Fall Equinox, 2013

Cedar City is just starting to take on that homely feeling, as the internship winds down to the last few weeks.  5-6 months is about the amount of time it takes, I suppose, for one to really adjust to a new locale.

Our time the past few weeks has been consumed primarily by one project; Utah prairie dog wildlife clearances for cattle guard construction and trough maintenance. This undertaking posed a variety of challenges which required critical thinking, providing us valuable experience developing our field skills and technical report writing abilities.

I moved to Cedar City about 10 days prior to the start of my internship, and by the suggestion of my mentor, used some of that down to attend a Utah prairie dog survey certification course, instructed by a joint effort between the USFS and Utah DWR.  Despite attending this training course, the cattle guard/trough clearances was my first official UPD survey, requiring sharpening my understanding of protocol, of which the details had become hazy over the five months since training.

Our supervisor for the project is a senior biologist who has headed the UPD program within the field office for many years. As such, she made clear from the onset her high expectations for our field work and report. Though the guard construction and trough maintenance had been known about for quite a while within the FO, it fell under the radar and addressed only once the September seasonal deadline for UPD surveys drew near.  This unfortunately produced a narrow timetable for Maria and myself to conduct field work and report writing.

Aside from a minor mapping error, our survey went well, finding two active UPD holes in one of nineteen proposed project locations.  After collecting our data, it was time to write the report. Though we have completed a couple write-ups this summer, they did not come close to requiring the depth and preciseness under a crunched timeline, as needed of these clearances.  This being the case, Maria and I were slightly distressed to find our first draft returned with heavy track changes, despite the encouragement of our project supervisor who applauded our work thus far.  Because some of project areas overlapped with historically mapped UPD habitat, much of the difficulty in the report lied in referencing specific stipulations for required conservation measures.   Another aspect of the report we struggled with was creating maps to properly illustrate where we surveyed in the project action area. Part of the problem lied in a miss-communication between us and our supervisor in expectations regarding suitable habitat vs. area surveyed. In addition, Maria and I are both beginners of using GIS technology to create and alter maps, myself especially. We eventually managed to produce acceptable draft reports for the project within the deadline, and thus construction is slated to begin this week. Given our limited experience and high expectations, it feels good to produce a sufficient product.

Other duties completed the past couple weeks include assisting DWR with seine netting to assess fisheries populations in the Virgin River, and repairing fencing around sensitive riparian exclosures with the field office range technicians.  Both were rewarding, physically demanding, experiences. This coming week we are slated to assist a field office biologist with pygmy rabbit monitoring, a state sensitive species.


The past couple mornings have been a bit crisp. A few folks in the field office have claimed Fall as their favorite season around these points, in Cedar City, UT. A chance to enjoy some lower elevation nature in more forgiving warmth, and autumn’s amber light.

Our mentor Christine has played an integral role in this rewarding internship experience.  She has placed importance on getting Maria and I involved in a variety of activities. Being that we finished our Sage Grouse work quicker than anticipated, filling up our schedules with things to do has been a task in itself.   Christine has been reaching out to her connections in both State and Federal agencies, offering the help of two eager interns.

A few weeks back we had the pleasure of taking part in the Riparian Systems Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) training course. The week-long class was led by the creators of the protocol, composed of both current and retired employees of the Forest Service and BLM. In 2003, an inter agency focus group composed of members of the BLM, USFS, University of Idaho researchers, professors, livestock producers and specialists determined that measuring and analyzing only short-term indicators, namely stubble height, did not paint a complete picture when evaluating riparian health, specifically within the context of cattle grazing.  Thus the need for a more wholly representative model sparked the creation and development of MIM. MIM employs a variety of metrics; data which is gathered annually, compared to previous, and analyzed to gain greater insight on land impacts. This type if information can be used to make better, more informed, management decisions.

7 of the western states were represented by the training course attendees.  Their positions just as diverse as their locale; hydrologists, range technicians, fuels, natural resource, ranching, ecologists, biologists….Perhaps the best part of the experience was spending three days in-stream, surrounded by greenery….4 months in the desert is long enough to rub off a greater appreciation of water.

Another fun experience I was fortunate enough to participate in was electrofishing in with the forest…Yes, electrofishing.  We waded through a 100 metre stretch of a small stream, wielding a an electrified rod (anode) and electrified ‘rat tail’ (cathode). Fish has a strip on their side senses electric currents, so when the anode is activated, any fish that are in the immediate proximity are drawn towards the current and temporarily paralyzed. At that point there are two people who net the fish, and transport them to a holding tank. Our species of interest were both native; German Brown trout and Desert/Mountain Sucker. Once two passes were made through the survey area, we took weight and length measurements and returned them back to the stream. In two passes of 100 metres, we collected over 100 specimens. As a fisherman, I found the experience fascinating in that the electrofishing exposed where the fish preferred to hang out; underneath debris and undercut banks.

For the last week and a half Maria and I have been helping the DWR with Utah Prairie Dog trapping and translocations. The Utah Prairie Dogs are an endangered species which have caused quite a stir in the town of Cedar City. Because the dogs have an affinity to congregate in areas with irrigation (alfalfa fields, golf course, public parks, cemeteries, etc), the township views them as a major pest. Because the dogs are a listed species, they are a developers nightmare  Thus, the DWR plays a vital role in not only trapping unwanted dogs and translocating them onto public land, but also communicating with and educating community members, as their duties often require them to trap on private land as well.


This upcoming week will be spent assisting the Forest Service with fisheries work in the Virgin River, followed by Utah Prairie Dog wildlife clearances in proposed project areas.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Bird is the word

To properly assess the presence of avian species in a particular area, it is important to be present during their period of greatest activity. Birds are most active after they wake; diurnal birds in the early morning, nocturnal birds at night. Diurnal birds hidden amongst riparian greenery singing in chorus of increasing, frantic volume as soft, warm hues emerge over the east hills. The nocturnal nighthawks and poorwills (goatsuckers, affectionately), looping above the sagebrush in fading purple light, erratically snatching a buggy breakfast mid-flight. I have learned, a wildlife biologist must make the decision, sometimes concession, to relinquish the comfort of routine in pursuit of good data.

And no, I am not complaining in the least. This is what I came for.

Well, to be honest, the only thing I knew I was coming for was experience, the experience as a wildlife intern with the BLM, and everything which accompanies.

The real show is getting’ going and it looks something like this: Sage Grouse habitat assessment (sagebrush transects) served ‘quick and dirty. Raptor monitoring in two proposed project areas, one riparian rehabilitation, the other bicycle trail construction. These projects will be the figurative (field experience) and literal (my livelihood) moneymakers. That being said, my schedule is anything but set in place. There are plenty of hours in the week to lend a (hopefully) helping hand to fellow employees who we can be of service. Examples recently have included various bird surveys with a biologist, invasive plant species removal and rangeland vegetation data collection.


*insert something here about the oppressively sweltering heat wave*

An integral event which took place since the last time we spoke was the week-long CLM training workshop in the Chicago area. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about it by now, so I won’t bore you with the details…But realtalk, it was a pleasure to meet all the people who make the program what it is,both staff and current interns. I went into the workshop with a natural curiosity towards hearing the thoughts and experiences of those who, I thought, were in a similar internship position as myself. What I came to learn was that I am one of the few with a focus in wildlife, amidst interns mostly participating in Seeds of Success. I found this surprising and wonder how I might view my internship experience differently if I were not in the position I am in. And perhaps most important during the training (kind of kidding), I was able to sample Chicago’s contributions to the culinary world during my first time in the city; deep-dish pizza and the real-deal hot dog.

But seriously, this heat is just silly, and I shouldn’t even be allowed to complain at 5,500’.


Small town, large aspirations

From St. George to Cedar City, the final one hour stretch in my drive from San Diego, California to Cedar City, Utah, I couldn’t help but draw landscape level comparisons between what I was seeing, and the high desert sagebrush habitats of the Eastern Sierra, an area I became familiar with during the many family vacations to the Mammoth Lakes in my youth. Both areas occur within the outskirts of the Great Basin Desert. Mammoth Lakes lies within the western border of the Basin; Cedar City, the eastern border. I remind myself to tune in, there will be differences.

And there are. From a landscape perspective, the Cedar City field office (and Great Basin Desert in general) lacks Creosote Bush (Larrea Tridentata), a resilient, slow-growing shrub which dominates the Mojave and Sonoran desert. The forbs beginning to expose their flowers to the Spring sun, though similar in their resilient strategies to survive in harsh conditions, display tweaks in color, pattern, and shape. However, during my first two weeks in Cedar City, I have realized the most apparent difference isn’t the view, but culture and society. I’m a California boy living in the desert of Utah.

Because my mentor went on leave two days after my internship began, these first two weeks have been disjointed, yet helpful. Disjointed, in that my work schedule has been in constant flux, subject to daily revision. Helpful, in that my fellow intern and myself have been assigned to various employees in need of assistance, exposing the wide variety of positions housed within the BLM. Each employee has their own set of management issues, and with it, personal opinions about public land, derived from their experiences.

As expected, the first week of work was devoted to training and protocol. Meeting the employees of the office, becoming familiar with the computer system, receiving safe-driving and 4X4 training certification, and driving around the field office to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings. On the last day of the first week, I accompanied a wildlife biologist and forester out to a habitat restoration project, Blawn Mountain. We stopped at various points, areas where the forester wanted to remove Pinyon-Juniper encroaching upon functional sagebrush habitat. Interestingly, the discussion between the biologist and forester focused less on where the restoration would occur, but moreso the methodology on how it was going to be conducted (lop-and-drop, bull hog, chaining), taking into account cost and resulting habitat functionality.

This following week has been more field oriented, comprised primarily of time spent assisting in listed bird species surveys and recreation site monitoring/construction. Upon reading the protocol for the two avian species to be surveyed, it was apparent how much time, research, and coordination must be necessary to create a suitable survey format, taking into account constantly changing biological knowledge about the species gathered by numerous agencies in various geographic locations. Everything is tailored to the species, for example, surveying the Southwestern willow flycatcher involves arriving at the site before the sun rises, and for the Mexican spotted owl, arriving just before the sun sets. Though no flycatchers were located in the riparian area we surveyed, feeling the warmth of the dawn sun as it peaked over the hills, accompanied by the increasing volume and seemingly manic chorus of bird calls was reward enough. After the flycatcher survey, I had the privilege of taking part in a shareholder meeting regarding public safety and interpretive improvements of Parowan Gap, a site of major cultural and architectural importance due to the many petroglyphs left by various native tribes, who have traveled through the Parowan Valley over thousands of years. I found the discussion fascinating, in that each party had their own set of motives and concerns about the project. The process helped me to understand the complicated nature of management issues, and reinforced the fact that the even the best solution cannot satisfy all those involved. Tonight, I look forward to the nocturnal nature of the owl survey, but am a bit concerned about the survey location, in that I have been warned by a few field office employees that it is an area chocked full of rattlesnakes. Two days this week have been spent in the field assisting the Recreation Technician to monitor, maintain, and improve various BLM recreation sites. This is maintenance work; digging post holes for signs and fences, hiking in to monitor remote wilderness study areas, mixing cement to build platforms for fire pits, among other labor intensive duties. I couldn’t help but note the sense of pride the technician derives from his work, and understand the reward felt after a long day of putting the body to work, in the name of serving the recreational needs of the general public on their own land.

In just these two weeks, I have come to the conclusion that taking part in this internship was the right choice. From a professional prospective, I will be gaining the experiences and knowledge necessary to help propel myself onto a career path involved in the natural sciences. Personally, I have and will continue to meet people with backgrounds, values, and opinions different than myself. These experiences will continually open my mind to see society in a more informed way than I previously have.