Wildlife in Wyoming – Month 1

I’ve just wrapped up my first month working for the BLM at the Casper field office.  It’s been an excellent experience learning a variety of land and wildlife management techniques!  We were thrown straight into field work on our first day, where we learned the new AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) protocols alongside the permanent staff members.  The aim (ha ha) of implementing these new protocols is to standardize procedures across departments, so that data from different projects can be consolidated and used to inform future operations.  It was a very unique experience because the permanent field staff were also learning the protocols for the first time, which allowed us all to get to know each other while we worked through each activity.  The techniques learned included characterizing soil horizons, evaluating soil stability, determining vegetation cover and density, and estimating plant diversity.

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A snapshot of typical sagebrush steppe ecosystem.

One of the primary management objectives of wildlife biologists in Wyoming is the preservation of the Greater Sage Grouse.  The Sage Grouse is an indicator species for the deceptively diverse sagebrush steppe ecosystem, meaning that a regular abundance of Greater Sage Grouse indicates that the surrounding ecosystem is stable and healthy.  Part of the work of the BLM is to monitor cattle grazing on public areas of sagebrush steppe.  The wildlife biologists can then make recommendations on whether those areas are available for additional grazing, or if the cattle should be diverted elsewhere to allow the environment to recuperate.  I was able to assist in completing these range-land health assessments.

The Casper Field Office manages over a million acres of public land.

The Casper Field Office manages over a million acres of public land.

Additionally, I have been aiding wildlife biologists in monitoring a number of nearby raptor nests.  These include both natural nests as well as artificial nesting structures.  Any active nests are protected by a buffer zone that prevent any kind of oil and gas development within those areas.  We were able to observe a variety of different species including golden eagles, ferruginous hawks, and burrowing owls.

Finally, I was able to participate in Environmental Education day, a public outreach event with a local boys and girls club.  We spent some time planting trees and discussing ecosystem health before I gave a brief presentation on the wildlife of the sagebrush steppe.  I exhibited a stuffed sage grouse and a number of different game animal horns/antlers, which the kids were very excited to interact with.

Bighorn National Forest is only a couple of hours away, perfect for a weekend trip!

Bighorn National Forest is only a couple of hours away, perfect for a weekend trip!

The city of Casper is located in central Wyoming, very close to a number of amazing natural places.  On the weekends I’ve enjoyed hiking and exploring these areas, which include Medicine Bow National Forest, Bighorn National Forest, and Grand Teton National Park.  Overall, the first month of the internship has been a very positive experience and I look forward to learning a great deal more!

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