National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Executive Summary

Columnar Cactus Habitat at Organ Pipe Cactus NM
Columnar Cactus Habitat at Organ Pipe Cactus NM

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of national parks for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. NPS Management Policies (2006) state that "The Service will also strive to ensure that park resources and values are passed on to future generations in a condition that is as good as, or better than, the conditions that exist today."

As part of the stewardship of national parks for the American people, the NPS has begun to develop State of the Park reports to assess the overall status and trends of each park's resources. The NPS will use this information to improve park priority setting and to synthesize and communicate complex park condition information to the public in a clear and simple way.

The purpose of this State of the Park report is to:

  1. Provide to visitors and the American public a snapshot of the status and trend in the condition of a park's priority resources and values;
  2. Summarize and communicate complex scientific, scholarly, and park operations factual information and expert opinion using non-technical language and a visual format;
  3. Highlight park stewardship activities and accomplishments to maintain or improve the State of the Park;
  4. Identify key issues and challenges facing the park to help inform park management planning.

Click to expand and contract panels. Expand All / Collapse All

The purposes of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are to:

  1. Perpetuate for future generations a representative sample of the natural and cultural resources of the Sonoran Desert and provide for public understanding, safe use, and enjoyment of the same.
  2. Serve as a natural laboratory for understanding and managing the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.
  3. Serve as a baseline indicator against which environmental changes can be identified.
  4. Preserve for future use and enjoyment the character and values of this designated wilderness.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is significant because it is one of the most biologically diverse protected areas in the Sonoran Desert Region of North America, providing habitat for a wide variety of desert adapted plants and animals, including numerous threatened and endangered species. Visitors to Organ Pipe's Wilderness can experience primitive recreation, expansive vistas, natural night skies, remote solitude and spiritual replenishment in a Sonoran Desert setting. The monument has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a globally important biosphere reserve that is representative of the natural Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Accordingly, the monument has been studied since the early 1940s, serving an international role in research, conservation, and education. Organ Pipe's Sonoran Desert basin and range landscape includes dramatic mountains and valleys, eroding bajadas or slopes, alluvial fans, and magnificent specimens of columnar cacti. The monument is also significant because of the cultural resources that are found within its boundaries which reflect the long, widespread and varied presence of diverse human groups, including those of Native American, Mexican, and Anglo origin.


The lists below provides examples of stewardship activities and accomplishments by park staff and partners to maintain or improve the condition of priority park resources and values for this and future generations:

Visitor and Resource Protection

  • Daily and sustained law enforcement in a complex border environment
  • One-third of the park is now accessible to visitors, up from 5% previously
  • Provided park-wide training opportunities: implemented operational leadership procedures
  • Provided thousands of hours of protection details in support of diverse monument programs

Visitor Experience

  • Developed new exhibits for the visitor center
  • Expanded outreach programs in Ajo and Why
  • Conducted limited public van tours to Quitobaquito, a unique perennial desert water resource
  • Revised monument newspaper, site bulletins, website, Junior Ranger and Desert Ranger booklets
  • Management of a diverse and successful Volunteers in Parks program
  • Resource briefs and factsheets posted on the Learning Center of the American Southwest website

Resource Management

  • The spring and pond system at Quitobaquito was stabilized in 2011 for the first time since 2005, providing critical habitat for the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish and other species of conservation concern
  • Endangered Sonoran pronghorn recovery project: captive breeding and release to the wild, and supportive recovery infrastructure
  • Sustained abundant population of the endangered lesser long-nosed bat
  • Cross border (Mexico/U.S.) wildlife movement monitoring project
  • Diverse partnerships with tribes, federal and state agencies, universities, Mexican counterparts, and NGOs
  • Historic structure preservation field schools have been implemented each year since 2009 resulting in significant improvement in the condition of treated structures
  • Mitigated damage to archeological site via removal of historical dam structure
  • Surveyed approximately 1,000 acres for cultural resources between 2010 and 2012; documented 20 new archeological sites
  • Moved many of the museum collections at the park to the Western Archeological and Conservation Center repository in 2012 resulting in significant preservation improvements
  • Tri-national symposium addressing Sonoran Desert natural and cultural resource conservation issues
  • Ecological monitoring program implementation—climate, rodent, reptile, vegetation, border impact monitoring, etc.
  • Completed a comprehensive report on the Organ Pipe Cactus Ecological Monitoring Program—2006
  • Completed the Organ Pipe Cactus Vital Signs Report—2010
  • Abandoned mineral lands restoration and bat gate closures
  • Invasive plant and animal monitoring and treatment programs
  • Completed the legal description for the Organ Pipe Cactus wilderness—2010
  • Development of multiple wilderness workshops designed to educate individuals working within wilderness areas
  • Received regional and national wilderness stewardship awards
  • Added two quads to surficial geology maps
  • New NPS border policy and security protocol development
  • Increased monument support of external research scientists—currently approximately 30 permittees

Management Projects and Actions Addressing Border-related Activities

  • Supported diverse border infrastructure proposals: vehicle barrier, pedestrian fence, fiber optic project, high tech surveillance tower system, forward operating base, tactical infrastructure maintenance and repair program, etc.
  • Digitized thousands of miles of unauthorized vehicle routes using remote imagery
  • USGS/NPS multi-year border impacts research project
  • Consolidated multi-agency communications infrastructure on the top of Mt. Ajo
  • Removed numerous abandoned vehicles from within wilderness
  • Restored areas impacted by construction of vehicle barrier, pedestrian fence, and tower network
  • Ongoing multi-year ecological restoration projects designed to mitigate border related impacts
  • Built a new plant nursery to support restoration efforts
  • Built two roads in support of a border security tower network project
  • Frequent mending of fence-breaks associated with border activities and addressing related trespass livestock issues
  • Developed a soundscape monitoring program; soundscape mitigation at tower sites
  • Established horse-trailer pullout on highway in support of U.S. Border Patrol operations
  • Implemented comprehensive interagency road signage and mapping program

Facilities Management

  • Diverse remodeling projects which provided needed improvements to park dorms and housing units
  • Replaced failing sewer system
  • Multipurpose building/community center erected in park housing area
  • Upgraded campground buildings with showers
  • Fiber optic project implemented—upgrade of communications infrastructure
  • Chip-sealed all paved roads in park
  • Replaced water line for the campground
  • Ongoing expansion of needed office space to meet new and growing needs

The prolonged and ongoing U.S./Mexico border situation influences every aspect of management at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. While impacts on monument resources are common and sometimes severe, many areas are still relatively undisturbed and representative of the pristine Sonoran Desert wilderness that the monument is intended to conserve. Some examples of issues facing the monument include the creation of thousands of miles of unauthorized roads and trails, associated damage to soils and vegetation, interruption of natural ecological processes, expansion of exotic invasive species, disturbance to wildlife movements, recurring vandalism and theft at cultural-resource sites, and an abundance of trash. In response, monument managers are working to understand the extent and nature of these impacts, and are collecting baseline data on unaffected areas to facilitate ongoing and long-range restoration plans. The following is a list of key monument issues that require continued consideration:

  • Ensuring visitor, employee, and resident safety
  • Safety zone management; within the monument certain areas are managed differently as determined during periodic safety assessments
  • Continued implementation of a full range of Visitor and Resource Protection action
  • Addressing diverse and ongoing impacts from border-related issues
  • Continuous engagement with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on diverse border security initiatives
  • Seeking reevaluation of the 2006 MOU between Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture and Interior
  • Finding ways to compensate for diversion of staff time and funding from other duties due to the influence of diverse border issues
  • Preparing for possible plans to expand State Highway 85 to four lanes and 24-hour point-of-entry
  • Monitoring the influence of climate change
  • Continued management of Quitobaquito, and important perennial desert water sources
  • Continued involvement with multiple partners regarding recovery of the critically endangered Sonoran pronghorn
  • Continued close collaboration with tribal and international counterparts regarding diverse Sonoran desert conservation issues
  • Improving wilderness character by preventing and restoring border related impacts within designated wilderness
  • Invasive species management
  • Continued implementation of a robust long-term ecological monitoring program
  • Land acquisition relating to a private land inholding near Lukeville, AZ, two state inholdings, and a park expansion to the north which would permit the development of needed NPS and homeland security infrastructure
  • Addressing housing, administrative space, commuting, and quality of life issues, etc. in support of staff retention
  • Addressing the deterioration of historic cultural resources, which is occurring faster than they can be maintained
  • Implementing rehabilitation/stabilization of archeological sites impacted by border activities
  • Improving our understanding of the effects and rates of natural processes, vandalism, looting, etc. on cultural sites

Summary Table

The Status and Trend symbols used in the summary table below and throughout this report are summarized in the following key. The background color represents the current condition status, the direction of the arrow summarizes the trend in condition, and the thickness of the outside line represents the degree of confidence in the assessment. In some cases, the arrow is omitted because data are not sufficient for calculating a trend (e.g., data from a one-time inventory or insufficient sample size).

Condition Status Trend in Condition Confidence in
Assessment
Condition of resource warrants significant concern Warrants Significant Concern Condition is improving Condition is Improving High confidence in the assessment High
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern Warrants Moderate Concern Condition is unchanging Condition is Unchanging Medium confidence in the assessment Medium
Resource is in good condition Resource is in Good Condition Condition is deteriorating Condition is Deteriorating Low confidence in the assessment Low

Examples of how the symbols should be interpreted:

Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment.
Priority Resource or Value Condition Status/Trend Rationale
Natural Resources
Air Quality Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Sulfate concentrations have decreased during the 30 years since copper mining and smelting were active near the park. However, no trends in nitrate, sulfate, or ammonium concentrations have been documented to date. Learn more »
Water Quantity and Quality Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; medium confidence in the assessment. Perennial springs provide the only reliable year-round water source in the park. Seasonally, tinajas, or naturally occurring water catchments, also provide water. Currently, both tinajas and perennial springs are frequently sought by human travelers and are consequently impacted by related trash and debris which in turn may compromise the availability of these important water features for wildlife. Groundwater is showing a slow, but steady decline. Increases in groundwater consumption by urbanization may be exacerbated by drought. There have been no large deviations from baseline water quality measures at Quitobaquito Pond. Learn more »
Quitobaquito Condition of resource warrants significant concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. In 2006, a severe water loss problem developed at Quitobaquito, a spring and pond system that provides critical habitat for pupfish and an endemic mud turtle. After years of effort by the NPS and other cooperators to address this problem, the pond has been re-established and the system stabilized. Some of the repairs however were temporary in nature and permanent stabilization of the system will require implementation of additional management actions in the near term. Pupfish and mud turtle populations have rebounded, following restoration of the pond. Cultural features of this important landscape are similarly threatened by the existing circumstances, although the NPS is doing what it can to maintain a number of heritage plants. Public access to this popular destination is currently limited.
Learn more »
Soils and Geology Significan cause for concern, declining trend, and high confidence Off-road vehicle activity is abundant, increasing, and causing long-term, widespread impacts to soils, vegetation, and associated ecosystem processes. Resulting impacts such as soil compaction, dust deposition, impacts to biological soil crusts, erosion, sedimentation, interruption of surface hydrology and reductions in plant growth, robustness and recruitment, among others are having localized and widespread ecosystem effects. The park and its partners are currently working to assess these impacts as well as develop and implement restoration projects where opportunities exist.
Learn more »
Threatened, Endangered, and Rare Species Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. While some species' numbers are increasing, concerns remain regarding vulnerability to stressors such as drought or border-related activities, which could act to reverse gains made to date. Sonoran pronghorn continue to recover from a crisis year in 2002; however, this is largely because animals from a semi-captive breeding population are being released to supplement the wild population. With its habitat temporarily stabilized, Quitobaquito pupfish numbers have returned to normal. Lesser long-nosed bat numbers continue a 15-year-long increase. Acuña cactus has experienced severe declines though the cause remains uncertain. Sonoyta mud turtle has been successfully bred in captivity following an emergency evacuation due to the aforementioned impacts to its habitat, and their numbers at Quitobaquito have rebounded. The number of Sonoran desert tortoise detected during surveys in 2005 was similar to data from 1995. Learn more »
Invasive Species Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; medium confidence in the assessment. Buffelgrass and fountain grass are well-established invasive plants that, if left unmanaged, would have long term and widespread impacts. In managed areas, buffelgrass and fountaingrass have been declining. However, in other vast area of the park, where management is more difficult due to border related access restrictions, buffelgrass has been increasing. Other invasive species of concern occur in the park and infestations are managed opportunistically.
Learn more »
Plants Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; medium confidence in the assessment. Climate change predictions for the region implicate persistent drought, warming temperatures, and shortening winters. These drivers are likely to change the distribution of many species, including columnar cacti and high-elevation species. Loss of plant species in the drier, western part of the park could also occur. Some heritage plants have been lost and others are declining. Learn more »
Terrestrial Vertebrate Animals Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Most vertebrate animal species appear to have relatively stable populations and distributions, with fluctuations attributable mainly to weather variations. The potential effects of long-term climate change mentioned above are also of concern for various terrestrial vertebrate groups. For example, some large animals have declined from historical numbers (desert bighorn sheep, Coue's white-tailed deer, and Sonoran pronghorn). Learn more »
Soundscapes Caution condition, declining trend, and low confidence The monument recently began monitoring soundscapes at sites where human activity and noise may affect Sonoran pronghorn and other sensitive wildlife. Preliminary results indicate that the background ambient sound level was less than 15 dBA at night and less than 30 dBA during the day, but noise was audible between 17% and 25% of the day. Noise most often originated from vehicles, which were audible between 12% and 20% of the day. Noise from power generators, jets and low level rotary-winged aircraft was also present. Learn more »
Ecosystem Structure and Function Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; medium confidence in the assessment. In recent years, thousands of miles of off-road vehicular transport have occurred annually within the monument and consequently, unauthorized roads and trails are widespread today. Not surprisingly, the corresponding impacts to monument resources are similarly widespread. Soils, vegetation, and ecosystem processes like surface hydrology, are vulnerable to off-road vehicle use as are wildlife and wilderness character. During this same time, adjacent lands along the international boundary have continued to be developed resulting in further loss of ecosystem integrity. Learn more »
Cultural Resources
Prehistoric Archeological Sites Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The current condition of prehistoric archeological sites varies. Impacts from border-related activities are known to be occurring; however, the extent and frequency of these impacts are currently poorly understood. The NPS is working closely with tribal representatives and other stakeholders to improve its understanding of these issues as well as its ability to manage these important sites.
Learn more »
Historic Sites
(post Spanish contact)
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. The monument has recently conducted numerous condition assessments of historic sites. Many historic features are currently found in degraded condition. In response, the park has recently conducted numerous stabilization efforts. Learn more »
Ethnographic Resources Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Consultation occurs frequently with all culturally-affiliated tribes. The monument routinely engages tribal affiliates to address complex ethnographic issues. Learn more »
Cultural Landscapes Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Cultural Landscape Inventories (CLI) have been completed for Victoria Historic Mining District and Blankenship Ranch. A new Quitabaquito CLI and nomination to the National Register is in progress at this time. Other CLIs are pending. Learn more »
Museum Collections Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. Work is continuing to transfer the park's collections to the Western Archeological Conservation Center where it will be maintained. Accession and catalog records need significant improvement. Work also continues to complete a comparative projectile point and ceramic collection for the monument. Learn more »
Visitor Experience
Visitor Numbers and Satisfaction Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The number of visitors to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 was 21,582, which is lower than the 35,914 visitors in FY07 and 36,883 visitors in FY08. The five-year average for visitor satisfaction was 96.2% for 2007–2011.
Learn more »
Educational and Outreach Programs - Personal Services Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Direct interaction between park staff and visitors through formal interpretive programs, community outreach events, and informal visitor contacts has remained stable. Learn more »
Exhibits, Signs, Websites - Non-personal Services Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. New exhibits were installed in the Kris Eggle Visitor Center in August 2011. The park newspaper, park brochure, park website, and site bulletins have all been updated within the past two years. Learn more »
Recreational Activities Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Many areas of the monument remain closed. Despite these closures, staff continue to provide numerous and diverse visitor opportunities. Visitor satisfaction with their Twin Peaks campground experience in 2011 was 99% satisfied.
Learn more »
Visitor Amenities Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Improvements have been made to visitor facilities in recent years, including new exhibits. Visitor comments remain consistently high, with 92%–99% satisfaction. Cell phone coverage is very limited in some areas of the park. Learn more »
Visitor Safety and Protection Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Overall safety for park visitors is good and on an even trend. Accidents and injuries involving park visitors are rare, the response to those incidents is quick and professional, and non-cross-border-violator crime is rare. Learn more »
Park Community: Volunteers and Partnerships Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument maintains a stable number of volunteer participants and partnerships. Learn more »
Park Infrastructure
Overall Facility Condition Index Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The 187 assets at OPCNM have an overall FCI of 0.061, which is Good based on industry and NPS standards. FCI is the cost of repairing an asset, such as a building, road, trail, or water system, divided by the cost of replacing it. Learn more »
Energy Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Energy usage (BTUs per gross square footage of buildings) in 2012 was 30.8% lower than the average for the previous four years (Source: NPS Annual Energy Report). The park has implemented a number of energy-saving features and practices in recent years, including replacing light fixtures and air conditioners with more energy-efficient ones.
Learn more »
Water Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Average water consumption at ORPI during 2011–2012 increased by 13% over the three-year average for 2008–2010 (Source: NPS Annual Energy Report). This increase is partially attributable to construction and road maintenance projects that were carried out in the park during 2011 and 2012 in support of the Department of Homeland Security.
Learn more »
Wilderness Character
Natural Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Natural resources in wilderness are in a wide array of conditions, due to both natural and human influences. Learn more »
Undeveloped Significant cause for concern, declining trend, and medium confidence Wilderness is substantially degraded by human impacts, mostly due to border-related activities. Vehicle use is common; infrastructure exists within and adjacent to wilderness and is visible from deep within wilderness; low-level aircraft overflights are common; illegal camps and associated impacts are common.
Learn more »
Untrammeled Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is deteriorating; medium confidence in the assessment. Commonly occurring activities manipulate the wilderness' biophysical environment. These include trespass by invasive livestock and feral animals, backcountry vehicle travel, and sometimes restoration actions, e.g., removal of abandoned vehicles. Learn more »
Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation Opportunity Significant cause for concern, declining trend, and medium confidence Sense of solitude is illusory or difficult to achieve. The presence of cross-border violators is common; surveillance equipment and associated interdiction efforts occur throughout wilderness. Evidence of human presence pervades wilderness (trash, footprints, vehicle tracks, aircraft, etc.). Closure of portions of the park to public restricts wilderness experience. Learn more »
Other Features and Values Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Limited opportunities exist to experience various cultural resources that evidence the prehistoric and historic use of wilderness by man.
Learn more »

⇑ To Top of Page

Last Updated: September 11, 2014 Contact Webmaster