Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy


Springs are places where groundwater comes to the Earth’s surface. Springs emerge into both aquatic and terrestrial environments and have been categorized into 12 types (Stevens et al. 2016). This habitat profile focuses on three types of springs that occur in Arizona, including gushet, hanging garden, and hill slope. (Other types of springs are described in separate profiles for lotic, lentic, and wetland systems where they occur.) Springs vary greatly in flow, water chemistry, geomorphic form, ecological significance, and cultural and economic importance (Springer et al. 2008). Seeps are simply small springs, usually with immeasurably diffuse or small seepage or flow (Stevens et al. 2016).

Arizona, the nation’s second driest state, has the highest known density of springs, with more than 10,000, according to the Springs Stewardship Institute’s (SSI) online database (Stevens et al. 2016). Arizona springs are most abundant in montane and canyon-bound areas, such as the Mogollon Rim, the Grand Canyon, and the sky islands region in the southern reaches of the state. Springs are less common in flatlands, such as the southwestern quarter of the state. Springs are unique in that they can have profound influences on surrounding ecosystems and provide water for wildlife, human, and livestock use throughout Arizona. The three types of springs covered in this habitat profile support many rare and unique wetland plants, invertebrates, and animals, and influence and attract surrounding terrestrial species (Stevens et al. 2016). 

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:

Gushet springs typically discharge from perched, unconfined aquifers, often along fractures in cliff faces (Springer et al. 2008). Gushets often result in thin sheets of water flowing over rock faces and they frequently contain many different microhabitats, supporting diverse ecosystems (Hynes 1970). Although they typically occur along steep escarpments, such as the Grand Canyon, they are also found in regions with more modest topographic relief (Stevens et al. 2016).

Hanging gardens emerge along geologic contacts and seep, drip, or pour onto underlying walls (Stevens et al. 2016). In Arizona, these complex springs usually emerge from perched, unconfined aquifers in wind-created sandstone formations. There are three primary types of hanging gardens: alcoves, window-blinds, and terraces (Welsh and Toft 1981). In the United States, hanging gardens support unique ecosystems with wetland, riparian, and desert plants, including some species (e.g., Primula spp.) that occur in indirect light on wet backwalls (Welsh and Toft 1981; Wong 1999, Spence 2008).

Hillslope springs emerge from confined or unconfined aquifers on a hillslope with 30-to-60-degree slope. Oftentimes they originate from indistinct or multiple sources and they support a diverse array of microhabitats (Springer et al. 2008). The slope gradient is usually negatively related to floral diversity, and slope aspect strongly influences diversity (Stevens et al. 2016).

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:


Sonoran Tiger Salamander


Bradshaw Mountain Springsnail, Brown Springsnail, Bylas Springsnail, Desert Springsnail, Fossil Springsnail, Gila Tryonia, Grand Wash Springsnail, Huachuca Springsnail, Hualapai Springsnail, Kingman Springsnail, Montezuma Well Springsnail, Page Springsnail, Quitobaquito Tryonia, Three Forks Springsnail, Tule Mesa Springsnail, Verde Rim Springsnail

Sensitive Plant Species

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

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.


Virile or Northern Crayfish, New Zealand Mudsnail


Feral Burro, Rocky Mountain Elk, Feral Horse


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

1.1: Annual and perennial nontimber crops
1.3: Livestock farming and ranching
Water diverted from springs or pumped from shallow wells can decrease or eliminate surface water in springs, thus negatively-affecting the native species that rely on these habitats. Livestock also alter water quality in spring systems through excreting waste and trampling which mixes sediments into the water.

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.2: Droughts
Climate change is leading to warmer water temperatures which may cause population declines or if temperatures surpass species tolerances, cause local extinctions. Climate change can also increase drought frequency and severity which can lead to reduction or complete loss of springs and the aquatic species that inhabit them.

5. Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites

5: Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites
In springs where aquatic wildlife populations are dense, harmful diseases, pathogens, or parasites can spread throughout spring populations, causing declines or even local extinctions. These harmful organisms can also slow or end species reintroduction efforts.

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species
Invasive and problematic species can compete with or prey upon native fauna. Invasive aquatic plants can outcompete native plants, alter nutrient inputs, and change food availability for native species.

9. Natural System Modifications

9.2: Dams and water management
Spring boxes divert water from the source spring for human and livestock use and may lead to reduction or elimination of surface water.

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
  • Acquire land and water rights and pursue conservation agreements and easements in and around COAs and other priority areas. (Threats 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 9.2)

2. Land and Water Management

2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
2.3: Habitat and natural process restoration
  • Remove non-native, undesirable, and/or invasive wildlife and plant species. Monitor the success of removal efforts. (Threats 5, 8.1)
  • Improve, restore, or maintain high quality aquatic habitat to support SCGN aquatic species. Develop and maintain refuge habitats. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 9.1)

3. Species Management

3.2: Species recovery
3.3: Species reintroduction
3.4: Ex situ conservation
  • Develop and implement projects for repatriation of wildlife species populations that are currently unsustainable or extirpated, or to improve genetic resilience throughout their historical range (including refuge populations). For the listed species with recovery plans, reintroductions will be done as specified in recovery plans. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 8.1, 9.2)
  • Establish and maintain captive populations and provide progeny to meet conservation needs. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 8.1, 9.2)
  • Rescue (salvage) native aquatic wildlife at risk from imminent threats, and return salvaged wildlife when conditions are appropriate. (Threats 3.1, 3.2, 5, 9.2)

4. Education and Awareness

4.3: Awareness and communication
  • Make presentations at scientific conferences, training workshops, and other professional meetings, field trips, wildlife fairs, media events, educational presentations, workshops, and public events, to increase awareness of effects of threats to aquatic species and habitats with an emphasis on how the threats can be reduced. (Threats 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 5, 8.1, 9.2)

6. Livelihood, Economic and Other Incentives

6.4: Conservation payments and programs
  • Engage landowners and partners to participate in Safe Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCA), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA). (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 9.2)

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, management recommendations, and to determine the effectiveness of specific management efforts. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 9.2)

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).

  • Establish new wild and/or captive populations of climate vulnerable SGCN.

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

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

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.
  • Implement conservation actions to promote populations of SGCN species.
  • Identify suitable habitat and assess the quality of spring habitat for potential reintroduction or release.
  • Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.
  • Investigate the use of novel husbandry techniques, new technology, and/or life history research on native aquatic wildlife to improve survival, growth, production, health, condition, transportation, release and post-release performance of captive progeny into the wild.
  • Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related aquatic species research.
  • Manage recreational activities within spring systems to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.

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: