ADOT, partners protect native cactus before bridge project

Work to remove Arizona hedgehog cactus from below the Pinto Creek Bridge. (Photos by Eirini Pajak)

While Arizona Department of Transportation biologists and partner organizations prepare to replace the Pinto Creek Bridge on US 60 east of the Valley, they were protecting native cactus.

As some workers rappelled down the canyon walls to accomplish the task, according to a press release, other biologists worked on the rim to collect seeds and haul out samples.

Summertime efforts included collecting samples, seeds and stem cuttings of the Arizona hedgehog cactus, which exists only in areas in Gila and Pinal counties north of the Gila River.

“We have a responsibility to make sure the plants and animals that make Arizona special are protected,” said Josh Fife, ADOT’s biology team lead, in a prepared statement. “We’re proud that the work we did will make sure the Arizona hedgehog cactus will continue to exist in the one special place in the world where they thrive.”

An upcoming ADOT project will replace the steel Pinto Creek Bridge, which spans a canyon at milepost 238 of US 60 between Superior and Globe.

Built in 1949, the bridge is outdated and surpassed its original life expectancy of 50 years, the release said, adding that workers will build supports for the new bridge and remove supports for the current bridge on slopes house many Arizona hedgehog cacti.

About a foot high, usually covered in spines and often with red flowers at the top, Arizona hedgehog cactus looks like the small animal it’s named after, the release described. The species is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is protected under Arizona law.

Protecting native plants and wildlife is part of every ADOT project as demonstrated along the South Mountain freeway’s 22-mile corridor, where saguaros, barrel cactuses and palo verde trees are being kept in temporary nurseries until they can be replanted along the freeway, the release noted.

Meanwhile, biologists working on the project relocated animals including chuckwallas and burrowing owls. New Ina Road bridges over the Santa Cruz River in Marana, built as part of an ADOT project creating a modern interchange at I-10, include bat boxes that became a new home for bats living in crevices under the old bridge.

The Federal Highway Administration funded the effort. ADOT biologists and engineers, representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and Tonto National Forest, removed items from areas that will be affected by construction will be replanted when work is complete.

The Queen Creek Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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