My third month here in Casper has continued to be eventful and informative. The resources crew here at the BLM field office is slowly making the transition from the summer field season to the fall. This means a relative break in field work in favor of data analysis and review; some of the less engaging activities at face value.
In terms of my own paperwork and projects, I have finished and submitted the end of the year summary report on raptor nesting activity for 2016. It was a long project to complete, involving entering all of the observation report data into a geodatabase, mapping and documenting the discovery of new nests, and researching the history of active nests to compare to current nest activity. This allows us to continue to ensure that development (oil and gas specifically in this area) does not disturb the raptors during this crucial period. This concludes all raptor monitoring and analysis for the season, until the bald eagle roosting season begins in December.
We have also begun the data analysis process for all of the vegetation and cheatgrass monitoring data that we collected over the past three months (and even data from previous years). We worked with specialists here in the BLM to develop a Microsoft Access database that allows us to input all of the data from our field sheets into the database. Whenever we are not working in the field or are otherwise engaged, we work to enter all of the datasheets into the database. Once this is completed, we will be able to analyze trends in vegetation data over past months/years, and detect vegetation response to certain treatments. We are specifically interested in the response of cheatgrass to aerial herbicide treatments in the past, and in what areas require additional herbicide treatments.
I have also been given the privilege of being allowed to sit in on various meetings for many active projects in the BLM. These projects include processing applications for permits to drill, free land use permits, and other land management proposals. It has been very interesting to learn the process by which a federal wildlife biologist evaluates the ecological health of a certain area, and what stipulations can/should be applied to ensure any development of federal lands or minerals is done sustainably. In fact, some projects, such as development of an oil well pad, require comprehensive reclamation plans in which there is a net conservation gain after all activities. In other words, the BLM requires that the project location be restored to better ecological condition than it was before the development took place. It is difficult to measure how successful these actions are, especially with native species such as sagebrush having such long developmental cycles, but it is encouraging to know that reclamation is a priority for land managers here.
Some of these projects require wildlife surveys for clearance, and I have been fortunate enough to perform some of these surveys. This includes exploring the area and recording the presence of any wildlife, but paying particular attention to specific species of interest, such as the Greater Sage Grouse or certain species of raptors. These species are protected under certain laws and therefore are of greatest importance in evaluating disturbance impacts.
Lastly, we have made some progress in our Wood Duck reintroduction project. The aim of this project is to encourage wood ducks to repopulate nearby riparian areas and wetlands. There are certain associated challenges however, such as the low availability of wetland corridors to reach appropriate areas of habitat, and the fact that those areas that are on public land can be very difficult to reach. However, we have prepared two wood duck boxes (previously constructed by boy scouts and recently modified by helpful firefighters) to be set up once we can decide on the best locations. I have contacted multiple other organizations who have implemented successful wood duck projects to ask for suggestions or advice. If possible, I plan to set up a camera trap near the boxes to monitor their use by wildlife.
Outside of work, I have continued to explore all the amazing natural areas located in this region of the country. Recently, I journeyed to Glacier National Park, where I experienced the most amazing views that I have ever seen in the U.S., as well as an abundance of wildlife including moose, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats (the first I’ve ever seen). I plan to continue to take full advantage of every experience, personal and professional, that Casper has to offer, and I look forward to my last two months with the BLM!