Sustainability: McDowell Sonoran Preserve Research Symposium

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A symposium will be held on Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a 30-thousand acre preserve with 150 miles of hiking trails. The symposium will be held at Scottsdale Community College and will bring together researchers, students, stakeholders, citizens and community leaders to share and learn about research in the preserve. John Weser, executive director of Scottsdale Community College’s Center for Native and Urban Wildlife and Melanie Tluczek, McDowell Sonoran field institute manager, will tell us more about the symposium and the preserve.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll tell you about a symposium coming up to share information regarding the McDowell Sonoran preserve. And we'll talk about the importance of parental and community involvement in education. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Steve Goldstein, in for Ted Simons. Arizona governor Doug Ducey says his education funding plan is evolving as he engages in talks with lawmakers and educators. The governor said today the plan he proposed in June to increase payouts from the state land trust to provide more money for education is being revised. A recent report indicates Arizona's budget will have extra money from tax revenues, and the governor has hinted using some of that to fund education.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: In tonight's sustainability segment, we tell you about a symposium that will be held this weekend about Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran preserve. The preserve encompasses 30,000 acres with 150 miles of hiking trails. The symposium will be held at Scottsdale Community College and will bring together researchers, students, stakeholders, citizens, and community leaders to share and learn about research on the preserve. Here to tell us more is John Weser, executive director of Scottsdale Community College's center for native and urban wildlife, and Melanie Tluczek, McDowell Sonoran field institute manager. Welcome to you both.

MELANIE TLUCZEK: Thank you.

JOHN WESER: Thank you.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Melanie, first of all, I happen to live fairly close to the preserve and have been lucky enough to hike it. Unique project, and in terms of the entire country really, how did it get started and how has it grown?

MELANIE TLUCZEK: Well, the McDowell Sonoran preserve -- it was a 30,000 acre dream not too long ago and it became a reality because of the citizens of Scottsdale who voted twice to tax themselves to put money aside for the preserve, and because of the early efforts of advocates, such as McDowell Sonoran land trust at the time, which became the McDowell Sonoran conservancy, and Scottsdale community college center for wildlife the organizations were partnering early on to really advocate for the preserve. As the city of Scottsdale began to buy up land and the preserve became more and more of a reality, we started thinking that in order to conserve it in the long term, we would need to know what it consisted of, what plants and animals were there. What resources we had. You can't preserve or conserve something if you don't know what it is.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: You have some numbers, right, as far as the flora and fauna are concerned --

MELANIE TLUCZEK: Launched a full survey of plants and animals in 2011. Survey ended formally in 2013, although we're still counting. The numbers were somewhere upwards of 749 plants and animals on the preserve. We have about 383 plants, I think. And the numbers go on from there. For anyone who tells you that the Sonoran desert is boring, you can quote that.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Symposium, as you mentioned, a long list of types of folks that are going to be there. Why is it so important to bring these stakeholders together to discuss what has gone on and what could go on in the preserve?

JOHN WESER: For several reasons. One is a diverse group of researchers. We're trying to bring them together so that they can communicate and to foster additional projects. We're involved at Scottsdale community college to support that effort to hopefully engage our students further in the research and that's what our center really was designed to do is to provide opportunities for our students at the community college level to get involved in research, biology research, to encourage citizen science, and you don't see that much in the community college systems throughout the country and so our students, partners like the conservancy and others, you know, provide these opportunities for students to actually learn by doing.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: For those of us who have lived here -- I have lived here most of my life -- is there a feeling that sometimes people don't grasp how unique the Sonoran desert is and how much does this sort of thing help?

JOHN WESER: It is immensely important. That is what we are advocating and still advocate. And that is to provide opportunity, not only for students but to citizenry and to get out and to see what's around them. More you learn about it, the more you're going to want to keep it around. And to preserve it. And that fosters not only that interest, but it also helps to communicate it to other generations and we're involved in getting a lot of diverse groups, age groups of people involved.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Melanie, what are some of the core topics that will happen at the symposium. What are a few that come to mind for you?

MELANIE TLUCZEK: We just finished facilitating the first highly detailed geologic map of the preserve. There were many former maps that had parts and pieces, but this is really going to tell the story. And that project is heavily involved citizen scientists. So that -- that is headlining, that's first. We are also going into little bit of the history of the center for native and urban wildlife and the McDowell Sonoran conservancy at the beginning was Virginia Cordy, councilwoman for Scottsdale and present for both of those things. Going into the flora of the preserve, fauna of the preserve, the reptiles and amphibians which there is a number of sensitive species on the preserve. Those are going to be important to monitor moving forward. We are going a little bit into the history, anthropology and using drones to monitor non-native plants.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: John, the phrase you both used citizen scientists. I feel we have to delve more into that. How do we define that?

JOHN WESER: We define that as getting the general public involved in research efforts. We can use their eyes, their knowledge, many of them are really adept at knowing the animals and plants and they can help researchers, you know, from photographing unique plants or unique animals, and we can identify those, we can use those in our counts. And really engage them in the scientific process. And I think that inclusiveness allows them to feel, you know, that the preserve is theirs and truly theirs and wanting to keep it.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: How much does that increase the passion that goes into this? The idea that people feel like they have an ownership.

MELANIE TLUCZEK: Phenomenally. We have really developed our citizen science program, partially because we were a small nonprofit, and that represents a humongous resource, as John said. And it has a wonderful secondary benefit of providing people with very deep experience of really getting down and looking at that tiny little plant they would never have noticed. I hear over and over again people say, you know, I will never look at the Sonoran desert the same. So, yeah, it's a very powerful tool.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: And finally, brief amount of time, give you both a brief chance to talk about this. What could be next for the preserve?

JOHN WESER: For the preserve, we can, you know, we hope that this allows researchers to get together and input from the community as a whole to further our research goals and understanding of how best to manage large-scale preserves in an urban setting, and I'm hoping as well for our centers that we can continue and increase the number of projects that our students can become involved with because it is really important that they learn by doing and then we have an outlet for them to share what they have done in our secondary and our outreach education outreach program, which up to date now in 15 years has been close to 16,000 students.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Melanie, a very few seconds. Anything to add to that?

MELANIE TLUCZEK: Yeah, we are really looking at not only providing a foundation for management for the preserves, scientific management, but expanding that outward. We have a panel that we put together as part of the symposium, discussing future of conservation in the valley and that is an important key for the conservancy moving forward.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Thank you for being here.

JOHN WESER: Thank you very much.

John Weser : Executive Director of Scottsdale Community College's Center for Native and Urban Wildlife, Melanie Tluczek: McDowell Sonoran Field Institute Manager

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