Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tucson Audubon Goes WILD, Kicks Off Restoration Education Program

Just before Thanksgiving, Tucson Audubon and the Western Institute for Leadership Development Charter High School kicked off a year-long ecological restoration and education project entitled "Growing Skills for the Green Economy".  This dynamic project, funded by a Toyota TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, begins a new chapter in K-12 education for Tucson Audubon. Only 19 of these grants were awarded to a pool of over 120 applicants, so we feel very lucky to have been selected. The project is a foundational building block for an Ecological Restoration Education Program that Tucson Audubon aims to develop with area partners.

The highlight of the first morning may have been a visit from NW
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center's amazing raptors, including this Harris Hawk

Growing Skills for the Green Economy will outfit the Western Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) school with several sustainability features. These features will be installed during educational community workshops open to all. A rainwater-fed greenhouse will be used to raise native wildlife-friendly plants that will be planted to restore wildlife habitat on a portion of the school's 10 acres. Several varieties of native food plants important to birds, such as chiltepin, will also be cultivated. Additionally, native plants will eventually be raised for community plant sales held by the students. Rainbarrels and passive rainwater-harvesting basins will also be installed.

During the kick-off, one group of students constructed a scale-model of the hoop house that will be built during a workshop on January 31, 2015. This model will serve as a demonstration to the community of how easy it can be to build such a structure in a backyard or small schoolyard.

Made-in-a-day: the finished hoop house frame

One of WILD's goals-as well as the project's-is to transform the grounds into an oasis for wildlife and people, but there are some challenges. The school sits on the grounds of an old drive-in movie theater lot, so as you can imagine, the native landscape was bladed off, the soil compacted from thousands of cars driving around day after day, making natural regeneration challenging. All of this disturbance produced ideal conditions for invasion by exotic species such as buffelgrass and Russian thistle (tumbleweed).

WILD students and Tucson Audubon staff map out the extent of invasive vegetation at the school (buffelgrass covers the foreground)

During the kick-off, two classes were dedicated to documenting and mapping plant life at the school. The art class collected, identified, and illustrated species present on the grounds.

The science and math classes took on the complex and important task of mapping out invasive species on the school property. One of the goals of the project and essential components of ecosystem restoration is the control of invasive species that can successfully out-compete fledgling native species that are planted.

TAS staffer Jonathan Horst discovering schoolyard plants with WILD students

Math teacher Ramon Munoz checking out invasive tumbleweed

Using GIS, Students generated maps like the one above to illustrate invasive species'
distribution on the school's grounds

Here's a fun little video of the weed-mapping classes created by science teacher Nicole Snook:

Once we had the invasive plants all mapped out, it was time to pull. The Sonoran Desert Buffelgrass Society helped out with an informative presentation and dozens of shovels and trash bags. Everyone teamed up to rip out buffelgrass and tumbleweed.

Throughout the 2-day kickoff, a group of WILD students documented the activities with camcorders and camera, honing their journalism skills by conducting interviews of participants. This is a video that they put together from all of their documentation:

We are looking for volunteers interested in becoming a part of this project. We are especially looking for folks with:
  • greenhouse experience
  • an educational background or educational experience
  • an interest in working with high school students
  • an interest in helping us realize the success of the project through greenhouse maintenance, monitoring, and plant watering over the summer
Contact Andy Bennett @ abennett@tucsonaudubon.org or 520.891.9446

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