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Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013

Shawn McCrohan
Board Member
     Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument
     Owner, Geo Savvy Tours

On April 26th, 2013 Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 3) introduced the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1799), which would protect roughly 954,600 acres of public land in western Maricopa County using a range of conservation designations including National Conservations Areas, Wilderness, and Special Management Areas, while simultaneously boosting economic opportunities for West Valley communities and protecting vital open space required for the 9 billion dollar Arizona military industry to train the world’s best pilots.

These designations would be created on existing public lands west of the White Tank Mountains, which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and would require no private lands or exchanges.

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013 is the culmination of admirable and impressive collaborative efforts over the past six years between local residents, farmers, Luke Air force Base, Barry M. Goldwater Range, developers, environmental groups, city officials, and other stakeholders who have found common ground with a plan to conserve natural, cultural, and recreational values, as well as nearby military facilities. This incredible plan anticipates future growth and ensures economic viability for generations to come, while protecting wildlife habitat and migration corridors between nearby mountain ranges.

Maricopa County is expected to continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Recognizing the need for smart growth, which integrates wilderness and open space, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox says, “It’s tremendous for such a large urban area, such as Maricopa County, to be able to live side by side with the nearly one million acres proposed by this bill. We must preserve our heritage and never lose it because of urban sprawl.”

Town of Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck points out, “If we allow our desert, mountain ranges, and hunting areas to be lost, we will never get them back.”

This legislation could result in permanent protection of 80% of Maricopa BLM lands under military training routes, doubling the amount that is protected today!


What Does this Mean for the Sonoran Desert National Monument?

Should this legislation pass through congress, the Sonoran Desert National Monument would see three new wilderness units as well as a vital wildlife linkage, and it would help reduce the off-road footprint inside the monument.

The Rainbow Valley Linkage Special Management Area is a proposed wildlife linkage between the Sonoran Desert National Monument and the Sierra Estrella’s which would protect migration corridors for desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, Gila monster, desert tortoise, bobcat, mountain lion and javelina, while allowing for growth of West Valley communities. Vegetation in this area includes creosote bush, cholla, barrel cactus, plus trees like ironwood, mesquite, and foothill palo verde. As visitors climb in elevation, plant variety changes to include ocotillo, hackberry, acacia, and triangle-leaf bursage.

In addition, three new wilderness areas, or units, would be designated in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Wilderness is the highest level of protection for federal public land available in the United States.

The Butterfield Stage Memorial Proposed Wilderness is 8,325 acres and located 12 miles east of the community of Gila Bend in the heart of the Sonoran Desert National Monument. It’s named for the historic Butterfield Overland mail route that passes through the northern boundary of the proposed wilderness area. Juan Batista de Anza first used this route in 1775 to bring settlers to the San Francisco Bay area. This area is rich in prehistoric cultural sites.

Margie’s Peak Proposed Wilderness is 14,566 acres and 14 miles north east of the town of Gila Bend. This namesake comes from the unit’s 2,492-foot peak. If designated wilderness, this would protect native Sonoran desert plant communities and help sustain viable populations of sensitive wildlife such as bighorn sheep and Sonoran desert tortoise.

Sand Tank Mountains proposed Wilderness Area would total 105,365-acres. This area has abundant wildlife including bighorn sheep as well as species of concern such as the red-backed whiptail lizard, Sonoran desert tortoise, California leaf-nose and cave myotis bats. And because cattle grazing ceased in the area over 50 years ago it has allowed a diverse spectrum of native plants to thrive including saguaro cactus forests.

What You Can Do


The Arizona Sonoran Heritage Act of 2013 was introduced on April 26, 2013 and assigned to a congressional committee, which will consider it before handing it on to the house and senate.

YOU can help this legislation pass by doing one or more of the following four things.

1. Please call OR draft a letter of thanks to Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

Hand-written letters are rare these days and get noticed. Click here to email his office, or snail mail it to:

The Honorable Raúl M. Grijalva
Rancho Santa Fe Center
13065 West McDowell Road, Suite C-123
Avondale, AZ 85392

Local Phone: 623-536-3388  DC Phone: 202-225-2435

Copy and email your letters to:

Sonoran Desert Heritage Campaign
P.O. Box 13524
Phoenix, AZ  85002

2.  Share this page on Facebook, and be sure to tag Rep. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva)!

3.  Send letters to the other members of the Arizona congressional delegation.

  • Urge them to acknowledge the benefits of the legislation to Arizona’s tourism and military economy. Arizonans value protected public lands for quality of life and recreational benefits. What do YOU value about the Sonoran Desert?
  • Hand written letters are rare and we encourage you to take a few minutes to do it the old fashioned way for extra impact!
  • Find your congressional representative’s contact information here.
  • Copy and email your letters to: Sonoran Desert Heritage Campaign, PO Box 13524, Phoenix, AZ 85002

4.  Watch the news and send in letters-to-the-editor. This is a powerful way to publicly show support for the legislation.

  • Find guidelines and how to submit to the Arizona Republic here.
  • Check the inside cover for editorial guidelines for smaller community newspapers, who are often looking for letters from readers!
  • Make your letters short (200 words) but add personal touches–have you been to these public lands? What did you appreciate about these wild places?

Thank you for your support!  Show Congress that Arizona’s want to see real solutions to the problems of natural resource degradation and the problems it causes for our communities and the local economy.  Your voice is important and will be heard.  Thanks!

SDHFind out more about the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013 here.


Sonoran Desert Fun Facts & Words:

  • The endangered Sonoran Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) is the fastest land mammal in North America. They are sometimes referred to as “prairie ghosts” because they are so elusive. The Sonoran Desert National Monument has been named as a possible location for future Sonoran pronghorn population.
  • The convergence, or blending, of several alluvial fans at the bottom of a mountain is called a bajada. Bajadas are common in dry climates, like the American Southwest
  • The acuna cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis) is listed as a candidate for the Threatened and Endangered Species list. The flowers are pollinated primarily by solitary, polyectic bee species.
  • Tinajas is a term used in the American Southwest for water pockets formed in bedrock depressions that occur below waterfalls or are carved out by spring flow or seepage. Tinajas are important sources of surface water storage in these arid environments
  • The lesser long nosed bat is an endangered species, which can be found at the Sonoran Desert National Monument. They are nocturnal and feed on the nectar of fruits such as the saguaro cactus fruit which blooms at night.
  • Cienega is a Spanish term referring to a swamp or marsh
  • Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) are superbly adapted to arid environments. During the winter months these sheep can last for several months without drinking free water by eating plants with moisture.
  • The Saguaro cactus is one of the Sonoran Deserts defining vegetation. It can live up to 200 years and reach about 50 feet high.


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