Friends of Sonoita Creek (FOSC) met at The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s 36-acre wooded parcel across the street from Doc Mock Park, a fitting site for the opening segment of the watershed organization’s annual membership meeting.
After welcoming the 40 or so attendees, President Bob Proctor turned the emcee duties over to FOSC board member and secretary Kathy Pasierb who explained that the outdoor setting was chosen because it will soon feature a new trail, to be built this summer by the youth participating in the Borderlands Restoration Network Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) program. Funded by a grant from the University of Arizona, the BECY youth will not only create the trail, they will design and install interpretive signs that will identify the native plants and animals found along the trail and nearby.
Aaron Mrotek, recently appointed manager of TNC’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, told the audience how grateful he is for the community spirit he has experienced since coming aboard last summer. The multi-agency collaboration that has resulted in the new trails being built on Conservancy property is a notable example of what can be achieved when people and organizations work together. Mrotek further explained the work his organization is doing to eradicate invasive plant species and restore native species. Of special concern are the Arizona cottonwoods that are having great difficulty regenerating in the riparian corridor along Sonoita Creek. To address that challenge, Mrotek announced a “massive” restoration project that will see some 500 cottonwoods planted along Sonoita Creek. Volunteers will be needed to complete the project.
Howard Buchanan introduced three fellow staff members of Tucson Audubon Society who are working closely with TNC to eradicate invasives and restore native plants at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds and on other nearby landscapes.
Jay Snowdon, Invasive Plants Project Manager; Cally Wilken, Mitigation Program Manager; and Aya Pickett, Restoration Program Manager, described their unique roles in eradicating such invasives as tree of heaven, Johnson grass and vinca and restoring native flora and fauna. They noted that they are collaborating with Forever Quail to restore habitat essential to maintaining a healthy population of Montezuma quail, a favorite target species for small game hunters found only in the borderlands of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico.
Activities then moved indoors to Cady Hall, where a standing-room-only crowd materialized. Pasierb, also serving as the emcee for this part of the meeting, presented special thank you gifts to volunteers Jonathan Smith and Rita Bradley.
Pasierb then reviewed the organization’s current educational and citizen science programs by describing the Healthy Water Education program she conducts with Patagonia students in fifth and eighth grades. Through classroom sessions and field trips to Patagonia Lake State Park, Pasierb teaches students the importance of protecting the Sonoita Creek Watershed and instructs them in water quality sampling techniques.
John Hughes explained the Rapid Stream Riparian Assessment Program which FOSC has conducted several times in recent years. Developed by University of New Mexico wildlife biologist Peter Stacey, the RSRA assessment trains citizen scientists to measure 25 different indicators of the health of a stream and its riparian habitat. Volunteers are needed to conduct the assessment scheduled for May 21 this year.
Proctor spoke about the Wet/Dry mapping project which collects data to document where the Sonoita Creek water flows on the surface and where it flows underground. Measurements are also taken on Harshaw Creek, the largest tributary in the Sonoita Creek watershed.
David Christiana described the water sampling and testing activities that the organization does as part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s Water Watch Program. That presentation prompted several questions from the audience about the quality of water in the creeks and the groundwater table.
The group then elected the following officers for the coming year: President, Robert Proctor; Secretary, Kathy Pasierb; and Treasurer, David Christiana.