Written By: Laura Monti Sr. Fellow, Borderlands Restoration Network
Rising at dawn on scorching summer desert mornings, groups of Seri or Comcaac Indians of Sonora Mexico fan out through the dense mesquite bosques of the Sonoran Desert to collect ripe pods from the mesquite tree, following the ancient foodways of their ancestors. Adding a modern twist to their traditional open fire roasting and mortar-pestle grinding, these modern desert harvesters roast the mesquite pods in a rotating toaster and then grind them using a hammer mill- producing over 100 pounds of nutritious flour during the summer of 2018. In addition to making the traditional mesquite atole, a cool sweet cinnamon flavored beverage- the indigenous women entrepreneurs prepare a variety delicious mesquite products for their community and for sale commercially. Tortillas, mesquite empanadas filled with cactus fruit, smoothies, cookies, and pizza are sold at community festivals, and are fed to youth at school and to conservation teams working to protect mesquite and ironwood tree habitat. These mesquite foods provide a healthy alternative to junk food and soda and help to prevent diabetes in young people, which is increasing at an alarming rate throughout the community. In addition to these community nutrition benefits, the mesquite tree provides habitat for hundreds of species and nourishes the soil. Young Comcaac conservation leaders are monitoring the coastal desert forests of mesquite-ironwood and mangrove habitat to prevent over exploitation by outsiders. The social enterprise provides critical income for over 25 harvesters preventing hunger during the gaps in their summer fishing season. To support these community nutrition and conservation efforts, the flour is sold commercially in Sonora and in the U.S. The Comcaac health and conservation projects are co-sponsored by Borderlands Restoration Network, Prescott College Kino Bay Center For Cultural and Ecological Studies and the University of Arizona Next-Generation of Sonoran Desert Researchers. The flour can be purchased at Red Mountain Foods in Patagonia, Arizona.
Left: Ancient Seri mesquite grinding area in Comcaac territory.
Right: Desert Harvesters and Conservation Leaders Vilma Morales, Veronica Molina, Azucena Morales, Manuel Monroy
Written by Caleb Weaver, Borderlands Earth Care Youth Program Manager
When I asked Nick, a Patagonia Union High School student and intern with the Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) Program, about his experience this past summer, here’s what he said: “I’ve always cared deeply for the environment, especially in our local Patagonia area. Before working with BECY last summer, I had no idea how huge a positive impact someone as small as myself was capable of making. Now, thanks to the BECY experience, I have the knowledge, tools, and confidence to set out helping the environment with my everyday actions.”
This past summer was Nick’s first year on the Patagonia crew, although he heard about the program from his older brother who had graduated from BECY a couple years back. Along with daily educational activities – in Watershed Restoration, Ecosystem Restoration, and Community Restoration – Nick was paid to work on real habitat restoration projects alongside his peers. Under the heat of the intense June sun, during the pre-monsoon season some ecologists call Arizona’s “Dry Summer,” Nick and the Patagonia BECY crew worked in collaboration with youth from across the Arizona borderlands under extreme environmental conditions. Their goal: slow, spread, and sink rainwater runoff into the earth while simultaneously arresting erosion on working landscapes.
During the first week of the six-week program, the Nogales and Patagonia crews worked together to restore the upper reaches of their shared Sonoita Creek Watershed on the T4 Ranch. They searched the rocky hillsides (which formed from ancient debris flows) for appropriately-sized cobbles. These youth then placed the rock in drainages, allowing water slow and sink back into the earth. Later in the program, the Douglas and Patagonia crews worked alongside each other to stabilize and revegetate part of the 47 Ranch – building upon the skills they developed previously in the program. Meanwhile, the youth connected with Dennis and Deb Moroney, the humble ranch owners and land stewards who work diligently to keep the desert-adapted cattle and sheep they graze amongst the Mule Mountains accessible to Southern Arizona consumers.
While there were a few weeks of overlap between this summer’s three BECY programs, the work differs slightly between programs. The Douglas crew spent the majority of the summer restoring burned landscapes (namely Pinery Canyon, Reed Creek, and eroding drainage adjacent to Ash Spring) and improving spring-side habitat in the Chiricahua Mountains. The Nogales crew stabilized the watershed by building over 200 erosion-control structures from rock and wood at T4 Ranch, spending a few days visiting nearby farms, ranches, and nurseries. And the Patagonia crew bounced between locations, working on ranches, farms, and on contracted restoration projects in and around the town of Patagonia. The diversity of the Patagonia crew’s work was a great success within the program, and we hope to diversify work for the other crews next year.
As these programs are paid internships, each crew’s daily work depends upon source of funding. BECY has strong partnerships with the US Forest Service, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Partners for Fish & Wildlife – all of whom have supported habitat restoration work in specific locations. This past year, the Patagonia crew was hired by local landowners to address backyard erosion and biodiversity concerns. As BECY grows, we hope to diversify work locations, particularly for the Douglas and Nogales crews.
To learn more about BECY – including project details from this past summer, breakdown of funding sources, lessons learned, and plans for the future – check out the Final Report on the BECY webpage: www.borderlandsrestoration.org/becy. And feel free to contact me if you’d like to hire BECY next summer: email@example.com.
By Lynn Davison, BRN Board Chair
When people ask me why I am so invested in our work at Borderlands Restoration Network, the answers come easily. It all starts with the land, the Madrean Sky Islands of the southwest US and northern Mexico. E. O. Wilson includes our region in the top 10 for preservation in the Americas due to its remarkable biodiversity. The land and the multitude of plants and animals that live here are currently at risk due to the combination of climate change, overgrazing, and impacts of extractive industries. It is so important now to actively restore land, water, and habitat and to protect critical lands from future degradation. We know how to do that! If you doubt it, just consider what has happened at Cuenca Los Ojos, our Network partner, over the last 30 years…..return of amazing riparian areas with year-round water and lush habitats to support the biodiversity our region is known for.
For me, however, the real hook is the combination of restoring the land AND supporting the cultures and economic health of the people who live on it. At Borderlands, this is not either or, it’s both. Our mission is focused on building a restoration based economy in the borderlands….we strive to be an environmental organization, a cultural organization, and an economic development organization. While this path may be more complicated, it is the most respectful of the histories and cultures of the people who have been here for many centuries. It is also far more sustainable over time.
Our region, along the US/Mexico border, is a very visible stage for the world to watch the impacts of political gamesmanship on the lives of innocent people. For many, this is the only lens they see the borderlands through. We are so much more. Borderlands Restoration Network has a big vision, strong partner organizations, a remarkable combination of seasoned leaders and smart committed young staff. and an organizational structure that is both efficient and capable of securing earned income, public and private grants and contracts, private investments and donations. Our business model is grounded in partnerships and, as a bi-national organization, that includes people and organizations on both sides of the border. We place a significant focus on education with the goal of supporting the next generation of leaders to expand and carry on the work. We have a great reputation with the public agencies, private foundations, and individuals that support out work.
I am proud to be part of the Borderlands team. We are already making a real difference and will do much more as we increase the number of people and organizations that support our work. There are many ways to provide support:
Written By: Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Materials Manager
There are so many types of bats in the world that it’s overwhelming. In fact, out of the entire diversity of mammals on the planet a quarter of them are bat species. There are almost 30 species of bats in Arizona and all of them eat insects except for two nectar feeders, Choeronycteris mexicana (Mexican long-tongued bat) and Leptonycteris yerbabuenae, (lesser long nosed bat). This means nectar feeding bats are little nighttime plant pollinators that follow the blooming cycles of mostly succulent blooms like agave and cacti from Mexico in the winter, to the very southern tips of the U.S. in the summer. The Sky Islands of the Madrean Archipelago, here in southern Arizona, are considered important areas in need of conservation to support pollinator populations, specifically the lesser long nosed bat. This bat was recently taken off the Endangered Species list even though its nectar source is stressed. Agave is an important bat food source in this grassland region that faces continued threats such as climate change, land development, and wild harvest of agaves for Bacanora production.
Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) is working on many aspects of the agave threats through partnerships with multiple organizations and volunteers. BRN’s first endeavor is with the National Phenology Network and their “Flowers for Bats” campaign. This campaign tackles the climate change stressor to agaves by recruiting volunteers to track the flowering cycle of the native agaves in our region. Here in Santa Cruz County the important agave species for bat nectar are Agave parryi and Agave palmeri.
As the global temperatures change so do plants and many adapt by flowering earlier. Scientists are worried that bat migration schedules won’t be able to keep up with the change, meaning thousands of migrating bats will be going hungry as they hit the grasslands and only find agaves that have already flowered and are already starting to seed. Ways that you can help are by joining the monitoring effort as a volunteer tracking agave flowering times, and by keeping your hummingbird feeders out at night to feed the bats as well as the birds.
BRN’s biggest agave collaboration is with Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the #agavesforbats campaign which is supporting on the ground restoration of regionally sourced agaves from seeds and pups in the southwest U.S. and northwestern Mexico. These restoration efforts are meant to balance out the destruction of agaves for industrial and residential land use in the U.S. and the wild harvest of agaves for Bacanora (the regional mescal produced from agaves in Sonora), which is sold within Sonora as well as all over the United States and is increased by U.S. demand for this product.
The BR Native Plant Materials Program (NPM) is collecting seed and propagating thousands of agaves for restoration. The NPM includes the Seed Lab, a seed storage and processing facility, and the Native Plant Nursery, a plant propagation facility. The NPM is staffed by Allegra Mount, Francesca Claverie, Perin McNelis, Travis Gerckens, Aishah Lurry, and Andrea Fleder, all residents of Patagonia. The nursery is ideal for producing the agaves for this project due to their proven track record of previous agave production, and ability to track and curate plant material accessions and propagation records. The NPM is also organizing outreach efforts in collaboration with BCI in Sonora, Mexico by partnering with Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, a group of students and alumni from the University of Sonora in Hermosillo to organize two workshops this fall and winter. One will be aimed at communicating the threats and issues of agave and bat restoration in the U.S. and Sonora and the other workshop will start a dialogue with Bacanora producers and agave growers in Sonora to promote agave and bat conservation.
Through Borderlands Restoration Network’s partnerships and collaboration there is hope to make a difference in the long-term availability of agaves on the landscape to support the bats as well as all their other important ecological functions. If you wish to support these efforts you can donate money to Bat Conservation International’s Agaves For Bats campaign and to Borderlands Restoration Network, volunteer your time planting agaves and helping at our NPM volunteer days, or plant many native agaves in your yard and keep your hummingbird feeders full during bat migration. To learn more about any aspects of this work you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Grace Fullmer, Community Engagement
This past weekend, the Patagonian Fall Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary. Through rainstorms and sun showers, Borderlands Restoration Network was there to partake in the annual festivities. Mixed in with vendors selling paintings, wild west literature and tie-dye apparel, we were sharing our mission with folks from all corners of SE Arizona. Sitting next to us was the collaborative, Coronado Outdoors, a partnership between Sky Island Alliance and the Coronado National Forest, that promotes volunteerism and stewardship of public lands in southern Arizona.
Located on the other side of the festival grounds, our Native Plants Materials program was selling tables-full of colorful native plants hosted by the brightly adorned, Francesca.
Undoubtedly, the most attractive piece of our table was the Bats of Arizona poster that stood tall next to planters sewed with agave seeds, maps of bat migration, seed balls and fresh homemade cookies (which may have also been a big highlight). The common phrase of the weekend was, “I have bats at my house.” People came by to chat about the bats that slurp their hummingbird feeders dry, one fella saying he went through 8 lbs. of sugar every month the bats were around, and another saying they used a total of 40 gallons of hummingbird nectar to feed both hummers and bats. Many were surprised by what they learned about bat migration and their diminishing food sources (one being the agave), and were always curious as to how they could help support our Arizona bat populations. Each person who came by walked away with not only newfound bat knowledge, but also an idea as to who Borderlands Restoration Network is, and the work we are doing in our community and beyond. Many times the conversation would end with a, “thank you for your efforts, it is so important.” Then they would depart with a happy smile, maybe because the sun was finally shining, or because the rains continued to nurture our Patagonian soils.
Written By: Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Nursery Manager
We are smack dab in the middle of fall, meaning you can either curl up with a hot beverage or plant and seed wild natives into your landscape. The Borderlands Restoration Native Plant Materials Program votes for the latter and set up a few wonderful options to help you do so. Our last plant/seed sale events of the year will be in Patagonia during the Fall Festival of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday October 12-14th from 10am-3pm and in Tucson on Saturday, November 3rd from 10am-2pm at The Garden Kitchen in south Tucson, AND we have a brand new native plant and seed catalogue available!
We will have a smattering of trees, shrubs, forbs, and seed mixes available at the sales and if you’re interested in anything in particular, email us and we can be sure to bring them to you. Fall is a fantastic time to plant and although it’s tough to compete with a rainy summer monsoon planting in the higher elevations of the Sky Islands, it’s arguably the most important time to plant in Tucson and some of the lower elevations. Similarly to summer, mulching is critical to planting container plants in fall but instead of worrying so much about the ground desiccating, the mulch is also helpful for insulating the roots and base of the plant from the cold. This year in particular is a great time for a fall planting to take advantage of these hurricane rains, although any new container plants should still be watered in and monitored for dryness.
For seeding in the fall mulching is also of utmost importance, although you might not see many of the species germinate until the spring or summer monsoon season, depending on what kind of irrigation schedule, or lack thereof you implement. A fall planting is a very natural time to seed since that’s when most of the seeds fall in the wild, although protecting them from predation is critical and mulching can protect seed from birds and insects while also letting them go through a natural cold stratification to improve germination of some species.
Lastly, we are thrilled to introduce you to our new catalogue. There will be other posts and articles highlighting this newest publication, and thanks to the direction of our Seed Lab and Native Plant Materials Program manager, Allegra Mount, it looks better than ever. The entire Native Plant Materials team worked hard to put this together and over one hundred native plant species are listed and described with beautiful photos and material type availability. The pdf of the catalogue is available online for free although it’s a hefty document to download. We only printed a few full catalogues, and they’ll be around for viewing at any of our offices and sale locations, and have condensed versions of the catalogue available for free. If you’d like to purchase a full catalogue we also have some option available at our online store where you can buy a package deal of a bumper sticker, catalogue, and seed. Check it out at borderlandsrestoration.org/online-store or email email@example.com with questions or any orders. Checkout some beautiful photos of the catalogue and our plants below:
Written by: Perin McNelis, Native Plant Materials Assistant Manager
BRN’s Art+Ecology workshop series is already halfway done! The October edition was a fantastic fiber arts workshop with Jesus Garcia of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Jesus came to the Arts Center and taught the 5-8th grade classes from Patagonia Middle School about ethnobotany in the borderlands and how to process native plant fibers, as well as other natural and recycled synthetic materials, to make cordage.
After some amazing demonstrations of rope-making with horse and human hair, plastic bags, and fibers from different plant species, students tried their hands at creating cordage. The kids learned about the caustic nature of Agves leaves, or pencas, and how roasting the leaves over fire breaks down these toxic chemicals so that they don’t burn your skin when processing. The students pounded, scraped and washed yucca and fan palm fibers, then used a couple of different techniques to twist the fibers into strong ropes, using tools and their own hands. Some students created bracelets that they wore home and others were very excited about the survival skills aspect of rope-making.
Getting creative with Agave and Yucca fibers was a great follow-up to what we learned about nectar-feeding bats and growing agaves for habitat restoration at our last workshop, when BRN Native Plant Materials program manager, Francesca Claverie, came to the Arts Center and had the students sow Agave palmeri seed for habitat restoration for the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat.
The big take-away from the last couple of workshops has been about the interdependence and interconnections of the members in an ecological community, and how healthy ecosystems benefit all parties- in this case, nectar-feeding bats, humans, Agave populations, and the soil on which we all depend. Interdisciplinary programming like this can provide multiple nodes for connecting diverse learners to their home landscapes. This is so important for encouraging a culture of land stewardship and ushering in a new generation of artists, plant lovers, and conservationists.
BRN thanks our partner for this project, the Patagonia Creative Arts Association, and our funder, the Patagonia Regional Community Fund.
BRN Presents an Evening with Gary Nabhan author of Food from the Radical Center: Healing our Land and Communities
Written by: Juliet Jivanti, Education Coordinator
Join us at 5:30 this Saturday, the 29th, under the Tucson sky at Mission Garden for an evening of good company and conversation accompanied by delicious food, refreshments and music. Discover, or perhaps remember, why many are feeling increasingly optimistic and galvanized about the future of food and community restoration. Since 1975, these multicultural grassroots efforts have resulted in a 20-fold increase in the diversity of foods available to Americans. Tucson is a hopeful example demonstrating how the region’s biodiverse foods aided the upward financial trend in 2016. The previous year, Tucson was designated as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy due to a collaborative effort initiated by Gary. In his book, Gary shares the stories of how diverse communities across North America are working to bring back unique life including bison, sturgeon, camas lilies, ancient grains and turkeys, to name a few. Collaborative conservation can heal both the divides in our landscapes and our communities. These successes are bringing ecological, social and economic revitalization. To use Gary’s words, “In fact, the restoration of land and rare species has provided—dollar for dollar—one of the best returns on investment of any conservation initiative.” Community restoration matters, not just here on the borderlands, and throughout this country, but everywhere.
"Using remarkable insights and examples, Gary Nabhan brings together collaborative conservation and food in a way that will challenge, inspire, and motivate all of us to become better stewards, harvesters, and consumers."
Bill McDonald, rancher and cofounder of the Malpai Borderlands Group
You may know Gary from many places and through various roles. “Gary is an internationally celebrated nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist who tangibly works on conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity.” Below you’ll see Gary leading the Borderlands Field School group in Sonora Mexico this summer, engaged in an impromptu conversation with a local rancher.
Gary mentioned that he is excited about this upcoming event because, although many people know about the on-going good work that Borderlands Restoration is doing, they may not realize that Borderlands is a catalyst for national food restoration. Borderlands and Gary have had a longstanding relationship which began in the 1970s when Gary and Ron Pulliam were both working on grassland projects. Many years later, after Gary and his wife Laura Monti moved to Patagonia in 2011, Ron and Gary crossed paths again. While Ron was out birding, he came upon Gary and invited him to conspire. Gary accepted and became part of the think tank of Borderlands’ early years and a creative conservation collaboration was born.
Gary wants you to know that his new book which will be available for purchase and signing, is both compostable and edible.
If you haven’t already sent your R.S.V.P. response, please do so at your earliest convenience.
R.S.V.P. info@BorderlandsRestoration.org or (520) 216 – 4148
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29th, 5:30–7:30 P.M. at Mission Garden, 946 W. Mission Lane in Tucson. Suggested Donation $20 at the door. Drinks available by donation.
Sturdy, carefully placed rock structures have withstood extreme flood events and continue to increase moisture levels for flora and fauna.
Written by: Trevor Hare and David Seibert
Using sediment transport as a surrogate for e.coli presence and transport across degraded landscapes, this project has surveyed, planned and mitigated severely eroding rangelands on the Sands Ranch west of the San Pedro River. Hundreds of rock erosion control structures were installed strategically to arrest sediment and e.coli movement toward the river, while an experimental ripping-on-contour method approved by ADEQ was employed to improve habitat conditions for native grasses to establish and continue the restorative process. Based on site visits and communication with ADEQ officials and ranch manager Ian Tomlinson, priority areas for erosion mitigation work include 1) extensive areas east of Hwy 90 previously sprayed with herbicide that have not recovered vegetatively; and 2) an area west of Hwy 90 that will benefit from the arrested movement of e.coli into the riparian corridor.
This site also serves as a public demonstration and youth education work site due to ease of access and high project visibility. Here the site will function as a training ground for use in our highly successful Borderlands Earth Care Youth program, a community-based effort that includes Patagonia High School's new Ag Science Program students, with new programs now in Douglas and Nogales. As part of a larger effort to expand to schools in Sierra Vista and beyond, this effort also takes advantage of an existing Borderlands grant with AZ State Forestry and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension's Water Wise program, in order to utilize the sites as platforms for ongoing environmental education. Beneficial effects also include increased moisture levels and native seed banking effects afforded by structure installation in small and mid-sized rills and arroyos. The combined effects of the work will secure and nudge the uplands into a more resilient ecological condition, wherein native plants can gain a foothold and continue to hold soils and e.coli in place, while increasing native plant density and diversity and modeling efficient restoration practices.
On September 29th & November 10th @ 9 – 11 am
Trevor Hare will host a tour of an erosion control site with rock work, gully plug and pond work, and on-contour ripping.
This unique project funded by the AZ Dept of Environmental Quality brought a couple of newer techniques to the area to deal with erosion. Plug and Ponding of unstable gullies and on-contour ripping of areas with intensive and extensive sheet erosion.
Location: On the east side of Hwy 90, 12.5 miles south of I-10 and 6 miles north of Hwy 82 at the Dry Canyon Access Road
For any questions please contact: Trevor Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ripping the most degraded areas on contour speeds up moisture infiltration and creates a viable bed for fall 2018 seeding of native grasses.
Photos taken by: Rebecca Cohen, Collaborator from Baboquivari High School
Written by Caleb Weaver, Youth Education Program Manager
When we think of the US/Mexico “borderlands,” we often think of the cultural exchange and trade flow among and between two vibrant countries. Taking a closer look at this culturally and biologically diverse region, we can see that these exchanges and flows have been a way of life for peoples following historic trade routes for millennia. The indigenous Tohono O’odham, or desert people, still live along what is now the border between Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora – their historic homelands reduced to a reservation west of Tucson and bifurcated in 1854 by the southern expansion of the US/Mexico border with the Gadsden Purchase. When we think of the US/Mexico “borderlands,” we must expand our idea of a bi-national border to a multi-national border.
The Tohono O’odham (TO) have witnessed massive changes to the lands they’ve stewarded. Since the arrival of Spanish missionaries, around 96% of the surface water – the historic creeks, rivers, and streams – have disappeared outright. In 2016, high school youth from Baboquivari HS and Tohono O’odham HS gathered together for the first-ever TO Nation Youth Climate Change Forum. Students learned the state of their Nation’s water resources, threats from nearby urban sprawl, and climate projections call for less rainfall, higher temperatures, and more violent rainstorms. According to those present, students voiced a desire to focus on resource conservation and environmental protections, notably rainwater harvesting and ecosystem restoration.
At a recent Food & Social Justice Forum, representatives from Indivisible Tohono, a “Grassroots group concerned with current federal and Arizona legislation primarily impacting the Tohono O’odham Nation” expressed a desire to collaborate with Borderlands Restoration Network to engage TO youth in habitat restoration. We worked closely with Rebecca Cohen, one of the founders of Indivisible Tohono and the College & Career Mentor at Baboquivari High School (BHS), to design and fund a program for youth at BHS.
Su:dagī o wud doakag translates from O’odham to “water is life,” and is the name of the program that has brought together BHS and BRN to train youth to restore the BHS campus. Every week, twelve Tohono O’odham youth gather with the shared goal of harvesting rainwater both into the earth and in cisterns to support new life on campus. At this point, youth have already been meeting for a month within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program. After visiting Manzo Elementary School in Tucson, the Watershed Management Group’s office in Tucson, a cistern installation with Flowers & Bullets, the outdoor classroom and pond at Patagonia Union High School, and earthworks at the BRN offices, youth within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program are now redesigning a courtyard on the BHS campus. Once the design is accepted by BHS staff, youth within the Su:dagī o wud doakag program will then harvest rainwater to support native pollinator-attracting plants, and desert-adapted food crops alike. Keep following their progress on Facebook and with the blog.