By: Jordan Sene, Youth Education Program Coordinator
This summer Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) celebrated its 10 year anniversary with 13 borderlands youth interns and five adult leaders in two crews, one in Douglas and one in Patagonia. Both crews learned and worked on a variety of restoration worksites alongside conservation professionals creating a transformative and inspiring summer internship experience.
BECY is a 6-week paid internship opportunity for youth from rural borderland communities. Program curriculum emphasizes restoration of local watersheds, ecosystems, and communities.
Amongst many learning opportunities, the Patagonia crew had the chance to work at BRN’s Borderlands Nursery & Seed helping establish a native seed growout field that will expand growing capacity of native plants for seed collection. Interns also helped propagate and transplant native plants to be used in ecological restoration projects and for retail sale at the nursery. Participants toured the newly expanded seed lab and learned more about the uniqueness and importance of the Madrean Archipelago and how our local native plants have distinct adaptations to regional conditions. After helping clean and prepare native seed, interns made seed pellets used in restoration to help seeds stay in place, avoid predation, and assist in germination when they are distributed in the landscape.
BECY Patagonia crew also worked on local community projects including building a rain garden in the heart of Patagonia. Initiated by Patagonia residents, the BECY Patagonia crew shaped and armored the earth to passively harvest rainwater that flows down the side of the street during rainstorms. This rainwater will now soak into the Patagonia Memorial Garden, supporting native trees and newly planted wildflowers. This project was supported by local residents and the United States Forest Service, through a local Secure Rural Schools grant. BECY Patagonia also partnered with the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center to create four new vegetable garden beds, install a rainwater-fed drip irrigation system, and install a second rainwater collection cistern to collect rain water from the roof supporting the sustainable mini-urban farm project.
At Deep Dirt Farm, youth worked alongside BRN’s education staff, professors and students from the University of Arizona’s Southwest Field Studies in Writing. Since 2018, BECY has participated in an exchange with creative writing students seeking Master’s Degrees from the University of Arizona. The UA students learn about life, work, and restoration on the US/Mexico border while hosting creative writing workshops so BECY interns can creatively explore the impact of their summer experience on their lives. The team worked together to collect seed, weed, and turn over the twenty-two beds in the main greenhouse.
Halfway through the season, both BECY Patagonia and Douglas worked together alongside BRN’s Watershed Restoration staff at T4 Ranch. Together, they completed dozens of erosion control structures and collected multiple piles of wood that will be mulched in the fall. The mulch will then be spread throughout the tops of drainages to help protect the topsoil, soak in water and support diverse native vegetation.
The Douglas crew had the opportunity to complete work on the Winkler and Sycamore Ranch in New Mexico thanks to the Malpai Borderlands Group. At Winkler Ranch they removed a quarter mile of barbed wire fencing because the landowner will be installing a wildlife fence, allowing wild animals to pass through and will keep cattle safe. At this site, they also completed six large trincheras with volcanic rock found throughout the landscape. At Sycamore Ranch, interns repaired existing trincheras.
Interns also spent two weeks in the Huachuca Mountains building over 50 erosion control structures within the Coronado National Forest to help reestablish habitat for Montezuma Quail. This project was funded by Southern Arizona Quail Forever and the National Forest Foundation. While in the Huachucas, interns learned how to identify native plants and tips on how to track wildlife.
For the last couple of weeks, the crew returned to the Douglas Public Library and the Douglas High School Land Lab. Last year, BECY installed a rainwater harvesting cistern off the roof of the DHS Land Lab greenhouse. At the library, interns installed an irrigation system and watered plants put in to support green space at the library. This year at the Land Lab, students incorporated a rainwater harvesting berry patch. At the library, they installed a grape trellis and planted a pollinator garden. For their last day, they toured El Coronado Ranch to see first-hand the flowing waters and results of erosion control structures after 20-25 years.
After six weeks of hard work the program came to a close on July 14 concluding with a graduation celebration in each community where interns presented each of their individual community restoration projects that are a requirement for successful completion of the program. The interns shared with their family, friends, and the community the experiences they had and how the program impacted them personally.
Many students built food or pollinator gardens and one intern organized a clothing collection drive where donations went to refugees to show the importance of reusing clothes and diverting reusable materials from landfills as much as possible while serving those most in need. Another project focused on the importance of reaching the next generation of land stewards through community building and raising awareness. One intern volunteered as an assistant basketball coach locally and shared about the importance of protecting our watersheds and the potential to be a part of next year’s BECY program.
We are grateful to all the participants, staff and partners that make this program a reality each year that has now touched the lives of 170 participants making the borderlands more resilient in more ways than one.
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