Arizona

Pima Pineapple Cactus recovery

The Pima Pineapple cactus (Coryphantha scheeri var. robustispina) is a small (pineapple-sized) cactus that inhabits grasslands and desert scrub in Pima County and parts of Santa Cruz County, Arizona, and parts of northern Sonora, Mexico, at elevations below 4,000 feet. About 90 percent of its historic range is in Pima County.

The cactus is sparsely distributed within its range, but does have some high-density clusters. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) this species is incapable of self-fertilization, which means pollen from another individual cactus is required.

The Pima Pineapple cactus is a low-growing hemispherical cactus that may be found as single or multi-stemmed plants. Mature plants measure 4-18 inches tall and 3-7 inches in diameter. The spines are stout and arranged in clusters with one central hooked spine and 6-15 radial straight spines. Spines are originally straw colored, but become black with age. Flowers are yellow and the fruit is a green ellipsoid. See photos here. The flowers are pollinated mainly by bees. Seeds are dispersed by rodents, rabbits, and ants.

Because the cactus is small and inconspicuous, it is subject to danger from grassland fires, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, and housing development.

The Pima Pineapple cactus was listed as endangered by FWS on September 23, 1993. FWS never got around to establishing “critical habitat” but now is proposing a recovery plan which you can read here (76 pages). If we follow the plan, which will cost $62,910,560, FWS says they can delist the cactus by the year 2046. There have been many studies of the cactus, but FWS still doesn’t know how many there are scattered around its habitat.

The main recommendations of the recovery plan boil down to protecting existing habitat from human intervention, invasive species, and wildfires. In other words, restrict land usage. FWS also recommends acquisition of private lands to increase habitat and limit development.

The plan recommends monitoring the cactus for at least 15 years. It so happens that Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) established in 1985, comprising 117,464-acres, lies in southern Pima County within the range of the cactus. Has not the FWS been paying attention to the cactus on the Refuge during the past 25 years?

Ironically, management of BANWR may have caused the population of the cactus to plunge. When BANWR was established, they removed all cattle. The result was that the grass grew taller which promoted more damaging wildfires which damaged more cactus. Tall grass also discouraged jackrabbits which are the primary agent of seed dispersal. In tall grass, jackrabbits can’t run fast enough to escape predators.

I have an alternative suggestion. In order to preserve the cactus, delist it and farm it. Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge could be used as an initial farm stock source with many plots dedicated to the cactus. FWS could, if the cactus were delisted, allow commercial nurseries to grow and sell the plants to people who would like them for their yards or gardens, something that is problematical as long as the cactus is listed as “endangered.” This small cactus would make a good potted plant for porches and patios.

See also:

The Flaws in the Endangered Species Act

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Inca Doves – small and surprising

The Inca Dove (Columbina inca) is a small dove with a body length of about 8 inches. It is smaller than a Mourning dove and the White-winged dove. The Inca Dove’s color is light brownish gray and has a scaled appearance on its back. The tail is slender and has white sides. At rest, this dove is very dull looking. That changes in flight or when the dove is displaying. Then the bright rufus-colored primaries on the underside of the wings are visible. Male doves use the display of raising one wing over their backs to defend their territory against other males.

During courtship, the male bobs its head, raises its tail high over back and spreads it widely to show off black and white markings.

Inca doves occur in the southwestern U.S. and most of Mexico. They are found around human settlements throughout much of the Sonoran Desert region. They seem to prefer open areas with sparse shrub cover and scattered trees such as palo verde and oak.

They are seed and fruit eaters. Doves grind seeds in their muscular stomachs (or gizzards) using sand or gravel much like internal teeth.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “The Inca Dove has the longest breeding season of any Arizona bird: January to November. That fact, plus its preference for grass and weed seeds, have made the Inca Dove the most abundant bird in southwestern urban areas, after the house sparrow.”

According to Audubon, Nest sites vary, usually in trees or shrubs 5-20 feet above ground, sometimes as high as 50 feet. Nests (built by female, with material gathered by male) are a small platform of twigs, stems, leaves, sometimes lined with grass.

Both parents incubate the eggs for about two weeks. Upon hatching, the chicks are fed “pigeon milk” produced by both parents. “Both males and females produce this substance in their crops (the pouch just above the stomach that birds use to store food). The walls of the crop swell with fat and proteins until the cells in the crop wall begin shedding, producing a nutritious, milky-colored secretion. Despite its appearance, it’s not related to the milk produced by mammals.” – (Cornell)

The chicks fledge within two weeks of hatching and may be tended by the parents for another week or two.

Inca doves have a distinct sound. Listen here. Do you recognize it?

See also:

White-winged Doves

Mourning Doves

Eurasian Collared-Doves

The University of Arizona Guide for Snowflakes

If you plan to visit the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, you perhaps should read a new 20-page pamphlet produced by Jesús Treviño, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence, so that you will be politically correct at all times. The pamphlet is entitled: “Diversity and Inclusiveness in the Classroom.” (Link) This is just one of the things Dr. Treviño does to earn his reported salary of $214,000 per year. (Source)

The pamphlet is introduced with this paragraph:

“With the increase in diversity at institutions of higher education, campus communities are now commonly comprised of individuals from many backgrounds and with diverse experiences as well as multiple and intersecting identities. In addition, many campus constituents have social identities that historically have been under-represented (e.g. Black/African Americans, Latinx/Chicanx/Hispanic [sic], Asian American/Pacific Islanders, Natives Americans, LBTQIA+ folks, international students and employees, people with diverse religious affiliations, veterans, non-traditional students, women, first-generation college students, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). The University of Arizona does not differ from other institutions when it comes to diversity. Considering race and ethnicity alone, currently the UA has over 40% students of color. The multiplicity of the groups mentioned above form a valuable part of our student body.”

This pamphlet was produced for both students and faculty who may occasionally find themselves outside of “safe spaces” and be subjected to or commit a “microaggression.”

Major topics include:

Understanding Diversity and Inclusive Excellence

Tools/Exercises for Preparing Students To Interact in the Classroom

Guidelines for Classroom Discussions

Dialogue vs. Debate

Microaggressions in the Classroom

Among the sage advice given by this document is this: “Oops/ouch: If a student feels hurt or offended by another student’s comment, the hurt student can say ‘ouch.’ In acknowledgement, the student who made the hurtful comment says ‘oops.’ If necessary, there can be further dialogue about this exchange.”

By the way, the document defines “microaggressions” as: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Welcome to the real world.

This pamphlet is apparently for all students whose parents never taught them how to behave in civil society.

This article was originally published in the Arizona Daily Independent  and received many comments.

See also:

Free Speech and Tender Feelings

History of the Ajo Mining District, Pima County, Arizona by David Briggs

Geologist David Briggs has written another interesting paper on the history of mining in Arizona. This 18-page paper, History of the Ajo Mining District, Pima County, Arizona, was just published by the Arizona Geological Survey and is available as a free download: http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1710

I was particularly interesting in the Ajo paper because as a geologist, I conducted exploration at the mine and in the district. Although the mine is now inactive, there is remaining mineralization that can be mined given the right economic conditions. The Ajo orebody is particularly interesting to geologists because paleomagnetic and geologic evidence indicates that the Ajo ore deposit has been tilted to the south a total of approximately 120 degrees in two separate tectonic events. (Source) There is also speculation that a detached piece of the original orebody lies hidden nearby.

Briggs begins his story as follows: “The hostile environment of southwestern Arizona’s low desert presented many challenges to those who sought to discover and exploit the mineral wealth

of the region. Ajo’s remote location combined with hot summer days and scarce water created a number of obstacles that needed to be overcome. Despite these impediments, the district’s wealth was mined by Native Americans long before the arrival of first Spanish explorers, who recognized its potential soon after establishing outposts in this region.”

The Ajo area has a long history. Prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers in the 1530’s, the native Tohono O’odham Indians and their ancestors mined hematite, an iron oxide, which they used as body paint. Establishment of Spanish missions in Southern Arizona provided bases from which prospectors combed the country.

With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the end of the Mexican American War on February 2, 1848, and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase in June 1854, many prospectors tried their luck at Ajo.

Briggs provides great detail as he recounts the many lives of mining ventures in Ajo. Following is a very brief sketch of major events.

The first formal mining began in 1855 and a wagon road was constructed to the railroad at Gila Bend. Ore was also sent by wagon to San Diego and shipped to Swansea, Wales for smelting. High transportation costs eventually made the venture uneconomic.

Briggs recounts the era between 1898 and 1908 when the Ajo deposit saw many promotions and fraudulent mining schemes.

In 1911, the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company, which was operating mines in Bisbee, became interested in the Ajo properties and acquired the New Cornelia Copper Company which owned Ajo at the time. Calumet began an extensive drilling program which confirmed the presence of a large sulfide body of mineralization. They began open pit mining in 1915.

In 1931, Phelps Dodge merged with Calumet and Arizona Mining Company and continued to operate the mine which they did until 1985 when a combination of low copper prices and stricter regulations for smelter air quality caused the company to close the mine.

The Ajo property is now owned by Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. through its merger with Phelps Dodge. According to Briggs, “Freeport continues to periodically assess the economic feasibility of returning the Ajo project to production. As of December 31, 2015, this project is estimated to contain a sulfide resource of 482 million short tons, averaging 0.40% copper, 0.010% molybdenum, 0.002 oz. of gold/ton and 0.023 oz. of silver/ton.”

Other papers by David Briggs, published by the Arizona Geological Survey:

History of the Warren (Bisbee) Mining District

History of the San Manuel-Kalamazoo Mine, Pinal County, Arizona

Recovery of Copper by Solution Mining Techniques

Superior, Arizona – An Old Mining Camp with Many Lives

History of the Copper Mountain (Morenci) Mining District

History of Helvetia-Rosemont Mining District, Pima County, Arizona

 

A Guide to the Geology of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Highway

The Arizona Geological Survey has recently released a 56-page booklet which points out areas of geologic interest in Sabino Canyon and along the Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon. The booklet is available for free download here.

http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1526

The citation is:

Bezy, J.V., 2004, A Guide to the Geology of Sabinho Canyon and the Catalina Highway. Arizona Geological Survey Down to Earth, DTE #17, 56 p.

AZGS introduces the booklet:

“ Upper Sabino Canyon Road, also known as the 1 Sabino Canyon Shuttle Route, and the Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon offer a variety of spectacular geologic features. Because of the relatively sparse vegetation in the lower part of the range, most of these features are easy to recognize and photograph. Some of these features are common throughout this southern part of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Others occur in many other parts of the American Southwest. This booklet is your field guide to the geology of this spectacular mountain landscape. All of the geologic features described in the text can be reached by short walks from the Sabino Canyon Shuttle Route or the Catalina Highway. This book is written for the visitor who has an interest in geology, but who may not have had formal training in the subject. It may also help assure that the visiting geologist does not overlook some of the features described.”

The booklet provides short geologic descriptions of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Mountains, and describes 11 features in Sabino Canyon and 14 features along the Catalina Highway, all of which are illustrated by photographs, maps, and diagrams. This booklet can make your visit to these areas more interesting and informative.

Below are maps of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Highway showing the location of geologic features described.

sabino-canyon-features

catalina-highway-features

More articles on Tucson area geology:

Beneath the Tucson Valley

Gold of Cañada del Oro and rumors of treasure

Old mines of the Tucson Mountains

History of the Copper Mountain (Morenci) Mining District, Greenlee County, Arizona

morenci-1

The Arizona Geological Survey has just published a well-written history of the Morenci, Arizona, mining district. The report was written by geologist David F. Briggs and was published as AGS Contributed report Cr-16-C. The 79-page report is available for free download:
http://repository.azgs.az.gov/sites/default/files/dlio/files/nid1695/cr-16-c_morenci_0.pdf

The Copper Mountain (Morenci) mining district is located approximately 115 miles northeast of Tucson, Arizona.

Mining began in 1873. This district has produced more than 36 billion pounds of copper from 1873 to 2015. Since 1985 is has been America’s largest domestic copper producer.

The discovery of copper at Morenci during the turbulent years of the American Civil War brought new opportunities for many, but foreshadowed the end of a way of life for Native Americans, who had lived in the region for millennia. A diverse cast of characters has played a role in Morenci’s history, including veterans who ventured west after the war, as well as immigrants eager to make a new life in America.

Briggs provides an interesting narrative of the development of the district as different companies gradually consolidated the mines. Briggs breaks the history into five phases of development as the owner(s) dealt with different types of ore, changing technology, new discoveries, and the sometimes volatile copper market.

Phelps Dodge Corporation operated the district beginning in 1917. Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc. (renamed Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. in July 2014) acquired an 85% interest in the Morenci project through its merger with the Phelps Dodge Corporation in March 2007, and has been operating the mine since then.

The report contains many maps and both current and historical photographs. This report is an interesting read and its story is one that was similar to that of many mines in the West.

morenci-3

morenci-2

 More reports from AZGS:

AZGS field guides to Arizona Geology

A guide to the geology of the Sedona & Oak Creek Canyon area of Arizona

A Guide to the Geology of the Santa Catalina Mountains

A Guide to the Geology of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve

A Guide to the Geology of the Flagstaff Area

A Guide to Geology of Petrified Forest National Park

A Guide to Oak Creek-Mormon Lake Graben

AZGS Guides to Northern Arizona Geology

History of the Copper Mountain (Morenci) Mining District, Greenlee County, Arizona

A Guide to the Geology of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Cover santa catalina mtnsThe Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) has just released a new publication that is available for free download here: http://repository.azgs.az.gov/uri_gin/azgs/dlio/1679
The paper citation is: “Bezy, J.V., 2016, A Guide to the Geology of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona: The Geology and Life Zones of a Madrean Sky Island. Arizona Geological Survey Down-to-Earth # 22, 83 p
The description from AZGS:
This is a non-technical treatment of the geology and ecology of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson, Arizona. Natural landscapes have distinctive personalities. Each is the product of the interplay of geology, climate, vegetation, time, and often, human activities. The landscapes that form the Santa Catalina Mountains of southeastern Arizona give that range a unique personality like no other in the American Southwest. Rising as a great mountain island to over 9000 feet in elevation at their summit, Mount Lemmon, the Santa Catalina Mountains are the greatest expanse of high country within the Sonoran Desert. An unusual dome-like profile  sets it apart from the numerous, steep, sharp-crested mountain ranges in the region. This distinctive profile is a legacy of the range’s remarkable geologic history and the structure of its bedrock. Formed miles deep within Earth’s crust before being exhumed, this ancient structure has guided surface weathering and erosion for millions of years. The result is a mosaic of mountain landscapes of singular beauty and complexity.
This publication contains some 83 spectacular photos and figures.  It gives a very good introduction to the geology and geological processes that formed the range and also describes its life zones.
The rocks in the Santa Catalina Mountains record 1.65 billion years of history. The publication is written for both the general public and geologists.  Take a look and gain an appreciation of that history for when you travel the mountains.

Earthquake swarm in NW AZ explained

Since March, 2016, northwestern Arizona has experienced on-going earthquake activity. To date, there have been 57 earthquakes, the largest of which registered a magnitude of 3.8.

These earthquakes are not unexpected according to the Arizona Geological Survey. They are just now being detected because of enhanced instrumentation deployment.

Northwestern Arizona is on the southern end of a seismic belt that stretches from Montana and Idaho, through Utah and into Arizona. For the past 15 million years, the crust in this area has been stretching and stretching causes faulting and earthquakes.

The Arizona Geological Survey has a 4-minute video which explains what is happening:

Natural History of Desert Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep adult

Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) are well-adapted to rugged, rocky desert mountain ranges and canyons. They prefer precipitous slopes and cliffs where they can be safe from predators. They have very good eyesight which helps them navigate steep ledges.

As described by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: “The desert bighorn is a heavy-bodied, gray-brown, deer-sized animal with a large white rump patch. Both males and females have horns, but the males’ are much larger, growing into a curled spiral shape over the course of several years…The ewe’s horns are narrow and only grow about 12 inches long (about a half curl). The male’s horns are broad and massive and eventually curl in nearly a full spiral. The ram’s horns may weigh as much as 40 pounds.”

According to Arizona Game & Fish: “Adult males, rams, weigh between 160 and 200 pounds with a maximum weight of 225 pounds. Adult females, ewes, range from 75 to 130 pounds and average 110 pounds.” An adult has a length of 50″ – 62″ and stands 32″ – 40″ at the shoulder.

The diet of Bighorn Sheep consists of many different grasses, mesquite leaves and beans, desert lavender, fairy duster, desert ironwood, palo verde, globe-mallow, cactus fruits, and agave. In hot weather, they generally eat in the morning, then seek shade to process their cuds. “Bighorns have a complex 9-stage digestive process that allows them to maximize removal of nutrients from food of marginal quality.” In winter, the bighorns can get all the water they need by eating green vegetation. (DesertUSA)

According to DesertUSA: “Males do not defend territories but rather engage in battles over mating access to a particular female. Age as well as horn size determines male dominance status. Rutting season is in the autumn and early winter, and births take place in the Bighorn sheep spring, though mating can last from July to December. Gestation lasts from 150-180 days. One or two lambs are born from late February to May. Within a few weeks of birth, lambs form bands of their own, seeking out their mothers only to suckle occasionally. They are completely weaned by 4-6 months of age.”

Bighorn Sheep have been in the news lately because of a controversial program by Arizona Game & Fish to reintroduce the animal to the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson. See the AZGF page: Arizona Game and Fish Big Horn Sheep Website. I have commented on this program in a previous article: Mountain lion dietary supplementation plan.

In California, it’s Bighorns versus renewable energy: “The Bureau of Land Management issued a decision allowing the Soda Mountain Solar project to move forward on developing more than 2,813 acres of public land directly adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve that would cut off a vital route for desert bighorn sheep and damage other desert resources.

This massive, industrial solar array would block the last, best linkage for desert bighorn sheep between the Mojave National Preserve and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Study Area — a key pinch-point for keeping the sheep populations in the preserve connected to populations in the Soda Mountains and ranges beyond.” (Source)

Hunting. According to Arizona Game & Fish:

“Totally protected by the territorial legislature in 1893, bighorn sheep were not legal game in Arizona until 1953, when it was determined that the limited hunting of trophy desert bighorn rams might be the only way to save these animals. Two limited desert bighorn sheep hunts of 20 permits each were authorized, and 20 desert bighorn were taken. Since then, permit numbers, the number of units open to hunting, the number of rams taken, and hunt success have gradually increased. In 1984, Arizona began offering Rocky Mountain as well as desert bighorn sheep hunts. Between 80 and 100 hunt permits are authorized each year, mostly desert bighorns, with hunt success ranging between 90 and 95 percent.”

Bighorn sheep lambSee more photos from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

See videos from DesertUSA

A new Bighorn Sheep ram was born at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on March 23, 2016. The lamb is active and on exhibit. See video: https://www.facebook.com/desertmuseum/videos/10153628291529315/

Elf Owls

Elf owl 3The Elf owl (Micrathene whitneyi) is our smallest owl. Its body size is about the same as a sparrow (5 to 6 inches), but its wingspan is larger (13 to 16 inches).

These owls occur in southern Arizona, the boot-heel of New Mexico, the Big Bend area of Texas, and nearly all of Mexico including the southern tip of Baja. In the winter, Elf owls in the U.S. generally migrate to Mexico.

“The classic image of an Elf Owl looking out of a hole in a Saguaro cactus may be overemphasized. They are abundant in the Saguaro deserts but also are abundant into the mountains reaching elevations of up to about 6000 ft. They can be found in dense mesquite, dry oak woodlands, wooded canyons, sycamores, and probably any other tree within its elevation range. They may be seen in dense scrub and in woodpecker holes in cottonwoods or telephone poles. Classically they are in high desert, foothills, and low in the mountains, and often in dryer habitats.” Source

Elf owls eat spiders, scorpions, beetles, moths, grasshoppers, crickets and other insects. They generally hunt at dawn and dusk. They can catch prey in mid-air or pluck them off tree branches.

Elf owl 2Elf owl 4

Elf owls often nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in saguaro cactus and in natural cavities in upland trees such as sycamores, pines, and walnuts. “Males attract females to potential nest sites by calling from a cavity, then flying out while singing as she approaches. On moonlit nights calling occurs continuously all night. The female selects the nest cavity and begins to roost in it prior to laying eggs to prevent occupation by other hole-nesting birds.” Source “Breeding season in North America is normally May and June (March through August in Mexico). 1 – 5 eggs may be laid but 3 are most common. The incubation period is 21 – 24 days. The young can capture food as soon as they can fly (27-28 days of age) and fledge shortly thereafter (28 – 33 days of age).” Source

The call consists of a variety of soft yelping notes, often running together into a high-pitched chatter. You can hear some sound recordings here.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:

“Elf Owls, like other owls have excellent night vision. They can’t see in complete darkness, but they can see quite well in low-light. They also have excellent hearing. They can catch their prey in complete darkness, by pinpointing it using their ears rather than eyes. Elf owls have “silent flight” which means they don’t make any noise as they approach their prey. The sound of their wing beat is muffled by softened feathers on the leading edges of their wings.” Source

Elf owls are preyed upon by other owls, snakes, coyotes, bobcats and ringtails. Their life span in the wild is 3-6 years. Starlings, which are an introduced bird from Europe, pose a threat to Elf Owls. They take over nest cavities already in use by the Elf Owls, or by other birds according to ASDM. ASDM also notes that in dangerous situations, Elf owls will play dead until all danger has passed.

See many photos here.