Posts Tagged ‘wildlife crossings’
Did you know that there are now five wildlife underpasses under Tangerine Road?
As part of a larger project to improve Tangerine Road, five existing drainage structures were enhanced and improved to better accommodate safe wildlife movement across this popular roadway. This is a cost-effective way to increase connectivity across roadways that is less visible to the general public (as compared to a wildlife bridge) but still very important. Construction was completed on these wildlife underpasses in Spring 2018 with the cooperation of the Town of Marana, Pima County, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and other members of the RTA’s Wildlife Linkages Sub-Committee.
Starting in 2010, the AGFD completed pre-construction monitoring using roadkill surveys. After the underpasses were completed in Spring 2018, the AGFD started a 3-year post-construction monitoring project, including roadkill surveys and monitoring wildlife use of the crossings using wildlife cameras. According to an April 2019 progress report from AGFD:
Between May and September 2010 5,152 road mortalities representing 88 species were documented, helping to identify hot spots for future implementation of fencing and wildlife crossing structures.
[Using this data], the objectives of this construction project were to:
- Increase the size of five drainage structures and modify inlets/outlets to accommodate medium-sized mammals.
- Add funnel fencing at the crossings.
- Conduct habitat establishment evaluations, for three seasons, beginning one year after project completion, to determine whether any adaptive management measures are necessary to improve the effectiveness of the wildlife crossing structures.
Post-construction roadkill surveys began in Spring 2019. An April 2019 progress report primarily includes data from wildlife cameras installed on the underpasses and can be found HERE. A few data points and photos from the report are highlighted below:
Data has been analyzed to January 7th, 2019, this represents two full months of monitoring data for all five structures. A combined total of 1049 crossings by 17 wildlife species have been documented across all 5 structures to date. Coyote, javelina, and bobcat constitute the most commonly recorded species with 475, 365, and 130 crossings respectively, representing 93% of all documented crossings.
This is exciting news for wildlife in the Tortolita Fan and motorists along Tangerine Road. With the inclusion of wildlife fencing on either side of these five underpasses, wildlife are now being funneled to cross Tangerine Road under the roadway, leading to increased safety for wildlife and motorists.** We will share new monitoring results from AGFD when they release their next progress report on this project sometime in the next year.
Thank you for supporting connected wildlife linkages and wildlife habitat!
**Some observant community members have noted that this wildlife fencing is shorter than the wildlife fencing along Oracle Road. Why is this? The Tangerine Road wildlife fencing was designed for the medium-sized mammals that are most likely to use these smaller culvert wildlife crossings.
For 10 years we have had wildlife cameras on the landscape monitoring important linkages. We first captured photos of badgers in 2012, and they have made consistent, if rare, appearances since. Badgers are an understudied animal in Arizona and we know very little about their status in Pima County. We now have a total of 40 images of badgers across 19 camera sites, with a 27% occupancy rate (the number of cameras that detected badgers versus the total number of cameras out there). We have seen badgers at two sites in the Tucson Mountains study area, and at 8 and 9 sites West and East, respectively, of Oracle Road in Oro Valley. Our partners at Arizona Game and Fish Department confirm that one of the badgers we photographed crossed the wildlife bridge, moving east to west, earlier this year. We are diving into the data to learn more about them in our Sonoran Desert landscape, including a fun look at identifying individuals!
We thought you would enjoy these photo highlights, and a neat look at our preliminary results showing more badger activity during new moon nights than full moon nights. Why do you think badgers might be more active on new moon nights than full moon nights, when it is darkest? Badgers are nocturnal, although females may come out in the day with her young in Spring. They are also fossorial carnivores, meaning they live most of the time underground and are very good diggers. Most of their prey live in burrows as well, including ground squirrels, pocket gophers, packrats, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes. Badgers may be appearing on our cameras more often during the new moon for a variety of reasons. One possibility is that badger activity is correlated with prey activity, and conditions that increase hunt success. Are rodents are more active during the dark new moon than the brighter full moon, too? Can badgers, adapted to hunting at night and underground, sense their prey better on dark nights? In science, the best answers lead to more questions!
Many thanks to Pat and Henry Miller for contributing three badger photos from their own camera to our study.
If you haven’t heard it, you may enjoy Petey Mesquitey’s song “The Coyote and the Badger” on KXCI radio!
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.
Two summary graphs from the report are highlighted below:
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:
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!
CSDP Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno published a new article in the most recent edition of the Desert Leaf magazine. Jessica’s article provides a fantastic summary of the history of wildlife linkages protection in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert, along with anecdotes and reflections on both black bears and Sonoran Desert tortoises and why they both need connected wildlife linkages to thrive.
Like black bears, tortoises have plant-based eating preferences. They also have few natural predators, can roam with compass-like precision and determination over hundreds of miles, and hibernate in the cold months. Tortoises get most of their water from the plants they eat, carrying it in canteen-like bladders. (Handling a tortoise can cause it to become anxious, pee, and thereby lose an entire summer’s water supply.) Roads and development are perilous hazards for them. But with thoughtful planning and community support, the threats posed by these hazards can be reduced or eliminated. In addition, safe crossings and open spaces benefit more than fuzzy bunnies, tortoises, and bears; they provide a beautiful, thriving, and resilient place for us to live.
The full article is available here.
And the full issue of the Desert Leaf magazine can be found at this website.
Great work, Jessica!
New Game and Fish monitoring report documents over 4,400 animals using Oracle Road wildlife crossings in first 2 years
The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently released their latest monitoring report on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass. Game and Fish is in the middle of four years of post-construction monitoring of these wildlife crossings. According to the report, as of June 2018, 2,477 animals have used the wildlife bridge and 1,941 animals have used the underpass. The most common animals to use the bridge are mule deer, whereas the underpass sees a lot of javelina and coyote. One interesting finding is that with time, more mule deer are using the underpass as they become acclimated to it. Other notable species seen in smaller numbers include bobcats, white-nosed coati, raccoons, and skunks.
Game and Fish also continues to monitor a large group of desert tortoises on either side of the crossings with radio-telemetry devices attached to the tortoises’ shells. While none of these tortoises have been documented using the crossings yet, we are hopeful that eventually they will.
Check out some new photos taken on the crossings from Game and Fish below. You can also view the full monitoring report here.
Zocalo magazine published a fantastic article about Sonoran Desert wildlife crossings in its April issue. Titled Animal Avenues, this article features both the successful Oracle Road wildlife crossings and plans for more wildlife crossings on Tangerine Road and La Cholla Boulevard. Check out the full article, including a new aerial photo of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, here.
Give back to our community by joining the Coalition for our next highway cleanup along Oracle Road!
Our adopted one-mile stretch of road includes the new Oracle Road wildlife underpass. This is a fun way to meet fellow like-minded conservationists, get some exercise, and beautify one of our roadways, all with the spectacular backdrop of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
When: Saturday, April 14, 2018
Time: 8am- 10:30am
Where: Contact Sarah.Whelan@sonorandesert.org for a map to the meeting location.
What to wear/bring: Sturdy shoes, comfortable clothing, sun hat, and a water bottle. We’ll provide snacks safety vests, gloves, and beverages!
We hope to see you there!
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.
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.
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.
by 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.
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.