The modern environmental movement arguably can trace its origins to two events: the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
The push toward stricter regulation and species protection has gained momentum ever since.
Local governments, too, have sought to enact more stringent measures to protect fragile or unique habitats and preserve wildlife in their communities.
To that end, the Oro Valley Town Council plans Wednesday to discuss the benefits of adopting the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a sweeping county government measure aimed at preserving species native to the region.
“People don’t want to live in an area that’s all concreted over,” Councilman Barry Gillaspie said.
The councilman said he supports going beyond simply endorsing the conservation plan, as former councils have. Rather, he wants to incorporate its tenets into the town code.
The possible acceptance of the countywide plan has earned the town praise from some local environmental advocates.
Carolyn Campbell, of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, sent a letter thanking the council for considering the habitat protection measure.
“The adoption of the various implementation tools of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan will greatly enhance regional conservation,” Campbell wrote.
At the heart of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan lies the Conservation Land System.
Essentially a countywide map, the Conservation Land System lays down guidelines for habitat conservation.
The CLS names six conservation categories and assigns open-space designations for each, ranging from 95 percent for important riparian areas to zero set aside for agricultural lands.
If the council adopts the plan and the Conservation Land System, then it could change the landscape of the planned annexation of Arizona State Land Department property north of town.
Arroyo Grande, a 14-square-mile desert tract, falls under the multiple-use category, according to the conservation system.
The county plan would require that two-thirds of it be set aside for open space.
In a planning study of the area, town and state officials have earmarked 68 percent of Arroyo Grande for open space.
At least 13 animal species that live in the proposed annexation area are identified as “vulnerable” in the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, including the storied cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl.
“In Arroyo Grande, we’re aiming to comply with the Conservation Land System,” Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Director Sarah More said.
For the town to adopt the CLS, a general plan amendment would be required.
More said that could be included in a proposed amendment covering the annexation of Arroyo Grande.
The general plan could be amended later in 2009 to include the CLS.
The town can only make amendments to the general plan once a year.
Councilman Bill Garner said he supports the proposed adoption of the county’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
“Anything we can use that’s off-the-shelf and has a proven track record would be a help,” Garner said.
Adopting the county plan would save the town money because all the analyses and studies have been completed, Garner added.
He also suggested the town hold off planning for the annexation of Arroyo Grande until the outcome of a statewide ballot initiative.
The measure would put 570,000 acres of state land department holdings under permanent protection, including about two-thirds of Arroyo Grande.
“It takes a lot of guess work off the table,” Garner said.
Adopting the county plan likely won’t be without some complications, though.
For one, the town would need greater coordination with the county to ensure compliance with the plan, especially if county supervisors make changes to it.
Still, council members last week seemed optimistic about adopting the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
“It’s a regional plan, and I think we ought to endorse it,” Councilman Al Kunisch said.
He noted that the town’s general plan already addresses environmental preservation, but said the added measure of protection could benefit Oro Valley.