By Veronica Holmes and Meghan Whitman, Research Associate Program
As upland monitoring technicians for the BLM’s Tonopah Field Office, we spent the last six months working in some of Nevada’s truly lonely and beautiful landscapes.
Our job was to collect monitoring data, including drought, utilization, rangeland health and inventory, line-point intercept and gap intercept, all of which helps inform the BLM’s management decisions.
For example, certain guidelines or “triggers” exist that determine when grazing permittees must cease grazing. Utilization data we gathered helped determine whether an area had too high of utilization or extreme drought conditions. Our data would also support an alternative grazing management plan or a reduction in the number of cattle, as a means to conserve sensitive rangeland resources.
By maintaining wildlife cameras, we were able to monitor the horses, burros and wildlife that use certain springs, and observe the amount of available water, forage and the body condition of the various animals. The prolonged drought conditions within the Tonopah Field Office rendered some springs and other water sources unreliable. Continuous monitoring allows the BLM to take proper actions to protect species when the water source they rely on diminishes or disappears.
As a part of our job, we had the privilege to experience see a variety of desert and mountainous landscapes as well as the varying vegetation that corresponds to the different landscapes—watching salt desert shrubs transition into sage and then into pinyon-juniper forest as the elevation increases. We also had the opportunity to view several different wildlife species, including pronghorn antelope, Nevada bighorn, horses, burros, coyotes, jackrabbits, loggerhead shrikes, red tail hawks, golden eagles, lizards of many kinds, vultures, ravens, Colombian spotted frogs, greater sage-grouse, and rodents. One fascinating and surprising fact we learned is that shrikes will impale their prey and save it for later consumption.
Over the course of our field season, we developed a close relationship with the seasons and the overall weather patterns—watching the landscape transition into summer, then into fall and finally winter. It’s been fascinating watching the microclimatic patterns of the high elevation desert—how one area has clear skies and the area directly adjacent may have torrential rains. Our most noteworthy and fun memories involved hiking miles cross-country in hilly terrain to access sites for drought and utilization monitoring. This job allows us allowed us to explore new areas that rarely receive other human visitors and to get compensated for one of our favorite past times, hiking.