, gets ready to be released back into the wild with a tracking device affixed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

by Jessica Moreno

Calypso is a healthy desert tortoise of about 25-30 years and a tortoise on a mission. He was named by a caring, bright 7-year old, whose family found him on their front doorstep no less than three times – after several kindly reminders to return to Big Wash and to stay on his side of the street. When they called us, I was eager to meet them. Arizona Game and Fish biologists joined me and placed a tracker on his shell using special putty, offered him a drink, and we returned him with ceremony once again to Big Wash, carrying him low as we crossed back over the street. Calypso was trying doggedly to travel east, but instead of using the very accessible wildlife underpass, he was taking the open high road: climbing up a rocky embankment, crossing the busy neighborhood street, and wandering just yards from the highway. (His tracker confirms he is now finally snuggled in for hibernation over winter, southwest of the wildlife bridge.)

Calypso may live to reach the ripe age of 80. But his story almost ended differently, and there are still animals getting killed on Oracle Road by moving through openings in nearby neighborhood streets, where either cattle guards couldn’t be installed at the highway entrance or the sound wall ends. We have identified the last remaining areas like this where animals like Calypso are accessing the street – and the highway – near the wildlife underpass in the Vista Mirabella and Vistoso Vistas neighborhoods. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirm a growing hotspot of animals being killed on the highway south of the underpass crossing, where these gaps in the wildlife funnel-fence begin. The Regional Transportation Authority, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and your Rancho Vistoso HOA have joined together with neighbors to solve this problem. We’ve been communicating closely with residents living next to these openings to find the best fencing solutions.

Thanks to residents’ help and feedback, the first of these gaps have been closed to wildlife at the end of N. Big Wash Overlook Place. A pedestrian gate was included for trail access to Big Wash. The wildlife fence has been a critical part of the effectiveness of the wildlife crossings, and we look forward to working with residents to close the remaining few gaps so wildlife like Calypso can continue to travel between Big Wash and Catalina State Park without risk of traffic accidents or casualty.

The promise of that remains. Recently, a young desert bighorn ram trotted down a small desert wash east of Oracle Road – the wildlife underpass directly before him, and the Catalina mountains behind him. This rare and memorable wildlife camera photo out of hundreds collected that morning caused us all to cheer! The potential is there for the Big Wash Wildlife Corridor to become a path for Tortolita-bound bighorns.

A young desert bighorn sheep ram trots north near the Oracle Road wildlife underpass.

 

The importance of this effort lies still in my heart. It comes with the wonder, excitement, and hope that a bighorn and a tortoise bring. For all of us desert dwellers, what better gift is there than that?

For more information:
Visit www.sonoranwildlifecorridors.org for local wildlife monitoring results and wildlife crossing info, or email us at admin@sonorandesert.org. The Coalition will provide brief updates at the Rancho Vistoso HOA Board Meetings.

The new Big Wash Multi-Use Trail has been in Pima County’s planning books for decades. However, with wildlife funnel-fencing guiding animals into the area near the wildlife crossings, and surrounding development constraining open space, Big Wash has gone from an important wildlife movement area to a wilderness-style traffic jam of animals moving and living in this natural corridor. The Coalition successfully worked with Pima County to move the multi-use trail further west, away from the crossing structures. And, by asking people to stay on the trail, we can give people the chance to enjoy the desert without disturbing the larger area and the needs of the critters that rely more than ever on Big Wash. We are also working with Pima County after some erosion-control work in Big Wash resulted in re-vegetation needs near the wildlife underpass. Wildlife are moving around with a bit more frequency before the cold of winter sets in, and we’ve seen quite a few other surprises.