Posts Tagged ‘SDCP’
Coalition staffer presents on I-10 Safe Passages Project at International Conference on Ecology and Transportation
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.
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.
May 9, 2017
At the beginning of May, High Country News published a story about the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, written by local Tucson reporter Tony Davis. The story, titled “An end to Tucson’s growth wars: A conservation plan puts science ahead of politics,” is a thorough overview of the SDCP and its complex history.
Davis calls the SDCP “one of the most aggressive and ambitious urban land conservation efforts ever taken in the Southwest.” The SDCP can be a complicated puzzle to explain. The larger vision of the SDCP itself is implemented through an array of specific policies, ordinances, and plans, all underpinned by an exhaustive scientific review shielded from political influence. Davis does an excellent job explaining all these moving parts and how they work together to create true conservation in the Sonoran Desert.
Check out this High Country news article today to learn more about the history of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. We have been a proud partner and advocate for this plan since the very beginning – thank you for all your support for the SDCP and its ongoing implementation!
Fun fact: The article includes a set of beautiful aerial photos taken around the Tucson region. We helped coordinate this flight for Tony Davis and the High Country News photographer through LightHawk, Inc. Lighthawk seeks to “mobilize volunteer pilots, photographers, environmental experts, and storytellers to make images, collect data, inform the public and share their experiences about some of our environment’s most critical issues, landscapes and wildlife.” Check out their website to learn more.