A Welcome Return to the Sagebrush Steppe Gerrit Vyn
09 June 2021

A Welcome Return to the Sagebrush Steppe

Hi there! My name is Izzy and welcome to my blog for the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF)! I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and grew up in Starkville, Mississippi since the age of 3. My very first experience in a national forest was when I was just a baby living in El Yunque National Forest while my parents worked with the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata). My passions have always revolved around wildlife and conservation biology. I’ve worked in wildlife and botany seasonal roles since 2013 all over the country and strive to continue a career in conservation! I completed my bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences at Mississippi State University. In 2018, I moved to South Dakota State University to complete my master’s focusing in pollination ecology. I successfully defended my master’s thesis at the end of January 2021 (hooray!) and now, I’m out here in Gunnison, CO working with the Forest Service and HAF as a wildlife resource assistant. One month as already gone by so quickly, but summer has just started! Much has happened since arriving to Gunnison. So, I hope you enjoy these highlights!

For the past two weeks, we have been training up on field techniques to monitor Gunnison sage-grouse habitat for the summer. This monitoring will be one of my prime objectives for the Gunnison NF and I’m so excited to get the ball rolling! The Gunnison sage-grouse is an endangered species that resides in the Gunnison Valley here in south west Colorado. Its range is very small, only reaching southwestern Colorado and a small fraction of southeastern Utah. These birds are related to turkeys, pheasants, and chickens and there are approximately 2,000 individuals left in the Colorado populations. The habitat monitoring project in the Gunnison valley is a huge collaboration between the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Coincidentally, this will actually be my second field season of sage-grouse habitat monitoring. Back in 2017, I was stationed in southern Idaho and worked with the Bureau of Land Management through a program run by the Chicago Botanic Garden. A large portion of my field season in Idaho was sage-grouse habitat monitoring doing the same techniques we are implementing here! So, it is really neat for me to get a refresher and do this work with another grouse species (back in Idaho, they were monitoring for Greater sage-grouse). I think the sagebrush steppe is an incredibly fascinating and beautiful place to work in. It is so different from the humid, bottomland hardwood forests I’m used to back in Mississippi – in a good way. It’s great to be back! 

astragalusgunnisonupdate 3The Gunnison Valley is also home to another, smaller endangered species. Say hello to the Gunnison milkvetch (Astragalus anisus). It may be tiny, but that doesn’t stop it from being so darn cute! Photo credit: me

In addition to the training mentioned above, I’ve also had a wonderful opportunity to help the National Park Service folks from Curecanti and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with raptor nest searches. These national park lands house populations of some amazing raptors, such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles and bald eagles. Incredibly cool birds! We spent the day driving and hiking to known nest locations and used binoculars & spotting scopes to find out if there was an active nest. We were able to find at least two active nests: one peregrine falcon nest and one bald eagle nest. Though we didn’t find all of them, it was still nice hiking! It is always a treat when you can do some field biology in such a beautiful area. It was an incredible moment for me to see a female peregrine falcon lying completely flat against the rock to warm her eggs. Living on the side of a canyon must not be easy, but man, does mama know how to pick a view! Here is a picture of the canyon where we found the nest. You won’t be able to see the nest from the picture, but it’s there – I promise! I hope instead you can enjoy the beautiful, lightning-like streaks that trickle across the rocky canyon wall. I think the peregrine falcons who choose to nest here have exquisite taste in housing locations. 

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