PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 135, Winter 2004: Joint Ventures


The forces of conservation have begun to concentrate on the fragile deserts of the Southwest.

Sonoran Joint Venture

Geoff Geupel

Joint Ventures
Sonoran Desert Joint Venture
Marine Bird Conservation
A Proposed Joint Venture at Sea
Central Valley Habitat Joint Venture
Riparian Habitat Joint Venture
San Francisco Bay Joint Venture
Seabird Awareness
Bird Bio
Focus on Black Brant
John L. Jones
Facilities Search
Grand List

Black-throated Sparrow, a desert bird. Photo © Peter LaTourrette.
The Sonoran Desert spans 120,000 square miles in southwestern Arizona, southeastern California (where it is also known as the Colorado Desert), most of Baja California, and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. It is a biological and physical wonder. Extending from well below sea level at the Salton Sea to elevations of nearly 4,000 feet, and with minimal, sporadic (and sometimes intense!) rainfall, the area supports an unusual and diverse array of plant communities and habitats.

The region's avifauna is exceptionally diverse: over 500 birds species have been recorded in the region, and 17 species are unique to it (endemic)--specialties such as the Yellow-footed Gull, Xantus' Hummingbird, LeConte's Thrasher, and Rufous-winged Sparrow. For another 20 species, over 50% of their entire world population resides in the region.

While humans have been a presence for over 10,000 years, in recent times "snowbirds" and city folks have flocked to the desert in ever-increasing numbers, drawn by the sun, open space, and hard soils to retirement living, military exercises, and off-road driving. It is no wonder the forces of conservation have begun to concentrate on the fragile deserts of the Southwest.Early in 1999, when numerous conservation planning efforts were in full swing and converging on North American hotspots of biodiversity, individuals from The Nature Conservancy, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service convened an international meeting to discuss the conservation needs of the unique Sonoran Desert ecosystem. From this meeting fledged a new and different Joint Venture: a venture dedicated to international cooperation, between the U.S. and Mexico, and to a then novel "all bird" approach. Since its inception this JV has embraced the "all bird" concept, in recognition of the Sonoran Desert's many unique habitats and upland species.

Slopes covered in chaparral vegetation, transected by a desert wash, are among the Sonoran Desert habitats that support a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. Photo by Chris McCreedy / PRBO.

The Sonoran Joint Venture has since expanded its boundary and influence: it now includes the Mojave Desert to the north, the state of Sinaloa (Mexico) to the south, and the unique coastal scrub of Baja and Southern California to the west. The JV continues its cutting-edge approach with an innovative Awards Program. Recognizing the need for baseline information and education in the desert, the Awards Program has supported an amazing array of projects--north, south, and cross-border.

Last year the Sonoran JV supported training workshops in Mexico, interns and graduate students doing important research, standardized monitoring projects of common and priority species, and Mexican participation in a fall 2003 workshop in Yuma, Arizona. Led by PRBO and coordinated by Terrestrial Ecology Biologist Chris McCreedy, the workshop began work on a Desert Bird Conservation Plan and produced many new partnerships, bringing researchers, government biologists, land managers, and Audubon Society volunteers together for the first time in the name of desert birds--a dynamic convergence for conservation.

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