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SDCP Newsletter - July 2022

Jul 22, 2022 | Read More News
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July 2022

 In celebration of summer, we have a tortoise story for you! Also, read about improving pond habitats for wildlife, protecting downtown Tucson from flooding, a happy ending for stolen saguaros, and upcoming Environmental Education programs.

To view the original newsletter with full photos, click here.

Tracking Tucson-Area Tortoises: Highlights from the 2021 Monitoring Season

In Summer 2021, staff with the Office of Sustainability and Conservation conducted occupancy monitoring of the Sonoran desert tortoise in Tucson Mountain Park, Sweetwater Preserve, and Painted Hills Trails Park. In the years to come, ongoing monitoring of tortoises will review trends in tortoise populations in support of the County's Multi-species Conservation Plan.

Season Highlights
  • Tortoises occupy about 61% of the study area in Tucson Mountain Park, Sweetwater Preserve, and Painted Hills Trails Park. 
  • In all, Pima County has now observed 71 individual tortoises on monitoring plots in the study area over two seasons of data collection, 2018 and 2021. 
  • The largest tortoise captured in 2021 had a shell length of 27.8 cm (10.9 in) and weighed 3,700 g (8.2 lb).
  • The smallest tortoise captured in 2021 had a shell length of 5.1 cm (2 in) and weighed 31 g (0.07 lb).
If you find a tortoise in the study area, you can report it by calling (520) 724-6940 and asking to speak to a biologist. Please record the location of the tortoise, and if possible without handling the animal, take a photograph. If the tortoise is wearing a license plate on the back of its shell (white-out with a number written in sharpie), take a photo of it. 

Wondering what you can do for tortoises?
  • Every year, tortoises are hit and killed by vehicles. Please be mindful and drive the speed limit when driving in Tucson Mountain Park and elsewhere in tortoise country.
  • Enjoy the excitement of seeing these long-lived reptiles, but stay back a respectful distance (at least 6 feet). The only exception to this is if you are assisting a tortoise in the road, in which case you can gently move the tortoise to safety and put it down facing the direction it was going in, so long as you are able to ensure your own safety. Otherwise, do not touch them and keep your pets away. Frightened tortoises will wet themselves, which can be especially dangerous for them during hot, dry weather. 
  • Tortoises can suffer from respiratory illness. Signs of potential disease were more common in 2021 compared to 2018. People should never release pet tortoises, who could be carrying infection, into the wild. Besides, it is illegal to do so under Arizona state law, along with harming, capturing, or collecting wild tortoises. Spread the word!
  • Because of the risk of spreading disease, tortoises taken out of the wild cannot return. The Arizona Game & Fish Department rehomes these and other tortoises that have been living in captivity. Responsible stewards can legally adopt one of these tortoises provided certain conditions are met. Learn more on the adoption website

Improving Ponds at Catalina Regional Park

Catalina Regional Park is located along the Canada del Oro Wash (CDO), in the town of Catalina. After the 2003 Aspen fire, and subsequent flooding along the CDO, Pima County Regional Flood Control District (District) acquired lands in the CDO floodplain and created Catalina Regional Park. A small pond was included with the acquisition, and over the years, the pond became home to Lowland Leopard Frogs and Sonora Mud Turtles.

The edges of the pond are overrun with non-native rabbitsfoot grass (Polypogon monspeliensis), which provides some habitat for the frogs and turtles, but little diversity for other wildlife using the pond. In May, the District, in cooperation with Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation and the Office of Sustainability and Conservation staff removed annual rabbitsfoot grass in some areas and replaced it with 5 species of native grasses provided by the Native Plant Nursery. A total of 28 plants were installed. The site will be monitored to evaluate how new plantings compete with non-native species. 

Other recent improvements to the pond include installation of aquatic plants to provide cover for native wildlife and improve pond oxygen levels.

In the News: Repairing Arroyo Chico Rain Basins Before Monsoon

Check out this article about how the County's Regional Flood Control District worked with residents to make sure rain basins along Arroyo Chico were ready to protect downtown Tucson and area neighborhoods from summer flooding. 

Stolen Saguaros Recovered by Sheriff's Department

Evidence of saguaro poaching recently appeared at the County's Mason South property located northwest of Cortaro Farms Road and Thornydale Road on the northwest side of Tucson. During a property inspection in April, staff with Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation (NRPR) noted off-road vehicle tracks and loose soils under several paloverde and ironwood trees. In late May, NRPR received a call from the Pima County Sheriff's Department that they had stopped a pickup truck with two saguaros in the bed which had come from the Mason South property. The two saguaros were then taken to the Native Plant Nursery for safekeeping. In early June, the two saguaros along with another from the Nursery were taken to their final home as part of a new Pima County Sheriff's Department Memorial.

Environmental Education for All Ages

Have visitors coming? Need to entertain the kids? Or just curious about life in the Sonoran Desert?

Pima County's Environmental Education Program has several interesting programs lined up for July and August. 

Outside Activities In-person
Nature Presentation Online