Posts Tagged ‘wildlife linkages’

During Pandemic, Community Scientists Adapt to Save the Desert

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 4, 2020

Contact:

Jessica Moreno, Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.org, (520) 388-9925

Carolyn Campbell, Carolyn.Campbell@sonorandesert.org, (520) 629-0525

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

 

Coalition volunteer Henry Miller checks a wildlife camera located next to a wildlife crossing in Oro Valley. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

Coalition volunteers Josh Skattum and Samantha Wilber traverse a rugged road to reach their field site. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

Desert Monitor volunteers help the Coalition by checking wildlife cameras, like this one, placed on the landscape. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

New data from the Tangerine Road wildlife underpasses

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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

An impressive deer checks out one of the Tangerine Road wildlife underpasses. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

It looks like this coyote just emerged from safely crossing under Tangerine Road using one of five wildlife underpasses. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

Location map of five wildlife underpasses along Tangerine Road. Map courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

A variety of wildlife captured on camera near I-10 East

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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! 

 

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The latest monitoring data from the Oracle Road wildlife crossings!

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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:

 

Mule deer on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge in March 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

A mule deer uses the Oracle Road wildlife underpass in April 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.

 

New wildlife cameras generate spectacular photos

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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. )

 

 

 

Oracle Road wildlife crossings featured on FOX10 Drone Zone segment

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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). 

Tortolita Preserve protected in new Marana General Plan

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Good news for conservation in Marana!

On December 10, 2019, the Marana Town Council approved the new draft Marana General Plan with a few major changes we requested. This includes 1) solidifying the long-term protection of the Tortolita Preserve and 2) removing a “Special Planning Area” from lands southwest of the Tortolita Preserve so these lands will remain low density if they are ever developed.

Thank you to all the community members that showed up and voiced their concerns about these issues over the last couple months, including the newly formed Tortolita Alliance! Our voices can make a difference!

If you’d like more information, you can read our full comment letter that we submitted to the Marana Town Council on December 9, 2019 and our previous comment letter submitted to the Marana Planning & Zoning Commission in September 2019. The full draft Marana General Plan is available on the Make Marana 2020 website

You can also read two media stories about the Marana General Plan and the future of the Tortolita Preserve published in December 2019, one from Arizona Public Media and one in the AZ Daily Star

What’s next for the Marana General Plan?  Marana voters will get to vote on this new General Plan in August.

What types of wildlife cameras do we use?

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Interested in purchasing a wildlife camera for yourself or as a gift for family or friends? 

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. 

ACTION ALERT: Comments needed on draft Marana General Plan!

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The Town of Marana is currently accepting public comments on its new draft General Plan – will you send the Planning and Zoning Commission a quick email today and comment on this important planning document? You can send your comments to Marana staff member Cynthia Ross at cross@maranaaz.gov

If you’d like to access the full draft Marana General Plan, it can be found HERE

We’ve drafted some talking points below if you want some guidance on what to say. We know these types of planning documents can be cumbersome and time-consuming to review. However, they are really important in how they inform local government decisions around issues such as protecting open spaces and wildlife linkages; guide the locations of new developments and roads; and shape how our communities plan for future growth. 

THANK YOU for using your voice to protect open spaces and wildlife in Marana!

SUGGESTED TALKING POINTS FOR THE DRAFT MARANA GENERAL PLAN:

1.  The Tortolita Preserve needs to be identified on all Town maps. The General Plan is a 10-year document and there is an 81-year period left in the lease agreement. If the Town feels that it cannot be labeled “Preserve” due to perceived requirements dictated by the Arizona State Land Department, then the land should be, at a minimum, delineated on maps and labeled as “Open Space Park.”

2.  Given the investment that the Town of Marana has already made into a variety of environmental planning documents (such as a Draft Habitat Conservation Plan, the Tres Rios del Norte Feasibility Study, the Santa Cruz River Corridor Study, and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan), the Town should be developing its proposed Open Space and Wildlife Conservation Plan concurrently with the General Plan. Resource protection and conservation need to be integrated with land use plans, not viewed as an unrelated goal or addendum. 

3.  Wildlife connectivity open space across Tangerine Road needs to be protected and buffered. Wildlife crossings have been installed along Tangerine Road at public expense (by the Regional Transportation Authority) and need to function as they are intended. Without adequate buffers, wildlife is unlikely to use these crossings. In addition, Prospect Wash wildlife connectivity across Tangerine Road and Moore Road needs to be preserved as Natural Undisturbed Open Space and buffered appropriately. In addition to Tangerine Road, open space is necessary across Moore Road in order for wildlife movement to continue to the Tortolita Preserve and on to the Tortolita Mountains.

4.  Various maps, including Future Land Use and Future Circulation, depict a new interstate, Interstate 11, running west of the Tucson Mountains. Given the current planning timeline for Interstate 11 and the fact that a Preferred Alternative Route has not been chosen, please delete the route and both spurs back to Interstate 10 from these maps. The construction of Interstate 11 is well outside of the planning horizon for this General Plan, whether Interstate 11 ends up being built as an I-10 bypass west of the Tucson Mountains or at all. 

5.  While many of the implementation actions listed in the Resources and Sustainability tables, if adopted and followed, will help mitigate the on-going effects of climate change, an action should be added that will “develop and implement a Climate Resilience and Emergency Readiness Plan.” 

Feel free to use any or all of these talking points in your comments, or use them as guides and put them into your own voice. 

PUBLIC HEARINGS

The Marana Planning & Zoning Commission is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, November 20, at 6pm at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Dr, Marana, AZ, 85653. Please consider attending in person and giving your comments verbally. Each person will be given 3 minutes to speak. 

The Marana Town Council will also be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, December 10 at 6pm at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Dr, Marana, AZ, 85653. Again, each person will be given 3 minutes to speak. If the Town Council approves the draft General Plan at that meeting, it will then go to Marana voters for approval. 

Our full set of comments that we have submitted to the Marana Planning & Zoning Commission can be found on our website HERE

Thank you again for using YOUR voice on behalf of the people and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. 

The latest numbers from our wildlife camera program

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Thanks to all of our supporters and volunteers for another year of successful wildlife camera monitoring in the Tucson Mountains and Oro Valley study areas! See an overview of our Tucson Mountain camera project results HERE and our Oro Valley camera project results HERE.

 
 

We have been monitoring wildlife with wildlife cameras in the northern portion of the Tucson Mountains and Avra Valley for four years. To date we’ve seen over 30 species across 23 camera sites, data which helps inform our I-11 work and knowledge about the Tucson-Tortolita Mountain Wildlife Linkage. Javelina have been photographed most frequently, and it is good to see these native seed dispersers out and about! Other notable results in the last year include more badgers, and bobcats with kittens in tow.

In Oro Valley, we have been monitoring east and west of the Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass for a total of seven years! We now have excellent comparative data pre- and post- construction of the crossings that were built in May 2016. With 62 species across 49 camera sites (and nearly 78,000 photos!), we are seeing lots of cottontails and quail that are plentiful prey for coyotes, bobcats, and gray foxes. We’ve seen white-nose coati and bighorn, and our resident female mountain lion has appeared again this year several times just west of the wildlife bridge.

We will post more detailed results as we finalize project reports and dive into the fun and useful information these cameras have in store!