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Friends of the Sonoran Desert (FSD) is a charitable organization dedicated to the stewardship of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem throughout its range, including the Sea of Cortez. We encourage citizen awareness of and advocacy concerning government decisions impacting this fragile ecosystem.

Sonoran Desert

Photo by Michael McNulty

Life in the Sonoran Desert 

Photo by Nancy Pearson

Why Protect the Sonoran Desert?


The Sonoran Desert ecosystem extends from the southwestern United States into northern Mexico. It is an ecological hotspot of biodiversity due it its vast array of habitats, home to approximately 120 species of mammals, 250 species of birds,115 species of reptiles, 35 species of fresh water fish, 28 species of amphibians, and over 4000 species of endemic plants. Riparian communities along desert streams sustain native fish and attract migratory birds. Forests of mesquite and towering saguaros provide shelter for gila woodpeckers and western screech owls, and the grasslands of southern Arizona are the preferred habitat of the endangered masked bobwhite quail. Sky Islands—mountain peaks rising from the desert floor—are home to hundreds more species of plants and animals, further increasing this region's biodiversity.

Cultural History

Ancient native Americans made their homes in the Sonoran Desert as early as 300 C.E., and some of their descendants, from 17 Native American tribes, still live there today. It is likely that there remain many undiscovered sites in the Sonoran Desert that contain evidence of ancient desert cultures and need our protection. There is still much to learn about the earliest human inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert.

Human Impact

Since humans first inhabited the Sonoran Desert, their behavior has inadvertently imperiled this unique ecosystem. Early humans preferentially hunted large animals for food, reducing population size of bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope. Large-scale farming, cattle ranching, and mining have damaged and fragmented the landscape. The introduction of invasive species like buffelgrass has caused the extirpation of native grasses, negatively impacting wildlife dependent on those grass species. And the continued extraction of water from prehistoric ground water reserves places this ecosystem at further risk. To preserve the Sonoran Desert, we must protect its land, resources, flora, and fauna from unsustainable use.

Border Issues

Safeguarding the Sonoran Desert is especially challenging because it requires the coordination and cooperation of two countries. In addition, the United States government is planning to build a barrier along the border with Mexico to prevent illegal border crossings. Barriers designed to keep humans out of the U.S. will also prevent the natural flow of wildlife back and forth across the border, which will impact species survival. Making sure there are corridors through which wildlife can pass between one fragment of undisturbed habitat to another is one of FSD’s highest priorities.

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