Seven Reasons Why We’re Thankful for Our Incredible Volunteers

Never underestimate the power we have when we come together to serve the Sky Islands—to monitor water, eradicate invasive species, and restore the health of all flora, fauna, and people. Together, we can do so much to restore our mountain ranges and desert grasslands.

December 7 is this year’s International Volunteers Day. As a thank you for the time, resources, and dedication you’ve put into helping us protect this region, here are seven reasons why we’re incredibly grateful for our wonderful volunteers.

1. A pandemic hasn’t stopped you from getting your hands dirty.

We are dealing with an unprecedented year, where the volunteering landscape has changed and new restrictions are in place. But you have still shown up to help us check wildlife cameras, monitor mountain springs, and remove invasive flora from our riverbeds. We are thrilled to keep building relationships with people and connecting them to this landscape—even despite numerous difficulties!

2. You’ve helped us check over 150 springs in the Sky Islands.

Over 48 volunteers contributed 678 hours in 2020 to helping us gather information about which springs still flow during the driest time of year, which springs provide habitat for native plants and animals, and which springs need protection from livestock trampling, erosion, invasive species, etc.

To put this number into perspective, 678 hours equates to over 28 days’ worth of hiking, photographing, and observing our region’s precious water sources. We are amazed; thank you!

Volunteers Paula and Chris completing their first Spring Seekers survey.


3. You’ve followed the call of our beautiful borderlands—and helped us monitor them.

We’ve deployed dozens of remote cameras along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of our Border Wildlife Study, and our volunteers have been quick to help us check them. Rain or shine, hot or cold, you’ve spent anywhere from 3 to 8 hours at a time overcoming rough terrain, scaling barbed wire fences, dodging cattle, and sidestepping down hills just to see what we’ve detected on our cameras. Thank you for your help in making our Border Wildlife Study possible this year.

Volunteer Brit Rosso checks a BWS camera.


4. Invasive vinca doesn’t stand a chance against your green thumb.

Our volunteers continue to help us eradicate invasive vinca (periwinkle) from Aravaipa Canyon Preserve. With each patch that’s removed, and with each native plant that’s reintroduced, you give Sky Island pollinators, insects, and other species a chance to recover and thrive. Thank you for braving the wet and the cold to further this important restoration work.

Volunteers help SIA staff remove invasive vinca from Aravaipa, pre-pandemic.


5. Counting sheep might put you to sleep, but counting saguaro cacti doesn’t, thankfully!

Late last year and early this year, you helped us and Saguaro National Park complete a 2020 saguaro consensus. According to the park, over 20,000 cacti were counted and measured during this event. Can you imagine how long it would take to count 20,000 cacti by ourselves? Many hands really do make light work. Thank you for your help on this project!

Counting saguaro cacti at Saguaro National Park in Tucson. Photo Credit: NPS


6. You’re so passionate about wildlife, you’ve installed a remote camera in your yard.

And you’re sharing which species you’ve detected on those cameras with us! Because you’ve filled out our FotoFauna checklist, we’ve already received almost 100 checklists of data—and we only just launched this project in October. P.S. We look forward to receiving your November checklists which you can submit starting today, December 1!

(What is FotoFauna? Well, it’s a great way to volunteer without leaving your home! Visit our page on Sky Island FotoFauna to learn how you can help us track the movement of wildlife across the region.)

Checking a remote wildlife camera.


7. You’re just incredible people, and we’re excited to have you with us.

From keeping us company in the field to regaling us with stories about your experiences in the Sky Islands, we couldn’t do any of what we do without you, our amazing and inspiring volunteers.

Thank you for everything you’ve done to protect the water and wildlife of this region. You’ve made 2020 a great year despite its challenges and hiccups, and we look forward to working with you in 2021!