Round River Newsletter, Issue 31
March 2021

“Whole landscapes blurred into… textures that leave me breathless and with a great feeling of love, respect, and connection to this place and the endless history… It’s a shame to see this steel scar of a wall razing its way across the landscape. Let it fall…”

– Excerpt from Walt Emann’s field journal, current Sky Island Borderlands Program student

This has been a year of hunkering down, taking care of ourselves and our staff in the best ways we can, and embracing opportunities in places we may not have looked. Now we have students on the ground in the Sky Islands engaged in ecological work entwined with humanitarian issues, which is such a relevant and consequential effort with exposure to what conservation is: ultimately a human affair. A year ago so much was totally uncertain, but Round River has continued forward, feeling grateful that we have added in our efforts and not subtracted.

Doug Milek – Programs Director

Protecting the Pascua River Watershed

With support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Weeden Foundation, Round River continues to work with local communities and government agencies to establish a 225,000 acre protected area in the Pascua River watershed. Situated in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the Pascua watershed is one of the wildest areas in Patagonia. Still, due to a lack of official protections, it is threatened by numerous proposed development projects.

Despite strict Covid-19 restrictions throughout Chile, our Santiago-based staff has made significant progress these past six months and garnered broad stakeholder support for this initiative. Working with local partners, we created a spatial database for the Pascua River watershed to inform the boundaries of the protected area. In March we also finalized a techinical report summarizing the watershed’s significant biodiversity and endangered species, thus establishing the scientific rationale for its conservation.

Our goal is to submit an official request for the Bien Nacional Protegido Río Pascua designation before the Chilean winter begins.

Sky Island Borderlands Student Program is Underway

When Round River developed our newest program in the Sky Island Borderlands along the Arizona-Mexico border, we worried that students who’d been hoping to go to Botswana or Patagonia might be disappointed in the prospect of attending a program closer to home. As we approached the mid-point of the semester, we reached out to the students in the field to hear about their experience so far. Here’s what a few of them had to say.

“Going somewhere else in the U.S. can be just as different as going abroad. Even with the initial disappointment that I couldn’t go to Patagonia, I realize I am protecting the people I want to help by not traveling to fragile and remote areas.”

“This program has been a great reminder that we have so much to deal with here in the U.S. with regards to biodiversity and human rights.”

“Working here gives us direct networking opportunities and exposure to how agencies tackle policy and field work in the U.S. (BLM, Fish and Wildlife, permitting process for field work etc.).”

To hear more about what the students have been doing this semester and the research they have been conducting with our partner Sky Island Alliance, take a look through the most recently posted student blog posts, linked below:

Aravaipa Canyon and Tucson, by Perrin Milliken of Bowdoin College
A Day in the Life of a Round River Student in the Sky Islands, by Wren Garrison of University of Vermont

Because the program has been so successful, we are excited to continue our partnership with Sky Island Alliance in the coming months. Enrollment for Summer and Fall sessions is currently open!

Round River’s monthly sustaining donors have fed both our spirits and our work during one of the stranger stretches in our 30-year history. As we all endure the effects of the pandemic, your generosity supports ongoing research in the far reaches of our planet. Thank you.

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Alumni Spotlight – Ellie McNairy

Since attending Round River’s Summer 2016 Taku River Watershed Program, Ellie has pursued her interests in ecology and fine arts. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a self-designed degree in Sustainable Ecological Healing, she spent the following summer conducting vegetation surveys in Northern Minnesota for a university forest ecology lab before venturing west to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Due to wildfires and trail closures on the trail that season, she ended up in Bend, Oregon, and landed an internship with the U.S. Forest Service monitoring visitor use on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests. This led to a seasonal position working as a Biological Science Technician on the Ochoco National Forest, conducting wildlife and botany field surveys— similar to her daily tasks on Round River’s Taku River Program.

Most recently, she took some time out of the field to launch her own artwork business, Ellie McNairy Art. Her work is derived from her experiences in nature, and her piece Nakina Salmon was inspired by her trek to the Nakina River during her time with Round River.

This upcoming field season, she’ll be joining the wildlife survey crew on the Deschutes National Forest. “I hope to continue to advance my career within the field of natural resources, potentially obtain a graduate degree, and grow my artwork business. While my professional goals are still evolving, I’ve come far since my Round River experience — it truly shaped my career path and placed me on the trajectory I am today.”

Monthusi Sinvula, better known as “Sixteen” to his fans, friends, clients and students, is an avid wildlife conservationist, guide and teacher in the Maun and Okavango Delta region of Botswana. In early March, Sixteen was in a car accident and sustained serious injuries to his left arm. Without funds for specialized care, he was facing the possibility of having his arm amputated at the shoulder. Thanks to an outpouring of support through our GoFundMe campaign, Sixteen was able to receive the surgery he needed to keep his arm, but he now faces a long and challenging rehabilitation.

Sixteen has always generously shared his knowledge and love for wildlife and his rural community with Round River’s staff and students. If you have already contributed to his campaign, thank you. If not, please consider contributing to Sixteen’s rehabilitation and specialist care with a gift of any amount towards the $20,000 goal. Click through to the GoFundMe page below to read Sixteen’s most recent update and message of thanks to all those who have chipped in to help him and his family.

Support Sixteen’s Recovery

Alumni Q & A’s on Instagram Live

Jack Burnett (of Bowdoin College) and Cormac Quinn (of College of St. Benedict / St. John’s University) joined us on Instagram to discuss the highlights of their Spring semesters in Patagonia, in 2020 and 2018, respectively.

Photo links to video.

Last month RRCS Outreach Director Alexandra Diemer hosted a Q&A with Dominic Noce, a wildlife biology major at the University of Montana who attended our Botswana Program in Spring 2020. He had plenty of experiences to share despite having had to return early from the program due to the pandemic.

Click the photo above to hear more.