The Explorer: Desert Times

Desert Times

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  • Park begins herbicide spraying

    With a media event on Aug.19, Saguaro National Park began spraying glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, on buffelgrass in the Panther Peak area. During the event, several local residents came to express their continued concerns over aerial spraying.  Carol Owens of Picture Rocks Neighbors Helping Neighbors wanted to know why people with respiratory problems in the area were not notified so they could “get out of the way?”  Chris Banks from Citizens for Picture Rocks noted the rising wind velocity and asked if aerial spraying was safe with the wind?  The Avra Valley Coalition brought information about medical studies showing links between Roundup and birth defects, neurological disorders, DNA damage and human cell death.Park Biologist Natasha Kline was joined by Lindy Brigham, Executive Director of the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center and Ranger Kristine Simpson, defended the Park’s action.  When asked about the effect of spraying herbicides on unseen wildlife in the remote areas that includes desert tortoises, Gila monsters, tiger rattlers and ground-nesting owls, she said there might be “collateral damage.”   

  • Mattamy Homes waits for approval to develop at historic ranch

    Owners of Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch, located north of Saguaro National Park West, were approached by Mattamy Homes who now awaits approval to develop on the historic ranch.Lazy K Bar was homesteaded in 1928 on the original 160 acres of land. Eight years later, the property was turned into a guest ranch. An additional three guesthouses were built along with a dining room and an area to keep horses. The coming years, especially during the 50s and 60s, brought many guests and filmmakers to the ranch. Popular movies such as the “Maverick”, “How the West was Won” and TV series “Gunsmoke” and “High Chaparral” were but a few that were filmed on the ranch. Current property owners, Jim Shiner and Peter Evans, bought the ranch in 1998. For the coming years, the two tried to keep the guest ranch running, but had to close it down in 2006. Since then, the ranch hasn’t reopened its doors.Shiner and Evans have received frequent offers to develop on the 138-acres of land. The property is zoned RR (Resort and Recreation) and if developed as a resort-type could potentially accommodate up to 600 lodging units. The zoning could have a single-family residential development with minimum lot size of 3.3 acres, but would require a conditional use permit from the Marana Planning Commission. The proposal by Mattamy Homes is for the rezoning of RR to (F) Specific Plan. This would permit 178 single-family lots at 1.29 residences per acre. The developer could not be reached for comment.The representative for the property owners, Mike Racy, says that the landowners see the developers plan as a beneficial and reasonable fit.

  • Gardening With Soule: Plan for fall - The keys to planting a scented garden

    The nose knows.  Scent is one of our most basic senses, yet it is often ignored when planning a landscape.  Last month I spoke of layers for the landscape.  Along with layers of plants that appeal to our eyes, it is good to include plants that appeal to our sense of smell. I cherish my garden for all the wonderfully scented xeriscape plants in it.  I often run my fingers up branches, releasing heady fragrance.  I love the smell of the desert after the rain; my garden too has many fragrances released by humidity and pounding monsoon rains.  Most scents defy written description.  We can try, using perfumers terms such as; sweet, tangy, sharp, fruity, clear, warm, spicy, earthy, fresh, musky, plus refer to other scents.  For example, rosemary is described as a “woodsy, fresh, camphoraceous” aroma.There are a wide range of arid-adapted plants that do well here and are highly fragrant.  The list includes trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, and even accent plants.  I have my favorite plant palate, just as other landscapers have theirs.  It is important for you to consider what you like and want in your space.  Note that one added benefit of strongly scented plants is that they are usually unpalatable to rabbits, ground squirrels, javalina and deer. One of my personal favorites is the Mount Lemmon marigold (Tagetes lemmonii).  This medium size shrub is ideal on the east or north side of a building where it gets no more than a half day of full sun.  The bright green leaves emit a sweet musky scent, especially notable in the bloom season, November to April.  Mexican anise (Tagetes lucida) is strongly anise scented, and anise tasting too, as it makes a delightful tea.  Also called Mexican mint marigold, this plant looks somewhat like a mint, and prefers moisture as mint does.  Mine thrives in my water feature, with one inch of the pot in the water. Golden flowers appear in cluster in the fall.

  • Area youth gather to discuss community needs

    Following a pot-luck dinner, six Picture Rocks teenagers created a Youth Forum during the Aug.19 Citizens for Picture Rocks (C4PR) meeting.  Savannah Van Dyke and Brennan Stevens attend Marana Middle School, while Raymond Sanchez, Justin Fogarty, Bradley Stevens and D.J. Pauley attend Marana High School.  Brought together by Picture Rocks Community Center Coordinator Adam Bernal, the teenagers like living in Picture Rocks, and several commented on the “friendly” and “respectful” people, and on “good communication between elders and young people.”Several commented on the natural beauty of the area, especially sunsets, and hoped for more Saguaro National Park programs in the schools to teach them about the desert and its dwellers.  Park Ranger Jeff Martinelli was in the audience and took note.  All six teens shared other common themes such as  the need for more sidewalks and for public transportation, more indoor and outdoor recreation sites and improving existing ones, pool parties and outdoor movies, dances, dinners and arcade games.  All favored the community center’s request for a place on the planned 2015 bond measure to expand facilities there.  When asked what their goals and aspirations were, the responses varied.  Brennan hopes to play pro baseball, Justin wants to combine being a personal trainer with computer programming, a mix of physical and technological work, Bradley hopes to play pro basketball after college, Raymond wants to be a professional cook and open his own restaurant.  Savannah wants to go to college and pursue her love of photography and D.J. is already interning to get Emergency Medical Technician training, and hopes to move forward in the medical field, perhaps even becoming a nurse or doctor.

  • What's Up UA? - UA Fall Enrollment Sets Record for Diversity, Number of Freshmen

    The University of Arizona will have another record-setting year with the greatest number of incoming freshmen, the highest overall enrollment and greater student diversity, preliminary figures indicate.New enrollment data shows that the UA will welcome more than 10,000 freshman, transfer and returning undergraduate students – with more than 7,800 of those being incoming freshmen – when classes begin Monday. For fall 2013, there were about 9,600 new students, of which nearly 7,200 were new freshmen.Also, a projected 41.4 percent of new freshmen are ethnically or racially diverse. Last year, that number was 41.3 percent, marking the first time it had surpassed 40 percent. "We are going against the national trend; our enrollment is increasing during a time that the number of high school graduates has just begun to rebound from one of the lowest points in many years," said Kasey Urquidez, the UA's associate vice president and dean of admissions.The preliminary enrollment figures also indicate strong academic quality among students. The estimated freshman SAT is 1114 with an average 3.4 high school grade-point average. The Honors College is expecting about 1,300 incoming freshman and transfer students. Their average freshman SAT is 1353 with an average high school GPA of 3.85, both increases over last year.

  • Tucson's Birthday Ceremony

    Join us for a celebration of Tucson's 239th birthday at the Tucson Presidio museum. There will be birthday cake and refreshments, the annual flag-raising ceremony, cannon fire, and live music.  Costumed Presidio soldiers and others will present living history demonstrations. The Tucson Presidio was founded on August 20, 1775.August 20, 2014Event Location: 133 W. Washington St., Tucson, AZ 85701 Venue: Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Time: From: 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM Admission: Free. 

  • Arizona Department of Revenue stops fraudulent refunds

    The Arizona Department of Revenue continues to combat the growing epidemic of tax fraud whereby individuals file false income tax returns using stolen or fictitious taxpayer information. Over the past fiscal year, the Department of Revenue stopped over $74 million dollars in fraudulent refunds from being sent out.Anthony Forschino, assistant director for the Department of revenue in charge of criminal investigations, states this is an increase of over $42 million dollars from the previous fiscal year when $32 million in fraudulent refunds were prevented. “To give an idea of how dire this problem has become, consider that just five years ago we stopped less than $2 million in fraudulent refunds,” stated Forschino. “To stop over 37 times more in fraud just a half a decade later shows how rapidly this type of crime has proliferated.” He attributed the increase from the prior year to enhancements to the Department’s computer programs along with assigning additional highly trained and motivated financial auditors and investigators to this effort.“It is important to continue this effort, and it is our commitment to the citizens of Arizona to continue using all available resources to protect taxpayers and their tax dollars from this type of fraud,” said Director Raber.

  • Vacation season is over, time for school

    Vacation season might be wrapping up as children everywhere prepare to head back to school soon.  The lucky ones among us, though, might be able to squeeze in one more quick trip.  For some, that means air travel.  Having completed my fair share of that already this summer, I wanted to share a list of five things you should never do on an airplane.  Many of these things seem like common sense, but so does not ironing in your sleep and yet they still have that warning on the box.  I am not kidding when I tell you that I’ve witnessed each and every one of these actions taking place on a flight.  And so I’m doing what any writer would do and voicing my frustrations in writing for all the world (or my captive Southern Arizona audience, at least) to read.  It might be a passive aggressive act, but some things just need to be addressed, don’t you agree?Dogs, for example.  I understand that several airlines now allow dogs to fly in the cabin on the flight.  Fine.  I’m not thrilled to be sharing recirculated air with the Chihuahua two rows up but fine.  I have to draw the line though at people who remove aforementioned Chihuahua from its carrier and proceed to walk it up and down the aisle.  Seriously?  It’s all just too reminiscent of the buses in developing countries—you know the ones, with the luggage strapped precariously on top and every kind of foul blocking the aisles and spilling out the windows.   Tuna sandwiches.  Don’t even get me started on the stinky food people see fit to bring aboard the airplane!  What really floors me, though, is when you see the offender casually passing time prior to boarding the flight, saving the stinky food for the plane instead of scarfing it down before boarding.  Because surely every single passenger wants to smell your tuna all the way from Orlando to Vegas.  Gross.Lap layers.  These are the passengers (usually men, in my experience) who recline their seat as far as possible until they are practically lying in your lap.  Lap layers have to be my number one most dreaded fellow passengers.Seat hogs.  Seat hogs are my number two.  These are the folks who—clearly—ought to purchase two seats on the flight because their girth cannot be fully accommodated in a single seat.  I may be small, but I paid for my whole seat and I’d like to be able to use it, thank you very much.Porn watchers.  I kid you not.  Within the confines of a small aluminum tube in which 200+ people are forced to sit knee-to-knee, you really can’t help but notice what might be showing on your neighbor’s iPad screen.  Leave the porn at home people.  It—and your stinky tuna sandwich—will be waiting for you when you get back.

  • AMVETS Post 770 – Important August dates

    There are no official days to fly the flag in August.August dates of interest:  Monday, August 4 – 224th anniversary of the establishment of the Coast Guard.Thursday, August 7 – Purple Heart Day.Tuesday, August 12 – Fourth anniversary of the establishment of the AMVETS Post 770 Riders.Wednesday, August 13 – 31st anniversary of the National Sons’ Of AMVETS Charter. 

  • Monsoons bring new life, danger

    Monsoons – what the O’odham people call the “male rain” of intense summer storms – green the desert, ripen prickly pear cacti fruit, and bring out mosquitoes and the critters that eat them.  Mosquitoes can carry diseases like the west nile virus or the new chikungunya, which causes fever and joint pain.  They breed quickly in standing water. To avoid mosquito infestations, empty buckets, barrels, old tires, and anything that holds water outside.  When spiders weave their almost-invisible threads between trees, try to leave them alone.  Those webs catch mosquitoes, which the spiders then eat.Another mosquito-eater is the little couch’s spadefoot toad (scaphiopus couchi).  The first downpour brings them out of their underground burrows to send out their melodious mating call.  Well, melodious to another toad, anyway.  You’ve probably heard it –  a sound that implies more size than their two or three  inches length.  They will find each other and mate right after the rain, and the eggs hatch the next day, several days later the tadpoles hatch.As the puddles dry up the tadpoles do a hasty metamorphosis, often in less than a week, sprouting legs and absorbing their tails.  Now a toad, if it stays dry they use the “spade” on their rear feet to dig into the still-moist earth to wait for the next storm…or next year’s monsoons.The rains also bring out the more brightly colored sonoran green toad (Anaxyrus retiformus), which follows a similar reproduction pattern.  Their call has been described as similar to the buzzer on an electric alarm clock.  The much larger Sonoran Desert toad (bufo alvarius) spends a lot more time above ground, taking refuge in any damp and shady places it can find.  It eats anything it can stuff in its mouth, along with bugs.  All toads will secrete a somewhat toxic and distasteful venom through its skin, so keep dogs and toads far apart.  If you handle a toad, be sure to wash hands well.

  • Citizens unhappy with Saguaro National Park plan to weed out buffelgrass

    With crews of interns actively rooting out buffelgrass in Saguaro National Park, park staff told citizens aerial spraying of herbicides is likely to begin mid-August, taking advantage of the monsoon season.  At a meeting requested by park restoration ecologist Dana Backer, with wildlife biologist Natasha Kline and ranger Jeff Martinelli, community activists Albert Lannon, Chris Banks and Tom Allen urged caution.  “Things like this have unintended consequences all too often,” Lannon said.  Allen urged that follow-up studies be conducted for five years to monitor the effects of herbicide spraying on wildlife, and Banks said digging out the invasive plant, deemed a “noxious weed” by the state of Arizona, is, in his experience, the only sure way to get rid of it.The park is concerned that buffelgrass is crowding out native plants which wildlife depend on for food, and has become a fire hazard that threatens saguaros.  Kline said that, while we  may disagree, she is “glad there are advocates who love the desert.”  Backer said the aerial spraying of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is “an operational experiment” that will be limited to a “relatively small area…about five percent” where there is heavy infestation in difficult terrain, such as around Panther Peak.  They would try, she said, to be cautious and “minimize collateral damage.”  The park is also considering use of Imazapyr, an herbicide banned in the European Union since 2003.  Backer said Imazapyr raises “a lot of red flags” and they are continuing research with no immediate plan to use the poison.

  • Car seats available at Picture Rocks Fire

    With a $7,500 grant, Picture Rocks Firefighter and outreach coordinator Billie Moon has secured a batch of advanced safety car seats for children.  During the July 15 Picture Rocks Fire District Board meeting that “Every child needs a car seat,” Moon said she is available to help install and check on car seats Monday through Friday during office hours at the administration building, located at 12121 W. Picture Rocks Road.  The car seats, which retail for $150, are available to Picture Rocks residents free of charge, as are smoke detectors.  For more information, call 682-7878.In other department news, a vacancy on the board of directors was filled during the the July 15 meeting.  Sherryn ‘Vikki’ Marshall, who served eight years on the Pima Community College Board, was elected unanimously.  Regular elections for two seats on the governing board will take place in November.  Marshall joins Chair Dave Seese, Clerk Peggy McCool, George “Jesse” James, and Ernie Robles as a board member.

  • Time to get your teeth checked

    We know that eating nutritious foods and engaging in regular exercise are essential to maintaining good health.  But did you know that how you take care of your mouth, teeth and gums is equally important?Research shows that people who have good oral health routines have better overall health and possibly lower their risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.It also shows that individuals with good oral health routines generally feel better about themselves and have a healthy self-image.Ignoring our teeth and gums increases tooth decay, gum disease and poor self-image. Cavities or broken teeth can cause pain when chewing and gum disease can result in tender gums and bad breath. These issues can reduce our ability to concentrate as well as make eating healthy foods difficult, and both are vital for a healthy body and mind.Regular checkups with your dental professional are as critical as regular health checkups with your doctor. In fact, it’s harder for you and your doctor to keep the rest of you healthy if your mouth suffers from tooth decay and gum disease.There is a lot of fear and anxiety about dental care. Regular visits, which your dental professional recommends, can help take care of problems early and may reduce the need for a root canal, tooth extraction or gum repair which, can be more serious and costly to address.

  • Drowning Impact Awareness Month

    Drowning Impact Awareness Month (DIAM) began in August 2004 through the efforts of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Today, DIAM is the largest collaborative water safety effort in the state of Arizona. Governor Brewer, Drexel Heights Fire District Governing Board and Mayors across the state have signed proclamations designating August as Drowning Impact Awareness Month.Why August for DIAM? August are peak times for child drownings in Arizona. Back-to-school distractions in August make it a high risk month for child drownings. Safety rules tend to get more lax as summer winds down.DIAM efforts include wearing purple ribbons to remind everyone about water safety and to recognize the impact fatal and non-fatal drownings have had. Drexel Heights Fire District will have purple ribbons available at our Administration Center in the month of August in case anyone would like to pick one up and help promote DIAM.Every child drowning is preventable – but sometimes, little can be done for a child once he or she has fallen into the water.  Prevention is the cure, and awareness is free. To prevent child drownings, follow the ABC’s of Water Safety: Adult supervision when children have access to water. Barriers between children and water. Classes like CPR and swimming lessons.The ABC’s of water safety include multiple layers of protection to prevent drownings. Families cannot rely alone on supervision. Here are some tips when it comes to safety layers:• Designate an adult to supervise.

  • Mixing water – CAP project under way in region

    As water levels continue to drop from regional-area groundwater wells, the City of Tucson and Metro Water District are in the beginning stages of counteracting the decrease by exploring how to combine groundwater with CAP (Central Arizona Project) water, which delivers about 1.5 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River.In the Metro Water District, which spans from roughly Lambert Lane to the north, River Road to the south, Thornydale to the west, and Oracle Road to the east, water reserves have continued to drop about two feet per year for the last two decades. While by no means is the decrease considered an emergency, water officials are saying the time is now to begin preventative measures. “Ultimately something will need to be done to make sure the aquifer levels don’t get to a depressed level,” said Metro Water District General Manager Joe Olsen. Metro Water District has consequently developed a 10-year timeline to complete a $36.1 million project that will recover CAP water that is recharged at the Avra Valley Recharge Project, and blend it with groundwater at the Herb Johnson Reservoir before being delivered through water mains to homes.Metro Water’s Board of Directors approved the project’s timeline in April.

  • New teachers struggle with certification process from the state

    New-to-Arizona teachers can be taken aback if they’re expecting a seamless transition when transferring their licenses to start a new professional chapter here.There’s a lot to it, explains Stephanie Griffin, human resources director for Catalina Foothills School District. For example:Arizona teachers need additional classroom training in Structured English Immersion, along with college coursework in both the U.S. and Arizona constitutions. And they need an Arizona fingerprint clearance, which costs $67 just for the card— plus the charge to actually have the prints taken. The Arizona Department of Education may also require additional assessments depending on the teacher’s previous home state or length of service.Some requirements must be met within the first year, others within three years— but the monetary costs don’t diminish, Griffin said. These are state requirements, not specific to Catalina Foothills or any other district. Because Catalina Foothills is relatively small – it has eight schools – Griffin has the time  to carefully explain the process, which may help alleviate some concerns, she said.She understands first-hand how complicated it can be.

  • Camp Desert Rocks

    It’s been years since Desert Winds Elementary and Picture Rocks Intermediate Schools were open for summer school.  Last year, 75 of their students attended summer classes at Estes School, but this year 180 students worked on reading, math and other needed skills locally.  Combining their names, the schools called it “Camp Desert Rocks.”  After four intensive weeks of learning, parent-teacher conferences were held June 26, the last day of school.  As a reward for their efforts, students celebrated with a water day, which included slides, movies, games, arts and crafts, and S’mores.  They also received a Camp Desert Rocks T-shirt and a pack with reading and teaching aids, including a guide for parents, to carry learning momentum through July.Desert Winds Principal Tawnya Caldwell will host an open house on Aug. 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to explain the school’s plans for student success.  Picture Rocks Principal Denise Linsalata’s will host an open house Aug. 22 between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

  • County’s pilot project receives $50,000

    The Kresge Foundation has awarded Pima County $50,000 to help get its innovative Pay For Success program off the ground. Tucson Electric Power also is the first local organization to donate funds - $10,000 – to the program.Pay For Success is the county’s embarkation into the new territory of social impact bonds, or “venture philanthropy,” in which investors put up money to help solve a social problem and if successful, receive a modest return on their investment from the government. Pima County is one of just a few governments in the United States attempting to use this unique funding system for social service delivery. The Kresge Foundation is a Michigan-based philanthropic organization that funds programs targeted at helping the poor and disadvantaged.At the Aug. 5 Board of Supervisors meeting, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry will ask the board to accept the $60,000 in grants and to approve $50,000 in county funding, which all combined will help pay for the hiring of a consultant who will determine existing or new social programs that would fit the Pay For Success funding model. If approved, the county will immediately put out bids for the consultant and hopes to have one hired by September.Huckelberry said the consultant company should complete its work and make recommendations for potential Pay for Success programs by early 2015. Those recommendations will include detailed examinations of existing county programs. analysis of the cost and performance data that are available for critical county programs, identification of the feasibility and potential cost and cost savings of alternative interventions, and an assessment of the investment market for funding alternative interventions. The consultant examination will focus on program areas; particularly mandated areas that are especially costly to the county or have a particularly high social or economic impact on the community.“Private sector funding is an important addition because increasingly, local governments can expect little help from state or federal governments to finance even the most critical of government services; and it’s left to local government alone to find the financial and creative resources needed to solve problems, whether those problems concern construction and maintenance of roads, response to disasters, accelerating criminal justice costs or responding to the problems of community physical and behavioral health issues,” Huckelberry wrote in a memo to the board about the grant.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease education seminar

    On Tuesday Aug. 19 Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church will host an educational presentation on Alzheimer’s disease, including the 10 signs for early detection and the importance of that detection.This is a free workshop, addressing commonly-held fears, and learning from people who actually have Alzheimer’s.  The event will run from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.  Mountain Shadows is located at 14240 N. Oracle Road, the intersection with Mountainaire Road.  More information can be obtained from the Desert Southwest Chapter of Alzheimer’s Association, 322-6601.

  • Donations needed for annual “Gifts of Love”

    Interfaith Community Services needs help collecting school supplies for its annual Gifts of Love distribution that begins at the end of the month.The nonprofit social services agency located at 2820 W. Ina Road has gathered together enough materials to serve 50 of the 400 children it is planning to help.For the past nine years, ICS has distributed school supplies via Gifts of Love, which is supported entirely through donations from the community. Last year, a line wrapped around the ICS building on the designated distribution day as ICS volunteers gave away 410 backpacks filled with basic school supplies – notebook paper, spiral notebooks, pens, pencils, glue sticks, crayons, pocket folders and more, depending on a student’s grade level – to families experiencing financial hardship. Many more were turned away when supplies ran out. Julie Berson got supplies for two elementary-aged daughters and a third in high school. Several backpack recipients visited the independent ICS Food Bank after putting school supplies into their cars. Census data show that one in five children in the United States live in poverty, which in turn affects their educational opportunities and outcomes. In Tucson, the rate is one in three.

  • SAHBA Fall Home and Garden show

    The SAHBA 2014 Fall Home & Garden Show — Tucson’s only locally produced home and garden show — is partnering with Tucson Originals Restaurants to present “Tucson Originals Restaurants Culinary Showcase” all three days of Home Show — Friday, Oct. 17, Saturday, Oct. 18 and Sunday, Oct. 19 — at the Tucson Convention Center.According to Noël Kurtz, SAHBA Home Show Director, “We are excited to highlight another of Tucson’s local associations and at the same time be able to offer the thousands of Home Show visitors new activities and features while checking out this year’s Fall SAHBA Home & Garden Show.”The Tucson Originals Restaurants Culinary Showcase will highlight the more than 45 member restaurants of Tucson Originals Restaurants and their offerings with cooking demonstrations and tasting samples.

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