Posts Tagged ‘Pima County’

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

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. 

Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages featured in Desert Leaf magazine

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CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno published a new article in the most recent edition of the Desert Leaf magazine. Jessica’s article provides a fantastic summary of the history of wildlife linkages protection in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert, along with anecdotes and reflections on both black bears and Sonoran Desert tortoises and why they both need connected wildlife linkages to thrive.

Like black bears, tortoises have plant-based eating preferences. They also have few natural predators, can roam with compass-like precision and determination over hundreds of miles, and hibernate in the cold months. Tortoises get most of their water from the plants they eat, carrying it in canteen-like bladders. (Handling a tortoise can cause it to become anxious, pee, and thereby lose an entire summer’s water supply.) Roads and development are perilous hazards for them. But with thoughtful planning and community support, the threats posed by these hazards can be reduced or eliminated. In addition, safe crossings and open spaces benefit more than fuzzy bunnies, tortoises, and bears; they provide a beautiful, thriving, and resilient place for us to live.

The full article is available here.

And the full issue of the Desert Leaf magazine can be found at this website

Great work, Jessica! 

 

 

 

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. 

Opposition to any proposed interstate in Avra Valley grows

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The recently convened I-11 Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group has released a press release and position statement opposing any proposed route for Interstate 11 in Avra Valley. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is a proud leader of this new community stakeholder group. The full press release is below:

Citizens Convened by Federal and State Highway Departments Strongly Oppose Highway in Avra Valley

Stakeholders find Common Ground in Downtown Route to Create a Sustainable City

Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) recently convened representatives of several stakeholder organizations in a process to explore two alternative routes for the proposed Interstate 11 through Pima County. Stakeholders have developed a consensus position that re-designing I-10 and I-19 to accommodate co-location with I-11 could have a positive effect on downtown revitalization, while stating strong opposition to an “I-10 bypass” in Avra Valley. See letter here. “A freeway that borders Tucson Mountain Park, Tohono O’odham tribal lands, Saguaro National Park, and Ironwood Forest National Monument makes absolutely zero sense,” stated Carolyn Campbell, Executive Director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “The direct and cumulative effects of a freeway to these natural and cultural iconic places of the Sonoran Desert simply cannot be mitigated. This route should not be under consideration.”

Stakeholders believe that there are shortcomings associated with the federal review process that focuses on new highway construction.  However, “we believe that there could be a significant opportunity to address some of the historic negative consequences that resulted from the construction of I-10,” said Gene Einfrank, Menlo Park Neighborhood Association President. “The building of I-10 physically divided our community and diminished the quality of life of our downtown and other neighborhoods along the highway. Instead of simply adding new lanes to our existing highway, we should consider redesigning portions of it—either going underground or suspended—so that we can reconnect our city.” 

Moreover, stakeholders encourage a broader look at future transportation options, focusing on changes to the management of the existing highway to reduce congestion, including pricing, scheduling, and other programs; technologies that improve traffic flows; and enhancements to the rail system, including light rail and intermodal transportation.

The group recommends ADOT and FHwA refer to the I-11 Super Corridor study final document, which was submitted to ADOT in 2016, to draw inspiration on a comprehensive design. The Sustainable Cities Lab, hosted at the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, completed this transdisciplinary study on the I-11 corridor along with Arizona State University and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UA’s study area focused on opportunities from Marana to south of downtown Tucson. Their outcomes incorporate the addition of light and heavy rail, walking, cycling, new technology for controlling traffic as well as incorporating alternative forms of energy production and transportation.

Saguaro National Park adds $88 million+ to local economy

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According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service, “…964,759 visitors to Saguaro National Park in 2017 spent $60,716,800 in Tucson and other communities near the park. That spending supported 866 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $88,682,500.”

On the national level, “The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by more than 330 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally; 255,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $35.8 billion.”

Saguaro National Park is a crown jewel of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and we are proud to have them as a community partner. Founded in 1996, Friends of Saguaro National Park is a member group of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and works actively to “help protect wildlife and habitat, promote environmental education, improve recreational trails, enhance visitor experiences, and build environmental stewardship for the Park.”

More information and access to an interactive tool that houses the report’s data can be found in the official press release for the report.