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.

The Full #5 – 9/14/2017

Looking down on the West Fork of Sabino Canyon with Rattlesnake Peak above and Thimble and Rincon Peaks in the background. September 2017.
Looking down on the West Fork of Sabino Canyon with Rattlesnake Peak above and Thimble and Rincon Peaks in the background. September 2017.

Down, down, down… Doing an out-and-back on the Mt. Lemmon Trail, the #5, doesn’t have the same allure to most hikers as the many loops at the top of the mountain – but it has different benefits… Not long after passing the junction with the Wilderness of Rock Trail the #5 takes on a slightly different character – far from obscure, but narrower and distinctly less used. Sections of the trail remind me of the upper CDO, somehow more wild than the well trodden loops at the top. As you wind down the mountain the interior of the Santa Catalina Mountains comes into view.

Admittedly the end of the #5 at Romero Pass is, I think, a bit of an anti-climax – the best views are on the trail above, but at least the pass is usually peaceful, a nice place for break before the long climb back up…

Oak Galls at Romero Pass. September 2017.
Oak Galls at Romero Pass. September 2017.
Near the junction of the Wilderness of Rock and Mt. Lemmon Trails. September 2017.
Near the junction of the Wilderness of Rock and Mt. Lemmon Trails. September 2017.
Fallen across the trail. September 2017.
Fallen across the trail. September 2017.
A Jerusalem Cricket on the Mt. Lemmon Trail. September 2017.
A Jerusalem Cricket on the Mt. Lemmon Trail. September 2017.

Flowers and Fire on the Babad Do’ag Trail – 8/14/2017

Pringles Cluster Vine on the Babad Do'ag Trail. August 2017.
Pringles Cluster Vine on the Babad Do’ag Trail. August 2017.
Yellow Trumpet Bush on the Babad Do'ag Trail. August 2017.
Yellow Trumpet Bush on the Babad Do’ag Trail. August 2017.

The Babad Do’ag Trail is surrounded by flowers and green! I am more familiar with the trail in winter when the hillsides are shades of brown and tan, amazing to see it so green – but the trail is quite low on the mountain and, even with a few clouds and a little wind, the heat was… oppressive…

In April of this year the General Hitchcock Highway was briefly closed due to the Molino Fire. News reports at the time indicated that the suspected cause of the fire was recreational shooting. Ultimately the fire was fairly small – around 80 acres – and after the summer rains/growth it is hard to see the fire’s impact. The fire did touch the Babad Do’ag Trail – but only lightly, occasional burned agave mixed in with new growth.

Green growth and black burn from the Molino Fire. August 2017.
Green growth and black burn from the Molino Fire. August 2017.
The April 2017 Molino Fire perimeter in Black - the Babad Do'ag Trail is shown in red. August 2017.
The April 2017 Molino Fire perimeter in Black (a little over 80 acres) – the Babad Do’ag Trail is shown in red. August 2017.
Signs of the April 2017 Molino fire on the Babad Do'ag Trail. August 2017.
Signs of the April 2017 Molino fire on the Babad Do’ag Trail. August 2017.