Each day is getting increasingly colder in Richfield, Utah. The major seed left for collecting is sagebrush. While packaging the seed today, I surprised myself in being able to differentiate subspecies solely by seeing the seed. As my internship is wrapping up, I stay grounded by reflecting on all that I have learned.
I have learned an incredible amount on Utah geology, the different colors/ textures signifying different time periods and events. Collecting seed has significantly polished my skills in plant identification. I have learned a fortune about BLM’s mission of multiuse and managing rangeland inhabited by threatened and endangered species. I was able to be a part of a long-term monitoring study with endangered Sclerocactus wrightiae, the experience is invaluable. And I have learned that chili cook-offs are taken very seriously here! My adventures and experiences with the CLM internship have shown me a lot and for that I am grateful! I’m looking forward to my next adventure in conservation!
Dustin Rooks, a blonde-haired man in his mid-thirties whose fair skin is painted tan from numerous rendezvous with the sun, greeted me with a wide smile and said, “Boy, did you pick a terrible year to pick seeds, but that’s alright because we have bigger issues — cactus.” I am, in fact, not a boy; having grown up in Colorado with family in the rural midwest, however, I am used to the antiquated country jargon. Dustin is the state botanist for Utah’s Bureau of Land management, and with his laid-back demeanor, one can tell he loves his job. My first day as an intern he takes me to the offices of the other employees at the Richfield BLM. The office is pseudo-divided by cubicles created by the idealists in an attempt to keep people honest; no privacy — no room for shenanigans, as reiterated by the numerous phone conversations heard from afar. Ending where we began, I meet the office manager and was immediately briefed on Central Utah’s cactus dilemma.
In 1979, Sclerocactus wrightiae, also known as Wright’s fishhook cactus, was added to the endangered species list. S. wrightiae is endemic to Utah, thriving in sandy-textured soil — meaning its sole habitat of choice happens to be the badlands of Utah. When listed, the BLM knew they were going to be walking a fine line balancing the necessary monitoring of S. wrightiae populations and upholding their mission to keep the lands open for multi-use. You see, another species that also prefers the badlands is the dirt-biking breed of Homo sapiens. Mentioning Wright’s fishhook cactus to a member of this gloriously dignified group brings a similar reaction as telling a teenager he or she can’t go the party. Anger. Rage. Best of all — rebellion.
Being an endangered species there are certain regulations that must be met, including (but not limited to) closing off areas where Wright’s fishhook cactus is found. This is unwelcoming news for enthusiasts that have been getting down-and-dirty riding on these grounds for decades. As of now, Dustin is the one who is trying to protect the survival of Wright’s fishhook while ensuring BLM’s public lands remain just that, public. Compliancy is good news for both Dustin and the off-highway vehicle (OHV) community. With continued trend of compliancy and growing survival rates for S. wrightiae, the day is approaching where the OHV fanatic can once again hop on their gold chariot and ride into the sun.
Allison and Dustin taking measurements of one of the largest Wright’s fishhook cactuses we’ve found.
While camping a few weekends ago, I was asked by another camper where I lived and I replied, “Richfield, Utah.” They immediately shot back, “Why?” That pretty much sums up most people’s perspective of the agricultural town containing about 7,500 people. But there’s a detailed answer to that question.
Most people know Utah for its homogeneous culture and lack of good beer. Utah is also famous for its sandy canyons and stretching desert. Intrigued by the words of Edward Abbey, one of the reasons I accepted this internship in Richfield was to experience the mystery and enchantment of the tablelands he experienced and wrote about. Watching the sunrise from our field sites, some of which are dubbed badlands for their lack of resources but possessing jaw-dropping beauty, I can’t help but feel fortunate.
My internship is divided into two parts; working with an endangered cactus species, Sclerocactus wrightiae (my love for succulents being another reason for accepting this position) and Seeds of Success.
Our typical day in the field involves revisiting known Sclerocactus localities and monitoring for cactus survival, including recording number of cactus found, size, geographic information, and several other variables to fully grasp the cactus habitat and environmental impact. In the office, we spend time analyzing the large amount of data. This extensive study is successfully helping to ensure the survival of Sclerocactus wrightiae as well as keep BLM land monitored for multi-use purposes. Fortunately, the recent rains have perked up the cactus and provided quite an advantage at finding S. wrightiae! Although the dry spring in Utah did not pan out in our favor for collecting seed, as we drive throughout Utah our eyes are frequently peeled for large groups of plants that will potientially produce at least 10,000 seeds. There are some promising sites and we have collected vouchers. The seed is so close to being ready! I am looking forward to honing my plant identification skills and being able to recognize new plant species! If I haven’t mentioned it enough, again, I feel so fortunate that I am getting paid to play outside and contribute to environmental consciousness!