County unveils pioneering protection plan

  • VULNERABLE: Pygmy owl



After two years of biological studies, the Tucson, Ariz., area has the first draft of its pioneering plan to protect from development hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin desert, and 56 vulnerable species, including the endangered pygmy owl. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan would also allow 400,000 newcomers to build on less environmentally sensitive land (HCN, 8/30/99: Who's stopping sprawl?).

With broad support from environmentalists, Pima County's proposed plan has been heralded as the most ambitious open space-endangered species protection plan of its kind. "You could almost call it a wish list for biological resources," says Paul Fromer, a San Diego consulting biologist who shepherded the habitat conservation plan into existence.

Today, it exists largely as a map. It shows bands of purple, indicating areas targeted for preservation, wrapped around Tucson, its immediate suburbs and five major mountain ranges. The plan's estimated cost and other details are due in June or July. The county and federal governments are scheduled to approve the final plan in December 2002.

Critics want the plan scaled back before it is signed into law. Shortly after the plan's release, the Arizona Senate passed a bill that would give state agencies and the governor what amounts to a veto over the plan. Alan Lurie, executive vice president of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, dismisses the plan as an expensive version of Proposition 202, the statewide urban growth boundary initiative that flopped at the polls last year: "It's like ordering a very costly car that the driver can't pay for," he says.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Tony Davis