PRIMARY MEDIA CONTACT
Name: Les Meyers
White Tank Mountains Conservancy launches Regional Connectivity Initiative StoryMap and Speaker Series
Join regional experts who link the Initiative’s imperative to balance the natural and built environment with regional economic vibrancy and quality of life in the crown jewel of the West Valley, the White Tank Mountains
Open space and outdoor recreation are in even greater demand since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maricopa County Parks Department realized a 55% increase in visitors across its park system in February 2021 over the same period in the previous fiscal year; some parks were up over 100%. City of Buckeye reported a 35% increase in visitors to Skyline Regional Park in 2020 from the previous year; a 93% increase in April 2020 and 97% increase in July 2020, the middle of Arizona’s summer. In 2020, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust enlisted the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU to survey the attitudes and beliefs of Arizona voters about the environment and environmental protection relative to other pressing issues facing the state. According to these results, 98% feel Arizona’s parks, preserves, forests and open spaces are important to them. Open space offers a variety of quality of life, ecological and economic benefits to the region, supporting city, county, and state plans.
Beloved by visitors and residents alike, the White Tank Mountains located to the west of the Greater Phoenix area are still wild — home to an abundance of plants and animals, some of which have disappeared from other urban neighboring preserves. Mule deer, mountain lion, javelina, kit fox, roadrunners, Great-horned owl, desert tortoise and many other Sonoran Desert species thrive in the White Tank Mountains. This biodiversity exists today because these mountains are still connected to natural Sonoran Desert landscapes to the west and north. However, many of these surrounding lands are slated for urban development and could potentially bring huge change to these mountains. Les Meyers, Executive Director for White Tank Mountains Conservancy (WTMC), says, “Thriving communities depend on healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems depend on biodiversity & resilient wildlife populations. Resilient wildlife populations need room to roam.”
Keeping it Wild
Many mountain ranges in central Arizona have been isolated by development resulting in fewer and less diverse plants and animals as natural migration corridors are isolated. These ecological impacts also degrade the quality of the visitor experience. Urbanization now extends into the foothills of the north, east, and south flanks of the White Tank Mountains. Total isolation will compromise the plant and animal biodiversity that sustains the very characteristics this mountain landscape is valued for.
To prevent this from happening to the White Tank Mountains, WTMC has launched a collaborative effort called the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative, as well as a collection of digital stories with interactive maps, StoryMaps, that provide an in-depth look at why sustaining the natural heritage of the White Tank Mountains region is critical. The Initiative will provide a host of ecological benefits that will not only conserve this natural heritage of the mountains, but also supports a 21st century economy and quality of life for all – in one of the fastest developing regions in the country.
The WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative is a hyper-local extension of Central Arizona Conservation Alliance’s (CAZCA) Regional Open Space Strategy (ROSS) and combines the efforts of many partners to share information about future urban development and presents the imperative for protecting natural areas. Meyers continues, “We envision future communities balancing natural landscapes and thoughtful development with a focus on ecological and economic prosperity.” Ultimately, the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative will identify cohesive planning and development solutions that meet the complex needs for wildlife, people, recreation, open space, and flood hazard management. The StoryMap is a tool meant to inspire that collaboration to grow.
StoryMap: a Tool for Conservation and Collaboration
Using multimedia features, the WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative StoryMap serves as a key outreach tool for educational services, community conversations, collaborative visioning, and intelligent planning solutions. The virtual platform delivers powerful messages that harness complex data in an engaging story layout and will be used when convening a broad range of stakeholders and advanced policymaker meetings, workshops, and events.
The collection includes four main topics that can be interpreted collectively or independently: The Connectivity Imperative; What’s At Stake; Booming Cities; A Connectivity Vision.
The StoryMap is meant to demonstrate an opportunity to build on existing plans for open space, parks, recreation, and flood hazard mitigation to address the imperative, focusing on the municipal planning boundaries of the cities of Buckeye and Surprise. Municipal, community, and conservation leaders in the region agree that a broad approach to sustainable growth is desirable. “The Buckeye City Council recently approved our Wildlife Corridors Best Practices Guide, the first document of its kind in the region,” said Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn. “The Guide demonstrates Buckeye’s continued support the White Tank Mountains Conservancy’s mission to balance the natural and built environment to protect the wildlife population.”
Orsborn continues, “The Guide is the foundation to ensure conversations about wildlife corridors are incorporated into the design of current and future neighborhoods and communities.” It will be critical for cities like Buckeye and Surprise to enhance landscape connectivity within their respective land use plans to achieve Maricopa County’s vision for the future, as well as each City’s goals for the White Tank Mountain region.
Virtual Event: WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative Speaker Series
Join WTMC and CAZCA for a three-part virtual series on this Regional Connectivity Initiative to hear from regional experts on the intersections of protecting open space and natural migration corridors with quality of life and economic vibrancy. Participate in the conversation with diverse stakeholders to envision a more holistic future:
- What’s At Stake – White Tank Mountains, a Sonoran Desert Legacy
- October 20 from 6:30p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Booming Cities – a Tale of Urban Expansion in Western Maricopa County
- October 27 from 6:30p.m. – 8 p.m.
- A Connectivity Vision – Protecting Place and Passage for Wildlife and People
- November 3 from 6:30p.m. – 8 p.m.
Registration and speaker announcements are available on the White Tank Mountains Conservancy’s website. Events will be held virtually and free of charge.
The WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative, StoryMap, and speaker series are made possible by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
About the White Tank Mountain Conservancy (WTMC)
Bringing together municipalities, conservationists, and developers and cities, the White Tank Mountains Conservancy (WTMC), a 501c3 nonprofit organization, strives to protect the mutually beneficial co-existence of humans and a robust wildlife population which thrives in the open spaces and corridors of the vibrant White Tank Mountains. The WTMC Regional Connectivity Initiative is a west valley interdependent and collaborative effort to envision, enable, and sustain the preservation of wildlife corridors that connect the White Tank Mountains to other regional mountain ranges, a critical component to keeping the mountain alive for generations to come. The Conservancy aligns connectivity for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems through three interlinked practices: Conserve—Connect—Collaborate. Help the Conservancy through development, engagement, attendance, championing, and donations: https://www.wtmconservancy.org/about-us/.
About Central Arizona Conservation Alliance (CAZCA)
Launched in 2012 by Desert Botanical Garden, the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance (CAZCA) unites a network of land managers, scientists, policy makers, educators, community members, state and federal agencies, and conservation-based nonprofit organizations to develop, align and elevate efforts to conserve and enhance open space in the Central Arizona region. Comprised of more than 60 partnering organizations, CAZCA’s vision is a sustainable preserve system that supports healthy ecosystems and provides beautiful, safe open spaces for healthy, vibrant communities.