Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Madrean Woodlands

The Madrean woodlands habitat type comprises the majority of the sky islands of southeastern Arizona, and is found in elevations ranging between 5,000 and 7,600 feet. The term “sky island” refers to a mountain or mountain range surrounded by lowland desert or grassland, resulting in a habitat “island.” Above 7,600 feet the habitat transitions to a higher-elevation Petran montane conifer habitat type.

Evergreen oaks dominate Madrean woodlands with junipers and sometimes pines also growing in the mix. Open savannas are common in some areas with numerous grasses growing beneath the oaks. Common tree species include oaks such as Emory, Mexican blue, Arizona, and silverleaf oaks. Alligator bark juniper and one-seed juniper are often mixed with Arizona, Apache, Southwestern white, and Chihuahuan pines, along with Mexican pinyon pine (NatureServe 2021).

Typical chaparral species comprise the subcanopy and shrub layers in Madrean woodlands (e.g. agaves, Arizona madrone, manzanita, silktassel, and beargrass). Other shrubs can include alderleaf mountain-mahogany, birchleaf buckthorn, Mearns’ sumac and skunkbush sumac. Species more commonly affiliated with thornscrub may occur at lower elevations and on rocky south-facing slopes, such as southwestern coral bean, hopbush, and catclaw mimosa (Brown 1994). Grasses include several muhly grasses, bluestems, gramas, and lovegrasses (Dimmitt 2015).

Madrean woodlands support a rich assemblage of bird species, many of which are found only in this region of the state and are high sought after by birders. These species include the elegant trogon, violet-crowned hummingbird, white-eared hummingbird, Arizona woodpecker, black-throated gray warbler, Mexican jay, whiskered screech-owl, buff-breasted flycatcher, and Montezuma quail. In the higher elevations of the sky islands, Gould’s turkey, band-tailed pigeon, Mexican chickadee, and hepatic tanager can be found (Brown 1994).

Amphibians and reptiles of the Madrean woodland habitats include barking frogs, Tarahumara frogs, Chiricahua leopard frogs, banded rock, ridge-nosed, and twin-spotted rattlesnakes, green ratsnakes, mountain skinks, and Slevin’s bunchgrass lizards (Ivanyi et al. 2015).

Common mammals include large herbivores such as Coues white-tailed and mule deer, javelina, rodents such as yellow-nosed cotton rat, white-throated woodrat, southern pocket gopher, and Arizona gray squirrel. Porcupine, Bailey’s pocket mouse, and eastern cottontail also occur (NatureServe 2021).

The area occupied by Madrean woodlands has remained largely unchanged within historical times, although fire suppression has altered the community composition to favor trees and shrubs over grasses (McPherson 1992). Only about 6% of the Madrean woodlands have fire regimes that are severely altered from their historical condition, but another 77% are moderately-altered creating a moderate risk of losing key ecosystem components (USFS data; Schmidt et al. 2002). About 20% of Madrean woodland area is within areas managed with permanent protection for a primarily natural state (TNC 2004).

Significant Habitat Features

The following describes habitat features or microhabitats that are unique to this habitat type and are of particular importance to certain species:

  •  Ciénegas provide important habitat for Huachuca springsnail, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, Sonoran tiger salamander, Chiricahua leopard frog, and ,Mexican gartersnake. Each of these species is reliant on permanent, spring-fed waters for shelter and forage.

  • Talus slopes and boulder piles along hillsides and canyon drainages provide essential sheltering habitat for native land snails like talussnails, mountainsnails, and woodlandsnails during hot, dry periods of the year. These mollusks aestivate for months in the cool and damp interstitial spaces in talus, under boulders, and deep rock crevices. Bat species including fringed myotis, have been found roosting in talus and boulder piles and may use these features to a greater extent than has been documented. Twin-spotted and banded-rock rattlesnakes are also found in these unique microhabitats.

  • Limestone and rhyolite outcrops greatly increase the diversity of plants throughout the sky islands and can also provide habitat for amphibians such as the barking frog (Warshall 1995).

Strategy Species

The following list represents SGCN in this habitat type that AZGFD actively manages or are watching closely due to some level of concern:


Arizona Treefrog, Barking Frog, Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Sinaloan Narrow-mouthed Toad, Sonoran Tiger Salamander, Tarahumara Frog


Arizona Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Azure Bluebird, Elegant Trogon, Mexican Jay, Montezuma Quail, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Whiskered Screech-Owl


Huachuca Mountainsnail, Huachuca Springsnail, Huachuca Woodlandsnail, Pinaleño Mountainsnail, Pinaleño Talussnail, Ramsey Canyon Talussnail, Wet Canyon Talussnail


Arizona Shrew, Chiricahua Fox Squirrel, Fringed Myotis, Hoary Bat, Jaguar, Long-tailed Weasel, Mexican Long-tongued Bat, Ocelot, Pale Townsend's Big-eared Bat, Harquahala Southern Pocket Gopher, White-bellied Long-tailed Vole


Black-necked Gartersnake, Brown Vinesnake, Chihuahuan Black-headed Snake, Green Ratsnake, Madrean Alligator Lizard, Mountain Skink, New Mexico Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake, Mexican Gartersnake, Rock Rattlesnake, Sonoran Whipsnake, Striped Plateau Lizard, Thornscrub Hook-nosed Snake, Tiger Rattlesnake, Yaqui Black-headed Snake, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

Sensitive Plant Species

The following list represents plant species that are known to occur in this habitat type:

Santa Cruz striped agave, trelease agave, Goodding onion, saiya, Kearney blue-star, coppermine milk-vetch, Huachuca milkvetch, Santa Cruz beehive cactus, Los Pinitos dodder, pine flatsedge, Gentry's indigo bush, Pinalenos fleabane, Chiricahua fleabane, Lemmon fleabane, Fish Creek fleabane, scepterbearing fleabane, Bartram stonecrop, Texas purple spike, Pinaleno Mountain rubberweed, Dragoon Mountains rubberweed, Huachuca water-umbel, Chiricahua mudwort, Lemmon's lupine, beardless cinchweed, Chihuahua scurfpea, Chiricahua rock cress, Catalina beardtongue, Chiricahua rock daisy, Huachuca Mountain milkwort, Huachuca cinquefoil, whisk fern, Blumer's Dock, Huachuca groundsel, Canelo Hills ladies'-tresses

Additional Influential Species

The following are other wildlife species, native and non-native, that can have particular influence in this habitat type. Influential species can affect SGCN and their habitats directly and indirectly, for example altering predator/prey interactions, overgrazing, outcompeting natives, creating microhabitats, and others.


Mexican Spadefoot, Red-spotted Toad


Bewick's Wren, Gould's Turkey


American Black Bear, Eastern Cottontail, Collared Peccary or Javelina, Mountain Lion, Harquahala Southern Pocket Gopher, Western Spotted Skunk, White-nosed Coati, Whitetail Deer


Canelo Hills Ladies'-tresses


Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Clark's Spiny Lizard, Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake, Western Patch-nosed Snake


The following describes the primary threats facing this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). First-level threats (i.e. Agriculture, Climate Change) represent broad categories while second-level threats reflect more specific stressors to the system. For detailed information on threats to this habitat type and conservation actions being taken, see Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions.

1. Agriculture

1.3: Livestock farming and ranching
Agricultural practices (primarily livestock grazing) can adversely affect Madrean woodlands through loss of plant cover, erosion, and conversion to non-native species.

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.2: Droughts
3.4: Storms and flooding
Climate change is leading to warmer ambient temperatures which may exceed species’ temperature tolerances, causing local extirpations, or changing the distribution of less heat-tolerant species towards cooler climates. Climate change also results in altered precipitation patterns which change hydrological regimes and affect species distribution.

6. Energy Production and Mining

6.2: Mining and quarrying
Mining activities in the Madrean woodlands result in complete and permanent loss of habitat, alterations to groundwater quantity and flow, and loss of recreation areas. Indirect effects may include pollution of water resources via toxic mine spills, disturbance to wildlife from noise and lighting, and fragmentation of wildlife habitat.

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

7.3: Work and other activities
7.1: Recreational activities
Recreational activities, such as illegal OHV use, can damage habitats by altering or damaging vegetation. In upland areas, poorly-managed OHV use can cause erosion. These types of alterations can negatively-affect species abundance and distributions. Illegal activities associated with the international border with Mexico (e.g. drug trafficking, undocumented migrants) and associated law enforcement activities can disturb wildlife, and create “wildcat” trails and roads which can lead to damage to vegetation and erosion. Recent border wall construction has also severely impacted many species ability to freely move between sky island habitats along the southern border.

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species
8.2: Problematic native species
Invasive and problematic species compete with native fauna, over-utilize native species, and cause habitat damage. Overgrazing and invasive insects have also impacted the habitat, resulting in increased woody debris, decrease in diversity of species, while increasing the potential for large and severe fires.

9. Natural System Modifications

9.1: Fire and fire suppression
Fire suppression during the past century created decadent forests that are susceptible to more frequent and more intense wildfires. This can cause direct mortality to wildlife and can result in habitat loss or significant alteration. These changes, combined with a warming and drying climate in the desert southwest, has led to unprecedented fire severity.

11. Transportation and Service Corridors

11.1: Roads and railroads
The disjunct sky island mountains are natural north-south corridors for wildlife movement. Interstate 10 bisects movement between the Pinaleños and Chiricahuas, the Galiuros/Winchesters/Little Dragoons and the Dragoons, and the Rincons and the Whetstones/Santa Ritas. There are no wildlife crossings along the interstate throughout the Madrean woodlands, although wildlife are able to safely cross the highway at times beneath bridges and occasionally through culverts.

Conservation Actions

The following describes specific conservation actions that can be taken to reduce or eliminate threats to this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). Level 1 conservation actions (i.e. Land and Water Protection) represent broad categories of potential actions, while the Level 2 conservation actions (i.e. Resource and habitat protection) are more specific.

1. Land and Water Protection

1.1: Site/area protection
1.2: Resource and habitat protection
  • Acquire land and water rights and pursue conservation agreements and easements in and around COAs and other priority areas to mitigate adverse effects of some agriculture and other land use practices. (Threats 1.1, 6.2)
  • Identify wildlife corridors essential to the movement of species between high-quality habitat blocks. (Threats 1.3, 6.2, 7.1, 7.3, 11.1)

2. Land and Water Management

2.1: Site/area management
2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
2.3: Habitat and natural process restoration
  • Implement projects focused on improving the quality of altered systems creating suitable habitat and/or habitat features for wildlife. Manage for thinning, prescribed burns to create healthy habitats that are less prone to catastrophic wildfires and resilient to drought and insect infestations. (Threats 1.3, 2.3, 9.1)
  • 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. (Threats 1.3, 11.1)
  • Maintain native woodland vegetation through chemical and manual treatments of invasive and/or problematic plant species. (Threats 8.1, 8.2)
  • Protect native brush species from livestock overgrazing through appropriate stocking rates. (Threat 1.3)

4. Education and Awareness

4.3: Awareness and communication
  • Increase education and outreach efforts and partner with NGOs and OHV user groups to reduce damage to sensitive habitats through recreational use. (Threat 7.1)
  • Expand wildlife viewing programs to improve associated infrastructure (signs, platforms, etc.) and to reach larger and more diverse audiences. (Threats 4.3, 7.1)

6. Livelihood, Economic and Other Incentives

6.1: Linked enterprises and livelihood alternatives (i.e. ecotourism)
6.4: Conservation payments and programs
  • Actively seek opportunities to partner with Arizona agricultural producers and private landowners on a variety of habitat enhancements that benefit both livestock and wildlife. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 8.1, 9.1)
  • Share information and discuss the benefits of participating in species recovery programs such as Safe Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, and Candidate Conservation Agreements with interested landowners. (Threats 1.3, 7.1)

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Collaborate with partners at different scales (e.g., statewide, regional, national, and international) to develop and implement management plans, conservation agreements, recovery actions, research, management recommendations, and determine specific management efforts to improve and coordinate landscape-scale efforts for long-term conservation of SCGN wildlife. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.4, 7.1, 7.3, 8.1, 8.2, 9.1)

Conservation in the Context of Climate Change

The following describes some of the conservation strategies that may mitigate the effects of a changing climate for this habitat type. Strategies have been adapted from guidelines by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA 2009).

  • Conserve a variety of habitats that support healthy populations of wildlife as the climate changes.

  • Restore and/or improve diverse habitats to support a broad range of species assemblages that account for range shifts.

  • Identify and improve the connectivity of natural landscapes to better link wildlife populations and allow for range shifts.

  • Conduct research targeting species and habitat types likely to be vulnerable to climate change impacts.

  • Implement long-term monitoring protocols for vulnerable species and habitats to inform adaptive management.

Other Conservation Actions

The following describe other routine or on-going conservation actions AZGFD regularly performs in this habitat type:

  • Conduct surveys and monitor populations of SGCN as specified in work plans and job statements.
  • Survey the influential species (when possible) to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
  • Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related research.
  • Manage recreational activities and OHV use to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
  • Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.

Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs)

The following represents identified COAs where conservation efforts would benefit wildlife and their habitats.

Potential Partnerships

The following is a list of the organizations and agencies that AZGFD regularly partners with on conservation efforts in this habitat type:

Important Conservation Resources

The following are relevant conservation agreements, plans, and other documents or particular interest regarding wildlife in this habitat type: