Teens honored for their volunteer stewardship at Tule Springs

Sabrina Pinero and Jennifer Dukes are ambitious teenagers with big dreams of university education steeped in scientific research.

While some try to pack on the extracurricular activities and awards to their résumés before they start the university application process, Pinero and Dukes are sincere about their interest in science. The award and recognition just happen to be a nice touch.

At the Jan. 10 Las Vegas City Council meeting, Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Ross honored Pinero and Dukes for their volunteer work with the Bureau of Land Management’s Paleo Site Stewardship Program at Tule Springs and gave the girls the opportunity to address the community about their passion: fossils.

Pinero, 16, a junior at West Career and Technical Academy, described the opportunity as “crazy.”

“Site stewardship wasn’t really anything I was doing to be recognized,” she said.

She said she loves the outdoors and protecting the environment, so it was a natural fit.

“If it has something to do with dirt, I’m probably there,” she said.

Her mother said she was proud of her daughter when she accepted recognition for the 18 months of work .

Pinero said she is excited about the program because she feels better connected with history.

“Especially when you’re a teenage girl growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, it can be really easy to forget the natural world around you,” she said.

While the girls are not old enough to volunteer on their own, which entails going to Tule Springs four times a year and walking a specified area checking to see if any fossils have emerged, their mothers agreed to volunteer alongside them.

Pinero said she is thankful that the BLM made the opportunity available for teenagers because she has seen ageism in some opportunities where organizations do not take teenagers seriously enough to participate.

But that is not Pinero, and it is not her friends, either, she said. She said that when she told her friends at school about the award, they cared less about her recognition at the City Council meeting and more about her work with fossils. They were jealous, she said.

She said the most challenging part of the volunteer work is the weather. She and her mother committed to going out four times a year, regardless of how warm or cold it is. Once they have walked the land, taking photos of what they find, they spend several hours writing a report. If they find anything, the BLM sends representatives to check it out.

“I’ve learned all about prehistoric animals that traveled around this area and all about the history of Tule Springs,” Pinero said. “Through it, I’ve found a new reason to love my community.”

Dukes, 17, and her mother got involved in the program nearly three years ago. Dukes attends Nevada Connections Virtual High School. Her mother, Lorri Dee Dukes, is a geologist and a gemologist and said as soon as she heard about the program, she jumped at the opportunity.

Lorri Dee Dukes said the best time to look for fossils is right after a rain or wind storm, when fossils are most likely to be protruding . They took a class about how to identify the fossils and bones before heading out on their own, and a BLM representative is always available to consult with, she said.

They have not found full fossils , but they have found bone shards. She said seven or eight teams go out four times a year to the same area at a staggered time period to look for any changes and protect the area. Where they go is top-secret, though.

“There’s no way I’ll tell anyone, not even my husband,” Lorri Dee Dukes said. “It’s very secret, and that’s what makes it kind of neat, too, knowing what they have found there and what we could find.”

The program is based out of California’s San Bernardino County Museum, which collects fossils from the Southwest with a focus on the Mojave Desert, she said.

Jennifer Dukes might not want to be geologist like her mother, but she has an interest in studying large cats.

“When the saber-toothed was excavated, oh my goodness,” Lorri Dee Dukes said about the excitement in their home. She said her daughter dreams of studying lions in Africa and will probably focus on zoology in college.

Pinero said if more people saw Tule Springs the way she did, they would want to protect it, too.

While she has not been active with the legislative action to try to protect the region, she said she considers herself a protector because she watches over the fossils. She hopes to study in the environmental studies field in the future.

For more information on the program, call 702-515-5100.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at lphelps@viewnews.com or 702-477-3839.

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