I’ll be honest, I was a little scared looking out over the high plains of Wyoming as my flight landed at the Natrona county airport. Where had all the lush trees gone? Where was Lake Michigan? Not here, Max, not here.
Wyoming is a land of big skies, strong winds, and geological wonders. Here, one can tap into their inner cowboy: the abundant land that rolls on in every direction invites one to run wild and free. Here too, one can sense the expansionist frenzy that drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to walk to the lush forests of Oregon in the 1840s. But for right now, my journey west has ended: I’m here to stay. I’m here to find water.
The agenda for this summer’s hydrologic interns is to find and record the status of around 250 springs and seeps dotted all over the public lands of Natrona County. Much of our work will be interdisciplinary: we will pool the qualitative expertise of BLM staff that are familiar with high desert ecosystems. They may be biologists, rangeland health specialists, or hydrologists. Each member of the monitoring team will help to ensure that these important wetland habitats are functioning at or near their ideal level. Why does this matter? Well, consider the fact that something like 99% of wildlife in Wyoming depends on wetlands and only 1% of Wyoming is wetlands.
I’ve spent the first weeks of my internship learning the protocols of proper functioning and conditioning monitoring. As field season begins to amp up, my co-intern and I, have been making our initial forays into the BLM lands of Natrona county. We use 4×4’s to traverse the county roads and two-tracks that spiderweb their way across the landscape. Armed with a GPS and maps we’ve created, we’ve begun the process of route-finding our way to the seeps and springs we will be monitoring in the coming months.
Exploring Natrona county, meeting my fellow staff members, and learning about hydrologic monitoring techniques have occupied my time so far. Overall, I am very happy to be here, even if there aren’t too many trees!