Monitoring and caring for the wildlife, fish, and plants within the Coconino National Forest is more than a fulltime job. Red Rock Ranger District, Wildlife Biologist Janie Agyagos balances the needs of the forest by prioritizing projects and tapping into volunteers.
“When developing the priorities, I focus on special status species first,” said Agyagos. “Then the focus is on species that biologists suspect are declining and want to do more monitoring to check the status. The focus is also on habitat improvement and protection projects.”
The priority list is always evolving as some long-term or one-time projects are completed, and others are begun. Friends of the Forest Wildlife volunteers or “citizen scientists” assist with some of these projects. Agyagos selects projects where volunteers can work independently. Chairperson Annie Glickstein reaches out to potential volunteers from the membership for each project, keeps participation lists up-to-date, and helps arrange project logistics. Annie also supplies Janie with accomplishment reporting using the Friends of the Forest databases.
The projects have varying goals and purposes. For example, some work is done to minimize human impacts on wildlife, such as: removing unneeded fence that is an entanglement hazard, modifying range fencing so pronghorn can pass under, or obliterating social trails near bat roosts. “Having spent a day repairing fencing, I can attest to how rewarding and how much fun being involved in this team is. Learning new skills with patient people who all share a love of the Coconino Forest was fantastic,” said Carol Dores, Friends of the Forest volunteer.
Other projects strive to minimize the impacts livestock have on the wildlife habitat. One such project was monitoring riparian enclosure fencing to ensure livestock couldn’t gain access to eat the riparian vegetation and harm the stream channel and banks. Some of the work even helps to remove species from the endangered species list.
There are also projects that focus on monitoring populations to ensure those that have been successfully taken off the endangered species list stay off that list. Another common focus of projects is to make sure common species stay common and never make it to the endangered species list. Monitoring of critters and their habitat is critical in this time of high anthropogenic impacts (mostly unintentional) and climate change. “I’ve witnessed the disappearance of springs in my 30 years on this district,” noted Agyagos.
Some of the more recent projects include:
- Peregrine falcon nest monitoring
- Colonial nesting bird surveys
- North American bat acoustical monitoring and bat roost exit counts
- Milkweeds for a monarch butterfly waystation and monarch tagging
- Roadside weed inventory
- Replacement of damaged fencing to keep cattle out of sensitive areas, such as riparian areas
- Surveying frogs
- Documenting prehistoric domesticated agave
- Lichen inventory of what is growing in the Red Rock District
- Firefly inventory
- Amphibian monitoring for a rare toad species and for an introduced frog species
- Removing un-needed fence and replacing barbed wire fences with smooth bottom wire, to pronghorn from getting tangled in the barbed wire
- Monitoring water quality at various locations
- Manually removing invasive, non-native plants
The physical requirements vary by project and ranges from extremely easy to quite strenuous. Similarly, the duration of a project can be anywhere from a day or two to year-long. The nature of the volunteer work is extremely varied. Whether your skills and interests include photography, construction, weed cutting, wildlife monitoring, hiking, or 4×4 driving, there are projects that may appeal to you. No prior knowledge or expertise is required as all training is provided.
Friends of the Forest volunteers Jerry and Janet Walters are retired scientists. They are nature lovers and are always on the lookout for rare or different things while on the trails. These rarities get reported to Janie Agyagos, and some have turned into projects. “On one of our trail walks in the Big Park loop area, we found hundreds of plants we had not previously seen,” said Jerry. “They were sorghum, an invasive species to the area.” Sorghum eradication became a 2022 project. There has not been a significant amount of sorghum returning this year, so it looks like the project was successful!
As with other volunteer opportunities, when a project is scheduled, an email is sent to all members of the Wildlife/Fish/Rare Plants team with the details. If you are willing and available to volunteer, you simply reply. If you are not available, that’s okay because there are always other projects.
Volunteer and join other “citizen scientists” in helping the Coconino National Forest ecosystem! Want more information about joining the Friends of the Forest? Visit www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org.
Serving Sedona, written this week by Carol Dores, Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News.