The End of Summer

The nights are getting colder here in Cedar City. I never would have expected fall to start in August, but then again I’ve never lived at 6,000 feet before either. The internship continues to be an adventure, and despite being more than halfway through my five months I have yet to settle into any sort of normalcy. Every week is a new activity, a new challenge, and that’s just the way I like it. To start the month off, we took a trip up to Delta, UT, and participated in a training workshop for determining Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) in lentic (wetland) environments. After a couple of months of working in the desert around Cedar, it was a real treat to see the dry, arid landscape blossom into abundant vegetation around these springs and reservoirs, not to mention getting my feet wet! PFC determination is a multi-disciplinary process which requires a team including soil specialists, hydrology experts, and biologists to critically evaluate and discuss the condition of a wetland. This intellectual discourse was extremely interesting, and I really felt like a part of the team.

Equally interesting was my experience of the following week, which my fellow intern Carmen spent in Georgia. Working on my own, I preformed a wildlife clearance and finished a number of reports we hadn’t realized weren’t done. I also got some time to work on my little side project, a field guide to non avian animals found specifically in the Cedar City Field Office. On a suggestion from Christine (a former CLM mentor), I narrowed down a list of Utah animals to learn what to look for here. I decided that it would be interesting to compile habitat and behavioral information on these animals as well. I’m currently in the process of spreadsheeting this info so I can sort species based on commonalities in any of these categories. The eventual plan is to combine this info with pictures and┬áput them together into a guide that might be useful to later interns.

The last two weeks I’ve been out of the BLM entirely. I spent one day last week surveying a stream’s fish population with the Forest Service, which involved what our hosts referred to as “the Ghostbusters pack”- a large backpack with an anode “tail” and cathode wand used to shock fish so that they can be caught and measured along a specific length of stream. Let me tell you, this was fun stuff. It rained the whole day, and I spent much of it kneeling in the mud, soaked to the bone and shivering, and I still had a great time!

Most of my time has been spent on the trapping and translocation of the Utah Prairie Dog, a federally listed threatened species. Despite being listed, and despite having a 24 hour annual mating period, a 30% winter survival rate, and being eaten by basically every carnivorous species in the state, these little buggers somehow manage to be just about everywhere developers don’t want them to be. Pretty much all open areas are game, so long as they aren’t too rocky. I’ve been trapping at farms, golf courses, airports, and even a veterinarian’s back yard. These rodents exhibit an astonishing range of intelligence. On one hand, they have a complex vocal communication system, with specific alarm calls for different species of predator. They will investigate the traps we set out, sometimes knocking over and disabling them to get to the bait. On the other hand, despite what sometimes seems to be a clear understanding of the nature of the device they are presented with, they just gotta get to that peanut butter. After walking around the trap, trying every method to get at the treat aside from walking inside, they’ll usually go ahead in and trigger the pressure plate. Often they will happily consume the bait before even recognizing they cant get out. Silly little guys.

As fun as working with prairie dogs can be, there is a lot of waiting involved, and I find myself looking forward to getting back to the BLM and clearing fence sites again. I guess I haven’t been spending enough time walking meandering transects out in the middle of nowhere lately.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.