SDCP desert scene  - Illustration by Bill Singleton
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A Vision For Mountain Parks and Natural Preserves

Pima County’s establishment of Tucson Mountain Park in 1929 marked the beginning of an unparalleled conservation ethic. Two other parks and a natural preserve followed. Ironwood Forest National Monument and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area were established in 2000. Even so, we have not yet assembled a system that protects groups of plants and animals. We must expand our efforts at creating mountain parks to sustain biological diversity in the Sonoran Desert and provide recreation for our citizens.

Aplomado Falcon scene - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Mountain Parks and Natural Preserves

Pima County’s mountain parks and natural preserves play an important
and diverse role in the life of the community

Pima County, Arizona’s extraordinary and unique natural resources have drawn visitors and residents to the area for decades. Mountain parks and natural preserves have always played an important and diverse role in the life of the community. These areas will be expanded with the development of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan through the design and implementation of a comprehensive open space parks and reserve system.

The Resource Base
Pima County’s mountain parks and natural preserves consist of:
• Tucson Mountain Park which was established in 1929 and adjoins Saguaro National Park.
• Tortolita Mountain Park, acquired after voters authorized bonds in 1986 and slated for further expansion.
• Colossal Cave Mountain Park, established in 1992 with the initial acquisition of the Posta Quemada Ranch, and later expanded to 1,800 acres.
• Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, Pima County’s first natural preserve.
• Buehman-Bingham Natural Preserve.

Progressive Conservation
Recent community-based initiatives have inspired conservation efforts at the local and national level. Action at a scale that has not occurred in Pima County since the early part of the century, includes:
• The Board of Supervisors’ significant expansion of Tucson Mountain Park by over 1,500 acres.
• Establishment of the Ironwood Forest National Monument by the President of the United States in 2000.
• Congressional legislation in 2000 by Congressman Jim Kolbe to create Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.

Threats to the Resource Base
The primary threat to the open space resource base is urbanization and development. Existing reserves are among the most influential of urban form makers. Development pushes to the edges of the reserves and spills over into uncommitted land when those limits are reached.

Current Management Gaps
Regardless of the amount of open space that exists across Pima County, we have not yet assembled a system of parks and preserves that effectively protects and conserves native species. A continuing decline in our natural systems indicates that our incremental approach to conservation over the last 70 years has not been sufficient.
There are reasons for the mismatch between past preservation efforts and actual needs. Parks in Pima County and across the country have often been created to set aside areas of great beauty, but plant and animal communities do not make location decisions based on aesthetics. Existing parks and preserves are disconnected. Areas that have been set aside for wildlife protection often are too small to support a viable population of the species. Large animals are becoming extinct within the very parks that were created to protect them.Priority MOUNTAIN PARKS AND NATURAL PRESERVES

Buehman-Bingham Natural Preserve
The proposed 7,489 acre preserve would assure a link between the Catalina Mountains and the San Pedro River. It would also protect the abundant, sensitive riparian plant and animal resources in the area.

Cienega Creek Natural Preserve
Cienega Creek is one of the most important riparian areas. It recharges the aquifer and provides flood storage capability making it of critical value to Tucson. Lands within the preserve are in excellent condition with exceptional recreational opportunities. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan suggests expansion of the preserve by 7,293 acres. Protection of Mescal Arroyo, a vital link to Cienega Creek, would add another 1,856 acres.

Santa Rita Mountain Park
The proposed 10,703 acre park would preserve extensive natural resources and protect endangered species.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park
The park has outstanding scenic resources and includes the 1870s Posta Quemada Ranch. The limestone geology of Colossal Cave Mountain Park is extraordinary and this area is especially rich in bird and reptile species. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan suggests expansion by 18,974 acres.

Davidson Canyon Natural Preserve
The canyon connects Cienega Creek Natural Preserve and Coronado National Forest and no other linkage would connect as many existing or proposed parks or preserves.

Tucson Mountain Park
Pima County‘s largest and most visited park includes more than 230 vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrates. Important archaeological and cultural resources form a significant cultural and historical landscape.

Catalina State Park
Expansion of the park by 3,500 acres would establish a biological corridor linking Coronado National Forest, the Sutherland Basin, and Catalina State Park with the Tortolita East Corridor and the Tortolita Mountains.

Tortolita Mountain Park
The park’s proposed expansion area includes land suitable for special status wildlife. Significant Hohokam occupation sites are part of the cultural resources of the park.

Ironwood Forest National Monument
Bedrock outcrops and volcanic hills in the area are unusual for the number of petroglyph or rock art sites that have been recorded. There is wide variation in the number and complexity of petroglyph sites, ranging from a handful of simple elements to hundreds of individual petro-glyphs elements, some of which are very complex. At the south end of this region of prehistoric settlement is Cocoraque Butte, which is listed in the national register.
A new era for Pima County’s mountain parks and natural preserves has arrived. Through the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan these remarkable areas will preserve in perpetuity both the beauty and long-term sustainability of our resource base.

desert scene  - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Evaluation Process
In the past, federal and local public parks were established without a full understanding of the relationship between open space and species conservation. As currently configured, they do not sufficiently support interrelated groups of plants and animals. It was not until 1985 that scientists in the relatively new field of conservation biology were able to calculate how the acreage requirements of wide ranging carnivores had been underestimated.
This applies to parks on a national scale, and it is true in Pima County as well. Unlike many communities, however, Pima County still has the opportunity to assemble an effective reserve system. We are fortunate to have a number of open space areas, many connected by riparian linkages. The County’s parks and preserve system is flexible. The future open space and preserve system can include federal, state, and private holdings together with County-owned land managed at the appropriate level of conservation.
Resources within existing and proposed parks and preserves have been analysed using current management and planning documents. The comprehensive biological assessment has shown where connections between open spaces currently exist. As a result, the Mountain Parks Element of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan has redefined proposed preserve boundaries and their management.

Conservation Stategies
The citizens of Pima County are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, some of which are extraordinary in nature. Mountain parks and natural preserves in Pima County have been and continue to be threatened, most immediately in areas that are just developing now or will be in the near future. Protecting these resources will require long term, region wide planning and cooperation on the part of public entities and private citizens.
A variety of conservation strategies employed on different scales and time frames will be needed to establish a cohesive mountain park and natural preserve system.
• Expand Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
• Expand three existing mountain parks: Tortolita Mountain Park, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, and Catalina State Park.
• Establish Santa Rita Mountain Park.
• Establish two natural reserves, Davidson Canyon and the Buehman-Bingham Reserve.
• Continue the partnership between Pima County and the Bureau of Land Management during the implementation process for Ironwood National Monument.

Mountain Parks and Natural Preserves, Map (PDF)

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Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan
Pima County Administrator’s Office
130 West Congress, 10th Floor
Tucson, AZ 85701



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