Hot Springs Corridor

by The Cascabel Conservation Association

The San Pedro River Valley has received international attention as the best example of a desert riparian system remaining in the Southwest, and in particular as the principal migratory corridor for neotropical songbirds in the West. Likewise, Hot Springs Canyon has been recognized for its significance in supporting sub-flow in the middle San Pedro, which is perennial a short reach downstream from the confluence of Hot Springs and Paige Canyons. Hot Springs and Paige Canyons have also begun to be appreciated by wildlife biologists and ecologists for their significance as a wildlife corridor between the Rincon-Catalina and Winchester-Galiuro Mountains. Within the central San Pedro River watershed, these rare major canyons like Hot Springs and Paige provide the only opportunity for connecting “Sky Island” mountain ranges that includes high elevation forest systems and diverse tributary canyons. Furthermore, these landscape connections provide linkage in a more extensive integral landscape that connects mountains, grasslands, and desert between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madres in Mexico. Ecologist Dave Gori of The Nature Conservancy notes:

“The property can function as a corridor (or part of a corridor) in several ways: (1) it can connect higher elevation habitats in the Rincons, Catalinas, and Galiuros and reduce extinction rates from these habitats, increase recolonization rates after local extinction, and permit gene flow between habitats; (2) it can allow an interchange of wildlife between different habitats (e.g., Sonoran desert to desert grassland to juniper-park savannah, etc.); (3) it can allow wildlife to migrate seasonally (e.g., elevational migration in birds, coyotes, bears, desert bighorn); and (4) permit species to change environments in response to environmental change (e.g., global warming).”

“To date, there have been only a handful of good studies on corridors, but they clearly show either that corridors increase population viability or habitat occupancy or that animals use corridors to move between habitat patches (and often will not move through the non-corridor matrix).”

In recognition of these facts, upper Hot Springs Canyon was protected by The Nature Conservancy with their purchase of the Muleshoe Ranch. With a slightly different emphasis, Saguaro-Juniper Corporation and the Cascabel Conservation Association have focused much attention on the middle Hot Springs Canyon by placing all of their holdings under a covenantal deed restriction. Lower Hot Springs has received some attention by private landholders with conservation easements placed upon their properties. Further, the recent purchase of the A7 Ranch river properties along lower Paige Canyon goes a long way in maintaining that corridor.

The present and former Cascabel Ranch Properties which border and cross lower Hot Springs are the last major pieces of private land in this puzzle. Together with these others, they could form a mosaic that protects the waters and wildlife corridors of Hot Springs Canyon from the Rincons and San Pedro River all the way into the Galiuros. The ambition of this proposal by the Cascabel Conservation Association (CCA) to hold conservation easements in Hot Springs Canyon is to try to complete that vision. The CCA does not seek to exclude humans from the land, but rather sees the critical issue to be how people integrate with the land. With current cultural habits, there are several factors recognized as most critical for integration with wildlife. Foremost is an unfragmented open landscape with limited human population density. Of secondary importance are the issues of persistent mechanical noise makers, free-ranging dogs, continuous night lights, and grid power into and across the canyon. These restrictions would of course also benefit the quality of life of the existing human community, as well as the value of their property.

Landowners in Hot Springs Canyon are being very cooperative on most of these issues, and voluntarily wish to maintain the natural values of this place. Conservation easements held by CCA with backup signatory by The Nature Conservancy are being pursued with them. For the parties involved there is a great deal of agreement on all points, except the most difficult and critical issue of signing away right to property subdivision. The Nature Conservancy and the Cascabel Conservation Association are anxious to assist in this process. They have both agreed to accept conservation easements in this Hot Springs Canyon corridor area even if there is not agreement on no subdivision. The reason for this is the critical nature of the area and the belief that the other points of agreement are substantial and worthy of implementation.

Funds will be required to record and hold these very important conservation easements, a function that CCA can pursue within its charter and its capacity as a non-profit corporation. However, due to the significant expense and responsibility, the CCA desires that all parties agree to participate. One missing link could break the whole chain. The concern is that the expense and effort would be for naught. This proposal hopes to accommodate these issues in an acceptable manner for all participants while conserving a major resource of one of our “Last Great Places” – the San Pedro River valley.

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