Over the past several weeks the main focus of the Grand Junction, Colorado ecologist’s has been the documentation and survey of riparian areas located within the two NCA’s found in the field office region. Surprisingly this summer is close to establishing a record for the highest rate of precipitation in the valley, making this one of the most unusual seasons for herpetological development. Apart from creating an ecosystem for amphibians, the weather has been great news for me because it has kept the oppressive heat down to a bearable low. On days when the heat reaches above 100 degrees Fahrenheit it is always very surprising when you are able to locate a body of water in what appears to be an empty desert. The great diversity of life that can be found in every corner of this region continually impresses me, until you live in an arid environment it is easy to consider a desert vacant of vibrant and diverse ecosystems, but that is far from the truth.
Considering that there has been a record high for rainfall this summer, there have been several outlying observations made concerning the cycle of high altitude ponds in the region. We have witnessed a surge of herpetological species in these areas. Documenting the population frequencies of amphibians is especially important because of the growing risk of Chytridiomycosis spreading in North America. The Chytrid fungus has not been discovered in Colorado but keeping a careful eye on current Amphibian populations is crucial for any early detection of the disease.
Regardless of the record high rain fall there have still been several forest fires that have broken out in the Grand Junction BLM field region, very few of which began outside of anthropological influence. Believe it or not, a group of adults rafting down the Ruby Horse Thief Canyon decided to detonate a firework mortar shell while camping overnight, despite the fire ban in place. An entire region along the river ignited into flames devouring almost 200 adult cotton-wood trees. Thankfully the group of rafters was able to be successfully rescued, but the damage done to the ecosystem will take decades before it is restored to its former glory. The experience proved to me that even if you are observing a record high rain fall, there is always the potential for disaster when it comes to fire in the summer season. Forest fires have proven to be a great challenge to the environmental community; my thoughts go out to fire fighters across the country.
Since the beginning of my internship with the Grand Junction, CO field office I have been exposed to a great variety of projects and disciplines. I am thankful for the diversity of professionals within the field office because I feel that I am being educated as to how different data from various sources all contribute to an overarching prescribed ecological plan. Already this past month I have worked on field projects under the guidance of Engineers, Geologists, Wildlife Biologist, Archeologists, as well as my mentor the office Ecologist. Due to these different work opportunities, I not only have been exposed to many different ecosystems within the Grand Junction field office region, but I have also directly benefited from decades of scientific research experience. Each project that I have the privilege of contributing to provides a fortuitous opportunity to benefit from the instructors’ knowledge.
One of my favorite projects in July was searching for fossilized dinosaur bones and water tracks for several days with the office Geologist. Over the course of my life I have always been interested in Paleontology, but never have I actually had the opportunity to see a fossil in person, let alone in nature. While undertaking the great search of these treasured objects I could not help but feel overjoyed at the experience I was having. Upon discovery of several fossilized watermarks, I was surprised at how the fossils appeared so anachronistic laying there in the desert sand. Some millions of years ago during the Mesozoic Era these animals were swimming in what was at the time a large body of water. Now, resting there next to a rusting discarded “COORS” can in the middle of the high elevation desert of Colorado, lay subtle clues that this world once existed. It was amazing, and again, I did really find the experience rewarding.
There have been many different experiences similar to the one aforementioned in this blog post. It is relieving to know that there are career options in this country that not only help protect the earth but also continue to surprise you.
As one of Colorado’s largest Western cities Grand Junction has proven to provide not only interesting geographical features but valuable cultural experiences as well. The areas surrounding Grand Junction contain some of the most beautiful semi-arid landscapes that I have ever had the fortune of witnessing. Locations such as the Colorado National Monument, Hanging lake, and the legendary Moab area, located not even two hours away from Western Colorado, have provided an endless mountainous region in which to explore. As the majority of my work so far in the field office has involved varying methods of rare plant and hydrological data collection I confidently believe that I will enjoy every day of “work” in these areas.
In addition to its geographical inspiration, I have encountered character building interactions with many of the city’s 59,000 inhabitants. Having spent the majority of my life in Chicago, Illinois, I hope the readers of this post can believe I have never witnessed anything quite like “Country Jam” or pop country music for that matter. Even though I typically find myself disagreeing with the common populous on many issues, I have still grown to appreciate and love the cowboy country atmosphere of this region. For example, I used to typically believe that hunters are individuals who simply enjoy killing animals for fun; I now understand that this belief could not be farther from the truth. The outdoorsman and women who I have had the pleasure of meeting are some of the most dedicated environmentalists that I have met in Colorado. I have developed a much greater respect for someone who acquires their own food through a hard days work in nature.
Apart from the culture of this area, as well as its noticeable beauty, I also have truly been enjoying my interactions with the Bureau of Land Management staff. I find that almost everyone I meet is equally concerned with the well being of these areas, many of the staff in the Grand Junction Field Office were actually born right here in Grand Junction. Due to the amount of time that many of the employees have spent in this region, I have an endless amount of fruitful recommendations in which to plan my next adventure.