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Cross-Border Conservation in Sonora and Arizona
Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh/FWS
by Erin Fernandez1, Juan Carlos Bravo2, Jim Rorabaugh1, Doug Duncan1, José Antonio Dávila Paulín3, and Scott Richardson1
Arizona and Sonora share an amazing diversity of biological resources, including many at-risk species of mutual concern to the United States and México. About 40 species occurring in both Arizona and Sonora are on the U.S. or the México endangered species lists, or both. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s México Program in Arizona has been working with many partners in both countries to inventory, monitor, conserve, and recover these species.
In harmony with the objectives of the Wildlife Without Borders-México Program (http://www.fws.gov/international/DICprograms/mexico.htm), which is administered by the Service and SEMARNAT (México’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources), we aim to develop projects focused on building the capacity for conserving species-at-risk in México. The following are just a few examples of our binational conservation projects conducted under the auspices of multiple international agreements, including the 1996 Memorandum of Understanding that established the Canada/México/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation (http://www.trilat.org).
Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh/FWS
Fourteen of the 37 amphibian species documented in Sonora are on México’s list of species-at-risk. Some, such as the Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis), are on the U.S. endangered species list as well. A number of these species are thought to be declining; however, relatively little is known of their status in Sonora. As a result, we and our partners, including the Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO) Naturalia, Africam Safari Zoo of Puebla, Phoenix Zoo of Arizona, and Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) have been developing and implementing a program for amphibian conservation in northwestern México. In 2008, we presented a three-day pilot workshop at Rancho Los Fresnos, owned by Naturalia and located just south of the border in the San Rafael Valley, where biologists, students, and managers from Mexican reserves and other government offices, NGOs, and universities learned about amphibian identification, survey and monitoring techniques, diseases, threats, captive maintenance and propagation, and conservation. A similar workshop will be held in 2009, and if funding is available, in future years we will give more indepth workshops to biologists, students, reserve and zoo staff, and veterinarians. Topics to be covered include: dry and summer rainy season survey and monitoring workshops; a captive maintenance and propagation workshop, which will include the construction of a small-scale headstarting facility and refugium pond for imperiled amphibians; and training to provide educators with the knowledge and tools to teach children.
Photo Credit: Jim Rorabaugh/FWS
Bats are another animal group at risk in this region. Because they provide significant ecological services, such as pollination and seed dispersion, their conservation is critical to the health and function of natural systems. Information on the distribution and status of many bat species in Sonora remains scarce, although there are some exceptions. For example, the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), listed as threatened by México and endangered by the U.S., has been the subject of long-term monitoring at the El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve. To add to this and other bat survey efforts in Sonora, in 2008 we conducted a bat inventory with Naturalia at the organization’s recently established Jaguar Reserve in Sonora. The survey provided baseline information to the reserve manager and training in bat survey techniques to local university students. Through our initial efforts, we documented the presence of 12 bat species, including the lesser long-nosed bat, and the students became proficient in mist-netting and handling techniques, as well as bat identification. In 2009, we will expand the bat inventory and training program to include both of Naturalia’s reserves in Sonora.
Many reptiles and fishes of the Sonoran desert are also at risk. To address their conservation, we have been working closely with the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado and Pinacate Biosphere Reserves. For example, in conjunction with the reserves, the Mexican NGO Pronatura Noroeste, and our U.S. partners, we are developing a program to conserve the flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) in México, where it is listed as threatened. The species is the subject of a multi-agency conservation agreement and strategy in the U.S, and that strategy includes assisting with the species’ conservation in México. Our binational team recently secured funding to implement this program, which will result in the development of a Mexican management strategy, an environmental education and outreach campaign, and training in monitoring techniques for students, government agencies, and NGOs in México.
Photo Credit: Craig Miller, Northern Jaguar Project
In conjunction with the Pinacate Reserve, the University of Arizona, AGFD, and others, we are implementing a conservation plan for the endemic and at-risk species of the Río Sonoyta, a rare lowland desert stream and spring system in northwestern Sonora and southwestern Arizona. This system supports the Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinonsternon sonoriense longifemorale), a candidate for listing by the U.S.; the longfin dace (Agosia chrysogaster), a fish listed by México as threatened; and the Quitobaquito pupfish (Cyprinodon eremus), which is listed by the U.S. as endangered. With funds from the Service’s Preventing Extinction Program, we recently created three ponds in Sonora, one at the Pinacate Reserve headquarters, one at the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) in Puerto Peñasco, and one at a high school in the town of Sonoyta, to serve as refugia for pupfish and longfin dace. The ponds not only help us meet recovery tasks identified in the pupfish recovery plan, but are also being used as tools to educate students, biologists, and the public about the importance of our unique desert aquatic resources. We are also implementing other facets of the Río Sonoyta conservation plan, such as species monitoring, and are working with the municipal government of Sonoyta, the Pinacate Reserve, and others to incorporate conservation measures for at-risk species into the design of a proposed wastewater treatment facility.
Photo Credit: Erin Fernandez/FWS
In addition to the aforementioned projects, we are working with partners in Sonora to monitor, research, conserve, and (in some cases) reestablish many other at-risk species. Among these species are the masked bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi), cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum), Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis), Mexican and narrowheaded gartersnakes (Thamnophis eques and T. rufipunctatus), Gila topminnow (Poeciliopsis occidentalis), Tarahumara frog (Lithobates tarahumarae), lowland leopard frog (Lithobates yavapaiensis), and Chiricahua leopard frog. We have also been assisting the owners of three ranches by conducting general biological inventories to inform management decisions, as well as—in one case—to support the owner’s application to become a federally recognized reserve.
Although biodiversity around the world faces such enormous threats as climate change, habitat loss, introduced species, and disease, we hope that our binational conservation work will allow Arizona and Sonora to conserve their unique and amazingly diverse biological resources for generations to come. For more information, please feel free to contact us at the addresses listed below.
Erin Fernandez1, México Program Coordinator (fish and wildlife biologist); Juan Carlos Bravo2, Northwest México Representative; Jim Rorabaugh1, México Program Supervisor (supervisory biologist); Doug Duncan1, fish biologist; José Antonio Dávila Paulín3, Assistant Director; and Scott Richardson1, fish and wildlife biologist.
1201 N Bonita Avenue, Suite 141
Arizona Ecological Services – Tucson Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tucson, Arizona 85745
3Reserva de la Biosfera Pinacate y Gran
Desierto de Altar
Hermosillo, 83240, Sonora, México
Carretera 8, Km. 51, Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, México
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