First Month in Wyoming

It has been a whirlwind of a month.  Moving out to Wyoming has been both interesting and fun.  I am stationed in the Newcastle Field Office, which is 17 miles west of the South Dakota border.  My fellow intern and I are lucky in that we have access to government housing.  It just has a few drawbacks, like no internet or cell phone service, but we have gotten used to it.  This just means finding creative ways to spend free time.  It is great living here because with the lack of internet I tend to explore the area more.  It is an amazing area.  There are several National Forests, National Parks, and National Monuments outside the door.  These places include Devils Tower, the Black Hills, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, the Big Horns and many others.

Every year our office hosts a weeklong camp for middle schoolers showing what field science is like and the different opportunities out there.  Everyone had a fun week with the kids camping out and the adults in a small cabin, and let me tell you the cabin was very nice when thunderstorms came rolling in.

There was a lot to do every day; we had surveying, astronomy lessons, forest inventory, fire ecology, water and stream health, and wildland firefighters.  The firefighters got the kids really excited, there was a huge truck and they got to try on field packs and roll out hoses.  The kids had a lot of fun trying to outdo each other in what they could carry; it was funny seeing a ten year old carrying 50 pounds of gear.  While helping the kids was fun, one of the highlights for me was climbing to the top of a fire tower at sunset, this is something that you just don’t get in the East.  Overall helping the kids discover new ways to enjoy the outdoors was very rewarding.

Sunset in the Black Hills

Much of the past few weeks have been fun.  It is nice to start getting into the meat of our summer projects.  We have three projects all at different stages of completion.  As the internship is focused on forestry, the projects concern different types of forest management objectives.  Of the three projects, one is almost competed and is almost ready to be summited for bid.  This means that loggers are going to be bidding on the right to harvest the tract of land.  All of this is within the overall goal of reducing the forests susceptibility to mountain pine beetle and promote wildlife habitat.  The other two projects, one a meadow restoration and wildlife habitat improvement and the other a timber sale to promote forest health are where the bulk of the field work will be focused on. Can’t wait to to see how the summer will turn out.

Idaho: Month 2

I’ve been living and working in Idaho for almost 2 months now, and time seems to be going by reasonably fast. Most days I get up very early for work, drive 30 miles each way to and from the office, and come home around 5 pm. By the time I get home, I only have the energy to eat, shower, watch some Netflix, and go to sleep. I enjoy this routine sometimes because I’m busy and time flies, but it also makes me eager for adventure and relaxation on the weekends.

Me on the Snake River Feat. Diana’s toes

I haven’t had the chance to go out and explore very much outside of Twin Falls. I did take a mini road trip to Pocatello to visit a friend from school. Two other CBG interns came with me, and none of us had ever been to Pocatello, so it was good to explore a new area. However, there are still things to do in Twin Falls! I finally went kayaking down the Snake River with some friends and it was a relaxing day on the water.

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Native plant garden in Twin Falls. We came here for a forb workshop led by the Department of Fish & Game.

Almost 2 months into this internship, I can already tell that the rest of my time here with the BLM in Shoshone will be extremely valuable. Most of my time here has been spent training and learning about the botany and wildlife found in our field office. I’m starting to feel more comfortable identifying plants, but there is still so much more for me to learn and apply in the next 4 months.

In the near future, I would like to get more involved in the GIS work happening in our office. By the looks of it, many other interns are using GIS in their work, and I’m jealous. I enjoy collecting data and then analyzing it in GIS because it offers such a unique visualization. I’m always amazed by what GIS can do and I want to continue to improve my skills. If I were to go into a graduate program, I would likely focus on spatial analysis or some type of environmental informatics (GIS/remote sensing/modeling).

Doing work

Work perks

For now, I know that I want to improve my applied ecology and botany skills. Before studying something on the large scale, I want to have on-the-ground experience. Field work is the perfect way of acquiring those skills. Our training workshop in Chicago was somewhat helpful in learning about botany. It was made very clear that all of the CBG interns have varying levels of botany expertise. So when it came to the botany lesson, some people could follow along and identify plant families quickly, while several of us struggled to keep up. My school doesn’t even offer a botany or plant systematics class. :( I guess most of my western botany knowledge and skills will have to be acquired on my own time and on the job. Thankfully, hands-on learning is one of the best ways for me to learn.

The training workshop was a great way to meet other CBG interns, and I am so thankful for that opportunity! I met some great people that I would love to spend more time with. It was great to see so many people with similar interests in terms of conservation and land management. I know that many of you will go on to do great things.

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Go Blackhawks!!!!

The workshop was also scheduled at a perfect time for me because my graduation was that weekend. I went to college in Chicago, so I got to see most of my friends and family. After a month of being in Idaho, I was so so so thankful to see the people near and dear to my heart. It was a perfect refresher. I got on the L after arriving in Chicago, and I never thought I would be so happy to smell the lingering odor of urine on the train. I know it’s gross, but it was a reminder of the last 4 years I spent in that beautiful urban city.

But now I am back in Idaho, and I want to enjoy my time here while it lasts. I’ve never spent this much time in a rural area, nor have I done this much field work. This area is growing on me and I’m starting to feel more at home. I’m so glad I have other interns here with me because we can share the new experience with each other.

Until next time,

Carla

BLM-Shoshone, ID

Adventure and sunshine in the semi-arid valleys of Grand Junction Colorado.

GrandJunction

As one of Colorado’s largest Western cities Grand Junction has proven to provide not only interesting geographical features but valuable cultural experiences as well.  The areas surrounding Grand Junction contain some of the most beautiful semi-arid landscapes that I have ever had the fortune of witnessing. Locations such as the Colorado National Monument, Hanging lake, and the legendary Moab area, located not even two hours away from Western Colorado, have provided an endless mountainous region in which to explore. As the majority of my work so far in the field office has involved varying methods of rare plant and hydrological data collection I confidently believe that I will enjoy every day of “work” in these areas.

In addition to its geographical inspiration, I have encountered character building interactions with many of the city’s 59,000 inhabitants. Having spent the majority of my life in Chicago, Illinois, I hope the readers of this post can believe I have never witnessed anything quite like “Country Jam” or pop country music for that matter. Even though I typically find myself disagreeing with the common populous on many issues, I have still grown to appreciate and love the cowboy country atmosphere of this region. For example, I used to typically believe that hunters are individuals who simply enjoy killing animals for fun; I now understand that this belief could not be farther from the truth. The outdoorsman and women who I have had the pleasure of meeting are some of the most dedicated environmentalists that I have met in Colorado. I have developed a much greater respect for someone who acquires their own food through a hard days work in nature.

Apart from the culture of this area, as well as its noticeable beauty, I also have truly been enjoying my interactions with the Bureau of Land Management staff. I find that almost everyone I meet is equally concerned with the well being of these areas, many of the staff in the Grand Junction Field Office were actually born right here in Grand Junction. Due to the amount of time that many of the employees have spent in this region, I have an endless amount of fruitful recommendations in which to plan my next adventure.

Archaeology, Horny Toads, & Chicago

Greetings, readers!

Idahoan souvenirs from Pocatello

Idahoan souvenirs from Pocatello

I can’t believe it’s already the end of my 7th week here in Idaho. It seems like it was just a few days ago that I was scrambling from thrift store to thrift store looking for the cheapest and least-likely-to-have-bed-bugs mattress I could find for my first night in Twin and worrying about my cat, Leopold, who I cruelly had flown with me from Florida and was completely zonked out from the cat-Xanax his vet prescribed. Now, we are living in an almost-furnished apartment (an armchair and a love seat almost makes a couch, right?) and Leopold louder and fatter than ever.

Leopold

Leopold

Since my last post, we’ve had lots and lots of training. We attended a 2-day forb workshop hosted by Fish & Game which was a lot of fun. We learned about native seed collection, the importance of different kinds of forbs to sage grouse diets and their chicks, insect diversity, and we visited a private botanic garden filled with native and exotic plants ranging from Joshua trees to North African/SW European spiny pillows (Ptilotrichum spinosum). My favorite part of that tour were the brilliantly colored cacti, specifically the Black Knight Pricklypear (Opuntia rhodantha).

Black Knight Prickly Pear

Opuntia rhodantha

During the field portion of the training we identified many ‘new’ plants with the help of the former state botanist, who was not only incredibly entertaining but the most impressive walking botanical encyclopedia I’ve ever met. We were also able to look at a variety of different sagebrush species and I got to handle my first horny toads! Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with when holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad. It was love at first toad. I don’t think these are the blood-spurting-out-of-their-eyeballs variety, but if I encounter one, this blog will be the first to know.

Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with by holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad.

Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with when holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad.

Our mentor arranged for us to shadow the office’s archaeologist, Lisa, for a day, which was really exciting. Lisa gave us a tour of some of her allotments, including a graveyard from the 1800s, Native American rock art just feet away from grazing cattle, lava tubes where human remains have been found, and told us stories about working with the Bannock Shoshone Native Americans and recording their oral history and learning about the different medicinal uses of native plants, such as camas. I studied human dimensions of natural resources and environmental policy, and ethnobotany & ethnoecology has always been a subject I’ve thought about pursuing, but unfortunately there aren’t many graduate programs for it. Luckily, I met an Ethnobotany PhD candidate from the University of Kent, UK who was at the Chicago workshop, who I plan on keeping in contact with and following her research. I also had the pleasure of meeting the Jarbidge office’s archaeologist, Shane, who offered helpful advice for pursuing a career in archaeology during a fuel’s ecology tour.

The grave, there were about 20 creepy cat-sized crows waiting for us when we arrived...

The grave, there were about 20 creepy cat-sized crows waiting for us when we arrived…

Lava tube where human remains were excavated from

Lava tube where human remains were excavated from

We also helped out with HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring with some of the other range cons (which we hadn’t done since our first day of work). We went up to a loamy hillside allotment that was lush, green, full of new (and living!) forbs. It was absolutely beautiful and the weather was beyond perfect at a cool ~70 F. We gathered data on shrub canopy cover (line intercept) and forb diversity/availability, and soil type. On our way back to the trucks we stumbled upon a sage grouse nest with some chicks and more horny toads.

HAF Monitoring at Poison Creek

HAF Monitoring at Poison Creek

Carla (fellow CBG-er) and I also got to drive out and do trend by ourselves for the first time, which was really exciting. We only did one site that day because it took a bit longer than we thought to find, but we managed to finish the monitoring (while racing a looming thunderstorm) and not get stuck in any muddy roads, so it was a success!

Sheep about to cross Swinging Bridge for the filming of its 50th anniversary that our mentor organized.

Sheep about to cross Swinging Bridge for the filming of its 50th anniversary that our mentor organized.

And lastly, we returned from the Chicago Botanic Garden workshop a few weeks ago– which was really, really, amazing. First we went over general HR/safety information, career/graduate school advice, safety, sampling techniques, plant identification/terminology, Seeds of Success (and some basic collection protocols), and lastly a symposium from a variety of conservationists that discussed various projects ranging from altered fire regimes and the resulting spread of invasive species to the largest prairie and wetland reconstruction project in America (Glacial Ridge Project, which was my favorite lecture).

Volcanic Sunset Cactus

I also got to explore different parts of the city such as Clybourn (for Jamaican food), Roger’s Park (where we had ‘the best Indian food in Chicago’– apparently Chicago has the 2nd highest combined population  in the US of Indians and Pakistanis after NYC), downtown, the Art Institute, and the diner Big and Littles (many thanks to Carla and her boyfriend who showed me around)!

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I think this was in a movie or something

American Gothic

American Gothic

But the best part about the workshop was the opportunity to get to know the other interns and speak with the instructors and organizers and find out what their projects, locations, and backgrounds were. It gave me a lot of insight and perspective on my own path as I navigate the waters of post-undergraduate life. It’s really humbling to think about how lucky I am to have met all these different people (apparently we are the most diverse group of interns they’ve had in terms of ethnicity, age, and gender). I can’t wait to see what the next 3 months have in store for us!

Until next time,

Diana Gu

BLM , Shoshone ID Field Office

In Search of Seeds and Astragalus

Taos has held up to its reputation of being a quaint mountain town full of eclectic residents and unconventional life styles. I’ve had the chance to check out the famous Taos Earth Ships, and I’ve hung out with some of their residents. For those unfamiliar, the Earth Ships are off the grid homes that are made primarily of recycled building materials and exhibit energy efficient designs. Because most of them utilize locally found soil to construct adobe-like mud walls for the structures, I find them to closely resemble life-sized sand castles. As you drive past them on the main road, it appears as if giants have constructed sand castles with various types of artistic designs all across the desert horizon. Apart from its interesting communities, Taos has also proven to supply an ample amount of outdoor entertainment. The town is riddled with fantastic Mountain bike and hiking trails. I’ve also had the opportunity to try out white water rafting on the Rio Grande.

mountain biking in Taos

Apart from my social life in Taos, my Internship has proven to be extremely educational and exciting thus far. I spent the majority of my first weeks in Taos helping with an invasive species mitigation project at a local camp ground. The project is being undertaken by a local youth conservation core. To aid the conservation core in their efforts to mitigate invasive species at the campground, I created a field guide of commonly found invasive species in the Taos area, and helped in locating and prioritizing work areas at the campground.

I have also gotten two SOS collections under my belt. Our first collection was Chaetopappa ericoides. The collection was memorable to me as we deployed the use of hand held vacuums to collect our seeds. Due to the fluffy nature of the plant’s seeds, vacuums proved to be an effective means of collecting many seeds in a small amount of time. They simply sucked right up into the vacuum. Our second collection was Hesperostipa comata. Although we resorted to a more traditional hand picking method, we still managed to collect well over the 10,000 seed minimum.

Shortly after our Hesperostipa collection, we were informed that a rare species of Astragalus was found on a parcel of land that was scheduled to be treated in the near future. The proposed treatment involves disking the entire parcel of land. Upon completion of the proposed disking, all of the existing flora will be uprooted, and the soil will be tilled up to about 6 inches depth. The rationale behind carrying out such a treatment is to decrease sage brush abundance, and increase the abundance of grasses and forbs on the site. This management tool has not always proven to yield such outcomes however, and in some cases has increased the abundance of invasives. Despite the controversy however, our crew was given the responsibility of surveying the entire 300 plus acres of land for populations of Astragalus ripleyi. This task is still ongoing, and involves combing the entire proposed treatment area by walking quarter mile to mile long transects that are spaced 10 meters apart across the entire treatment area. So far we have been at it for 7 days, and have found about 6 populations of ripleyi. We hope to be finished with the survey by the end of the week, and resume SOS collections shortly after.

flagged ripleyi

flagged ripleyi

on the hunt for ripleyi

on the hunt for ripleyi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers and Matching Muck Boots

Wild horses within the Lander BLM Field Office

Wild horses within the Lander BLM Field Office

Just two weeks ago we were arriving in Chicago for our week of training at the CBG. The training, as well as the symposium that was held at the end of the week, served as a great opportunity to grab hold of the cause that we are working for during this internship. It’s always helpful to widen your perspective to a bigger picture of the conservation goals at stake and to identify your role in making those become reality. It’s great to continue on into the season with this vision - knowing that some of our days may be long, hot and tiring, but also knowing that we’re making a contribution toward the progress of largescale native plant restoration and to the science that will keep these western ecosystems healthy.

Despite the fun we had exploring the city and the botanical gardens during our week of training, I was relieved to arrive back in Lander, WY and breathe in the fresh air of the wide open spaces! The season seems to be progressing quickly already too, augmented by the fact that each time we go out in the field, the grasses have lifted a few feet (it’s been a heavy year for rain), and are a constant kaleidoscope of color as they change from green to gold and red with the sun and heat.

Collecting the height of key species to monitor rangeland health

Collecting the height of key species to monitor rangeland health

Now armed with our matching muck boots, we’ve begun collecting rangeland monitoring data, measuring the stubble height of key species in riparian areas to determine if grazing has been too heavy in an area. Eventually Erin and I will be on a monitoring rotation, visiting the same sites every couple of weeks. The riparian sites we’re collecting data from are where cattle particularly love to spend their time mowing the grass to the ground, but which are also some of the most important sites ecologically. Other than grazing the grass down too short, the cattle also have the potential to cause something called hummocking, which is severe small-scale mounding of the ground (see photo). Since the soil in riparian areas is so wet, the cattle’s hooves cause depressions where they walk, leaving mounds around the areas where they have not stepped. Over time these will worsen and water loss can become a problem. Less water is held in the soil and protected from evaporation or simply flowing down stream, which changes the function of the ecosystem on an essential level.

Monitoring rare Astragalus sp. in Dubois , WY

Monitoring rare Astragalus sp. in Dubois , WY

This past week we went out in the field for the first time with Tanya, the botanist in our office. She took us to Dubois, WY in the northern part of our field office to monitor a rare Astragalus sp. which is endemic to the area. Finding this particular species requires walking out on the crumbling red and gray slopes of the badland hills, overlooking a mess stripes and color and mountains beyond. I had so many questions for Tanya because it was exciting to be involved in this new and unfamiliar process, let alone get to explore such a beautiful piece of country. We found our species surprisingly quickly, took our samples and data and tried to get a good estimate of the population size. All in all it made for a pretty successful day.

Monitoring, Traveling, and Mountains

The field season is getting rolling! Our schedule has Emma and I doing roughly three days a week doing vegetation monitoring and two days doing Seeds of Success seed collection work. The vegetation monitoring involves identifying key species and evaluating how grazing is affecting them. This is done by taking stubble height readings across a specific area and taking an average. From this information, we can decide how much grazing can continue in a certain area and when the cows need to be moved. We have a handful of sites that we visit in rotation every couple weeks. I enjoy visiting these sites because we travel on the ACTUAL Oregon trail to get to some of them. I think this is incredibly cool because the landscape in this area is unaltered and would have been exactly what the pioneers would have seen on their journey.

Our Seeds of Success work has just gotten off the ground. We are learning the target species list, and trying to find big enough populations of each plant in the field. For each seed collection we make we need at least 20,000 seeds, so we need to find fairly large populations. We also are only allowed to take 20% of the available seed so we don’t decimate the population. This week we found a large population of a Cryptantha species while monitoring, I think it will be perfect for a Seeds of Success collection!

We also went into the field one day to help our botanist search for a rare species, Dubois milkvetch (Astragalus giviflorus var. purpureus). It is a species that is endemic to Dubois, Wyoming and grows on steep hillsides. We actually found the plant without much trouble, and found a good sized healthy population.

The rare Dubois milkvetch!

The rare Dubois milkvetch!

We have seen much more wildlife in the field. I have seen many sage grouse, which are much bigger than I expected them to be! We have also started to see many baby pronghorn. My favorite, though, has been the wild horses. One day we saw a herd of about 100 horses, it was a very cool thing to see.

A few of the wild horses we saw in the field

A few of the wild horses we saw in the field

This month also included our week long workshop week in Chicago. The workshop was held at Chicago Botanic Garden, which is absolutely beautiful. We attended classes such as botany of the west, inventory and monitoring methods, and S.O.S. instruction. We received career and graduate school advice, and attended a symposium on large scale restoration efforts. When not in session, we explored the 385 acre botanical garden and visited downtown Chicago. Overall it was a wonderful week, it got me really excited to be a part of the natural resource field.

The beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden

The beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden

I have also been exploring the Lander area more extensively. The road into the mountains was just opened last week, and luckily my family was visiting this weekend. I took them up to the alpine lakes in the mountains, which were stunning.  It is very nice that we are able to escape the heat by going up in elevation! I can’t wait to explore the mountains more.

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One of the lakes we visited up in the mountains

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A field of wildflowers in the mountains

Lander is a beautiful place to live, and it is pretty wonderful to be able to work amidst all this beauty. I feel pretty lucky to be able to call this place my office. Until next time!

- Erin   Lander Field Office, BLM – Wyoming

Month 2 in Central Oregon

2 months have flown by in Prineville, Oregon. The last few weeks (besides the CLM Workshop) I have been working on many different projects including eagle monitoring, habitat assessment for sage grouse, GIS training webinars, and lifting wildlife closures on trails.

Every year the Prineville district hosts an environmental education day for Crook County 4th graders, located at a beautiful campground by the Crooked River. Luckily, I got to help run the wildlife station this year. We had pelts and/or skulls from cougar, porcupine, wood chuck, coyote, beaver, badger, and red fox. We taught the kids all about habitat, and what different animals need to survive. Some of the 4th graders were extremely knowledgeable.

Mountain Big Sagebrush glowing blue under blacklight

I’m living in Bend, OR, about 45 minutes away from Prineville. It’s a pretty big town with almost 90,000 people and I’ve been making awesome friends. Weekends have included hiking, birding, camping, boating on Lake Billy Chinook, exploring Bend, and of course watching the Women’s World Cup (GO USA!!)

Go USA soccer!!!

Coming up in July, I’ll be working exclusively on a Western Long Eared Bat telemetry project, but more on that next month.

Rattlesnake in our campsite

Weeds and Seeds in Central OR

Central Oregon has been a blast so far and I love it more here every day. If it’s outdoors, we’ve got it. There are endless places to explore; obsidian flows, ponderosa forests, scenic riverways, mountain biking hotspots, and the list goes on. The landscape is varied and with all this volcanic geology, never boring. On the cultural side, there is the happening city of Bend, real rodeos, breweries, great local food scene, good music and friendly people. There are these little espresso shacks all over the place, even in the tiniest towns. I’m told it’s a northwest thing. It’s kind of dangerous because I never had a coffee habit, but am steadily developing one here. Who could resist?

Work life in my second internship has been fulfilling and informative. I’m swamped with seed collections and spend 95% of my time in field, which is great! I am particularly excited about some surprise plant populations I found that will be collected for pollinator conservation. I’m also learning a lot about invasive plant species here and how to control them. One of particular interest is medusahead rye, Taeniatherum caput-medusae. It is a shrimpy little annual with crazy long awns and packs a wallop. When it dies off, the dead material creates a mat that does not break down quickly in this dry environment. The mat prevents other plants from competing and encourages a medusahead monoculture. It’s also a wildfire hazard.  Part of my time in the field is spent hiking remote areas that burned in last year’s wildfires and mapping the weed infestations that have moved into these areas. These are long, sometimes hard several mile days, but I am thrilled to be getting so much more familiar with how to use the GPS units, spend the day observing wildlife and flowers, and soaking up sun and cool breezes on desolate ridgetops (all while seeking out those nasty plant invaders). Plus it’s pretty good exercise! I have seen 3 rattlesnakes so far, after never meeting any my whole season last year. I reviewed first aid procedures for an encounter with these fellows, although so far they have been politely reserved. They are beautiful animals to see at a respectful distance, so I consider myself lucky. Anyway, it’s back to work for me! There are seeds that need a’collectin’, and I’m the gal for the job!

Lupinus in the rain

Lupinus in the rain

Salvia dorrii - an upcoming pollinator collection

Salvia dorrii – an upcoming pollinator collection

Minding my own

Minding my own

 

 

Rain rain go away, let the interns play or should that be learn maybe work?

As the title says we have had much rain here in the sleepy town of Buffalo, WY. The first two weeks here have been amazing and slightly overwhelming. Within the first week of working Katie and I met 80+ employees, were trained in CPR and First Aid, Defensive driving, ATV/UTV training, GPS/GIS, and began our crash course in the flora of the west and how it pertains to rangeland management.

Our second week we were unexpectantly trained in emergency flood response when our office flooded, leaving our part of the building with 0.5″ of standing water. Almost half of the building had to be packed up and moved out or thrown away. We are now located in the annex building just down the road from the main office. Us interns are set up in the cozy conference room now!

We received ~3" of rain in one night that overwhelmed our pump resulting in 0.5" of standing water in our cubicals after the water receded.

We received ~3″ of rain in one night that overwhelmed our pump resulting in 0.5″ of standing water in our cubicles after the water receded.

Removing all furnitureOffice repairs currently

 

UTVRange MonitoringRange health

Katie Pacholski and I performing a soil stability test as part of range health monitoring

Katie Pacholski and I performing a soil stability test as part of range health monitoring

Sara Burns, Katie Pacholski, and I were doing range monitoring when we looked up and this female pronghorn was stolling by. She gave us a little "bark" and went on her way!

Sara Burns, Katie Pacholski, and I were doing range monitoring when we looked up and this female pronghorn was stolling by. She gave us a little “bark” and went on her way!