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Arizona’s Natural Infrastructure

Arizona’s natural infrastructure includes lands & waters that preserve the state’s natural heritage and open space. We developed a natural infrastructure dataset by integrating 12 studies on wildlife habitat and open space, and used it to evaluate future growth scenarios.

Geographic data of Arizona’s natural infrastructure

In 2008, we created a statewide map and dataset of Arizona’s natural infrastructure by integrating 12 statewide and regional information sources.

Arizona’s natural infrastructure includes:

  • sensitive biological lands and waters: areas supporting core habitat or providing corridors for wildlife as identified by 5 scientific studies
  • open space plans: areas with existing or proposed designation for outdoor recreational use as identified by multiple county & municipal governments and community open space plans

By analyzing individual natural infrastructure layers, users can query the data to identify the sensitive species’ habitat, wildlife corridors, and designated open space that might be affected by different planning scenarios.

Additionally, natural infrastructure data are well-suited for regional and smart growth planning initiatives. The composite dataset of all 12 studies enables users to evaluate alternatives for harmonizing future urban and transportation infrastructure with protection of our natural infrastructure. In the examples below, we use the natural infrastructure dataset to evaluate future growth scenarios in Arizona

Arizona’s natural infrastructure faces an uncertain future

Arizona’s population is projected to double by 2050 and the associated urban footprint may quadruple. An analysis of growth projections and the natural infrastructure reveals that if growth follows current projections, we would lose nearly 2 million acres of natural infrastructure by 2050 (see figure 1). This loss of desert, grassland, and forest habitat could adversely impact at least 120 species of concern.

Areas in yellow are portions of the natural infrastructure – nearly 2 million acres – that would be converted to urban areas under current growth projections of 2050
Figure 1. Natural infrastructure and the projected urban footprint in 2050.

Evaluating Arizona's future growth

Natural infrastructure data can be used with growth models to evaluate alternative futures. Below we illustrate alternative growth scenarios for the three metro counties of Arizona’s Sun Corridor – Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima.

Based on current growth projections, 600,000 acres of natural infrastructure would be lost to urban growth by 2050 in the Sun Corridor (see figure 2). However, analysis using the natural infrastructure data illustrates that we have options to avoid these losses. In figure 3, areas in blue represent 2.7 million acres of private and state lands outside of the natural infrastructure that are currently undeveloped. Shifting projected development into these areas would minimize direct impacts to the natural infrastructure.

Although additional factors would need to be considered in more detailed analyses, such as the effects to groundwater and streams that support riparian habitat, this example illustrates how natural infrastructure data can integrated into growth planning.

Left: Under current growth projections, 600,000 acres of the natural infrastructure would be lost to urban development by 2050 (yellow). Right: Areas in blue represent 2.7 million acres of private and state lands that would remain undeveloped in 2050 and outside of the natural infrastructure. These areas provide options for avoiding direct impacts to the natural infrastructure
Figures 2 & 3. Alternative growth scenarios for Arizona's Sun Corridor.
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