The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) is an innovative strategy to preserve the biological diversity and cultural heritage of Pima County, Arizona, in response to unprecedented human population growth and associated impacts. To balance growth and ecological health, Pima County initiated a Multi-species Conservation Plan (MSCP) to ensure both compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), through a Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit, and to aid preservation of the full spectrum of plants and animals indigenous to Pima County. The Pima County Ecological Monitoring Program (Pima County EMP) is an essential component of the MSCP and SDCP for determining if these goals are being met. This report is the first step in creating in the process of developing the Pima County EMP.
Like most MSCP monitoring programs, the Pima County EMP will include monitoring a subset of species covered under the Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit. However, there is a growing recognition that monitoring a small suite of species is less informative to managers than monitoring key structural and functional ecosystem parameters. Therefore, Pima County proposes to monitor a broad suite of biotic and abiotic parameters that influence covered species in addition to other species of interest. These additional parameters are linked hierarchically such that changes in one parameter will likely result in changes to other parameters with which they are associated (Figure ES.1). Parameter groups that will be considered for inclusion into the Pima County EMP are climate, landscape, water and riparian resources, vegetation structure and composition, and vertebrate species and communities. By taking an integrated approach, the Pima County EMP will have the best chances of anticipating, detecting, and responding to environmental changes resulting from a broad range of stressors at many ecological scales. Ultimately, this approach will also lead to greater cost efficiency because many of the broader-scale parameters such as land cover and water resources are less expensive to monitor than rare vertebrate species. The design being advocated will also increase the likelihood of understanding the causes of observed trends, offer greater insight and direction to management efforts, and galvanize these efforts in a more timely, and therefore more efficient, manner. This approach differs markedly from species-based monitoring that emphasizes population parameters for a narrow suite of rare, endangered, or indicator species; yet ultimately is more likely to satisfy requirements of the permit by nature of its integrated design.
The Pima County EMP is in the initial planning stage (Phase I of III). To inform this effort, RECON Environmental Inc. and Pima County hosted a series of expert workshops in the fall of 2006. Seven workshops were attended by over 50 subject-matter experts and managers who provided important perspectives on what ecosystem components hold the most promise for inclusion into the program. Experts evaluated parameters suggested by an earlier monitoring effort and recommended new parameters to better meet the goals of the SDCP and MSCP. Experts then evaluated parameters based on a series of criteria for ecological relevance, management significance, response variability, and feasibility. From these workshops emerged a prioritized list of parameters, substantial narrative, and discussion points that will be used in the next phases of the program’s development.
Workshops were an invaluable first step in the critical process of evaluating potential monitoring parameters. Phase II development will involve a more detailed evaluation of the many parameters suggested by workgroup experts. In particular, there will be special emphasis on identifying methods and sampling designs that maximize sampling efficiency (i.e., cost savings) and simultaneously provide a framework for identifying parameters that hold the most promise for informing management. These detailed evaluations are essential to ensure the long-term financial viability and relevance of the program. From this process, a ranked list of monitoring parameters will emerge as well as about how to implement monitoring (Phase III). In addition, and as a validation test required for compliance with the ESA, there will be a determination of whether the final list of parameters is adequate for monitoring the status of covered species for the MSCP.
Concurrent with efforts to evaluate parameters should be an effort to foster monitoring partnerships with a host of entities in Pima County that are either actively monitoring or engaged in the planning process (e.g., National Park Service [NPS], Bureau of Land Management [BLM], and U.S. Forest Service). Given the broad scope of the SDCP, Pima County is in a unique position to inform monitoring efforts outside of the area that will be covered under the permit. This approach will broaden the spatial scope of the program, increase efficiencies, enable earlier change detection, and ultimately put the management activities of Pima County into a broader spatial context, thereby better gauging compliance with the terms of the MSCP permit.
Report to Pima County by RECON Environmental Inc., RECON No. 4115B/3272B