Hitch Ten saw the WildCorps cohort returning to the Palm Springs field office to conduct some of the most anticipated work of the season: tortoise monitoring. While all of our work has at least indirectly involved the desert tortoise, this was our first project directly working with the animal that the DRC has come to love and idolize. This particular project involved surveying a square kilometer parcel of land in the Palen McCoy wilderness, looking for any traces of tortoises on the desert floor. While attempting to slowly walk in a straight line for one kilometer and inspect the 10 meters surrounding your grounded graze (much harder than it sounds for some), any traces of tortoise—scat, burrows, tortoise carcasses, bone fragments, tortoises in the flesh—must be recorded in a GPS device and categorized in our handy-dandy tortoise dictionary. The particular site of our survey happened to be a fascinating, albeit dangerous, historic site; nestled within the dense ironwood forests, steep canyons, bajadas, and desert pavement of the Palen McCoy Wilderness hid the leftovers of General Patton’s WWII Camp Granite, just one camp a part of the larger Desert Training Center. Shells and landmines littered the ground of the camp that was used by the United States Military intermittently between 1942 and 1964. On the tortoise front, we managed to find quite a few instances of fresh scat, and inactive and active burrows. The second part of the hitch involved monitoring and effectiveness monitoring in the Palen McCoy Wilderness and the Big Maria Mountains Wilderness. We monitored sites that had previous restoration done as well as sites that had solely been monitored on their OHV activity. Fortunately, most of the sites that had been restored within the past 8 years had remained intact, and many sites with installed signs or previous monitoring had improved naturally. Seeing how well the restoration of these Wilderness areas has held up was an encouraging moment for me, as we (along with the rest of Wild Corps and the DRC) have been doing projects with fates that are up to the public and their respect for their public lands. On the last day of hitch, we helped BLM contact Beth Wood at the Big Morongo Canyon Preserves spring celebration with environmental education, and conducted some wildflower-themed arts and crafts. Lauren and Parker took turns as Smokey the Bear in the federally funded Smokey the Bear costume, and both exhibited some dance moves that gives the slogan “Get Your Smokey On” a whole new meaning. Getting out and interacting with the public in the land we have been living working was a great and relaxing end of the hitch, and gave us all a chance to take prom-style pictures with Smokey without feeling ashamed.
May 21, 2013 •