Author Archive

Support the 30×30 campaign

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Have you heard of the 30×30 campaign? While this campaign has circulated for a while, it hit the national news recently when President Biden pledged in an Executive Order to preserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This ambitious goal is being called a “moonshot.” 

According to this recent article in The Guardian:

“One of the real exciting opportunities for [30 by 30] is that it’s really not a top-down mandate, where someone in DC is drawing the map and getting us towards 30%,” said Sierra Club lands, water and wildlife director Dan Ritzman. “The idea is really locally driven conservation efforts – these are bottom-up campaigns, where people familiar with the land and affected by its management will be deeply involved in its conservation.”

Even more information about the 30×30 campaign can be found in this article at newscientist.com

Want to take action in support of the 30×30 campaign?

First, contact Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema today and express your support for the 30×30 campaign, including the recently introduced Grand Canyon Protection Act. 

Senator Kelly’s DC Office: (202) 224-2235

Senator Sinema’s DC Office: (202) 224-4521

Here’s a sample phone script to help with your phone call:

“My name is _______ and I live in _______, Arizona. I want to thank Senator ______ for his/her support of efforts to protect Arizona’s wild lands and for introducing the Grand Canyon Protection Act in the Senate. I care about this issue because _________.

As you know, scientists are telling us that we need to protect 30% of nature by 2030 if we are going to stop the worst impacts of climate change. That’s why I’d also like to ask Senator _____ to publicly support the Biden Administration’s efforts to protect 30% of nature by 2030. We need Senator _______to lead efforts to protect more public lands and nature at home here in Arizona and nationally. Supporting the Grand Canyon Protection Act and 30×30 is a great start. Thank you!”

Second, RSVP for the 30×30 Spotlight Event on the evening of March 25th (exact time TBD). Join us to learn more about the science, challenges, and opportunities of protecting 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 and learn more about opportunities to act in your state. At this event, there will be a speaker from National Geographic discussing the 30×30 campaign and the science behind it. RSVP today at https://forms.gle/TmLEV2YTaBRY4KGN8

Closing the Gap: Fencing gaps near the SR77 wildlife crossings are coming to a close

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by Jessica Moreno, Conservation Science Director

The last time I took a stroll down Big Wash, which runs along the west side of Oracle Road, the chill air pressed against my face mask but still managed to carry the smell of triangle leaf bursage and creosote. Gambel’s quail scurried away with their bustling chip-chip-chip alarm call. Dry for most of the year in that characteristic way our desert washes are, Big Wash has served as a connection for animals moving back and forth between the Cañada del Oro Wash and open space north of Rancho Vistoso. It has always been an important wildlife movement area, a key feature in a linkage connecting the Tortolita and Catalina mountains, and now, with two wildlife crossings in place and wildlife monitoring efforts nearing a decade milestone, we are learning more every day about the habits and movements of animals that often remain just out of sight.

Five year ago, when the wildlife bridge and underpass were built on SR77, the red ribbon was cut, the first critter crossed, and we celebrated. But the work wasn’t quite over. In addition to wildlife monitoring, Phase II of the project was to finish placing the last sections of wildlife funnel fencing. Wildlife fencing is an essential part of every successful wildlife crossing and is a vital component of this project to both effectively reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain a connected landscape for wildlife populations and gene flow. But a few jurisdictional issues and challenges to fencing placement threatened to hold up the whole project, so the decision was made to complete the difficult pieces after the crossing structures were done. Arizona Game and Fish Department’s roadkill surveys confirmed hotpots associated with these fencing gaps. It was a problem, but addressing it had to be done right.

One of these fencing gaps was on either side of the wildlife underpass, at the Rancho Vistoso neighborhood of Vista Mirabella. We placed wildlife cameras to monitor the gaps and reached out to the residents and the HOA to help solve the problem. The solution, made possible thanks to the leadership of the Town of Oro Valley and the wise suggestion of one of the residents, is an elegant one. And it may very well be the first of its kind for wildlife exclusion: wildlife fencing connected to the sound wall will close the gaps at the north and south ends of the neighborhood, while specially designed automatic gates will secure the neighborhood entrances.

This is a unique circumstance since these are public streets and the gates, which are designed like a gated community entrance, will open to any approaching vehicle. They are planned to remain open during high volume traffic hours and close at night. The Regional Transportation Authority is covering the cost out of remaining funds from the original crossing construction budget, including re-vegetation and projected maintenance, and Oro Valley is taking responsibility to maintain the gates into the future.

After four years of outreach and problem solving as a community, we hope that construction on this final piece of the puzzle will begin this summer. There are still details to figure out, but light is at the end of the tunnel and the end result, I think, is something everyone can be proud to have taken part in.

A big thanks to Coalition volunteers Pat and Henry Miller for their help in monitoring the fencing gaps and their overall involvement in this project! And thank you to the Regional Transportation Authority, Pima County, the Town of Oro Valley, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department for your shared persistence in this project. 

More information about this project can be found in a Power Point presentation recently created by the RTA and the Town of Oro Valley. 

 

A map of the wildlife fencing gaps near the Oracle Road wildlife crossings.

 

Artistic rendering of one of the proposed wildlife gate design.

 

Wildlife camera photo of a deer taken in one of the wildlife fencing gaps. Photo taken by our COYOTE camera and monitored by Pat and Henry Miller.

Remembering Bob Cratty

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by Terry Minks

Bob was a dear friend to all his acquaintances in Sun City, Oro Valley and to my wife and me ever since we came to live in Arizona 18 years ago. Bob delighted in introducing newcomers to his favorite places throughout Arizona. He was a history buff and was the first person to give us a tour of many historical sites in the state. As a native Arizonan growing up in Ajo, he took us on a fascinating tour of his home town, telling stories of John Greenway’s influence and adding first-hand historical tidbits all along the way. He also led many historical hikes for our Sun City Hiking Club, founded an astronomy program for 5th graders in Catalina that gave each student a telescope, and befriended countless others with his generous spirit. During our many bike rides throughout the Tucson area, always with a food destination, he would customarily leave an extra-generous tip and encourage us to do likewise.

In about 2006 he was instrumental in getting our SCOV board to buy several wildlife cameras to photograph wildlife in our neighborhood. By 2008 he became aware of the UofA Wild Cat study led by Lisa Haynes and arranged for several of us to be trained in wildlife tracking and camera monitoring with Jessica Moreno. We started with Sky Island Alliance and continued later with the CSDP until the present.

He was full of original ideas which he implemented in service to others. He never uttered a harsh word even against those with whom he disagreed and never argued, only presented his own views which were always based on deep reading and thinking on his part. He had a quick wit and was a master storyteller. Many of us recall his deeply researched stories of ants, which he often shared on our hikes and bike rides together.

Bob was certainly a gift to our entire community and will be deeply missed by all of us.

Bob passed away on December 20, 2020. The new CRATTY wildlife camera is named in his memory.

Bob acts like a bobcat to test a camera’s settings for the UA Wild Cat research study in 2008

 

Bob impersonating an early Tucson historical figure for a New Year’s Eve hiking trip in the Tortolita mountains.

 

Bob leading a history hike for a local hiking club.

 

Desert Monitor teammates Bob Cratty and Margie O’Hare check the DEER camera in Oro Valley.

 

All photos provided by Terry Minks. 

We Stand Against the Seditious Attack on Democracy

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We want to acknowledge the seditious attack on democracy at the U.S. Capitol that occurred on January 6th, and the events that continue to unfold as a result of actions by domestic terrorists and white nationalists. At a moment such as this, we cannot be business as usual, and silence is not neutral. From the public comment process to your vote, it is the power of the people that is a central – and imperative – tenet of America’s democracy. We must move forward with a commitment to accountability and justice, and a democracy that works for everyone equally. As we pause to process and witness where we are in American history, our hope for a better future is as strong as our determination that democracy will prevail.   

Read additional statements from other groups:

500 Women Scientists: This is America Don’t Look Away

Green Latinos Statement Condemning Terrorism on Capitol Hill

 

 

The future of our Community Science Program

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As we plan for 2021, we wanted to share with you where we are with each of our community science projects, and what’s new coming on the horizon!

Volunteers have thus far contributed over 1,100 hours and 4,600 miles this year! Whether you help as a community scientist, or as a volunteer writing comment letters, stuffing envelopes, or for outreach, THANK YOU all for your continued dedication and effort on behalf of the desert and our desert wildlife. 

Monitoring the Oro Valley Wildlife Crossings

Two deer on the Oracle Road wildlife bridge in March 2020. Photo by Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass in Oro Valley were constructed in 2016. Our cameras have been in place near here since 2012. To date we have gathered over 200,000 photos of wildlife across 52 sites. We’ve seen over 62 species, including bighorn sheep, badger, coati, and mountain lion. We currently have 28 active cameras.

In 2021, we will be reducing the number of cameras here a bit (don’t worry volunteers, you’ll be part of this team discussion!), sharing up ’til now data analysis, and settling in for a more focused monitoring effort as we finish re-vegetation efforts on the crossings and work to resolve a few remaining gaps in the wildlife fencing.

We are working in partnership with Arizona Game and Fish who is monitoring the animals using the crossing structures (over 10,000 crossings thus far!), conducting roadkill surveys, and mapping desert tortoise and mule deer movements with GPS trackers. You can see their most recent results here.

Safe Passages for Wildlife I-10 East

A bobcat uses an existing underpass in the I-10 East area. 

Our project to improve safe wildlife passage across I-10 near Cienega Creek has been underway for a couple years now. Roadkill surveys have been completed and that analysis will be available by the end of January. We have 34 active cameras that were placed early this year to track the passage rates of animals using culverts under the interstate. With over 300,000 images gathered so far (and plenty of blanks to weed out), we are still catching up on photo sorting (thank you Desert Identifiers!), but we’ve seen mule deer, whitetail deer, black bear, coati, mountain lion, ringtail, a badger, four different skunk species, and wild turkey, among many others. Here is the last video update we made of our results.

We will be extending this monitoring another year under our AZGFD Heritage Grant. So far this data has helped contribute to Pima County’s Cienega Corridor Management Plan. Improved crossings structures and wildlife funnel fencing is our goal.

Monitoring the Tucson Mountains & the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor

Two coyote pups in the Tucson Mountains. Photo by Raynor Vandeven.

Another priority area is the northern end of the Tucson Mountains and the Avra Valley Wildlife Corridor across I-10 towards the Tortolita Mountains. CSDP has been advocating for protected open spaces here including the Tortolita Preserve and El Rio Preserve, the expansion of Tortolita Mountain Park, and protected open spaces within private developments. We also want to see wildlife crossings across the interstate. Currently, only a single abandoned railroad underpass may provide safe wildlife passage.

Since 2015, we have monitored 23 sites here, photographing more than 30 species including badger, mule deer, gray fox, and javelina. We have 16 active cameras now, but in 2021 we will be expanding this project to 22 camera sites, including in the El Rio Preserve and the Santa Cruz River, and for the first time expanding to cameras placed in the old railroad underpass and east of I-10 in newly acquired Pima County lands.

Monitoring the Proposed I-11 Route

A coyote in the proposed I-11 corridor. Photo by Raynor Vandeven.

As part of our work to fight the proposed I-11 freeway west of the Tucson Mountains that would harm Saguaro National Park West and established wildlife linkages, we placed cameras in 2016 to gather images and help outreach to local residents. This data is also used as part of our Tucson Mountains project. We currently have 2 active cameras in Avra Valley and we have photographed 14 different species, including bobcat, red-tail hawk, mule deer, coyote, and javelina. In 2021, we plan to shift these cameras to new locations to expand our reach. We are also assisting a new study that is monitoring CAP canal wildlife crossing points and following AZGFD’s work to track mule deer and bighorn sheep movements in this corridor using GPS collars.

NEW: Monitoring Sopori Wash near I-19

Just south of Canoa Ranch in the Tumacacori – Santa Rita Mountain Wildlife Linkage, Sopori Wash is a critical wildlife corridor that roughly follows Arivaca Road. We plan to work with partners and CSDP Members Groups in 2021 to start monitoring some new sites here, in relation to the I-11 route co-locating with I-19 and the possibility for wildlife crossing improvements across the Interstate.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING COMMUNITY SCIENCE IN THE SONORAN DESERT! 

Field Notes: a rare sighting of a clay-colored sparrow

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By Ken Lamberton

On day 218 of the Pandemic, my daughter Jessica and I hike in black masks south along Speeden Wash to her wildlife cameras under the I-10 culverts in the 3000-acre Empire Ranch. She is here for her research project documenting the migrations of bear and mountain lion, bobcat, badger, and coati by using her tracking skills, roadkill surveys, and 36 cameras and 14 volunteers.  I’m here for the birds.

Last summer, I listed two dozen species, including several raptors and the tiny, gray desert-riparian warbler with the rufous rump and crown named for the daughter of a nineteenth-century ornithologist and the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution.  Lucy Hunter Baird, an expert naturalist and scientist in her own right, came from a family and history of strong, independent, and intellectually curious women.  Which isn’t surprising to me.  I’m surrounded by such women.

This morning, trailing behind Jessica, I count the birds on one hand.  A pair of cactus wrens rattles somewhere unseen.  A curve-billed thrasher becomes mesquite shadow.  The desert is cool and quiet—quiet, at least, until we reach the freeway.  While Jessica pulls the memory cards and changes batteries on cameras we previously glued to the concrete culverts, I search for Lucy’s warblers in the usual places but find none.  Despite the one in my yard last week—a first-ever and number 129 on my Bisbee yard list—I imagine most have already made the fall journey back to southwestern Mexico.

When she finishes and we hoist our packs, a small sparrow lands in the sand in front of us.  I see a rusty crown and think juvenile white-crown sparrow, another common bird, but snap four pictures anyway.  Species number five for the day.

Then I’m off to Willcox and the Twin Lakes Golf Course to check out the shorebirds and a recent rare bird report of a greater white-fronted goose while Jessica heads for home in the opposite direction. 

This evening, as usual, I download the day’s photos and begin deleting them—mostly scores of images either out of focus or of something I don’t recognize or remember.  Why did I take a fuzzy picture of this white-thorn thicket?  The joys of digital technology.  When I come to the sparrow at Speeden Wash, my finger pauses over the delete key.  I enlarge the image and see that it’s not a white-crown.  Maybe a chipping or Brewer’s sparrow?  But the lores—the tiny spaces between the eye and beak—are pale.  And the cheek patch looks well defined above a dark “mustache.”  The breast feathers seem buffy, almost the color of clay…

With rising excitement, I post two blown-up pictures of the sparrow to my birding friends on social media and get an immediate response: Clay-colored Sparrow!  A rare transient in Arizona and a species I’ve never seen before: Life Bird #437.

A clay-colored sparrow in Speeden Wash east of Tucson. Photo courtesy Ken Lamberton.

 

Ken Lamberton on a field expedition with his daughter, Coalition Conservation Science Director Jessica Moreno. Photo courtesy Ken Lamberton. 

 

Friends of the Desert Newsletter #58

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We hope our Fall 2020 newsletter brings some hope, joy, and positivity into your mailboxes and inboxes. Despite the many really hard situations in the world today, there is still lots of good happening and you are part of that with your support of the Sonoran Desert – thank you! 

Check out the following articles in our Fall 2020 Friends of the Desert newsletter:

  • Oracle Road wildlife crossings continue to provide safe passages for wildlife
  • Coalition adopts Strategic Plan to guide our work into the future
  • El Rio Preserve benefits local wildlife and people
  • And more!

And, as always, thank you for supporting a protected and restored Sonoran Desert!

During Pandemic, Community Scientists Adapt to Save the Desert

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 4, 2020

Contact:

Jessica Moreno, Jessica.Moreno@sonorandesert.org, (520) 388-9925

Carolyn Campbell, Carolyn.Campbell@sonorandesert.org, (520) 629-0525

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

 

Coalition volunteer Henry Miller checks a wildlife camera located next to a wildlife crossing in Oro Valley. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

Coalition volunteers Josh Skattum and Samantha Wilber traverse a rugged road to reach their field site. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

Desert Monitor volunteers help the Coalition by checking wildlife cameras, like this one, placed on the landscape. Photo credit: CSDP.

 

Our 2020 Strategic Plan lays out our vision for the future

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After a year-long process of internal reflection and evaluation, surveying our key stakeholders, and working closely with our Board of Directors, we recently finalized our 2020 Strategic Plan. We are excited to share this with you and hope you are inspired to continue walking with us on this path towards a protected Sonoran Desert for all. 

We’d love for you to read through our Strategic Plan and be inspired to join us as we continue passionately pursuing our goals and objectives in the months and years ahead. Thank you for your ongoing support – it is an essential component to this important work!

 

Intern Spotlight: Rob Wisler

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When did you fall in love with the Sonoran Desert? I suspect your answer and mine are the same – you fell in love the first time you wandered into it. For me, this was in early April 2009 on my first visit to Tucson. There’s something so transfixing about all of it: the majestic, arborescent Saguaro; the fascinating varieties of chollas; the stately Ocotillo; and the incredible biodiversity in terms of wildlife that though I did not see on that first visit, were very much there.

I had many options for post-grad institutions, and all things being more or less equal, academically, between different Public Administration Programs, I wanted to live in a place where I could hike and explore year-round. Clearly Tucson, in the lower Sonoran Desert and surrounded by imposing Sky Islands, fit the bill.

I’ve always been a preservationist; that value was instilled early in my life when year after year my family would visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, but that sense has greatly expanded every time I’ve stepped onto a trail here. This was the driving factor in me pursuing an internship with the Coalition. I was brought on board, first and foremost, to take on the discovery of records related to the proposed Interstate 11 project, which would run through – and destroy – the Avra Valley as it exists today. I wrote several Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple stakeholders in the process, a sometimes arduous and frustrating task but also a greatly rewarding one that revealed among many things: the legal questionability of running I-11 thru the Tucson Mitigation Corridor, a lackluster archaeological survey, the likely inappropriateness of the exclusion of Ironwood Forest National Monument from the Tier I analysis, the questionable exclusion of the potential impacts of a high speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix on traffic on I-10, ADOT’s own models showing a merely 4 minute “negligible” time saving between Nogales and Casa Grande on I-11 versus the existing I-10 at peak driving times and a “negligible” amount of truck traffic expected to move from I-10 to I-11, and an overall general Tier I analysis that could not be considered sufficient to presenting the impacts of I-11 on the environment. Though I-11 was my main focus, I also got to work on (and get a crash course in) Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System, and the Multi-species Conservation Plan – all projects CSDP put considerable time and energy into developing. Finally, I was able to get my hands dirty in the field while helping install cameras.

In my time at the Coalition, I’ve been extremely lucky to be able to work with a committed group of people in Carolyn, Jessica, Whelan, and Kathleen, plus Kevin Dahl with NPCA and Cyndi Tuell with Western Watersheds Project, whom are just as good people as they are advocates. It was truly a pleasure to come in every Tuesday to the CSDP Office to work. It was as much a pleasure as it was to be with them as it is to step into the desert on an early Spring hike, and this is not something I say lightly.

The Sonoran Desert is an incredibly beautiful, timeless place, as best exemplified by its ancient Saguaros, but it is not invulnerable. Buffelgrass and other invasive species and continued, mindless sprawl are immediate, serious threats in many places. These threats are exemplified by I-11 itself and the Bighorn Fire, which though spared the majority of the lower Sonoran Desert and its Saguaros, burned (and thus killed) countless higher elevation Saguaros. Had the Bighorn Fire dipped further into the many canyons in the Catalinas, the effect of Buffelgrass would have been total devastation of the Sonoran ecosystem in those areas. Further, Climate Change threatens not just the Sonoran Desert, but landscapes (and more importantly, people) across the planet. Other additional threats exist including but not limited to: mining, overgrazing, and the border wall. But I am not resigned to defeat in the face of these – there are so many organizations in addition to the Coalition fighting these threats, too numerous to name, who are making a difference.

As for me, my future is uncertain at the moment. I graduated in May with a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Arizona and entered a world ravaged by the impacts of the Coronavirus. Thus far my employment endeavors have proven fruitless and I will likely have to leave Tucson as a result. I hope to stay connected with the Coalition and even provide help, if the need arises, particularly with regards to I-11, during my time in between finding work. Yet it is not all bad news – I’m proud of the work I was able to do that has brought important facts about I-11 into the light and I’m proud to have been part of an organization that is so committed to protecting the Sonoran Desert and its biodiversity.

A HUGE thank you to Rob from all of us at the Coalition for all your work for us and the Sonoran Desert during your internship. We are so grateful for everything you contributed to our mission and can’t wait to see what you do next!