Pima County Ecological Monitoring Program

Ecological Monitoring

Monitoring: An Essential Element of the MSCP

The Pima County Ecological Monitoring Program (PCEMP) is being developed to determine if the County’s conservation measures, particularily the Multi-species Conservation Plan (MSCP) mitigation measures, are proving effective at meeting the USFWS requirements of the MSCP, as well as addressing SDCP goals.  The goal of the PCEMP is to detect and quantify changes to select ecosystem components at appropriate spatial and temporal scales to inform adaptive management, satisfy Pima County’s Section 10 permit monitoring requirements, and to determine if the SDCP biological goal is being achieved.

To determine if this goal is being met, Pima County has developed a monitoring program that looks at the "health" of the environment from a number of different perspectives:

  • Species monitoring seeks to detect changes in the status and/or trend in the presence, abundance, or occupancy of a select set of Covered Species.   
  • Habitat monitoring focus on monitoring environmental features that are thought to control the distribution and abundance of Covered Species and other target species in Pima County.  Habitat monitoring will be conducted in lieu of (or in addition to) monitoring for some species that are widespread and/or difficult to monitor.
  • Landscape-pattern monitoring relates to the spatial configuration of major community types and human-made features and is a critical leading indicator of changes to the distribution of species and other threats.  Landscape pattern parameters include land cover type and fragmentation (e.g., configuration of undeveloped lands and conversely, roads). 
  • Threats monitoring focuses attention on possible underlying causes of potential decline of species and/or habitat components.  In the context of the PCEMP, threats monitoring can include landscape pattern parameters in addition to other parameters such as off-road vehicle use, wildlife diseases, and pollution.
  • Climate monitoring entails collecting weather data (primarily precipitation) at long-term monitoring plots.  Climate is an important driver of biodiversity and therefore changes to climate variables such as temperature and precipitation can have far-reaching impacts on species and their habitat.        

For more information on each program element, see the tabs at the bottom of the page.

Science and Technical Advisory Team (STAT):
The Ecological Monitoring Program STAT is comprised of eight individuals with expertise in ecological monitoring study design, representing federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as several conservation non-profits. Agencies/organizations represented include the National Park Service, US Forest Service, AZ Game and Fish Department, Pima County Dept. of Natural Resources, Parks, and Recreation, the Nature Conservancy, and Strategic Habitat Enhancement. STAT members provide guidance and review for monitoring protocol development and any changes to species models or Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs).

Key Planning Documents

Phase II Document:  Summarizes the major program areas and level of effort anticipated for the program

Phase I Document: Provides general monitoring approach and supporting planning efforts such as workshops.

Select Supporting Documents:

Shallow groundwater monitoring

Land cover change monitoring

Surface water monitoring report 

Long-term Vegetation and Soils Monitoring Plots:

The County will establish a network of long-term monitoring plots to measure changes in vegetation and soil structure and composition over the 30-year lifespan of the MSCP. A minimum of 100 plots will be established, which are divided across eight distinct strata. Plots will be monitored using the protocol developed by the U.S. National Park Service's Sonoran Desert Inventory and Monitoring Network. Approximately 20 monitoring plots will be established per year in the first five years, with each plot being re-read every five years.

Pima County Uplands Soils and Vegetation Monitoring Protocol

Water Resources:

The County will regularly monitor both surface water and groundwater resources across County conservation lands. This includes annual monitoring of surface water availability at all perennial streams and select springs as well as depth to water in select groundwater-dependent systems. These data can help provide a picture of why ecological change might be occurring in the few remaining perennial stream systems in eastern Pima County.

Wet-Dry Mapping Update 2021: Pima County Streams, Springs, and Stock Tanks

Pima County Springs Stream Monitoring Protocol

Pima County Shallow Groundwater Monitoring Protocol

Caves, Mines, and Adits:

Caves and abandoned mine features represent key habitat components for a number of covered species, most importantly subterranean-obligate bat species. Caves and mine features that provide known habitat for bat species will be monitored for bat occupancy and structural integrity every three years. These monitoring efforts will document changed conditions, such as evidence of collapse or vandalism. Discussion of the PCEMP cave, mine, and adit monitoring protocol is imbedded within the bat monitoring protocol.

Monitoring Bats in Caves and Mines in the Pima County Preserve System, 2021-2022

Assessment of Feature Condition and Species Occupancy of Known Bat Roosts in Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and Colossal Cave Mountain Park in June 2020 

Pima County 2021 Proposed Bat Monitoring Protocol and 2018 Monitoring Report

Talus Deposits:

Talus deposits (rock slides) are habitat for the 12 covered talussnail species and subspecies. The County will inventory all known talus deposits on County conservation lands within five years of permit issuance, and 20 of the largest deposits will be monitored on a five-year interval after that. Monitoring will focus on detecting threats such as vandalism and encroachment of non-native species, especially buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare).

Pima County Talussnail Inventory

land cover change

Landscape-pattern monitoring involves both retrospective (backward-looking) and prospective (forward-looking) analyses of changing land cover and land use. Retrospective analyses involve assessing changes to the regional road and sewer networks to quantify increased development and urbanization, as well as changes in land cover classification in previously undeveloped areas. These efforts will involve using both internal County data (e.g. road and sewer networks) and external, publically available data (e.g. the National Land Cover Dataset land classifications and Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity wildfire perimeter data). Prospective monitoring will forecast the location of future development by analyzing changes to zoning classifications, approved subdivision developments, and planned capitol improvement projects. Retrospective monitoring will occur on a 10-year interval, while prospective monitoring will occur on a 5-10 year interval.

Analysis of Land Use and Land Cover Change for Pima County's Multi-species Conservation Plan (2021)

Pima County Landscape Pattern Monitoring Protocol

Threats are any past, present, or future anthropogenic activity that may impact a covered species or which degrades or destroys its habitat. Pima County has identified four threat categories that likely to have the greatest impact on covered species and their habitat.

Development and Fragmentation:

Development-related activities are the leading cause of habitat destruction and fragmentation in Pima County and are the main reasons for the County’s MSCP. The County will monitor location and areas of development resulting from both the private and public sectors. This element is imbedded within the PCEMP's landscape-pattern monitoring protocol.

Pima County Landscape Pattern Monitoring Protocol

Motorized Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Impacts:

Off-road vehicles (from road recreation, drug smuggling, and law enforcement) are an increasing threat to a variety of resources including covered species, soils, and vegetation. The County will use an anecdotal and qualitative approach to monitor location, extent, and condition of new, illegal roads County conservation lands.

Pima County OHV Monitoring Protocol

Invasive Aquatic Vertebrates and Crayfish:

Bullfrogs, invasive fish, and crayfish can significantly impact aquatic covered species. In areas where they are not currently present, early detection will be critical. The County will monitor presence and relative abundance of aquatic invasive species during planned monitoring for covered aquatic species and water resources.

Pima County Aquatic Invasives Monitoring Protocol

Invasive Plants: Invasive plants can out-compete native plants and alter ecosystem structure and function and therefore threaten habitat of many covered species. Of particular concern are buffelgrass, fountaingrass, Lehmann’s lovegrass, and giant reed, and African sumac. The County will monitor new invasive species infestations (i.e., early detection) and will develop a database for recording observations and treatments of 15-20 of the most important invasive species known to occur on County conservation lands.

Pima County Invasive Plants Occurrence Tracking and Monitoring Protocol


Monsoon storm over the Santa Catalina Mountains on Six Bar Ranch. Photo Brian Powell, NRPR.

Climate is the average weather over a long time period and is fundamental to explaining changes in ecosystem patterns and processes. Especially in arid regions, the amount and timing of precipitation and temperature, in particular, has an overwhelming influence on distribution and abundance of plants and animals in both space and time, and is an important determinant of regional biodiversity (e.g., Brown et al. 1997; Preston et al. 2008).

The County will focus only on monitoring precipitation because this parameter is more spatially variable and has such an important control over the distribution of covered species. Fortunately, many of the other important climate parameters are being collected by other entities within the County (Regional Flood Control District) and the County will periodically obtain data on temperature, humidity, and wind speed from these entities, including: Arizona Automated Local Evaluation in Real Time Network, Arizona Meteorological Network, National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Program, Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, Rainlog.org volunteer network, and Remote Automated Weather Station Network.

Pima County will investigate collecting precipitation data at a set of passive rain gauges located in select locations on County conservation lands. Personnel will check manual rain gauges often as twice per year (September and May) to capture seasonal (winter vs. summer) distribution in rainfall. These data can then be compared against broad-scale modeled data products to draw inference across all County conservation lands.

Climate Monitoring Baseline and Period 1 Initial Report (2021)

Pima County Climate Monitoring Protocol

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