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  • The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

    The award-winning Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) is Pima County’s plan for balancing the conservation and protection of our cultural and natural resource heritage with our efforts to maintain an economically vigorous and fiscally responsible community.  Broadly defined, the SDCP considered the following elements:  critical habitats and biological corridors, riparian areas, mountain parks, historical and cultural preservation, and ranch conservation.  All five elements, along with fiscal analysis, were critical in forming a viable land management plan for Pima County.

    Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan HeaderThe SDCP identified the types of development that improved the tax base, and the relationship of these with the sewer service area.   Build-out analyses showed that not all land would be needed for urban development, and that certain types of development would be costly to the tax base as well as to various community values that were identified through over 600 public meetings.  Over 200 technical reports documented these values, using the combined talents of over 150 contributing scientists.

    In 2001, the Pima County Board of Supervisors updated the Pima County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, integrating the land-use policies and principles of conservation developed in the SDCP, including the Conservation Lands System. The CLS identifies lands necessary to achieve SDCP biological goals, while delineating areas suitable for development.  The CLS covers approximately 2 million acres in eastern Pima County. The CLS was renamed the Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System in 2009 in memory of Dr. Behan’s work on the SDCP and development of the CLS. 

    Since 2001, the SDCP has guided where public money is spent to conserve important natural areas, providing the basis for how cultural and historic resources are protected, and serving to help insure that our western lifestyle, heritage, and traditions continues. Read more on accomplishments here. The SDCP set the stage for later efforts such as the City-County Water Study, and re-investment in the County’s sewage treatment facilities, and created a new standard for public transparency and involvement.   The Multi Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) is the part of the SDCP that deals with compliance with the Endangered Species Act.


    The SDCP produced hundreds of reports.  We are still working on transistioning these reports over to a standardized format.  Please visit the SDCP Reports page to view reports. 

    The Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System is a long-term vision for protecting the heritage and natural resources of Pima County, protecting biodiversity and providing land-use guidelines consistent with the conservation goals of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. 

    Conservation Lands are those lands acquired or managed by Pima County or Pima County Regional Flood Control District for various open space purposes, including protection of cultural and natural resources, natural floodplain functions, ranching, scenic beauty and enjoyment by the public in a natural setting.  Learn more about Conservation Lands.  Learn more about floodplain acquisition and management.

    Many Conservation Lands were purchased through bond elections.  Pima County code requires that an 11 member Conservation Acquisition Commission oversee implementation of the County's open space bond acquisitions.  Learn more about open space and habitat protection using the 2004 bonds.

    The Pima County Native Plant Tool  contains species distribution listings that are a record of species that have been reported by township/range, and include both native and non-native species. 

     Pima County's Native Plant Nursery salvages plants that would otherwise be destroyed by County construction projects and grows thousands of native plants for landscaping around County buildings, in its parks and along its roadways.

    Pima County's conservation success would not have happened without the help of various partnerships.  Our partners range from private citizens to small non-profit groups to  federal agencies. 

    External Links

    Video produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the history and key elements of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. This video is being used by the Service as a training tool for Service staff, private entities, and other juridictions that are interested in undertaking broad-scale conservation planning.

    Green infrastructure case study by the Conservation Fund   

    Book chapter on the science behind the Conservation Lands System.

     Information on Pima County Department of Transportation's Environmentally Sensitive Roadways Guidelines and native plant salvage program

    Information on Pima County Regional Flood Control District's riparian restoration projects. 

    Site Map

    Please visit the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan Map Room for specific map tools such as SDCP Mapguide and SDCP vision map pdfs. 

    Get Involved!

    Sonoran Desert Kids Program

    Eco Kids

    Environmental Education

    Volunteer News - Newsletter for the Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department volunteer efforts.

    Conservation Acquisition Commission

    Come visit County Ranch Lands !

    Living with Urban Wildlife

    The Pima County Native Plant Nursery grows or salvages over 200 species of plants for public projects. Tours and volunteer opportunities are available. For additional information, please contact Jessie Byrd, Native Plant Nursery Manager at Jessie.Byrd@pima.gov or (520) 488-8022.
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    Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

    201 N. Stone Ave., 6th FL
    Tucson, AZ 85701

    (520) 724-6940

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