Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Lower Salt and Gila Rivers COA

This COA includes an Important Bird Area (IBA) of the Salt River from 83rd Avenue, connecting with the Gila River at 115th Avenue. This COA also extends west and south along the Gila River to Gillespie Dam. The Gila River has perennial flow, much of which is treated effluent from the City of Phoenix and other communities, excess agriculture water, and from natural ground water. This COA also includes AZGFD-managed wildlife areas of Arlington, B&M, Powers Butte, and Robbins Butte which are managed for birds and other wildlife. The fish community here is considered to be one of the most abundant in Arizona and consequently, piscivorous birds are found here in high numbers.

Invasive salt cedar dominates much of the riparian corridor. Loss of water supply due to pumping and reduced sewage flow because of diversion to other treatment facilities, water conservation, and gray water recapture by local communities is considered a long-term serious threat to these habitats. There are also water quality risks due to the presence of herbicide and pesticide run-off and pharmaceuticals in effluent water. Unmanaged human use threatens to disturb nesting birds, and lack of access control contributes to illegal dumping and risk of wildfire.

Conservation Goals

  • Maintain the availability of ground and aboveground water, and improve upon the water quality through Marsh habitat restoration and streambank enhancements.
  • Remove invasive species and restore with native vegetation to improve habitat quality and diversity.


Primary Threats

1. Agriculture

1.3: Livestock farming and ranching

2. Biological Resource Use

2.4: Fishing and harvesting aquatic resources

4. Residential and Commercial Development

4.1: Housing and urban areas
4.2: Commercial and industrial areas
4.3: Tourism and recreation areas

5. Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites

5: Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites

6. Energy Production and Mining

6.2: Mining and quarrying

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

7.1: Recreational activities

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species

9. Natural System Modifications

9.1: Fire and fire suppression
9.2: Dams and water management

10. Pollution

10.3: Agricultural and forestry effluents
10.4: Garbage and solid waste
10.5: Air-borne pollutants
10.6: Excess energy

Potential Conservation Actions

2. Land and Water Management

2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
  • Remove salt cedar from the stream channels and replace with native broadleaf riparian trees such as cottonwood and willows where applicable.
  • Remove ludwigia from stream channels to increase streamflow and reduce anoxic zones.
  • Reduce salt cedar fuels loads in anticipation for large standing dead monocultures of salt cedar due to the tamarisk leaf-beetle.
  • Remove apple snails from waterways to improve upon wetland ecosystems.
  • Remove salt cedar from semi-xeric uplands and replace with mesquite and palo verde.
  • Monitor for potential expansion of Rio Grande leopard frogs, banded watersnake, bullfrogs, crayfish and watersnakes to limit their spread and abundance.
2.3: Habitat and natural process restoration
  • Restore natural streamflow where previously altered.
  • Restore marsh habitat for breeding marsh birds, such as the Yuma Ridgway's rail.
  • Engage in partnerships with nearby agricultural and mining operations for potential water sources and mitigation conservation efforts.

3. Species Management

3.1: Management of specific species of concern
  • Implement long-term monitoring protocols for vulnerable marsh bird species and habitats to inform adaptive management.

4. Education and Awareness

4.3: Awareness and communication
  • Create educational materials that showcase the ecological and geomorphological importance of riparian areas.

5. Law and Policy

5.1: Legislation
  • Work with elected officials to identify and protect additional areas throughout the Gila River corridor.
5.2: Policies and regulations
  • Enhance visibility of existing regulations within wildlife areas to increase public awareness of existing rules and regulations.
5.4: Compliance and enforcement
  • Increase law enforcement presence within protected areas to reduce illegal recreation, poaching, and illegal OHV use.

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Form partnerships with other conservation groups and concerned citizens to improve upon portions of the river channel and create a more connected river system.

Habitats Present

Strategy Species


Abert's Towhee, American Bittern, American Kestrel, American Peregrine Falcon, American Pipit, Bald Eagle, Bendire's Thrasher, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-throated Sparrow, Common Gallinule, Eared Grebe, Harris's Hawk, Hooded Oriole, Horned Lark, Western Least Bittern, Loggerhead Shrike, Sora, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Swainson's Hawk, Virginia Rail, Western Burrowing Owl, Western Grebe, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ridgway's Rail


American Beaver, Desert Bighorn Sheep


Sonoran Desert Tortoise


See Associated Aquatic COAs for fish species.

Protected Areas and Other Areas of Conservation Value

  • Robbin's Butte Wildlife Area
  • Power's Butte Wildlife Area
  • Arlington Wildlife Area
  • Tres Rios Wetlands
  • Base and Meridian Wildlife Area

Potential Partners

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Maricopa County Parks and Recreation
  • Maricopa County Flood Control District
  • Gila River Indian Community
  • Salt River Project
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Arizona Department of Fire and Forestry Management
  • Audubon Southwest
  • City of Buckeye
  • City of Avondale
  • Rivers Edge West
  • Wild at Heart

Relevant Conservation Plans

Associated Aquatic COAs