National Forest Foundation | Southern Arizona Forest Fund

Southern Arizona Forest Fund

People flock to Southern Arizona to visit the stunning Sonoran Desert and unique sky island mountain landscapes, seek out rare birds and wildlife, and experience its distinctive outdoor lifestyle. Yet, these special places face impacts from fire-prone invasive species, overgrown woodlands, eroded trails, damaged wetlands, and over-loved recreation sites.

The Bighorn Fire in 2020 also had a significant and visible impact across the Santa Catalina Mountain range, including in Sabino Canyon and up on Mount Lemmon, places many in Tucson and throughout Southern Arizona care about deeply.

Working with the Coronado National Forest and local partners, the National Forest Foundation created the Southern Arizona Forest Fund (SAFF) to provide a transparent and simple way for businesses and individuals to invest in and restore the desert and mountain landscapes surrounding Tucson and in Southern Arizona.

How It Works

The NFF and Coronado National Forest are working to address immediate restoration needs. Every dollar donated will be leveraged with additional support from the Forest Service and other partners.

In 2022-2023 Funds will primarily support mitigating wildfire risk in the Sonoran Desert and Sky Island Forest and woodland ecosystems:

  • Together, we will mitigate the risk of unnaturally severe wildfire across the Coronado National Forest through activities to improve forest and desert health and resilience, such as fuels reduction, invasive species management, and ecological restoration.

In 2021, the NFF partnered with Friends of Sabino Canyon to commission the Tucson Audubon Society to conduct an invasive species study in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Together, we are using this information to inform treatment across the range, protecting this beloved destination, reducing fire risk, protecting communities, and saving saguaros.

Funds will be used primarily for three purposes:

Post-wildfire Restoration and Improving Recreation. Improving sustainability, ecosystem health and safety on trails and adjacent areas by conducting activities such as trail maintenance and construction, soil stabilization, erosion control, rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and ensuring safe hiking for Forest visitors.

Engaging the Next Generation of Young Forest Stewards. Providing support for local youth conservation programs, including hands-on trail stewardship and immersive education tied to ecosystem health and fire ecology in the Sonoran desert and southern Arizona’s unique sky islands.

Wildfire Mitigation Work. Mitigating the risk of unnaturally severe wildfire across the Coronado National Forest through activities to improve forest health and resilience such as fuels reduction, invasive species management and ecological restoration.

Whether you live in Southern Arizona, operate a business, or take a vacation, you benefit from the health and sustainability of public lands. Your support goes directly to on-the-ground efforts to reduce wildfire risk and protect these iconic landscapes.

Contributions to the SAFF will be collected by the National Forest Foundation and awarded to local non-profit stewardship organizations and local contractors to implement high-priority projects on the Coronado National Forest. For every $1 donated, $0.85 will go to on-the-ground restoration efforts.

SAFF Fundraising Overview (PDF)

SAFF Fundraising FAQs (PDF)

The Projects

Trails and Access Improvement – Over 75% of the nearly 2 million visitors to the Coronado National Forest use trails during their visit. Hiking is the main activity for more than half of all Forest visitors. Yet, an approximate 150 miles of trails were burned by the Bighorn Fire and about 100 miles remain closed. Popular trails such as the Wilderness of Rocks, Pima Canyon and the Green Mountain Trail are within the burn area boundary. These trails area used by thousands of hikers, runners, mountain bikers and other users each year. View examples of trail conditions, photos and videos here.

Invasive Species Management – Helping to manage or even eradicate invasive species like buffelgrass, fountain grass, and natal grass can reduce the risk of unnatural and high-intensity wildfire in our desert and mountain ecosystems. These weeds devastate landscapes by carrying high-intensity wildfire and burning hot, killing saguaros and other cacti while choking native species out and catalyzing conditions for those same invasive species to thrive.

Together with partners, we are implementing projects across the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains that support native ecosystem function and improve native vegetative communities through recurring treatments and manual removal of invasive species, and where appropriate, reestablish and replant native vegetation.

Woodland and Forest Habitat Restoration - Watershed conditions and wildlife habitat on the Coronado National Forest have degraded due to natural and anthropogenic causes. Restoration is imperative to maintain a healthy watershed and provide appropriate habitat for wildlife. Across this landscape, fuels (overgrown forest conditions) have accumulated and potentially contribute to uncharacteristic fire behavior.

NFF is working with partners to restore woodland and forest ecosystems in the Huachuca FireScape and Pinaleño Mountain landscapes to support several threatened, rare, and important fish and wildlife species.

Youth Engagement - As part of the SAFF, the NFF is proud to partner with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Arizona Conservation Corps on Earth Camp: Conservation Stewards for a New Generation, a program that connects underserved high school students to the diverse Sonoran desert ecosystem and provides skills in restoration techniques.

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Rebecca Davidson, Southwestern Regional Director and Youth Programs Director, at [email protected]