For the last couple of months, our job has focused somewhat more on riparian monitoring as opposed to only post-fire rangeland monitoring. The word riparian describes the areas along the edge of a stream or river. Besides being a refreshing change of pace, riparian monitoring at this time of year is excellent because the trees that grow along stream banks are changing color dramatically.
Grass is Greener on the Other Side
We hiked up and down a couple of hills, looking for the stream on which we were supposed to do photo monitoring. The final descent was fairly steep and covered in brush, so we were relieved to reach the open area around the stream. We were taking our photos near a fence that ran across the stream- lining up all the angles just right so they would be comparable to photos from past years, when we noticed that everything was different on the other side of the fence. The side we were on had been grazed recently and all the grass was close cropped. The healthy sedge rush community had been replaced with a short grass and clover community. The other side of the fence had not been grazed, and the sedges and rushes looked robust. The problem with cows is that they cluster together in riparian areas and use them heavily, resulting in very high impact to these fragile areas, as opposed to the rest of the rangeland.
Our side of the fence The other side of the fence
Horses Come to Water
While hiking along a stream and taking photos for our photo monitoring plots, we were struck by the sight of a band of wild horses just across the stream. They seemed to pose there for us, a little curious, maybe. Usually, we only see wild horses from the truck. The BLM spends tens of millions of dollars on these wild horses from breeding them, to gathering them, to housing and feeding the gathered horses, and even hauling feed and water out to the ones remaining in the wild to make sure they do not starve. It makes sense that many BLM workers dislike the wild horses, especially since they are more accurately feral horses- escaped beasts from European settlers. Strangely though, several groups feel very strongly about preserving the wild horses, forcing the BLM to leave them wild, while also maintaining and feeding the herd so they stay healthy. Despite this animosity, I can’t help but enjoy watching them sometimes.
The wild (feral) horses
We were on a mission to retrieve temperature probes from along a stream and we had several miles to hike that day. I was walking in front of the group of four interns, crossing a dense patch of cheat grass, when I heard the girl behind me yell and jump back. She had been a few steps behind me. “Snake!” Sure enough, as I turned around, a saw a young looking rattlesnake slithering out of the path. I had just walked right over it, and it hadn’t even rattled. It was the first rattlesnake I had seen on the job, and only the second since coming to Oregon. I never intended to come that close to a rattlesnake in the field, but fortunately the little guy was too cold and sleepy to bite!