Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Party at the USFWS NWR!

   HI, my name is Julian Lucarelli and I have been with the Nevada Conservation Corps since the end of August and will be here until August 2015. I enjoy the NCC community and can-do spirit associated with getting outdoors and completing a new project each week. The NCC has given me a glimpse of what many federal, state, and local agencies are responsible for on a regular basis. It has helped see the value in much of what I learned in college and opened vast horizons to continue to do so. I am here to work hard, learning the ropes of conservation work. The insight accumulated will follow me as I hope to later on earn a master’s degree.

   I am a part of Crew #1, led by Jess Knowles, and rounded out by Tyler France, Nick Regalalo, and myself. We enjoy epic three hour dance grooves to tunes from any era. We’ve tried Nutella on just about any edible matter waiting to find a match.

   Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is in the Amargosa Valley just over an hour North of Las Vegas. It sits directly east of Death Valley and is supported by a network of hot springs that sprout out of the desert at unfathomable rates. These hot springs pool to form fragile wetland habitat for Ash Meadows pup fish and dace, two endemic species. A third, the Devil’s Hole pup fish is only known to exist in a singular formation at the base of a mountain known as Devil’s Hole. The wildlife refuge contains a diverse range of habitats including desert, dunes, badlands, salt flats, canyons, wetlands, and mountains. Big horn sheep are seen grazing in the afternoon on the equally eclectic plant population.

   Our crew, fearlessly led by the venerable Jess Knowles, spent two hitches at the wildlife refuge camping at the US Fish and Wildlife office onsite. We awoke our first morning to coyotes yelling and hooping over their early dawn kill. This couldn’t’ve been more than 150 yards from our campsite. We spent our first tour removing barb wire fences from former ranchlands swamped by growing marshes. This was done to open these parts of the refuge from the possibility of larger fauna becoming entangled in fence line where it may be left to wither. The third day at Ash Meadows we jumped in some of the flowing springs to remove cattails. In cutting these plants from the waterways, there is an increase in sunlight that reaches the water promoting algae growth needed to support populations of dace and pupfish. Our last day was spent removing invasive coyote willows from various areas.
   Our next tour was a nice break from hot weather in the Vegas valley. The majority of this tour was again spent cutting down coyote willows. We were still untrained for chainsaw use so we left the thick stuff for USFWS staff but thousands of invasive willows fell to the understory those three days. Coyote willows, like salt-cedar use valuable diverted water and choking out other native plant species.
   Earlier in this tour we spent a day repairing a boardwalk we later took a tour on led by a Great Basin Institute Research Assistant. We tightened bolts and boards and trimmed back flora too close to the trail featuring custom ironwork and informative signage.
The last day of hitch we set out to dig up and remove the last four reptile and small mammal traps that had been built in the refuge for a study that started with thirty. These traps were spread out between meadow, salt flat, desert, and dune environment. One of the traps yielded an encounter with a black widow the only spider of the like I have ever seen.

   If you live in Nevada or southern California I advise a trip to Ash Meadows. The land was saved from development for good reason and is home to a truly enthralling scope of wildlife.

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