Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy


Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year. Wetlands are scattered throughout Arizona and can be categorized into various forms, including wet meadows, vernal pools, and ciénegas (marshes). Wetlands typically have emergent aquatic vegetation such as rushes, cattails, and sedges. Wetlands with perennial water also tend to have a variety of submersed and floating aquatic vegetation. These increasingly rare wetland habitats can also support riparian vegetation which is often more diverse than surrounding vegetation. Wetlands, whether perennial or intermittent, provide water for all wildlife. Vegetation associated with wetlands provides food and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Some of the deeper and perennial ciénegas are inhabited by fish (Minckley et al. 2013).

The statewide status of wetlands is not well documented, but most are thought to be greatly reduced from their pre-settlement conditions (Trombalak and Frissel 2000). The distribution of ciénegas has shrunk from formerly widespread to small, scattered remnants due to grazing and streambed modifications (Hendrickson and Minckley 1984). A follow-up study reported more than 20% of known/named ciénegas had lost their ecological function, in that they no longer provide any provisioning, critical habitat, or other original services. In addition, groundwater withdrawals for agriculture, and the sinking water table that results, has been identified as another stressor to wetlands (Minckley 2013). The remaining wetlands are often subject to intensive utilization.

Vernal pools are temporary wetlands that occur seasonally. These habitats are covered by shallow water during wet periods of the year but may completely dry out during other periods. These intermittent pools support wildlife that would not be successful in permanent waters where predators such as fish occur. Many of Arizona’s amphibians utilize these temporary aquatic habitats for reproduction and development of their young. A variety of invertebrates, such as fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, tadpole shrimp, water fleas, and insects also utilize these pools. These pools also provide temporary local water sources for a variety of wildlife.

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:

  • Wet meadows and vernal pools typically have surface water only during the wetter periods of the year and do not usually support fish unless they are connected to perennial water. These habitats are important for amphibians such as leopard frogs and tiger salamanders, because their early life stages can thrive when free of fish and other predators.

  • Emergent vegetation found in and around ciénegas provides important nesting habitat for a wide variety of nesting birds, such as waterfowl, rails, redwing blackbirds, and marsh wrens. Foods for these species are also found in the vegetation or in the water. Mammals such as muskrat, also find food and shelter in ciénegas.

  • Ciénegas provide still or slow-moving water with abundant vegetative cover that can support a variety of native fish species such as Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, Quitobaquito pupfish, and Gila chub.

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:


Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Lowland Leopard Frog, Sonoran Tiger Salamander


American Bittern, California Black Rail, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Common Gallinule, Western Least Bittern, Snowy Egret, Sora, Virginia Rail, Ridgway's Rail


Beautiful Shiner, Desert Pupfish, Gila Chub, Gila Topminnow, Sonoyta Pupfish, Yaqui Catfish, Yaqui Chub, Yaqui Topminnow


Huachuca Springsnail


Arizona Cotton Rat, Arizona Montane Vole, New Mexican Jumping Mouse, Western Water Shrew, Western Harvest Mouse


Mexican Gartersnake, Painted Turtle, Sonora Mud Turtle, Sonoyta Mud Turtle, Yellow Mud Turtle

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.


Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren


Western Mosquitofish


Virile or Northern Crayfish


Rocky Mountain Elk, Common Muskrat


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
Agricultural practices adversely affect wetland systems through loss of plant cover, erosion, and dewatering caused by livestock grazing and clearing for farming. Diversions and groundwater pumping can alter habitat quality and aquatic food webs.

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.2: Droughts
3.3: Temperature extremes
Climate change is leading to warmer water temperatures which may exceed species’ temperature tolerances, causing local extinctions or distributions to shift towards colder water. The drying of wetlands can cause local extinctions or reduce species distributions.

5. Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites

5: Disease, Pathogens, and Parasites
Diseases, pathogens, and parasites can spread through a variety of human-mediated mechanisms, natural processes, and movement of native and non-native fauna and can severely alter aquatic communities. Introduction of these harmful elements can also slow or end species reintroduction efforts.

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

7.1: Recreational activities
Recreational activities, such as illegal OHV use, are degrading wetland habitats by altering habitat, damaging instream and riparian vegetation, causing erosion in upland areas. These alterations can negatively-affect aquatic species abundance and distributions.

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species
Invasive and problematic species such as non-native fish, amphibians (bullfrogs), and crustaceans (crayfish), can compete with or prey upon native fauna. Invasive aquatic plants can completely cover wetland habitats. Invasive riparian area plant species, especially tamarisk and Russian olive, alter flow patterns, reduce habitat diversity, and increase shading of aquatic habitats, thereby changing food availability for native species.

9. Natural System Modifications

9.1: Fire and fire suppression
9.2: Dams and water management
Wildfire and other modifications to natural systems are resulting in silt and ash runoff, erosion that leads to increased sedimentation, and reduced water quality in wetland systems. Dams and water management activities change wetland systems to lentic systems and alter or completely dry downstream wetland systems.

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 1.3, 3.1, 9.1)

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)
  • Improve, restore, or maintain high-quality emergent wetland habitat to support wildlife and pollinator species. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 8.1, 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). (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 9.2)
  • Establish and maintain hatchery or other captive populations and provide progeny to meet conservation needs. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 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, 9.1)

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 and riparian wildlife species and habitats with an emphasis on how the threats can be reduced. (Threats 1.1, 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1)
  • 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

6.4: 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 1.2, 3.1, 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.

  • Restore and maintain diverse habitats to support broad 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:

  • Manage recreational activities and OHV use of wetlands to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
  • Conduct surveys and monitor populations of SGCN as specified in work plans and job statements.
  • Identify the suitability of wetlands for potential reintroduction or release.
  • Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.
  • Test 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.
  • Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related aquatic species research.
  • Engage in water management public processes, such as certificated water rights and severe and transfer review and protest processes.

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: