Arizona Wildlife Status
There is general agreement that wildlife is declining worldwide. Across the U. S., government agencies and private organizations have set aside millions of acres in parks, monuments, preserves, refuges, wilderness areas, and other protected areas. The efforts have undoubtedly slowed the decline, but they have not stopped it. The status of most small invertebrate species is unknown, but the AZ Game & Fish Department reports that 551 of the state’s 992 vertebrate species are imperiled.
Human demands for food, energy, and housing are increasing. From 1960 to 2000, Arizona’s population grew from 1.3 million to 5.1 million. By 2025, the U. S. Census Bureau projects that Arizona’s population will reach 9.5 million. Extinctions are inevitable. According to a national poll conducted in February 2013, most Americans believe that the growing human population is causing wildlife to disappear.
Resource managers have identified specific human activities that are causing the wildlife decline.
- Habitat loss due to construction of buildings, roads, transmission corridors, reservoirs
- Introducing and dispersing foreign species (including diseases)
- Logging and ranching
- Releasing chemical wastes from cities, energy facilities, farms, and mines (plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, metals, etc.)
- Polluting the atmosphere
- Altering the chemistry of the atmosphere to pass more short-wave radiation and block more long-wave radiation
- Damaging soils and habitats with wheeled and foot traffic
- Others: Increasing noise levels, building barriers to movements and migration, collecting pets and specimens, building tall structures, and installing reflecting windows.
The most harmful impact is habitat loss. Across the highway from my office, a housing development destroyed the summer breeding ground of the Lonesome Valley Antelope herd. Most of the site was public land belonging to the state of Arizona. In 2005, the City of Prescott Valley annexed the land and rezoned it to allow construction of single-family homes on small lots. For the 10 years before 2005, and probably for hundreds or thousands of years before that, 100 or more pronghorn antelope gathered on the site during the annual summer monsoon/breeding season. They have stopped. I know of no studies of the effect this will have on the numbers of antelope in the area, but I doubt that it will be good.
The U. S. government became active in nature conservation more than a century ago. The original goal was to end the abusive land-use practices of the past and preserve the productive ability of the land. The chief argument was, and still is, that healthy land produces the most benefit for the most people. Despite more than a century of effort, the nation’s public land has continued to deteriorate. Forest clear cutting, destructive livestock grazing, unrestrained water use, and marginal land farming still dominate U. S. land-use management.
Some people argued that wild animals and their habitats must be valued for their own sake, not just as a source of food, fiber, or other services for humans. Aldo Leopold called this “the land ethic.” “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the [Human] community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land” (Leopold 1949: 204). Unfortunately, by mid-century when Leopold wrote this, federal and state land-use bureaucracies had institutionalized abusive, shortsighted, land-use practices. Deteriorating landscapes and disappearing wildlife are the results.
Extinctions can occur abruptly following a widespread catastrophe, but most occur incrementally as bits of habitats are lost. Animals become fewer and fewer until disease or old age terminates breeding and the species dies off. As wildlife documentary filmmaker and entomologist Steve Nichols points out, the most striking change in nature brought about by people is the reduction in numbers of animals. “If we really did have a time machine, I’m convinced it would be the sheer abundance of life that would startle any time traveler [to the past]” (Nicholls 2009).
Protecting wildlife in Arizona and elsewhere requires major cultural and social changes. People have taken too much of the habitat. Our first step for effective conservation is reduction of our rate of reproduction and our numbers. We must also cut our space requirements. We must cluster our housing, reduce our animal consumption, reduce motorized travel, replace large farms and livestock enterprises with gardens and local food production, eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and begin to restoring damaged habitats.
The online Naturalist’s Bookstore has field guides and other references. Go to: http://bit.ly/RKW2bC.
AZGFD (Arizona Game and Fish Department): http://AZGFD.gov.
Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County almanac and sketches here and there. Oxford University Press, New York. 226 p.
Nicholls, S. 2009. Paradise found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 524 p.
U. S. Census Bureau: http://census.gov.
U. S. Endangered Species Act. 1973. The act and related laws discussed at: http://fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/ESACT.html.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/endangered.
U. S. Forest Service. 2007. Regional Forester’s list of sensitive animals: http://fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev3_021328.pdf.