Fire in the hole!

Okay, so we spent the entirety of the day yesterday doing bridge surveys with Dr. Serfass so he can show us what we need to be looking for and how to conduct the surveys. We found lots and lots of raccoon signs and scat, beaver signs in almost all of the sights we surveyed, but unfortunately, no otter signs. I really was not expecting to find beaver dams on some of our sights. One of them had virtually no trees within a good distance of the dam. It’s amazing how they were still able to find food and material to build their dams. Most of these sights they had bank holes instead of lodges, which make sense.


We had a huge storm flirting with us all day, but it only ever rained on us. Occasionally we could see distant lighting and even saw a beautiful rainbow. Unfortunately the L.L. Bean hiking boots that I have had for the past three years and have had issues with for the last three years decided to destroy my feet yet again. So I am waving the white flag and have decided that I will never be able to break these boots in. So that means I’m currently in the market for new hiking boots. Suggestions??

Now today was pretty dang sweet! USDA Wildlife Services invited us to help out on a dam removal that they were hired to do by the railroad company. There was a beaver dam that had backed up a creek running alongside of the tracks causing potential danger of flooding over the tracks, or the water weakening the tracks stability which could be disastrous. The beaver were removed from the area not to long ago, but the dam remained. John gave us a nice chemistry lesson in the explosives that they use for dam removal. We used five 1 1/2 pound explosives with three main chemical components. They even let me mix two of the explosives!

Each explosive was inserted into the dam at specific locations to ensure the safest, most controlled blast. Then we wired up the fuse to a safe distance, Jeremy hollered “fire in the hole!!” then the button was pressed and BOOM!!!! The dam exploded mud and wood high into the air. Instantly the impoundment water started rushing down stream and the water lever dropped rapidly. It was really impressive.


… after

After all the excitement we went back to the office and did the boring work of typing up the surveys that we will use for the human dimensions aspects of our work. We did learn of another project that we could do if we wanted. I jumped on it! Dr. Serfass offered to let me do a diet analysis of fishers (Martes pennanti) which has not been done in North Dakota before. This would include dissecting a sample of fisher stomachs and analyzing the contents. While that might not sound to glorious to a lot of you, I am very excited about it. I am hoping to find something that I can possibly create a thesis off of instead of doing my thesis of the results of the surveys on different groups’ opinions of beavers.

Oh and I forgot to mention, I saw a jackrabbit last night and again today. I’ve never seen one before. They are HUGE! At first it was dusk and I had absolutely no idea what this odd creature was running in the road in front of the Ford Ranger (who Megan named Rick, get it Ranger Rick?). So pretty neat, another new mammal to my list.

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!