Kara Barron, Gila Watershed Partnership, science and outreach manager, with some ocotillo seeds.

Kara Barron loves the littlest seeds — those she can plant in the ground and those she can instill in young adults.

Barron, a mom of two teenagers, is the science and outreach manager for the Gila Watershed Partnership.

She loves to see someone’s eyes light up when they learn something new and she’s passionate about seed collection and curation.

“I’m in charge of all of the babies,” said Barron, who has a master’s degree in biology and conservation. “My passion is native plant material development. Sometimes these seeds can be really hard to find. We need to figure out ways to make wild seed more available and find ways to farm native plants.”

Since moving to Safford last year, Barron has been working to get a new youth internship program off the ground in Greenlee County — the South Eastern Arizona Youth Land Stewardship Program.

Greenlee County youths, ages 16 to 20, will have the opportunity to intern with different forest service-oriented organizations for six weeks.

Working with water

During the internship, the youth will take water samples of the San Francisco River and complete various projects. For example, they may work on a new gardening area with Clifton Community Garden Coordinator Steve Ahmann.

“She’s been working really closely with the schools to plan to get them involved, especially the high schools. Unfortunately COVID put a damper on those plans for this year, but she’s got some really good ideas about how to bring the school groups into citizen science work, doing cleanups, but more than that,” said GWP Director Melanie Tluczek.

Once the program is up and running — hopefully next year — the interns will work with a wide variety of experts.

“I’m really excited to have other experts come in and share what they’re doing,” said Barron. “They (the interns) would work with a different organization each of the six week they are with us. They will get a stipend and uniform allowance. We want to try to minimize any obstacles to be able to participate.”

The first year of the SEALS program will be funded by a $50,000 United Way of Graham and Greenlee County grant, Barron said. Each intern will be paid $1,500 for their six weeks of employment, and they’ll be bussed from project to project.

Bio blitz

Barron said she also hopes to create a community bio blitz event. A bio blitz is an evening where the community gathers to listen to lectures on various insects and animals while touring a wildlife area. During the blitz community members take photos of plants and animals with their phones and upload the photos to online databases.

“This area of Arizona is not documented on this site. This could help put our area on the map for all the plants and animals we have,” Barron said. “When you document biodiversity what you’re doing is getting a heartbeat of the land. A picture of what’s here. You have baseline data.”

Baseline data helps scientists understand the ebb and flow of the wildlife habitat of the area, Barron said. Whenever a new insect animal or plant is added or taken out of the local environment, the baseline knowledge will inform researchers how it affects the environment.

“So maybe in five years we can do it again to see what has changed. If you don’t know what you have you don’t know what to do,” Barron said.

Barron is also in charge of the community cleanup efforts the GWP organizes. In March, 50 people participated in a community cleanup project around the San Francisco River. Another event is set for Sept. 12.

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