Posts Tagged ‘Sonoran desert’
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!
2022 Wildlife Camera Project Recap
2022 was another successful year for our Wildlife Camera Monitoring Program, and also our 10th anniversary of this community science-based project! Big thanks to ALL the volunteers that have been the engine behind this project from day one!
Oro Valley Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
This is the project that started it all, and gives us the distinction of having the oldest and longest lasting community science wildlife camera monitoring effort in southern Arizona. Today we have 24 active cameras on either side of Oracle Road, that have gathered over 300,000 images of wildlife, including a mountain lion who moved through the underpass this year. We have also identified 24 wildlife species in this area, with the addition of a black bear this past year.
Watch a presentation about this project here.
Tucson Mountains Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
We have expanded this project this year, with 24 cameras on either side of I-10 between the Tucson Mountains and Tortolita Mountains, and 6 more planned to be placed in 2023. These cameras have captured nearly 124,000 wildlife photos over the life of the project! We have also identified 26 different wildlife species in this area, with the addition of the kit fox this past year.
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 wildlife bridge over I-10 and another at Rattlesnake Pass.
Sopori Ranch Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
In partnership with the Arizona Land and Water Trust, we are monitoring this linkage and using the images to promote this wild corridor. Today we have 5 cameras that have produced nearly 4,000 images and growing.
Watch a video showcasing this area here.
I-10 East Linkage Wildlife Monitoring
The I-10 East project involved two seasons of roadkill surveys and two years of monitoring key culverts and bridges for wildlife use and passage rates. Exactly 45 wildlife cameras were active between January 2020 and January 2022, during which time we collected over 789,000 photos and have identified over 36 species across our 10 monitoring sites, including both mule deer and white-tail deer, Mexican opossum, black bear, mountain lion, Gould’s turkey, white-nose coati, ringtail, striped skunk, hognose skunk, hooded skunk, Western spotted skunk, and badger.
Interesting records included a photo of a bobcat carrying a bull snake in its mouth, the Mexican opossum, and images of a likely mating pair of adult mountain lions traveling together.
This data report is being incorporated into a proposal for wildlife funnel fencing and improved underpass and bridge structures for wildlife. Pima County is also using this data to justify a funding grant to make surface water improvements near these sites, and we collaborated to submit scoping comments in October 2022 for an upcoming ADOT project to help improve the area with highest roadkill mortality in our roadkill study between mileposts 292-294.
SnapShot USA in full swing
The Snapshot USA project is a huge collaborative effort to sample mammal populations with camera traps across all of the United States. The study is designed to sample sites in all 50 states stratified across habitats and development zones (suburban/rural/wild/urban) with an objective of at least 400 “trap nights” (or days) per sub-project/ organization.
This year we were able to contribute camera data from 12 cameras in our Oro Valley study area, for the study period of September and October.
Despite a few challenges with vegetation growth creating lots of blank images, we contributed 3,208 photos of species including javelina, jackrabbits, coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, white-tail deer… and even a surprise black bear on the MALLOW camera! The entire effort has collected photos of 384 species at over 2,000 camera sites across the U.S.
As science papers come out of this data, we will share the results and findings with you, and we look forward to contributing again next year!
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
Desert Fence Busters
Join us for our last Desert Fence Busters event for Winter 2023!
WHERE: West Tucker Road, Avra Valley – more detailed directions will be given after you register
NOTES: Organizers will provide coffee and donuts/bagels in the morning and snacks, water, and Gatorade during break. No lunch will be provided. There will also not be a portable outhouse and camping will not be allowed (day-event only).
REGISTER TODAY at the Arizona Game and Fish Department website.
HOW TO SIGN UP: You will need to create an account with the Arizona Game and Fish volunteer portal (if you don’t have one already) and then sign up for this specific event.
1. After navigating to the event sign-up page, click the “Respond” button in the top right corner.
2. Click “Sign Up” to create an account and follow the required steps.
3. Once your account is created, including signing the volunteer registration form, you will be sent back to the main sign-up page. Scroll down below the photo to the section titled “Shifts.”
4. Click the “Respond Individually” button and sign up for the event (only one shift is available).
There are limited spots available so sign up as soon as you can!
Want to learn more about the Desert Fence Busters? Head over to our website for a recap of our events so far, including photo slideshows.
Join us for the Tortolita BioBlitz!
In partnership with Town of Marana Parks & Recreation, Arizona Master Naturalists, the Tortolita Alliance, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and others, we are hosting the first annual BIOBLITZ for Tortolita Preserve. Help us photograph and record as many plant and animal observations in one day as we can! How many species will we find? This data will help us protect this special place, currently a preserve under a long-term (but not permanent) lease from State Lands.
What is a BioBlitz?
A BioBlitz an event to inventory as many species as possible in a specific area during a specific time frame. Using apps like iNaturalist and eBird on smartphones, community scientists and biologists alike can collect high quality data by snapping pictures of wildlife and plants and having those observations verified by others. Data collected during a BioBlitz can be used to gain a stronger understanding of the ecosystem and may inform future research and management decisions. A BioBlitz is also an important opportunity for community members to learn about plants and wildlife, gain data collection skills, and build a stronger connection to the landscape.
Interested in volunteering? Sign up today at the event webpage for free for the time slot and distance that works for you!
CSDP’s Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno will be leading the “Tracks, Scat, and Sign Survey” at 7am. That specific event sign-up can be found here.
This is a family friendly event!
Questions? Contact Jessica at jessica.moreno@sonorandesert.
Pima County’s Open Space Conservation Acquisitions: An Overview
Pima County has invested heavily in acquiring conservation properties, especially in fulfilling the goals of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The County recently released a new report about all their open space conservation acquisitions. Along with providing a comprehensive overview of this decades-long program, the report specifically touches on the transparent public processes underlying the prioritization of eligible lands, funding mechanisms, and benefits these lands bring to the community.
You can check out the full report HERE.
Thank you for supporting our work as a partner and advocate for connected and robust protected open space in the Sonoran Desert!
Reducing Roadkill: Safe Passages for Wildlife on Interstate-10 East
By Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
One of the best things about doing roadkill surveys is watching the sunrise. During the monsoons, the sun breaks across the eastern horizon and lights up the moisture laden air and morning cloud cover with light and throws the foothills into brilliant color. The sun feels hopeful and the day new. The second-best thing is knowing that every datapoint is helping us make things better.
The 20-mile stretch of Interstate-10 (I-10) between Vail and Benson, east of Tucson, Arizona, divides the regionally important Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains Wildlife Linkage. This wildlife pathway is one of only a few – somewhat safe – crossing points across I-10 found between Tucson and New Mexico, and it encompasses several protected areas and important waters, including Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, making it critically important for desert wildlife in the face of climate change.
This wildlife pathway is protected partially by federally protected lands including Saguaro National Park, Rincon Wilderness, and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. Pima County has invested in securing additional conservation lands in this linkage as mitigation under the Multi-Species Conservation Plan (MSCP), including Bar V Ranch, Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Rancho Agua Verde, and Colossal Cave Mountain Park, which are managed under the Cienega Creek Management Plan.
However, I-10 cuts through this area of wildlife movement, resulting in more wildlife-vehicle collisions for large animals such as black bear, mule deer, whitetail deer, javelina, coyote, and mountain lion, as well as smaller species like box turtles, opossum, Antelope jackrabbit, white-nose coati, raccoon, badger, and bobcat. It also serves as a potential movement area for jaguars and ocelots. Existing culverts and right of way fencing are not currently adequate at reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions or ensuring safe wildlife passage in this area. Future growth and increases in traffic volumes will only worsen the frequency of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
Since 2006, several qualitative assessments and reports have been produced that highlight the area’s importance for wildlife movement, but there has not been a study that has collected data to build a high accuracy model of wildlife movements and roadkill locations along this corridor. With the lack of such a product, nothing has been done on the ground to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and to improve safe wildlife passage by employing effective mitigation structures like winged highway fencing or wildlife overpasses. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, in conjunction with partners, is spearheading the effort to collect data to provide the information necessary to make this stretch of I-10 a safer passage for both wildlife and people in this important corridor.
In the spring of 2017, CSDP conducted comprehensive assessments and wildlife surveys of the nearly 80 existing concrete box culverts and metal plate pipe structures between milepost 277-302 (Houghton Road to SR90), with participants from several government, nonprofit, and community partners, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Cochise County, Pima County, Tucson Audubon Society, Sky Island Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wildlands Network. Our results indicated that this wildlife linkage could be made safer for wildlife and motorists by 1) installing wildlife funnel-fencing to keep animals off the highway and to direct wildlife toward existing crossing points; 2) retrofitting and widening existing drainage culverts located in high volume areas; and 3) construction of an additional wildlife crossing between Cienega Creek and the railroad underpass near Empirita Rd Exit 292.
Roadkill surveys were part of the next phase of this effort: to gather data on roadkill hotspots, together with wildlife passage rates using wildlife cameras in the best existing culverts. We hope this 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 with site-specific wildlife funnel-fencing installation, existing culvert retrofits, and new wildlife crossing structures. Our results illustrate the need to implement changes and provides baseline information to evaluate the success of future mitigation measures.
Our Desert Roadies project began with a team of volunteers to help collect wildlife-vehicle mortality data on Interstate-10 between SR83 and SR90, east of Tucson. Desert Roadies volunteers worked in teams of 2-4 people, including myself, to conduct driving roadkill surveys. Observations were recorded by our notetaker with the GPS coordinates. Surveys were conducted in the morning, starting up to 30 minutes before sunrise, every week for 6 weeks during the monsoon season in 2019 and 2020, beginning in July, except when conditions were bad for visibility or driving such as rain, dust storms, or other low visibility weather. In addition to these formal roadkill surveys, we collected other data on iNaturalist.org from community members and personally investigated reports about black bear mortalities. We also requested ADOT records on reported animal-vehicle crashes in the study area. This data was analyzed separately.
Due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, carpooling with volunteers was no longer a safe option. So, we adapted as best we could by canceling the planned spring 2020 survey and having another monsoon season survey instead, which was conducted by myself and my family, Eddie Moreno (who is also a biologist experienced in roadkill surveys) and my two toddlers munching on donuts and “helping” look for animals from the backseat. This survey was done when the state was under curfew and lockdown, resulting in reduced traffic volumes. This likely was one reason for fewer observations of roadkill during this survey window.
Walking surveys are the ideal method for complete and accurate data. But safety concerns eliminated that option because we are using volunteer participation and this is a busy interstate highway with narrow right of ways. Therefore, the roadkill survey portion of this project was designed to be a broad-brush stroke only and we anticipated a small sample size. Recording categories of small, medium, large animals and/or by clade (reptile, bird, small/med/large mammal) are adequate for our purpose. Because of the project design, we have near zero detectability of small animals, and instead our target species are deer, bear, coyote, bobcat, gray fox, javelina, and those larger animals that the Arizona Department of Transportation consider most hazardous to drivers. The data will hopefully serve to provide a preliminary look at potential roadkill hotspot areas. For best accuracy 1) our GPS units had a one-button click to mark points quickly, 2) volunteers could also use maps and mileposts to confirm locations, 3) we analyzed the data in 1-mile segments, which better informs the fencing solution strategy and somewhat addresses imprecise location information, and 4) a staff biologist was always present to provide corroborating identification.
We completed two monsoon survey seasons for roadkill observations in 2019 and 2020, resulting in 78 data points of at least 14 different species. We were able to detect animals as small as a rock squirrel or cottontail rabbit. Skunks, raptors, and deer were not identified to specific species. All of our deer mortality observations (n=2) occurred between mileposts 296-297, near the Pima-Cochise County line. A hotspot of roadkill observations occurred between mileposts 291-295 (between Cienega Creek and Empirita Rd), in an area that coincides with a gap in available culverts and crossing points, and near several culvert locations between mileposts 283-287.
I-10 has been identified as a significant barrier to black bears in southern Arizona. In 2011, Todd Atwood et al published a study describing I-10 as a more significant barrier to functional gene flow for black bears than the U.S.-Mexico border, identifying I-10 as the dividing line between the Border subpopulation of black bears to the south, and the White Mountain subpopulation to the north. In our study area, these subpopulations meet and Romeo and Juliet romances unfold, ensuring healthy black bear populations in Arizona and in Mexico. For black bears, I-10 may be a barrier to gene flow as well as a “population sink” due to wildlife-vehicle deaths. This could pose a significant issue for the Border subpopulation, which additionally faces barriers to movement at the U.S.-Mexico border due to the construction of the border wall and other border-related infrastructure such as roads and lighting. Without safe passage both north of I-10 or south of the border, our southern Arizona black bears are at risk of genetic isolation and disappearing all together (what we call extirpation).
We have gathered four records of black bear mortalities in recent years, and three of these are verified with photos. These records indicate that the bears attempted to cross I-10 by following higher elevation ridgelines closely associated with the two largest underpass structures at Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek. We also have animal track and camera trap data showing successful passage under I-10 at a few specific culverts. Most of our observations show bears moving south. April-May and August-September appear to be peak periods of activity for black bears in this area according to our data.
Black bears are just one example of the impact I-10 is having on native wildlife. In addition to large animals like bear, deer, and jaguar, smaller animals are at risk as well. Saguaro National Park has been monitoring a disturbing decline in “lost carnivores” over the last decade, including skunks, foxes, and badgers. Biologists are also concerned about the local disappearance of smaller range habitat specialist species affected by habitat fragmentation, including box turtles, Antelope jackrabbits, skunks, kit foxes, badgers, and white-nose coati. Increasing wildlife connectivity conditions for black bears and deer should allow struggling populations to repopulate from connected habitat areas and also benefit a wide array of other species.
With the data we’ve collected, we have solid evidence to back up the need for funding wildlife funnel fencing where it is most needed and make the case for new or improved wildlife crossings.
Read CSDP’s final project report to Arizona Game and Fish Department here.
(Please note: Photos of roadkill animals are included in the report)
Want to help?
Although collecting information on roadkill is not for the faint of heart, the data it provides is valuable. In the future, CSDP will be looking to continue our Desert Roadies program in more areas. In the meantime, folks can also document sightings of wildlife on roads in Pima County at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/csdp-safe-passages.
This work was made possible thanks to the time, effort, and skill of the following volunteers: Matt Clark, Sami Hammer, Bruce Jacobsen, Ken Lamberton, Eduardo Moreno, D’angelo Padilla, Raynor VanDeven, Althea Weeks, and Daisy Weeks.
We also want to thank Scott Sprague, Jeff Gagnon and Brit Oleson of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and give special thanks to our collaborating partners: Myles Traphagen with The Wildlands Network and Brian Powell with Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation.
This project was funded in part by the Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund.
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@
2020 Annual Gratitude Report
We recently sent out our 2020 Annual Gratitude Report with our Fall 2021 Friends of the Desert Newsletter. Please check it out today and feel good about everything we accomplished together during a very challenging year! Thank you!