Rural Road Usage by Herpetofauna of the Southern Sonoran Desert Ecoregion

Interim Project Update – Friends of Ironwood Forest
1 September 2020
Brian R. Blais, Corey Shaw, and Samantha Johnson

Beginning in 2018, our team set out to understand which factors influence herpetofauna (i.e., amphibian and reptile) nighttime usage on rural roads of the Sonoran Desert Ecoregion. In doing so, we have accumulated preliminary data of species localities and conditions. Such location “hotspots” can be used to guide conservation management initiatives and develop mitigation strategies, such as wildlife crossings or biodiversity corridor areas where new roads should be avoided. Read the full report here.

Visit the IFNM

The Town of Marana has good information on the scenic drive to the Silver Bell Mountains within Ironwood Forest National Monument. The article includes how to get there, what you will see and additional destinations to and from the area. Read more…

It is always a perfect time to visit the Ironwood Forest National Monument.  An incredible landscape recognized for its rugged scenery, biological diversity and cultural legacy located 25 miles northwest of Tucson. These 129,000 acres contain several desert mountain ranges including the Silver Bell, Sawtooth, and Waterman ranges, and the iconic Ragged Top Mountain.

The Monument contains a significant system of cultural and historic sites covering a 5,000-year period. The Monument home to threatened and endangered species; including Nichols Turk’s head cactus, lesser long-nosed bat, and desert tortoise.

View the map and directions here.

Bighorn Fire and Bighorn Sheep

While the fires burning in the Tucson area are not in Ironwood Forest National Monument, both the Monument and the Catalina Mountains have strong populations of bighorn sheep.

One of our members was worried about how the Bighorn fire (named for Bighorn Mountain in the Catalinas) would affect the sheep. 

Here is a response:

Hello Bill,

The fire is no threat to the bighorn sheep in the Catalinas. It will be a terrific benefit to them in 6 weeks or so. The Forest Service won’t let it burn in the Saguaro/ Palo Verde habitat near the bottom of the mountain. What it has burned so far is a lot of under-story litter and brush. So far it has done a tremendous job of opening up habitat that has become overgrown with trees and other lower growing plants. I just wish it had burned more to the west than it did but the wind wasn’t blowing that way.

The lambs at 24 hours old are very agile and will follow mom. In a research project in New Mexico ewes were fit with vaginal implant transmitters so the researchers would know the moment they gave birth. They collared the lambs to get an idea of mortality and other behavioral aspects of the ewes and lambs. They had less than 24 hours to catch the lambs because they were so adept at getting away from them. I would guess that there might only be one or two Catalina lambs that are younger than 2 months old right now. Most of them are born in January and February and are 3/4 size of mom right now.

I can’t wait for the monsoons because new growth that is soft and palatable will start sprouting and the sheep will be all over it. I couldn’t be more excited for the Catalina sheep herd as a result of this fire. I feel 100% confident we didn’t loose any sheep. The long answer to your question is the sheep are fine and the long term benefit will be great for the sheep, deer and the health of the country it burned.

Thank you for your concern about the sheep. Enclosed is a picture I took last Spring.

Joe Sheehey
Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society

Land and Water Conservation Fund

There is another Administration threat to funding for the environment and public parks, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. While this isn’t a direct threat to the Ironwood Forest National Monument, it is more of the continuing attack on DOI funding for the public’s benefit and how their funds are allocated internally away from open spaces. Read the fact sheet provided by The Wilderness Society by clicking here.

Opposition to the Proposed Interstate I-11

The Arizona Department of Transportation is studying alternative routes for a new Interstate 11 highway. Their apparently favored route through Avra Valley would cut between the IFNM and Saguaro NP, Tucson Mountain Park and Tribal Lands. Such a route would seriously interrupt wildlife migration and add several kinds of pollution to these public lands. If the added traffic capacity is indeed warranted, we favor ADOT expanding the exiting I-10 corridor.

Pros and Cons of the Proposed Interstate, September 2018
Press Release Update, August 2018
Friends of the Ironwood Forest Letter of Opposition to I-11
I-11 Public Information Meetings
I-11 Coalition for Sonoran Desert ProtectionLetter to ADOT, June 2017
I-11 Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection Letter to ADOT, July 2016
I-11 Meeting Flyer
A Letter from the Avra Valley Coalition
ADOT Submission Statement on the Proposed I-11 Routes


Yesterday, Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona proposed a last minute amendment, to the Department of Interior appropriations bill, that would cut off funding for the IFNM. His simple-minded amendment can be viewed by clicking here.
Last year, as you all know, the DOI “reviewed” 27 national monuments, including the Ironwood Forest. The IFNM, due in no small part to your comments and actions, was left untouched and unchanged. 
This last-ditch effort by a congressional representative to assuage a couple of his supporters is inappropriate, damaging and unfounded. 
We need you to let your representative in congress know how much you are against this Gosar amendment. It may come up for a vote tomorrow, so time is of the essence.
In particular, calls to these two Arizona representatives may be most effective:
Martha McSally at 202-225-2542
Kyrsten Senima at 202-225-9888

Desert Bighorn Sheep Update

Arizona desert bighorn sheep thrive with help of conservationists – and hunters

Gabriel Sandler | Cronkite News
Thursday, March 22, 2018
MARANA – After a two-hour hike through rocky, cactus-studded terrain west of Marana – with a left knee that no longer bends – 70-year-old Joe Sheehey arrived at Silverbell Peak and spotted an Arizona desert bighorn sheep.

The ram stood at the edge of the summit, read more …

Harris Hawk Release

A Harris Hawk was released after last week’s press conference which Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) hosted with local environmental advocates highlighting the threat to Ironwood Forest National Monument and other national monuments across the country.

Left to right: Representative from Liberty Wildlife, Maria Klucarova from Supervisor Bronson’s office, Verlon Jose who is the Vice Chair Tohono O’odham Nation.

You can also view a video of the press conference by clicking here.

Fact v. Fiction

Bill Thornton separates fact from fiction in a letter published July 25 in the Arizona Daily Star. Bill addresses statements made by the Congressional Western Caucus, which includes three Arizona Congressman. Read Bill’s article here. Covered in the article are highlights from the letter the Caucus sent to Interior Secretary Zinke. Bill debunks statements such as the false implication that ranchers with grazing leases have concerns over access, that off highway vehicles are prohibited and that the monument has resulted in a loss of revenue for K-12 education.

Arizona Conservationists: Save our National Monuments

The Arizona Daily Star ran an article on Sunday, June 4 called Arizona Conservationists: Save our National Monuments. The article was by William Thornton, the Friends of Ironwood Forest (FIF) Vice President and Tom Hannagan, FIF President.  The article covers the history of how the Ironwood Forest National Monument achieved its designation, how the monument land has benefited from thousands of hours of hands-on work by hundreds of volunteers and information on how to make your voice heard in protest to the threat to our national monuments. Read the article here.