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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

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!

SCC crew cutting tamarisk

1 06 2014

Last week, a Southwest Conservation Corps crew spent four days in Spring Creek Basin cutting and spraying tamarisk. Kathe Hayes with San Juan Mountains Association played a big part in getting the crew here for this project, which – I think – was funded out of the Director’s Challenge grant our Tres Rios Field Office was awarded a couple of years ago.

Crew members are from Fort Defiance, Ariz. Several of them have been together since March, and a couple of them volunteered to join the crew for this project in the basin. Crew leader Lance Hubbard said this is his fourth or fifth season with SCC. Most of those have been spent doing irrigation, wash restoration and trail work; this was his first season to do chainsaw work. From here, they’ll head back to Ganado, Ariz., for all of the above.

Tamarisk eradication has been done off and on for many years in the basin. Some of our University of Missouri students have worked on it during alternative spring breaks with Kathe. Also working in the basin last week was a Forest Service sprayer, Gary, working in some of the main arroyos.


Five guys and one woman, ranging in age from 20 to 25, were on the crew (I couldn’t get them all in one frame until I made them pose for me at the end because they were all constantly in motion). Two wielded chain saws, cutting tamarisk as close to the ground as possible so the stumps wouldย pose as little hazard as possible to the horses. Three cleared the branches and carried them to slash piles for later burning. And one sprayed the stumps with “Habitat” to prevent the tamarisk from growing back. Crew members traded spraying, carrying and cutting duties each day.


Shoanyah Halwood wielded one of the chainsaws. My back ached just watching her!


Matthew Begay wielded the other chainsaw. Adrian Benally was his partner to clear and carry branches to the slash piles.


Another one of Adrian and Matthew working together. Sprayed stumps are visible in the foreground.

Alonzo Moses, 23, carries cut tamarisk branches to a pile to be burned later.

Alonzo Moses carries branches that Shoanyah cut to a slash pile.


Crew leader Lance Hubbard also carried branches to slash piles.


Rolando Billie handled spraying duties on the crew’s last day in the basin. It was pretty warm during their week, but they had a little bit of cloud cover toward the end that helped.


From left: Adrian, Matthew, Rolando, Lance, Shoanyah and Alonzo. They’re standing where a big clump (grove?) of tamarisk once grew.

Getting rid of moisture-leaching, salt-depositing tamarisk is a big, worthwhile project in Spring Creek Basin, and we appreciate their work on behalf of our mustangs! They did see a couple of bands during the week and thought the horses were pretty cool. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks to this hard-working crew!

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. ๐Ÿ™‚


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! ๐Ÿ™‚


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. ๐Ÿ™‚ You all rock!

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much!

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 guardย  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!

Alternative spring break – day 2

27 03 2013

We must not have worn out the Mizzou students Monday because they came back Tuesday! (All except one of the Sarahs – who came up sick – and Tori, who stayed with her. Sarah, feel better soon!)

With the H-braces set in place, the day’s plan was to take out the old wire and string new wire. Following wildlife-friendly strand spacing, the top wire is smooth twisted wire and 42 inches above the ground. The bottom wire is smooth twisted and 18 inches above the ground. The middle two strands are barbed wire. Deer and elk can jump over, fawns and calves can crawl under, and cattle hopefully will respect the barbed.

So we had to cut wire pieces off the existing fence strands and pull staples and roll barbed wire. Gloves and shades were must-have accessories. Once again, fence-building guru Tom Kelly showed the most jaded of us, who thought we knew a thing or three about fence building, a new technique to tighten the wire fence strands to T-posts (metal) and staves (between T-posts or wood posts).


Tif watches Tom demonstrate the new-to-us tool to attach a wire fence strand to a metal T-post. She’s holding a stave on which she has marked the heights of the wire fence strands.


MK took over this “wonder tool,” and I’m not sure she ever let it go! Instead of a traditional “clip,” this is a short piece of wire with loops on both ends. The hook goes through both ends, you swivel it, and voila! Your wire strand is tight to the post!


But I’m getting excited and ahead of myself. First, we had to get rid of the old wire. Here, Emerald demonstrates careful barbed-wire-rolling technique.


MK and a “barbed wire wreath”!


More perfect rolls.


BLM guy Tom with his, uh, not-so-perfect “roll.” Lesson: Don’t let BLM roll up your fences! Fortunately, he redeemed his agency’s good name later with his wire-strand tightening skills.


Marissa carries wooden staves to drop off along the fence line. These help stabilize the wire and keep the spacing even. Note the colorful eyewear, courtesy of SJMA. This was to protect against the potential boinging – Kathe’s word! – of broken wire. (Note: As far as I’m aware, there was no boinging of wire or injury to students!) Right in front of Emerald’s shins, note the strand of wire. This is how it got there:


Students Chalen and Marissa help volunteer Keith unroll smooth twisted wire. Note the wire strand in the bottom left corner of the pic. It started at the road, tied off at the H-brace there, and was unrolled up to the first H-brace, which is just beyond Tom Kelly (back left), where the trees start. Then another strand is tied off there and the roll walked back to the road and that brace. The process is repeated with the barbed wire in this section, and then with the smooth and barbed wire strands from the H-brace behind these guys up the hill to the next brace.


Keith carries rolls of old wire to the trucks while Tom and Chalen carry good wire to the next H-brace to string it from there to the third brace. Note the very valuable set of fencing pliers sticking out of Keith’s pocket. Students were well-acquainted with these tools after two days in Spring Creek Basin!


Here, the bottom and top strands are in place and have been stretched (tightened). In this pic, Sarah and Aaron are measuring and stapling the strands of fence wire for the rebuilt fence. Note the marks on the stave Sarah is holding. The marks are at 18 inches, 23 inches, 30 inches and 42 inches. Marking staves made it easy for students to work in pairs: measure and staple.


Emerald and Ellen, foreground, and Corrie and MK measure and staple fence strands to posts. Ellen and Emerald are at the next H-brace, up the hill.


Mizzou students are the epitome of seriousness after day 2 of fence work on Spring Creek Basin’s southeastern boundary line. In the background, our excellent new fence! I can’t believe I didn’t take a pic of the finished product; to come. (It looks excellent!)

Front row from left: volunteers Corrie and Tif, Mizzou site leader Chalen and volunteer Keith. Standing: MK (diving) and Kathe with SJMA, students Marshal, Sarah, Marissa, Kara, Ellen, Aaron and Emerald, Tom Kelly with the Forest Service, BLM’s Tom Rice and Dave with the Forest Service.

An important side note, Corrie, Tif and Keith all adopted Spring Creek Basin mustangs in 2011/2012.

After their work on the fence, we took the students into the basin to scout mustangs. We saw Chrome’s band, Duke and Kreacher, Hollywood’s and Comanche’s bands with Bounce, and bachelor boys Aspen, Hayden, Tenaz and Apollo. Those boys were very accommodating for students’ pix!

On our way out, we stopped to investigate the dugout, likely used during construction (way back when?!) of the defunct Custer dam.

Chalen takes a break in the old dugout in Spring Creek Basin.

Chalen taking a well-deserved break. Word Monday was that he would be awake at 4:30 a.m. (!) Tuesday to cook breakfast.


Students gather for a group photo op in the dugout. Are those some happy faces or what?

Today – Wednesday – the students will work with Kathe and MK and my friend Sam on one of my favorite mountain bike trails in Southwest Colorado: Phil’s World, just east of Cortez. It’s a not-so-secret course anymore. Thursday, they’ll work at Sand Canyon, part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, west of Cortez.

Once again, huge thanks to these fantastic university students! We so appreciate your willing and enthusiastic work to help protect our Spring Creek Basin mustangs. We hope you had fun to balance the work and that you’ll enjoy your next work projects as much as we enjoyed having you work with us! Come back soon to our corner of Colorado!

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!