Bob Newtson stood behind a table filled with skulls of various shapes and sizes.
“This one is of a grizzly bear,” he said, pointing to the biggest skull on the table.
Newtson, executive director of the Friends of Saguaro National Park, had lined up the skulls at his group’s booth at this year’s BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, a Sonoran Desert ecosystem flanking Tucson on both the east and west.
Newston’s group was one of the main sponsors of the 24-hour blitz, which was conducted to count and categorize the various life forms that take refuge in the Sonoran desert.
Newtson explained that his organization attracted the attention of the National Geographic Society, which is helping conduct a BioBlitz in a different national park each year during the decade leading up to the U.S. National Park Service Centennial in 2016.
“We have over 1,700 people that contribute to our organization, two-thirds of them from Southern Arizona, the rest come from all over the country,” Newtson said.
The skulls helped draw people to Newtson’s booth set up inside the Saguaro National Park visitor’s center, where he could then tell people about his organization. There were about 10 skulls on the table, collected over the years from various spots in Southern Arizona.
“We’re here to respect nature and preserve the beauty that it has,” he said.
The group’s funding comes from a mix of corporate and personal donations.
“Donations we get range from $5 to $1,000,” Newtson said. He added that the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust is the largest donor, while Tucson Electric Power is the second largest.
Newston said his group has a mission that benefits schools and anyone interested in preserving the environment.
“Every year, we give $50,000 to $60,000 in support to the Tucson community,” he said.
The group funds field trips so teachers can take their students on field trips to Saguaro National Park.