One Last Goodbye for the Road



Some adventures are like long, sinuous dirt paths lined with cholla, and through uncharted landscapes where many untold dangers lie in wait for new interns.  Fresh out of college and lacking extended experience in roaming the range of Arizona, these neophytes link arms and fight the likes of rattlers, illegal activity, and identifying flora.  In search for key areas or range improvements, they trudge on with their transect tapes and compasses to complete the tasks set out for them.  Instructed in desert safety, defensive driving and monitoring techniques, there was never talk on how to deal with the onset of severe enjoyment disorder.

There comes a time when the afflicted techs must reluctantly depart from the natural atmosphere they have become accustomed to.  Physiological acclimation, friendships, and routines that have now become habit must be set aside and wished farewell.

Such a heartfelt bittersweet ending has approached and I am now aware of how dependent upon the relationships, climate, flora, ecological systems, route infrastructure, etc. I have become over the last 11 months.  The only thing I can extend forth towards Arizona, and those individuals who have so richly impacted my time at the BLM Phoenix District Office, is to exclaim that I am so ever conscious and thankful to have been selected for this position and to have had the opportunity to enrich my biological/ecological knowledge.  I was never more alive in my life – like I had the power to make an impact in this world – than during my internship with the BLM.

  “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

All the best, Alyson

Any diary of an intern who is obligated with the task of implementing a monitoring plan, consuming her day with completing various vegetation monitoring methods and sample plot layouts in an array of ecological sites, would not be complete without some photos of the more vibrantly-colored angiosperm species that offer such sweetness to a harsh and unforgiving desert flora and terrain (and most of all – the climate).

Sheep! One would not expect to see this animal being used for grazing on rangeland in a desert environment [in the heat of summer] given they are always fashioned with a wool jumpsuit.


One species no botanist/ecologist/wildlife biologist (probably many others) would like to see in their rangeland wash.
It almost seems like one hasn’t been sworn into the service of range monitoring if they have not gotten stuck out in “the middle of nowhere” late in the day, in a very dangerous allotment after dark, with help more than 20 miles away. Luckily, this situation is not one I have faced alone or too many times.
One of the first tasks a range technician is to accomplish when establishing a key area – pounding the t-post into the plot center.
Making lasting friendships is unexpected but always awesome!
Awe inspiring landscape and the all too familiar Haboob storms, which threaten a full spectrum of ailments – from seasonal allergies to pink eye.
Be on the lookout for apiaries! Even the abandoned storage houses can be dangerous to unsuspecting onlookers with active hives.

The delicate and the deadly wildlife can be found in the same biotic community. One must be vigilant for deleterious factors; always consenting to standard safety protocol.


A Revelation and Other News

I think Bob Dylan got it right when he suggested that “he that is not busy being born, is busy dying.” If you’re idle in body and mind you are just sitting “watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round”, not making any impact (much less a beneficial one) upon the environment.  I ventured in this internship to constantly challenge myself to continue learning and to provide a positive influence on range matters here in Arizona.  While I hope this monsoon season will suffice in replenishing the flora of the many ecological sites that have suffered from an extended drought, I am repeatedly reminded by the resilience of arid species to thrive in the harshest of weather conditions.  Hailing from the south (Texas that is), I am quickly familiarizing myself with the arid plants of the west and am constantly amazed by how much growth is the result of such minute quantities of water during the sweltering heat of midsummer (e.g. Fouquieria splendens, Ocotillo).  My only concession of late is extended A/C use when indoors and an extra military-grade (which basically translates into super-insulation) 3.5 liter Camelbak.


I am thankful for the extra SD-Cards I brought for my digital camera due to the many minerals (Black Tourmaline) and wildlife (Arizona Caltrop – Kallstroemia grandiflora, and the Greater Road Runner to name a few) that I have come across trekking key areas while monitoring grazing allotments.  On weekends, I have also had the opportunity to collect bird banding data as an Audubon Society volunteer at the Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg, AZ.  The excitement lay in frequent surveys of the mist net (every 20 minutes).  The catch of the day since I began volunteering has been a male Vermillion flycatcher.  There is great skill involved in removing the animal from the net with grace and dexterity so as little harm as possible may come to the bird (one can easily induce shock by length of removal and strain of the handling, which can lead to death in some cases – some birds are more anxious than others). The Audubon Society hopes to expand protecting breeding/nesting/stop-over resource procurement areas through deriving migration patterns displayed by recapture data.  Also there is a great amount of public outreach involved in their banding work; the more minds one can instill the value of this process, and how the materials in the capture and release procedure are not inflicting harm upon the birds, the less often one has to expend limited energy placating the unknowing or ignorant passerby.


How often can someone say they’ve been outdoors these days, when so often the occasional stroll down the hall to the printer is the farthest one ever travels from their desk?  It’s refreshing to not be surrounded by so many gratuitous (and often electronic) luxuries. So far, I am proud to exclaim, there have not been any injuries in the field among our crew to lack of preparation or contact with the wilderness.  With the lack of humidity, that I have been so acclimated to for most of my life, I often feel like a dried prune wrinkling away under the rays until we get back to the vehicle, blast the AC and gulp frigid water till we get a “brain freeze”.  Recently, our crew attended the  State Range Meeting in  Young, AZ where we enjoyed the southern comfort food from a chuck wagon, camping, and countless presentations on new methods of monitoring/evaluating grazing allotments and research findings of current range management techniques.


While driving countless hours every day to and from a consortium of allotments to find key areas, my field partner and I experienced an unwelcome surprise of a tire blowout upon trying to meander through the wilderness in search of the “main” dirt road (a cumbersome and often unrewarding trial due to the many ATV trails and wildlife/cattle tracks traversing the road; often a ubiquitous feature of multiple-use terrain in the Sonoran Desert) while unknowingly passing over a creosote bush (one shrub most vehicle tires are wary to near due to the brittle nature of its branches and tendency to shed sharp debris puncturable of even the thickest rubber tire). Luckily, we were able to change the tire with the spare included among the safety gear within our field rig and call it a day before the shadow of another unfortunate event cast its gloom over us. Thankfully we were able to find all of the RIP locations and complete the inspection reports once monitoring the sites for compliance to BLM land-use regulations.


However, the fun was just beginning for the week, and with the weather mutating into a gusty torrent of hellish rain clouds devising flash floods of doom for the near future, it was not hard for anyone to predict the next predicament our team was thrust into.  One can imagine the amount of moisture the soils of the valleys and tanks retain after such a storm.  It was practically a mystery that the trouble did not ensue until the late afternoon of a full day of field work was almost completed.  Yet, it was our destiny to ensure that our team was able to think quickly and prudently in cooperative measure once our truck’s tires ceased rotation from lack of grip on the sticky silt rich terrain near an earthen reservoir.  We were almost in the clear traveling down a seemingly safe path to check for compliance on an earthen reservoir when we got stuck in the icky bug-filled muck.  I am proud to declare we were not filled with trepidation, but following a secure step-by-step procedure to be on our way.  Yes, unfortunately we did get filthy with dirt and sweat from digging out the muck from beneath our tread, but we were out of the nasty situation within an hour’s time.


For now, we are almost done monitoring the range included in the work load we were dealt at the beginning of the five months (which included over 10 allotments with about 12 key areas and about double that many range improvements per allotment) and it feels amazing (albeit some part physically) to have – almost – completed the lot in a most thorough, efficient manner.


More to come!… Alyson F.


Desert Life

Alyson Frisch

BLM:  Phoenix District Office, Lower Sonoran Range Tech under direction of Andrea Felton

I wake up early to a new morning filled with the sounds of cooing Mourning Doves, Curve-Billed Thrashers, and Gila woodpeckers.  As soon as I step outside, I realize how different my life will be away from the humid Gulf of Mexico breeze and smell of a fresh cut lawn.  The Phoenix Valley yards are comprised of local rock and any vegetation consists of standing dead plant matter, litter, or succulent (which slowly is exhibiting characteristics of necrosis/disease due to dehydration and suppressed immune system defenses).  Media sources retort Phoenix as having a “dry heat” – which means you’re either nearly suffocating on the dry clay particle-filled breeze, or because you’ve run out of water and succumbed to heat exhaustion.  I am not sure if I would be glad to trade it for the high humidity in Houston for I often feel like a dried up raisin after a long days work.

The BLM Arizona administers 12.2 million surface acres of public lands, and another 17.5 million subsurface acres within the state.  Honestly, I can’t say I have met a more cordial, cooperative group of knowledgeable individuals committed to multiple-use land management.  The BLM field offices have their work cut out for them considering:

1) the amount of law suits posed upon their efforts to emphasize conservation (restoration where it is warranted) of threatened/endangered endemics and preserving biodiversity historic to each ecological site of the allotment region;

2) the vast amount of terrain that the district must survey, diagnose utilization threats to the local flora, and then administer carefully the most efficient measure of control; and finally

3) limited personnel to actually perform the work.

The Phoenix BLM is making great headway into appeasing the public, permittees, and environmentally-minded professionals.

During my first 2 months in Phoenix, I have refreshed and refined my basic monitoring and navigation techniques, at times employing the use of alien equipment (Trimble Juno 3 instead of the familiar Garmin ETrex).  I am reminded by my superiors that I have only scratched the surface of all the rangeland management projects that I will be taking part of.  So far, I have participated in MIMS and AIM surveying/monitoring techniques and have been surprised at the amount of detail we are capturing from environmental signatures across the Arizona landscape to use in protecting Arizona Chub habitat or grazing allotments from degradation of biotic diversity.  Apart from the long hours in the field, my fellow interns/housemates and I have found time to hike and camp at Sonoran Desert Preserve, and state parks in Cave Creek,  Sedona, and the Tonto National Forest (i.e. Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock State Park, Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cave Creek Regional Park, and many more).

I am grateful to all who work with the CLM Program at the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Phoenix BLM for the opportunity to relocate, make life-lasting friendships, and allow me to be a part of sustaining the habitats within the BLM lands in the Phoenix District of Arizona.