September 4, 2020
Jessica Moreno, Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.
Carolyn Campbell, Carolyn.Campbell@
During Pandemic, Community Scientists Adapt to Save the Desert
Tucson, AZ – The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection is celebrating their Volunteer Appreciation Week on September 7-12, 2020, this year virtually. The nonprofit organization made swift changes to accommodate remote work, shutdowns, and social distancing in the last six months since the pandemic hit, in an effort to reduce negative impacts on volunteers and support their ability to do science. Despite current challenges, the Coalition’s community scientist volunteers have kept up their enthusiasm to protect the Sonoran Desert.
“It wasn’t long ago that we had volunteers shoulder to shoulder together with 400 students for Critter Cam Field Day in Catalina State Park last March. Things have changed a lot since then,” says Jessica Moreno, the Coalition’s Conservation Science Director. “But I’m amazed at the participation and community spirit volunteers have shown during this time.”
The Coalition is an alliance of 30 member groups representing over 30,000 members, and has a small staff of four, with a mission to protect the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona through science-based advocacy, education, and collaboration. Their successes in protecting open space and advocating for wildlife crossings is largely due to their grassroots advocacy approach and the more than 60 active volunteers helping behind the scenes. Volunteers check wildlife cameras, sort wildlife photos, conduct roadkill surveys, help with outreach, and more.
New volunteers have joined since the pandemic began and, like college student Andres Martinez, are signing up family members to join them in the field, helping keep field teams within their own “social bubbles.” Other volunteers, like Patrick McGowan and Butch Farabee, are wearing masks and keeping social distance while they hike to check wildlife cameras as “Desert Monitors.” Some take their spouses along, or alternate field days with teammates. Staff deliver batteries and other field supplies on volunteer’s porches, rather than having people visit the office.
Jane “Middy” Henke is a “Desert Identifier” volunteer with the Coalition, who used to come into the office every Tuesday to sort and identify animals photographed by wildlife cameras. The Coalition changed over to a new database system so volunteers could work from home, with optional weekly virtual meeting hours to work together. “Now we can review the photos from our home computers to assign the species and number of animals we observe,” says Henke. “The current challenge for me is working out which type of skunk I may be seeing in a night photo, and maybe puzzling as to whether the nose appearing in the corner of a picture is that of a mule deer, or if it belongs to a white-tail deer!”
Volunteer Appreciation Week, from September 7 to September 12, was created as a virtual celebration to replace events canceled last April. “We want to recognize the significant impact our volunteers make, and thank them for their commitment as we shift procedures to address the effect the pandemic is having on them, and on their work doing wildlife studies,” says Executive Director Carolyn Campbell. “They are the backbone of our work.”
“More than ever right now I think people are looking for empowering and restorative things to do, ways to make a difference, and ways to connect,” says Moreno. “What we are seeing is really hopeful.”
For print-quality images, please contact Jessica Moreno at Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.org.
Tags: community science, volunteers, wildlife cameras, wildlife linkages