Welcome to Carlsbad, NM

My introduction to local conservation policies and practices began where the Black River first surfaces—at Rattlesnake Spings. Here, the texture of my new landscape expressed itself as a collaborative group of dignitaries with interest in the thrival of Popenaias popeii, or the Texas hornshell mussel—the last remaining native mussel in New Mexico and an ESA Candidate species.

Popenaias popeii, or Texas hornshell mussel.

I field-tripped with this lively group of dignitaries to critical anthropogenic influence loci along the Black River. As they discussed the technicalities of flow targets, stream gauge locations and dispersal barriers, they also expressed core values and beliefs about their relationship to this land. Prided on personal liberty and averse to government intervention, these folks articulated a legacy and ethic of individual agency in private stewardship. “They’re a hardy species, and they’ll come back if they have what they need. … [Providing what they need] is up to us. … It won’t be easy, but worthwhile undertakings rarely are,” said private landowner Jim Davis.

This legacy is eligible for institutional legitimacy and merit in the form of Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs), Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) and conservation/mitigation credits. The policy concerning this program has recently (this January 18th!) been refined in USFWS’s Director’s Order No 218, which can be found at https://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/pdf/Director’sOrder_with_Voluntary_Prelisting_conservation_policy_Directors_Order_Attachment-Final.pdf.

Later in the week, I was privileged to also attend the New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council’s (NMRPTC) annual meeting in Albuquerque, NM. Here, statewide rare plant advocates met to update New Mexico’s rare plant list as well as to share updates on conservation actions and receive briefings on their new Draft Rare Plant Conservation Strategy and the Strategy’s Rare Plant Scorecard tool (both adapted from Colorado’s models). An Important Plant Areas map is also being developed with these latter tools under an ESA Section 6 grant, all with the purpose to provide proactive measures and guidelines in support of consistent and coordinated rare plant management throughout New Mexico.

Eriogonum gypsophilum, a USFWS Threatened and NM state Endangered species that grows alongside oil and gas development in Southeast New Mexico. Photograph by Ben R. Grady.

During the Scorecard presentation’s section on measuring/representing threats, the speaker displayed a map of potential oil and gas extraction threats to rare plants. It portrayed a giant blob of yellow, black and blue risks in the Southeast corner of New Mexico, encompassing the majority of the lands that my BLM office stewards.

The Permian Basin shown here corresponds with the map of of oil and gas extraction threats that was presented in the NMRPTC meeting.

Working to safeguard native plants and habitats against the threats this blob poses will be a major focus of my work here.

Turkey Creek Restoration Weekend

Back in July we participated in a restoration planting weekend alongside members of the Sky Island Alliance and the Nature Conservancy at Turkey Creek and Cobra Ranch (in/near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness). We stayed at a fantastic house on the Nature Conservancy Property. They had a sleeping porch and it was AWESOME!! The only thing that was not awesome was that I hadn’t put on bug spray the first night and in one hour of being outside around 6pm, I had gotten over 20 mosquito bites. That has been one constant in my life; if there are biting insects within a one mile radius of me, they will find me!! HAHA

Nature Conservancy Guest House – Our home for the Planting Weekend. It sure beat camping!!!

The sleeping Porch at the Nature Conservancy House. Loved sleeping “outdoors” but with the screens to keep the bugs out!!

At both our sites we were planting Giant Sacaton. It is traditionally found in flood plain ecosystems. In the areas we were working, past land uses had disrupted the flood plain cycle and taken the area towards a more river-channel model. So historically this area experienced rain events and the water would be caught up in vegetation, spread over a large area and stay for a relatively long time and soak into the ground. However, with roads being cut into the earth by ranchers in the area (who have not been in the area for 50+ years) and grazing taking away much of the vegetation that used to slow down the water, now when there are rain events the water flows into the channels formed by former roads and speeds off the landscape. This then allows fewer plants to grow, due to lack of water, as well as these roads/streams continue to be cut further into the earth and when rain comes it won’t spread across the landscape because it now has to crest a stream bank. It is in an effort to stop this cycle and restore a floodplain cycle that BLM and the Nature Conservancy are manually filling in old road channels and planting Giant Sacaton to try and slow down the water of new rain events.

Turkey Creek

The whole goal of the involved planting process is to allow the small plants the best opportunity to survive in this desert environment they are suddenly thrown into. Holes are dug and then filled halfway with water. This water is then allowed to soak into the ground. This provides the plant with a moist environment so that it isn’t immediately stressed out when it is planted.

Hole that is pre-watered and ready for planting!

Once the holes are pre-watered a glop [a very scientific term, I know] of DriWater is added to the bottom of the hole. DriWater is a gel that is about 97% water and the other 3% is cellulose and some other materials. Apparently how it works is that when it is placed in the ground the microbes in the soil will eat some of the cellulose and other materials and the chemical reaction that that produces will release water to the plant(?!?!). That’s at least the gist that I got from trying to research the product.

Sky Island Alliance Volunteer Alan holding DriWater

Then the plants are placed in the holes and the dirt is back filled into the hole.

Planted Giant Sacaton

Then the plants receive a layer of water on top in order to help settle the dirt around them and to once again give them the best chance to survive. Then a layer of mulch is added to help trap water as well as keep direct sun off the dirt surrounding the plant. The more water you can give to and the cooler you can keep plants in the desert, the better!

This is a field of our plantings. They have been top watered and are just waiting for mulch. Everywhere you see a yellow or black tube, there is at least one of our plants there! We planted about 5 times the area you see in this picture.

And no trip would be complete without some seemingly disastrous turn of events forcing biologists to be resourceful in order to save their project!!! To begin with the water trailer we brought with us was leaky down where the hose joins the tank and the motor. And the drive out to the Turkey Creek planting site was…rough?…undeveloped?….insane? Any of these would work. And when we drove up there we had to haul the large water trailer behind our truck. Needless to say there was always concern that something bad would happen. We made it through the first day of plantings at Turkey Creek, using as much water as we could, as quickly as we could, in order to get as much out of the tank before it all leaked out. The next morning however, on that INSANE drive out to Turkey Creek, we were about 0.1 miles from our site when we looked behind us and the ground was getting soaked. On the last big set of rocks the leaky hose had been completely ripped off the tank. Then a 20 minute ordeal ensued of trying to get all possible water into buckets, while trying to plug the hole with hands and find some way to get it so we could drive to our site and start using the water. Eventually a pair of leather work gloves were shoved into the pipe and we were able to limp up to our site. Then using some wire off of plant flags and some major ingenuity, the leaky hose was attached and we were once again in a race against the leak to use as much water as possible. It was a level of excitement that we weren’t expecting that morning! But we were still able to use a lot of the water and complete our plantings!

The Water Trailer of DOOM!!

During this weekend I saw some other awesome animals. I saw my first tarantula in the wild. While walking in the stream bed at Cobra Ranch we saw a turtle near the bank. It kept trying to climb the bank to get away from us, but the angle was too steep so then he would tumble over backwards! 🙁 After he did that twice we placed him on the top of the bank so he could get away and stop stressing out. Later that day we startled a rattlesnake and in its attempt to run away it fell off and tumbled down the side of a fairly large stream bank too. We were just an epidemic of scaring animals that day!

The planting weekend was a great experience. It was fun to work with and learn from a group of dedicated and impassioned people who come out on their weekends to help restore ecosystems!

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM

How is it the end of August?!?

This last month has flown by once again. At the beginning of the month my Dad came to visit me and we took a road trip up to Northern Arizona. It was an amazing experience to see the Grand Canyon for the first time!

Beautiful Day at the Grand Canyon in Northern AZ

We have had 4 trips out to Bonita Creek for Green Sunfish Removal. It has been very interesting to see the stream change over the past 4 months. The site that we went to our very first day in Bonita was a large open expanse of water that we were able to walk through up to a few pools further upstream. When we visited that same site just last week the stream was almost entirely choked with tall plants and we couldn’t even walk through it. Nature is definitely not a constant thing!

Also, I SAW A COATI!!!!! Well, to be more exact I saw 6 coati, a mom and her 5 babies. We were driving into Bonita Creek and they scampered across the road and into the trees on the other side. I didn’t have my camera with me, and when I tried to get a picture on my phone you couldn’t see them in and amongst the trees. But I saw them and it makes me so happy! 🙂

I have also had the opportunity to get a GIS Tutorial, which is how to use a fancy mapping program (ArcGIS) to locate possible areas of interest based on preexisting water, vegetation and ownership maps (etc), without having to drive to every single site first. It will be very useful in selecting sites for Seeds of Success Collection. I also completed an online NEPA training which concerned the formation and structure of the National Environmental Policy Act. I think it is great to be able to take advantage of the resources available to me as a BLM intern and receive trainings like these. You never know when you will/can use some random information you learned!

This past week we had an American Conservation Experience Crew based out of Flagstaff come down and camp at Sands Draw for a full week. Sands Draw is a large livestock exclosure (keeps cows out) in the middle of the San Simon Valley. The crew planted and seeded native grasses and dug hundreds of planting holes for BLM to use in future planting efforts.

The plants are put in the ground, then have gravel placed around them (acts as a windblock, support and to catch more water), and then additionally have straw placed on top (keeps direct sunlight off to keep plants cooler and will eventually break down into a mulch).

The Crew’s last day in the field we switched over to working at a site called Howard’s Well. This was a large pool that houses native fish, but it becomes over-grown with sedges (cat-tail like plants). If this is allowed to go unchecked, then the sedges will completely choke the pond and it will dry up and all the native fish within it will die. So nine of us (the 6 crew members, then myself, Rosalee and Heidi) spent the whole day ripping and cutting the plants out of the pool. At the beginning we didn’t think we would get too far and hoped for getting half the pool done. But by the end of the day we had completely cleared the pool! That was definitely a great feeling of accomplishment.

Here is what the pond looked like at the begining of our day.

Here is what the pond looked like at the end of our day! Felt extremely accomplished to get everything cleared out!

The over-arching theme of this past month for me has been DATA ENTRY!! I have completed over 100 hours in the last month. I have been consolidating and cleaning up the data files for Heidi’s Green Sunfish removal from 2009, 2010, and 2011. I have also then been confirming all entered data against the physical data sheets. Needless to say this takes quite a bit of time, especially when some of the files are as messed up and confusing as these have been! However, I can’t complain too much. I am one of those strange people who likes to sit down and organize things, likes to sort and figure and get everything worked out. So though it is hard on the lower back to be crouched over a keyboard for 10 hours a day, I still enjoy it!

I am going home for a long vacation around Labor Day Weekend and I am very much looking forward to seeing my family! Once I return I am excited to knock out my last 3 weeks here in Safford. Then it’s back to California and on to other opportunities!

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM

Rain? In the Desert?

The past month has been full of new adventures, including our first time working under Jeff, on the plant component of our internship. We have had two visits from a group of contract fishers out of Tempe, AZ [and I apologize for not knowing the name of that company]. They come into Bonita Creek and act as a high-effort and high-impact fish removal squad. On a typical overnight set of our nets, Heidi, Rosalee and I typically set out a maximum of 120 nets per trip. These contractors set 500+ nets each night and camp in the area in order to set for 2-3 nights in a row. This allows them to remove fish from a greater area, and in greater numbers, than our BLM staff is capable of doing.

Bonita Creek had begun drying up in a lot of places. Some of the drying pools contained native fish that Heidi wanted us to move to pools that were more likely to stick around until the monsoons came in to raise the water levels. On the day we were out in Bonita Creek cleaning out some drying pools I was stung in the finger by a bee of some kind. I am not allergic (luckily), but I have since learned that you are not supposed to just grab the stinger and pull it out (like I did). This squeezes extra venom into the wound and will greatly increase your body’s reaction to the sting. Needless to say I was surprised when I woke up the next morning to a finger that was so swollen that I could not bend it at all!! I was on Benedryl, elevating my hand and keeping ice on it for 2.5 days before I was able to bend my finger normally again! It wasn’t how I intended to spend the better part of my 4th of July time off, but what can you do?

The Monday after the 4th of July weekend, we traveled for almost two hours to a site along the Gila River called York Canyon. Here we performed electro-fishing monitoring of fish populations. We then turned our sights to preparing for our upcoming weekend “camping” trip. We participated in a restoration planting weekend alongside members of the Sky Island Alliance and the Nature Conservancy in Turkey Creek and Cobra Ranch (in/near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness). We spent the preceding week testing and coiling over 600 feet of garden hose and loading trucks full of plants and a product called DriWater. So much cool stuff happened over the course of that weekend and I took so many pictures that I plan to have another post just about that trip (coming soon, I promise).

We have also participated in a Spring Snail survey with Arizona Game and Fish staff on BLM lands. I also spent a couple days calibrating and constructing a Rain/Temperature Gauge that will eventually be deployed at a site called Sands Draw in order for our supervisors to get a more accurate representation of local precipitation levels received by restoration plantings in the area. The most recent project that we have started is a re-organization of our office’s Herbarium. Over the years, specimens have gotten out of order, mis-numbered and mis-entered in our database. It will be a fairly long term project that we will complete before we leave to get everything updated and organized. I know it might be strange, but I enjoy semi-grueling organizational tasks, so I am excited to be working on this during our office time! We are also using this herbarium collection to learn to identify our Seeds of Success Target Species for this year. Once we are able to identify these species (and the rains slow down) we will begin SOS scouting, and further down the line, collection of native seed materials.

And now for something COMPLETELY different: Who knew that the desert could be this HUMID? Well, this California girl certainly didn’t!! June 28th, monsoon season was off to a bang with a huge thunder and lightning storm that passed right by our house. We went to take the dogs for a walk before it started raining too hard and at one point we had lightning strikes on all four sides of our complex. For the next two weeks straight, we had storms roll through nearly every evening. It was pretty incredible to lie down in bed and have the room lit up sporadically by lightning strikes. I have seen lightning in every hue, from white, to blue to orange, and in so many fascinating patterns.

Storm clouds near Cobra Ranch at Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE thunder and lightning, but I highly don’t approve of the humidity that comes with them. Give me dry heat over 105 any day rather than being in the mid-90s and 50% humidity. It just makes you sweat like crazy!! [Or as my boss Heidi says, “Women don’t sweat, we glow”, so GLOW like crazy.] The toughest part of the humidity is that it stops our evaporative swamp cooler in our trailer from cooling down the air. It will still move the air, but it’s not cold by any stretch of the imagination. I actually look forward to driving into town/home from work because my car has actual AC and I can feel cold air!!

It’s hard to believe that with the timesheet I turned in last week, I have completed over half of my hours for this internship. With weekend plans filling up between now and the end of September, I somehow feel like the rest of this experience is just going to blow by! I am still enjoying everything I am learning and doing and I hope to absorb all I can in the last two months I have here!

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM