If approved, a sweeping, 531-page plan aims to lessen the impact of development on 13 sensitive species in Marana.
The town’s proposed habitat conservation plan identifies a series of vital environmental corridors stretching from the south to the northeast toward the Tortolita Mountains.
Marana officials aim to strike a balance between orderly development and protection of critical habitat, according to Jennifer Christelman, director of the town’s environmental engineering division.
The plan would allow for the “incidental take” of federally recognized threatened and endangered species, two of which — the lesser long-nosed bat and the southwestern willow flycatcher — occupy prime saguaro and riparian habitat in Marana.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, which covers threatened animals. Under the act, the term “take” means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect endangered or threatened species.”
Other vulnerable species covered by the proposed Marana conservation plan include: the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, Tucson shovel-nosed snake and Sonoran desert tortoise (federal protections are sought for all three) as well as the yellow-billed cuckoo, lowland leopard frog, talus snails, ground snake, Mexican garter snake, Merriam’s mouse, burrowing owl and Pale Townsend’s big-eared bat.
“We’ve planned up front,” Christelman said of the town’s conservation work. “The consultation with Fish and Wildlife is a lot more streamlined.”
The town’s proposed conservation plan identifies sensitive areas for mitigation and conservation and ways to conserve sensitive lands, according to Christelman.
How to pay for various conservation efforts, however, remains undetermined.
“We don’t completely have that worked out,” Christelman said. “Most likely it will involve a combination of things.”
The town could set aside conservation money during its capital improvement planning process. Fees or other levies might be considered.
Christelman hopes that in a series of public meetings this month, interested parties may offer a number of options to help fund Marana’s conservation effort.
“The more people who can come to the meetings, the better,” she said. “They know what’s in their backyard.”
Work began on the conservation plan in 2001, Christelman said.
The planning, however, halted in 2004 when tiny cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl was first listed as an endangered species. The owl’s delisting in 2006 led town officials to renew their planning efforts.
The town used $110,000 from a federal grant to help pay for the work, Christelman said.
Throughout the process, officials surveyed prime wildlife habitat throughout town in search of various species.
“The only one we can’t really find is the shovel-nosed snake,” Christelman said.
Surveys done in 2003, ’04, ’07 and ’08 failed to locate the elusive, rare multi-colored snake.
But, because the town has areas that could accommodate the snake, Christelman explained, officials decided to include it in the plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity last fall petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the snake as an endangered species.
Marana aims to complete its conservation planning by May 31. Then, federal officials must decide whether to approve the town’s 25-year take permit.
Marana this month will hold three public meetings on the draft conservation plan to provide information and accept comments.
• Thursday, April 2: 6 to 8 p.m., second-floor conference room, Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive
• Wednesday, April 15: 6 to 8 p.m., Wheeler Taft Abbett Sr. Branch Library, 7800 N. Schisler Drive
• Thursday, April 16: 6 to 8 p.m., Heritage Highlands Clubhouse ballroom, 4949 W. Heritage Club Blvd.
Copies of the plan and its supporting documents are online at http://www.marana.com/index.asp?NID=475">http://www.marana.com/index.asp?NID=475.
Public comments on the plan are due by May 1 and can be mailed to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
201 N. Bonita Ave., Suite 141
Tucson, AZ 85745
Comments also can be faxed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tucson office at 670-6155 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.