Alternative spring break – day 1

26 03 2013

Monday was the first day of work for 10 students (including two site leaders) from the University of Missouri, here to work on public lands in Southwest Colorado on alternative spring break. Instead of going to Cancun or Fort Lauderdale or South Padre Island, these young men and women pursue service opportunities across the country. For more than a decade (13 years now?), San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit partner with BLM and the Forest Service on San Juan public lands, has organized work projects that always include at least one day in Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area. This year and last year, students will be and were here for two days. This year, as last year, students worked on the southeastern boundary fence. Last year, they rebuilt a section of fence that had been vandalized before the roundup (someone cut it in several places); this year, they’re installing braces, tightening some wire and replacing some other wire – maintenance projects much-needed on that fence line.

Volunteers from Mesa Verde and Four Corners Back Country Horsemen and the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association also are helping with the project. Some or all of the materials were purchased with funds from last year’s Director’s Challenge, awarded because of BLM’s partnership with Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners, made up of representatives from 4CBCH, MVBCH and NMA/CO.

From SJMA, Kathe Hayes and MK Thompson, from the Forest Service, Tom Kelly, and from BLM, Tom Rice, were overseeing the project.


Sarah holds the wire strands to give Marshal room to dig a hole for a post as the first step toward building an H-brace.


Four Corners BCH volunteer Bob Volger and student Emerald watch student Ellen pound in a stake to hold an H-brace to the post set in the hole dug by Marshal in the first photo.


Student Kara helps Mesa Verde BCH and NMA/CO volunteer Tif Rodriguez tamp dirt around a post set at another H-brace while Forest Service fence-builder extraordinaire Tom Kelly supervises.


From left, Chalen, Marshal and Aaron saw limbs off a juniper to make way for building braces using the tree. Of the 10 students on the trip, these are the group’s only guys. Chalen is one of the site leaders.


SJMA’s MK painstakingly removes staples from wire embedded in the juniper tree seen in the previous photo. Moving forward, each tree used for braces will get protective staves to prevent this from happening (thanks, Tom Kelly!).


Tif watches while Kara drills a hole for a spike through the brace and tree for stability.


Emerald drills the way for another spike in another brace. Altogether, three sections of braces had posts dug and posts set in place. Because this area of Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area also is part of McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, all the work had to be done by hand – no mechanical help such as chainsaws.


Sarah holds wire while Bob, Tom Kelly and Tori (also a site leader) wrap wire around the H-brace and tree (with staves) to tighten.


Bob, Tom Kelly and Tom Rice do the last bit of work for the day: tightening the wire around the farthest H-brace for stability.

Today, we’ll tighten and replace wire strands.

Thank you to everyone who is helping with this project! We so appreciate your work ethic and commitment to our public lands!

Die, thistle, die!

6 10 2012

To follow up from the knapweed spraying seen at the northwest pond, here are some pix of sprayed musk thistle at the east-pocket pond:

On the western edge of the pond.

On the south edge of the pond – and dying already! (Note the water.)

Dying musk thistle, full pond – what’s not to love?

Did I mention full pond? The east-pocket pond now is one of only two ponds in the basin that have not gotten dug out in recent years. It did go dry this year but rebounded (a couple of times) with rain. And the Sorrel Flats pond, which was dug out in 2010, is just to the south.

Thank you to the Forest Service and BLM for your continued partnership with Four Corners Back Country Horsemen and Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners in managing Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area to the best of its potential! It’s fantastic to come back and see the fruits of our labors – GPS’ing sites in the spring – come to fruition in the fall!

Knapweed spraying

5 10 2012

For two days this week, a Forest Service crew directed by BLM has sprayed Russian knapweed around all the ponds in Spring Creek Basin. In May, Four Corners Back Country Horsemen members and guests GPS’d several sites (including ponds) of weed infestation to help BLM identify sites for future spraying. This is all part of the Director’s Challenge grant, which was awarded to the Tres Rios Field Office based on its affiliation with Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners.

We happened to catch G, with the Forest Service, leaving the basin after his second day of spraying and got the scoop.

After visiting with Duke and Kreacher in the northwest “meadow,” we surveyed the northwest pond and spraying activity.

This was a fitting day to get the news about weed spraying; Pat Amthor, who, with her husband, Frank, has honcho’d 13 years worth of wild horse counts in Spring Creek Basin with Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, was visiting. From our vantage with the boys, it was Pat who spied water in the pond.

The vegetation around the pond is the particularly nasty Russian knapweed, noted in a previous post about the pond and it being dug out this summer (also with Director’s Challenge funds). If the green looks a little unnatural, that’s OK – that’s the chemical spray.

Note: Russian knapweed is toxic to horses if ingested in great enough quantity. The good thing is that horses rarely eat it if other forage is available. And we have plenty of other forage available, especially this year.

As we continued around the basin, we did note that all the ponds we saw showed signs of having been sprayed. Yay!

As a side note, we ended up seeing every single horse in Spring Creek Basin, including – again – the elusive Mr. Poco.

Mapping weeds and counting horses

21 05 2012

For 13 years now, members of the Durango-based Four Corners Back Country Horsemen have been visiting Spring Creek Basin every spring to help BLM monitor the mustangs. Members often set up work projects during the count weekends, and this year was no different, with help from Mike Jensen, the Tres Rios Field Office’s weed guru (I don’t know his actual title? he also was a former manager of SCB), and Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association. Mike gave a great talk Friday evening about the particulars of knapweed, in particular. Kathe readied maps and record sheets for the groups and led the horseback riders Saturday.

Special thanks to Pat and Frank Amthor, long-time 4CBCH members and organizers for most of the last 13 years of the count. Their knowledge and experience is invaluable! (And I have to give a special nod not only to the food in general but specifically to Frank’s awesome homemade strawberry ice cream!)

We had one group of horseback riders and one of vehicle drivers (horseless but not clueless – ha!). Between our groups, we mapped 14 sites for weeds – knapweed, musk thistle and tamarisk – so BLM can cut, dig, spray and/or “de-weed.”

One highlight of the weekend – besides the food (oh, the food!) – was the Irick family of Denver (area), who came with their Spring Creek Basin mustangs, Breeze (adopted in 2005) and Sage (adopted in 2007). Brother Luke stayed home, but Teresa and Steve rode with the group, and daughter Sara rode with our vehicle group and helped with recording the weeds.

Teresa and Steve riding out on Breeze, pinto, and Sage.

It was an emotional ride, Teresa said afterward, seeing the boys remember their home. They’re not the first who have brought their adopted mustangs home to the basin, and I hope they won’t be the last! These boys are so loved and cared for – part of their family.

I didn’t take any pix of the horseless few, but here are the rest of horse folks who rode their horses to inventory weeds:

Kathe giving the safety talk at the beginning of the ride. Crow has obviously heard it all before!

Todd and Judy and their horses, Red and Dandy.

Nancy and Aspen, who came all the way from Corrales, N.M., where Aspen holds the distinction of “pet mayor”!

4CBCH president Bob and his lovely horse – whose name I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t ask, though I was very taken with this handsome fellow (regular readers may know my fascination with dark bay horses!). Just a young guy – 5 – but he did very well.

Riders heading out in the morning.

Riding into the sunrise.

Thank you to the Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, BLM and SJMA – and to Mother Nature for the truly excellent weather. After Friday night’s wind and chill, Saturday and Sunday were simply spectacular! Weed inventorying and eradication is part of our partnership objective with BLM under the Director’s Challenge grant we recently received. What a great start!