Burrowing owls get new home as college budget gets buried

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Faculty at Estrella Mountain Community College are concerned about which programs could be taking flight with the elimination of state funding from the upcoming budget.

The approved budget slashes $4 million in state funding for Maricopa Community Colleges. The colleges will now operate with no fiscal support this year.

While college leaders ratchet together a new budget, biology students are ratcheting together new homes for owls that were displaced on campus and in the community.

"We've built burrows for the owls, and now the owls are getting moved in," says biology faculty member Rachel Smith.

It's a project that began a couple of years ago when people at the college discovered a family of burrowing owls living on the future site of the performing arts center.

"We thought this was such a great project," Smith says. "The students had such a great time being involved that we decided we'd expand, and now we have a little owl city."

Smith says the program is possible thanks to help from Wild at Heart rescue and the time and resources dedicated by the college.

"It takes my time; it takes all the support staff's time here," Smith says. "The facilities people are here helping us and the more time that we're crunched, and the bigger loads we have to teach in the classrooms takes away from adding this kind of value-added project."

She says she's worried projects like the owl rehoming will be phased out as less and less money is dedicated to community colleges.

Maricopa Community Colleges leaders say they are not sure which programs will be eliminated, but they are certain that some projects will not be funded. Smith says she hopes it's not this one.

"Having time and support and resources to be able to do these kinds of things brings biology and science alive in a way that can never happen in a classroom," she said.

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