Monday, March 2, 2015

Transforming Young Minds Through Restoration Education

During January and February of 2015, Tucson Audubon greatly increased its meaningful work with youth through a number of projects. In this blog, we'll show you three examples of how Tucson Audubon is enlightening local youth minds and transforming their perspectives on the environment and their roles and responsibilities within it.


Guest Blog--Volunteering at Atturbury Wash Restoration
Contributed by Alice Cave

[all picture credits: Rick Fletcher and Alice Cave]

On Friday, February 5, TAS Staff Member Andy Bennett led a special project with the Ironwood Tree Experience Program, and the sophomore class from Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson to continue efforts to restore Atturbury Wash, this time focusing on creating rock structures to impede erosion and conserve water when there is rain. Atturbury Wash is located on the eastern side of Tucson, in Lincoln Regional Park. My husband, Rick Fletcher, and I started volunteering for these projects a couple of years ago when we were visiting in the Tucson area, and now we are spending the winter here and we enjoy working in this area and having a chance to see the birds resident there such as the vermilion flycatcher, phainopepla, and red tailed hawk.

The Ironwood Tree Experience,, is focused on introducing young people to nature, and provides experiences in local schools as well as trips to national parks and other beautiful and ecologically important destinations. Kara Welch and Elise Dillingham represented this group and worked along with the other adult volunteers to guide the students in their efforts.

The students from Salpointe Catholic High School were an impressive group. After an informative talk and tour through the wash, led by Andy Bennett, the students divided into groups and began building "rock mulch" and "one rock dams." After a brief demo, the kids got the idea, and quickly and efficiently built the structures. I was impressed by how focused they were, and how quick they were to understand the concepts. We adults acted as guides.

Andy explains how to build a media luna and the importance of water harvesting in desert restoration

Rick Fletcher helps Salpointe students build a one-rock dam to control erosion at Atturbury Wash

Students building rock media lunas to harvest water and grow vegetation

Salpointe students reflect on their experience and present short discussions
about specific topics that they focused on during the event
Restoration projects such as Atturbury Wash are very satisfying as a volunteer, because it does not take long to see the results and value of your work. For me, the value of Friday's work was not only in the visible rock structures throughout the site, but in witnessing the students' interest in ecology. Sure, they may not all grow up to have ecology careers, but it is not hard to imagine that they would remember their work at Atturbury Wash, and that it might have an impact on their decisions in the future.

Thanks for your post, Alice!


Not too far from Atturbury, Tucson Audubon's "Growing Skills for the Green Economy" project continues to bring innovative ideas and big changes to the Western Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) high school. Staffers Keith Ashley and Andy Bennett introduced the concepts of ecology and ecological restoration during a special hands-on two day intensive lesson. Using the reintroduction of wolves (the school mascot) to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem as an example of species restoration and its role in degraded ecosystems, Ashley and Bennett brought these ideas home and linked them to the restoration work planned at the school. To continue the ecological learning, the students completed an “ecological scavenger hunt” at Tucson Audubon’s urban restoration area at Atturbury Wash that included meeting native species and understanding stream restoration.

WILD students at Atturbury Wash read about the mesquite tree they are sitting on.

As part of the Atturbury Wash ecological scavenger hunt, WILD students measure the depth of the wash’s incision.
We asked some of the students at WILD to reflect upon transformational moments during which they recognized the importance of the natural world. Here are some of their thoughts:

Caleb: Before coming to WILD and meeting all the amazing people through its partnerships, I felt that this world was pretty hopeless. We are constantly destroying it without a second thought, killing animals and disrupting the ecosystem, mining resources using inefficient methods, pouring pollution into the atmosphere--all without even realizing what we were doing, not only to the earth, but to ourselves. The planet is dying, and before being introduced to organizations who are trying to fix the mess we created, I didn’t know that it shouldn’t be. I felt it was fairly normal, I mean everything dies in the end. But I didn’t know that not only was this unnatural, but that there were many ways to prevent this. Meeting people from the Audubon Society and going through some of their lessons allowed me to realize that even making a small change for the better in the environment could drastically change the situation we are in. Going through projects focused on improving the habitat around our campus for plants and animals alike helped me gain skills to change the future and make it a better place for the generations to come.

Laynah: I started to realize the environment was important when I noticed all the housing developments that were coming up in Tucson. I saw how many habitats were being destroyed by the developments, and I realized that in turn, the desert wildlife was being compromised. That is when I started to understand just how important sustaining our environment is.

Devon: The first time that I started to think of the environment was when I first came to WILD and saw how much the school did to fix the environment around them. This made me want to do the same thing. Today I do all I can to help my own family. One thing I have helped with at the school is the green-house and helping WILD work with Tucson Audubon Society to help restore our native bird habitats at our own school. ~ Devon Francisco Lopez

One component of this exciting project are two growing structures that the students are building on the school grounds--a hoop-house and shade-house--that will be used to enrich the school's curriculum through the growing of native plants important to wildlife. These plants will eventually be planted in water harvesting basins on the school's degraded landscapes.

WILD students putting the finishing touches on the hoop-house frame

The hoop-house and shade-house await their respective coverings of thick plastic and shade cloth
On February 21, Tucson Audubon and WILD held a community workshop focused on native plant propagation and seed collection. Local experts Berni Jilka from Nighthawk Natives and Gary Maskarinec from Wildlands Restoration enriched participant's knowledge of the subject matter and also donated native seed, pots, and other supplies. We planted about 75 pots of 10 native grasses, shrubs, and tress that day, and several have already germinated.

WILD students Michelle and Precise (right) get dirty mixing potting soil
for native plants. Berni Jilka from Nighthawk Natives (upper right corner) helped us put
together a mix perfect for natives.

Gary Maskarinec leads a plant identification and seed collection walk through the
WILD school grounds. We collectively identified 18 native species and 11 non-natives present on the property.
On March 28th we'll continue this project with an Urban Restoration Community Workshop. During this exciting hands-on workshop we'll teach the basics of rainwater harvesting and native plant care by constructing basins and planting them with 100 native plants. For more information about this project and the community workshop series, contact Andy Bennett.