The 20-mile stretch of Interstate-10 (I-10) between Vail and Benson, east of Tucson, Arizona, divides the regionally important Rincon-Santa Rita-Whetstone Mountains Wildlife Linkage. This linkage is one of the few remaining north-south I-10 wildlife crossing points found between Tucson and New Mexico and it encompasses several protected areas and important waters, including Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, making it critically important for desert wildlife in the face of climate change. In the spring of 2017, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (CSDP), in conjunction with partners, conducted comprehensive assessments and wildlife surveys of the nearly 80 existing underpasses and drainage culverts in the study area. Our results indicate that this wildlife linkage could be made safer for wildlife and motorists by 1) installing wildlife funnel-fencing to keep animals off the highway and to direct wildlife toward existing crossing points; 2) retrofitting and widening existing drainage culverts located in high volume areas; 3) construction of an additional wildlife crossing between Cienega Creek and Marsh Station Rd Exit 291. Now in Phase II, we are using wildlife camera monitoring and roadkill surveys, with community science engagement, to gather species-specific baseline data on wildlife passage rates and roadkill hotpots. Preliminary results, including one black bear mortality, already begin to identify optimum locations for wildlife funnel-fencing installation, existing culvert retrofits, and new wildlife crossing structures. This data will inform State and County highway and wildlife officials on where to focus mitigation efforts to improve highway safety and minimize wildlife-vehicle collisions, and provide justification for project funding.
Terrestrial Wildlife and Ecosystem Interactions with Transportation