||Evan and Erin bid their domestic zoo goodbye and
struck out to the wilds of Washington.
Their seldom-used tent and sleeping bags slung into their
yuppy TDI Jetta VW. Their
Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,000 acre basin in the middle of
nowhere. They were
answering the call of the US Government (namely the Fish and
Wildlife Dept.) for transect-walking, hip-wader-garbed volunteers
(most of who arrived in “rigs”… ‘cept us.
Even the well-graded entrance to the refuge gave our chassis
||In this basin, those concerned for the welfare of
elk, beaver, deer, sand hill crane, bald eagles and spotted frogs
are pitted against the dry-ground loving landowners who live for hay
and bovines. The
refuge-proper is composed of a patchwork of holdings interspersed
with private farms. The
entire basin is within the disputed (federally recognized, state
ignored) tribal territory of the Yakama Native Americans.
|In the shadow of Mt. Adams, WA
Evan and Erin hunted the endangered, elusive, slippery, cold
blooded (I better say ectothermic or I’ll be laughed out of the
field of herpetology), green-eyed beauties that are the spotted
frog, Rana prettiosa. In
fact, these critters are so elusive we census their sessile egg
masses instead of the mobile adults.
But if you think locating eggs sounds like a walk in the
swamp, try locating the egg masses in these pictures….
||If Nature had her way and the rains were what
they are supposed to be, our job would have been to walk the
perimeter of a large lake, scanning for the egg masses in 15cm of
water. Instead, humans
have to have their canals and some years have to be drought years,
which left us to walk most of the 6,000 acre would-be-lake-floor.
||Foolishly, naively, egotistically Evan and Erin
volunteered for the hard section of Conboy… the part that Joe
Engler described as “hip high crap.” “I thought that was just
an expression,” Evan later said.
The basics of our task: methodical heads-down probing of
puddles, pools, ponds, systematically covering every bit of
territory, 9 to 5. The
reality of it: leaping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass because
between was wader-flooding depths of water, eyes straining to locate
camouflage eggs in murky flooded fields (big big fields), dragging
our boot-clad legs through miles of water, luckily avoiding beaver
runs but still getting wet for your efforts.
Perks? The day
turned out to be clear with sun and a beautiful view of Mt Adams.
||Our lodgings for the night were not as timeless
or stoic as the settlers homestead (18something impressive).
We rested our weary bones on the unforgiving hard hard
ground, the ground that was so so hard.
|But our kitchen was far superior to that of the
pioneers. And we had prime
access to the latrine!
The second day was easy on the legs but the day
was bleak with slate gray sky and omnipresent mist that developed
into a full-fledged drizzle at intervals.*
Numb fingers made it difficult to write the gibberish that
was scientific data:
HQ2CN 14-3 Stage 2,2,3
18 III 2001
located several egg masses and I ended the day by capturing a female
previously PIT tagged! We
also witnessed a bald eagle take flight.
||Our guides/hosts deserve our highest esteem.
The Fish and Wildlife workers were committed to this, their
job for more than just two days.
“Dan” led us through the first day with speed agility and
accuracy that left us in awe (and left me thinking of an experiment
testing the effects of tobacco juice on the development of amphibian
we survived, learned much and will be recovered in time for
the next year’s census.
you’re standing in a foot of water in constant rain. Your
body might be dry thanks to Gortex but can you really ever FEEL dry?