Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

San Rafael Grasslands COA

The San Rafael Valley contains the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River, which flows into Mexico then turns north back into the United States to eventually join the Gila River. At the southern end of the valley is the San Rafael State Natural Area (AZ State Parks). Land in the valley is primarily privately-owned and has historically been used for cattle grazing. Much of the land is protected by agreements to ensure that the sustainable grazing practices that have preserved this valley continue. Within this COA is the AZGFD-managed Bog Hole Wildlife Area.

The San Rafael Grasslands is an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it contains some of the last remaining un-fragmented prairie grassland in the American Southwest. It is of vital importance for grassland species of birds such as wintering raptors, sparrows, pipits, and longspurs. Amphibian and reptile species found in this COA include northern Mexican gartersnake, Sonoran tiger salamander, and ornate box turtle. These native habitats are under threat from both plant and animal invasive species, including Johnson grass, Lehmann lovegrass, salt cedar, bullfrog, and mosquitofish. The federally-listed Huachuca water-umbel is found in aquatic habitats throughout the Valley.

Conservation Goals

  • Restore and maintain quality grassland habitats that are being affected by invasive plant species.
  • Preserve quality aquatic habitats by removing invasive wildlife species, such as American bullfrog and mosquitofish.
  • Identify and conserve areas known as stopover and breeding habitats for migratory birds and support their full life-cycle conservation through international collaborations that address threats to their migration and wintering habitats in Mexico, Central America, and beyond.
  • Work with stakeholders to ensure potential mining operations minimize impacts to natural resources, especially ground- and surface water.


Primary Threats

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.2: Droughts

6. Energy Production and Mining

6.2: Mining and quarrying

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species

9. Natural System Modifications

9.1: Fire and fire suppression

Potential Conservation Actions

1. Land and Water Protection

1.2: Resource and habitat protection
  • Develop conservation easements on public or private lands in order to maintain and protect wildlife corridors.

2. Land and Water Management

2.1: Site/area management
  • Protect native grasslands from livestock overgrazing through appropriate stocking rates.
  • Conserve or improve areas for migratory birds identified as important habitats during any part of their annual life cycle (breeding, stopover, or wintering).
2.3: Habitat and natural process restoration
  • Increase connectivity by removing barriers and impediments to species movement. Modify pasture and boundary fences to meet wildlife-friendly criteria to allow safe wildlife movement or provide wildlife crossing structures to minimize wildlife/vehicle collisions.

3. Species Management

3.1: Management of specific species of concern
  • Manage American beaver populations at optimal levels to promote riparian area recovery and other SGCN species management goals.
  • Improve management and restoration of agave species to provide resources and migration corridors for lesser long-nosed bat and other pollinator species.

5. Law and Policy

5.2: Policies and regulations
  • Work with local governments to incorporate wildlife protections and habitat connectivity into general plans.

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Work with federal and state agencies to address the critical need for wildlife movement across the international border with Mexico, and help design any necessary border barriers to improve wildlife movement.
  • Work with Department of Homeland Security agencies to identify sensitive habitats, incorporate wildlife values, and mitigation actions for borderland management activities.
  • Partner with the mining industry to ensure environmental responsibility with any potential projects and minimize impacts to natural resources.

Habitats Present

Strategy Species


Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Sonoran Tiger Salamander


Baird's Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Lincoln's Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Sprague's Pipit, Western Burrowing Owl


Huachuca Springsnail


American Pronghorn, Fulvous Harvest Mouse, Lesser Long-nosed Bat, Plains Harvest Mouse, Yellow-nosed Cotton Rat


Huachuca Water-umbel


Ornate Box Turtle, Mexican Gartersnake, Slevin's Bunchgrass Lizard, Madrean Alligator Lizard


See Associated Aquatic COAs for fish species.

Protected Areas and Other Areas of Conservation Value

  • San Rafael Ranch State Natural Area
  • Bog Hole Wildlife Area

Potential Partners

  • Coronado National Forest
  • Private Landowners
  • Arizona State Parks
  • Quail Forever/Pheasants Forever
  • Mule Deer Foundation
  • Arizona Antelope Foundation
  • Arizona Deer Association
  • Arizona Mule Deer Organization
  • Sonoran Joint Venture
  • Bat Conservation International

Relevant Conservation Plans

Associated Aquatic COAs