Remembering and Celebrating Josh

Our community suffered a tragic loss when our first Desert Wildlife Intern and long-time volunteer Josh Skattum died tragically on October 22, 2022 after being involved in a serious car accident. 

Josh with his bright smile and his signature CSDP hard hat taking a selfie while checking wildlife cameras near I-10 East.


Josh was a force to be reckoned with, a ray of sunshine in an often dark world, and we miss him deeply. Folks have come from many different communities in Tucson and his home is Wisconsin to remember Josh and support the healing of his partner TJ. We are so grateful for this community, and for you, and are comforted to know that Josh’s light will never fade. His light and passion for life is amplified in everything we do.

Throughout his 4+ year tenure as a Coalition volunteer with his Desert Monitor teammates Sam Wilber and Courtney Neumeyer and as our intern this past fall, Josh deeply touched and impacted many of our projects and programs. Here is a sampling of how Josh positively contributed to Sonoran Desert conservation and protection:

Beginning in 2016 as our Desert Monitor “Zoo Crew” team with Sam Wilber, Josh monitored four east approach cameras on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge, helping prove the success of the first wildlife bridge in the Sonoran Desert.

Assisted staff with wildlife camera placement and deployment decisions.

Recruited and trained new Desert Monitor volunteers for our program.

Documented the first badger using the wildlife bridge after searching for badger burrows and placing a camera to confirm. Josh’s cameras were very successful at finding badgers across all of our projects.

Taught close to 1,000 kids about wildlife tracks and wildlife corridors during our Critter Cam for Kids Field Days.

Was instrumental in launching and maintaining nearly 40 cameras for our I-10 East monitoring project, which has led to conservation plans for new crossing structures and funnel fencing for black bears and other wildlife, and the expansion of our Tucson-Tortolita linkage monitoring project east of I-10.

Documented the first kit fox ever photographed on one of our cameras.

Shared an enthusiasm for documenting species using the iNaturalist app, collecting records for 91 different species (including quite a few fungi!). Explore his observations here.

Promoted our work and organization in his other social circles, inlcuding the Feminist Birding Club, the Reid Park Zoo, and Pima County Master Naturalists. Josh is one of the reasons Arizona Master Naturalists became a CSDP member group this year. 

As our first Desert Wildlife Intern, Josh came up with new ideas to improve our volunteer training and science communications, ideas which we will continue to implement, and helped put on our Volunteer Appreciation events in September.

He was a big part of the planning team for the first Tortolita Preserve Bio Blitz, held shortly after his passing. The wildlife camera dedicated in his name is located here, and collected data during the Bio Blitz in his stead. This data will be used to protect the Preserve permanently.

Josh had an incalculable impact simply by being himself: authentic, enthusiastic, kind, curious, and patient, with bright ideas and an even brighter laugh.

Josh was an inspiration to those around him in other ways too. He bravely and humbly knew the life he wanted and threw himself towards it completely. As author T.J. Klune writes, “Sometimes… you were able to choose the life you wanted. And if you were the lucky sort, sometimes that life chose you back.”  Poet Richard Shelton writes in his poem “Desert”:

“Those who have lived here longest
and know best
are least conspicuous.
The oldest mountains are lowest
and the scorpion sleeps all day
beneath a broken stone.

If I stay here long enough
I will learn the art of silence.
When I have given up words
I will become what I have to say.”

Josh needs no more words. He lived what he had to say. He lived the life he wanted.

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In addition to dedicated tree and saguaro plantings, and other ways we are each remembering him, the following planned events will be held in March 2023 in his memory:

Save the Date

Saturday March 4th
Join family and friends for a celebration of life event and hike in Sabino Canyon

 

Sunday March 5th
Bench and brick dedication event at the Reid Park Zoo

 

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If you want to do something in Josh’s memory yourself, here are some ideas:

Share photos and stories with us to include in a memory scrapbook

Curl up and read one of Josh’s latest favorite cozy fantasy books,
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Kline
.

Raise a toast with Josh’s favorite iced lavender americano with oat milk, or an expresso,
and a jalapeño cheddar cream cheese bagel from his favorite Tucson coffee stop, The Coffee Exchange.

Visit the Reid Park Zoo and tell the Sun Bear that Josh says hello.

Rekindle your wonder and excitement in nature, and build your own iNaturalist or eBird observation list.
Teach a friend what you learn.

Live your life as Josh did: with joy and authenticity.

Drive with greater patience, kindness, and awareness, because every car on the road carries someone who is loved.

 

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When Josh joined our staff as our first Desert Wildlife Intern in August 2022, he shared the following bio for our website, which we want to preserve here:

I first started to expand on my passion and interest surrounding wildlife conservation during my undergrad studies at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point where I studied Wildlife Research and Management, Biology, and Captive Wildlife Management. This academic setting led me into discovering the empowering experience of being involved in volunteer fueled non-profits that engage their local communities in land stewardship, environmental education, and community science.

This passion continued on as I relocated to Tucson, Arizona in 2018 as I pursued my wildlife career as a zookeeper while also jumping into the Community Science Desert Wildlife Program for the Coalition as a Pima County Master Naturalist (PCMN). One of my service projects as a Master Naturalist is contributing towards the Coalition’s research on how wildlife linkages between our sky islands are impacted by roads and infrastructure. This project started with volunteering alongside PCMN Sam W, maintaining wildlife cameras at three sites: the Oro Valley wildlife overpass location, along I-10 (outside of Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon), and now currently outside of the Tucson Mountains. When I’m not checking wildlife cameras, I also serve on the PCMN Board as the Communications Committee Chair. Within this role I help create an inclusive environment while sharing the Cultural and Natural history of Arizona as well as our Pima County Master Naturalist’s experiences and volunteer work. Arizona is such an incredibly diverse landscape filled with so many incredible people! I’m excited to see how this desert internship interfaces with both wildlife science and science communication! 

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Josh was a Desert Monitor for so many of our cameras over the years that we have many candid photos of him checking cameras, along with a variety of other photos out volunteering in the desert and the community. We’ve put these photos together into the slideshow below (click on the slideshow below to make it bigger): 

 

Finally, in November 2022, we placed a new wildlife camera named for Josh, the SKATTUM camera, in the Tortolita-Tucson Mountains wildlife linkage. On the ID tag for the camera, Jessica Moreno, our Conservation Science Director, stamped in the quote, “Some bring a light so great that even after they are gone, the light remains.” The photos below are of our staff setting up Josh’s camera in a beautiful stretch of Sonoran Desert at the Tortolita Preserve, along with the first wildlife photos captured by the camera (click on the slideshow below to make it bigger). 

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