October Blog Post from the Sonoran Desert, Arizona

I began my CLM internship with the Phoenix BLM this October. My co-workers and I have been working on the development of a Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassazii) project. Our goal is to use data from current monitoring efforts to evaluate tortoise presence and absence in  known suitable habitat.  We will also work to  develop a GIS model that will potentially indicate critical areas for future conservation based on available GIS layers (variables).

Our 18 survey locations are structured in one hectare plots, which we be monitored again in the future by other employees. The data being collected will also serve as a baseline to monitor future tortoise populations and assist in making better management decisions in our sensitive Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

We specifically collect data on tortoise sightings, scat, burrows, tracks, and carcasses. In the last two weeks, we have found 5 live tortoises, 2 carcasses, and several burrows indicated by scat evidence. Burrows are present in varieties of soils, both in washes and on steep slopes of granite mountains. Today, we found our first rattlesnake. This is rather surprising considering the large area and type of habitat we have covered, not to mention the warm days we have had while surveying where temperatures have consistently exceeded 100 degrees.

We plan to start our GIS modeling next month, followed by a technical report explaining our study methods, results and discussion. Thanks for reading, more to come next month!

Monitoring the Uplands

It is that time of year again when several of us in the Tucson Field Office go out and monitor the uplands. In order to evaluate rangeland health,  each fall we monitor several transects that are laid out in specific pastures. We call on other field offices, people from other government agencies, non-profits and volunteers to come help us. Under the Tucson sun we take 1,000 data points in each pasture in different configurations of transects to measure basal grass cover. Not only do we measure grass cover but also how many species are present in each area. Some pastures have pieces of land fenced off from the cattle so that we can compare areas that are grazed by cattle to those with cattle excluded from them.

Collecting all of this data allows us to evaluate the health of each pasture. This helps us decide if there are certain pastures that need to be rested and not grazed in order to let the perennial grass recover. Once we have collected all of the data, we will meet in November to discuss the data with the rancher, other BLM members, non-profits and other agencies. This is a way in which everyone can help understand and have a say in how we manage the land; as we practice collaborative adaptive management.

Cactus Wren Surveys

For the last three weeks we have been doing avian point counts in the preserve around the Safari Park. We listen and look for two bird species in particular, the California Cactus Wren and the California Gnatcatcher. The wren is a subspecies that is found only in a limited area within California and because of habitat loss it has become endangered. The gnatcatcher is believed to be in decline as well. When identifying these two birds we use a combination of visual and audio techniques. All birds have a unique call and/or song, and we use these sounds to identify them and estimate the distance they are from the point we’re at. The wren can be difficult to figure out because the mocking birds in the area tend to mimic its song.
The point counts start at six in the morning and has to end before 10am so that all of the surveys are as standardized as possible. It has been a great opportunity to observe these birds in their natural habitat and learn different bird call in San Diego county.

Websiting and databasing

Since my last entry I have been working steadily on the website design process for the Great Lakes Invasives project. Much of it is now put together, though there is a constant stream of updates as I submit it to various higher-ups and associates in the office. I am creating both an internal site for Intra-NPS use (staff members at parks and resource offices) as well as a public internet site. The two versions are similar though offer somewhat different information. Concise writing is critical on both pages so I am honing my skills at getting meaning out of every word while avoiding being verbose and overly scientific.

I’m still adjusting to the Colorado weather. The front range is starting to cool off, though it is a gradual process and we have had more than a few setbacks to mid-summer weather. I’m all ready for Autumn, so I survive these relapses by looking to the mountains as they endure minor snow dustings.

The leaves are changing as well, but the difference in flora around these parts is more obvious than ever (coming from a lifelong resident of New England).

I still have plenty of time to get things accomplished with my invasives project and I’m running ahead of schedule. In a couple weeks I will be attending a Natural Areas annual meeting in Tallahassee, FL and presenting a poster for my project on Great Lakes National Parks. One of the major themes at the conference is mitigating invasives in natural areas, so I’m looking forward to learning about this for various ecosystems. It should also be a great opportunity to meet other individuals working in conservation and ecology disciplines to learn a bit about possible career paths.

I’m looking ahead to enjoying the last couple months here. Four months in and I have certainly learned a lot about the behind the scenes work for natural resource offices. It is nice to see much of my work that started out so broad over the summer be funneled into a final, visual end with definite value to the five parks involved.

Andy Maguire
NPS, Fort Collins, CO

October in Southern California

The first Pacific storm finally arrived here last week. While wetter than I expected, it was still warmer than what I’m usually exposed to in Humboldt county. Harvesting Malosma laurina seeds in the rain while climbing on the rocks was very refreshing. After the storm, the climate changed back to summer without missing a beat. Things are still blooming and seeds are still being collected. The botany party just don’t stop down here, ever. I can now see why this is the most botanically diverse county in the nation.

This internship has, for the first time, exposed me to work involving organisms that move around. This makes it interesting to identify them. I’ve been helping with Cactus Wren surveys in the reserve adjacent to the San Diego Zoo safari park. I’m still having a great time experiencing life in this interesting place far from home.

Para bailar la bamba

Extraordinary… just about five months have passed now and my whole life has changed. Cliché? Perhaps, but true none the less. I flew from Guatemala expecting a structured job consisting of plant collections and completing the working herbarium. Now memories flood my mind as I recapitulate the actual occurrences of these months. Learning database management, re-using html I learned in tenth grade, organizing hundreds of vouchers, monitoring fire plots, figuring out GPS units, getting excited for finding new or beautiful plants, learning GIS, learning traditional climbing, canyoneering, hiking more than 15 miles in a day (with a heavy pack), archaeology, diving deep into the curling stamen of cacti flowers, cooling down in waterfalls, walking for hours in a river (The Narrows), getting caught on slick rock in the dark because of watching the moonrise, using telemetry to find desert tortoise (found 7!), seeing condors, big horned sheep, owls, rattle snakes, a mountain lion, peregrines, and crazy tourists… yet still being more excited about finding a rare fern or gentian in bloom than any of the animals I have seen, hence reminding me that plant science was the right career choice… all these moments sum up a fraction of what this season has been. When work feels more like play, and all these 150 days feel like the most brilliant time of my life, I know I am in the right place.

The right place is more than just a physical point in time and space. It’s a state of being. And I see now how open-mindedness, expansive personalities, and general excitement to be alive is really what makes any physical place the right place to be. I came to Zion a novice in life and love, and now I finish the internship knowing that I am capable of so much. We are all capable of infinite knowledge, of independence, or countless opportunities, all as long as we believe in ourselves and give those around us a chance to confer all their learned lessons, thus enriching our lives and expanding our horizons. For now, Zion is really the physically right place to be, and I am lucky enough to be volunteering here for another two months after the internship ends. This way, I will finish the projects I have developed. Staying also gives me the opportunity to further expand my repertoire of techniques and get me ready for the next great adventure. I thank CLM masterminds for making this internship a possibility, my mentor for giving me so much freedom yet still expecting the best of me and in this way keeping me constantly striving for excellence on every dimension. I thank all the wonderful people I have had the honor and pleasure to meet, those who have taught me to love the world more deeply…