Monday, January 4, 2021

Guest View: Amy Eisenberg, Ph.D. ~ Sonoran Desert Tortoises are Greatly Imperiled by Unsustainable Development in Oro Valley

This Guest View is derived from a letter sent by Dr. Eisenberg to the Town of Oro Valley regarding the proposed residential development of the Kai Property at First and Tangerine. LOVE added the subheadings. The destruction described below was witnessed on the large contiguous Kai parcel from Palisades Road to Tangerine. This is a large tortoise habitat that has been greatly reduced and fragmented due to development on that parcel.

A public hearing on this General Plan Amendment and Rezoning will be held this Wednesday, January 6th during a Town Council Special Session Zoom Meeting.  You may join the meeting and comment.  A link to the Zoom meeting can be found HERE

Sonoran Desert Tortoise dens destroyed by Meritage Homes and Capri Co., LLC
As stewards who reside in the adjacent community, we understand and witness that this parcel has environmental and archaeological significance: Sonoran Desert Tortoises - Gopherus morafkai reside on this parcel and some of their dens were destroyed during Capri Co., LLC trenching and Meritage Homes development during tortoise brumation! This is unlawful, unethical, unacceptable and disgraceful. I contacted the President of Meritage Homes, Jeff Grobstein and Steve Hilton as well as Game and Fish to no avail!

*No hired biologist monitored this before the destruction except myself, and I was not consulted by the developers who destroyed the tortoise dens and burrows.

An illegal dumping ground
There are significant native plants and trees on this parcel as well as ancestral tools, Native American trails, ceramic shards and worked stone. Kai and Capri have been irresponsible and negligent land owners and developers. Kai has allowed this parcel to be an illegal dumping ground for many years. As stewards, we reported illegal dumping on this site to the police on numerous occasions.

Unsustainable development of this parcel leads to environmental impacts to the native plant and animal communities as well as the human community. Meritage Homes is currently trashing the parcel and workers are leaving their garbage and recyclables all around the perimeter of the Meritage Homes development zone. It is disrespectful and unacceptable. I reported this illegal dumping to Oro Valley Government, the Arizona Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau.

Lack of respect towards native plants, trees, and wildlife
A healthy intact environment sustains life. The continued destruction of this parcel with its significant plants, trees and animal communities will be further harmed by this proposed development and it will further impact the human community. Extensive trash, destruction of animal burrows and dens, workers treating the desert parcel as a wasteland, workers defecating and leaving their fecal matter and wiping paper is a health and sanitation hazard and violation. I reported this to Oro Valley government to no avail!
Tortoise Den on Kai parcel

Shame on Kai and Capri Co., LLC for their unethical and shoddy practices of digging deep vertical trenches that entrapped native animals without placing barriers, destroying tortoise habitat, burrows and dens, and archaeologically significant sites and trails. Our human health and well-being are inextricably tied to a healthy environment. Kai, Meritage Homes, and Capri Co., LLC have negatively impacted the environment with their irresponsible development practices, negligence and illegal dumping.

Oro Valley government is certainly complicit
Oro Valley gives a green light to many unsustainable developers who have irreparably altered the natural environment to a great extent. There are mounds of hundreds of pounds of rusting cables and rusting hardware on this parcel that have been dumped there for decades. This impedes the growth of native plants and the safety of native animals that travel in this zone. It appears that Kai is not at all concerned that illegal dumping has been occurring on this once beautiful parcel and this is lamentable. As Arizona stewards, we greatly care and have cleaned up hundreds of pounds of illegally dumped trash by Meritage Homes, American Tower workers, contractors, Capri Co., LLC workers and others. These irresponsible adults should be cleaning up after themselves, but sadly, this is not the case.
Demolished tortoise habitat

A sacred homeland
This type of shoddy development is unsustainable, unacceptable, and negligent. NO, indeed, we are strongly opposed to this proposed development project. Enough damage has been done to this once pristine and beautiful parcel that is rich with Native American history in the Tohono O’odham Haki: Dag - the sacred homeland of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

As knowledgeable stewards and citizens, we must all carefully and responsibly respect and safeguard the Sonoran Desert Tortoises that still live on this greatly fragmented parcel. Sonoran Desert Tortoises and their broken habitat will surely be further devastated by the impending proposed development. They will not survive the onslaught! Gopherus morafkai urgently need Federal Protection to ensure their perpetuity and wellbeing. These magnificent creatures of the Sonoran Desert greatly deserve this.

[As previously reported on LOVE, the proposals for the remaining undeveloped land on this parcel include five land use options: apartments, rental casitas, townhomes, senior care facility, and single family residential.]

- - -
Dr. Eisenberg is an ethnoecologist and botanist who teaches at the University of Arizona and is an Associate Scholar with Center for World Indigenous Studies. She has authored and co-authored numerous articles on indigenous peoples’ issues, social and environmental impact assessment, and sustainable natural resource management.