Project Location: Arivaca, Arizona
Project Partner: University of Arizona and US Fish and Wildlife Service
Hitch Accomplishments: Removal of 6,988 invasive bullfrog tadpoles from critical habitat for the listed and endangered species.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018: For week seven of the 16-week Phoenix Field School program, the crew headed to southern Arizona to assist the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and research biologists from the University of Arizona (UA) with conducting vital aquatic invasive species management with the capture and removal of the invasive American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianu) to help native and endangered species, such as the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog, and the Northern mexican gartersnake flourish (species whose numbers have been drastically impacted and deteriorated due to predation from the invasive American bullfrog). On Tuesday morning, the crew met at ACYR at 7:00 a.m. and after conducting the weekly truck and trailer maintenance check, began the long drive down to Arivaca, AZ, located less than 20 miles from the US-Mexican border. After meeting with the Chris and Jace, field biologists from the UA (this week’s project sponsors), the crew dropped off the trailer at the campground located in Coronado National Forest before heading to the worksite. At the worksite – a cattle tank located 10 minutes southeast of the crew campsite- the crew conducted stretch and safety circle, led by Douglas, this week’s co-hitch leader. The crew then learned how to properly operate the seine net, as well as how to identify and handle the invasive and non native tadpoles and mosquito fish. Chris and Jace demonstrated how to position and operate the net as well as how to move swiftly while handling the wildlife. After conducting a seine run, the crew collected the captured specimens. The mosquito fish were temporarily returned to the pond in order to reduce the number of mosquitoes present during the warmer months. Mosquito fish are also an introduced species in Arizona and are an unfortunate competitor to the endangered Gila topminnow. Both fish species appear the same and serve similar roles in the environment, however mosquito fish are cannibalistic and will ingest their young. Gila topminnow young will mistake adult mosquito fish as parents or a part of their community and end up being ingested which results in a major depletion to the native fish species population. Federal and state land agencies work together with ranchers to procure topminnow for tanks, though the process can be challenging and expensive due to its endangered status. The bullfrog tadpoles were removed from the net by the crew members and placed in five gallon buckets with water before further removal. The crew broke for lunch around 1pm before getting back to work around 1:30pm. The crew continued on working together with repeated hauls of the seine net across the tank until 5:00 p.m., removing 4007 with 14 seine net passes. The crew returned to the campsite, set up tents and the cooking area and debriefed the day. The crew enjoyed a dinner of grilled cheese and spinach orzo soup and awed at the glittery shimmer of the night sky.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018: The Field School crew began their Wednesday workday at 8:30 am with a stretch and safety circle led by Douglas prior to driving down to the day’s worksite (two tanks that had not yet been visited). Two passes with the seine net produced no finds (neither mosquito fish nor tadpoles) in the first tank. One pass produced no finds in the second tank. The crew decided to let the net dry out in the sun prior to returning to the larger tank from the previous day that yielded a large number of invasive tadpoles. While waiting for the net to dry, the crew took discussed the FWS Safe Harbor Agreement, as well as other initiatives that would encourage private landowners to modify or remediate parts of their property to accommodate endangered and native animals species. Once the net was dried, the crew returned to the tank from the previous day meeting up with two BLM ACE interns, Kam and Sarah who came to join the project efforts. The crew, along with Kam and Sarah, jumped right back into project mode and began completing 11 seine passes collecting and removing 1124 invasive tadpoles before calling it a (successful) day and returning to camp for a dinner of coconut curry.
Thursday, March 8, 2018: On Thursday morning, the crew began the workday once again at 8:30am with stretch and safety and returned to same stock tank to put in a final full day of work. The crew continued pulling tadpoles from the net and returning mosquito fish to the pond. The occasional juvenile bullfrog was scooped up and taken aside and disposed of by those who were comfortable with the task. The crew was met by BLM ACE interns and Field School Alumni, Kam and Sam around 11:00 am who assisted in the hauling of the seine net and the removal of the captured tadpoles. The crew broke for lunch around noon for thirty minutes before putting in three more hours of work, collecting and removing 1857 invasive tadpoles with 15 seine net passes. Kam and Sam assisted until they needed to leave at 2:00pm to return to the BLM. The crew continued until 3:30pm when Chris, UA Field Biologist and project sponsor declared a successful day and that the crew had already saved him and his field partner a solid month or so of labor. After saying thank yous and goodbyes, the crew headed back to camp as Chris headed back to Tucson to input the project data. The crew settled down for the night, debriefing the project and the work week. The crew discussed different perspectives regarding invasive species management as well as the overall nature of plant and wildlife management. The crew ate a quick dinner of creamy avocado pasta, cleaned up camp, drove to a vantage point and enjoyed a beautiful sunset before returning to camp for some hot chocolate and laughs. The crew went to bed with some hot nalgenes for warmth for the chilly desert night to be ready for an early rise the next day.
Friday, March 9, 2018: On Friday morning, the Field School crew was up and at ‘em at 5:30am to break down camp, eat breakfast, pack lunch and road snacks and participate in Douglas’s education lesson on locating missing persons in the backcountry. After taking up the truck and trailer, the crew began the drive back to Phoenix, arriving at the BLM around lunch time. The crew separated to take on the various tasks of their first complete de-rig and finished up entirely by 2:30 pm. Afterwards, BLM Youth Coordinator, Lawrence and Associate District Manager, Patrick met with the students and debriefed the project and week before heading back to ACYR to complete timesheets to conclude the work week.