The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse of the four U.S. deserts. Covering 120,000 square miles of southwestern Arizona, southeastern California, and the Mexican states of Baja and Sonora, its mountains, rivers, and canyons provide luxurious habitat for numerous unique species specially adapted for heat, aridity, and intense summer monsoons. More than 100 reptiles, 2,000 native plants, 60 mammals, and 350 birds call this desert home, not only surviving here, but thriving — as long as their habitats remain intact.
Sadly, pristine Sonoran Desert habitat is increasingly rare. As more and more people move to the desert to enjoy its warm climate, the natural beauty that attracted them becomes paved over, torn up, and polluted. Important riparian areas are altered and destroyed, and water is scarcer than ever. As a result, species that have hardily adapted to desert life for thousands of years are suddenly disappearing, unable to adjust to human-caused stresses on their environment.
The Center, like the saguaro, has its roots firmly planted in the Sonoran Desert. Since 1992, we’ve worked to protect the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, winning for it an endangered listing in 1997 and revolutionizing urban planning in Tucson and surrounding Pima County — despite the owl’s 2006 delisting — by helping develop the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. We’ve spent years advocating for protection of our last precious desert rivers, including the Verde, San Pedro, and Fossil Creek, from sprawl-driven water diversion and groundwater pumping that threatens to run these world-renowned wildlife corridors dry. And because the San Pedro River — and the Sonoran Desert itself — cuts across international borders, we are also working to oppose new border fencing that would further endanger the region’s migratory wildlife, including the rare American jaguar.
Similarly, we’re fighting the fragmentation of the desert through damaging infrastructure built to support more sprawl. In 2003, after two years of negotiations with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, we and our allies convinced the agency to remove an illegal pipeline, powerline, and road that crossed the Ironwood National Monument, key habitat for the pygmy owl and bighorn sheep. And we’re working to protect our delicate desert public lands from activities with a big footprint: mining, overgrazing, and off-road vehicle use.
As we watchdog the Sonoran Desert, we continue to champion Endangered Species Act protections for more imperiled plants and animals. We’ve won Endangered Species Act listings for the jaguar, pygmy owl, Gila chub, Sonoran tiger salamander, southwestern willow flycatcher, and other species while securing tens of thousands of acres of protected critical habitat. We’re working to gain long-overdue critical habitat designation and a recovery plan for the jaguar and to restore protections slashed by the Bush administration for species like the flycatcher, pygmy owl, and desert nesting bald eagle.
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