Development: Sonoran Desert

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Development: Sonoran Desert
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Mason Cummings, TWS

A fragile desert at risk to development

Largely to the west and south of Phoenix, the vast Sonoran Desert stretches across the southwestern quadrant of Arizona and beyond. 

Known for its enchanting cactus forests, rugged mountains, native petroglyphs and captivating creatures, this diverse desert is beloved by residents of Phoenix and Tucson. 

But the number of people living in and around the Sonoran Desert is growing rapidly, placing increased recreation and development pressures on this fragile desert. 

We are working to ensure the Sonoran Desert is protected for future generations through a bill in Congress called the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act.

Why this place matters

The Sonoran Desert is important for wildlife like bighorn sheep as well as outdoor recreation lovers and residents who value the beauty of the area. It’s also key to Arizona military bases that require adjacent open space for fighter training.

900,000 acres of BLM lands
would be protected by the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act.
The most diverse vegetation
of all North American deserts can be found here, from flowering palo verde trees to towering saguaro cactus.
Saguaro National Park
is one of several special parks, refuges and monuments in this desert, including Organ Pipe Cactus and Casa Grande Ruins national monuments.

The threat

The Sonoran Desert is under threat from increasing urbanization because of its proximity to fast-growing Phoenix. 

As more people move to central and southern Arizona, increased development pressures affect the Sonoran Desert through more roads, power lines and development as well as increased recreation. This desert region is easily accessible, which increases the likelihood that these development and recreation pressures could damage archaeological resources, native plants and wildlife.

Additionally, the Sonoran Desert plays a vital role in U.S. national security. It is home to the Barry M. Goldwater Gunnery Range, a training range for military pilots. Deserts are fragile and do not recover from damage as quickly as other places, due largely to rain scarcity.

Over 900,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands would be protected by the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act.

The Sonoran Desert provides important habitat for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, gray foxes and coyotes. Many species like the bighorn require large spaces to roam so they can find water and food. It’s important for their survival that these desert lands are not cut up by roads and other development.

What we're doing

  1. Supporting legislative protection

    We are supporting the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act as a way to preserve this spectacular region.

  2. Advocating for low-impact use

    We're advocating for responsible and low-impact recreational use of these fragile public lands.

  3. Spreading the word

    We're working to increase awareness of how protected public lands offer advantages to military installations.

What you can do
Tell your lawmakers to support the Sonoran Desert. Sign up for WildAlert emails to make your voice heard.