Posts Tagged ‘Sonoran desert’
By Ken Lamberton
On day 218 of the Pandemic, my daughter Jessica and I hike in black masks south along Speeden Wash to her wildlife cameras under the I-10 culverts in the 3000-acre Empire Ranch. She is here for her research project documenting the migrations of bear and mountain lion, bobcat, badger, and coati by using her tracking skills, roadkill surveys, and 36 cameras and 14 volunteers. I’m here for the birds.
Last summer, I listed two dozen species, including several raptors and the tiny, gray desert-riparian warbler with the rufous rump and crown named for the daughter of a nineteenth-century ornithologist and the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution. Lucy Hunter Baird, an expert naturalist and scientist in her own right, came from a family and history of strong, independent, and intellectually curious women. Which isn’t surprising to me. I’m surrounded by such women.
This morning, trailing behind Jessica, I count the birds on one hand. A pair of cactus wrens rattles somewhere unseen. A curve-billed thrasher becomes mesquite shadow. The desert is cool and quiet—quiet, at least, until we reach the freeway. While Jessica pulls the memory cards and changes batteries on cameras we previously glued to the concrete culverts, I search for Lucy’s warblers in the usual places but find none. Despite the one in my yard last week—a first-ever and number 129 on my Bisbee yard list—I imagine most have already made the fall journey back to southwestern Mexico.
When she finishes and we hoist our packs, a small sparrow lands in the sand in front of us. I see a rusty crown and think juvenile white-crown sparrow, another common bird, but snap four pictures anyway. Species number five for the day.
Then I’m off to Willcox and the Twin Lakes Golf Course to check out the shorebirds and a recent rare bird report of a greater white-fronted goose while Jessica heads for home in the opposite direction.
This evening, as usual, I download the day’s photos and begin deleting them—mostly scores of images either out of focus or of something I don’t recognize or remember. Why did I take a fuzzy picture of this white-thorn thicket? The joys of digital technology. When I come to the sparrow at Speeden Wash, my finger pauses over the delete key. I enlarge the image and see that it’s not a white-crown. Maybe a chipping or Brewer’s sparrow? But the lores—the tiny spaces between the eye and beak—are pale. And the cheek patch looks well defined above a dark “mustache.” The breast feathers seem buffy, almost the color of clay…
With rising excitement, I post two blown-up pictures of the sparrow to my birding friends on social media and get an immediate response: Clay-colored Sparrow! A rare transient in Arizona and a species I’ve never seen before: Life Bird #437.
After a year-long process of internal reflection and evaluation, surveying our key stakeholders, and working closely with our Board of Directors, we recently finalized our 2020 Strategic Plan. We are excited to share this with you and hope you are inspired to continue walking with us on this path towards a protected Sonoran Desert for all.
We’d love for you to read through our Strategic Plan and be inspired to join us as we continue passionately pursuing our goals and objectives in the months and years ahead. Thank you for your ongoing support – it is an essential component to this important work!
When did you fall in love with the Sonoran Desert? I suspect your answer and mine are the same – you fell in love the first time you wandered into it. For me, this was in early April 2009 on my first visit to Tucson. There’s something so transfixing about all of it: the majestic, arborescent Saguaro; the fascinating varieties of chollas; the stately Ocotillo; and the incredible biodiversity in terms of wildlife that though I did not see on that first visit, were very much there.
I had many options for post-grad institutions, and all things being more or less equal, academically, between different Public Administration Programs, I wanted to live in a place where I could hike and explore year-round. Clearly Tucson, in the lower Sonoran Desert and surrounded by imposing Sky Islands, fit the bill.
I’ve always been a preservationist; that value was instilled early in my life when year after year my family would visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, but that sense has greatly expanded every time I’ve stepped onto a trail here. This was the driving factor in me pursuing an internship with the Coalition. I was brought on board, first and foremost, to take on the discovery of records related to the proposed Interstate 11 project, which would run through – and destroy – the Avra Valley as it exists today. I wrote several Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple stakeholders in the process, a sometimes arduous and frustrating task but also a greatly rewarding one that revealed among many things: the legal questionability of running I-11 thru the Tucson Mitigation Corridor, a lackluster archaeological survey, the likely inappropriateness of the exclusion of Ironwood Forest National Monument from the Tier I analysis, the questionable exclusion of the potential impacts of a high speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix on traffic on I-10, ADOT’s own models showing a merely 4 minute “negligible” time saving between Nogales and Casa Grande on I-11 versus the existing I-10 at peak driving times and a “negligible” amount of truck traffic expected to move from I-10 to I-11, and an overall general Tier I analysis that could not be considered sufficient to presenting the impacts of I-11 on the environment. Though I-11 was my main focus, I also got to work on (and get a crash course in) Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System, and the Multi-species Conservation Plan – all projects CSDP put considerable time and energy into developing. Finally, I was able to get my hands dirty in the field while helping install cameras.
In my time at the Coalition, I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to work with a committed group of people in Carolyn, Jessica, Whelan, and Kathleen, plus Kevin Dahl with NPCA and Cyndi Tuell with Western Watersheds Project, whom are just as good people as they are advocates. It was truly a pleasure to come in every Tuesday to the CSDP Office to work. It was as much a pleasure as it was to be with them as it is to step into the desert on an early Spring hike, and this is not something I say lightly.
The Sonoran Desert is an incredibly beautiful, timeless place, as best exemplified by its ancient Saguaros, but it is not invulnerable. Buffelgrass and other invasive species and continued, mindless sprawl are immediate, serious threats in many places. These threats are exemplified by I-11 itself and the Bighorn Fire, which though spared the majority of the lower Sonoran Desert and its Saguaros, burned (and thus killed) countless higher elevation Saguaros. Had the Bighorn Fire dipped further into the many canyons in the Catalinas, the effect of Buffelgrass would have been total devastation of the Sonoran ecosystem in those areas. Further, Climate Change threatens not just the Sonoran Desert, but landscapes (and more importantly, people) across the planet. Other additional threats exist including but not limited to: mining, overgrazing, and the border wall. But I am not resigned to defeat in the face of these – there are so many organizations in addition to the Coalition fighting these threats, too numerous to name, who are making a difference.
As for me, my future is uncertain at the moment. I graduated in May with a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Arizona and entered a world ravaged by the impacts of the Coronavirus. Thus far my employment endeavors have proven fruitless and I will likely have to leave Tucson as a result. I hope to stay connected with the Coalition and even provide help, if the need arises, particularly with regards to I-11, during my time in between finding work. Yet it is not all bad news – I’m proud of the work I was able to do that has brought important facts about I-11 into the light and I’m proud to have been part of an organization that is so committed to protecting the Sonoran Desert and its biodiversity.
A HUGE thank you to Rob from all of us at the Coalition for all your work for us and the Sonoran Desert during your internship. We are so grateful for everything you contributed to our mission and can’t wait to see what you do next!
Although we know most of us are pretty preoccupied with the current global pandemic, we decided to still send out our spring newsletter, hoping to inject a little joy and positivity into your mailboxes and inboxes.
Check out the following articles in our Spring 2020 Friends of the Desert newsletter:
- New project collecting data on Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone mountains wildlife linkage
- Healing scars in the desert: wildlife crossings an important piece of protecting the Sonoran Desert
- Local community rallies to save Tortolita Preserve
- And more!
And, as always, thank you for supporting a protected and connected Sonoran Desert!
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. )
Would you be interested in going on a field trip to learn about one of the Coalition’s programs, meet some great people, and get outside into our beautiful Sonoran Desert for a morning or evening?
We’d love to have you join us on two field trips being offered on Saturday, March 21 and Monday, March 30. See below for details!
Field trip options include:
1. WILDLIFE CROSSING EXPERIENCE
Saturday, March 21, 10am-12pm
What does it take to build a wildlife crossing? In 2016, the Oracle Road wildlife crossings were closed to the public to allow wildlife freedom to roam – and wow, did they! We will have a chance to make a special visit to the bridge and underpass so you can get a critter’s perspective on this landscape-level link that connects the Catalina and Tortolita mountains. We will check a nearby wildlife camera to see what has been passing through, examine wildlife tracks, describe our future native plant restoration plans, and share the most exciting results we have to date. We’ll end with an optional lunch at a nearby locally owned eatery. Maximum 8 people. Optional lunch afterwards.
A field trip to the Oracle Road wildlife underpass with community partners.
2. BATS AND TRACKS ON THE SANTA CRUZ RIVER
Monday, March 30, 5-7pm
Come along for a relaxing evening with Coalition staff on the northwest side of Tucson as we explore the Cortaro Road and Ina Road bat project. Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno will show us how to identify wildlife tracks along the Santa Cruz River, where we may see sign of bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, and even badger. Get crafty and make your own plaster cast of your favorite animal track to take home. We will visit the bat boxes and talk about why they are the most successful man-made bat habitats in the country to date. At dusk, we can sit back and enjoy your drink of choice while watching the spectacular bat outflight against a backdrop of the glorious desert sunset. Maximum 8 people. Family friendly, kids welcome!
Local bats take flight at dusk. Photo by Jessica Moreno.
CSDP supporters Caleb Pocock, Megan Kettner, Susan Husband, and Carol Foster on a Bats & Tracks field trip to the Ina Road bat boxes with CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno in December 2019.
If you are interested in any of the above field trips, please fill out this brief SURVEY to let us know which trips you are interested in attending. Field trips will be filled on a first come, first serve basis and the RSVP deadline is Wednesday, March 18. After you fill out the survey, we will send you a personal email to confirm your attendance on the field trip. We can’t wait to get to know you more out in the field!
The short answer from our Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno is:
I recommend checking out the reviews and the beginner’s buyers guide found at www.trailcampro.com. With new models coming on the market all the time, this is a great resource for up to date recommendations and tips. You get what you pay for, so I don’t recommend anything worth less than $100. To minimize animal disturbance, choose an infrared/IR camera over white flash.
For more information, check out Jessica’s longer article in the Desert Leaf, “Wildlife (caught) on camera” which gives more details on wildlife cameras, the different ways they are used, some rules and regulations to think about depending on where you’re placing them, and what to think about when buying one.
If you do end up buying a camera and get some interesting pictures of Sonoran Desert wildlife, we’d love to see them!
Note: Another fun resource is the Backyard Wildlife of the Southwest Facebook page where wildlife enthusiasts from around the Southwest regularly post photos of wildlife taken with their wildlife cameras and regular cameras.
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.
On July 4, 2019, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and additional signatories representing 27 community and environmental organizations, submitted comments on the Tier 1 Interstate 11 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Nogales to Wickenburg.
The full comment letter can be found HERE.
Still haven’t submitted YOUR comments on the I-11 DEIS? There’s still time! The comment deadline is still 4 days away on Monday, July 8.
You can submit public comments in multiple ways, including:
Phone: 1.844.544.8049 (bilingüe)
I-11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team c/o ADOT Communications
1655 W. Jackson Street
Mail Drop 126F
Phoenix, AZ 85007
For more information on this issue to help inform your comments, head to our Take Action Webpage.
Thank you for using your voice for the people and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert!
On Saturday, April 27, a new show on NBC, “1st Look,” aired a segment after Saturday Night Live about the Coalition and our work on the Oracle Road wildlife crossings. Coalition Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno spent a long day in the field with the crew and host of the show, Johnny Bananas, in mid-March showing them the Oracle Road wildlife crossings, looking for a collared mule deer, tracking down a tortoise outfitted with a radio telemetry device, showing off one of our wildlife cameras, and more. Scientists from Arizona Game and Fish Department joined us for part of the day, along with Coalition volunteer and superstar Kathie Schroeder and her hawk Sueño. You can view the full 6-minute segment HERE or by clicking on the image below.
And a huge thank you to all our community science volunteers and supporters that have been instrumental to this project and volunteer program!