Wait… how many projects are we doing?

Alrighty, pretty much all we have done the past two days is meeting after meeting after meeting. We’re trying to get everything organized and meet all of our contacts so we can start the real work.

I found out what I am going to be doing this summer. The majority of the summer we’ll be focusing on the human dimension element. We have modified an existing survey that we will hopefully have USDA Wildlife Services mail out to people who have filed complaints against beavers in the past. We will use the same survey to interview anglers we approach at boat docks, and along side the shores of the Missouri River system. The beaver survey will also be mailed out to local Ducks Unlimited members for another view point. Another aspect is we will be meeting with local Native American tribes to learn about their views and historical tribal significance of river otters. We will also be sending out a survey to game wardens to find out information pertaining to furbearer (otter, beaver, mink, marten, fisher, etc) sightings. And another project we are going to be working on is a survey of anglers to see how much knowledge they have pertaining to the Pittman-Robertson and the Dingell-Johnson Acts.

For those of you who don’t know, the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (P-R Act) established in 1937 is an11% tax on firearms and ammunition. This money is distributed to each state based on the size of the state and how many licensed hunters it has. This money is used for hunter education, research, management of wildlife, purchase of habitat lang, and other wildlife restoration efforts. P-R money is usually mixed with money from hunting licenses sales and stamps, and can only be used for wildlife purposes through state agencies. The Dingell-Johnson Act is very similar to the P-R Act except for it is an 11% tax on tackle and fishing gear and the money is used for fishery purposes. Not as many hunters, anglers, or general people know these acts even exist, even though in my opinion they are very important.

My personal favorite project we will be working on this summer: we will be doing bridge surveys where we will walk 500 meter sections on both sides of all the bridges we can access in the area in search of beaver and otter signs (scat, tracks, slide marks, tree damage, lodges, etc.) If we find signs of river otter we will then set up trail cameras in the area and try to get a good shot of it. The purpose of this is that river otters have not been documented thoroughly in this part of the state. They have been documented in the Northeastern parts, however. So we are trying to find out if they exist here and what the population size might be. We will also be checking out reported sightings of otters from our human aspect surveys.

It is going to be a very busy summer. And most likely my thesis will come from these projects, somehow.

With all that being said today we had meetings with North Dakota Game and Fish (which is easy because we are living on their property), USDA Wildlife Services, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Our meeting with NDGF was mainly to let them know of our plans for the summer and bounce ideas off each other. They will be providing the contact information for the ND game wardens. I really enjoyed meeting John Paulson of the ND USDA Wildlife Services. He recently did a “tour” in Kandahar, Afghanistan where he helped to establish a USDA office their to aide the US Air Force in keeping the Bagram Airfield safe from golden jackals, and various birds which have been causing major damage (in the multi-millions of dollars range) to aircraft such as F-16 and unmamed drones. I never new such an operation existed for wildlifers and would love to try to find out more information and see if I have a few months available that I might be able to go over and help! John agreed to talk to other members at the Wildlife Services office about trying to help us mail out our beaver survey to individuals who have filed complaints about beaver in the past, we are meeting again with them tomorrow to further discuss things.

We met conservation officer, Jeff Kelly of the Sioux today as well. He was very helpful and took us to be LaDonna, their tribal historian and tourist person who told us some of the tribal significance of the otter to the Stand Rock Sioux. Apparently otter are very important to them. A long time ago, the people would watch the otter go and seek medicinal plants to cure his aliments and then the natives would know what plants were medicinal and their medicine man would use those plants to cure people. Thus otter pelts became very important and were used by medicine men for bags to carry their medicines, but only after that medicine main obtained a prestigious status. LaDonna was very excited to hear that we are doing research on the otter and are hoping to find them still in this area and offered her help to look up their old stories about the otter for us. Dr. Serfass also agreed to giving a presentation tomorrow morning to the tribe’s conservation officers about the work that he is doing in North Dakota on river otters, beavers, American marten, and fishers.

So it was over all a pretty successful day. I am excited to meet with Ducks Unlimited (hopefully tomorrow) and establish contacts with them.

Badass Badlands

We were expecting Dr. Serfass today to come and help us figure out exactly what we are going to be doing work-wise for the next three months, but he got held up in Wisconsin and called to let us know that he won’t be able to make it until tomorrow. So, Megan suggested we hit the road and drive out to the Badlands and visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I wish I had words to describe how beautiful it was! The pictures I have posted don’t do the Badlands any justice at all! I have visited them once before in the Blackhills of South Dakota, but the North Dakota Badlands are completely different. We saw wild mustangs (which I was extremely excited about since I have never seen them before), bison (Bison bison), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and even two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). We hiked some trails and drove the 36 mile driving trail that circles the south part of the park. The weather was perfect too – warm, but not hot, with a slight breeze (and I mean the breeze that I am use to and not the 25mph North Dakota “breeze”), and beautiful blue skies all day! I’ll let the photos show you a bit of how awesome it was. If you ever get the chance to visit the Badlands, I highly highly recommend it, even if you have to drive 2 hours away like we did – its worth it!

We will definitely be going back this summer! We already have started planning. We’re going to spend two days there and camp out one night. Also we’ll have to explore the park on horseback! I mean that’s how Teddy did it, so I think we should too 🙂

I guess I should tell you that ever since I was young for some reason I have been obsessed with the state of Montana, yet I have never been there. So as we were looking at the map on the way to the Badlands I noticed that hey, Montana is only 20 miles away! So we detoured on our way home and drove to the Montana line just so that we could say we have been to Montana. I will be back.

We also made sure to stop and get some pictures with the North Dakota sign since the one on the eastern side of the state was over the highway instead of on the side.

Well, it looks like work actually begins tomorrow, although I have definitely enjoyed the playing and vacationing so I’m going to settle in for the night, relax a bit and get some rest. Goodnight yall!

Duck, duck, duck… CORMORANT!

Yesterday was a a fun day! Megan and I went to the North Dakota Game and Fish main office to sit on a talk by Bretty Wiedmann on the reintroduction program of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) that started in 1956 when they translocated the California subspecies from British Columbia genetics into North Dakota and more recently the translocation of Montana sheep. And also about the effects that human foot travelers have on ewes and lambs. I am not sure how much I can say about his talk since his work has not yet been published, but overall it was awesome and I learned a lot!

After the talk Dan offered to take us on a tour of the nearby country side and wetlands maintained by NDGF and Ducks Unlimited. The wetlands particularly excited me because I tend to geek out when it comes to ducks. We saw many awesome birds, I won’t bore you with a complete list, but I will list a few of my favorites. We saw double-crested cormorants (Phalacocorax auritus), tons of blue-winged teals (Anas discors), northern shovelers (Anas clypeata), American coot (Fulica americana), Western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis), ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), redhead (Aythya americana), and American white pelican (Pelecanidae erythrohynchos). We did not see my personal favorite duck, the northern pintail, but Dan said they are prevalent in the area, so I’ll have to go back on my own time and search for them. It was a great time and the country side here is absolutely stunningly beautiful!

We ended the night by heading over to Bismarck’s RibFest. I chose my BBQ from a smokehouse from Norfolk, VA since I was just in that area last week to enjoy the beach. It was absolutely delicious! Nom nom nom..

Lightening storms, trailers, and a dead deer

Yesterday, the miles just seemed to fly by unlike Tuesday in which they dragged on and on. I think stopping in Wisconsin to see my big sister, Abby, who I only get to see once in a blue moon sure helped. So feeling refreshed and confident I decided to truck on through and drive the remaining 12+ hours to Bismarck. We finally made it to the North Dakota line, and zoomed through Fargo. Passed Jamestown, 1 1/2 hours remaining and we’ll be there. That’s when I hit my wall and decided to start looking for a hotel and call it a night and plan to do the remaining hour in the morning. Well turns out there is NOTHING between Jamestown and Bismarck so I had no choice but to keep on truckin’. About that I time I hear the emergency service tone on the radio followed by an announcement that a severe thunderstorm was moving from Bismark east containing damaging 60+ mph winds, quarter-sized hail, and copious amounts of rain. I look up and see lightening in the distance.


I really had no choice but to suck it up and face the storm. I have never experience a storm in the plains of the west before. I did not know that lightening could be so intense and so numerous. I felt as if we were surrounded by paparazzi, there were flashes of light everywhere, perfect bolts of lightening crashing from the sky to the earth, and rain so heavy I could hardly see 10 feet in front of the truck. It was amazing – and a tad bit unnerving, needless to stay I was wide awake. We made it through the storm, pulled into Bismark, and found a hotel. It was full. So we started calling every hotel and they all too were booked full. Apparently there is this huge softball tournament going on and every single hotel in Bismark AND Mandan is full. Softball. WTF? Having no other options we pulled into a Walmart parking lot, turned the truck off, and curled up in the tiny seats of our Ford Ranger to try and get some sleep.

I guess the adrenaline from the storm wore off because I actually got some sleep and woke up ready to find out what the next three months of my life is going to contain. Megan and I drove down to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department where we met a bunch of people (all of which are extremely nice and welcoming). They showed us our trailers that will be our homes for the summer and let us settle in.

Let me describe my trailer to you. It is an old FEMA trailer, contains a “master bedroom” with a full sized bed, a kitchenette, table, couch, and a back room with four bunk beds which are being used for storing out field work supplies. Okay that’s not too bad. It’s actually pretty decent. Other than the fact that I have no running water or bathroom. But the machine shop/garage for the ND Game and Fish is right behind my trailer (Yes, I am living in the middle of a parking facility) and contains a bathroom with shower. So, overall it’s not bad, just will take some adjusting having to go next door to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, etc.


Dr. Dan Grove, the wildlife veterinarian here invited Megan and I to participate in a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) necropsy. Of course we both said yes! It was really a cool experience. All of the staff here are incredible and very willing to teach us anything we might be interested in learning. The doe turned out to most likely have died from old age (they estimated her to be 10-12 years old), and her four (yes four) fawns died from starvation. It was a great learning experience and Dan offered to let us know if he has any more necropsys in the future so that we can participate in them as well. I’m hoping for something cool like a mountain lion or moose!

As far as the reason I am in North Dakota, I am still a little unsure of the details. Dr. Serfass should be here on Saturday to further explain our job for the summer. Until then, it’s settling in, meeting the staff of the Game and Fish Department, and exploring our new “home.” Dan and Stephanie told me about an Irish pub just down the road called Blarney Stone Pub which boasts of 30 draft beers, and many different authentic Irish whiskeys – I am pretty stoked about that!

I guess I’m going to go relax read some of the second book in the Hunger Games, and call it a night. Yeah I know, it’s true I got sucked onto the bandwagon. But the books really are good!

Goodnight all!

And so the adventure begins…

Well it’s been a long day to say the least. Today has consisted of a very early morning (4:30am) and around 800 miles of roads, 350+ of which were in Ohio. I didn’t even know Ohio was that long! Okay, well I’m kinda just jumping into things, I guess I probably should start with a little background information to give y’all a feel for why I have traveled over 800 miles today.

First I’ll introduce myself. My name is Johanna, but usually I just go by Jo (it’s easier that way). I recently graduated from West Virginia University with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources and a minor in Conservation Ecology. Now that I have completed college, what the heck do I do with a wildlife degree? I know, go back for more schooling! I have been talking to Dr. Tom Serfass for the past few months about trying to working with him as a master student at Frostburg State University (yes, that means I’d have to live in Maryland for at least two more years). Dr. Serfass’ focus is on carnivore ecology and conservation, sounds perfect for someone who want to dedicate her life to (large) carnivore conservation. His primary species is Lontra canadensis, aka river otters. Okay, so not large carnivores, but still pretty awesome, and not to mention adorable, predators and besides I need to start somewhere. Well not long after commencement at WVU I meet up with Dr. Serfass and he offers me a position that will have me spending the summer in North Dakota doing some sort of work with trail cameras and some human dimension studies on river otters (Lontra canadensis) and beavers (Castor canadensis) (insert your favorite beaver joke here, I’ve heard them all over the past few weeks). But anyway, I figured “sure, why not?”

After a nice beach vacation with my boyfriend, J, down at Virginia Beach, I packed my bags, met up with Megan an undergrad at Frostburg who will be working with me this summer, and hit the road. We actually have made decent time so far and even had the opportunity to stop in Chicago and go to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game – AWESOME! The field was more than I expected and took my breath away with the amount of history it contains.

Chicago, Illinois

We wanted to see the giant chrome bean (not really sure what it is, just know that its huge and super shiny), but didn’t really have the time to go searching downtown Chicago for a bean. We hit the road in search of a hotel cheaper than the ones in Chicago and that leads me to this Super 8 in Hampshire, Illinois where I am currently writing this.

So, that’s pretty much the background and justification as to why I have driven 12 hours to this flat, windy landscape. We are planning on traveling another 10 hours tomorrow and arriving in Bismarck sometime decently early on Thursday.