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EAC well represented at Natural History of the Gila symposium

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EAC well represented at Natural History of the Gila symposium

By Jessica Morgenthaler

Thatcher, AZ—In conjunction with a $250,000 financial assistance agreement between Eastern Arizona College and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), four EAC students and their instructors/mentors presented research projects at the 5th annual Natural History of the Gila Symposium this past month at Western New Mexico University. The Global Resource Center, located on the WNMU campus, hosted the event and presentations ranging from wildlife and fishery conservation to the restoration of wetlands and the monitoring of the Gila and its tributaries.

EAC student Kyle Tate presented at the symposium and discussed his intensive survey of mesquite bosques, and cottonwood and willow galleries along a six-mile stretch of the Gila Box National Riparian Conservation Area (GBNRCA) and their implications to riparian health. Also presenting was EAC student Donald Pearce, who spoke on Eysenhardtia Orthocarpa, an Arizona/New Mexico desert shrub-tree challenged by drought. Kelsie Vigus, an EAC-BLM intern, presented water quality data she has collected and organized to inform the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the BLM fisheries program, and the BLM assessment team of riparian health conditions. These papers were provided in partnership of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) agreement affiliated with EAC and BLM-Safford. Also participating in the symposium was Samantha Sharka, an intern from the University of Arizona, acting as a lead botanist on the EAC-BLM seeps and springs assessment team.

Dr. Jony Cockman, lead natural resource specialist at the BLM’s Safford office, spoke on the subject of the Chihuahua Scurfpea, a rare plant found in the San Simon Valley, and the status of its petition to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. She also discussed the possible anthropological connections the plant may have, the demographic data, and other enthnobotanical considerations. In a separate presentation, Cockman offered information concerning the Living Rivers Program for the GBNRCA.

EAC instructor and Biology Department head Dave Henson gave an overview of the college perspective on setting up an assistance agreement with the BLM and the ability of college students to perform well on BLM science tasks. In another presentation he detailed the organization and implementation of three STEM-based field projects incorporating college, high school, and middle school students working side-by-side with BLM professionals.

“I was very proud of my students,” said Henson. “They were the only undergraduate presenters at the symposium. What a great opportunity to discuss work they are personally responsible for to an auditorium filled with professionals. Not many freshman or sophomores will ever have that experience. We are grateful to the BLM and Dr. Cockman for the time and effort they put into working with our students.”

Students who have completed the BIO295 Undergraduate Biological Research course at EAC have the potential of moving ahead in their educational and professional pursuits as work-studies or interns with the Bureau of Land Management-Safford Field Office through an agreement facilitated by Henson and Cockman. For the past four years the BIO295 class has worked in cooperation with the BLM on projects that allow the students to work side-by-side with professionals in the field on water quality monitoring, grassland and riparian restoration, and seeps and springs assessments. The experience can be financially beneficial to the students who provide much-needed field assistance for BLM projects while also practicing procedure and technique learned from their coursework at EAC. For more information, call Henson at (928) 428-8366, or visit the EAC website at