Habitat and Protected Areas

FSD champions regular oversight and support for protecting the irreplaceable habitats and protected areas of the Sonoran Desert in the United States and Mexico. Currently our focus is on the management and protection of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe National Monument, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, and the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserves. Unprotected land in Arizona is vulnerable to the impact of human activities (see below for examples)  so stewardship of these monuments is crucial to the health of the Sonoran Desert.

Protected land in Sonoran Desert


Native inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert engaged in what today would be termed eco-agriculture: the production of crops in synch with local ecological conditions of climate, water, and soil. More recently, however, huge swaths of the desert have been dedicated to industrial agriculture (mostly monocultures). Many of the crops planted today—like cotton— require much more water than native plants. Modern agriculture has both destroyed native habitat and required drilling for ever deeper wells to satisfy these thirsty plants, compromising native biodiversity. Learning the original eco-agricultural techniques from native practitioners could help restore these lands, conserve water, and promote economic benefits to local communities.

Agricultural damages to Sonoran Desert

Cattle Grazing

A dominant use of open landscapes of the Sonoran Desert is cattle grazing. Early grazing was uncontrolled and in many areas led to a total replacement of some native plant communities. Even today the presence of cattle leads to trampling and erosion of native soils and the fouling of water sources. Cattle grazing severely compromises native species, including many endangered plants and animals. Predator control programs to protect cattle have led to endangerment or even extirpation of key predators such as the grizzly bear and the Mexican gray wolf. Cattle grazing in the arid Sonoran Desert produces a very small fraction of the beef available in conventional markets, yet its impact on the health of this ecosystem is profound.

Cattle grazing damage in the Sonoran Desert


Modern civilizations depend upon mining to provide most of the raw materials we need to make the products we feel we can’t live without. But mining also has a cost:  the unsustainable burden it places on the land. To produce a small amount of product, millions of tons of waste are created which destroy habitat, foul water, reduce air quality, and threaten the survival of wildlife. The United States operates under the antiquated General Mining Law of 1872, which makes most public land open to mining. As stewards of our public lands, we must actively engage in the process of determining when and where mining is most appropriate so that the land and resources we need are not destroyed for short term profit.

Mining threats to the Sonoran Desert


Many people enjoy recreational target shooting. However, some shooters use desert plants, like saguaro cactuses, as targets and many plants that have been shot have actually died from lead poisoning. Petroglyphs and other cultural artifacts have been destroyed by target shooters—thousands of years of our cultural heritage can be destroyed in just a few seconds.  Hikers, mountain bikers, and wildlife are all at risk of being hit by stray bullets. For these reasons, firearm experts and conservationists recommend that recreational target shooting take place inside designated ranges where the sport can be enjoyed safely with minimal harm to the environment.

Vandalism in the Sonoran Desert