Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Petran Montane Conifer Forests

In Petran montane conifer forests, ponderosa pine dominates, with Douglas fir and white fir growing in varying proportions, particularly in cooler microhabitats. Other tree species include limber pine, southwestern white pine, Gambel oak, silverleaf oak, bigtooth maple, and quaking aspen. Many stands of ponderosa pine are relatively open or park-like, which can permit and understory of grasses, forbs, shrubs, and broadleaf trees. The largest contiguous block of Petran montane conifer forest is located along the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in central Arizona as an unbroken ponderosa pine forest. In southern Arizona, Petran montane conifer forest grows primarily on the larger sky islands, a set of high-elevation mountains.

Changes in natural fire regimes and in forest management have altered many conifer forest stands from well-spaced groups of large trees to closed thickets of small trees, resulting in decreased diversity of grasses, forbs, and shrubs. Approximately 58% of the Petran montane conifer forests have fire regimes which are severely altered from their historical state, creating a high risk of losing key ecosystem components (Schmidt et al. 2002). In addition, insect outbreaks during 2002-2004, amplified by drought and high winter temperatures, caused widespread die-off in ponderosa pines affecting 1.3 million acres (27% of total distribution in Arizona) increasing risk of large, intense wildfire events (USFS 2004, 2005).

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:

  • Small and ephemeral aquatic habitats are important as they provide important sources of water and feeding and nesting habitat for many species, inlcuding dusky grouse, northern leopard frog, and Arizona toad. Some of these habitats include sinkhole ponds and wetlands on the Kaibab Plateau and southern edge of the Mogollon Rim, ciénegas in the White Mountains, collapse depression lakes on the Chuska Mountains, and crater lakes in San Francisco volcanic field (e.g., Walker Lake).

  • Talus slopes and boulder piles along hillsides and canyon drainages provide essential sheltering habitat for native land snails like talussnails and mountainsnails 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.

  • Snags are found in mature and old-growth stands of ponderosa pine and are important for cavity nesting birds and as hunting perches for many other bird species. Tree-roosting bats such as Allen’s lappet-browed bat and Southwestern myotis may use cavities, crevices, exfoliating bark, or roost in the snag itself.

  • Maple draws on the Mogollon Rim provide important breeding and foraging habitats for many neotropical migrant bird species.

  • Caves and lava tubes provide important habitat for summer roosting and hibernating bats, such as hoary bat and southwestern myotis, as well as many cave dwelling invertebrates.

  • High elevation riparian areas are important habitats for small mammals, such as water shrew and New Mexico jumping mouse, which require saturated soils with tall dense herbaceous vegetation but also dry soils which may extend into adjacent upland habitat within 100m of these riparian areas (USFWS 2020). Herpetofauna that occur in these habitat features include Arizona treefrog, northern leopard frog, and narrow-headed gartersnake. 

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 Toad, Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Northern Leopard Frog


Bald Eagle, Band-tailed Pigeon, Dusky Grouse, Flammulated Owl, Mexican Spotted Owl, Mountain Pygmy-Owl, American Goshawk (Northern Goshawk), Olive Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Thick-billed Parrot, Virginia's Warbler


Ancha Mountainsnail, Clark Peak Talussnail, Mimic Talussnail, Pinaleño Mountainsnail, Pinaleño Talussnail, Sierra Ancha Talussnail, Three Forks Springsnail, Wet Canyon Talussnail


Abert's Chuska Squirrel, Allen's Lappet-browed Bat, American Pronghorn, Arizona Montane Vole, Arizona Shrew, Big Free-tailed Bat, Colorado Chipmunk, Dwarf Shrew, Gray-collared Chipmunk, Hoary Bat, Kaibab Squirrel, Least Chipmunk, White-bellied Long-tailed Vole, Long-tailed Weasel, Merriam's Shrew, Mexican Gray Wolf, Mexican Vole, Mt Graham Red Squirrel, New Mexican Jumping Mouse, Pale Townsend's Big-eared Bat, Southern Red-backed Vole, Southwestern Cottontail, Southwestern Myotis, Uinta Chipmunk, Western Water Shrew


Arizona Black Rattlesnake, Narrow-headed Gartersnake, Slevin's Bunchgrass Lizard, Striped Plateau Lizard, Twin-spotted Rattlesnake, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

Sensitive Plant Species

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

Arizona bugbane, Tonto Basin agave, Goodding onion, Arizona pricklypoppy, coppermine milk-vetch, sentry milk-vetch, Kaibab Indian paintbrush, White Mountains paintbrush, clustered leather flower, yellow lady's-slipper, Arizona hedgehog cactus, Pinalenos fleabane, Chiricahua fleabane, Bartram stonecrop, Pinaleno Mountain rubberweed, Huachuca water-umbel, broadleaf lupine, Lemmon's lupine, Holmgren's stickleaf, seashore catus, Chiricahua rock cress, Catalina beardtongue, Garland Prairie cinquefoil, Hualapai cinquefoil, Chiricahua cinquefoil, Flagstaff cinquefoil, Blumer's dock, Arizona willow, Huachuca groundsel, Grand Canyon catchfly, Porsild's starwort, Arizona monkshood, Goodding onion, Kaibab Indian paintbrush, White Mountains paintbrush, clustered leather flower, yellow lady's-slipper, Pinalenos fleabane, San Francisco Peaks ragwort, Blumer's dock, Arizona willow, Mexican skullcap, Porsild's starwort

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.


Arizona Tiger Salamander, Arizona Treefrog, Western Chorus Frog


Gould's Turkey, Hairy Woodpecker, Merriam's Turkey, Orange-crowned Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Williamson's Sapsucker


American Black Bear, Long-legged Myotis, Mountain Lion, Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain Elk, Silver-haired Bat, Whitetail Deer


Greater Bladderwort


Terrestrial Gartersnake


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 the Petran montane conifer forests through loss of plant cover, erosion, and conversion to non-native species.

2. Biological Resource Use

2.3: Logging and wood harvesting
Logging and wood harvesting can alter the seral stage of conifer habitats. Mechanical removal of trees often results in disturbance to soils and ground vegetation and the loss of snags and nesting habitat, resulting in the direct mortality or displacement of species.

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.3: Temperature extremes
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 alter hydrological regimes and affect species distribution

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

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.

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-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 and decreased species diversity, while increasing the potential for large and severe fires.

9. Natural System Modifications

9.1: Fire and fire suppression
Fire suppression in the 20th Century created decadent forests that are susceptible to more frequent and more intense wildfires which can cause direct mortality to individuals and can result in habitat loss or significant alteration.

11. Transportation and Service Corridors

11.1: Roads and railroads
Transportation corridors through montane forests can be a direct threat to species. Vehicular traffic can be a significant cause of mortality while noise and visual disturbance can alter behavior. Road construction and maintenance may result in the direct loss of habitat and disrupt migration corridors.

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.

2. Land and Water Management

2.1: Site/area management
2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
  • Implement projects focused on improving the quality of altered systems creating suitable habitat and/or habitat features for wildlife and pollinator species. Implement forest thinning and prescribed burns to create healthy forests that are less prone to catastrophic wildfires and resilient to drought and insect infestations. (Threats 1.3, 2.3, 3.1, 8.1, 9.1)
  • Manage unauthorized livestock and feral horses, including through removal, and manage at appropriate levels to minimize ecological impacts where allowed. (Threat 8.1)

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)

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Collaborate with partners across different geographies (e.g., statewide, regional, national, and international) to develop and implement management plans, conservation agreements, recovery actions, research, and to determine the effectiveness of specific management efforts. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 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 fish and wildlife as climate changes.

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

  • Restore and/or improve diverse habitats to support a broad range of species assemblages that account 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) within the Petran montane conifer habitat 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 of conifer habitats 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: