Hitch 1: Range

Project Lead: Joe Duszak
Members: Stephanie Kopfman

There’s something oddly satisfying about working in an area that few people will ever have the pleasure of experiencing, and I’d have to say our Range hitch was exactly that.

Because the Salmon-Challis functions as a multi-use forest, various areas have been designated as pasturelands serving primarily cattle, but occasionally big horn sheep and horses. Beginning in the 1960s, these ranges were studied in an attempt to delineate areas of similar vegetation types. The study continued through the 1980s, and has been recently re-opened in order to assess vegetation changes over time.

For our hitch, we used a variety of topographical data, GPS units, field notes from the 1960s (some spot on and some… not even remotely accurate) and some old-fashioned brain power to navigate the rangelands of the Morgan Creek allotment and conduct involved vegetation transects. Our Forest Service contact, Faith Ryan, provided us with maps of the area, transect data from the 60s and 80s to re-assess, and more plant knowledge then we could every keep track of! It’s really overwhelming to quantify such expansive plant biodiversity.

After reaching our destination, we recorded various notes about the location, including elevation, slope, aspect, direction of travel, etc. Paying careful attention to avoiding any environmental or man-made obstacles (fences, ponds, roads, boulder fields), we began a 4-600ft transect along the contour line of each area. After each pace (2 steps), we dropped a vertical pin flag to ground level and recorded any flora that the flag intersected on its descent. Some of the common vegetation in the rangelands included sagebrush, Idaho Fescue, alpine pussytoes, numerous wildflowers, and more varieties of grasses than you could imagine. Once we completed 100 points, we moved uphill a few meters and ran another 100 back towards our origin.

Over the course of our hitch, we completed 12 transect lines and soaked in the scenes of the Salmon-Challis uplands. While the novelty of seeing grazing cattle wore off within a few hours (and even became a nuisance…cows are really big fans of just laying down in the middle of the road), we were consistently surprised by the endless views of the Bitterroots, whether or not our Durango would actually make it up the next rock-infested hills, and just how many plants we wouldn’t be able to identify (43!). Possibly the greatest highlight of the hitch was stumbling upon a herd of horses and having one of them come within 6 feet of us… I would also say this qualifies as the most terrifying part of the hitch for me, though Steph would disagree. I prefer horses behind fences.

Anyways, it was quite the adventure for our first hitch, and definitely a memorable one.