Bryon Lichtenhan, our Stewardship Specialist, has worked with Sky Island Alliance for over seven years, starting as a volunteer before joining our team in 2015. He’s an integral part of our restoration projects and planning and spends a good portion of his time out in the field checking cameras for our Border Wildlife Study.
If you haven’t met Bryon yet, here’s your chance to get to know him a little better!
Caption: Bryon checking a wildlife camera for Sky Island Alliance in 2017.
Tell us a little about your background
I was born and raised in Tucson and have lived here for the majority of my life, though I have spent four years in Sedona, three years in Oregon, and one year in Minnesota. I am a lifelong naturalist with a particular interest in wildlife tracking, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, amphibians, and ethnobotany.
In school, I studied biology, ecology, anthropology, outdoor education, and athletic science, though I never put it all together into a degree. Professionally, before finding my way to Sky Island Alliance, I worked as an ancestral skills instructor, herbalist, homesteader, permaculturalist, nature guide, and personal trainer.
What brought you to Sky Island Alliance?
My experience as a nature guide, outdoor educator, permaculturalist, and ancestral skills instructor helped me realize that what I really wanted to do was help build peoples relationship with the natural world while also actively protecting and even enhancing the wild places that I visit so frequently.
To that end, I looked for every opportunity to work with, or volunteer for, conservation organizations around Tucson and started volunteering with Sky Island Alliance in 2014. I was initially attracted by the opportunity to put my wildlife tracking skills to use as part of Sky Island Alliance’s tracking program, but I quickly got involved in every volunteer opportunity I could attend.
When a staff position with Sky Island Alliance was posted in 2015, I jumped at the chance to apply.
What is your favorite thing about the Sky Island region?
Definitely the diversity of this region. I love that I can be up in a spruce/fir forest and down in the Sonoran Desert (and see everything in between) all in one day. I love exploring riparian canyons and being able to find deep, cold pools to swim in at pretty much any time of year.
I also love the huge variety of animal and plant life here. I’ve seen coati and bighorn sheep and Elegant Trogon in the same canyon east of Tucson, and I’ve gotten to see maple and palm trees growing right next to each other in canyons in the Sierra Madres of Mexico.
Do you have a fun wildlife encounter you could share with us?
One late afternoon on the Fourth of July, I headed up one of my favorite canyons on the north side of town. The first monsoon storm of the year had passed through the Santa Catalina foothills the day before, and the air was humid. You could see and feel the desert starting to wake up. The plants all looked a little more lively, and every bird seemed to be out and about.
I let my phone battery die as I wandered back in into the canyon’s depths and stayed until the sky started to darken. It was only then, as I turned back toward the trailhead, that I discovered the batteries in my headlight were dead as well. I didn’t worry too much about that fact as I started my hike back, but within a few hundred meters I was startled by a rattlesnake right at my feet, quickly slithering out of my path and rattling furiously as it went.
This is when I started to feel a bit unprepared. I was wearing shorts and sandals; not much protection from the strike of a rattlesnake! I continued my hike quite a bit slower, and it wasn’t long before I ran into another pair of rattlesnakes. The light had faded so quickly from the sky that I could barely see the two of them, so it was very lucky that they were quick to give their warning — or I might have stepped right on them.
From this point on, I walked very slowly indeed! I scanned the ground as carefully as I could, though seeing a perfectly camouflaged snake in the dark was almost impossible. I ran into three more rattlesnakes before I got back to my car. All three were within three feet of my legs, directly in my path, before they started their rattle. The last of these was impossible for me to see due to the darkness, so I just froze where I was when it took up its rattling right at my feet: I didn’t want to accidentally step on it, or a companion, by blindly trying to move away.
The other snakes had obligingly moved off the path when I stopped my approach, so I waited for this snake’s rattling to subside, and then a bit of extra time for it to move, before I gingerly started to lift one foot. Immediately the rattling commenced, and it was clear the snake hadn’t budged. After repeating this process a couple times, it was clear that this last snake had decided I would be the one to move. I very carefully had to pick my way through the rocks and desert scrub in a wide arc to the side of the trail before I made it past the rattler and was on my way again.
I felt so grateful to reach my car without stumbling into another snake after that last experience, and I felt so grateful to live in the Sky Islands where the venomous snakes are so courteous that they give you a fair warning before they lash out! At least, most of the time…
Let’s play two truths and a lie. 🙂
- I once spent six weeks living off wild food in a cave east of Tucson.
- When not typing on a computer, I write almost exclusively with fountain pens.
- Bowties are my favorite clothing accessory.