In 2004, the Arizona Game and Fish Department funded a team of conservation biologists from Northern Arizona University (NAU) to identify critical linkages important for wildlife migration. The Sonoita Creek Wildlife Corridor was ranked as an important linkage for black bear and mountain lion, and was the most highly ranked linkage for jaguar moving between Mexico and the Huachuca and Santa Rita Mountain ranges outside Patagonia, AZ.
Even with the most important linkages in the region identified, little was done to secure these wildlife corridors. There were and remain at least three major reasons for this lack of progress:
- Opportunity – The spread of housing developments on former ranches often happens before funding or public awareness can be developed;
- Economic and Cultural Issues – Most of the efforts to protect land in the region have focused on the biological issues and have not paid significant attention to the economic and cultural issues that impede conservation;
- Funding – Lack of major coordinated funding effort by foundation and agencies at the scale necessary to address the needs of the region has resulted in too little funding, too late.
Solutions: Managing Habitat for People and Wildlife – The Mission of Wildlife Corridors
Wildlife Corridors seeks to facilitate novel public-private partnerships to protect open land, improve habitat and facilitate wildlife movement. We actually seek out and incorporate local perspectives on how people can recreate, live upon and manage land, in perpetuity and for the benefit of people, plants, wildlife, and waterways.
We address the above obstacles in the following ways:
- Economic and Cultural Issues: Like our partner organization Borderlands Restoration, Wildlife Corridors works to foster a Restoration Economy
- Opportunity: The presence of a defunct housing development precisely in the path of the corridor identified by the NAU study afford us the perfect opportunity to keep the Sonoita Creek Wildlife Corridor
In Early 2015, Borderlands Restoration was presented with a unique opportunity; over 1,000 acres of nearly pristine grassland, oak woodland, and remnant cienega were set for sale by a bank after they had foreclosed on the developer. The skeleton of the planned development, Three Canyons, was already in place – a system of roads on the lower 1/3 of the property, leading to a few houses on purchased lots, and a water system that would provide plumbing for the 173 platted lots. While the properties boasted significant space set aside for conservation, this old “swiss cheese” conservation easement, that fortunately is no longer recognized by the IRS, provides no corridor for animal movement, amongst a polka-dotted landscape speckled with houses.
In order to purchase the land, WC borrowed $700,000 with a 6% annual interest rate and a large balloon payment due after 3 years. WC is now seeking to pay off the mortgage through a combination of selling off the development rights in what will then be the critical wildlife corridor, and selling a limited number of residential lots on the southern portion of the property. These lots are in an area that has paved roads, power, and where 16 lots were previously sold before the acquisition.
We Need Your Help! Funding the Future
One of our highest priorities is to pay off our current high interest loan, in favor of a low interest loan that will free up funds for increased restoration and management activities. We are also seeking contributions to help us retire the existing development rights so that one of the most critical wildlife corridors in the southwest can be protected in perpetuity. In addition to being an active partner in WC, the Biophilia Foundation is acting as a conduit for donations to retire development rights to preserve the wildlife corridor. Please consider making a donation today.