SCC working for our mustangs

27 10 2015

Here in Spring Creek Basin, we are incredibly lucky to have the benefit of multiple partnerships that work for the well-being of our mustangs. Our newest partnership is with Southwest Conservation Corps, based in Durango. Thanks to the diligence of San Juan Mountains Association‘s Kathe Hayes and Tres Rios Field Office range specialist Mike Jensen, we have an SCC crew tackling an especially difficult section of fence: across an arroyo and up a steep, shaley hill.

Long-time readers know about our wonderful alternative spring break program with University of Missouri students and that, for the last four years, students have been rebuilding the basin’s southeastern fence line. The SCC crew, which has spent the summer building trails, building fences and planting trees, is jumping ahead a bit to the steep section.

As we are with every bit of help that comes our way for the benefit of the mustangs, we are hugely grateful for their work!

Southwest Conservation Corps' Jordan explains previous fence building by University of Missouri students to SCC crew members along Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line. The SCC crew is on site to replace a difficult section of the fence that goes up a steep hill.

Jordan explains previous fence building by Mizzou students to SCC crew members, starting the first day of their hitch in Spring Creek Basin. Mizzou students and BLM employees and volunteers have set the bar high with the new fence! From left: Sarah, Eric, Jordan, Abby, Aaron, Toby behind Dillon, Dillon and Zoe.

Southwest Conservation Corps' Jordan stands by with a shovel whie Eric takes his turn at digging a post hole for an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Jordan stands by with a shovel while Eric digs a post hole for their first H-brace.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Dillon, Jordan and Zoe place protective staves around a tree that will serve as half of an H-brace in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Co-crew leader Dillon helps Jordan and Zoe protect a tree with staves around which to wrap wire. The Mizzou students this spring ended their two days of work with an H-brace on the other side of this tree.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Abby and Aaron use the post puller to remove a rotted post in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Crew members Sarah and Aaron work together to pull out an old fence post that had a rotten bottom from being in the ground for who knows how many decades.

Southwest Conservation Corps co-crew leader Dillon checks the level of the cross post on an H-brace installed by crew members including Abby and Eric (shown) in an H-brace they installed in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Crew members Abby and Eric, who helped dig the hole for the H-brace post, watch as Dillon checks the level of the cross post.

Southwest Conservation Corps crew members Sarah, Zoe, Aaron and Eric watch Jordan as he shows them how to twist staves in crossed wires to pull together an H-brace they installed in Spring Creek Basin's southeastern fence line.

Co-crew leader Sarah (there are two Sarahs on this crew) and crew members Toby, Aaron and Eric watch Jordan show them the twisting technique of the staves in the cross wires that bind the H-brace together.

The crew finished the H-brace and strung strands of wire on their first day of work … which started with about a quarter of an inch of rain! As you can see, the day ended with beautiful sunshine.

One of the coolest part of the day? Seeing the pintos as we drove to the work site and again as we returned to the camp site. πŸ™‚ The horses are the reason for the work, the partnerships … the tramping through mud carrying heavy posts and fencing tools. They’re absolutely the reason we do all that with smiles!

Partners for mustangs

3 10 2015

Wednesday, I partnered with folks from BLM, the Forest Service, San Juan Mountains Association and Southwest Conservation Corps to haul fence materials into Spring Creek Basin. Long-time readers of this blog are familiar with the outstanding alternative spring break program that brings a group of enthusiastic University of Missouri students to Southwest Colorado each year (look under the March links in the blog roll). In addition to working in Spring Creek Basin, students work on other areas of San Juan public lands for a week before heading back to class in Columbia, Mo. After four years, students have rebuilt quite a long stretch of our southeastern boundary fence – carrying materials in by manual labor because of its location in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area (no motor vehicles allowed).

Now that we’re pretty far in, and a steep bit of shale hill is coming up (literally), SJMA’s Kathe Hayes and BLM’s range specialist/herd manager Mike Jensen got the attention of the SCC (based in Durango) to give us a hand. While we want to give the Mizzou students a spring break they won’t soon forget, we don’t want to get too crazy. πŸ™‚ Next spring, they’ll continue to rebuild fence from where the last group left off this past spring toward the base of the hill. This fall, the SCC crew will leapfrog where this spring’s students finished to start rebuilding a section from close to the base of the hill UP the hill.

To ease the workload of both crews, our little group hauled fence supplies this week: wooden posts (for H-braces), T-posts (to replace worn/bent/warped ones), lots and lots of staves (to stabilize the wires between T-posts), and rolls of smooth-twisted and barbed wire (to create wild-horse/life-friendly fencing that cattle won’t want to mess with from the outside) – to a site convenient for both the SCC crew this fall and Mizzou students in the spring.

Many, many thanks to BLM’s Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Garth Nelson, SJMA’s Kathe Hayes, the Forest Service’s Harold Park, SCC’s Jordan and BLM/SCC’s Lauren for providing the human labor (including hours of scheduling and logistics!).

Huge, huge thanks to our four-legged crew: Traveler (who packed posts), Trapper (who packed staves and T-posts), Pinch (who packed wire and spikes and Lauren :)) and Zip (who packed staves), as well as Jammer (who packed Harold) and Sneakers (who packed Kathe). These seasoned Forest Service veterans made our job much easier – and they worked for apples!*

BLM range tech Justin Hunt leads Forest Service pack horse Trapper with a load of T-posts while Lauren leads Pinch toward the dropoff point along the southeastern boundary fence of Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area. A Southwest Conservation Corps crew will be in the basin in October to replace a steep section of the fence, which has been worked on for four years by University of Missouri students during alternative spring break.

Here’s a teaser pic of Justin leading Trapper after Lauren and Pinch on the way to the cache site, following Kathe and Harold, who led the other two pack horses. For more pix of a great day of work that benefits Spring Creek Basin’s beloved mustangs, check out SJMA’s photostream on Flicker.

* Jammer and Pinch are Harold’s personal horses, and Sneakers belongs to Kathe.

Fence work, Mizzou style

26 03 2015

Amazingly, all 10 Missourians came back yesterday for their second day of work on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern boundary fence line. Actually, it’s no surprise! Students returned bundled up against the brisk wind and gathered beneath the Temple-Butte-dominated horizon – dusted with snow! – to gather tools and supplies and head back up the trail. Smiling. πŸ™‚


Day 2 was more of the same: Taking out old wire, stringing new wire, installing staves to keep the wires stable. Here, MK Thompson (SJMA), Evan, Aloe, Tom West (SJMA), Jordyn and Mary wire in staves while Jessi carries a bucket containing more cut-wire pieces and Zach carries more staves.


Two more H-braces were built – Miranda pounds in the spike to attach cross post to brace post.


More wire was tightened to hold H-braces in place – Aloe twisted the post with help from student leader Chalen (far right) and BLM range tech Justin Hunt.


Did someone mention all the staves wired in place? Evan, Aloe, Jessi and Lauren complete the task, which is the last step in each fence section.

But this group did something a liiiiiittle bit differently this year.


They put items in an ammo box designed to serve as a time capsule, to commemorate their time in Southwest Colorado and Spring Creek Basin. Items included notes written to future fence-builders (or themselves in 20 years?!), a Mizzou ball cap signed by students, BLM and volunteers, an SJMA bandana, a pair of watermelon-colored sunglasses similar to the protective eyewear issued to students without their own shades and – appropriately – a pair of fencing pliers.


To end the day, students took turns pounding a “golden” spike into their last H-brace post …


… then gathered ’round to collectively feel the good vibe!


Of course, the very last task is to carry out old wire and tools.


It was the girls – Mary and Sarah – who still had the strength to carry the lion’s share of old wire on one of the heavy tamp bars.

Young ladies and gents, sincere, heart-felt and appreciative THANK YOU for your work to help rebuild our fence and keep our mustangs safe! At the end of the day, we drove into Spring Creek Basin to see those for which we labor with such good cheer: the mustangs. We saw several bands and got to see some of the horses “running with the wind.” They make all our labors worthwhile!


Justin, Mike, Aloe, Miranda, Zach, Lauren, Sarah, Mary, Evan, Jordyn, Chalen, Jessi, Kathe and MK (and Tom and Dave) … thank you, thank you, thank you! (The box on the cross post is the time capsule, and it was buried in the hole Jessi and Kathe are *not* falling into!)

Mizzou, every spring, you send us a crew of brilliant, enthusiastic, kind, productive, hard-working and happy young people. Hopefully we send them back to Columbia with one-of-a-kind memories of an experience that will stick with them for the next 20 years. We think our fence will last at least double that, but we’ll see you in 2035 to find out!

Thank you, truly, for your exceptional work for our mustangs. πŸ™‚

Putting the fun in alternative spring break

25 03 2015

It is alternative spring break time again in Missouri and Colorado! This is the awesome time of year when the weather is fabulous and the University of Missouri sends us several of their marvelous students to do good work on San Juan public lands. This includes Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, managed out of Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores.

This is the fourth year students have helped us rebuild the basin’s southeastern boundary fence. Here are some more stats: This is the third straight year for student leader Chalen (who got married right before coming to Colorado – congrats!). It’s the 19th year of the alternative spring break program here; that means next year will be the 20th year! Wow. Kathe Hayes, leader extraordinaire and volunteer coordinator with San Juan Mountains Association, has been organizing this program for “16 or 17 years.” She may have said 17 years last year, so she may be underestimating her dedication to this super program.

Chalen said Mizzou sent 138 crews out of Missouri this school year for projects in the USA and abroad. Wow again!

As always, we are incredibly appreciative and wonderfully humbled by the students’ enthusiasm and get-‘er-done attitudes. Most come with little or no fence-building experience, but as Kathe noted at the start of the day, they all came equipped with excellent footwear!

Let’s take a look at their progress Tuesday:


Zach and Evan were two of three boys (including Chalen) on the crew this year. Here, they’re carrying a roll of wire and a tamp bar to the start of the to-be-worked-on fence (we should measure this – probably half a mile from the road? – and it ain’t flat). Jessi follows them with buckets of tools. Check out the awesome fence beside them, built by last year’s crew.


Putting their muscles to work right off the bat. It is NOT easy to carry those wire rolls.


BLM herd manager Mike Jensen demonstrates the use of fencing pliers to the girls: Miranda, Sarah, Mary, Lauren, Jordyn and Aloe.


SJMA’s Kathe Hayes and BLM’s Dave Sanders walk along the fence where Sarah, Miranda, Mary and Aloe are undoing the wire pieces that hold old barbed wire strands to fence posts.


After they removed the wire, they had to roll the wire – again, NOT easy. Sarah, Aloe, Jordyn and Jessi keep their strands untangled.


It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but Mike and Chalen are moving an old tree away from the fence line. It fell in such a way that previous fencers used one spike of a root to stabilize wires. It was cool! But ultimately not very appropriate. Sigh. If you must …!


Kathe demonstrates the start of the wire roll to Mary.


On any fence-building project, there’s a little bit of this – carrying rolls from brace to brace. Chalen and Zach carry the wire while Mike follows to keep it smooth.


Before the new wire gets strung, the old wire must be rolled. Lauren shows off a perfect roll!


Do these girls know how to have fun or what? Lauren (right) and MK rolled one strand of wire from either end and met in the middle, where Miranda stepped in to separate the two.


Sarah shows off her wire roll while Miranda prepares to photobomb!


Kathe heckles the photographer …


… then shows off her mad fence-post-pounding skills!


It’s not ALL about work. We do allow a few minutes for lunch, during which, we got to know a little more about the students and what they’re studying at Mizzou. This year, students span all classes – from freshmen to seniors – and have a variety of majors: accounting, photography, journalism, forestry, exercise science, health science, anthropology/international studies. Most are from Missouri, but others are from Illinois and Texas (interestingly enough, a town in the same county as yours truly’s parents call home).


After lunch, it was right back to work. Sarah, Miranda and Zach (and others) took turns pounding through shale to dig a hole for a new brace post. Talk about sweat equity!


Students coined a new term this year: fox-holing. Instead of using what was decided to be the most inefficient tool of all time – the post-hole digger – students shoveled dirt and shale out by hand.


Hole-digging is an arduous process, especially through rock. Justin Hunt (BLM range tech) and MK Thompson (SJMA) double their digging.


Mike drills a hole for a spike to be pounded to attach the brace post to the tree while Chalen steadies the post. Readers may remember that the southeastern fence line is wholly within McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, where no mechanized or motorized tools are allowed.


After the hole is drilled, Jessi pounds the spike. The drilled hole eases the way, but it still requires some muscle!


Tightening the wires on the braces is fascinating stuff! Go, Mike! Jessi, Kathe, MK, Chalen and Jordyn appreciate the effort. Note the fancy duct-tape circling Jordyn’s jeans-clad leg, which fell prey to a barbed-wire barb – a hazard of working with the stuff.


Yep, there was more of this with Zach and Evan doing the heavy lifting and Mary keeping the wire flowing free.


The students built two braces yesterday. Jordyn, Kathe and Aloe help Mike (out of sight behind the tree) while Justin and Miranda (background) feed the wire from the roll.


Kathe pounds a staple to attach wire around a tree at a brace (out of sight to the right). She soon switched from fencing pliers to a bigger mallet.


This post was pretty wobbly with a rotten bottom. MK rocked it out of the ground, and Dave sawed the rotten bottom off with help from Evan. When they flipped it (the former top went bottom-down in the new hole), they wanted it to look pretty for the mustangs! Always thinking about the horses – love it!


Old wire out (and rolled) – check. Braces built – check. New wire strung – check. Clips attaching wire strands to T-posts (and staples to wood posts) – check. More new wire strung – check!


Sore arms are a given after a day on the fence line (and they’re coming back today!). Sore cheeks from smiling? Yep, those, too. MK and Justin attach wire to the tree to run to the next brace.


Jordyn and Mary use a measuring stick to attach the top wire of the new fence. Students are following wildlife-friendly fence-building concepts; the top and bottom strands are smooth-twisted wire (for wildlife), and the middle two strands are barbed (to deter cattle). The bottom strand is 16 inches off the ground to allow fawn and (elk) calf movement, and the top and second-from-top strands are wider spaced to prevent legs from getting twisted in the wire when jumping the fence. Note the helpful “UP” note on the measuring stick.


Note the great smiles! In the background, Mike and Kathe admire the students’ handiwork.


Kathe, Mary and Sarah carry old-wire rolls back to the trucks at the end of the day.


By the time we got organized enough to take a group pic with the wire proof of their labors, Evan, Aloe and Jordyn already had headed for the trucks. We’ll get a group pic today with everyone! Front row from left: Kathe, Sarah, Lauren and Mary. Back row from left: Justin, Chalen, Miranda, Dave, Zach, Jessi, Mike and MK.

THANK YOU, Mizzou students! Every year, you impress us with your energy and ability to make a mundane, labor-intensive job a whole lot of fun. This year is no exception, and we so appreciate that you chose to come to Southwest Colorado for your spring break, to work instead of party – though we hope you have a lot of fun!

Alternative spring break – day 2

27 03 2014

Not only are these University of Missouri students good workers, they’re good luck!

They arrived with smiles and good cheer and high energy, and we know why.

Chalen was the group leader for the second year this year. Last year, rumor had it that Chalen was up at 4 at least one morning (!) to cook breakfast for his crew. Kyla confirmed that while most UM alternative spring break groups are eating Cheerios and granola for breakfast and scrounging dinner on their own, Chalen is making sure his charges not only eat, they eat well! Kathe Hayes, with San Juan Mountains Association, sets up a couple of dinners for the students during the week each year, but I have it on good authority that the kids dined on steaks last night, courtesy of Chef Chalen. Niiiiice! (They deserve it!)

Wednesday’s stretch of fence work was fairly short, especially compared with Tuesday’s stretch. The goal was to finish relatively early, then take the students to the interior of Spring Creek Basin to see the reason for the work: the mustangs!

Tuesday’s work ended at a little arroyo that flows (when it rains) under the fence. The approach is fairly flat, but the north side is steep – and shaley (read: slippery). Tuesday, students built an H-brace on the flat side.


Wednesday, students ran wire up the steep slope to a newly-built H-brace (pictured is the brace built Tuesday). Students set up an impromptu relay system while carrying staves up the hill. Jake to Kyla in front, Sam to Dustin below, Casey and Chase bringing up the rear. It worked!


Forest Service firefighters Kevin and Chris helped with the work Wednesday. Kyla photobombed. Again. πŸ™‚


From there, students removed wire and ran new wire to the next stop – a big juniper that students padded with 2-by-4s (to protect it from wire). This photo actually shows the female fence leadership in place Wednesday: Tif, Kathe and MK. They tied off the second strand of wire (you can see the first, bottom strand already in place and tight). Go, girls!

Removed wire: Check.


Ran new wire, four strands: Check. MK and Tom, both with San Juan Mountains Association, ran the last strand of wire from the padded tree to the H-brace while Grace, back right, helps channel the wire.


Dug post holes and built another H-brace: Check (oh yeah, and they carried these two thick, treated posts from the road just for this brace, at the top of the steep arroyo hill, to anchor the rest of the fence). Check, check! Here’s Chalen tightening the cross wires to strengthen the brace and Chris pounding in a spike (in a hole drilled earlier by Kevin) to secure the post to the cross piece.


Ran wire up the steep arroyo hill to then tighten and attach to T-posts: Check and check. Kevin carries the wire up the hill while Tif, Chris and Kyla tie it off at the H-brace below.


One more to show the steepness of the hill. Thank goodness it was just a short stretch!


Installed staves: Check. Mark, Sophia and Kyla made quick work of it.


Stopped for lunch: Check! πŸ™‚


Here’s a shot of MK standing right in the bottom of the little arroyo while she attaches a stave to the wires. Tom and Chase are just up the slope. It’s just a narrow little thing, as you can see from the edge of the H-brace at the right edge of the photo.


And one more project to finish off the whole deal: Dustin, Chase and Tom installed a “dead person.” Back story: Most fence-building crews call these a “dead man” – “dead men”? But being the modern folks we are, and not to exclude an entire gender, in the last couple of years, with fence-building guru Tom Kelly – recently retired from the Forest Service – we started calling them “dead persons.” We’re innovative like that. This old tree trunk fit the bill perfectly; it will block the gap below the wire, and it will swing with any seasonal flows that wash through the arroyo.

Fairly early in the work, we had a couple of visitors:


Kevin Heiner with Southwest Conservation Corps brought his daughter, Mariah, to check a potential work project for one of his crews next year in Spring Creek Basin. Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association is trying to raise funds to bring a crew here to tackle a VERY steep – and long – hill coming up on the fence line. The hope is that the SCC crew might work at the same time as next year’s alternative spring break crew from Mizzou in order to add another dimension to the partnership.


While they were here, Kevin and his “executive director” also talked to students (Casey, Sophia, Mark, Chase and Grace pictured) about internship opportunities. Baby Mariah looks like a future outdoorswoman who will complete numerous projects on our public lands, doesn’t she?


Grand finale: Tif and Kathe follow the students to the vehicles after two days of work well done. How awesome is that fence??

Wednesday’s weather was quite a bit different than Tuesday’s: Somewhat cloudy, windy, cooler. Grey skies greeted us as we drove east with the idea to drive into the basin to look for mustangs to show the students. We saw Ty’s band at a distance from the road. By the time we got to Road K20E, we decided that the grey we were seeing was dust, not rain, so in we went. Chrome’s band delighted us by being a little closer to view!

And here’s where the good luck comes in. While it cut short our potential viewing of wild horses, the wind that stirred the dust also brought rain. Just a little. Enough to make the road the tiniest bit tacky. That’s more than we’ve had for weeks. Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!

So, dear students, thank you, thank you again, from all of us, on behalf of our mustangs – which belong to all of you, too! Please enjoy the rest of your stay – Sand Canyon today? Travel safely back to Missouri. Come back and see us! We so appreciate all your hard work!


Back row from left: Mark, Kathe, Chalen, Chase, Casey, Dustin and Sam. Front row from left: Damon, Grace, Sophia, Tif, Jake and Kyla.

Thanks. πŸ™‚ You all rock!

Alternative spring break – 2014

26 03 2014

We had sunshine. We had short sleeves. We had the flush of sunburn on winter-white arms and faces. We had, uh, shale?

No beaches, but we had hard workers and fantastic attitudes. As usual, Mizzou sent some – 10 – excellent students to continue the fence-rebuilding project on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern fence line as part of alternative spring break. Leader Chalen said the number of groups working this spring break is 52 – up from 38 last year. If all you’ve heard about the next generation is a not-so-hearty endorsement, these students made myth of such statements.

They ranged from freshmen to seniors, from undecided majors to finance, to animal science/pre-vet to fisheries and wildlife, to journalism.

Every year, we’re grateful and excited to welcome them, and every year, a new group of students humbles us with their willingness to work on public lands very far from their Missouri campus.


The sweatshirts didn’t last long. It was a gorgeous day in Disappointment Valley, and we were down to T-shirts in no time at all. Right to left: Grace, Sam, Chase, Sophia, Casey and Kyla.


BLM range specialist and former herd manager Mike Jensen helps Mizzou student Jake set a cross piece into an H-brace at the start of the project.


Students Chase, left, and Mark attach boards to a tree to protect it from wire fence strands biting into it. This is just up the line from the H-brace Mike and Jake are working on in the previous pic.


Student leader Chalen – who also was last year’s group leader – drew the short straw in digging this post hole with Sam. See all that rock? See the tamp bar? The only other tool they used was a post-hole digger.


Same post hole – post in! Sam, right, tamps it in while Chalen and fellow student Sophia admire the work.


MK Thompson with San Juan Mountains Association carries out old wire strands that the students removed and rolled. A local Girl Scouts troop will pick up the old wire to recycle and earn some money! How about that for both recycling and partnership among local groups?


Herd manager Damon Corley pounded his fair share of T-posts. Part of the fence line was relocated to a straighter route, so posts were lifted out and reused or replaced. The lower wire strand was left in place temporarily to help align the new posts.


Sorry, Dustin! While he was hard at work with a shorty tamp bar, Kyla bombed his photo – but gave his hard work an enthusiastic thumbs-up! They and Casey (whose foot appears at bottom left)Β  – and Sophia helped, too – dug two holes for an H-brace at the bottom of this steep little arroyo toward the end of the day’s work project.


Sophia, right, and Kyla set the cross piece into the notches of the posts they dug holes to place. Kathe Hayes, mastermind of the alternative spring break week for many, many years (did I hear 17 years, Kathe??), supervises.


The Forest Service’s Tom Rice helps Dustin drill a hole for a spike to secure the soon-to-be-upright juniper post to the cross piece, as seen in the previous pic. Remember, in McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, no mechanized tools are allowed.


On this end of the brace, Dustin hammers home the spike while Casey steadies the cross piece.


NMA/CO executive director and volunteer Tif attaches a clip to a T-post to secure a wire strand. Only the top strand to go! The top and bottom strands are smooth twisted wire, and the the middle strands are barbed.


We’re using wildlife-friendly wire spacing on this entire line (I think that’s usual now for Forest Service and BLM fences). Jake holds one of the measuring sticks used by students toΒ  attach the wires at the right spacing while Casey attaches a strand to the T-post with a metal clip.


The students were so “on the ball” that hardly had a wire strand been tightened and tied off at the H-brace than they were attaching the strands to posts and staves to wire. Wow, they were fast! Some of the students have fence-building experience, but most don’t. Quick learners, these college students!


This shot is a little out of order, but it’s a good contrast to the previous pic, which shows the nearly-finished fence. In this pic, taken from about halfway up the steep bank of the arroyo at the end of the day’s work section, you can see Kyla and Tom drilling a hole in one of the juniper H-brace posts while Dustin, Kathe, Casey and Sophia have set their post and are getting ready to tamp dirt in around it. When the H-brace is completed, wire will be strung – from the bottom wire up – clips will be placed, staves will be set, and we’ll call it a day well spent!


One of the last things to do was to dig a hole and place this tall, stout juniper post (cut Saturday during work prep) about midway up that steep arroyo bank. Sophia, Grace and Damon carried it to its place, and they and other students dug the hole and placed it and tamped it steady before we hit the trail for the trucks …


… where we took the obligatory group shot. Back row from left: Damon, Mike, Kyla, Sophia, Dustin, Casey, Chase, Grace, Chalen, Sam, Mark and Jake. Front row from left: Tom, Connie, Kathe, Tif and MK.

We really can’t say “thank you” too many times. Mike, Tom and Connie won’t be joining us for the second day of work, but the students, Kathe, Tif and MK will return along with a couple of wildland firefighters Kathe conned encouraged to come.

Work prep

24 03 2014

It’s that time of year again: spring. And March in Spring Creek Basin means a couple of things: We’re already bemoaning the dry forecast, and we’re looking forward to the arrival of University of Missouri students who come for alternative spring break. “Alternative” because these kids don’t ditch the books for sun, sand and booze. Instead, they raise money to send themselves from Columbia, Missouri, to Southwest Colorado, here to complete work projects on public lands. And they go home with terrific memories – as opposed to (possibly?) no memory at all.

Alternative spring break is next week – Tuesday and Wednesday in Spring Creek Basin; Monday and Thursday on other public lands, including Sand Canyon, in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. For more than a decade, Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association has coordinated projects for the students. Much work goes into the actual work, and this weekend was no exception. She put together a volunteer crew, which included nearly every member of a local family, and they did a little prep work for the continuing project to rebuild the basin’s southeastern boundary fence.


The day started with a pickup bed full of these: wooden fence staves. This is the third year we’ve worked on this stretch of fence line, and the starting point gets farther and farther away from the road. Our task was to carry these staves to this year’s starting point. The students will have plenty of materials and tools to haul in next week.


Volunteers Chris and Keith also carried in more wire.


Photobombers and excellent workers Madison and Allison are cousins. They’re 12 and 11 years old, respectively, and we couldn’t have completed the project without them! They made numerous trips up and down “the hill” carrying staves – a distance of at least half a mile. These future alternative spring breakers come from a family of volunteers. We’re so proud of them!


Long-time mustang advocate and volunteer Tif carries a double load of staves.


Kathe Hayes, volunteer coordinator for SJMA, is our fearless leader. She shepherds the students while they’re here and makes everything run smoothly long before they ever arrive.


Curly and Keith use a two-person saw to cut a small juniper to use as a post or brace while Chris pushes to reduce drag on the saw. This part of Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area also is McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area – no motorized vehicles allowed. No chainsaws, either.


Lyn does everything with a smile! Like she said, no other group may laugh as much as this one. All work should be this fun!


Wife and husband Heather and Chris worked with Keith to cut the top off a future post.


Top row, left to right: Chris, Heather, Lyn, Madison and Curly. Bottom, left to right: Allison, Tif, Kathe and Keith. It’s worth noting that both Tif and Keith are adopters of Spring Creek Basin mustangs. All of them make up a great group of folks working for the benefit of our wild horses. πŸ™‚ Thanks so much!

How does your donation to NMA/CO help the Spring Creek Basin mustangs?

28 05 2013

This question was asked recently, and answering it gives me another chance to let local folks know about the Pati Temple Memorial Benefit Bash we will hold next week, Monday, June 3, at the Kennebec Cafe in Hesperus, Colo. Follow that link for the details and to purchase tickets if you haven’t and plan to attend.


Now, on to an answer(s) to the question!

First, see this page, compiled last year by Pati, for a list of the National Mustang Association, Colorado chapter’s past accomplishments:

As it says, NMA/CO has spent nearly $100,000 to date on projects that directly benefit the mustangs of Spring Creek Basin! We rarely do fundraisers, relying mostly on memberships and donations. Administrative expenses are low, mostly what we put toward mailing newsletters. We had T-shirts and hats printed for the adoption in 2011, and we’ll soon have a link to purchase them through the website.

Fence repair and maintenance is ongoing through volunteer labor. As a result of their partnership with us as part of Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners, BLM received $25,000 last year through the Director’s Challenge grant, which purchased some materials to be used in a project on the basin’s southeastern boundary line (read about alternative spring break and University of Missouri students’ work here – – and here – I fix fences as needed while I’m in the basin doing documentation. Sometimes we use materials provided by BLM, other times by ourselves.

We also are continually encouraging BLM to look at water-enhancement projects. More than a decade ago, NMA/CO paid for a water catchment to be built in Spring Creek Basin, and it supplies the mustangs’ only clean source of water (all others being extremely alkaline, at least). We have a signed agreement from about 12 or 13 years ago with BLM to construct at least one more catchment, but it has never been built. I think the catchment cost about $10,000. Several years ago, we also started talking to BLM about water guzzlers (such as those installed on Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range) to add to the horses’ quality of water. Those are about $8,000-plus. NMA/CO also has purchased parts for the catchment’s troughs, which work on floats.

NMA/CO contributes funds to combat noxious/invasive weeds in Spring Creek Basin (knapweed, tamarisk, musk thistle, etc.).

A decade or more ago, NMA/CO was able to purchase the cattle AUMs from one of the two ranchers who held permits in Spring Creek Basin. With the help of the National Mustang Association, we were able to retire those AUMs permanently. In the process, BLM conducted a grazing EA (not sure the exact reference) and then drastically reduced the remaining AUMs and changed the timing to dormant-season grazing only – Dec. 1 through Feb. 28. For the last several years, NMA/CO has been trying to buy or trade for the permit in Spring Creek Basin to also retire those AUMs, with the goal of no cattle grazing in the basin. As BLM itself says, managing wild horses is easier when the mustangs are the priority. The permittee is willing, so we are trying to work with BLM to accomplish this goal.

NMA/CO also is asking BLM to consider the use of bait trapping in the basin, instead of helicopter-driven roundups to complement the use of fertility control. We submitted a proposal for a program using native PZP that was implemented at the 2011 roundup. To bait trap requires the use of a facility in which to hold horses as they are trapped. This facility requires a chute and pens. We recently purchase a chute ($18,000) with donated funds from the National Mustang Association (of which we are a chapter). Our primary goal in fundraising currently is to purchase the required infrastructure for this facility so BLM won’t have only the option of using a helicopter and won’t need to transport one or two horses at a time – as they’re trapped – to Canon City, which is full, as most/all of BLM’s facilities seem to be. NOTE: NO ROUNDUP CURRENTLY IS PLANNED FOR SPRING CREEK BASIN. We are planning this now to have the facility in place so a future EA can include it in the planning process. As BLM said in 2011, bait trapping was not considered because it wasn’t in the EA. It wasn’t in the EA because no facility was available. However, note that we started asking specifically for bait trapping in 2008.

Enhancing water sources, retiring the remaining cattle AUMs, establishing a fertility control program and making bait trapping the priority for roundups all were Pati Temple’s goals for the Spring Creek Basin herd. In addition to the accomplishments made for the mustangs during Pati’s lifetime, we plan to accomplish these goals in her honor.

Fence work, round 2

25 04 2013

Time to choose: Cheesecake or fence work.

Dessert in the office or working off the cheesecake you could have had.

Lucky for us – the mustangs – a six-man, one-woman Forest Service crew and one BLM’er voluntarily gave up cheesecake to build fence with the Forest Service’s Tom Kelly and San Juan Mountains Association’s Kathe Hayes on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern boundary fence.

Sound familiar? It should. This section is north of the section of southeastern boundary fence the University of Missouri students rebuilt when they were here on alternative spring break at the end of March. We had hoped to knock it all out while they were here, but while we rebuilt a good section of fence, and built the H-braces for this last section, we didn’t have time then to remove the old wire, restring the new wire and insert staves in the last section Kathe had scouted.

So on a beautiful day in Disappointment Valley, that last bit was what this crew finished.

Let me introduce ya’ll to the cast of characters:


Front row from left: Sara, Dave, Kathe and Derrick. Back row from left: Tom, Kevin, Kevin, Paul and Sean. Derrick was the group’s lone BLM’er.

To get started (and thank you, Mizzou students, for building the braces a month ago!), the crew unstapled and unwired the old barbed wire strands, then rolled that wire. Perfect wreaths were insisted upon. No one wanted to be “that guy” with sloppy wreaths. Happily, we had a crew of perfect-wire-wreath-rolling-peeps!

Kathe Hayes rolls a perfect barbed wire wreath.

Kathe perfects her wreath roll.

Paul and Derrick roll old barbed wire to pack out.

Paul demonstrates his on-the-ground roll technique while Derrick finishes a rolled wreath.

That was the un-building. Then the crew moved to re-building:


Tom, our fence-building guru, checked the straightness of the fence …


Derrick pounded re-aligned T-posts while Kevin, right, and Paul, left, looked on supervised and Kathe documented …


Sara and Dave walked with Sean and Kevin to unroll new wire for the fence …


Kathe and Paul used the miracle swizzler to attach wire strands to the T-posts …

Miracle tool.

Ahhh … two twists’ll tighten!

And …


Kevin, Kevin, Sean and Sara wired wooden staves between the T- and wooden posts.

Voila! What a crew!

Tom said the second-best part of the work day is lunch. One of the Kevins (Sara/h and Kevin: names of the month), naturally and without missing a beat, noted that the best part of the work day is – of course! – quitting time. I was too busy eating lunch to take pix of everyone eating lunch (the most interesting included cold pizza and a tuna salad avalanche with Doritos primer), so here are two pix of quitting time:

Derrick (BLM), Kevin, Sean, Paul, Kevin, Tom Kelly, Kathe Hayes, Dave and Sara.

Photo suggestion by Tom to show the view looking southish toward the Glade. If you look closely, you can see the fire lookout tower – Benchmark Lookout. It’s on the farthest hill basically between Sean’s and Paul’s helmets (and yes, managers, we received the safety talk(s)). From left: Derrick, Kevin, Sean, Paul, Kevin, Tom, Kathe, Dave and Sara.

Dave, Derrick (BLM), Tom Kelly, Kathe Hayes, Kevin, Kevin, Paul, Sara and Sean.

Then I made ’em all smile again – say mustang! – so I could take their pic looking southeastish and showing off the new fence. (Disclaimer: This actually is part of the section the students rebuilt, but there were more trees in the section these guys rebuilt, and this had the more open view!) The previous pic was taken just up the hill to the left looking out to the right.

Thanks for your marvelous work, guys and gals! It was a fun day, and hopefully it beat the cheesecake (though I hope your co-workers saved you some … or Kathe makes another one just for you all!).

Boundary fence – aka the fruit of the students’ labor!

28 03 2013

When the students finished work on the fence Tuesday, I was so excited, I forgot to take pix of said finished fence! So yesterday, on a near-perfect spring day in Disappointment Valley, I straddled my mountain bike for the first day this year and pedaled up to the boundary. I haven’t figured out a decent way to carry my camera while biking (it’s not little), so I apologize in advance for the crappy quality of these cell-phone images. But I believe they show the excellent quality of our new, student-built fence!


I say, isn’t that a rockin’ mountain bike! Oh, wait, I mean, isn’t that a *tight* H-brace! This is at the road (the cattle guardΒ  is immediately to the left), and the brace was loose. Despite the poor image quality, I think you can see the shiny new wire. The sign says something about no motorized vehicle access (because it’s McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area).


This was shot from in front of my bike looking up the fence line. Does it rock or what?!

Compare the above shot – brand-new fence – with the one below, the original fence, photo taken the previous weekend when the crew cleared the greasewood and other brush from the fence line so the students could build:


This is from the other (west) side of the fence, looking back toward the road, but it’s the same section of fence.



The shadows don’t allow for much detail in this shot, but this is the first H-brace the students built, using the tree as the anchor. Notice the extra “padding” around the tree.


Here’s a closer view. The staves protect the tree from wire biting into the bark – thank you (again), Tom Kelly, Forest Service fence-builder extraordinaire!


This is the brace just to the left of the tree and shows – I hope – the somewhat intricate weaving of the wrap, which holds it all together.


And here’s the fence continuing on up the hill.

Kudos again to the students for building this wildlife-friendly, mustang-protecting fence!