Pima County will spend $284,000 to save horned lizards and other critters from an untimely and premature squishing at a west-side construction site.
Work is starting on a project to stabilize the banks of the Santa Cruz River from Ajo Way to Silverlake Road.
The river and surrounding parklands are home to regal horned lizards and other uncommon kinds of reptiles and toads.
But an influx of construction trucks and their noise can expose lizards to "elevated risks of road mortality," as Pima County puts it.
"There's some very unique species there, whether it's the burrowing owls or different amphibians and reptiles," said Suzanne Shields, director of the Regional Flood Control District. "They're not necessarily endangered but there aren't very many of them and they're unique to this area."
The plan is to collect certain species, hold them in specially designed corrals during construction, help them get re-established in their renovated home when the time is right and then monitor their survival.
The Board of Supervisors approved a five-year, $284,000 contract with University of Arizona research scientist Phil Rosen for this work.
Among his tasks is to tag the toes of any regal-horned, side-blotched and zebra-tailed lizards he finds in the work area.
Rosen researches ways to conserve lizard populations in urban areas.
In a report five years ago when the city was working on its Habitat Conservation Plan, he advocated preserving key populations of lizards and their habitat in the west branch of the Santa Cruz and said the city and county need to work together to get the job done.
This is part of that effort, Shields said.
The Paseo de las Iglesias bank-protection project is paid for by voter-approved bonds. The whole project, including erosion control, ecosystem restoration and river park improvements, is expected to cost $16 million.
Other considerations for animals will include improvements to an existing pond for toads and new man-made homes for burrowing owls.
Amenities for people will include the extension of the Santa Cruz River park system, a connection to The Loop trail system at Julian Wash and public art.
Preliminary work is under way now for an early fall start to the construction, which should take about two years.
On StarNet: The Critters of Southern Arizona database at azstarnet.com/critters can help you identify your backyard visitors.
Regal horned lizard population declining
These ground-dwelling lizards "are doing very poorly in residential environments of Tucson, though persisting," University of Arizona research scientist Phil Rosen said in a 2008 report to the city.
"Thus, major riparian corridors are essential for current conservation of lizard biodiversity in Tucson, although long-term, predictable declines are occurring."
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.