Ups and Downs

A good example of the general color scheme we see if there’s no oil development nearby

They say the Carlsbad NM BLM field office is the busiest in the country because of all the oil permitting. Due to the excessive oil and gas development in the Carlsbad NM Field Office, we don’t usually have to do much hiking to achieve our work goals. There are roads almost everywhere, usually with pipelines next to them. There’s been a few instances when we are scouting for seed in areas void of development. Unfortunately those places don’t typically have any plants we’re interested in either. It’s been bittersweet to discover that the most lush places are usually next to oil development, but I try to remind myself that it’s just extra urgent to collect those seeds! When you look out on the horizon and see flares or pump jacks in every direction it can be difficult to stay positive, but we have found a few gems in this dusty landscape.

The dunes have become a favorite spot for me. I love the color contrast. Here you can see Quercus havardii growing with Artemisia filifolia.

The news came back this week from Bend that New Mexico had the most operational seed collections last year. I think it must be because our sites are so accessible. We have several ongoing collections since it’s so easy for us to go back again and again.

Rain storms on the way home

This week our crew got to do some cross-training with the rare plant intern. It involved a lot more hiking than we are used to. We were going out with the goal of learning some special status and rare plants so that we can keep an eye out for them both in our free time (which is when most of us get our hiking fix) and while we are scouting. Carlsbad has a way of being unpredictable. Some days are great, others feel futile. I found the exploration for rare plants a lot less fulfilling than seed collecting, but we did get to see some incredible sights.

Sitting Bull Falls in Lincoln National Forest. We found 2/3 rare plants on our list for this site, including a golden columbine and a red penstemon.
Found at Sitting Bull Falls. All signs point to it being Lobelia cardinalis, except for the color is obviously magenta, not red, and there’s no records we can find of any other magenta L. cardinalis. Our mentor hopes we discovered a new subspecies.

We found a stunning site for Verbesina enceliodes which we have two days worth of collections from. I’m willing to keep going back for more, but I have a suspicion that Aly may not be so keen. There are often cows chomping away on our sites but typically don’t seem to care about our existence. This week was a little different. Alex and I were collecting on the other side of the road when all of a sudden we heard the truck horn blaring and Aly shouting at us. Sensing danger, Alex ran over to see what was up. I didn’t sense danger so I collected seed on my way back. Turns out everything was fine, but a few minutes earlier a truck with a trailer sped by and excited the cows. Maybe they thought they were getting a special food or water delivery? According to Aly, they all starting moo-ing like mad and started trotting toward the road. Aly was between them and the road. Naturally, she got nervous as she saw the herd jogging towards her! She started running for her life towards the truck with the cows picking up speed behind her. As the herd was spread out, she didn’t have the option to run perpendicularly from them. Her only option was to get to the road–and the safety of the truck–before they did. Luckily for all of us, we didn’t have to file any worker’s comp paperwork that day. The word is that almost getting trampled by cows makes you an official cowboy. Yee haw!

This is the herd that almost caused Aly’s demise

I’m just past my halfway point for the season and it’s causing a lot of mixed feelings. Instead of processing them, I’m distracting myself with awesome trips and the little things! I went with Aly and the AIM crew lead to Big Bend National Park this past weekend and it was phenomenal. From walking across the Rio Grande into Mexico to hiking up to the top of the world, I see why it’s such a popular park. We even saw a few acorn woodpeckers!

Hiking is best done before noon in this part of the world. Anything after that and you die of heat.
We told other hikers this was honeysuckle. Turns out its not honeysuckle. It’s firecracker bush! Bouvardia ternifolia.
The top of the world, Big Bend National Park
Berlandiera lyrata, chocolate flower. It smells faintly like chocolate.
Some sort of sphinx moth loving on the thistle
Horse lubber grasshopper. Wikipedia described it as “moderately sized” but it’s easily the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen.
-Catherine, Carlsbad NM

Friendly Fences

Across the Buffalo Field Office, whether in the rolling planes or up in the Bighorns, fencing is everywhere. Fence delineating grazing allotments, boundaries between federal, state, and private land, exclosures, and enclosures covers the landscape. All this fencing may provide barriers for the livestock but it can often function in the same way for wildlife. Pronghorn, especially, who evolved on the wide-open North American plains, struggle to cross these barrier as jumping is not their forte. Fencing with five barbed wires or sheep wire at the bottom makes crossing these barriers even more difficult. Creating wildlife friendly fencing means keeping the bottom wire above 14 inches off the ground and making it smooth rather than barbed wire.

The miles and miles of fencing across the landscape also makes keeping track of it more difficult. For this reason, much of the fencing that exists is in need of repair or updating to wildlife friendly construction. This week’s fencing project involved tackling and removing an old barbed wire fence at a BLM recreation site in the Bighorns.

Old barbed wire fence ready for removal

Removing and repairing fence is hard work, best to rise with the sun and get started before the heat of the day sets in. Leather gloves don’t stand much of a chance against these rusty barbs so there is a certain technique and finesse with which I have learned to role and handle this old wire.

To make our sunrise start on the fencing work a bit more manageable we spent the night in the field after our first day of repair at a nearby site. Great sunset views and a hearty campfire dinner are sure to heal the bruises and scratches from a day working to make these fences a little more friendly.

-Katherine, Resources Intern @ BLM Buffalo Field Office

Corral Creek

Last week I had the opportunity to monitor a couple of populations of Gibbon’s Penstemon down by powder rim, and a population of Wyoming toads over by Laramie. Gibbon’s Penstemon is a BLM sensitive plant, and Wyoming toads are the most endangered species of amphibian in North America. The work was a good change of pace from seed collecting, and I really enjoyed it. It was immensely rewarding to be able to see and learn about these rare and beautiful organisms, threatened by humankind’s never-ending and destructive expansion.

Gibbon’s Penstemon in flower

Gibbon’s Penstemon is a purple flowered plant that grows in soil that has a lot of volcanic ash in it, giving its habitat a distinctive color and texture. To me this seems like a very narrow range that limits the plant to growth in somewhat predictable locations. Similarly, meadow milkvetch (another BLM sensitive species, with delicate cream-colored flowers and green stems that sprawl across the white soil to form a spider we pattern) only grows in alkali flats on the lower side of greasewood in the chain lake region of the field office. I found it fascinating that a plant would specialize to such a narrow and theoretically predictable habitat.

Shifting gears:

            Wednesday morning, I arrived at Bennet Peak Campground, the backseat of the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 was loaded with power tools and the bed was loaded with dark painted boards; however, our most important cargo was a clipboard, a pen, and a pile of visitor use surveys. We quickly found a picnic bench in dire need of repair. Mike showed us how to remove the bolts from the picnic bench and replace the old rotting boards with our new freshly painted ones. In a few minutes we had one drop-dead-gorgeous freshly painted picnic bench. We replaced the boards on another picnic bench; but by the time we finished it was time for our most important task of the day: Visitor Use Surveys at the nearby Corral Creek Campground.

            Upon arriving we immediately encountered a parked truck occupied by a genial old man. He agreed to take the survey and we waited comfortably under a tree while he filled out the sheet front and back with vitally important and useful information about his experience at the corral creek campground.

            The corral creek campground is a beautiful BLM operated site about a mile down the road from the Bennet peak campground near the North Platte river. It is a great spot for fishing and floating, with beautiful views of nearby mountains, and wildlife, including: pronghorns, mule-deer, elk, and cattle. However, the nearby Bennet peak campground is closer to the river, making it far more popular than Corral Creek, which essentially operates as an overflow campsite for when Bennet Peak is full.

            For the next four hours we relaxed and enjoyed a cool and pleasant summer day. An incredibly nice couple arrived and asked us for directions to Bennet peak; a truck pulled through for a quick pit stop at the immaculately maintained bathroom facility; we handed out zero surveys. I also found out that the surveys themselves were incredibly general, designed to be applicable to any BLM recreation site. Consequently, the information from them is very hard to interpret, and make use of.

On the way back from the field we listened to a couple of inspirational Oprah podcasts:

He had been awake and driving for over 24 hours. His Wal-Mart truck was traveling about twenty miles over the posted speed limit on the dark interstate highway. That’s when he struck the back of a car containing beloved comic legend Tracy Morgan, and several of Tracy’s close friends. People died in the accident, including one of Tracy’s close friends. Tracy suffered life-threatening injuries that sent him into a coma lasting for weeks. Tracy wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be able to walk again. Tracy was worried that he would never be funny again. Tracy briefly questioned his faith in god. Why did this happen? Why did his friend have to die so suddenly and so young? However, in a conversation with Oprah a few months after the accident both Oprah, and Tracy agree: “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON,” & “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COINCIDENCE”, after all coincidence is never mentioned in The Bible.

 In conclusion, as Oprah says: “JUST BE YOURSELF, IT’S THAT SIMPLE.”

Trip through the Bighorns
Winterfat, in Shirley Basin

Until next time,

Zeke Zelman

SOS intern in Rawlins Wyoming