EAC-Safford BLM STEM Partnership hosts a Youth Day at the Rabbit Farm

Contributed Photo/Courtesy EAC: Thatcher and Pima high school students participated in the Eastern Arizona College-Safford BLM STEM Partnership Youth Day for local area youth last week in the San Simon Valley along with EAC BIO 295 students (the Undergraduate Biological Research class) and the STEM Partnership interns.

By Dave Henson

THATCHER — The Eastern Arizona College-Safford BLM STEM Partnership hosted a Youth Day for local area youth last week in the San Simon Valley.  In attendance were EAC BIO 295 students (the Undergraduate Biological Research class) instructed by Dave Henson, EAC associate professor of biology and Science Division chair, and the STEM Partnership interns, also students at EAC.

More than 60 students from Thatcher and Pima high schools participated under the supervision of EAC biology associate professor, Aaron Burk, who also teaches EAC’s BIO 100 courses at the two schools.
The youth visited Rabbit Farm, a wildlife exclosure in the San Simon Valley that at one time had artesian water and surface water filling two large ponds. The ponds held ample water for waterfowl as late as the 1980s, were stocked with catfish and had ranchers’ children swimming there — swinging out on ropes hung from very large cottonwood trees. Today, the ponds are dry and the cottonwood trees are skeletons against the sky.

The renovation of Rabbit Farm is one of four projects short-listed by Arizona Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to a grant provided through the Natural Resources Defense Council and Freeport McMoRan.  Improvement of waters or creation of new waters is needed for waterfowl as mitigation for past mine activities.

The youth were divided into three teams to look at the present condition of infrastructure and to brainstorm possible improvements. They were also tasked to learn about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, erosion control, surface water flow and the function of wells and ponds. The teams acted as interdisciplinary teams addressing the NEPA process and desired future conditions for the site.

Longtime San Simon rancher Pete Brawley joined the Youth Day activities and provided historical insight and knowledge of the wells and ponds. Brawley managed the Hackberry and Tanque grazing allotments for more than 50 years.  The Hackberry, where Rabbit Farm is located, is in new hands, but Brawley stays involved with the activities, continues to ranch on the Tanque land and is enthusiastic about the possible renovation of Rabbit Farm. The STEM Partnership interns are supervised by Jony Cockman, Lead National Resource Specialist for the AZ BLM, in partnership with Henson.

For more information about the event or the project contact Henson at dave.henson@eac.edu.