November 16, 2013 marked another Grasslands Fair at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) in southern Arizona. BANWR was established in the 1980’s to protect the critically endangered masked bobwhite quail, a species that is no longer living in the wild within in the United States. Masked bobwhite quail are currently being bred in captivity within the refuge and then released into the wild. This captive breeding program has been underway for over a decade, yet not one reintroduced quail has survived.
Despite the frustrations of the captive breeding program, hundreds of visitors migrated to the refuge to celebrate the grasslands and the unique site that is BANWR. Somewhere between 20 and 30 organizations and vendors set up tables to sell ware or spread information to visitors. Other than Borderlands Restoration, organizations included Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, Tohono Chul Park, Friends of the Santa Cruz River, Avalon Organic Gardens and EcoVillage, Arizona Game and Fish, and many local vendors selling handcrafted ware. There were a few discussions about topics related to ecology including hummingbirds and jaguars.
While there was a fantastic showing of people and the promise of a festival highlighting grasslands, there was actually very little planned that was directly related to grasslands. When questioned, the reserve manager admitted as much. Altar Valley Conservation Alliance displayed information about erosion control (improving grasslands habitat by stopping the unzipping of landscapes). The Borderlands Restoration booth highlighted information about habitat restoration on the landscape scale – including grasslands. And two representatives from Borderlands Restoration got visitors involved by demonstrating how to make clay seed balls to eventually disintegrate with the rains, repopulating the landscape with local, native grasses for the endangered masked bobwhite quail.
While I was in attendance, helping to create clay seed balls with kids, introducing them to restoration activities, I decided that I wanted to pretend that I was leading a grasslands fair. What would I do to incorporate both a love of the grasslands and highlight the unique sense of place that is BANWR?
Driving around BANWR, there is an obvious need to repair the fractured, decaying habitat. Erosion has created gashes dozens of feet deep and growing. The habitat is so unbalanced that the species that the refuge was designed to protect is no longer able to live there, even when introduced. Therefore, I believe that an ethic of restoration and protection should be the focus of any future festivals. And since this fair is a celebration, achievement and accomplishment need to be the underlying factors for any future fairs. I think it would be useful in the future to create a list of topics that vendors/presenters/lecturers should focus on, including: ecological/cultural education, restoration activities, native foods/products sales, lectures on successes/failures of masked bobwhite quail reintroduction, lectures on habitat restoration, youth focus to instill sense of land stewardship to new generation, and newly created economic opportunities thanks to restoration activities. Additionally I think that outstanding individuals should be recognized and visitors should be encouraged to take ownership of the lands through encouragement to dream up the future of BANWR.