Living in the Sonoran Desert offers us the opportunity to work with some of the most interesting and rare plant species in the world. It’s a common misconception that the desert is barren of plant and animal life; according to World Wildlife Fund, the Sonoran Desert is home to the more species of plants and animals than any other desert on Earth, which is largely due to biannual rainfall in the region. Just because these plants and animals have a reputation for resilience in an unforgiving climate does not mean they are not susceptible to changes in climate and loss of habitat, particularly around rapidly growing cities such as Tucson.
Part of our work at Novak Environmental involves working with the Native Plant Preservation Ordinance (NPPO) to ensure that communities can grow and develop while making a conscious effort to share the space with native plant species. Many plants included in the ordinance cannot survive outside of the precise conditions offered in the Sonoran Desert. Even our well known Saguaro cactus–the iconic cactus largely associated with our region–is a delicate species for which special care must be taken to preserve.
Projections predict that Southern Arizona will continue its rapid growth over the course of the next few decades, and therefore it becomes of particular importance to make sure that the success of our human populations does not overshadow the success of species who have long called the desert their home. This is where the importance of habitat mitigation enters the picture. Habitat Mitigation is the preservation, creation, improvement, or restoration of a habitat. Habitat Mitigation commonly allows for land to be developed, while identifying areas within the development plan that can be left untouched without imposing on the construction, or by providing alternative areas of a similar microclimate that can be consciously preserved outside of the developed area into which protected plant species can be relocated.
Earlier this year our team started using drone survey techniques in order to more quickly identify habitats within a large parcel of land for which mitigation would be a necessity. The land was going to become a large master planned community with both homes and businesses, and the scale of the site (along with the out-of-date and low resolution aerial images available) made locating areas for mitigation a challenge. The drone images quickly provided a new perspective in high resolution which allowed us to easily recognize riparian corridors and assess the best ways to allow for construction to proceed as planned while leaving these delicate and important area to remain the home for plants and animals well into the future.