The Mountains are Alive

Autumn in the deserts and mountains of New Mexico is a strong contrast to the Midwest falls that I am accustomed to. Although I do miss the deciduous forests and the breathtaking array of colors, I am much more content with the weather here. The dark mornings and evenings are cool reminders that winter is coming soon, even if the days are still reaching the high 80’s. The gusty canyon winds up in the Organ Mountains where I reside haven’t blown us away yet and the cooler weather is making animal appearances more frequent. Just last week while driving to work we saw our first coyote in the area.

Seed collection is winding down and, with the exception of one more possible collection, we are in the final stages of the year. Shipping vouchers, updating the herbarium and data entry into the B-G Base are the only steps left to be completed. However we have been working in collaboration with CBG to collect samples of a clonal endangered species, Lepidospartum burgessi, so that the DNA can be compared across a large area near the Texas border. The plants are not producing seed so the purpose is to determine if they are all clones or if the DNA has some variation that may be further studied.

The Las Cruces area is in its festival season apparently, because every other weekend is some great community gathering. Some of the ones that were missed out on were Wine Fests, Oktoberfest, and the Hatch Green Chile Fest but we made to Salsa Fest and Enchilada Fest (where they construct an 8-foot enchilada!). It’s hard to believe October, month 4 for me, is already in full swing. November will undoubtedly fly by, and December will be a harsh change when I leave the desert haven for the coldest part of a Midwest winter. I’ll try not to think that far ahead…

Organ Mountain Moonrise

Burglar's Den near Guadalupe Mountains

Working Solo (Together)

Having a project to call one’s own is the most important part of an experience such as this Conservation and Land Management Internship. Courtney, my fellow CLM intern, and I were given the task of presenting to our field office on artificial water sources and wildlife escape structures. Artificial water sources are man-made troughs, reservoirs, guzzlers, etc. that have been introduced to arid environments to offset anthropogenic losses of natural waters. Wildlife escape structures allow animals to deal with poor water source designs. Bird ladders are common now due to the difficulty birds face in escaping from a water trough after falling in.

After reading up on the basic premise behind the water sources and escape structures, we made a list of features that we would take a note of as we started hunting down water sources within our field office boundaries (e.g. height of the sidewalls, length of the source, amount of water inside, whether or not a bird ladder was present and its condition, and any obstructions over or around the water). We got a record of the locations of 37 known artificial water sources and took off.

We found that only about one-third of those water sources (mostly round metal troughs or empty engine cases) had an adequate bird ladder. These are vital as escape routes for birds that fall in the water, giving them a chance to climb out before they tire and drown. We also saw that over half of the troughs that we visited had some sort of obstruction, whether wooden fencing, barbed wire, or thick vegetative growth in the water. Obstructions can be deadly barriers to birds and bats that drink while flying and require larger expanses of open water. Finally, troughs are supposed to be full to within 6 inches of the top, yet only one-third of those that we saw had adequate water content, and most were simply empty.


An unfortunate casualty of a trough with too little water and no bird ladder to aid in its escape

With these results, we gave a presentation to the BLM office that hopefully got people thinking about how we approach water development, maintain the developments, and keep these water sources from causing more harm than good. We still plan on visiting water sources among our other tasks, but as we both finish within a month of now, it’s likely that we won’t get a chance go much more in depth. I do, however, appreciate that we had the chance to investigate the issue freely and uncover the issues on our own!


The presentation!

This Mountain Plover seemed to enjoy the thick vegetation sitting in this large water trough

Some Utah Prairie Dogs stood at attention as we recorded data on a series of troughs near their colony

Another…interesting…thing that we came across during our work