Posts Tagged ‘Pima County’
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!
Pima County pursues new protected open spaces
Late last year, Pima County announced a slate of new protected open space acquisitions they are pursuing with the $2 million allocated for the acquisition of conservation land in the County’s 2022-2023 budget. The open space parcels include:
- A set of parcels next to the wildlife crossing over the CAP canal in Avra Valley;
- A set of private inholdings on the M-Diamond Ranch in the San Pedro River valley; and
- A small inholding on the Buckelew Farm in Avra Valley.
Want to learn more about these parcels? Head over to this Pima County memo that includes more details about each open space acquisition and maps of the parcels adjacent to the CAP canal wildlife crossing.
All of these new open space acquisitions are part of Pima County’s continued implementation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
The latest on I-11: Lawsuit sees its first day in court
On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, U.S. District Judge John C. Hinderaker heard arguments on the federal government’s motion to dismiss a portion of our challenge to Interstate 11 filed in April 2022 in collaboration with the Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson Audubon Society, and Friends of Ironwood Forest. Big thanks to the 30 Coalition supporters that showed up to support us at the hearing.
According to a press release about the hearing, “The lawsuit says the agency failed to consider other transportation alternatives, such as rail, and sidestepped the required environmental review before approving the 280-mile-long highway between Nogales and Wickenburg. The planned interstate’s west option would plow through desert wildlands in rural Avra Valley and between Saguaro National Park and Ironwood National Monument. It would disturb hundreds of archaeological and cultural sites and spread invasive buffelgrass known to fuel wildfires.”
You can learn more at at a KVOA4 story that aired after the hearing and a KGUN 9 story that aired before the hearing. We will update you when we learn more about a timeline for Judge Hinderaker’s decision on the case.
Whatever his decision, we remain grateful for your support as we continue advocating against the West Option for Interstate 11 and for a connected and restored Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona for all.
Want to learn about the history of Interstate 11 and ways to get involved today? Head over to our comprehensive set of webpages (also found at the top of this page under the “Our Work” tab), including a history of the planning process, a thorough list of media articles, maps, and more.
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@
SR86 Wildlife Bridges move to siting and design phase
In January 2022, a group of people from Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Department of Transportation, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection conducted a scouting field trip to finalize the locations of two new wildlife bridges on SR86 near Kitt Peak. These bridges will complement two existing wildlife underpasses built nearby in 2013-2014. During the trip, the attendees also visited the underpasses and associated wildlife fencing and were able to identify ongoing maintenance tasks so these underpasses continue providing a safe crossing location for wildlife for many years to come.
The SR86 wildlife bridges will be built to attract local bighorn sheep and other wildlife so they can safely cross between the Baboquivari Mountains to the south and mountain ranges to the north. The Regional Transportation Authority is funding these crossings, under a plan approved by voters in 2006 from $45 million allocated for wildlife linkage infrastructure projects.
Check out some photos of the field trip below.
Avra Valley Fence Removal Volunteer Day a Big Success!
On December 11, 2021, a group of local organizations and state/federal agencies came together to celebrate National Public Lands Day by holding a Fence Removal Volunteer Day in Avra Valley. It was a wonderfully cool day with volunteers in high spirits to accomplish something tangible and positive for wildlife.
A few fun stats from this great event:
- Over 65 volunteers, a group from the American Conservation Experience (ACE) program, and staff from Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Park Service joined together for the project.
- 3 miles of fence were removed from the landscape in one morning.
- 3 tons of metal, including fence posts and wire fencing, were hauled away.
This is a fantastic start to improving the permeability of the landscape for wildlife movement between the Tucson Mountains, Ironwood Forest National Monument, Pima County open space lands, and more. And a big thanks to the Coalition volunteers that came out and volunteered their time – we are so thankful for you.
This is the first of a few Fence Removal Volunteer Days – we plan to hold one to two more this winter and spring so keep your eye out for more details. We’d love to have you join in on the next event!
Thank you to all the organizations that helped make this event possible, including Friends of Ironwood Forest, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Saguaro National Park/National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, American Conservation Experience, Pima County, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Mule Deer Foundation.
Photos below are courtesy Carolyn Campbell and Lee Pagni.
Updates from the El Rio Riparian Preserve
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.
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.
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.
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 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 email@example.com or Janine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Pima County releases 2019 Annual Report on Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan
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.