Next Audubon, TogetherGreen project Saturday

With two of six TogetherGreen environmental projects now complete, the Weminuche Audubon Society will effect a third this Saturday.

On both Sept. 27 and Oct. 30, members and friends of the local Audubon chapter completed two separate assignments intended to protect vital wildlife habitat from destruction. Referred to as “Habitat Signs,” the combined events resulted in the placement of small metal signs upon nearly 150 standing dead trees in two areas of the San Juan National Forest.

The brown signs with white lettering read, “Wildlife tree, saved for their food and shelter. Do not cut.” Their purpose, of course, is to inform wood gatherers and other forest users of the importance of preserving snags for wildlife.

A majority of the posted trees are ponderosa snags, which, according to Ben Hernandez, wildlife biologist for the Pagosa Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service, are in short supply locally, but offer outstanding habitat for nuthatches, woodpeckers, birds of prey, squirrels, raccoons and even pine martens. Seven large, dead or dying Gambel’s Oak trees were also tagged.

While participants managed a little fresh air and moderate exercise in their efforts, they also achieved a sense of self-gratification through volunteer work and the preservation of a small part of our natural ecology.

This Saturday, the group — and all willing members of the general public — will turn to constructing and placing “roosting boxes” in the surrounding area. As the third project of a six-event series, the boxes are designed to help non-migratory birds endure our long cold winters.

The society hopes to complete and erect 20 roosting boxes at various locations, possibly including Reservoir Hill, the Pagosa Springs Senior Center, Pine Ridge Extended Care Center, Williams Creek Reservoir, the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park, Pagosa Lakes, and area parks and schools. Other rural county locations are being considered, and actual sites will be recorded via GPS coordinates.

A roosting box provides critical shelter to wild birds during prolonged periods of heavy moisture or extreme cold. Resembling a large bird house, its entry is near the bottom, while perches are staggered throughout its upper interior. Because warm air rises, as birds huddle together, their collective body heat keeps them comfortable and cozy.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, all volunteers, young and old alike, will gather in the south conference room of the Pagosa Springs Community Center to assemble pre-cut materials. Members of Boy Scout Troup 807 have already cut and pre-drilled the wood, and the Weminuche chapter will provide Phillips screws.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring hand-held or power screwdrivers for the morning assembly, and appropriate attire for an afternoon outdoors. Audubon will provide lunch and beverages. Once the boxes are assembled, participants will deliver them to precise locations, where they will be mounted in trees 10 feet above the ground.

As mentioned, the roosting box project is the third of six single-day ecological assignments the local Audubon chapter will fulfill by the end of May 2009. The final three will be announced in the coming weeks or months, and 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.

Announced in March, TogetherGreen is a new environmental alliance between the National Audubon Society and Toyota. A $20 million Toyota 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.

All Audubon meetings, field trips and events are free and open to the public, and Saturday is sure to be enjoyable and worthwhile for participants of all ages. If interested in lending a hand, simply show up at the community center at 9 a.m.

For more information on the roosting boxes project, other Volunteer Days events, TogetherGreen, or Weminuche Audubon Society meetings and membership, contact Weminuche Audubon Society President Susan Halabrin at (970) 749-6143, or shalabrin@aol.com.

chuck@pagosasun.com