This IBA encompasses the large "sky island" mountain range, the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, part of a chain of mountains spanning from central Mexico into southern Arizona, the Sierra Madre. The range is almost 40 miles long by 20 miles wide. The IBA extends from 5000 feet elevation, at the ecotone between grassland and oak, to the top of Chiricahua Peak at 9795 feet. Sierra Madrean species reach the northernmost extension of their ranges within this IBA. Notable are many bird species, including "Mexican" Spotted Owl, but also mammals like the Nayarit red squirrel and trees like the Apache pine. Numerous perennial springs and streams occur within the range, although none flow out of the mountains into the surrounding Chihuahuan desert scrub. The main canyons of the range include: West Turkey Creek, Rucker, and Cave Creek.
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The Chiricahua Range is where the interior Rocky Mountain avifauna meet the northern Sierra Madrean avifauna, as well as a mixing of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Great Basin desert avifauna. Some 375 bird species are known to inhabit the Chiricahua Mountains IBA (Taylor 1997). Of particular importance ornithologically, is the great number of Mexican species whose northern summer breeding range occurs only in the southern "sky island" mountains of Arizona, these species include: Elegant Trogon, Mexican Spotted Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Mexican Chickadee (the latter found only in the Chiricahuas and Animas Mountains in the U.S.). The Elegant Trogon population is the second largest group in the United States after the population within the Huachuca Mountains IBA. Fifteen species of hummingbirds have bred in the IBA. This IBA supports 33 (breeding or resident) Species of Conservation Status, most notably a high percentage of the state population of: Mexican Spotted Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Arizona Woodpecker, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Grace's Warbler, and possibly Crissal Thrasher. Within the last ten years Short-tailed Hawks have nested within this IBA. Historically, Thick-billed Parrots occupied the Chiricahua Mountains, and the habitat remains little changed. Twenty-six birds were reintroduced in 1986, but the reintroduction attempt failed, apparently to the inexperience of the individuals released and predation by raptors. During the course of 2008 guiding, birding and a study of raptor densities in a 50 sq km study area in the Chiricahua mountains Helen Snyder or field assistant David Jasper identified ten Mexican Spotted Owl pairs plus a single bird. The birds were encountered during noturnal surveys for other species of owl. This effort and past US Forest Service surveys provided the data for A1 Global recognition for Spotted Owl.
Historically, livestock grazing has caused the greatest stress to the perennial streams of the canyons, and has caused local impacts. The U.S. Forest Service does not permit livestock grazing in Cave Creek Canyon, and around campgrounds in the higher elevations, but grazing does occur in the lower elevations, and the impacts can be significant in terms of erosion and loss vegetation and biotic diversity. Fire risk due to illegal alien traffic is a concern.
US Park Service, Chiricahua National Monument
US Forest Service, Coronado National Forest, Douglas Ranger District
Southwest Desert Research Station, American Museum of Natural History New York, N.Y. and other Private Property Owners within the forest service boundaries are not recognized as part of the IBA.
The lowest elevation habitats of the range are Semi-desert grasslands (3500 to 4500 feet). Chihuahuan desert scrub stretches up from the valley up on to the lower slopes of the Chiricahuas. Chihuahuan desert scrub is characterized by shrubs such as, creosote, whitethorn acacia, sandpaper bush, and tar bush. Small cactus are present in this zone like prickly pear, cholla, barrel and hedgehog cactus. Soaptree yucca and century plant are also common. Riparian habitat in the Chiricahuas includes (from lowest to highest elevation) cat claw acacia, mesquite, seep willow, desert willow, cottonwood, Arizona sycamore, walnut, alder, maple, oak, Apache pine, and Arizona cypress. Madrean oak woodland extends from 5000 to 7000 feet. This zone is comprised of many oak species, along with alligator and one-seed junipers, and Mexican pinyon pine. Madrean pine-oak follows from 6000 to 8000 feet elevation. This zone is comprised of Ponderosa and Arizona white pine interspersed with Gambel?s oak. Higher up Douglas fir integrate into this zone. Open meadows also occur within this zone with grass and many kinds of wildflowers. Finally montane mixed-conifer forest occurs between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. The forest in this zone consists of Ponderosa and Arizona white pines, Douglas fir, white fir, blue spruce, and quaking aspen, with an understory of shrubs, grasses, and bracken ferns.
The forest lands are managed for multiple uses with an emphasis on wildlife oriented recreation and hunting. A small lake (Rucker Canyon) is seasonally stocked with rainbow trout by the Arizona Game and Fish Department when water levels are sufficient.
A very small part of the range in the northwest corner is protected as the Chiricahua National Monument. The monument protects spectacular erosion features, and provides a scenic drive, many trails, and a visitor center. The small community of Portal, Arizona on the east side of the range, is a primary access point, providing some accommodations and amenities, and is the gateway to numerous campgrounds within the National Forest.
Southwest Desert Research Station, American Museum of Natural History New York, N.Y. has conducted research on fauna and flora since its founding in 1955.