Assessments, Day 2

22 06 2017

Yesterday was Day 2 of the Land Health Assessment in Spring Creek Basin.

Yep, it was hot. Yep, the gnats were still bad (but yours truly remembered her head net).

Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Nate West were back to assess more of Spring Creek Basin’s land health. We did some great sites, and a couple of them were higher, which allowed for great views!

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BLM range management specialist Mike Jensen and range tech Justin Hunt walk a site in Spring Creek Basin with views of McKenna Peak and Temple Butte.

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At the end of each site assessment, Justin and Mike took pix in two directions for future comparisons.

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We don’t have many trees in Spring Creek Basin, so many of the sites were the wide-open places (as in the photos above). But we had a couple of sites that were in pinon-juniper woodlands. This site (and the one pictured above) had really great grass.

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And then we headed uphill for our last site of the day.

Spring Creek Basin

Which led to an amazing view. Straight ahead is Brumley Point, and at the farthest left is one side of McKenna Peak.

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Those who go up must go down! Especially when the truck is at the bottom. 🙂

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Big thanks to BLM’s Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Nate West for persevering on these hot days to assess the land health of Spring Creek Basin. Again, as far as I can tell, we’re in pretty good shape.

Horny toad held by BLM wildlife biologist Nate West in Spring Creek Basin.

We think this little guy (gal?) might agree. 🙂

 





Assessing the land health of Spring Creek Basin

21 06 2017

Baby, it’s hot out there.

The mercury hit at least 100 degrees Tuesday in Disappointment Valley. Might be hotter today.

But we don’t shirk our duties when it comes to assessing the health of our range – which directly affects the health of our mustangs – in Spring Creek Basin. 🙂

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Don’t let the long sleeves fool you. This was our last site of the day, and it was toasty out there. We were glad for every bit of brief cloud cover that came our way. On the right is our excellent herd manager, Mike Jensen (rangeland management specialist), and on the left is wildlife biologist Nate West, both with Tres Rios Field Office. In the background, of course, are McKenna Peak and Temple Butte.

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Here, Mike and Nate – and our range tech, Justin Hunt – are checking examples of particular things that we were looking for, depending on what kind of site we were assessing – here, “basin shale.”

At each of the five sites we did (we have more to do), we completed a 17-point checklist to assess such things as “presence of water flow patterns,” “bare ground,” “amount of litter movement,” “effect of plant community composition and spatial distribution on infiltration and runoff,” “functional/structural groups” (what kinds of plants – annual/perennial grasses, shrubs, forbs – we should expect to find), “expected annual production” (which we are supporting with actual vegetation monitoring studies) and “potential invasive (including noxious) species (native and nonnative).” Each site has a list of expected standards that we should find according to soil types, including “basin shale,” “clayey salt desert” and “salt flats.”

Pretty fascinating, really! For the most part, my civilian observation is that our range is pretty healthy in Spring Creek Basin.

Our mustangs do seem to support that assessment. 🙂

Thanks to Mike, Justin and Nate for trekking to the basin on the hottest days of the year to perform these assessments that positively affect the good management of our mustangs!





To arms

28 05 2017

Spirit

By now, you all must have heard about the explosion of disbelief and outrage about the 2018 budget proposal. No one seems to be happy … and wild horse and burro advocates are no exception.

My friend Pam Nickoles has a succinct post with pertinent links on her blog.

More information is available on all the major advocacy sites, and news sites are covering the issue as well.

Surely we can work together for better treatment and management for our wildlife.





Celebration in Piceance-East Douglas

11 05 2017

Last weekend, BLM folks from the White River Field Office in Meeker hosted a “celebration” of the mustangs in the Piceance (“pee-antz”)-East Douglas Herd Management Area. An unofficial count of around 40 people made the trip to talk to each other and BLM range specialists and managers, and take tours of this amazing – 190,000-plus acres! – range in northwestern Colorado.

The wildlife in this area of the state is abundant and varied. It also – until recently – had a widespread oil-and-gas presence (still there, just not as widespread). Interestingly, friends say that those workers are among the friendliest they encounter while looking for mustangs, and they’re always happy to point out the locations of horses for my friends to find and photograph. Cattle and sheep ranching also is abundant in the area, and my friends pass on information about livestock and fences to the ranchers via BLM.

During this celebration, three tours were offered throughout the day, and we had the opportunity to speak with people from all backgrounds: oil-and-gas workers, ranchers, mustang advocates, local and not-so-local BLM employees, and others. We all have a stake in preserving Colorado’s public lands and wild places, and the wildlife those lands shelter, so it was a good coming together of people and ideas and planning to see how those interests can merge and move forward for the benefit of all involved.

This wasn’t my first visit to Piceance-East Douglas, and it certainly won’t be the last. BLM does want to conduct a roundup and removal of horses here (population estimate is 400-plus horses). But it also wants to start a PZP program, which would mean that – at that point – all of Colorado’s mustang herds would be managed with scientifically-sound fertility control, enabling more horses to live wild and free on their home ranges.

My friends Tom and Pam Nickoles have been visiting the area since 2006, learning about the mustangs, learning about the area … learning all the intricacies. They work closely with the BLM range specialist and herd manager, Melissa Kindall, as well as a local woman who has been documenting the mustangs for many years, Dona Hilkey. Friends of the Mustangs, the advocacy group that helps BLM with the Little Book Cliffs herd near Grand Junction, also had members present, and they might be able to provide human power and some funding to help establish a local advocacy group for the Piceance-East Douglas mustangs.

Good things are going on in Piceance-East Douglas and all around Colorado!

Not too many photos from this last visit, as I was more interested in looking wide-eyed at everything, but here are a few of the gorgeous mustangs that call Piceance-East Douglas home:

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This handsome guy was with a young grey stallion and an older sorrel mare. This was the only photo I came away with that shows some of the long views available from this herd management area.

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This is the young grey friend of the above stallion, showing the *short* sagebrush. Most of the sage in this region is TALL – as in, jungle-tall. Sometimes it’s hard to see any more of horses (or cows) than their ears. No pix of the mare because – ironically – she was too close for my lens. Most of the Piceance-East Douglas mustangs are extremely wild and wary, which is awesome! But challenging for photos. 🙂

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Case in point: This handsome family was pretty OK to watch us from a distance while we stood at the Jeep, photographing from the road. But when I took a few steps away from the vehicle, to get a better view across/over the sage and other vegetation, that was enough of a trigger for them to bid us farewell.

Young grey stallion by himself in Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area.

This hunky young guy was all alone. We walked out into the sage a short distance (also mindful of ticks!), and he came to investigate …

Young grey stallion by himself in Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area.

… then high-tailed it away from the two clicky ladies. 🙂 Isn’t he magnificent?

Some take-away facts from Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area:

  • The mustangs are gorgeous with a capital G.
  • The region is large. Huge. Ginormous. There are a lot of roads. The roads are in relatively good condition (probably in large part because of the oil-and-gas access), but, as everywhere, beware wet conditions.
  • The scenery is large. Huge. Ginormous. Especially as seen from Cathedral Bluffs – and other places. 🙂
  • The sage is tall and thick, and sometimes it’s hard to see even a few feet beyond the road.
  • What an amazing place to explore!




Alternative spring break!

31 03 2017

Many hands DO make the work go faster, and with nine University of Missouri students, two San Juan Mountains Association people, four BLM’ers and yours truly, we had plenty of hands to make the most of one day on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern fence line during alternative spring break.

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Speaking of hands, let’s start with feet (!). 🙂 After hiking to the fence line with the tools of our trade, all our shoes looked like this! (We did get some lovely rain!) Those hiking boots belong to Kathe Hayes, volunteer coordinator extraordinaire. She has been leading the students to projects on San Juan public lands (in partnership with BLM and the Forest Service) for nearly 20 years.

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Students got right to work removing old wire in the next section up the line. The H-brace in the background is where students stopped last year (we had SNOW last year). Here, Gabby,  Katy, Natalie and Angela receive guidance from Kathe (in purple jacket).

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Then, of course, we had rusty ol’ barbed wire to roll. Take a gander at Katy’s boots.

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Natalie rolls more old wire while students continue removing strands.

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Meanwhile, our herd manager, Mike Jensen …

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… and Garth Nelson, also a rangeland management specialist, tackled the new H-brace at the other end of our day’s fence section with Brian, Blake, Chris and Matthew. (I missed most of their building while helping the girls remove and roll the old wire.)

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The original fence line was a little cattywampus (!), so we had to do some straightening. The orange string indicates a straight line between last year’s H-brace and this year’s H-brace. Some T-posts had to be uprooted and repounded. One good thing about the mud: It was pretty easy to pull the T-posts out AND pound them back into the soft ground.

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The Mikes – Mike Schmidt, left, BLM wildlife biologist, and Mike Jensen, herd manager – unrolled new wire between the H-braces. You can see the first strand already in place and tightened.

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We did give students a few minutes to sit down and eat lunch. 🙂 Left to right: Natalie, Angela, Katy and Gabby.

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Then it was back to work. Blake and Chris start clipping wires to T-posts using metal “clips” made specifically for the task.

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Brian demonstrates good clip-attaching technique to Katy and Angela while Blake (behind him) also watches.

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Then Angela and Katy were pros!

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Chris and Natalie use one of the measuring sticks to ensure wildlife-friendly spacing of the wires before they clip them to the T-post.

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Gabby and Caitlin did their share of wire clipping.

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Brian holds the measuring stick while Jessica clips the wire. Jessica made her second trip in two years to Southwest Colorado for alternative spring break. This year, she’s the student leader.

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To end the day, Mike S. grabbed my camera to nail this shot of Brian and Matthew hoisting the old wire over the next stretch of old fence while Garth and I wired the gap after the new H-brace. You can see why we’re keen to replace this whole fence line for the security of our mustangs.

Then we trekked back through mud to the vehicles and well-deserved snacks, courtesy of Kathe.

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Thanks again to all of you wonderful Mizzou students and BLM’ers and SJMA’ers who worked hard to continue our tradition of keeping our mustangs safe and protected within Spring Creek Basin! We’re super appreciative of your efforts – all done with smiles and enthusiasm!

THANK YOU!





One day = new fence

30 03 2017

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Ma Nature struck again this year and delivered rain on the first of our two-day alternative spring break project in Spring Creek Basin! So the above smiles are on day 2 … *after* walking (slogging) through messy, slippery mud to get to the fence line.

(But they carried just one roll of wire for supplies – the rest being tools – so we were also smiling about the mule-packed fence materials, which made our one day even easier!)

I ran out of time to get to pix for a full morning-after post, so you get just the one today … and hopefully a fuller post tomorrow. 🙂

Above, by the H-brace they built (!), the two girls seated are (left to right) Angela and Gabby. Beside/above them in front of the H-brace are Natalie, Katy and Chris. Behind the H-brace are Brian, Blake, Caitlin, Matthew (assistant to Kathe), Kathe Hayes (volunteer coordinator with San Juan Mountains Association), Jessica (student leader; this is her second trip to Southwest Colorado from Mizzou), Garth Nelson (BLM range specialist) and Mike Schmidt (BLM wildlife biologist). Not pictured but much appreciated are Mike Jensen (our awesome herd manager) and Keith Fox (BLM).

THANK YOU, Missourians! We decided that we rebuilt a quarter-mile of fence under excellent sunny skies across drying muddy ground. Definitely not muddy enough to dampen enthusiasm. You guys ROCKED the fence! Your work helps keep our mustangs safe and protected in Spring Creek Basin, and we are grateful to you all!





More mules

16 03 2017

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We do have water in the desert, in spite of our very dry late-winter conditions.

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The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Specialty Packstring is Glenn Ryan’s baby; he has been the head honcho and mule packer since 2004.

This link and this one to the crew will give you more information, and if you Google it, you’ll find all kinds of articles about the amazing work this outfit does throughout the West, including this one last fall in The Durango Herald.

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Katy Bartzokis is a permanent seasonal employee with BLM, based in and around the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area of Oregon. She’s the only BLM packer she or we know about. She’s definitely the best one we know. 🙂

If you’re packing in and out of wilderness areas, these are the folks, and these are the mules, you want on your trail (if you even have a trail; we flagged one through the greasewood and over and through and down into and up out of arroyos).

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Here’s the full string, led by Katy, who led three mules, and Glenn, who led the last two. Our BLM range tech Justin Hunt is visible at the back. This was shortly after we left the trailer – loading site – and you can see Disappointment Road in the background. The big Forest Service rig may have drawn a few curious glances from the few travelers who passed by during our work days. 🙂

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To highlight a couple of the mules, this is sweet Karla. Katy and Glenn had folded the now-empty “mantis” and bundled the ropes and then manti’d them and were tying them on Karla’s pack saddle for the trip back to the trailer (we’re at the drop site in this photo). A “manti” is what you or I would call a tarp or square of canvas. Packers like Glenn and Katy use them to wrap bundles of taped-together staves and T-posts. Very neat – and I don’t just mean “keen.” 🙂 Usually, the folded mantis went back in the emptied panniers (which carried wrapped wire rolls), but on this particular trip, we had just staves, which were packed and roped and tied like you see in the photos above. So even bundles of mantis and ropes were themselves manti’d and tied on for the return trip.

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And this is big Skid – the only mule with a forelock and one of only two boys (johns?) in the string. Sweet boy!

All the mules have their personalities, of course, and all marched right along – this was their first job out of winter pasture – to carry a LOT of pounds worth of fencing supplies into McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area to help with our fence-maintenance projects. We love them all. 🙂

Mucho big thanks again to Glenn and Katy, Joey, Karla, Lena, Roz and Skid, Karmel and Sly, for all your work and patience with us! We’re so incredibly grateful for your skilled, amazing work – here and elsewhere on America’s public lands!

Thank you also to our BLM range folks Mike Jensen, Justin Hunt and Garth Nelson; our Spring Creek Basin mustang herd management is so good thanks to you all. Thank you to BLM’s Mike Schmidt and Keith Fox, who took time away from their regular duties to help us one day. Thank you to SJMA’s volunteer coordinator Kathe Hayes, who keeps us rolling on these projects. And thank you to advocate and volunteer Kat Wilder, who does it all when it comes to working for mustangs. 🙂