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Sonoran Desert Region

Rep. Raúl Grijalva Introduces Legislation to Protect Wild Desert Landscape, Recreation Opportunities, and Arizona’s $9 Billion Military Economy

Species Diversity | Recreational Opportunities | Get Involved


http://www.sonoranheritage.orgRep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 3) has introduced the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act (H.R. 1799)! For more than six years, the  Arizona Wilderness Coalition has worked diligently with our community partners to build strong local support for its flagship initiative in Central Arizona—the Sonoran Desert Heritage Conservation Plan— focused on conserving an array of intact Sonoran Desert, home to the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in the country. Saguaro-studded hills and rugged mountains stretch from the Harquahala and Belmont Mountains to the remote wilderness of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, forming a nearly one million-acre arc of magnificent wildlife habitat and recreational areas within western Maricopa County. Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s new legislation is a culmination of that dedicated local effort, and outlines protective designations for approximately one million acres of BLM lands that include new wilderness areas, national conservation areas, and special management areas.

The Sand Tank, Gila Bend, and Harquahala Mountains - among others – are iconic places in Arizona’s world famous Sonoran Desert. Filled with an unprecedented number of cultural and archaeological resources, the Sonoran Desert also offers an awe-inspiring natural environment. Arizona’s history has been written in remnants of the Butterfield-Overland Trail, petroglyph-lined canyons along the Gila River, the historic Anza Trail, and many other historically significant places throughout the Sonoran Desert region.

Fighter Country Partnership supports the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act. Courtesy PBSWhy Legislation is Needed

The West Valley of Maricopa County currently hosts 21% of Phoenix’s population, which will explode to 34% by 2030 as a key segment of one of the nation’s fastest growing regions. This surge, which is occurring even now during the recession, has enormous implications for the scenic, biological, and cultural integrity of public lands at its fringe, including encroachment threats to Luke Air Force Base and the Barry M. Goldwater Range. A report issued in April by AWC and the Sonoran Institute highlights why conservation of lands outside these key military installations is crucial to safeguarding their viability into the future.  

Watch a PBS video, “This American Land,” that describes the critical need for conservation in this part of western Maricopa County.

A vision for land and water conservation must match the West Valley’s ambitious growth if we are to retain our natural and cultural heritage and sustain the $9 billion military economy created by Luke Air Force Base and the 8 other military installations that rely on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The proposed Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act is the quintessential component of conserving the land, water, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and cultural resources in Arizona’s western Sonoran Desert.

Mountain lions at play in the proposed Harquahala Mountains NCA. Courtesy Mike Quigley/TWSOur Plan of Action

The legislation creates a mélange of protective designations, all on existing public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Wilderness designation for appropriate areas is the highest level of protection for federal lands and safeguards premier wildlife habitat for native plants and animals. The new wilderness designations are nested within two new National Conservation Area(s), which provide a broader level of protection—allowing for roads, interpretative areas, mountain biking, motorized recreation, and other more intensive uses.

AWC and partners are looking to other members of Arizona’s Congressional delegation to support Rep. Grijalva’s legislation—given its appeal among a diverse constituency and the significance of conservation for the military missions that use the Barry M. Goldwater Range. Concurrently, we are engaged in ongoing outreach activities with stakeholders and the public, hosting presentations, field tours, and additional meetings to work through local concerns as they arise. With a solid grassroots support base, the legislation will have the necessary clout to gain the support of the House and Senate and move through congressional committees.

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A desert bighorn sheep in the proposed Belmont Mountains wilderness. Courtesy Mike Quigley/TWSSpecies Diversity

The Sonoran Desert ecosystem of central Arizona—rapidly disappearing because of development—is found nowhere else in the world. Rugged mountains and gentle bajadas support Sonoran pronghorn, mule deer, and the prized desert bighorn sheep.

Thick riparian vegetation of willows and cottonwoods found near canyons and river corridors nurtures more than 300 bird species, such as wintering bald eagles, zone-tailed hawks, and a plethora of migrating denizens.


Recreational Opportunities

Poppies burst after winter rains at Saddle Mountain Centennial proposed wilderness. Courtesy Scott HulbertThe Sonoran desert can be a wonderful and dangerous place at all times of year, which is why many people find it so interesting to travel here. In the winter people can enjoy mild daytime temperatures for hiking, backpacking, birding, climbing, and photography. Nighttime temperatures can hover around freezing.

Two of the most beautiful times in the Sonoran Desert are after the spring rains and during the summer monsoons.

After the spring rains, thousands of colorful flowers carpet the desert floor. During the summer monsoons, unique desert amphibians and reptiles awaken to eat and breed. Many of the reptiles that can be found are poisonous, such as rattlesnakes. Watch your step and listen well!


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Get Involved

For more information regarding the Sonoran Desert Heritage Act and public lands around metropolitan Phoenix, or to get involved with our work in this region, please contact us at (520) 326-4300.

Please also visit the campaign's website at!

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