With our Stewardship Team spread out through six different states it can be difficult to see the work that is being completed in person. Reports are important and provide the technical necessities of a project, but getting out with the biologist, on the ranch they are working on and seeing it come to life connects us.
If you had to name one pollinator other than a honeybee, what would be your first guess? More bees? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong, nearly every species of bee pollinates flowers and food crops. But what about beetles? Certain birds? The winged night terrors we call bats? While there are no denying honeybees are crucial to our environment and provide us with an excellent service, the fact is, they are not native to North America.
You know the old phrase: Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over. Over the two years that I’ve now been in the San Luis Valley (SLV) of Colorado, I’ve heard a lot of stories that recall that phrase. Stories of family members who no longer speak due to disagreements irrigation strategies, landowners who’ve been shot by trespassers hoping to steal water under cover of night, ranchers on their fifth year of a water court case due to a neighbor dispute. This story, however, is not one of those.
I stop what I’m doing for a moment and look up to watch a pair of circling Red-tailed Hawks. They’re smugly indifferent to my work, but their presence makes it go a little faster all the same. With the Western Meadowlarks, Lark Buntings, and Cassin’s Sparrows as a soundtrack, it’s a simply beautiful day to be outside.
One of my favorite quotes by Aldo Leopold in his book, A Sand County Almanac. A classic read for any upcoming wildlife biologist, nature-lover, or outdoors person. This quote reminds me of the well-known saying “leave it better than you found it”. A saying that had been engrained in me ever since I was just a kid playing in the river behind my house. I am fortunate that I grew up as an “outdoor kid”.
The first time meeting a bull I thought there should be much more care taken. We parked the pick-up in the two-lane adjacent to the white mound napping and chewing his cud. He didn’t move or glace our way as we approached. I walked equal to the rancher; if he was going in, I was, too.
On Sunday, March 13th, I saw my first Mountain Bluebird of the year. He was coming off the south fence of the northwestern pasture. He launched, dipped, then propelled making it to the opposite side to watch me travel on, my car having done more to move him than the cows, or even the coyotes could manage.
From a young age, I felt a disconnect between our culture and nature. I was always curious about the natural world and wondered why anyone would want to study anything else. My father’s idealist view and respect for Indigenous people specifically inspired me. I longed to live more connected to the land, like the Indigenous people whose ways of life I had come to admire.
Another summer in the Northern Great Plains has come and gone, now fleeting as quickly as it arrived. With it, the many birds who travel thousands of miles to call these grasslands home during the breeding season have begun to make the long journey back to their wintering grounds. For the many ranchers and farmers of eastern Montana, the work is not done.