Posts Tagged ‘wildlife cameras’
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.
Want to learn more about what’s happening around the Oracle Road wildlife crossings? Check out this recent presentation given by our Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno:
You can also view a pdf of the presentation HERE.
by Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director
The last time I took a stroll down Big Wash, which runs along the west side of Oracle Road, the chill air pressed against my face mask but still managed to carry the smell of triangle leaf bursage and creosote. Gambel’s quail scurried away with their bustling chip-chip-chip alarm call. Dry for most of the year in that characteristic way our desert washes are, Big Wash has served as a connection for animals moving back and forth between the Cañada del Oro Wash and open space north of Rancho Vistoso. It has always been an important wildlife movement area, a key feature in a linkage connecting the Tortolita and Catalina mountains, and now, with two wildlife crossings in place and wildlife monitoring efforts nearing a decade milestone, we are learning more every day about the habits and movements of animals that often remain just out of sight.
Five year ago, when the wildlife bridge and underpass were built on SR77, the red ribbon was cut, the first critter crossed, and we celebrated. But the work wasn’t quite over. In addition to wildlife monitoring, Phase II of the project was to finish placing the last sections of wildlife funnel fencing. Wildlife fencing is an essential part of every successful wildlife crossing and is a vital component of this project to both effectively reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain a connected landscape for wildlife populations and gene flow. But a few jurisdictional issues and challenges to fencing placement threatened to hold up the whole project, so the decision was made to complete the difficult pieces after the crossing structures were done. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirmed hotpots associated with these fencing gaps. It was a problem, but addressing it had to be done right.
One of these fencing gaps was on either side of the wildlife underpass, at the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood of Vista Mirabella. We placed wildlife cameras to monitor the gaps and reached out to the residents and the HOA to help solve the problem. The solution, made possible thanks to the leadership of the Town of Oro Valley and the wise suggestion of one of the residents, is an elegant one. And it may very well be the first of its kind for wildlife exclusion: wildlife fencing connected to the sound wall will close the gaps at the north and south ends of the neighborhood, while specially designed automatic gates will secure the neighborhood entrances.
This is a unique circumstance since these are public streets and the gates, which are designed like a gated community entrance, will open to any approaching vehicle. They are planned to remain open during high volume traffic hours and close at night. The Regional Transportation Authority is covering the cost out of remaining funds from the original crossing construction budget, including re-vegetation and projected maintenance, and Oro Valley is taking responsibility to maintain the gates into the future.
After four years of outreach and problem solving as a community, we hope that construction on this final piece of the puzzle will begin this summer. There are still details to figure out, but light is at the end of the tunnel and the end result, I think, is something everyone can be proud to have taken part in.
A big thanks to Coalition volunteers Pat and Henry Miller for their help in monitoring the fencing gaps and their overall involvement in this project! And thank you to the Regional Transportation Authority, Pima County, the Town of Oro Valley, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for your shared persistence in this project.
More information about this project can be found in a Power Point presentation recently created by the RTA and the Town of Oro Valley.
September 4, 2020
Jessica Moreno, Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.
Carolyn Campbell, Carolyn.Campbell@
During Pandemic, Community Scientists Adapt to Save the Desert
Tucson, AZ – The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is celebrating their Volunteer Appreciation Week on September 7-12, 2020, this year virtually. The nonprofit organization made swift changes to accommodate remote work, shutdowns, and social distancing in the last six months since the pandemic hit, in an effort to reduce negative impacts on volunteers and support their ability to do science. Despite current challenges, the Coalition’s community scientist volunteers have kept up their enthusiasm to protect the Sonoran Desert.
“It wasn’t long ago that we had volunteers shoulder to shoulder together with 400 students for Critter Cam Field Day in Catalina State Park last March. Things have changed a lot since then,” says Jessica Moreno, the Coalition’s Conservation Science Director. “But I’m amazed at the participation and community spirit volunteers have shown during this time.”
The Coalition is an alliance of 30 member groups representing over 30,000 members, and has a small staff of four, with a mission to protect the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona through science-based advocacy, education, and collaboration. Their successes in protecting open space and advocating for wildlife crossings is largely due to their grassroots advocacy approach and the more than 60 active volunteers helping behind the scenes. Volunteers check wildlife cameras, sort wildlife photos, conduct roadkill surveys, help with outreach, and more.
New volunteers have joined since the pandemic began and, like college student Andres Martinez, are signing up family members to join them in the field, helping keep field teams within their own “social bubbles.” Other volunteers, like Patrick McGowan and Butch Farabee, are wearing masks and keeping social distance while they hike to check wildlife cameras as “Desert Monitors.” Some take their spouses along, or alternate field days with teammates. Staff deliver batteries and other field supplies on volunteer’s porches, rather than having people visit the office.
Jane “Middy” Henke is a “Desert Identifier” volunteer with the Coalition, who used to come into the office every Tuesday to sort and identify animals photographed by wildlife cameras. The Coalition changed over to a new database system so volunteers could work from home, with optional weekly virtual meeting hours to work together. “Now we can review the photos from our home computers to assign the species and number of animals we observe,” says Henke. “The current challenge for me is working out which type of skunk I may be seeing in a night photo, and maybe puzzling as to whether the nose appearing in the corner of a picture is that of a mule deer, or if it belongs to a white-tail deer!”
Volunteer Appreciation Week, from September 7 to September 12, was created as a virtual celebration to replace events canceled last April. “We want to recognize the significant impact our volunteers make, and thank them for their commitment as we shift procedures to address the effect the pandemic is having on them, and on their work doing wildlife studies,” says Executive Director Carolyn Campbell. “They are the backbone of our work.”
“More than ever right now I think people are looking for empowering and restorative things to do, ways to make a difference, and ways to connect,” says Moreno. “What we are seeing is really hopeful.”
For print-quality images, please contact Jessica Moreno at Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.org.
Did you know that there are five wildlife underpasses that traverse Tangerine Road? These wildlife underpasses were finished in 2018 and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) is now in the middle of a post-construction monitoring study of the crossings. In May 2020, AGFD released its latest monitoring progress report. We’re happy to report there were some very encouraging data and findings!
According to the AGFD report:
Data has been analyzed to April 7th, 2020. A combined total of 5,996 crossings by 23 wildlife species have been recorded across all 5 structures. Coyote, javelina, gambel’s quail, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 3,002, 1,695, 482, and 403 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings. Crossings of note include a gila monster at one underpass in April 2019, and a mountain lion at a different underpass in June 2019.
A total of 40 species have been detected across the five structures to date. The greatest diversity has been observed at underpass #2 where 29 species have been recorded. 16 species have been detected at underpass #1, which is the smallest monitored structure.
[Note: a species is “detected” when it is observed near the crossing structure. This is a different data point than documenting that a species successfully crossed through the structure.]
The full AGFD monitoring report can be found HERE.
Over the last year or so, we have expanded our work protecting Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages to the Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains wildlife linkage that is fragmented by Interstate 10 east of Tucson. 40 wildlife cameras are now collecting data in this wildlife linkage thanks to the amazing help of our volunteers and community partners!
A few updates to share:
*With our Desert Identifier volunteers that sort our wildlife camera photos currently on hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a backlog of photos waiting to be sorted at a future date. Jessica Moreno, our Conservation Science Director, is currently transitioning our sorting software and database to a remote platform. This will allow volunteers to access and sort photos safely from their homes! We are excited about this development and will let you know when the new system is up and running.
*So far, with the photos we have been able to analyze, we have photos of 11 different mammal species plus turkeys. This includes coyote, two species of skunk, fox, bobcat, bats, badger, mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, and opossum. See photos below for some of this amazing wildlife!
*This data is being used to develop a funding proposal with our community partners for the Regional Transportation Authority Wildlife Linkages Working Group. The proposal will be requesting funds to install wildlife fencing and complete culvert enhancements to make this wildlife linkage area safer for both wildlife and people.
Thank you for supporting the protection of Sonoran Desert wildlife linkages!
Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) just released the latest and greatest monitoring data from the Oracle Road wildlife overpass and underpass. This represents FOUR FULL YEARS of monitoring these wildlife crossings since construction finished in March 2016.
Some notable data and results include:
- 26 different species have been observed using the crossings, including 11 species at the overpass and 25 species at the underpass.
- Over 10,000 wildlife crossings have been documented by AGFD cameras – 10,843 to be exact. These crossings are fairly evenly split between both structures, with 5,490 crossings at the overpass and 5,353 at the underpass.
- Over 98% of the crossings are by four species: mule deer, javelina, bobcat, and coyote.
- Total crossings at each structure have increased year upon year since construction finished. This means each year more and more wildlife are using these wildlife crossings.
For more results, you can read the full monitoring report HERE.
To learn more about why these crossings were built, how they were funded, and more, head over to the following webpages:
- Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings Overview
- Wildlife Results: It Works!
- The Big Picture: Tucson-Tortolita-Santa Catalina Mountains Wildlife Linkage
- Oracle Road Wildlife Crossings: Frequently Asked Questions
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. )
The Oracle Road wildlife crossings were recently featured on TV station FOX10’s Drone Zone segment in Phoenix. Check out this 3+ minute segment to see some amazing drone footage of both the Oracle Road wildlife underpass and overpass, along with a great interview of our partner Jeff Gagnon with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (click on the image/link below to access the full TV segment).
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.