Preserving wildlife habitat on National Public Lands Day

Last weekend, a group of environmentally concerned citizens made great strides in preserving vital wildlife habitat in reverence to National Public Lands Day.

Under a mix of bright sunshine, dark clouds and occasional light sprinkles, an estimated 30 volunteers met at the Turkey Springs U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Guard Station Saturday morning, for a fun-filled day of gratifying work, resulting in the likely protection of more than 100 ponderosa snags.

Of course, public compliance will determine the overall success of the project, but the USFS and Weminuche Audubon Society hope that certain standing dead trees in the Turkey Springs area will now be left to birds and animals that depend on them for food and shelter.

According to Ben Hernandez, wildlife biologist for the Pagosa Ranger District of the USFS, the huge lifeless pines are in short supply locally, but offer outstanding habitat for nuthatches, woodpeckers, birds of prey, squirrels, raccoons and even pine martens.

That’s why the entourage of men, women and children gathered at the guard station at 9 a.m. Saturday, then dispersed to various areas of the surrounding forest, where they spent several hours attaching small metal signs to the sides of more than 100 standing snags. The brown signs with white lettering read, “Wildlife tree, saved for their food and shelter. Do not cut.”

The event — intended to inform wood gatherers and other forest users of the importance of snags to wildlife — was one of six single-day ecological projects the local Audubon chapter will complete by the end of May 2009. All six projects are being funded by a $7,000 grant the chapter received from TogetherGreen in June, as part of its nationwide Volunteer Days program.

Having only been announced in March, TogetherGreen is a new environmental alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota. A $20 million grant — the largest Audubon has received in its 103-year history — will support TogetherGreen for five years, which, in turn, will fund conservation projects, train environmental leaders and offer volunteer opportunities to significantly benefit the environment.

Saturday was not all work and no play.

Following the posting of signs, all returned to the guard station for a picnic, prize drawings and recognition of National Public Lands Day, which happened to be the day the Weminuche Audubon Society chose to launch its inaugural Volunteer Days program.

For more information on the Volunteer Days projects, TogetherGreen, or Weminuche Audubon Society membership, contact Audubon Colorado Southwest Regional Director Becky Gillette at (970) 883-3066, or rgillette@audubon.org. Be patient when waiting for a reply, Becky is on leave until Oct. 13.

chuck@pagosasun.com