This patch of desert, just south of Fruchthendler Elementary School, has a sign on the fence that says "wildlife preserve." Photo by Benjie Sanders/Arizona Daily Star

A fenced-in patch of desert flecked with chollas and scraggly trees sits next to an elementary school in the Catalina Foothills.

A small brown sign hangs on the fence. In white block letters, it reads "wildlife preserve."

Exactly what wildlife is being preserved in the swath of desert just south of Fruchthendler Elementary School, near North Sabino Canyon and East Cloud roads, isn’t readily apparent.

The property itself is owned by Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District, documents in the Pima County Assessor’s Office show. Metro Water is mainly known for providing water to residents on the northwest side of Tucson, but it does have customers in the Foothills, said Assistant General Manager Warren Tenney.

The water company is exploring new well sites and is looking into putting one there, he said.

But it wasn’t Metro Water that proclaimed the area a wildlife preserve, Tenney said.

When acquiring the property, Metro Water started working with the Tucson Unified School District to preserve some of the landscape.

Star archives show that TUSD’s board agreed to sell Metro Water the 58,715-square-foot property at a meeting in August 2009.

Metro Water ordered an appraisal of the site and determined its value at $143,000. Money from the sale was to be used for improvements at the school and some of the land was to remain undisturbed to serve as a nature park for the students, the article says.

Read more in Monday's Arizona Daily Star.