2019 Chihuahuan Desert Conference Session 3 – Abstracts and Bios

Session 3 – Education and Conservation 

Topic: The Value of Teachers

Presenter: Eric Proctor

Session Abstract: The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently pilot tested an educator workshop in conjunction with the Charlie W. Painter BioBlitz. There were three goals for this workshop: 1. to increase understanding of the Chihuahuan Desert so the educators are more likely to include it into their teaching. 2. to expose educators to classroom-friendly citizen science opportunities in order to increase student participation in real world science. 3. to develop a training model that could be used at other BioBlitz programs in order to increase participation and awareness. Ten educators participated in the workshop. The majority came from the Phoenix metro area and were relatively unfamiliar with the area. BioBlitz data as well as pre- and post-workshop evaluations show that the educators:   ● Increased their overall knowledge of the Chihuahuan Desert. ​GOAL 1 ● Are more likely to provide comprehensive education about the Chihuahuan Desert in their classrooms. ​GOAL 1 ● Increased their overall knowledge of citizen science. ​GOAL 2 ● Are more likely to include citizen science opportunities in their classrooms. ​GOAL 2 ● Accounted for 17% of the active BioBlitz participants, which helped the event reach its highest participation ever. ​GOAL 3 ● Accounted for 27% of the total observations during the BioBlitz. ​GOAL 3  Although the participation numbers were intentionally held low for this pilot program, the results indicate that providing a professional development opportunity in conjunction with BioBlitz events can lead to greater awareness and participation in the BioBlitz and understanding of the local environment. Organizations are encouraged to utilize a similar model for their events.

Eric Proctor is a former classroom science teacher who has spent the past 14 years as the Wildlife Education Coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. In that role, he provides resources and professional development opportunities designed to help teachers bring wildlife concepts and issues into the classroom.



Topic: Preservation of Land with a Conservation Easement

Presenter: Janae Reneaud Field

Session Abstract: All of us have a shared responsibility to conserve and educate the community about our natural world: to use what we need, make smarter choices, and pass on to future generations the beauty, wildlife, water and natural resources that we enjoy today. Investing in conservation is also an investment in our economy, since tourists are drawn to our region for the Franklin Mountains, the Rio Grande, our two state parks and our several natural areas.  The Frontera Land Alliance (Frontera) facilitates land conservation by working with land owners to establish what are known as “conservation easements”; Frontera then plays a legally-guaranteed “covenant” role in the management and maintenance of those easements. Easements are a commitment shared between Frontera and the land owner to protect open spaces forever. These easements conserve special lands and waters by permanently protecting them from development for the benefit of the people, economy and wildlife of our city, our county, our state, our nation and our planet. A conservation easement allows people to protect the land they love in perpetuity and offers great flexibility to the landowner while permanently limiting the uses of the land to protect its conservation values. It allows the land’s owners to continue to own and use their land and to sell it or pass it on to heirs with the legal guarantee that the terms of the easement “run with the land,” i.e., are binding in perpetuity on all future owners. A good example of a conservation easement is El Paso’s Thunder Canyon, a 26-acre arroyo which benefits from the easement negotiated between the current owner (the City of El Paso) and Frontera. The land is open to the general public to enjoy, and because of the easement it will stay in its natural state forever.

Janaé Reneaud Field
was raised in Carland Michigan. She earned her master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in land conservation from Eastern Michigan University. She earned a bachelor of science degree in Wildlife Biology from Michigan State University. Janaé was the executive director at the Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust, Seguin Texas until 2011 when she moved to El Paso, Texas. She served four years as the development and grants manager for the Washtenaw Land Trust in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria.


Topic: Conservation through Youth Development

Presenter: Olivia Siqueiros

Session Abstract:
As we continue to see a decline in wildlife populations and negative impacts to our environment, conservationists are driven by a passion to take steps to protect endangered wildlife. Conservation education focused on youth development programs, like the El Paso Zoo Society’s Zoo Crew, allows for cultivation and to inspire young adults to nurture the environment and to advocate for wildlife.  The purpose of the Zoo Crew program, is to meet the need for Personal Facilitated Experiences (PFE) to enhance Zoo guest experience year round, while developing and fostering community partnerships with our youth. The Zoo Crew, ages 16 and 17, educate guests on how the Zoo is actively saving wildlife from extinction through conservation work and can demonstrate the El Paso Zoo’s position on the value of wild animals, and the importance of safeguarding wildlife.  Zoo Crew works in collaboration with the Zoo’s Education Department to train and teach about zoo conservation methods, conservation efforts the zoo supports, and ways to advocate for wildlife. As of this writing, not much data is available in regards to conservation programs directed towards youth.  What we do know is that the results are amazing!  Through this program, teen volunteers develop a sense of belonging to the zoo and to the community, a greater understanding of our natural world, and an increase in self-confidence in their desire to support conservation.

Olivia C. Siqueiros started out at the Zoo as a volunteer, and now helps to oversee the Volunteer Department, and supervises the youth development program, Zoo Crew, through the El Paso Zoo Society. She is actively involved with Second Chance Wildlife Rescue in an effort to help “keep El Paso wild”, by helping to educate the public on conservation issues. She is passionate about conservation, wildlife, and giving back to her community. Her goals are to inspire and encourage local youth to advocate for wildlife, by nurturing the passion they have for nature.


Topic: Landscape Scale Restoration on the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park

Presenter: David Larson

Session Abstract: For the last ten years, through partnerships and collaboration with scientists, land managers, and restoration partners, staff from BIBE have been working to manage exotic vegetation on approximately 100 miles of the Rio Grande, within Big Bend National Park (BIBE).    One problem today for the Rio Grande is water quantity.  A direct outcome of low flows coupled with infrequent high flows is sediment accumulation and the associated presence and recent expansion of exotic vegetation.  Staff from CONANP, Mexico, and BIBE have been removing exotic vegetation along the Rio Grande to improve river conditions.   Protocols have been tested and implemented on tamarisk species and river cane, the main species of vegetation that are causing current problems with sediment retention.  Bio-control, use of managed fire, and herbicide treatments have been the main methods implemented to remove exotic vegetation and allow sediments to be released

The benefits coming from the removal of exotic vegetation are easily seen along 60 miles of river.  Sandbars are more visible, potentially larger, and changing with every large flow event.   The opportunity for river users to camp has improved.   No more challenges with trying to maneuver canoes and rafts through or around river cane.   You can see where you are going now on the river.  Wildlife, from butterflies to bears, have access to habitats that are now more biologically diverse.

BIBE staff and partners are asking new questions now.  How will expanding willow and other native vegetation change the riparian zone of the Rio Grande?  How can bio-control using wasps and other species be integrated into the program, allowing for native vegetation to come in while cane slowly disappears?  How is the native fauna and flora responding to the improved conditions?   Are bears staying longer along the Rio Grande riparian corridor?  Are more bird species and butterfly species being detected in habitats with improved conditions?  How are the fish doing?  How will the next tropical storm change the river where river cane has been removed?  These questions and many more are being asked now.  Through binational collaboration with sister parks, researchers, and application of restoration activities, park staff are improving river conditions while continuing to assess and design long-term restoration goals for the 245 miles of river managed by the NPS.

Dave Larson has been the Chief of Science and Resource Management at Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River since 2012.  Dave received his Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at Western Washington University. After graduation, he served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Central America where he focused on community development and reforestation projects. Dave returned to Washington State in 1994, where he started working at Mount Rainier National Park as a biological science technician.  Since that time he has worked at six other National Park Service units.  Dave’s career with the NPS spans 25 years.  During this time he has completed a wide array of natural and cultural resource management work assignments, including efforts to protect national parks in Central and South America.    At Big Bend, Dave has been focused on landscape restoration efforts associated with the Rio Grande.   One favorite component of his job is collaborating with Mexico staff from sister parks Maderas del Carmen and Santa Elena Canyon protected areas. Dave enjoys camping, birdwatching, canoeing, and drawing.  Dave is fluent in Spanish and is working on improving his American Sign Language (ASL) skills.


Topic: Rio Bosque Wetlands Park:  A Partnership with Nature

Presenter: John Sproul

Session Abstract: In an arid region with multiple competing demands for limited water resources, securing water to achieve environmental benefits is a challenge.  Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre park next to the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas.  The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) manages the park under a long-term agreement with the City of El Paso’s Public Service Board.  In 1997, a project was initiated at the site to restore native river-valley ecosystems, most notably wetland and riparian ecosystems.  For over a decade, lack of water during the growing season stymied progress restoring these water-dependent systems at the park.  In recent years, that has changed, and a trans­formation of the Rio Bosque landscape is now under way.  A diverse group of partnering agencies and organizations made this transformation possible.  They embraced the goals of the restoration project and found creative ways to overcome the obstacles associated with securing water for the park.  Broad, steady public support for the park also played a crucial role by making clear to all the importance of a successful outcome.  The final key partner in the project has been the natural world, the plants and animals at the site that are doing the actual work restoring the park’s ecosystems.

John Sproul has been a Program Coordinator/Manager with the Center for Environmental Resource Management (CERM) at UTEP since December 1998.  He over­sees management of Rio Bosque Wetlands Park and the ecological restoration work at the site.  His training is in biochemistry (A.B., U. California-Berkeley, 1972) and wildlife ecology (M.S., U. Wisconsin-Madison, 1975).  He is a Certified Wildlife Biologist with particular interests in restoration ecology, conservation biology and avian ecology.

Topic: Making a Line in the Borderlands: The United States Mexican Joint Boundary Commission

Presenter: William V. Scott

Session Abstract:
At the close of the U.S. Mexican War, Article V of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specified for a Joint Boundary Commission. This Joint Commission was to survey and finalize the new U.S. – Mexico international boundary from San Diego Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. But both countries’ commissions were given very specific tasks and kept extensive journals for their country’s governments. The United States Mexican Joint Boundary Commission would serve more as a fact-finding mission in the fields of geology, geography, ecology, mineralogy, laying out a proposed transcontinental railroad route, and other issues of national defense than the surveying the new boundary between the United States and Mexico. This massive operation saw many trials but completed surveying a lasting border of the United States and Mexico and produced a wealth of knowledge related to this borderlands region. In 1854, after extensive negotiations, the dispute of the Bartlett – García Conde line was settled by the Gadsden Purchase and added the task of redrawing the new boundary line. This newly designated boundary was considered a success and after expeditions from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and numerous tramps through the mountains and deserts of the Southwest, which included extensive work in the Chihuahuan Desert. Finally, the Joint Commissions informed their nations on the borderlands environment, geography, flora, and fauna while making the boundary an often secondary task to the observations of the region.

William V. Scott is a native San Antonian, and seventh generation Texan.  William is a passionate historian and researcher that specializing in the U.S. – Mexico Borderlands, Texas Revolution, Antebellum South, U. S. Civil War and Western History. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Texas A&M University – San Antonio, Masters of Arts in History at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and is a Ph.D. canidate in History and Teaching Assistant at Texas Tech University. William’s research, “Fort Ewell, Texas: A Forgotten Borderlands Post of the Nueces River, 1852-1854,” was published in Texas State Historical Association’s Touchstone, and also worked on a GIS project for Bexar County as part of the San Antonio Tricentennial.


Topic: Connecting Students with the Chihuahuan Desert through Zoo Adventure Programs

Presenter: Sarah Murphy

Session Abstract: Every year, thousands of students and children visit the El Paso Zoo to see animals from all around the world, but many of them do not realize the amazing biodiversity (or even the name) of our desert. Through Zoo Adventure Programs and daily program activities, the El Paso Zoo is teaching students of all ages about the Chihuahuan Desert and encouraging them to continue their journey of learning by being outdoors. With the opening of the Chihuahuan Desert Experience, the El Paso Zoo will be able to utilize live animal encounters, native plants, and exhibit animals at the new Lobo Vista classroom to enhance the guest experience and create a deeper connection to our vast desert.

Sarah Murphy is an El Paso Zoo Education Specialist from Cincinnati, Ohio.  She received her B.A. in Biology with a strong focus on animal studies from the University of Cincinnati in 2012. She worked as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden from 2011 to 2013, where she began her career in the zoological field as an intern with the Random Animal Encounters program. After teaching English in Spain in 2013, Sarah continued her work with animals as an Elephant Care Team volunteer at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson before moving to El Paso with her husband in 2016. Working with animals has always been her passion, and at the El Paso Zoo, Sarah is fortunate to share that passion with others.


Topic: Mapping Conservation Activities in the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo Del Norte Basin

Presenter: Victoria G. Stengel

Session Abstract: Managing the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte Basin to balance multiple water-use withdrawals and environmental needs is complex because the basin resides within multiple Federal, state, and local jurisdictions in the United States and Mexico. The Rio Grande Conservation Database project was developed in response to a request from Federal, state and local agencies, private industry, farmers, ranchers, and NGO stakeholders who work in the basin. These stakeholders identified the need for a comprehensive data resource that catalogs and spatially represents locations of natural-resource conservation activities within the basin.

Working with project partners, information about conservation activities will be compiled from more than 500 organizations. The information gathered will be published on ScienceBase.gov, a public online resource, and displayed in a web mapping application hosted by DataBasin.org to show locations of these conservation activities within the basin. This data resource is intended to help improve natural-resource management decisions and facilitate coordination of conservation efforts throughout the basin.

Victoria Stengel is a Geographer in the Geospatial Science Section of the USGS Texas Water Science Center. She contributes geospatial analysis and earth observation on interdisciplinary geoscience project teams collaborating across USGS science centers, USGS mission areas, and interagency efforts.


From Bacteria to Fish – What Spins the Aquatic Food Web in Desert Sinkholes?

Presenter: Wiebke J. Boeing.  Contributors: Christoph Koebsch, Neeshia Macanowicz, Kristin M. Swaim, New Mexico State University

Session Abstract: Deserts have by definition few aquatic ecosystems. A unique complex of about 60 desert sinkholes (small lakes) exists on Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in eastern New Mexico. The sinkholes have extreme variability in abiotic as well as biotic factors. For example, depth ranges from 0.2-15 m, salinity from 4 (almost fresh) to 160 (5 times the salinity of ocean water) PSU and fish from 0-140 fish trap-1 day-1. Over the last decade, we have studied the aquatic community (bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, fishes) in these sinkholes and determined if each trophic level is primarily driven by abiotic or biotic factors. In general, lower trophic levels are mostly controlled by abiotic factors while biotic factors have larger influences on higher trophic levels. For example, bacteria are impacted by size of the sinkholes, dissolved organic carbon quality, and salinity. Zooplankton and benthic invertebrates have some adaptations that allow them to evade fish predation but both abiotic and biotic factors determine their community compositions, while abundance of some fish species is dominated by biotic factors (e.g., competition).

Wiebke J. Boeing received her PhD at Louisiana State University in 2002. After being a post-doc with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she accepted a professorship in the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Conservation Ecology at New Mexico State University. Dr. Boeing is a versatile aquatic ecologist who has experience in freshwater as well as marine environments and worked on every trophic level of the aquatic food web.

Topic: Digitization of the UTEP Biodiversity Collections: New resources for researchers of the Chihuahuan Desert

Presenter: Dr. Vicky Zhuang

Session Abstract: The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has had natural history collections in the Biological Sciences Department since 1965. The resource is the largest collection of organisms focused on the Greater Chihuahuan Desert Region and is made up of over 400,000 specimens from the herbarium and the collections of paleobiology, herpetology, malacology, mammalogy, ornithology, and invertebrates. In recent years, an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant has enabled the collections to renew activity and increase accessibility to digitized specimens through the Arctos database. As a result, both research and community use of specimens has dramatically increased. In this talk, I will discuss the history and holdings of the collections, current activities and ways of leveraging the data and resources that have now been made public.

Dr. Vicky Zhuang is the Biodiversity Collections Manager at the UTEP Biodiversity Collections where she coordinates volunteers and faculty to take care of and promote the use of over 400,000 specimens of animals, plants and insects for research and education. Before coming to El Paso, Vicky worked with several collections as a curatorial assistant for herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley, California and as a graduate student of functional anatomy. Her research continues to focus on understanding how gecko foot anatomy has evolved with the acquisition of a dry adhesive system.


Topic: Lessons learned from a novel approach to enhancing undergraduate education: wildlife research and management mentorship program

Presenter: Thomas S. Janke. Contributors: Louis A. Harveson, Sul Ross State University, Christopher M. Estepp, University of Arkansas

Session Abstract: The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) is the research extension of the Department of Natural Resource Management (NRM) at Sul Ross State University.  Our mission is ‘conserving the natural resources of the Chihuahuan Desert Borderlands through research, education, and outreach’.  Since the Institute’s inception in 2007, it has become a recognized and trusted authority on natural resources and agricultural issues in the region.  Although our “educational leg” is inherent to our mission (as we are a part of a State University System), we identified areas we hoped to improve upon.  Specifically, our NRM undergraduates with the University were not keeping pace with the quality of graduate students we were producing.  Beginning in 2014, the BRI partnered with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to create a novel ‘Mentorship’ Program for our NRM undergraduate students.  The focus of the Mentorship Program was to better retain and prepare undergraduate students for serving in the NRM industry.  Since its creation, we have mentored 39 different undergraduate students on >50 different research projects.  Over the last 5 years, we have had better than anticipated success and experiences with this Program.  Though there is always room for improvement, we hope to be able to share our experiences and Mentorship ‘model’ to other departments within the University, or even other colleges, so we can all ultimately better develop and prepare our future natural resource managers and industry leaders.

Thomas S. Janke was born and raised near the small Czech farming and ranching community of Granger, Texas where he developed a strong interest and passion for natural resources.  His interests in wildlife led him to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Range and Wildlife Management from Texas A&M University–Kingsville.  During his time there, he was very active in the student chapter of The Wildlife Society, as well as worked various NRM-related jobs, including being a research technician for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.  Following graduation, he transplanted himself to Alpine to start his adventure as a graduate research assistant with the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University.  For his Master’s, he studied the movements and survival of translocated desert bighorn sheep in the Bofecillos Mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park.  He has since been working full-time as a research associate with the BRI for the last 5 years.  One of the programs he has been instrumental in has been the Institute’s Undergraduate Research and Mentorship Program.  Over the last 5 years, he has coordinated >50 different research projects conducted by 39 different undergraduate students (from 7 different universities), 13 of which have been directly mentored by him.  Along with the Mentorship Program, Janke has also coordinated BRI’s deer research projects and has been an ambassador for the Institute’s Stewardship Program.  Janke feels that his passion is being able to connect students with hands-on and professional networking opportunities, as well as being a liaison between academia and practical management practices.