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Home What We Do Education Institute for Desert Ecology

Institute of Desert Ecology


Thank you to all who helped make this year's IDE a wonderful experience! Stay tuned for information about our next IDE:Grasslands scheduled for fall 2013 at the Audubon Research Ranch.

 Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at 520-209-1812 with questions/inquiries.

 April 19-22, 2012

  • IDE photo slideshow -
  • Listen to interview with former Institute Director Matt Brooks on Thirty Minutes from KXCI radio
  • Read an article about IDE in February 2010 issue of Desert Leaf

We take great pride in the fact that the annual Institute of Desert Ecology is now in its fourth decade. Since that first Institute, over 2,000 individuals have come together to learn and share experiences, connecting with the natural environment in ways both intimate and profound. The 40th annual Institute was no exception, filled with "warmth, humor, brainwaves and brilliance."

The enthusiastic and inspired teaching of our own local experts, the spectacular backdrop of the northwest face of the Catalina Mountains, the catered meals, and the camaraderie of all those involved combine to produce four days that participants have described as "life changing" and "an experience that will not be forgotten."

The details

Location: The site of the Desert Institute is Catalina State Park. The spectacular northwest face of the Santa Catalina Mountains forms the backdrop for this 5,500 acre desert park located just north of Tucson at elevations ranging from 2,650 to 3,000 feet. Desert washes, canyons and bajadas contain a vast array of desert plants and wildlife. The park is a popular birding area and has a bird list of over 150 species seen within its borders. Our camping area is comfortably shaded by mesquite trees, adjacent to undisturbed desert washes, canyons, hillsides and rich riparian areas, and secluded from other campgrounds. Days should be sunny and hot, but expect chilly nights and evenings.

scarboroughProgram: Our study focuses on Sonoran Desert ecosystems with emphasis on relationships between plants, animals and the physical characteristics of the desert rather than on classification and identification. Our days start early and optional activities such as owling, blacklighting for insects, and star talks extend into the evening hours. Participants and faculty interact in small groups during the first three days. On Sunday, a final hike ties together the experiences of earlier sessions for the entire group.

Sample Schedule for 2012

Possible Optional Workshops for 2012

Accommodations & Meals: Participants furnish their own tents or campers. Water is available but there are no electrical or water hookups. To avoid disrupting the peaceful surroundings, operation of generators is not permitted. Restrooms and showers are available at the group camping site, and the park has holding tank disposal facilities. Ample, tasty meals are catered from an on-site unit, with adequate choices to accommodate vegetarians. Before early field sessions, a nutritious pre-breakfast snack is available.

Fee & Registration: $460 per person ($425 for Tucson Audubon Members). Fee includes all meals, camping and park entrance fees, and expert instruction. A non-refundable deposit of $100 per person must accompany the registration form. The remaining balance ($360 for non-members; $325 for members) is due by April 6, 2012. Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at (520) 209-1812 with any questions.

Registration: Two payment methods below

  1. Register online - Online Registration closed. Please contact Bete Pfister to be added to the wait-list.
    Payment must be received in full when using the online option ($425 for Tucson Audubon members and $460 for non-members).
  2. Send payment with printable registration form

April 19 - 22, 2012 - View the 2012 Brochure

linwoodParticipants: Tucson Audubon membership is not required, but membership entitles you to a discounted price! Participants should be at least 18 years of age and in good health. Anyone with an interest in natural history and desert ecology can participate. No pets are allowed.

Note to teachers: 40 hours of Professional Development Credit is available for participants who teach within the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). “The Tucson Unified School District neither endorses nor sponsors the organization or activity represented in this document. The distribution of this material is provided as a community service.”

University Credit: One unit of University of Arizona credit is offered through RNR 497B/597B—Desert Ecosystems, for an additional fee. The University of Arizona is an EEO-AA Employer.

Scholarships: Limited scholarship funds are available. Contact the Institute Director for more information. Donations are welcomed and are tax deductible.

Faculty: Faculty members are experienced at teaching students with different knowledge levels. All faculty members have been teaching at the Institute for at least a decade, and some for much longer.

Learn more about the instructors and what they will teach at IDE.


IDE Faculty: Linwood Smith, Carl Olson, Bob Scarborough, Ronnie Sidner, Carl Tomoff, Cecil Schwalbe, and Matt! Brooks (director). Photo: Sara Pike.

RONNIE SIDNER, Ph.D. (Mammalogy)
Consulting Biologist

CARL OLSON, M.S. (Entomology)
The University of Arizona

KEVIN BONINE, Ph.D. (Herpetology)
The University of Arizona

LINWOOD SMITH, Ph.D. (Ornithology and Botany)
Ecological Consultant

CARL TOMOFF, Ph.D. (Ornithology and Botany)
Prescott College

Consulting Geologist

tree lizard



donate now

IDE Info

2012 Event Brochure

Registration Form

Sample Schedule for 2011

Possible Workshops for 2011

Instructor Bios

Read about past Institutes

IDE in the News

“I had no idea that the Institute would provide me with so much new information and experiences. I thought everything was great.”

“A great experience. Integrated studies and friendships between the staff were truly special. The staff and volunteers were very accommodating and always smiling.”

“Thanks for the experience. I loved the spirit, content, people, peace, time and opportunity.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed all the instructors – highest quality.”