2018 Pusch Ridge Wilderness Closure, Bighorn Sheep – 1/12/2018

The top section of the Temporary Area Closure for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep signed in October of 2017. October 2017.
The top section of the Temporary Area Closure for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep signed in October of 2017. October 2017.

In October of 2017 Kerwin S. Dewberry, Forest Supervisor of Coronado National Forest, renewed the Temporary Closure Order for the Protection of Desert Bighorn Sheep. The closure imposes restrictions a number of restrictions in the Bighorn Sheep Management Area of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. The closure has been in place since 1996 and the new closure order has two changes from the past few years:

  • The closure order runs for 2 years (rather than the 1 year duration of orders since 2013)
  • There is an added restriction on domestic goats and sheep (I believe the concern is that goats and domestic sheep can carry diseases that bighorn sheep are vulnerable to).

 

See this link for more details including a map and list of trails impacted by the closure (the Bighorn Sheep Management Area does not cover the entire wilderness area) – the restrictions:

  • From January 1 to April 30 travel more than 400′ off of designated Forest Service Trails is prohibited
  • Dogs are prohibited except for seeing-eye dogs and handi-dogs – year round
  • Bring in, possess, or allow domestic sheep or goats into the closure area – year round
  • Maximum group size – day use size of 15 and overnight group size of 6 – year round

 

There were two new publications specifically about bighorn sheep in the Santa Catalina Mountains in 2017:

 

Examining the Response of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Backcountry Visitor Use in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area

In March of 2017 there were a number of presentations about bighorn sheep at the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa – if you attended you may have listened to Brett Blum talk about tracking human visitation via cameras and making detailed observations of bighorn behaviors. This research is presented in Examining the Response of Desert Bighorn Sheep to Backcountry Visitor Use in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area. Two interesting details from the paper:

  • “bighorn responded to increased human activity by bedding. Bedding likely decreases the potential for both detection or interaction with humans and would be a more energetically conservative approach to avoidance that may be exhibited in part due the predictable nature of concentrated visitor use on established trails.” (p. 27)
  • “A study of the former population of bighorn sheep by Schoenecker and Krausman (2002) found 18% of visitors observed engaged in off trail use between 1994 and 1996. In contrast we documented roughly 1.5% off trail use from January 2015-May 2016 suggesting current human use of the PRWA may be largely confined to established trails” … “We speculate that the effects of urbanization around the PRWA may have also inadvertently restricted visitor use to established trails by limiting non designated access points around the base of the study area that were present during the former population.” (p. 28)

Not currently included with the paper is a detailed analysis of the visitation data, Brett indicated in an email that he is “still working with the Coronado National Forest to quantify all the visitor use data” – hopefully this data will be available at a later date!

Part of the cover of And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. January 2018.
Part of the cover of And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. January 2018.

And Then There Were None: The Demise of Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Paul R. Krausman has worked on Bighorn Sheep research in the Santa Catalina Mountains for many years and in this book he brings together a wide variety of scientific and historic information about the sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. I think it is fair to say that the book is written for a professional/academic audience – but it is certainly accessible enough to be interesting to someone like me without a wildlife related degree. Two excerpts that might inspire you to read more:

  • “there is no evidence that predation, limited water, disease, or the presence of other ungulates contributed to the demise of the desert bighorn sheep in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. However, the increasing human population from Tucson and surrounding areas encroaching on bighorn sheep habit, and related urbanization, have not been positive influences… there is strong evidence that urbanization and habitat alteration were major influences in their extinction” (pp. 141-142)
  • “when bighorn sheep are translocated back into the Santa Catalina Mountains, they will likely continue to need assistance from humans, including predator control, prescribed fires, periodic transplants to enhance genetic diversity and mitigate the loss of corridors to other mountain ranges, and restrictions on humans in their habitat” (p. 157)
Map showing the Bighorn Sheep Management Area - note that it does not cover the entire Pusch Ridge Wilderness. October 2017.
Map showing the Bighorn Sheep Management Area – note that it does not cover the entire Pusch Ridge Wilderness. October 2017.

Cottonwood Tank – 11/24/2017

Water, reflection and Table Mountain - Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.
Water, reflection and Table Mountain – Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.

Cottonwood Tank is located on the west side of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness south of Catalina State Park. It appears that Arizona Game and Fish did maintenance work in 2017 and the tank is currently holding quite a bit of water.

Sadly, also apparently in 2017, a substantial amount of the tank is covered in graffiti.

Graffiti covering Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.
Graffiti covering Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.
A saguaro in the sunset - on the hike out from Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.
A saguaro in the sunset – on the hike out from Cottonwood Tank. December 2017.
A Phainopepla. December 2017.
A Phainopepla. December 2017.
Cottonwood Tank is in the lower-center of the map - inside the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, outside of Catalina State Park. January 2018.
Cottonwood Tank is in the lower-center of the map – inside the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, outside of Catalina State Park. January 2018.

Last of 2017 in Dead Horse Canyon – 12/25/2017 and 12/31/2017

Looking up at Table Mountain from Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.
Looking up at Table Mountain from Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.

Dead Horse Canyon – Frog Mountain Blues – p. 61:

Buster looks at the mountains and shifts to teaching the old geography, one that has slightly different notes from the modern hiking maps. The first gouge to the west he calls Alamo Canyon because there used to be a big cottonwood up there. Then comes Cement Tank because they put a trough in there. After that is Dead Horse for a dead horse found one day. Then Montrose on whose upper reaches Buster Spring bubbles away. And over the ridge from that is Romero for the old ranching family that came into the county in the nineteenth century. When Buster arrived in the 1920s they were still here, still ranching. And they became his neighbors.

The USFS's FSTopo map on the left with Dead Horse Canyon labeled - the USGS Topo on the right without Dead Horse Canyon labeled. January 2018.
The USFS’s FSTopo map on the left with Dead Horse Canyon labeled – the USGS Topo on the right without Dead Horse Canyon labeled. January 2018.
A pool in Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.
A pool in Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.
Point 4262 above Deadhorse Canyon. December 2017.
Point 4262 above Deadhorse Canyon. December 2017.

Dead Horse Canyon is in the Santa Catalina Bighorn Sheep Management Area – lacking an official trail travel into this area is prohibited from January until May, but the summer heat means that it will be next winter before a pleasant visit is possible.

Bighorns have been documented in Dead Horse Canyon for many years – according to And Then There were None 8% of the Bighorn Observations made from 1936 to 1978 were in Dead Horse Canyon (p.88) and the photo shown below (of bighorn in Dead Horse Canyon) is described as “the largest number of sheep ever photographed as a group in the Santa Catalinas”. In 1972 bighorn permits were issued to 5 hunters, 2 kills were made – one at the head of Dead Horse Canyon (the last permits issued were in 1992).

An excerpt from page 4 of the AZGFD 2011 Bighorn Restoration Project Proposal showing a photo captioned in part as
An excerpt from page 4 of the AZGFD 2011 Bighorn Restoration Project Proposal showing a photo described as “the largest number of sheep ever photographed as a group in the Santa Catalinas” in Paul Krausman’s And Then There Were None – photo by Joe Sheehy. Excerpt made January 2018.
Looking down and out Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.
Looking down and out Dead Horse Canyon, the Tortolita Mountains in the distance. December 2017.
Black Mountain in the sunset light from the mouth of Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.
Black Mountain in the sunset light from the mouth of Dead Horse Canyon. December 2017.

Fees, Redesign, Shuttle, Discharge – 1/2/2018

Sunset from Barnum Rock. January 2018.
Sunset from Barnum Rock. January 2018.

Coronado National Forest Fee Proposal – Coronado National Forest: News articles about and the press release for the Fee (Increase) Proposal were from a post here in November – the link leads to the official page for the project and is a good starting spot if you are interested in submitting a comment about the proposal (comments due by May 1, 2018). I think that the list of ‘New Fee Sites’ is worth reading thru and considering – included from the Santa Catalina Mountains are the Bigelow Trailhead, Butterfly Trailhead and Windy Point Vista Day Use Area.

Improvements at Marshall Gulch Picnic Area and Trailhead – Coronado National Forest: If this topic, or the illustration below, seem familiar it is because the first comments on this plan were taken in 2010… The long running process to redesign the Marshall Gulch Trailhead appears to be in the final stages and on 10/27/2017 the Draft Environmental Assessment was published. If this plan goes forward it will not increase the number of parking spaces available but will attempt to restore the convergence of Marshall Gulch and Sabino Creek and make the area easier to navigate on busy days. An interesting note on visitation from the EA:

On average, the site receives over 65,000 cars each summer (May through September), which includes those just driving through and others who stop to use the facilities (Forest Service, unpublished data, 2010). Assuming that there are an average of 2.5 visitors per car, estimated use is 162,500 visitors. This does not include walkin use from Summerhaven and walk-in use during the winter when the gate is closed.

Conceptual Design Document for the proposed Marshall Gulch changes - the current 'main' trailhead parking and bathroom are below the area shown here and are eliminated to restore the area where Marshall Gulch and Sabino Canyon meet. January 2018.
Conceptual Design Document for the proposed Marshall Gulch changes – the current ‘main’ trailhead parking and bathroom are below the area shown in this illustration and are eliminated to restore the area where Marshall Gulch and Sabino Creek meet. January 2018.

The Coronado National Forest is now taking applications to operate the Sabino Canyon Shuttle System. The Sabino Canyon Shuttle Prospectus page has the relevant documents – the documents contain quite a few details about the shuttle system including limits on and requirements for the number of trips the shuttle makes, required operating hours and details about the costs/revenue involved – among the details was this statement about visitation to Sabino Canyon:

Visitation by private vehicle totals approximately 520,000 people annually; it is estimated that the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area receives more than one million visitors per year (Feasibility Study, 2010). Actual visitation to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is difficult to quantify, as the public may visit at any time of day and may to arrive on foot, on horseback, or by bicycle, as well as by private vehicle.

Potential shuttle service operators tour Sabino Canyon – KVOA.com, Forest, Arizona Tour Company Says Feds Arbitrarily Disqualified Its Canyon Trams – Courthouse News Service.

Gates are closed on a number of roads for the winter – foot traffic is still allowed. Seasonal road closures on Mt. Lemmon – Coronado National Forest, Seasonal road closures on Mt. Lemmon – Tucson News Now

A bear – reported to be “very old, malnourished and ill” – was euthanized in northeast Tucson in December – ‘Malnourished and ill’ bear euthanized on northeast side – Tucson News Now, AZ Game and Fish report bear sightings in Bear Canyon, Tanque Verde Area – Tucson News Now, Bear Euthanized Near Sabino Canyon – Arizona Public Media, Bear spotted several times in foothills this week – KGUN9

Meet the Black Friday resisters – KGUN9: This article made me laugh a little – I assumed it would be about a serious protest but instead was about people getting outside and avoiding the Black Friday deal-shopping crowds! Of course, I highly recommend joining the movement…

The history behind the name of Arizona’s Mount Lemmon – The Arizona Republic: An article about Sara Lemmon and the name Mount Lemmon.

Sunburst Petroglyph Vandalized in the Tohono O’odham Haki:dag – Intercontinental Cry: In early 2016 a sunburst petroglyph in Catalina State Park was vandalized – this article details some of the efforts to preserve the petroglyph.

Popular Sabino Creek is bone-dry after months with no rain – Arizona Daily Star: Sabino Canyon is on a dry streak as we head into 2018, no surprise given the weather… The USGS makes data from Sabino Canyon available online and there is discharge data available back to late 1987. The graph below show data from 1988 to the end of 2017, this presentation is far from perfect – high spikes are cut off, some very low numbers are essentially hidden and this is just the raw data with no filtering for data quality – but it is still interesting to quickly scan thru:

Sabino Creek Discharge 1988 to 2017 - the data contains . January 2018.

Endangered Gila Topminnow Returns to Santa Cruz – Arizona Public Media: One explanation offered for the prescence of the Topminnow in the Santa Cruz is that “they may have reached the Santa Cruz from Sabino Canyon via the Rillito River”.

One way to celebrate the New Year: Take a hike – Arizona Daily Star: Again this year the Arizona State Parks promoted getting outside and taking a hike on New Years by offering guided hikes in parks around the state.

Suntran Sabino Canyon Sun Shuttle – Sun Tran: For the brief period of 12/26 to 1/1 there was shuttle service from Udall Park to Sabino Canyon – even with overflow parking available it can occasionally still be a challenge to find parking in Sabino Canyon and this service is a nice detail.

ASTEROID LATEST: NASA monitoring ‘unseen’ asteroid 2017 YZ4 set to skim Earth – Express.co.uk: An asteroid first observed from the Mount Lemmon Survey Observatory in the Santa Catalina Mountains!

Contador and Polartec-Kometa tackle Mt. Lemmon – Cyclingnews.com: A short article about the Polartec-Kometa Continental team and Alberto Contador riding up the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Weather! Even by Tucson standards this winter has been quite warm – we did get one winter storm that generated snow on the mountain…

Hikes and Events:

Rescues/Accidents/Incidents including information from SARCI’s SARNews:

  • 12/11/2017 La Milagrosa Trail: Not a rescue but an interesting report because it was a false alert due to an accidental emergency beacon activation – no details were given about how the beacon might have been activated.
  • 12/18/2017 Romero Canyon Trail: Two hikers were unable to find the trail after entering Romero Canyon – they found the trail before help arrived.
  • 12/23/2017 Seven Falls Area: An ankle injury leads to a carry and ‘reindeer’ ride out.
Wolf moon from San Pedro Vista. January 2018.
Wolf moon from San Pedro Vista. January 2018.

Oracle Hill, First Winter Storm – 12/17/2017

A rainbow from the slopes below Oracle Hill. December 2017.
A rainbow from the slopes below Oracle Hill. December 2017.

With the first good winter storm dropping snow on the top of the mountain I thought there might be interesting views from the San Pedro Valley so I drove north from Benson along the river – the fall color in the river bed was beautiful – but views of the snow on the Santa Catalina Mountains were obscured by a grey wall of clouds – no photos from the valley today, but the drive was still beautiful.

In Oracle I parked at the Callas Drive Gap Road Parking and walked up the road. At the FR4487 and FR736 (which makes a rough 4WD journey across Charouleau Gap down to the west side of the mountain) junction I continue on FR4487 and take the small road that winds up the slopes of Oracle Hill.

Mine entrance near the end of the road up Oracle Hill. December 2017.
Mine entrance near the end of the road up Oracle Hill. December 2017.

From the end of the road I wander up to the top of Oracle Hill and then across the connected ridges and hillsides on cow paths and cross-country admiring the storm above, enjoying the constant wind and occasional rain before wandering back…

First significant storm - and snow - of the winter over Mount Lemmon. December 2017.
First significant storm – and snow – of the winter over Mount Lemmon. December 2017.
Ridges and sunlight. December 2017.
Ridges and sunlight. December 2017.