Monday, July 15, 2013

Moapa Valley

The second trip to Moapa Valley with the Southern Nevada Water Authority was highly unlike our first hitch. Our first go around involved removing snags, standing dead trees, which in this particular case were twenty to forty foot tall ash trees which had been killed in a fire several years ago. This was fairly standard saw work, although perhaps on a slightly larger scale. The following week’s assignment proved to be of a very different nature. We were tasked with clearing the creek channels of vegetation, making surveying of the protected Moapa Speckled Dace at a later date possible. Within this small section of the valley there are a number of warm springs, bubbling up from the earth at around ninety degrees and cooling to the mid-seventies where the water flows off the property. The warm springs make the ideal habitat for the dace, which are one of a number of species that are endemic (found only in a specific geographic region) to the area. Due to their limited geographic range, the dace are low in number, which lead to their assignment as a protected species. As part of this protection, regular population counts are done, which is where the NCC’s Crew 3 and MACC crew came in. Equipped with an arsenal of cordless hedge trimmers, hand saws and loppers as well as a consignment of porous waders, we walked, waded and swam the length of the channels, clearing them of vegetation. The challenges and frustrations of this assignment merit a blog entry of their own, but these myriad annoyances are not what most struck the volunteers that week.

Day three of any hitch is a strain; the work has begun to take its toll, the work begins to get repetitive and the end is at a tantalizing, but not quite palpable distance. Sufficed to say, when both crews entered the North Fork, a relatively short, straight segment of stream flowing through a depression and shaded its entire length by large, oppressive palms. Starting from opposite ends the two crews went to work clearing the vegetation occluding the waterway. Within minutes of entering the stream, we made note of the fact that it was populated by domineering invasives; towering palms above us, thick clumps to our left of arundo, a thick-stalked grass that grows above twenty feet as well as enveloping thickets of bamboo. The environmentalists in all of us were screaming, calling for a trigger happy finger on the trimmers, “kill it all!”. Despite this well-bred instinct, we all took time to look around and marvel at our surroundings. Around every meander of the creek a new wonder awaited us, revealed by a soft, patchy light filtering down from the palms, illuminating the water as if there were accent lights beneath our feet. The water was peaceful and simultaneously dynamic, sometimes playing over a fallen log, and at others opening into a shallow pool. The thick canopy provided by the palms provided for a sparse under story, making the work light which perhaps explains in part our calmed state. Despite this, there was no denying the fact that these invaders fashioned a striking environment. Internally conflicted, we wondered out loud how we could reconcile this picture worthy image with our ingrained negativity surrounding these species. I don’t have an answer as of writing this. It gives  me hope that maybe not all is lost if invasives take hold in some areas. If we can adapt to a new sense of beauty, maybe the environments they take hold of can adapt to the stress of their presence. Resilience then must be a trait of both humans and ecosystems.

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