As we kick off 2023, we’d like to take some time to reflect on key highlights from the past year. The Desert Museum is working to sustain the incredible biodiversity of The Sonoran Desert by slowing the spread of invasive buffelgrass, discovering the hidden worlds of our native bee pollinators, exploring arid-adapted foods, saving rare plants and animals, and engaging our community—young and old—in education programming and community science initiatives.
Below, we have highlighted our most significant events and efforts from the previous year. But first, we have to thank YOU for your role in supporting the Desert Museum’s mission. Whether you are a staff member, volunteer, docent, donor, member, visitor, or social media fan, we appreciate all that you do to keep the Desert Museum running, thriving, and positively impacting our community!
This year we made significant progress toward our goal of eliminating buffelgrass from Tumamoc Hill, a scientific and recreational community treasure. We also tested more efficient methods for mapping buffelgrass in both urban areas and wildlands, worked with many partners to develop long-term control strategies, and organized community pulls and community science mapping efforts.
With February right around the corner, we are preparing for another year of our annual Save our Saguaros campaign. Learn more about Save our Saguaros month and stay updated for this year’s events by visiting buffelgrass.org!
We now have over five years of data on native bees from around Tucson thanks to the countless hours of work from our Tucson Bee Collaborative volunteers and our partners: The University of Arizona, Pima Community College, and Flowing Wells Unified District. We are just starting to understand the specific roles of some of the 800 bee species that live and work here, and are grateful to continue our research and education work around bees with these wonderful partners.
Additionally, we launched We Bee Scientists, an IMLS-grant funded project to bring bees into the classroom. The Desert Museum is partnering with the Flowing Wells Unified School District to co-create place-based and biodiversity-centric curriculum for grades K-5. We are proud to share that Catherine Bartlett, Robin Kropp, and Anna Heyer presented the project at the North American Association for Environmental Education Annual Conference!
We are partnering with Mission Garden and some local farmers to grow out and test varieties of agave and prickly pear as future crops for this area, and helped host a workshop on the future of agriculture in our region with the University of Arizona and Biosphere 2. We have also started an assessment of the conservation status of desert-adapted plants that are ancestral to the crops we depend on today, and may depend on in the future.
We continue to offer classes for Tucson-area residents to learn about the ethnobotany, harvesting, and preparation of native foods, including the prickly pear, cholla buds, and saguaro fruits. During our annual Fall Plant Sale, our horticulturists shared a collection of heritage food plants, encouraging visitors to learn more about our unique culinary and agricultural history and to bring home a taste of the past.
Protecting Sonoran Desert Species
We continue to work with federal and state agencies to provide safe haven for, breed, and, where possible, re-introduce a wide variety of native fish, frogs, turtles and snakes. This year, three new Sonoyta mud turtles successfully hatched and are growing well under the watchful eye of our HIIZ Keepers, and we continued successful breeding of Mexican gartersnakes.
On April 30th the Desert Museum joined in a global effort to document the biodiversity of wild species through a BioBlitz. In one day, visitors, volunteers, and staff documented 140 wild species with a total of 241 observations at the Museum! People worldwide were able to see and identify Museum species—the leading identifier was from Florida!
We all know the future belongs to the youth, which is why youth education is a key pillar of our conservation efforts. This year, nearly 14,000 students on field trips visited the Desert Museum to learn about the Sonoran Desert habitat and its cool critters. Up from zero in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, 1,835 students welcomed the Museum into their classrooms to learn about the wild world and the importance of protecting it. 87 kids immersed themselves in Desert Museum camps, while 271 adults took a class or trip with us!
Art, Poetry, and Music!
The Art Institute was founded to inspire conservation through art education. By encouraging creative approaches to conservation, we can form new connections between science, conservation, and art. A first of its kind for the Desert Museum, we debuted “Glass In Flight,” a sculpture exhibition by Tucson artist Alex Heveri, in Fall 2022. Featuring twenty-one giant Dalle de Verre sculptures of winged insects, these steel and glass giants can be found throughout the Museum’s grounds until March 23, 2023. This year, we are running a creative contest to inspire our community to engage with the sculptures by creating a new work of art based on Heveri’s winged sculptures.
We also celebrated our 23rd annual Earth Day Poetry Contest, sponsored by our Coati Kids Club, and had the pleasure of reading almost 450 poems submitted by teachers, parents, and librarians in Tucson and beyond. Congratulations to the winner, Elizabeth Carroll, for her poem entitled “A Beautiful Place.”
Love music? We’ve got some of that too! We’re thrilled to be working with Hanner House Records to create a Sonoran Desert inspired musical album. Sing and dance to new desert-inspired tunes! These catchy songs are fun for kiddos and the young at heart. Look out for the full album this year, featuring songs written and performed by Desert Museum Education Specialist Michelle Miner and Syndenn Sweet of Hanner House Records, as well as a variety of guest musicians!
We Couldn’t Do It Without Our Donors!
The Desert Museum is grateful for 2022 conservation project funding from Pima County, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the Rossetter Foundation, the Agnese Nelms Haury Program, the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, and the individual donors and foundations who have helped us launch a Science and Conservation Sustainability Fund.
This past fall, we were honored to announce a major grant award from the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation. This grant of $1.75M is a significant step in helping the Museum reach its goal of a $12.5M Conservation and Science Reserve Fund (Learn more here). With this gift, the Museum has met the challenge match posed by an anonymous foundation in 2022, allowing us to receive the matching $1M gift from that foundation. These contributions, along with support from our Board of Trustees and many other generous contributors, have brought this fund halfway to its $12.5 million goal! You can contribute to our Reserve Fund here.
We are looking ahead to 2023 with optimism and excitement, taking with us the wins and lessons from the past while carrying forth our enduring love of the Sonoran Desert. Thank you for being a part of our community! Stay tuned on our blog for future updates as this year’s projects and events get underway.