Posts Tagged ‘SR77 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:

Learn more about the history of CSDP on this new podcast episode!

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On May 12, 2019, CSDP Executive Director Carolyn Campbell was interviewed by Amanda Shauger for the “30 minutes” program on local community radio station KXCI 91.3 FM. Over the half-hour show, Carolyn and Amanda discuss the history of the Coalition, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and what we’re working on these days. Topics covered include how and why the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan came to be, protecting Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages, our fight against the Rosemont Mine and Interstate 11, our Critter Cam program, and more! 

The full show can be listened to at:

https://kxci.org/podcast/coalition-for-sonoran-desert-protection/

Thanks for all your support over the last 21 years! 

New interactive case study about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings

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A new interactive case study about the Oracle Road wildlife crossings was just launched through the work of the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This case study features both a 2-page summary and an interactive map with more detailed information. You can check out the case study at https://arcg.is/09arn8 or look at it in the box below. [In the box below, click on the blue left and right arrows at the bottom to access the different sections of the case study. Within each section, click on the blue “i” in the top right corner to read the narrative about each section.] And thank you for all your support for this innovative project!

 

Leading the next generation out into the field!

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Manzanita students view the Oracle Road wildlife bridge with binoculars on loan from the Tucson Audubon Society. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

by Jessica Moreno

It was a clear, crisp day on March 6, and the freshly brewed coffee was almost as invigorating as the arrival of several school bus-loads of fourth graders and parents from Manzanita Elementary. Over 100 curious minds boiled out into the lower parking lot of the Santa Catalina Catholic Church on Oracle Road just south of the wildlife bridge. “Critter Cam Day” had arrived.

Coalition volunteers were already stationed around the seven activity tents laid out around the parking lot, as kids split into organized groups led by teachers Charlotte Ackerman and Jennifer DeBenedetti of the Manzanita Robotics Club. These students have been sorting and studying the Coalition’s wildlife camera photos as part of a new 4-week curriculum developed by Ackerman and DeBenedetti in partnership with CSDP. Today, they would have a field day.

Thanks to the Tucson Audubon Society, Manzanita students had access to spotting scopes for a better view of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It may not be surprising that the activities held their rapt attention and their colorful field guides, made especially for this day, were quick to be filled. Finely timed rotating activities included a spotting scope station to view the wildlife bridge and mapping points of interest. Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish Department taught wildlife tracks and track tracing skills. Wildlife rehabilitator and CSDP volunteer Kathie Schroeder and her outreach hawk Sueño shared the adaptations of Harris’s hawks and other birds of prey. Mr. Packrat brought a guest too – and shared the desert adaptions of native packrats. Stations also included games and activities to teach camouflage techniques and the importance of pheromones and scents. And of course, the day would not be complete without a guided nature walk to check a wildlife camera!

Throughout the morning, students and parents were absorbing the skills and knowledge of naturalists and scientists and giving back a thirst for more. As we met around the leftover coffee and homemade granola bars after the day was done, teachers, volunteers, and guest contributors all agreed that very few improvements could be made to this positive and inspiring day. The success of this event is something we hope to repeat, and expand next year. Eventually, we hope this will be a curriculum that can be packaged and adopted by other TUSD schools. Not unlike the critters now crossing new bridges, these students are poised to bridge the divide between knowing – and doing.

Coalition Desert Monitors Jeff Stensrud and Carl Boswell lead students out into the field to see their critter cameras in action! Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Read the latest story about Critter Cam Day in the Oro Valley Explorer, here.

Check out this fantastic video about Critter Cam Day produced by the Catalina Foothills School District:

Emerging issues with the Oracle Road wildlife crossings create opportunities for stronger community connections.

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by Jessica Moreno

Mesh wildlife fencing along Oracle Road funnels animals to the wildlife crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Once a wildlife crossing is built, the project still isn’t done. CSDP has remained actively involved with the wildlife bridge and underpass project on Oracle Road since its completion, helping to install educational signage, planning re-vegetation and erosion control, engaging on emerging issues like motorized use and other encroachments, and, of course, monitoring changes in local wildlife. For little over a year, we have also been focusing on building a stronger connection with the local Rancho Vistoso HOA and with the roughly 60 homeowners living near the crossings. Javelina, coyotes, desert tortoise, and a myriad of smaller wildlife have been slipping through gaps in the wildlife-funnel fencing, resulting in a two-mile plume of roadkill extending south of the underpass on Oracle Road. These open gaps are the cul-de-sacs and drainage areas within the underpass’s adjacent HOA neighborhood, where animals can access the street and bypass the wildlife underpass. While the idea of wildlife fencing in the neighborhood is understandably undesirable for most homeowners, we have been slowly coming together to find solutions and a compromise that works for all.

 

With some exceptions (there are always a few), wildlife are excellent neighbors. Quiet, shy except around the bird feeder, we mostly don’t even see them unless we make an effort to look. Yet they provide us with spontaneous joy when do catch a glimpse. The therapeutic hum of tiny wings at the feeder during a spring rain and the bright-eyed peaceful stare of a deer in the chill morning can make time stand still. Wildlife watching from our yards and community areas is part of why many of us choose to live here. According to a 2011 report conducted by the Tucson Audubon Society, in Pima County alone wildlife watching supported more than 2,700 jobs, and directly produced $19.8 million in local and state tax revenue from over $179 million in wildlife watching related spending. In one year! It’s nice to know that the pollinator plants and binoculars I bought contribute to a thriving economy, but I’m just as happy to see the tracks of the local bobcat when I go for stroll in the evening and to add another hummingbird to my yard list.

 

It is also good to know that our wildlife crossings on Oracle Road are working wonderfully, with mule deer, javelina, bobcats, coyotes, and more using them regularly. That investment has truly paid for itself, by supporting local wildlife watching opportunities and by reducing the taxpayer and personal costs of wildlife-vehicle collisions. There have been over 2,900 animal crossings on the bridge and underpass recorded to date, and – where the wildlife funnel-fencing is complete – roadkill is down to near zero. After the surprise of tortoises and bighorn sheep last season, one of the local homeowners photographed a beautiful badger (local nighttime rodent control, at your service) near their home west of the wildlife underpass in early February. We now have evidence of badgers on both sides of the wildlife crossings, and neighbors are sharing their sightings and their stories.

Wildlife fencing along Oracle Road helps to guide animals to the crossings. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

Here where people and nature encroach upon each other, finding balance can be challenging. The peaceful gaze of a deer tells me that the return in our investment, and the reward, is well worth some compromise. As wildlife adapt to their changing landscape, we can continue to enjoy their presence and strive to be a community of good neighbors in return. By bringing the community together as part of the process, we all share in that success.

CSDP Presents at The Wildlife Society Joint Annual Meeting!

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by Jessica Moreno

Coalition Program and Operations Manager Sarah Whelan presents the latest on the SR77 wildlife crossings and the power of citizen science at the Wildlife Society Joint Annual Meeting. Photo credit: Jessica Moreno.

It was chilly outside in Flagstaff, AZ this February, when we presented our most recent wildlife camera results at the 2018 Joint Annual Meeting of the Arizona and New Mexico Chapters of the Wildlife Society. Inside, the conference rooms were toasty warm – and when our Programs Manager Sarah Whelan took the stage it was to a packed house. Professional biologists and students of wildlife from across two states were there to hear her 15-minute presentation on “Monitoring the Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings in a Rapidly Developing Sonoran Desert Ecosystem.” In addition to the data and scientific process, Whelan highlighted the citizen science component and community engagement that made the project so successful. The two proceeding talks were led by well-respected wildlife corridor gurus Dr. Paul Beier, and Norris Dodd! We were in grand company. Also at the conference, we co-hosted a day-long workshop on wildlife camera monitoring, training participants in camera deployment strategies, study design, and sharing image management software resources.

 

Our full abstract can be read below:

Monitoring the Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings in a Rapidly Developing Sonoran Desert Ecosystem

The Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains wildlife linkage in Tucson, Arizona is one of the most threatened in the state. In response, Pima County and partners constructed a large wildlife bridge and a wildlife underpass across State Route 77, which bisects the linkage, in 2016. The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is supplementing Arizona Game and Fish Department’s four-year post-construction monitoring efforts with a pre- and post-construction wildlife camera participatory research monitoring study, focusing primarily on mammal species. Our objective is to develop a baseline and monitor changes in species richness and wildlife activity patterns in the study area. In addition, the project’s goals include close collaboration and data sharing with partners, and to engage and train local residents as citizen scientists. We are using the data management and analysis protocols developed by Sanderson & Harris 2013. To date, we have collected 3 years of pre-construction data and two years of post-construction data, with 41 cameras deployed throughout the linkage, including 11 cameras at the wildlife crossing approaches, monitored and managed by 56 citizen science volunteers. No bait is used. We found 44 species, including notable records of American badger (Taxidea taxus), white-nosed coati (Nasua narica), and desert bighorn (Ovis canadensis nelson). Preliminary results also suggest increased mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) activity west of the crossings post-construction. We continue to gather data to help inform adaptive management needs as wildlife fencing gaps are addressed, and to highlight the effectiveness of wildlife crossings in a rapidly developing Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

In wonder of bighorns and tortoises

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A Sonoran Desert tortoise, affectionately nicknamed “Calypso” by the family that found him, gets ready to be released back into the wild with a tracking device affixed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

by Jessica Moreno

Calypso is a healthy desert tortoise of about 25-30 years and a tortoise on a mission. He was named by a caring, bright 7-year old, whose family found him on their front doorstep no less than three times – after several kindly reminders to return to Big Wash and to stay on his side of the street. When they called us, I was eager to meet them. Arizona Game and Fish biologists joined me and placed a tracker on his shell using special putty, offered him a drink, and we returned him with ceremony once again to Big Wash, carrying him low as we crossed back over the street. Calypso was trying doggedly to travel east, but instead of using the very accessible wildlife underpass, he was taking the open high road: climbing up a rocky embankment, crossing the busy neighborhood street, and wandering just yards from the highway. (His tracker confirms he is now finally snuggled in for hibernation over winter, southwest of the wildlife bridge.)

Calypso may live to reach the ripe age of 80. But his story almost ended differently, and there are still animals getting killed on Oracle Road by moving through openings in nearby neighborhood streets, where either cattle guards couldn’t be installed at the highway entrance or the sound wall ends. We have identified the last remaining areas like this where animals like Calypso are accessing the street – and the highway – near the wildlife underpass in the Vista Mirabella and Vistoso Vistas neighborhoods. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirm a growing hotspot of animals being killed on the highway south of the underpass crossing, where these gaps in the wildlife funnel-fence begin. The Regional Transportation Authority, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and your Rancho Vistoso HOA have joined together with neighbors to solve this problem. We’ve been communicating closely with residents living next to these openings to find the best fencing solutions.

Thanks to residents’ help and feedback, the first of these gaps have been closed to wildlife at the end of N. Big Wash Overlook Place. A pedestrian gate was included for trail access to Big Wash. The wildlife fence has been a critical part of the effectiveness of the wildlife crossings, and we look forward to working with residents to close the remaining few gaps so wildlife like Calypso can continue to travel between Big Wash and Catalina State Park without risk of traffic accidents or casualty.

The promise of that remains. Recently, a young desert bighorn ram trotted down a small desert wash east of Oracle Road – the wildlife underpass directly before him, and the Catalina mountains behind him. This rare and memorable wildlife camera photo out of hundreds collected that morning caused us all to cheer! The potential is there for the Big Wash Wildlife Corridor to become a path for Tortolita-bound bighorns.

A young desert bighorn sheep ram trots north near the Oracle Road wildlife underpass.

 

The importance of this effort lies still in my heart. It comes with the wonder, excitement, and hope that a bighorn and a tortoise bring. For all of us desert dwellers, what better gift is there than that?

For more information:
Visit www.sonoranwildlifecorridors.org for local wildlife monitoring results and wildlife crossing info, or email us at admin@sonorandesert.org. The Coalition will provide brief updates at the Rancho Vistoso HOA Board Meetings.

The new Big Wash Multi-Use Trail has been in Pima County’s planning books for decades. However, with wildlife funnel-fencing guiding animals into the area near the wildlife crossings, and surrounding development constraining open space, Big Wash has gone from an important wildlife movement area to a wilderness-style traffic jam of animals moving and living in this natural corridor. The Coalition successfully worked with Pima County to move the multi-use trail further west, away from the crossing structures. And, by asking people to stay on the trail, we can give people the chance to enjoy the desert without disturbing the larger area and the needs of the critters that rely more than ever on Big Wash. We are also working with Pima County after some erosion-control work in Big Wash resulted in re-vegetation needs near the wildlife underpass. Wildlife are moving around with a bit more frequency before the cold of winter sets in, and we’ve seen quite a few other surprises.

Coalition Director featured on AZ Public Media’s Metro Week

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March 28, 2017

Coalition Director Carolyn Campbell was interviewed for Arizona Public Media’s Metro Week TV spot recently. Joined by Arizona Game and Fish biologist Jeff Gagnon, both Carolyn and Jeff discuss the new Oracle Road wildlife crossings, what it took to get them constructed, plans for future crossings, citizen science efforts, and what has surprised them now that the first year of monitoring has finished. 

Check out the interview below!