President’s Message Spring 2022

Eileen Beaulieu, Board President
With additions from Linda Frazer, Board Vice-President

Spring is in the air. I know because my husband suffers from allergies, and he is in the throes of spring sneezes, watery eyes, and nose. This, however, does not stop him from enjoying the outdoor beauty of New Mexico. I invite you to come and enjoy Whitfield despite the recent Big Hole Fire that affected 75% of the property. We are open and have partial trails available. It is important to see the damage as well as the plants already returning. In the future, we will be asking for volunteers for planting projects and special fundraisers. If you want to know how to help right now, please contact Frank Mazza at 802-772-5320. There will be more requests for help soon.
In this issue of the newsletter, you will also read about the results of our annual online auction and the artists that painted this year’s Aldo Leopold benches. The Friends would like to thank all the local businesses and individuals who donated amazing items that were featured in the auction.
Our membership drive continues. To date, we have received 52 renewals. Annually we average about 100
memberships. The goal is to keep the membership dues to a minimum, thus allowing as many people as possible the opportunity to participate and become members.

Also, it would not be a President’s message without once again asking for volunteers to join our team. If it were not for all our volunteers who support our various activities, it would be very difficult to maintain the wonderful efforts and activities of Whitfield. A shout out to all those on the Friends of Whitfield Board, former teachers who support the education programs, and crews that keep the Whitfield area looking so beautiful. Positions on the Board will begin to become vacant and interested people are needed to fill these positions. We are especially interested in finding someone to fill the position of treasurer. If this is a position that you would like to know more about, please call me at 505-249-7929.
I would like to end this month’s President’s message with a little trivia about the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. It is unique in being the only designated conservation area in Valencia County with public access and a restoration story to tell. Prior to Covid restrictions, we had over 6,000 students visit on an annual basis, and it is estimated that over 217 species of birds have been seen and identified at Whitfield since its inception.

Reporting on the Big Hole Fire

Map and Text by Johnny Chavez, VSWCD Conservation Programs Manager and Friends Board Member

At about lunchtime on Monday, April 11th, a bosque fire started on the West side of the Rio Grande. This
was about 300 yards west of Whitfield.
Johnny Chavez (Conservation Program Manager) was off that day but was able to see the smoke from his home. Chavez called Andrew Hautzinger (District Director) and then headed to Whitfield. As Chavez turned into Whitfield, the smoke in the bosque was dense, and the fire was burning on both sides of the River. Chavez got on his PPE (Chavez has Wildland Fire Training) and talked with the District Director about what could be done and what to watch out for.

For the next couple of hours, Chavez drove around the conservation area, watching out for embers landing in or around the conservation area. The head of the bosque fire continued to head north, with small hotspots and flare-ups remaining.

The wind was not concise, which means it was turning in different directions throughout the day.
Around 15:00, the winds turned south and reignited fuels next to Whitfield, then turned East. The fire
jumped the clear ditch and the drainage ditch within 20 minutes, and it was on the border of the West
side of Whitfield. At this point, there was nothing Chavez could do so he headed back up to the Visitor center and made sure no one entered the conservation area besides emergency personnel. At about 16:30, the Fire Department showed up with a brush truck, type 5, and a tanker. The Fire Department used the parking lot to deploy a pumpkin which was used a couple of times by the Socorro Sharie’s Police Department to drop water. The District Director also stayed and watched as the flames came closer. The Director talked to many stakeholders and partners and continued to take photos and videos.

At this time, the fire was about halfway into the conservation area. The lateral concrete ditch held the fire back for about 10 minutes, but with the unpredictable winds, this would not have held. The Moyas used their tractor to create a fuel break just North-East of the pond. This most likely saved the Northeast Forest.

Note: The Fire Department at the time did not have the personnel to help fight most of the fire at Whitfield. They did go down into the conservation a couple of times to lay down some hard and wet lines. Neighbors on the East side of Whitfield, close to the maintenance building, told us that a small fire was heading toward their homes. This was inside Moist Soil Unit #1. One Brush truck and Chavez went down behind the maintenance building and started working that line. A couple of neighbors came down to help make a line to disrupt the fuels. As the fire started to run out of light fuels to burn, Chavez started to drive around and see the damage and put out as many hotspots as possible. Chavez continued to do this till around 20:00. The District Director and Chavez decided to leave the gates open so emergency personnel could enter the conservation as needed. As the next day came around, Staff were at Whitfield for a meeting. During the meeting, Fire personnel came to Whitfield, wanting to use the area as a staging area for a type 1 helicopter. Chavez helped find a location to put down two large pumpkins and helped set them up. This location was just at the entrance of the conservation area, where little damage could be done to the area.

As winds were too high, air support was grounded for the entire day, so fire personnel stayed on
standby. At the end of the day, the type 1 helicopter was able to come in Wednesday and was able to
stay for one fuel cycle before heading north for another fire. Fire personnel stayed at Whitfield till
Saturday, April 16th, when the fire was starting to become more contained.

Memories and Prayers for Whitfield

During the Earth Day Science Fiesta, some of Whitfield’s many supporters shared their reactions to the Big Hole fire by writing on paper “cottonwood leaves” that were then pinned to a charred limb from Whitfield’s iconic Grandfather Cottonwood/Owl Tree – the site of many field trip visits throughout the years. Cottonwood leaves are still available at the Visitors Center. Any stories or thoughts you want to share for Whitfield would be so appreciated!

Volunteer News

Frank Mazza, Volunteer Coordinator

There continue to be numerous volunteer opportunities with the friends of Whitfield. A recent example was the two-day earth day and science fiesta celebration at the conservation center. A request was sent out to current volunteers and to those who expressed an interest in volunteering on their friend’s membership application. The response was excellent and everyone enjoyed the experience not only because it included some physical activity in setting up and taking down tables, chairs and booths but it allowed us to interact in ways that have been difficult these past 2 years. In the past several months we have seen volunteers showing up for the monthly work day at Whitfield. It’s the third Saturday from 9:00 to 12:00. The next one will be on May 21. The conservation project manager, Johnny Chavez, has a list of projects where he needs assistance. Several folks come on their own during the week and spend time working on projects assigned by Johnny.

Were looking for people who have computer skills and would be willing to work on our quarterly newsletter. An understanding of graphic arts would be a bonus since we also need someone who can create attractive fliers when we’re promoting special events like the recent online auction.

We ask you to think about joining the board of directors. The board meets monthly on the second Saturday from 10:00 to 12:00, and the agenda and discussion is focused on how best to accomplish the mission and goals of our organization.

The big hole fire and the damage inflicted on Whitfield will limit access to a large portion of the conservation area for the foreseeable future. However, as the area is deemed safe to open and the environmental impact of people on the recovering landscape is reduced, its anticipated there will be volunteer needs related to habitat restoration and planting. If you’d like to be on the contact list, let me know at fmazza@live.com.

It’s a period of transition at the Whitfield Conservation Area, not only because of the fire but also because there will be employment opportunities. Check out the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District website if you or someone you know is interested in a part-time business manager position, a full-time Education Director position, or Youth Conservation Corp employment.

If you have questions about volunteering, contact Frank Mazza, volunteer coordinator, at 802-772-5320 or the above email.

Earth Day Science Fiesta

By Linda Zaragoza, Friends Board Secretary

It seems like so many weeks ago, we were planning the Earth Day Science Fiesta, and now it is a memory for 2022. But, this one, in particular, is a marker—a memory of hope and emotion for the two days of a truth we had known but have now felt so personally while caring for our earth, our locale, and our community.

Twelve days prior, it became personal for all of us who are Friends of Whitfield members, including the staff at VCSWD and the interested, caring individuals who support us. The Big Hole fire interrupted our lives and took our nearly 97 acres of conservation area by ravaging the bosque, the 50-60-70+-year-old trees, the grassy areas, the burrows, the spaces for critters to live their daily existence in the Whitfield area—and all the way to the pond!

As we were setting up for the two days and looking out on the vista of charred earth, I recalled how our Master Naturalist class had sat at the pond and sketched our views and wrote in our journals while experiencing the life, hearing the birds cheeps, screes and twitters, seeing the geese nesting in the pond and the cattails waving in the breeze just two weeks prior Now, we viewed the charred border of the pond, the blackness of the view as far west as we could see and the north corner of the area still green where the trees were spared, showing their spring green color so welcome

Busy as bees, all of us setting up our tables of knowledge and some interactive activities for people, fun things to make and take. I was at the Friend’s table and handed out brochures, invited membership in our support group thanked people for coming, and answered questions.

The most meaningful, soothing band-aid for the sadness we felt knowing that we cannot have people on the trails going deep to the center of the area is that we all gathered in the tent both days and shared our grief and extended a welcome to all. We expressed gratitude and felt our helplessness with mother nature, and the gesture of land acknowledgment brought us together in the community. Ms. Rebecca “Beck” Touchin of the Laguna Pueblo and her first gesture of pouring water on the land as we saw the parched earth absorb the water helped us to feel gratitude for seeing the grass starting to peek out in the field through the black areas and life return. ReverendJoann Burns also prayed with us, and we visualized the changes in recovery as we prayed for new life and new leaves. Andrew led us in a statement of HOPE for our intentions going forward, with appreciation and gratitude, finding solutions and funding to restore and replant, rebuild Whitfield.

The grief was palpable as I heard Andrew explain the large cottonwood trees would give a burst of energy into survival for the next year or two, but if the damage from the heat of the fire penetrated the cambium of the trees, then they would slowly succumb to lack of nutrients and eventually die. I am sad that parts of Whitfield are closed for walks, the visits to the inner heart where the sights and sounds are teeming with the activity of the animals, birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles going on with their daily lives. Where is the porcupine we saw in the tall tree, literally hanging around as we walked through with school children as he watched us? Andrew stated that our area is changed, and we may not see the likes of the trees we had in our lifetime again, but it is possible to plant new trees; create a legacy for our children, grandchildren and learn science that can help us and we can conserve smarter and learn from this tragedy. These words filled me with hope. We can go forward. We smiled after our tears and felt community. We had a windy afternoon Friday and were reminded of the fire as we packed up and shut down the fiesta early, but Saturday was sunny and much calmer. Families were with us, and the children we’re excited.

Andrew had also acknowledged the daughters of Noelle Chavez and their friends who collected funds for Whitfieldto help us. THIS is why we do this! These kids are the future, and we want a legacy for them. They get it! Conservation is about protecting all life—not just homes and structures. Andrew led us on a walk to the trail as far as we could go that was safe. The sky was cerulean blue and the sunshine warm. As we saw the view, he acknowledged the firefighters who risk their lives. Back at the center, the Smokey Bear balloon was there, reminding us of our childhood memories and the fire engine from the fifties with the words we can recall so easily— “only YOU can prevent forest fires! ” That is ingrained and our memories so fresh.

Meta/Facebook had solar cars the kids could make and take, and the Los Lunas library had arts and crafts for the kids. Information was distributed by the Water Watcher ladies, and Sevilleta was next to the Friends table, encouraging people to visit. Inside the center, the herpetologist Jerry Tuttle had brought his two colorful parrot friends who nestled close on his shoulders. He also had reptiles, Gila monsters, and tarantulas—animals native to our state. The Audubon lady had the most beautiful large great-horned owl with the largest yellow and black eyes and a striking female kestrel, which I had never seen up close, only in the sky flying fast. The coloring is gorgeous. Kirsten Cuevasbrought from her farm (Sublime Pastures) five nice-sized pigs, which were a thrill for those who enjoyed them. Frank Mazza had his table with kits to make bluebird houses, and the kids could put them together and take them home to affix hopes of new tenants. An astronomical skywatcher group came and imparted information to watch the night sky and see planets and eclipses in the near and far future.

I saw so many engaged people enjoying everything. The online auction items were available inside the center forbids, and we hope we make the largest amount of funds in support of the educational programs at the center. I believe everyone, young and old, went home tired and happy as the days ended, and everyone commented that they had had a great day. We have been reenergized and renewed to continue our stewardship, our mission to takegreat care of our assets, learning more about our geology, geography, phenology, and hydrology, and doing it all better.

We look forward to 2023 and to sharing Whitfield again fully with our community.

Friends of Whitfield Online Auction

By Frank Mazza, Volunteer Coordinator

The second annual Friends of Whitfield online auction is in the history books. All indications as of the writing of this article are that it was a financial success, and we expect to net in excess of $3300, the amount we netted from last year’s auction.

Our theme this year was “Investing in Our Planet. ” The choice was particularly relevant as the auction had barely opened when the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area was overrun by the Big Hole Fire. Approximately seventy percent was burned. There will be a need for habitat restoration, some of which will occur naturally, and some will require human intervention. The Friend’s purpose statement, in part, reads that we are “dedicated to supporting the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in the conservation of wildlife and habitats through environmental education, research, and restoration. ” The auction could not have come at a better time.

A heartfelt thanks is extended to the area businesses and individuals who support the mission and goals of the Friends and who were exceedingly generous with their donations. Over 130 items were listed on the auction site, including 6 Aldo Leopold garden benches that were hand-painted in decorative detail by local artists.

This year the auction was a week shorter than last year. It started on April 1 and concluded on Saturday, April 23, during the Earth Day/Science Fiesta celebrations at Whitfield. A second variation from last year was that we used a different online auction platform that allowed us to hold the auction on the Friends website. This reduced our expenses and as well as brought viewers to our website.

If you visited the auction site, we would like your feedback. What was your experience like? Did you find it easy to make a bid? Was there enough of a variety of items, and were the starting bids fair? What could we do better? You can send your comments to either Frank Mazza, fmazza@live.com, or Linda Zaragoza, lindar.zaragoza@gmail.com, co-chairs of the Auction Committee.

Finally, if you successfully bided on an item or recently renewed your membership, or made a donation to the Friends, thank you! You have demonstrated your willingness to invest in our planet.

The Aldo Leopold Benches of 2022

Each bench is the culmination of great collaboration and generosity – the benches were built by Friends volunteers in the fall of 2021, and then, over the course of the year, local artists painted each, reflecting many different artistic styles and capturing a variety of relationships to the natural world.

Pati Woodard makes fun stuff! ” I love to make all sorts of art from recycled items, UV resin jewelry, sewing cozies to bottlecap jewelry! I love to read and draw. I have participated in all of the seasons of painting the Aldo Leopold benches and have enjoyed doing each one. I don’t consider myself a painter so I am always pleasantly surprised that they have turned out as well as they have! Thank you for letting me participate.

Kay Sartori is a proud wife and mother of 4, and grandmother of 1. She is a graduate of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, with a BFA in Interior Design (’00) and a BA in Art Education (’02). In 2011, a move to rural New Mexico changed her heart from Southerner to everything New Mexican. Her art has always been inspired by and centered around vibrant colors and the feelings of joy Mexican and Southern folk art evoke. When she is not homeschooling, volunteering with 4H, or chasing goats, she collects found objects to turn into upcycled, mixed media art.

Madeline Miller’s bench, “The Prairie Dogs of Whitfield,” honors prairie dogs’ many benefits to NM grasslands and other open spaces. For example, burrowing owls often inhabit abandoned holes dug by prairie dogs.

Marlisah Kerbs grew up locally in Los Lunas, where she currently teaches Elementary Art. She graduated in 2015 with an Associate’s in Digital Media Arts and in 2017 with a bachelor’s in art education from UNM. Her art is often inspired by nature, the female form, and her life experiences. She is happily married to Whitfield’s own Johnny Chavez, and they are currently expecting their first baby, a current source of inspiration that can be seen in her painted bench.

H2 Academic Solutions values our ongoing partnership with Whitfield. We saw this opportunity to paint the benches as a way to give back and support a collaborative partner whose success very much supports our own. We had plenty of staff members interested in participating in one way or another. The base coats of both benches were done by: Tristan Huffman, Maria Hernandez, and Sydney Dukeminier. The cacti artwork was done by Jenna Rael, and the flower bench was done by Lucas Dimas with assistance from Noelle Chavez.

Featured Friend of Whitfield: Kandy Cordova

Interview and Article by Eileen Beaulieu, Board President

In this issue of the Friends of Whitfield Newsletter, we would like to highlight Kandy Cordova, an individual without whom the Whitfield Conservation Area would not exist. Kandy became involved with the Whitfield when she was serving as State Representative for District seven in Valencia County. She has always been an advocate for public education. Kandy understood that well-managed protected areas are a critical tool for safeguarding biodiversity, maintaining ecosystem balance, preserving important habitats, and building resilience to climate change. In addition, providing global food security, maintaining water quality, and conserving natural resources are a result of an effective environmental-oriented program.

Kandy was born and raised in Belen, New Mexico. There were many mouths to feed, so she pitched in and cleaned houses for the more affluent in the Belen area. After raising four children, she became more involved in her community. Kandy was the first woman to join the Belen Rotary Club, with a subsequent position as the President of the Belen Chamber of Commerce, enjoying every minute of her community service. Kandy owned her own business, Hub City Collections, and was very successful. Being an advocate for education, she enrolled in the University of New Mexico Valencia Campus and took business classes.

Kandy lived most of her life in Los Chavez with her husband, Ismael “Smiley” Cordova, and enjoyed biking, running, and staying busy outdoors. She and Ismael taught their children about growing alfalfa as well as ranching. Kandy was an advocate for the local 4-H Club, where all four of her children participated in several projects that required education as to how to preserve our environment and especially conserve water.

Kandy served twelve years as the Valencia County Clerk, where she was praised for her integrity and hard work. When she finished her term as county clerk, Kandy ran for state representative and earned that same reputation for integrity and hard work. Her daughter remembers how excited she was that her mother would be in the House of Representatives and thus encouraged her to obtain a seat on the Education Committee. Kandy also supported legislation that helped seniors, affordable healthcare, public education, safety, and the development of infrastructure and clean energy investments to improve the economy and job creation. Fortunately, Whitfield benefited due to several of these goals promoted by Kandy.

Kandy would like to be remembered as a loving wife, mother, daughter, sister, and aunt, as well as her strong leadership skills, community work, and a million-dollar smile. Her daughter Pam thinks she would like to be remembered as the legislator that made Whitfield a reality. Kandy truly remains an inspiration to the community and family who now support her in a battle with dementia.

Intern Farewell: Natalie Duncan

Interview and Article by Eileen Beaulieu, Board President

In May, the Whitfield staff and friends will be saying goodbye to our Intern, Natalie Duncan. Natalie’s internship will come to an end on May 14, and she will be moving on to new adventures. Natalie came to work for the Whitfield in September 2021 as a graduate of the University of New Mexico. Prior to attending UNM, Natalie grew up in New Hampshire. After graduating from High School, she moved to Washington to attend the University of Puget Sound. Natalie then decided to move to New Mexico to complete her studies at the University of New Mexico. She came to New Mexico due to many fond memories while visiting New Mexico with her family.

Natalie explored the Whitfield Internship opening after she graduated from UNM. She learned of the Intern position from her connections as a teaching assistant with the Heritage Farming Practicum and felt it would be a perfect position for her interests. Natalie majored in international studies with a thematic concentration in the environment and geographic concerns in Latin America, along with a history minor.

Natalie will be leaving us to take on a new adventure which is a plan to hike the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail. She will leave from Maine in July and finish her journey in November in Georgia. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is something Natalie has always wanted to do to know oneself better through the solitude and relaxation afforded. She expects friends and family will meet her for some short stretches of the trail. Being a woman and adventurous, this is a very exciting prospect for her.

Natalie has hopes of becoming an art teacher and plans to attend graduate school. She thinks perhaps she will become an elementary school art teacher and would like to bring the environment into her art education. Natalie has several ideas on how to accomplish this because of the time at Whitfield assisting Allison Martin.

Natalie has been a joy for the Friends to spend time with and has helped us deliver two newsletters. We wish her all the best in all life has to offer.

Saying Goodbye to Ms. Whitfield

Interview and Article by Eileen Beaulieu, Board President
Never-before-seen Allison footage by Natalie Duncan

We are sad to announce that Allison Martin, the Education Manager for Whitfield, will be saying goodbye to Whitfield on May 27. Allison’s goal is to transition her replacement and provide this person with the tools he/she will need to perform in the position. Allison has decided to transition her career and will be embarking on new adventures. This includes spending more time with her two sons by shortening the workday and being able to work from home.

Allison has been the heart and soul of Whitfield’s education for four years. She believes the biggest contribution to her job was growing the Whitfield environmental science education programs, thus ensuring all schools could participate.

When asked to describe one of the most memorable experiences, Allison related a story about her visit to Valencia High School, where she spoke to a group of students about Whitfield. When she asked the students who knew about Whitfield, more than half raised their hands. She remembers one student who told her a very poignant story about when her home first was connected to running water; it was on the same day the student went to Whitfield and connected the water at Whitfield to the water in her home. The student’s story left Allison very touched and brought tears to her eyes.

Allison has been a joy for the Friends to support and will be sorely missed.