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A Long Term Vision For Protecting Natural and Cultural Resources 2009/12/08

Posted by neelasram in Environmental Planning.
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The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan – Pima County, Arizona

2002 APA Award for Outstanding Planning for a Plan

The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) is an award winning comprehensive plan that takes an integrated approach in protecting and conserving the area’s resources while using science as a basis for decision-making and understanding.  The plan covers approximately 5.9 million acres in Pima County, Arizona and addresses the threats to dwindling resources and a declining cultural identity.  The plan came into fruition in 1998 when Pima County Board of Supervisors began discussions on managing potentially unbridled growth in the area and implement eco-sensible plans for future land use.  Instead of limiting and centering the discussions on human growth, the Board decided to include ecological and natural considerations in developing a sustainable decision making process with regard to development and expansion.   The resultant SDCP directs growth towards areas that have low natural, cultural, and historical value.

The major elements of the plan considered the following elements:  critical habitat and biological corridors; riparian restoration; mountain parks; historical and cultural preservation; and ranch conservation.   The main challenge of the plan was to address declining cultural and natural resources while protecting the quality and lifestyle of its residents.  The needs of the plan were addressed by incorporating a science-based conservation plan that updated the previous comprehensive plan and instituted a multiple-species conservation plan.  The last component is especially critical in that it directly addressed the declining owl population and at the same time incorporated other natural resources that were under threat as well.

A multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach was used to catalogue habitats, species, and plant life in terms of preserving critical habitats and biological corridors.  They determined the most dense habitat patches and areas of connectivity that were most suitable for preserving the ecological richness of the area.  Land use strategies were then developed using growth principles that directed growth away from these identified areas and more towards the already urbanized lands.  Additionally, these ecologically rich areas as well as general open spaces were identified in order to further connect them to riparian areas and promote restoration.  The multi-species conservation component incorporates the Endangered Species Act, a federal regulation, to mitigate the impacts of urbanization on various animals.  By implementing habitat protection under the comprehensive plan, it reduces a piece-meal approach to protection and encourages decision makers to uphold their commitment to conservation and sustainable development.

The plan is dependent on interagency cooperation with general stakeholder consensus.  Long-term and region wide planning is also necessary to accomplish the goals of protection and preservation.  While this comprehensive plan is able to establish a seemingly rigid set of guidelines that are in alignment with sustainable development, it heavily relies on assumed cooperation between the various affected parties.

This plan attempts to reconcile anthropogenic needs with awareness for environmental protection and conservation issues. Previous attempts at comprehensive planning might have placed emphasis either on human needs or environmental protection – however, this plan forges a new path by creating a harmonious balance between the environmental concerns and human desires.  It assumes that by being good stewards of our land, we can dampen the conflict between nature and society.

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