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EAC ecology instructor and students honored for their efforts

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EAC ecology instructor and students honored for their efforts

By Todd Haynie

THATCHER, AZ—John Hays, president of the Coronado Resource Conservation and Development Area, presented Eastern Arizona College ecology instructor Dave Henson and his students with the “2007 Outstanding Partner Award” at their annual meeting held at the Summerhaven Community Center on Mt. Lemmon, just north of Tucson. The award was in recognition of the on-going effort toward the eradication of the invasive Sweet Resin Bush (SRB) from Frye Mesa by Henson and his students at EAC.

Hays referred to Eastern Arizona College as the prototype example of a program where education and service learning have been incorporated into a management strategy to help two local agencies, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), in battling the SRB infestation.

In preparing students for this effort, Henson teaches them about the hazards of invasive species and their affect on natural ecosystems in their region. They are then registered as NRCS Earth Team Volunteers and spend several hours a semester locating specimens, GPS recording, and hand-grubbing SRB in the washes and canyons that provide pathways for migrating populations. By monitoring and eliminating spot populations of this shrub, their goal is to reduce the possible movement of seed into populated areas, roadways, and ultimately the Gila River.

“EAC has provided a large core of manpower to a project in which there is a true need for public awareness and support,” said Henson.

Dr. Joe McAuliffe, director of research at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, feels the spread of this plant has the potential to be the biggest ecological disaster to affect the Southwest United States. The U.S. annually spends billions of dollars trying to control invasive species damage throughout the country.

“This is where we have a unique opportunity not to look back and say, ‘if we had only addressed the problem before it got too big,’” Henson suggests. “Persistence and continuity will be the key to our success with this project.”

The mission of the Coronado Resource Conservation Development Council is to seek technical and financial resources to create new opportunities in agriculture, employment, area development, and protection of the environment in southern Arizona.

This year, grants have allowed employment for six of Henson’s EAC students to map SRB distribution using GPS mapping, re-seed Frye Mesa with native grasses, and assist with a riparian restoration project in the Upper Eagle Creek Watershed.

“The students working for us are generally rangeland majors or bio-ecology students who have shown an aptitude for this type of work,” says Henson. “These students have really exhibited quality field technique and provided time with environmental projects that will make a difference for the future. I am proud of all of them and appreciate their hard work.”