Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Be a Strong Voice for Nature’s Bottom Line by Becoming a Conservation Advocate

By Matt Clark
Tucson Audubon Conservation Advocate

Help us to grow the power of our collective voice for the conservation of birds, other wildlife and their habitats in southeast Arizona. We need your voice to amplify Tucson Audubon’s positions and recommendations to our elected leaders and decision makers. We have made it easy to do!  Check out our Conservation Action Alert web page for information and targeted actions on current issues we are working on in conjunction with our partner organizations: http://www.tucsonaudubon.org/act-now  

City-County Cooperation Saves Saguaro-studded Painted Hills
The Arizona Daily Star recently published an opinion editorial written by Pima County Board of Supervisor Richard Elias and City Councilor Regina Romero celebrating our community’s newest conservation success story: the preservation of Painted Hills.  In their editorial, the two community leaders say, “The saguaro-studded Painted Hills at the gateway to Tucson Mountain Park finally is getting the protection it has long deserved, due in large part to years of cooperative efforts between Pima County and the City of Tucson. City and county officials worked hard and in concert to achieve this milestone, as neither entity could have done it alone.”  

The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a $7.5 million agreement to purchase the 287 pristine acres that make up the striking Painted Hills between West Speedway and West Anklam Road, using bond funds that the Tucson City Council allocated for a $3 million down payment. The willing seller is the Dallas Police and Fire Retirement System. A less preservation-minded Board of Supervisors in the 1960s had zoned the acreage for residential development, but the ravine-laced rocky crags of the Painted Hills repeatedly defied development efforts. Pima County and city voters approved open space bonds to purchase Painted Hills in 1997 and again in 2004.”  The funding for the purchase of Painted hills was levied specifically for Community Open Space acquisitions.
Tucson Audubon commends the both the City and County for their efforts to purchase and preserve Painted Hills. Representatives from Tucson Audubon and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, of which Tucson Audubon is a founding member group, have attended many meetings over the past decade in support of preserving this special parcel of land. Now we can celebrate this long-awaited conservation achievement! 

With an estimated 9,000 saguaros, Painted Hills has abundant wildlife, wash corridors, peaks and ridges of scenic value and lush upland desert habitat. It is directly adjacent to the proposed Tucson Mountain Area Important Bird Area, and is an excellent addition to the iconic Tucson Mountain Park. The Painted Hills property will provide excellent recreational opportunities for Tucson citizens and out of town visitors for generations to come and is a good investment for our community. Painted Hills is exactly the type of open space purchase that the 2004 Community Open Space Bond was passed by voters to purchase and protect, and directly supports the implementation of the visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Call or email your County Supervisor and City Council Representative to thank them for their leadership, collaboration and commitment to preserving Painted Hills.

Also, we encourage you to write to the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee and tell them you support the next open space bond package to be as fully funded as possible so that conservation success stories like Painted Hills can continue to be possible. Click here to read more and to learn how you can take action to support the future of open space preservation in Pima County.

Solar, Wind and Wildlife – Can We Strike a Balance? 
The conservation community has been actively engaged in tackling the growing threat posed to birds, bats and other wildlife by the development and operation of many new utility scale wind and solar installations. The rapid growth of these new forms of energy production has resulted in efforts by the government and the public to craft new policies in order to strike a balance between renewable energy development and the conservation of wildlife and other natural and cultural resources. 
In recent news, North American Windpower recently reported that on July 31st, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the first ever eagle take permit for EDF Renewable Energy’s Shiloh IV wind project in Solano, California. The article also notes that a public process is now underway by the FWS to retool eagle take permit polices. Tucson Audubon will be reviewing the proposed revisions to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act permit regulations. The final policy governing take permits, including the maximum length of time permits can be issued, is expected to be finalized by the end of 2015.

Meanwhile, things are heating up in the Mojave Desert of California, where birds are being scorched out of the sky by the new Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). Read the Arizona Daily Star article on the issue. The project is currently the largest solar thermal power plant in the world. What is being done to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to our wildlife from energy development?  Visit the and American Bird Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife’s websites to learn more about the issues and how we can get engaged.

Outdoor Cat Suspected of Killing 5 Endangered Lesser Long-Nosed Bats
Recently, in nearby Cochise County, three endangered Lesser Long-Nosed bat carcasses were collected from a mortality event of five bats found under a hummingbird feeder over several days. According to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center diagnostic report, “All three bats had evidence of bite wounds resulting in death; bite wounds were small and deeply penetrating, consistent with a small carnivore such as a cat.” While this case is not yet definitive, cat-caused mortality events such as this may be occurring much more often than we realize because the vast majority of them likely go undocumented.

Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently estimated that outdoor cats kill an astounding 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals in the United States annually.  Even well-fed cats instinctively kill birds and other small animals. Therefore, developing public policies governing the management of outdoor cats that are informed and responsive to the best available science is crucial to addressing this growing problem.

Tucson Audubon is disappointed in the recent Pima County Board of Supervisors approval of a trap, neuter and release (TNR) program for feral cats.  We believe it was the wrong decision for biodiversity and for the health and human safety of Pima County residents. Although the TNR program will undoubtedly reduce feral cat euthanasia and intakes into shelters, there is no credible evidence that it will actually reduce the number of feral cats in the environment. If the newly adopted TNR program does not significantly reduce the number of feral cats on our streets and in our local natural areas, it will be a failure.
In addition to many common species outdoor cats kill, a few examples among special status species that outdoor cats may be putting at risk of further endangerment in Pima County include the Southwest Willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), the Western yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) and the Lesser Long-Nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae).

In light of the decision to adopt the “Community Cats” TNR program, Tucson Audubon is asking Pima County to take reasonable steps to document the performance of the program and to avoid some of the pitfalls of other TNR programs. We are asking that Pima County: 1) fund an independent study of the feral cat population in the zip codes affected by the program, before, during and after the three-year program; 2) not allow cat colonies near several key locations for birds and bats that are within the project area; 3) listen and respond favorably to people who don’t want cat colonies near them or their property; 4) not allow cat colonies near The Loop or other bicycle routes in order to assure the safety of cyclists; 5) abandon the current TNR program if it fails to reduce feral cat populations over the three year period for which it is funded; 6) partner with Tucson Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy to educate people about the benefits of keeping cats indoors; and to 7) consider adopting and funding other approaches and solutions, such as developing a more robust adoption program, and creating a larger county-operated no-kill facility for cats that are deemed unsuitable for adoption. Click here to learn more and take action!

Twin Mining Pollution Disasters Remind the Public and Policy Makers of the Industry’s Many Environmental Hazards
Two recent major mining-related pollution disasters are a stark reminder of the many serious environmental hazards posed by the hard rock mining industry, which unfortunately aims to build new open pit mines in both the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains of southeast Arizona.

The first disaster occurred near Mount Polley in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Canada.  According to Wikipedia, “the disaster began in the early morning of August 4, 2014 when the Mount Polley tailings pond partially breached, releasing 10 million cubic meters of water and 4.5 million cubic meters of slurry into Polley Lake. The contaminated slurry carrying felled trees, mud and debris "scoured away the banks" of Hazeltine Creek which flows out of Polley Lake and continued into the nearby Quesnel Lake. The spill caused Polley Lake to rise by 1.5 meters (4.9 ft). Hazeltine Creek was transformed from a 2-metre-wide (6.6 ft) stream to a 50-meter-across (160 ft) "wasteland." Cariboo Creek was also affected. The spill has been called one of the biggest environmental disasters in modern Canadian history” The mining disaster has begun a conversation about ways such disasters might be avoided in the future, like in this article in the online magazine The Tyee.
The second disaster occurred at the Buenavista copper mine in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. According to a Mexico News Daily report, “The mine spilled 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulphate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers on August 6, leaving some 22,000 people without drinking water in as many as seven area municipalities. The National Water Commission has issued a prohibition against contact with the water due to unsafe levels of arsenic, cadmium, copper, chrome and mercury. The environmental protection agency is expected to conclude its investigation into the spill this week and decide on what sanctions will be imposed on the mine’s owner.”

This twin set of mining disasters in our neighboring countries is a wake-up call for us too. Southern Arizona now faces numerous large-scale mining proposals in ecologically sensitive areas such as the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains.  Not only would such mining cause extensive habitat loss and fragmentation, they would also put our community’s water and air quality at risk.

The majority of these two adjacent “sky island” mountain ranges are publicly owned land, managed in trust by the Coronado National Forest. These sky islands harbor impressive endemic biological diversity – and are a birding hotspot that is a major economic draw to the area. Both the ecology and economy of the region are threatened by several large-scale mineral mining proposals from foreign-owned companies. Efforts to stop these disastrous proposals from becoming a reality are hampered by the antiquated Mining Act of 1872. Legislative attempts to reform and modernize this law have been obstructed by powerful pro-mining lobbies. New legislation has been introduced that would better address the environmental and societal impacts caused by modern mining operations.

Tucson Audubon is working in partnership with organizations like the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and Earthworks to prevent these potentially disastrous mining proposals from becoming a reality and to build a constituency to demand that our government modernize its mining laws. Click here to learn more and take action!

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