desierto's blog

Third photo of Huachuca Ocelot released

3rd image of the resident ocelot in the Huachuca MountainsA hunters trail camera has captured another image of an ocelot. Although the location hasn't been revealed to AZ Game and Fish by the hunter, spot comparison by Wild Sonora shows that it is the same individual that has been photographed in the Huachucas twice before in Feb. and May of 2011.

See the AZ Game and Fish Dept. article about this ocelot sighting.

Four of 5 wolves released in Mexico killed

All but 1 of the 5 Mexican Gray Wolves released in Sonora in October of 2011 have been poisoned to death by warfarin, which is commonly used by ranchers and others to kill mammals. The wolves were found dead in Nov. and Dec. of 2011. Although uncertain, there is a good likelyhood that this is a targeted killing of the wolves. It takes high levels of warfarin to kill large mammals. 

One of the wolves is alive and doing well. Mexican officials have said they will continue with the program although no details on further releases have been given.

New photo of same Ocelot in Huachuca Mountains

Ocelot photo comparison from the Huachuca Mountains, AZToday a new photo from May 26th, 2011 of an Ocelot in the Huachuca Mountains was released by the AZ Game and Fish Dept. The photo was given to AZGFD by two hunters who had set up an automated trail camera. The press release (attached here) says AZGFD will show the photo to biologists to determine if it is the same individual photographed on Feb. 8 of 2011.

After looking the photos over briefly it is becomes apparent that the 2 seperate photo records are from the same individual. This is great news for people who care about the region's fauna. With a minimum of almost 4 months in the range, this ocelot seems to have taken up residence in the Huachuca Mountains.

Click on this image for larger version. Colored circles indicate duplicated patterns on the left foreleg of this cat showing that this is almost certainly the same individual. Wild Sonora is the first to compare photo and bring you this exciting info.

Non-natives - Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) and Eurasian collared dove

Eurasian Collared DoveBuffelgrass has become well known as an invasive exotic species, but many other dangerous exotics threaten parts of the southwest and have garnered much less attention. One in particular comes to mind from my experiences: Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii). This mustard has an affinity for sandy or bottomland soil in the middle and especially lower elevation Sonoran Desert. It has spread rapidly across large areas of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California. I've recently seen it in several disturbing places including the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, in Bear Canyon in the Catalinas, and Saguaro National Park (east and west!). The Arizona/Sonora Desert Museum has a good webpage on this mustard.

This mustard is incredibly tenacious and outcompetes nearly everything including other annuals. Some places in southwestern Arizona it can cover vast areas in a near monoculture.

Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and Natalgrass (Melinis repens) in Sonora

Buffelgrass fire - converting Sonoran Desert to buffelgrass monocultureIt's becoming common knowledge that buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) is a huge problem for native vegetation in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. In Sonora the problem is much worse. Vast areas of Sonora are over-run with buffelgrass. Ranchers in Sonora continue to blade and till desert and thornscrub to plant this invasive grass, which helps as cattle forage primarily only in the short-term. Once well established the grass becomes fairly woody and cows tend not to eat it unless there is little else.

Unfortunately continued drought and poor range conditions in Sonora make blading one's ranch for buffelgrass seem like an atractive option. Government programs can also help subsidize planting.

Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment

Sky Island Alliance in 2009 has started a multi-year biodiversity assement of the Sonoran Sky Islands called the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA). This project is much needed as there is a dirth of information about the region. Aaron Flesch is working with Sky Island Alliance on this project and is already collecting bird, plant, and other data.

MABA data is housed in a MySQL database connected to the web for public access. You can interact with these data at The are seperate databases for flora and fauna.

Fire on the Mountain

Pines and view in the Sierra PinitoIn June I trekked with a friend to the top of the Sierra El Pinito, a good-sized range just Southeast of Nogales. The Sierra El Pinito nudge their way into the pine forest community at 2230 meters, high enough to compete for serious Sky Island status in Sonora. They are just South of the border from the Santa Ritas and Patagonias on the US side, but because of the the political boundary they are a world away when it comes to fire suppression and natural fire regimes.

To drive the point home the Sierra Azul, just to the south, was actively burning. The fire had burned a significant percentage of the range by the time we laid eyes on it. By the time we left the area it had burned itself out naturally. Little is done to combat wildfires and indeed, in contrast to U.S. fire policy, people don't treat every wildfire as an utterly dire situation.

In my 15 years of experiences in Sonora I’ve seen people with a very different attitude toward fire than I am used to. Little is done to suppress wildfires in Mexico. Fires often burn mountains, grasslands, and even buffelgrass sided freeways, just to burn themselves out without much attention from authorities or locals. Combined with the lack of resources to fight wildfire in Mexico, this has created vegetation communities with a substantially different fire regime than similar communities on the U.S. side of the border.

Some conditions that affect the spread of natural wildfire are unfortunately still present in Sonora, such as cattle grazing and logging. Luckily a few rugged and/or remote locations have even been spared these effects.

This dramatic difference in fire management bisecting the Sky Islands offers an opportunity to study the differences as well as the massive problems associated with fire suppression in Arizona and the West in general.


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