Posts Tagged ‘Pima County’

Updates from the El Rio Riparian Preserve

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By Janine Spencer-Glasson, Friends of El Rio Preserve

The Santa Cruz River serves as an important resource for migrating birds in the southwestern United States. Migrating birds depend upon riparian habitat more than any other type of habitat in Arizona. There are several links along the chain of stopovers for migrating birds on the Santa Cruz River. One of them is the El Rio Preserve in Marana. To date, over 240 species of birds have been identified at the Preserve (go to ebird.org and search in Hotspots for El Rio Open Space Preserve to view the complete list of birds).

El Rio Preserve is a 104-acre property located along the western bank of the Santa Cruz River. The site has a long history of human use; it is located at the northern end of the Los Morteros Archaeological site and was occupied from approximately 850-1,300 AD. In the 1960’s, a gravel pit was created there to provide material to build Interstate-10. Later, it was used as a disc golf course. In addition to the Preserve’s role in providing bird habitat, the Preserve also serves as a link between the Tortolita Mountains and the Tucson Mountains, allowing wildlife to access water and move about.

West Lake of the El Rio Preserve in May 2019. Photo By Janine Spencer-Glasson.

This site has flooded periodically over the years, and water tends to remain ponded for six months or more, with periods where it is completely dry. This has created intermittent habitat for birds that need a site with surface water. Throughout this time, birders knew the spot as the “Coachline Gravel Pit.” Occasionally some interesting avian species would appear, including blue grosbeak, grey hawk, peregrine falcon, white-faced ibis, osprey, belted kingfisher, Bell’s vireo, Inca dove, and hooded orioles, to name a few.

An Indigo Bunting at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Andrew Core.

During a major rainstorm in 2014, the soil berm was breached between the gravel pit and the Santa Cruz River, and water filled the property almost completely, creating a beautiful lake and much buzz among people familiar with the area. Rare birds showed up, like the white-fronted goose, a white pelican, and plenty of ducks. Birders flocked to see the new lake’s avian inhabitants, and the parking area often hosted out-of-state vehicles. This prompted the Town of Marana to take a new look at what was now called the El Rio Preserve.

There were many problems at the Preserve, however. During storm events, invasive weed seeds and huge patches of trash would flow in and settle in the basin. Mosquitoes would breed where water remained under spots of dense vegetation. Much planning and work was needed to create a riparian site that would be an amenity to the neighborhood, while maintaining a natural state for birds, wildlife, and nature-lovers.

Improvements at El Rio Preserve have been a collaborative effort. The Town of Marana dedicated funding for design and implementation of riparian restoration. The Arizona State Forestry Department researched the area and wrote a comprehensive Forestry Management Plan that focuses on invasive species. Pima County and Marana extended the Loop Trail and constructed a parking lot with a ramada. Marana worked with a University of Arizona student, Alex Stoicof, to create a community survey, which identified riparian restoration as the top priority for the Preserve. She then designed a preliminary landscape plan. Marana has constructed a viewing deck, a water fountain, toilet, and interpretive signs, and planted native landscaping

Environmental education is an important element of the El Rio Preserve. Michael Bogan, Professor at the University of Arizona, has led a damselfly and dragonfly viewing and provided information and photos for an interpretive sign at the Preserve. The Town is coordinating with the Marana Unified School District and classes of students have toured the site and focused on science relevant to their studies. Boy Scouts have volunteered, putting up bee boards and bird boxes for kestrels and brown-crested flycatchers.

Birders at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Andrew Core.

Tucson Audubon Society supplied plants and members helped plant a pollinator garden at the entrance to the Preserve. Bat Conservation International provided agaves and helped volunteers plant them. This spring, the pollinator garden was in full bloom, with butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees enjoying the gaillardia, penstemon, native salvias, desert marigolds, and other flowers.

The pollinator garden at the El Rio Preserve in Spring 2020. Photo by Janine Spencer-Glasson.

The Friends of El Rio Preserve group has been formed to include neighbors and a diverse group of members from other environmental organizations. Friends of El Rio Preserve’s mission is “to promote wildlife habitat and connectivity in this beautiful, diverse natural area, so residents of all ages and interests can enjoy this urban oasis,” and we have planted pollinators, helped with weeding, and provided input on design elements and on interpretive signs. If you would like to learn more about Friends of El Rio Preserve, you can find us on Facebook or Instagram. You can become a Friend if you are willing to roll up your sleeves, join the team, and make a vital contribution to enhancing and protecting El Rio Preserve; contact Kathy at matproject@msn.com or Janine at janines07@comcast.net.

It has been wonderful to see so many organizations and volunteers work to create a beautiful spot for people and birds!

Currently, more improvements are underway. Pima County Flood Control is in the early stages of constructing bank protection which will cost nearly $1.9 M (nesting bird and archaeological surveys have been completed prior to ground disturbance).  The bank protection is designed to allow overflow connectivity with the Santa Cruz River during large rain events. Bank protection should be completed by this fall. There is currently no water flowing into the Preserve while bank protection is being constructed.

This fall, Marana will construct a connection to purchase water from the Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District and create a permanent pond approximately 5 acres in size. The Town is currently in the process of building an island to provide a safe place for birds to wade and rest once the pond is filled. The Friends of El Rio Preserve looks forward to assisting with pole planting native trees such as cottonwoods and willows and seeding other native annuals and perennials on the island.

Come visit El Rio Preserve once construction work is completed – you will be surprised at this lush natural site in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.

Raccoon tracks at the El Rio Preserve. Photo by Janine Spencer-Glasson.

Pima County releases 2019 Annual Report on Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan

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In March 2020, Pima County released its fourth annual report on its Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP). The full report can be found on the Pima County website HERE. According to the Executive Summary, six Pima County capital improvement projects and 52 private development projects were “covered” by the MSCP in 2019. While these projects cumulatively had 196.8 acres of impact to the habitat of vulnerable wildlife species, the MSCP required 767.7 acres of mitigation to offset these impacts. 

Some other highlights from the report include:

  • The Regional Flood Control District reported that 94.5% of applicants avoided impacting regulated riparian habitat.
  • The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved several land-use policies that promote reuse or infill instead of sprawl.
  • U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan for augmenting populations of covered species on our mitigation lands, and another for managing properties along the San Pedro River.
  • A new population of Gila topminnow was established in a stream on the County’s M Diamond Ranch.
  • During 2019, the portfolio of potential mitigation lands increased by approximately 250 acres.
  • Pima County staff, contractors, and volunteers mechanically removed or chemically treated approximately 1,470 acres of buffelgrass on County preserve lands.
  • Office of Sustainability and Conservation staff made 623 separate observations on Covered Species; these were reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
  • County staff developed comprehensive monitoring protocols for seven monitoring elements, including upland habitat, water resources, landscape pattern change, invasive aquatic and plant species, off-highway vehicles, and climate.
  • County staff in partnership with Tucson Audubon Society and the National Park Service established an additional 21 long-term vegetation and soils monitoring plots on County preserve lands.

 

The latest monitoring data from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings!

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Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) just released the latest and greatest monitoring data from the Oracle Road wildlife overpass and underpass. This represents FOUR FULL YEARS of monitoring these wildlife crossings since construction finished in March 2016. 

Some notable data and results include:

  • 26 different species have been observed using the crossings, including 11 species at the overpass and 25 species at the underpass.
  • Over 10,000 wildlife crossings have been documented by AGFD cameras – 10,843 to be exact. These crossings are fairly evenly split between both structures, with 5,490 crossings at the overpass and 5,353 at the underpass. 
  • Over 98% of the crossings are by four species: mule deer, javelina, bobcat, and coyote. 
  • Total crossings at each structure have increased year upon year since construction finished. This means each year more and more wildlife are using these wildlife crossings. 

For more results, you can read the full monitoring report HERE

To learn more about why these crossings were built, how they were funded, and more, head over to the following webpages:

 

Mule deer on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge in March 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

A mule deer uses the Oracle Road wildlife underpass in April 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

New wildlife cameras generate spectacular photos

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Thanks to a new partnership with volunteer, welder, and ecology student Raynor Vandeven, there are now four wildlife cameras out in the field with professional photography equipment capturing images of Sonoran Desert wildlife. These cameras are located in an area along the proposed I-11 route, in the Tucson Mountains, near the Oracle Road wildlife crossings, and in the I-10 East wildlife linkage area. 

We are so grateful to Raynor for his willingness to share these images with the Coalition and can’t wait to start sharing more of them with you in the weeks and months ahead! 

(Note: the photos below are examples of Raynor’s wildlife photography and were not taken in the locations described above. )

 

 

 

Oracle Road wildlife crossings featured on FOX10 Drone Zone segment

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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). 

New report on I-11 calls it a “white elephant” and “unnecessary”

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On August 8, 2019, the Center for American Progress released a new report on the proposed Interstate 11 as part of its “White Elephant Watch” series, which “profiles projects that demonstrates the failures of the current U.S. policy approach to transportation infrastructure.” 

This report provides a detailed analysis of this proposed project, including a point-by-point analysis of the Purpose and Need section of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The report concludes the following:

“ADOT’s proposed I-11 corridor has four major flaws:

  • Fails to increase transportation choice or reduce local single-occupant vehicle trips made within the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas
  • Promotes low-density land use and dependence on automobility
  • Produces significant environmental harms
  • Is based on flawed travel demand models that do not adequately account for induced demand”

The report can be found online and as a pdf document. It is well worth a few minutes of your time to read this timely and well-written report! 

Pima County releases Aquatic Species Management Plan

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In July 2019, as part of the continued implementation of their Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSCP), Pima County released a new Aquatic Species Management Plan. According to Pima County Environmental Planning Manager, Julia Fonseca:

“The Plan identifies opportunities for releasing target species on County-managed conservation lands where they do not currently occur.

The Plan inventoried streams, springs, stock tanks and large ponds for opportunities for releasing target species where they do not currently occur.  Species with the most release opportunities are the Gila topminnow (15 sites) and Huachuca water umbel (14 sites).  The most widespread target species on County conservation lands is the lowland leopard frog; there are eight additional sites available for future releases of this species. Opportunities at small, confined sites also exist, like the recent release of topminnow and umbel species at Mission Garden.

The Plan is a required element of the Multi-species Conservation Plan (MSCP).  It supports implementation of Arizona Game and Fish Department’s (AZGFD’s) priorities for the Santa Cruz watershed, as well as recovery objectives established by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Plan does not direct, authorize or fund any particular action on land owned or managed by Pima County or the Regional Flood Control District. Implementation will depend on partnerships with AZGFD and other conservation partners over the 30-year term of the MSCP. 

The Plan includes guidelines prepared by USFWS for construction of wildlife-friendly water features.  These guidelines may be of interest to private property owners who wish to maximize benefits and minimize risks to Arizona’s wildlife.”

We commend Pima County for their continued implementation of the MSCP since it was approved by the USFWS in 2016. And thank you for supporting the conservation of our must vulnerable Sonoran Desert wildlife species through our work advocating for the MSCP since 2000. 

You can learn more about the MSCP at our Habitat Conservation Planning webpage

Monitoring results from the Tangerine Road wildlife crossings

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Did you know that there are now five wildlife underpasses under Tangerine Road?

As part of a larger project to improve Tangerine Road, five existing drainage structures were enhanced and improved to better accommodate safe wildlife movement across this popular roadway. This is a cost-effective way to increase connectivity across roadways that is less visible to the general public (as compared to a wildlife bridge) but still very important. Construction was completed on these wildlife underpasses in Spring 2018 with the cooperation of the Town of Marana, Pima County, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and other members of the RTA’s Wildlife Linkages Sub-Committee.

Starting in 2010, the AGFD completed pre-construction monitoring using roadkill surveys. After the underpasses were completed in Spring 2018, the AGFD started a 3-year post-construction monitoring project, including roadkill surveys and monitoring wildlife use of the crossings using wildlife cameras. According to an April 2019 progress report from AGFD:

Between May and September 2010 5,152 road mortalities representing 88 species were documented, helping to identify hot spots for future implementation of fencing and wildlife crossing structures.

[Using this data], the objectives of this construction project were to:

  • Increase the size of five drainage structures and modify inlets/outlets to accommodate medium-sized mammals.
  • Add funnel fencing at the crossings.
  • Conduct habitat establishment evaluations, for three seasons, beginning one year after project completion, to determine whether any adaptive management measures are necessary to improve the effectiveness of the wildlife crossing structures.

Post-construction roadkill surveys began in Spring 2019. An April 2019 progress report primarily includes data from wildlife cameras installed on the underpasses and can be found HERE. A few data points and photos from the report are highlighted below:

Data has been analyzed to January 7th, 2019, this represents two full months of monitoring data for all five structures. A combined total of 1049 crossings by 17 wildlife species have been documented across all 5 structures to date. Coyote, javelina, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 475, 365, and 130 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings.

Mule deer and coyotes have both successfully crossed Tangerine Road safely using five new wildlife underpasses. These underpasses were created by enhancing existing drainage structures using voter-approved money from the Regional Transportation Authority’s wildlife linkages infrastructure funds. Photos courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

This is exciting news for wildlife in the Tortolita Fan and motorists along Tangerine Road. With the inclusion of wildlife fencing on either side of these five underpasses, wildlife are now being funneled to cross Tangerine Road under the roadway, leading to increased safety for wildlife and motorists.** We will share new monitoring results from AGFD when they release their next progress report on this project sometime in the next year. 

Thank you for supporting connected wildlife linkages and wildlife habitat! 

**Some observant community members have noted that this wildlife fencing is shorter than the wildlife fencing along Oracle Road. Why is this? The Tangerine Road wildlife fencing was designed for the medium-sized mammals that are most likely to use these smaller culvert wildlife crossings. 

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:

Pima County releases report on 2018 MSCP achievements

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Last month, Pima County’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation released their latest annual report outlining the achievements of their Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. According to an email from Environmental Planning Manager Julia Fonseca:

“Notable achievements during calendar year 2018 included:
•       The Section 10 permit covered impacts of 44 private development projects.
•       Forty-seven County Capital Improvement Projects were covered by the permit during calendar year 2018. 
•       A total of 974 acres of mitigation land was required to offset public and private impacts to habitat.  Over 4,000 acres is being allocated in the San Pedro and Cienega Creek valleys to compensate for current and future years of habitat loss.
•       The Regional Flood Control District (RFCD) estimates that the Section 10 permit saved them $200,000 in direct costs and $1.5 million indirectly due to avoided delays with one project.
•       The County developed a procedure allowing private developments to rely on Certificates of Coverage to streamline compliance with certain provisions of the County’s Native Plant Preservation Ordinance.
•       The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USFWS allowed a developer to rely on Certificates of Coverage to meet mitigation obligations for the Pima Pineapple Cactus under an existing Section 404 permit. This saved the developer an estimated $280,000.
•       The County RFCD reported a substantial increase in the number of riparian habitat reviews over last year.  Over 95% of applicants avoided impacting regulated riparian habitat, resulting in 2,196 instances of avoidance. 
•       Pima County staff, contractors, and volunteers removed or treated approximately 1,300 acres of buffelgrass on County preserve lands, and 90 tons of garbage from illegal dumpsites.

During the past year, Office of Sustainability and Conservation staff made 1,193 separate observations on Covered Species.  For me, one of the fun outcomes of staff’s efforts are their incidental observations, for instance this video of rattlesnake courtship at https://www.facebook.com/pimacountyarizona/videos/411068969458107   (Note, rattlesnakes are not Covered Species but careful observation will keep us all safe!)”

The full 2018 MSCP Annual Report  and 2018 MSCP Progress Report can be found HERE