Saguaro Census 2020

Blog Post by Andrea Hoerr, Cohort 3

On Feb 18 2020, several Pima County Master Naturalists volunteered for the 2020 Saguaro Census. This survey was coordinated by the National Park Service and held at Saguaro National Park West (SAGU) with Don Swann, SAGU Wildlife Biologist, leading the way.

The Saguaro Census is held every 10 years, in concordance with the Federal census. The goal is to survey saguaros in the measurement plot and has been held since 1990. It is a large effort, with an estimated 500 Citizen Scientists participating in the survey. This day, we had 12 Pima County Master Naturalists representing various cohorts. We met at the Visitor Center at 7:45am and carpooled to the location. The participants were broken into groups of 4 and set out to methodically count and measure saguaros.

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What did we do?

  • There was some slow walking involved over the course of 4.5 hours. We took a lunch break around 11
  • The National Park Service staff marked the survey plot before we arrived. Don Swann, Kara O’Brien and Martha were our leaders and knew how to make tromping through the desert fun!
  • Each cactus had a temporary flag attached with a number that was recorded. The names ranged from numbers+letters to names like “Yoda” and “Pretty”
  • The metrics collected were:
    • UTM location – UTM is similar to GPS, but provides more accuracy
    • Height of the cactus. For cactus 6’ and shorter, we used measuring sticks. For taller cactus we learned how to use a tool called the clinometer. The clinometer demanded patience and a certain amount of skill to use effectively. It uses trigonometry to determine the height using a point 10 meters from the cactus, then measuring 2 points on the cactus – the top and bottom. Because it is somewhat fiddley, 2 people measured the height and then averaged the results
    • Number of arms
    • Number of bird holes
    • Any constriction noted which could have been caused by an injury or frost sometime in the history of the saguaro
    • In some cases, the cactus had a permanent tag that was recorded as well as the UTM location
  • Each team of 4 did 3 passes for their section. This was to ensure that no saguaro was missed
  • Laughed and told plant-geek appropriate stories

Overall, it was an excellent volunteer experience which was amazing to share with our fellow Master Naturalists! We each got a 2020 Saguaro Census Survey sticker and bandana which is a fantastic way to acknowledge our contribution.

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Some facts that we learned:

  • Saguaro National Park is around 140 square miles
  • The National Park Service estimates that there are upwards of 20,000 latex balloons littering Saguaro National Park! There’s a scientific journal that was published about this topic. Extract and full article here:
  • Weddellite is a mineral found in dead saguaro skeletons. It is comprised largely of calcite and is a key ingredient of caliche. Fascinating U of A article linked here:
  • We saw a large amount of Merriams kangaroo rat burrows centered around creosote. Sand is blown into creosote and collects into mounds. This provides an excellent opportunity for the kangaroo rat to form burrows.

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Catalina State Park Remote Wildlife Camera


Submitted by Diana Holmes, Pima County Certified Master Naturalist, Cohort 2

Shortly after moving to Oro Valley from Sonoita in 2012, my husband and I volunteered to monitor a remote wildlife camera in Catalina State Park.  The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection sponsors an opportunity for citizen (community) scientists to be involved in a valuable effort to record animal (and human) activity in the park.  A Coalition staff member guided us to predetermined coordinates in a small wash not far from the equestrian center in the park where we set up the camera. A month later, we were excited to see what was captured on film.  We’ve seen coyotes, bobcats, skunks, foxes, javelinas, many bird species, and lots of rabbits and deer.  One especially interesting photo was a badger and coyote encounter.  People hiking and on horseback appear now and then.  Neighbors (now good friends) became involved and as a team, we began monthly visits to check the equipment, replace batteries, change the memory card, and to note any unusual activities (one camera was stolen). An added benefit is the opportunity to hike in the park and observe seasonal changes, plant life, and other animals (two close calls with rattlesnakes).  One time we found a small shredded parachute and weather capsule that we sent back to NOAA.

The Oracle Road wildlife bridge and underpass were completed in March 2016 with the goal to ensure connectivity and unimpeded wildlife passage between the Catalina and Tortolita mountains. The project has been a success with over 4,400 animals documented using the bridge and underpass in the first two years.

Over the years we’ve learned about the purpose and goals of the Coalition. As they state:
The Coalition works to create a community where: ecosystem health is protected; nature and healthy wild animal populations are valued; and residents, visitors and future generations can all drink clean water, breathe clean air, and find wild places to roam.”

If interested in joining this effort, you can contact the Coalition at

coyotes cspbobcat cspcoyote badge csp

PCMN 2019 General Membership Meeting

December 18, 2019

The Pima County – Master Naturalist Association (PCMN) bylaws require a general membership meeting in December of each year.  “The acts of the majority of the voting members present at each duly called and convened meeting shall be the acts of the General Membership” (5-E-Vlll).

Voting members include those individuals ‘in good standing” who meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Member in Training: Participating in a current PCMN class.
  2. Member Intern: Completed class but not yet completed service hours for full certification.
  3. Certified Member: Completed official class of (60) hours and have accumulated (60) hours of volunteer service and (20) hours of advanced training, (5) of which are skills based, on an annual basis.
  4. General Member: Previously certified but not current on required annual service hours.

The meeting this year was held on December 8, at the group campsite of the Molino Basin Campground in the Santa Catalina Mountains.  Members enjoyed the option of camping the evening before the meeting and a potluck picnic lunch afterwards.

Picnic under the Molina Basin campsite Ramada, Photo: F. Lane

The meeting was convened by 2019 Chapter President Cameron Becker (Cohort2).  In 2020, as Past President, Cameron will serve the second year of his term in an advisory capacity to the Board of Directors and chair the nominating committee for next year’s election cycle.  Cameron and an ad hoc committee (TBD) will solicit nominees for 2021 President Elect as well as Chapter Treasurer and Secretary.  Jean Boris (C2) and Carrie Barcom (C2) were unanimously re-elected to serve a second year.

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Cameron Becker (C2) holding forth around the fire, Photo: K. Sudano

Dr. Jessie Rack (C3) was selected by the membership as President elect for 2020.  She, in turn, will succeed new Chapter President Franklin Lane (C1) at next year’s membership meeting.  It was generally agreed that the outdoor venue/potluck protocol was both inexpensive and appropriate.  Jessie will be looking for a similar situation for next year, perhaps central or on the West side of town.  Suggestions are welcomed. There was also enthusiasm expressed for inviting a keynote speaker in the future.  Perhaps add some gravitas and ‘advanced training’ to the occasion!  Not too early to pencil in the weekend of 12/6/2020.

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President Elect Jessie rack at Molina Falls earlier in the day. Photo: F. Lane

In addition to the Executive elections, other agenda items included approval of Kathe Sudano (C3) as a Board of Directors, Member at Large.  The only position left to fill on the 2020 Board is that of Curriculum Committee Chair.  This position is currently being filled “by committee” for Cohort 4, which begins in January 2020.  Ideally, we can identify a person to learn the process this year and assume oversight for 2021.  All members should consider this opportunity, LoriAnne has truly refined it to a “Cut And Paste!”

LoriAnne and Meck Slagle (C3) also successfully applied for a UofA Green Fund grant of $1600.  This is an incredible gift to the Chapter.  It is the intention to use a portion of the monies to purchase a Chapter computer (for official classes) and dedicate the remainder toward scholarships.  Well done amigas!

The following members were awarded service pins:
– 250 hours:  Deb Petrich (C1), Kathy Mclin Carter (C3), Dan Collins (C2), Jean Boris (C2), Michelle Kostuk (C1) and Don Eagle (C1)
– 500 hours:  Janel Feierabend (C1) and Hank Verbais (C1)
– 1,000 hours:  Hank Verbais (C1)

Finally, a note from Josh Skattum (C3) and Jenna Marvin (C3) on future Chapter fund raisers. Please consider joining us at:

Tap & Bottle on Saturday, 1/25/2020, Time: 5-8pm
403 N. 6th Ave.
3 % sales to Chapter

Borderlands Brewing, Friday, 3/13/20, Time: 5-8pm
119 E. Toole
X % sales to Chapter

Other photos from Deb Petrich:

New Executive Team
New Executive Team: Franklin Lane and Jessie Rack
Dre Hoerr (C3) and Jessie Rack (C3) with Queen and Luna
Picking our PCMN t-shirt to sell for fundraisers. Kathe Sudano is presenting 1 option.
What a nice location!
2019 President Cameron Becker (C2) with new 2020 President Franklin Lane (C1)

Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Nature Walk 12/7/2019

On Saturday, December 7th, Deb Petrich (C1) and Kathy Carter-McLin (C3) participated in a PCNRPR interpretative (?) hike, led by Sandy Reith, Program Specialist with the Environmental Education Team, on part of the Arizona Trail located in Colossal Cave Park.  Did you know that the Hohokam, primarily hunter/gatherers and occasional farmers, used this area from 800-1450 AD.  Eventually they moved towards advanced agriculture and began settling in more permanent, larger villages, or “Plazas”.  The actual cave was used as a seasonal shelter and storage facility.

December in the Park area is usually mild with an average high of 65 degrees, low of 39 degrees and average rainfall of almost 1″  We used the Seek app on our hike to identify such flora as Christmas Cholla, Berlandier’s Wolfberry, Wheeler Sotol, Mariola, Brownfoot, various types of Agaves plus much more.  In addition, we spotted and heard a mockingbird, curve-billed thrasher and cactus wren.  Kathy was inspired to compose this poem after our walk.    In addition, please see our photos after reading.

Come walk with me
Upon this land where ancients farmed and prayed for rain.
Where spirit gods kiss desert and plain
Whence from it springs the seeds of life.

That I can see this life and bathe in the sun’s warm blanket
To watch and record her mysteries
As they change from month to month
A pleasant task filled with beauty and unexpected surprises.

Rejoice that we are here
And now to see it and do what we can to protect
And nurture in ourselves and others
Such a love that we preserve it
For those yet to come for eternity.

Photos:  Deb Petrich (C1) and Kathleen Mclin-Carter (C3)


Volunteer Spotlight: Jessie Rack, President Elect

Hi all!  My name is Jessie Rack, and I’m excited to be the featured Master Naturalist for this newsletter! I am a relatively new transplant to Arizona. I grew up in New York and West Virginia and lived on the east coast until moving to Tucson in 2018. I have always been deeply interested in the natural world – the only family vacations we ever took were camping trips. I first studied music and creative writing, and then earned degree in biology from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (yes, really). In 2016, I received a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut. For my dissertation, I studied larval spotted salamanders and their responses to predator chemical cues. I began working as a naturalist in the summers in New England, first at a nonprofit land trust in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, then for two summers at a family summer camp in Maine. Meanwhile, during the school year, I taught college freshmen writing in New Jersey. I moved to Arizona for a job with the University of Arizona – I am an environmental educator with the nonprofit outreach Community and School Garden Program. Each week, I travel to multiple schools around Tucson and teach science, using school gardens and outdoor spaces to get kids to do hands-on investigations.

When I’m not working, I’m usually found outside anyway. I love to run, hike, bike, and explore new areas in Arizona. My greatest interest is in herpetology – reptiles and amphibians – but I have been loving learning about mammals, insects, plants, and all other denizens of the desert.

I wanted to become a Master Naturalist to get myself up to speed on the ecology of the Sonoran Desert. The diversity of things here is incredible! I’ve been so delighted to learn to put names to the things I see. My favorite naturalists are naturalist-writers – Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Berndt Heinrich, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey – anyone with the patience to sit quietly and observe and then to translate nature onto the page, with lyricism and poetry and wit.

My volunteering strategy is to help out with a lot of one-off projects; because my schedule is so packed, it’s hard to have a regular volunteering commitment. I have helped Pima County Parks and Rec with environmental education outreach events, have sent emails to schedule Buffelgrass talks for the Desert Museum, have helped out with a Sky Island Alliance spring survey, and have led my own BioBlitz team in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This fall, I have begun doing library talks, and my first program, “Sickening Superheroes of the Sonoran Desert: Gross Animal Adaptations and why they’re Actually Amazing” premiered in early October. To me, being a good Master Naturalist is all about being eager to learn, eager to collaborate, and eager to share what you know. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share my newfound love and knowledge of the Sonoran Desert.

Congratulations to Jessie as she was voted the new PCMN Chapter President-Elect for 2020.

Tumamoc Hill Nature Writing Workshop Nov. 15-17, 2019

Olivia Carey (C3), Deb Huie (C1), Penny Miller (C2) and Michelle Kostuk (C1), attended the ‘Nature Journaling: Learn the art of seeing and recording the world around you’ workshop at the Desert Laboratory up on Tumamoc Hill, November 15-17, 2019.  The instructor was Roseann Hanson with guest instructor Paul Mirocha.  Deb and Olivia have providing writing samples from this workshop.  Please see their writings after Olivia’s  write-up on her experience.

I took both workshops – sketching in Nov and writing in Dec.  The Hansons are excellent instructors as well as amazing naturalists and authors.  For me the sketching was more fun, mainly because when I try to write, I tend to get impatient with all those words!  Drawing, on the other hand, is more natural and more relaxing, a meditation.  Both workshops really helped me with focusing on and seeing things deeply and how to practice “intentional curiosity”.  The sketching class included good info on materials and tools that are inexpensive and easy to use in the field.  RoseAnn explained about using archival paper and ink for journals that will endure.  Jonathan brought examples of “good” and “bad” nature writing that I found super helpful.  I came away inspired to use more words in my journals, and challenged to explore my ideas from multiple angles.  These workshops are great for anyone wanting to learn about nature journaling at any level – beginner or experienced.  (And they are approved for advanced skills training credit!)

The sketching class is being offered again in the spring at Tohono Chul.

Please see below for my “dense prose” piece.  The blog post picture is an ink sketch from my journal.  PCMN has my permission to reproduce without restrictions.

Olivia Carey
Sunday, 15 December 2019
Workshop exercise: Writing the Lives of the Sonoran Desert at the UA Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill

The slender silver-grey line ends in a clean point, so delicate and fragile, almost innocent. It joins with dozens of its brothers and they surround the tough, flexible stem, creating a phalanx of spear points. For now, in the rainy season, each spine has a feathery garland of tiny leaves, so the menace is disguised, and the branch appears plush and inviting.

The unsuspecting visitor reaches out to stroke the soft foliage. He jerks back quickly. He cries out in pain. He curses. Muttering and nursing his wounded finger, he retreats down the trail, now thoroughly convinced that everything in this strange, arid land is hostile to human occupation.

The visitor is gone. The ocotillo remains, oblivious to the comings and goings of humans. Her long, elegant branches stretch up into the blue ocean of sky and out to the drifting breeze. Within days, she will encase her fingers in garnet and ruby blossoms.
If she were aware, would she note the visitor’s pain, his instant dismissal of her potential? Would she want him to stay a little longer? Would she plead with him to look again to see her at her finest?

Writing the Lives of the Sonoron Desert Workshop
Writing Assignment: Luminous Mother of Tumamoc
By: Deborah Huie

Anchoring souls like mooring vessels to a buoy, Luminous Mother is protector and patroness of Tumamoc Hill. Laden with rosaries she stands centered, sentinel to all things celestial and terrestrial.

She watches over her fellowship. Holding space and accepting the tokens, prayers, grief bestowed upon her. Their walk up the hill now a pilgrimage. Humans need places like this. Hills, shrines which exist in nature and allow us to unburden ourselves and move freely, unencumbered

Luminous Mother, divine guardian, is everyone’s mother. Earth Mother, Virgin of Guadalupe, Virgin Mary, Madonna, Black Madonna, Chomolungma. A creator of beings performing her duty as benevolent protector of her children. Taking on their suffering so they don’t have to bear the burden.

Her devotees amass receiving spiritual sustenance from her. They are fiercely attached to the gatekeeper of Tumamoc, mingling in sacred space sharing borders, knowing their need for her primordial.

Anchoring souls and gathering burdensr3

Bug Buzz: Green Fig Beetle

Green Fig BeetleCotinis mutabilis

By:  Meck Slagle

As the monsoon season brings rejoicing rain to the region, insects start to emerge in booming quantities with one goal: find a mate. One of the most easily recognized insects in our desert is the Green Fig Beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, which can be spotted from a distance as it clumsily buzzes around and bumps into trees, buildings, and often people. Many kids growing up in the southwest (California to Texas), have enjoyed keeping Fig Beetles as pets and even ‘flying them’ by tying a string around it as a little leash in order to keep it close.

green fig beetle

This large insect is part of the Scarab family, which means the larvae are white grubs that curl into a ‘c’ shape when disturbed – you can often find these grubs in your garden or compost. Luckily, the Green Fig Beetle larvae are not eating your plant’s living roots, but are there eating the decaying material like fallen leaves. The grubs eat and grow 2-3 months before making a small cell from dirt that it will use to pupate; these cells are a tad smaller than a ping-pong ball and will protect the metamorphosing creature from drying out, becoming deformed, and predation.

Males usually emerge from underground pupal cells first; beginning their oafish flights in search of food and females. Once a good source of food is found, these beetles will congregate to it and it isn’t unusual to see dozens on one tree. The adults will eat a variety of fruits on trees and shrubs, while figs seem to be one of their favorites (hence the namesake). You can attract some of these harmless beetles to your yard by leaving a piece of fruit out overnight… cantaloupe seems to be another favorite.

These beetles are most notable for having iridescent green bodies with brown or yellow highlights, and closely related species can be brown or even jet black. We aren’t sure why these beetles have this coloration, but they are quite beautiful and are sometimes used in jewelry-making. Some folks may call these beetles “June bugs,” but that is a misnomer. ‘June bug’ is commonly used to describe a wide variety of insects across the globe and can be misleading, because a june bug in Ohio is a very different critter than a june bug in Wyoming. While it is always best to use scientific names, they are hard to remember, so for this insect, the common names that are most accurate are Green Fig beetle or Figeater beetle.

Southeastern Arizona Birding Festival, August 8-11, 2019

By Jean Boris

Pima Master Naturalists hosted a table at the 9th Annual SE Arizona Bird Festival, Nature Expo. on August 8 – 11th, 2019.  The Bird Festival is hosted by Tucson Audubon Society, with lots of great field trips through out SE Arizona, workshops and speakers as well as activities for kids.

It was awesome to see so many volunteers support the chapter and take an active role in educating the public about our mission, our training class and what is expected of a certified master naturalist  We had 19 volunteers staff the table over 4 days.  Special thanks to volunteers:  Emily Bennett, Janel Feierabend, Carol Anderson, Jane Williamson-Davenport, Franklin Lane, Josh Ruddick, Diana Holmes, Penny Miller Barbara Rose Gaynor, Carrie Barcom , Jean Boris, Suzanne Bott, Meck Slagle, Kathe Sudano, Peggy Ollerhead, Karen Vandergrift, Monica Wnuk, Gail Gault and Kathleen Mclin.  We had contact with over 300 individuals and 67 new emails.

You never know who you might meet at these events!

jane and bird

Special thanks to Carrie Barcom for creating the eye catching photo displays for our table.

carrie tabling

Kudos to Suzanne Bott who loaned us her nest collection and birds that the kids just love to touch.


Meck and Janel engaging!

janel tabling

August 5-9, 2020 

Save the date for next year and celebrate 10 years of birding and festivals!

USGS/UofA Spotted Cat Monitoring Project

By Franklin Lane & Deborah Huie

On Saturday August 3rd, Deb Huie (cohort 1) and I made a trip into the wild, Huachucas to retrieve SD cards from our (4) cameras placed in support of the United States Geological Survey/University of Arizona Spotted Cat Monitoring Project.  The project (since 2013) is headed by Dr. Melanie Culver and has over (60) cameras in the various ranges along the Arizona border south of Interstate 10. We’ve worked this particular set of cameras since 2017. Access requires approval and coordination with Fort Huachuca Environmental and Natural Resources, Military Police and Weapons Range Control. The cameras are somewhat remote so require Deb’s off road driving skills to approach.

deb h Photo: Franklin Lane

The back country roads and subsequent trailheads are off Garden Canyon.  This recreational area of the Fort is open to the public but does require a day pass available at the Fort Huachuca Main Gate.  Garden Canyon is very popular with ‘birders’ and a regular venue of Southwest Wings, a non-profit educational organization which hosts Arizona’s oldest Birding Festivals. The main road into the canyon, while not paved, does not require x4 wheel drive or high clearance. There are picnic areas and a pretty rare pictograph site.

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Photo: Deb Huie

Our first set of cameras is still on the Fort and so access requires not only approval to monitor but a renewable permit to install. They are near a perennial spring so there is a tremendous amount of animal traffic. Everything from Coatis to a dozen different bears.

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Now, how does this work?                                               Photo: Deb Huie

mtn liondeerbear

The second set of cameras is a little more service and require a (6) mile roundtrip hike.  They are actually off Fort Huachuca in the Coronado National Forest. We exit the Fort boundary through Wilderness Gate 2 along the Crest Trail

Photo: Deb Huie

While a difficult climb from 6300’ to over 8400’ the trail is beautiful and offers some stunning views


mtn top

In addition to wildlife these remote, higher cameras also capture a great deal of human foot traffic from heavily armed Border Patrol agents to recreational and non-recreational hikers. In March 2017 we retrieved snaps of a male jaguar from this set of cameras.  Unfortunately he eventually returned to Mexico and was subsequently poached.  The Project’s big cat experts identified the animal from its spotted coat; as unique as our fingerprints.

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The Huachuca Mountains are a beautiful range.  They can also be accessed from the south and west without going through the Fort. Good information can be found at the Coronado National Monument Visitor Center. These mountains are, however, a lot “wilder’ in many respects than our local Santa Catalinas. Plan carefully!


Both Photos: Deb Huie