August 17, 2018
NOTE: Across 350 kilometers of the The Middle Rio Grande River students and their teachers from kindergarten through college serve as field scientists for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP). Bosque means ‘forest’ in Spanish, and refers to the vast cottonwood forest that straddles the Rio Grande. Currently there are 32 study sites, and over 1 million data points are collected each year by many local students who would otherwise have limited access to environmental education. This Albuquerque-based program shows how local science initiatives can connect people to their landscapes while helping inform resource management decisions.
By Liz Douglass-Gallagher
This summer, BEMP was excited to work with the first Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA) Youth Conservation Crew in partnership with ASLA, Valle de Oro NWR, and the US Forest Service! Following the footsteps of crews of young adults from the deaf and hard of hearing community who work with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC), this crew was created for individuals who want to engage with conservation and outdoor work but who are too young to participate in the RMYC crews. For five weeks, the ASLA “Honey Badger” Crew helped BEMP with several projects, while also working with Valle de Oro NWR, the Albuquerque BioPark, and many other partners.
During our first week with the ASLA Honey Badger Crew, we hit the ground running by working on a long-term project in the bosque near Bosque School! With support from BEMPer Sean, the ASLA crew helped wrap cottonwood trees in chicken wire exclosure devices, a method shown by Bosque School students to eliminate cottonwood mortality due to beaver chewing as part of a 17-year project. After a few hours of wire wrapping, the ASLA crew spent some time on the beach observing baby Woodhouse’s toads, cattails, the river, and more! This week, BEMP staff was excited to learn how to say “forest,” “river,” “water,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “bug” in American Sign Language.
The next two weeks with the ASLA crew was monthly monitoring and pitfall trapping! BEMP staff Laura and Ara worked with the crew to collect data from our leaf litterfall tubs, groundwater wells, and precipitation gauges at several sites. The crew also helped monitor for the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle by sweeping the exotic tamarisk/salt cedar trees with nets. The following week, the ASLA crew set surface arthropod pitfall traps, which occurs three times a year to study the diversity and abundance of arthropods crawling on the bosque floor. While these weeks were VERY hot (oh, summer in New Mexico!), the crew persevered without complaints and provided invaluable help during our summer data collections.
For the second to last week with the crew, BEMPer Katie Elder led the crew in turtle trapping and frog swabbing at the Rio Grande Nature Center. While the turtle traps were unfortunately empty, some ASLA crew members still had a refreshing dip in the RGNC viewing pond while collecting the traps! The crew then turned their attention to looking for frogs to swab for chytrid, a fungus associated with an infectious disease affecting amphibians. BEMP works on this project in partnership with NM Game and Fish to monitor for the sources and spread of chytrid in New Mexico. Although most of the morning was spent frogless and toadless, the crew still had a great time exploring, splashing, and sometimes slipping in the pond and river. Just as they were finishing up, they found two toads to swab and send off to be tested for chytrid!
For the last week with the ASLA crew, the crew wrapped up (get it?) their summer with chicken wire exclosures to limit beavers once more. They expertly identified trees that needed the wire loosened, deftly cut the chicken wire, and efficiently wrapped the trees as a team! Back at Bosque School for lunch and to cool down, the crew learned more about beaver adaptations through BEMP’s Build-a-Beaver activity. Finally, the crew worked on a list together of what they had learned or liked best about the summer.
Since we were feeling a bit sad to say goodbye to this crew, BEMP was so happy to attend the crew’s graduation and family celebration a few weeks later, along with spending time in Taos with them and other youth crews to close out the summer thanks to the US Forest Service! We’re looking forward to working with ASLA again, and a big thank you to all of the partners, organizations, staff, families, and crew members who helped BEMP it up this summer!
Liz Douglass-Gallagher is a BEMP Educator, Rio Grande Phenology Trail Educator, and Bosque School science teacher. This post was originally published here.