What animal sometimes seen in our area can be characterized as a cross between an antelope and a goat?  Consider yourself lucky if you have come across the increasingly rare pronghorn. “The Plight of the Pronghorn in the Verde Valley” is the topic that will kick off the new year for the Red Rock Ranger District First Friday lecture program. On January 3rd, Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Janie Agyagos will speak about the journey of the pronghorn antelope in the Verde Valley since Euro-American settlement in the late 1800’s to the present day. The talk is at 11:00 am at the Red Rock District Visitor Center, located one mile south of the Village of Oak Creek on Hwy 179. Registration is not required, but space is limited to the first forty participants.

Arizona’s pronghorn antelope have experienced dramatic reduction in range and numbers across a century. Agyagos will explore the causal factors in these changes and introduce us to interesting characteristics of this special mammal. The pronghorn is known for its speed, which can reach close to 60 mph, second only to the cheetah as the fastest land mammal. Perhaps less known is the pronghorn’s endurance which enables it to maintain speeds of 40 mph for more than two miles, easily outrunning natural predators. Beyond these dramatic characteristics, Agyagos will discuss other unique features of the pronghorn. For example, pronghorn antelope do not eat grass, so what are they eating out in the grasslands?

Agyagos has over 27 years of work experience with the USDA Forest Service in the capacity of a wildlife biologist. Her connection to the pronghorn, and all species of wildlife, is through the Forest Service’s responsibility to ensure the protection of wildlife habitat within all the varied uses of public lands such as grazing, recreation, utilities, roadways, and fire management. In coordination with other agencies, such as Arizona Game and Fish, Agyagos works to identify the stressors to our local wildlife, and then implement habitat improvement or restoration projects.

When it comes to wildlife habitat, there may be nothing more crucial than water resources. The February 7th First Friday Presentation will take us to the river – the Verde River – for a screening of “Viva La Verde!”. Presenter Gary Beverly co-produced the 58-minute documentary film. Beverly is a long time Sierra Club member and is active in local and statewide issues specializing in public lands and water. The film explores the past, present and future of Arizona rivers, using the foremost surviving perennial river in Arizona, the Verde, as a case study. The value and vulnerability of the upper Verde River, and its support to some of the best riparian habitat in the Southwest, is powerfully presented. The film features outstanding photography and video footage collected during five years of exploring the river, telling the story of the Verde’s history, ecology, geology and hydrology through animations and interviews with scientists and river activists. “Viva la Verde!” concludes by demonstrating how individual citizens can help preserve this unique and wonderful river, the only surviving living perennial river in Arizona. Beverly will lead a lively discussion of upper Verde River issues following the film’s showing. The presentation begins at 11:00 am at the Red Rock District Visitor Center.

Upcoming guided interpretive hikes are a perfect opportunity for a direct experience with local flora and fauna. Birding walks and nature hikes are offered throughout the winter months, led by Friends of the Forest volunteer Kevin Harding. Harding is an avid birder, naturalist and tracker with years of experience and knowledge to share. His birding walks are popular with both novice and experienced birders. Participants are likely to see a wide variety of wetland species and winter birds native to Arizona. Nature hikers will learn about native plant species and the interpretation of animal signs – tracks, scat and more.

Birding walks are offered on Tuesdays: January 14, 18, February 11, 25, and March 10 from 9:00 to 11:00 am. March 24 and April 7 from 8:00 to 10:00 am. Nature hikes are offered January 21 and March 17 from 9:00 to 11:00 am. These events are free of charge, space is limited, and registration is required at the Red Rock District Visitor Center or by calling 928-203-2903. Locations and other information will be provided with registration. A full schedule of public events on the Red Rock Ranger District is posted at https://www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org/events/.

Serving Sedona, written this week by Jennifer Young of Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesdays in the Sedona Red Rock News.