Saguaro National Park has been honored for “Outstanding Achievement in Research” by Western National Parks Association, a Northwest Tucson-based non-profit partner of the National Park Service.

The award, presented for the first time, includes a $5,000 grant by WNPA for future research at the park.

“Saguaro has been able to sustain an active program in research in large part because the WNPA research-grants program has made seed money available on a consistent basis,” said Saguaro National Park Superintendent Sarah Craighead.

She and Meg Weesner, the park’s chief of science and resources management, accepted the award from WNPA Board of Directors’ Chair Christine Szuter during a Dec. 8 reception at the group’s home office at 12880 N. Vistoso Village Drive in Oro Valley.

Western National Parks Association, founded in 1938, supports 66 national parks in the western U.S. The group promotes preservation and stewardship of the national park system, its resources and associated public lands by creating greater public appreciation through education, interpretation and research, a release said.

The association operates the bookstores in Saguaro National Park and the other parks it supports.

In 2008, research projects at Saguaro National Park included investigating means to control invasive buffelgrass, and protecting a cave bat colony in Wildhorse Mine by designing a gate that would restrict human entry, but at the same time allow the bats to freely enter and exit.

Craighead emphasized the importance of WNPA’s assistance, saying “Saguaro has been able to receive support for one to three projects a year for at least the last 15 years.”

She said in some cases the money from WNPA has enabled Saguaro to start projects that were then expanded through grants from National Park Service, university programs and Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Grants.

Recent research projects at included protecting riparian resources through hydrological monitoring, surveying hoofed mammal populations in the park’s east and west districts, using historic data to evaluate ecological change at the park, quantifying the relationship between surface water availability and Sonoran mud turtle activity, studying the effects of wildland fire on lowland leopard frog habitat and studying their genetic structure, evaluating uses of genetics for monitoring mammalian species diversity in national parks, determining the ecological impacts of the introduced Abert’s squirrel, and studying the nesting ecology of the Sonoran desert tortoise.

Craighead gives credit for the award to the excellent resource-management staff at the park, particularly Don Swan, Natasha Kline, Dana Backer, Danielle Foster and Mark Holden, and the many students, professors, and temporary employees who have worked with them on the research.

“Their creativity and ability to implement projects has allowed Saguaro’s research program to flourish and accomplish many important resource goals,” she said.

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