Posts Tagged ‘RTA’

Coalition staffer presents on I-10 Safe Passages Project at International Conference on Ecology and Transportation

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By Myles Traphagen, Borderland Programs Coordinator, Wildlands Network

Sacramento, California was the location of the tenth biennial International Conference on Ecology and Transportation (ICOET) held September 22 to 26th, 2019. Jessica Moreno, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection’s Conservation Science Director, presented the “Safe Passages for Wildlife on Interstate-10 within the Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains Wildlife Linkage” project, made possible by a generous grant from the Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund.

Nearly 600 delegates from 19 countries attended the four-day conference held at the Hyatt Regency directly across the street from the California State Capitol building. The vast array of topics at the conference ranged from camera trapping workshops, wildlife crossing structure design, public policy, and the state of transportation ecology around the globe.

With nearly 4 million miles of roads in the United States, and the ever-increasing paving of new roads globally (estimated to total 16 million miles by 2050), the effects of mechanized human transport on wildlife, biodiversity, and highway safety are staggering. The constant, daily stress exerted upon wildlife and biodiversity by roads cannot be ignored. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is actively addressing this issue through a variety of projects, and the Safe Passages presentation made by Jessica at the ICOET Conference was the final presentation in the Connecting Plans to Action session, for action is our modus operandi.

The 20-mile stretch of Interstate 10 between the Highway 83 and first Benson exit is the focus of our project. It’s obvious to anybody who has driven through this stretch that the numerous drainages and arroyos, like Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek (which encompass several protected areas and important waters in the eastern Sonoran Desert), provide a natural travel corridor for animals that migrate between the Sky Island mountains north and south of I-10. This area has been a frequent zone of wildlife vehicle collisions. It’s no accident that these unfortunate “accidents” occur, because the Arizona Wildlife Linkages Assessment identified several wildlife corridors that cross right through here. This underscores the perils of the linear infrastructure like roads, railways, power lines and canals that increasingly dominate our modern world.

Now in Phase II, the I-10 Safe Passages project is using wildlife camera monitoring and roadkill surveys, along with community science engagement, to gather species-specific baseline data on wildlife passage rates and roadkill hotspots. We couldn’t do this important work without our dedicated volunteer team of “Desert Roadies” to help us with the driving surveys. Preliminary results, including a black bear mortality on August 23rd at mile marker 289 at Cienega Creek, have already begun to identify optimum locations for wildlife funnel-fencing installation, existing culvert retrofits, and new wildlife crossing structures. These data will inform State and County highway and wildlife officials on where to focus mitigation efforts to improve highway safety and minimize wildlife-vehicle collisions, and to provide justification for project funding.

In the US alone, it is estimated that there are between one and two million large animal wildlife vehicle collisions a year with hundreds of human fatalities as a result. The science of Road Ecology is attempting to reduce these occurrences by using crash analysis and GIS modeling of landscape variables that naturally funnel animals towards point specific places in their daily and seasonal movements. Progress is being made in identifying these places (like along I-10) where the greatest likelihood of wildlife collisions is predicted to occur.

With the data collected from the I-10 Safe Passages Project, we can identify and quantify wildlife vehicle collision hotspots and plan for and modify build-out plans to mitigate and respond accordingly to reduce these conflicts. In the case of the proposed Interstate 11, we support using avoidance and not building it in the first place! In the age of “Super-Commuters,” a term which the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife used to describe drivers who spend two hours each way traveling to and from work, we need to rethink our approach to highway construction and proactively mitigate for and modify the design and building of roads. To learn more about how you can help by volunteering or donating, visit us here. Keep an eye out for wildlife and drive slower, safer and less when you can.

CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno and Myles Traphagen, Borderlands Program Coordinator with Coalition member group Wildlands Network, at the International Conference on Ecology and Transportation in Sacramento, CA in September 2019.

 

CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno presents on the Coalition’s new I-10 Safe Passages project, funded by the Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund.

 

 

 

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:

Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings featured in Zocalo magazine

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The Oracle Road wildlife bridge is one of a few projects featured in a new article in Zocalo magazine about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings. Photo by Thomas Wiewandt.

Zocalo magazine published a fantastic article about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings in its April issue. Titled Animal Avenues, this article features both the successful Oracle Road wildlife crossings and plans for more wildlife crossings on Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard. Check out the full article, including a new aerial photo of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, here.

Clean and Quiet Shuttles Come to Sabino Canyon in 2019

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 The Coalition has been partnering with both Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) for many years, both on long-range transportation planning and passage and implementation of the RTA voter-approved plan that includes $45 million for wildlife crossing infrastructure. Recently, PAG and the RTA formed a non-profit called the Regional Partnering Center (RPC) to more widely engage in projects throughout the region.

We are especially excited about the component of RPC’s recently awarded project to operate the “Sabino Canyon Shuttle” service. This project focuses on new interpretive programming at Sabino Canyon, in multiple languages and on multiple topics. Given the ongoing popularity of Sabino Canyon with both locals and tourists, this is an incredible opportunity to share the most up-to-date and compelling information about the Sonoran Desert and all the accomplishments Pima County and partners have achieved under the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. We are also excited about their plan to use electric vehicles in Sabino Canyon. This will reduce air and noise pollution, both of which will benefit the people and wildlife that visit and live in this spectacular and biologically-important area. The vehicles are scheduled to be introduced in January 2019.

Additionally, we applaud RPC’s commitment to managing the Sabino Canyon transit service in a way that provides underserved members of the community access to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area through a new link to the region’s public transit network. The Coalition is proud to be supporting the RPC’s efforts and to continue our partnership with the regional transportation entities in Pima County.

For a recent news article about the RPC’s plans for Sabino Canyon, head here

New wildlife crossings on the horizon for Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard

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April 20, 2017

Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard will soon be the home of more new wildlife crossings in Pima County. Five new wildlife underpasses are currently under construction on Tangerine Road and three new wildlife underpasses are currently in the design phase for La Cholla Boulevard. The Tangerine crossings are in the Town of Marana near the intersection of Tangerine and Thornydale. The La Cholla crossings will be between Tangerine and Overton Roads. 

All of the new wildlife underpasses are being designed for small mammals and will be 6-9 feet in height. We expect a wide range of animals to use the crossings, including coyotes, javelinas, foxes, desert tortoises, and more. 

These crossings are being funded by the “Wildlife Linkages” funding stream of the Regional Transportation Authority. This funding stream is $45 million of the $2 billion RTA budget and is dedicated to infrastructure projects that promote connected wildlife linkages. 

As this area of Pima County continues to grow, these new wildlife underpasses  will make our roadways safer for motorists and connect critical open spaces for wildlife to migrate, forage, and seek out mates. 

To learn more about the new La Cholla Road wildlife crossings, check out this recent Fox 11 News story: http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/35151207/three-new-wildlife-crossings-to-be-built-along-la-cholla

Thank you for your continued support of connected Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages and safe roadways for motorists and wildlife! 

“Bat boxes” provide a new home for displaced bats under local bridges

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Bats emerge at dusk from underneath the Houghton Road bridge. Photo courtesy KVOA.

April 18, 2017

Did you know that southern Arizona bridges provide important roosting habitat for local bats? Many older bridges were built with long, thin expansion cracks underneath them. These cracks have turned out to be perfect roosting habitat for thousands and thousands of bats, and often pregnant females. Bats roost under the bridges during the day and then emerge at dusk in impressive swarms to forage, feed on mosquitoes and other insects, and pollinate local plants and crops. 

Unfortunately, modern bridge designs have evolved and these long, thin expansion cracks are not used anymore. When old bridges are now replaced, we run the risk of also destroying this important bat habitat. Local biologists and conservationists are trying a new strategy of installing “bat boxes” under new bridges. These boxes are hung from underneath the new bridge and include a series of thin crevices where bats can roost. Each box can hold approximately 300-359 bats. 

The new Ina Road bridge, currently under construction, is the first place where bat boxes are being deployed. First, bat boxes have been installed a mile to the south on the Cortaro Farms Road bridge. We hope that the bats currently roosting in the old Ina Road bridge will migrate down to these bat boxes when the Ina Road bridge is demolished. Then, when the new Ina Road bridge is finished, the bat boxes will be moved underneath this bridge. The Houghton Road bridge north of Interstate 10 is another project where bat boxes will be used to mitigate for the loss of existing bat habitat when this bridge is replaced in the near future. 

Both of these bat box projects are funded by the “Wildlife Linkages” funding stream of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). With your support, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection has been a proud partner in all of the wildlife linkage projects funded by the RTA and we are very excited to see how these new “bat boxes” work! 

Check out this Fox 11 News Story from April 14, 2017 to learn more about the new Ina Road Bridge bat boxes:

http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/35155657/workers-scramble-to-find-new-home-for-bats-displaced-by-construction

Check out this KVOA news story from September 29, 2015 about the Houghton Road bridge project:

http://www.kvoa.com/story/30147707/new-houghton-bridge-includes-plans-for-bats