Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Upper Santa Cruz River COA

The Upper Santa Cruz River is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and consists of a six-mile riparian corridor from Tumacacori National Historical Park (310 acres) downstream (northward) through the Tucson Audubon-held Esperanza Ranch, a 300-acre conservation easement. Portions of this river corridor also include private lands. The IBA boundaries are defined by the riparian vegetation, including the mesquite bosques that border the broadleaf gallery forest. Overstory vegetation consists of Arizona ash, netleaf hackberry, Goodding’s willow, and Freemont cottonwood. Understory vegetation include desert broom, seep willow, burro weed, creosote, graythorn, wolfberry, cholla, prickly pear, and desert hackberry. The COA provides habitat to a suite of riparian-obligate species, including nesting gray hawks and western yellow-billed cuckoos.

Conservation Goals

  • Maintain and enhance habitat integrity and diversity, and unfragmented habitat that provides adequate forage or prey, cover, and water for healthy wildlife populations.
  • Maintain and increase surface water quality and quantity to improve rare riparian habitats for wildlife, both common and SGCN.
  • Ensure groundwater pumping does not adversely affect the subflow zone.
  • Conduct monitoring and targeted removal efforts to limit establishment and spread of invasive species such salt cedar.


Primary Threats

1. Agriculture

1.3: Livestock farming and ranching

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.2: Droughts

4. Residential and Commercial Development

4.1: Housing and urban areas

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

7.1: Recreational activities

9. Natural System Modifications

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

Potential Conservation Actions

2. Land and Water Management

2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
  • Improvement management of trespass livestock that can damage the sensitive riparian habitats.
  • Work with partners and private landowners to maintain/improve surface water for wildlife.

3. Species Management

3.1: Management of specific species of concern
  • Improve and maintain riparian habitats to support populations of western yellow-billed cuckoos and other SGCN.

5. Law and Policy

5.4: Compliance and enforcement
  • Improve enforcement of laws and regulations to reduce irresponsible recreational use (e.g. OHV and dumping) that can impair riparian habitats.

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Facilitate and fund collaborative organizations to improve coordinated management of the watershed.

Habitats Present

Strategy Species


Sinaloan Narrow-mouthed Toad


Arizona Bell's Vireo, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Bullock's Oriole, Gray Hawk, Lazuli Bunting, Lucy's Warbler, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Thick-billed Kingbird, Varied Bunting, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Cave Myotis, Fulvous Harvest Mouse, Lesser Long-nosed Bat, Ocelot


Ornate Box Turtle, Hooded Nightsnake, Mexican Gartersnake


See Associated Aquatic COAs for fish species.

Protected Areas and Other Areas of Conservation Value

  • Tumacacori National Historic Park
  • Esperanza Ranch

Potential Partners

  • Private Landowners
  • Desert Fishes Council
  • The Sonoran Institute
  • Tucson Audubon Society
  • National Parks Service
  • Sonoran Joint Venture

Relevant Conservation Plans

Associated Aquatic COAs