A gift for the Carrizo Plain pronghorn
March 2005 was a banner year for wildflower displays on the Carrizo Plain. Debbie Bulger is surrounded by acres of goldfields and tidy tips.
Ventana staff photo.
by Louise "Letty" French
The bone-chilling wind drove right through sweats and polypro clothing as a dozen volunteers waited for a radio to direct our next move. We had stopped in a swale on the American Ranch overlooking the vastness of the Carrizo Plain. Cal and Doug had driven ahead on the tenuous dirt road to try to find the closest approach to that elusive fence. I held the radio, which finally spoke, "Come on here." Around the big curve and over the hill, there was the BLM truck.
We grabbed wire cutters, universal fence tools and post pullers and trudged up the ridge to that last section of fence. We needed to pull it down; we could see the animal trails along side where the fence had interfered with their migratory pattern. With the strong incentive to work hard to keep warm and the desire to destroy this fence, this amazing group of 14 volunteers took care of that section in less than 2 hours.
Rolled up barbed wire and heavy T poles were left in neat piles about every 30 yards. Doug Wreden, our volunteer BLM resource person, stated that he would collect them with his ATV which saved us a lot of heavy carrying. As we finished lunch, a shower came down from the black cloud overhead; we piled into the cars and left.
What's next? Doug had the job: a quarter mile of hog wire at the Washburn Center which he had wanted to tear out for a long time. Hog wire is nasty stuff. It's a square mesh of heavy wire sunk about 6-12 inches into the ground and deeply anchored to T-poles. Our group set to work. Many had never seen hog wire, and exclamations warmed the air at the difficulty of freeing it from the T-poles. Half an hour later, we had that bottom half of the fence neatly rolled up and carried over to the maintenance shack. In a few days it would be loaded onto a dump truck and taken to the steel recycling station in Taft.
Ventana staff photo.
"Got anything else, Doug?"
Back up the road six miles to the Sprague road. Here we took down the bottom two wires of maybe half a mile of fence. When that is done, the pronghorn neatly slip under the fence and barely break stride. Eventually, Doug will get a smooth wire laid along the stretch which will be 18 inches above the ground. That keeps the cattle (what cattle?) and the ATVers on the road. So, it's now 3:45 p.m., and Doug has run out of suggestions. We laid a few plans for Sunday. We'll do one more section that Doug has his eye on. Those who want to work can work; those who want to play can play.
Ouch! It was cold! We pulled up to our site in Selby Camp, parked the camper so it shielded the campfire from the wind, and immediately started the campfire. Next came happy hour. When darkness fell, the wind died and the heat from discarded oak logs spread out to warm us. Lots of good food and good conversation along with some chocolate and libation sent everyone to bed tired and happy.
Sunday dawned clear, sunny, and cold. We met Doug at the Visitors' Center again and drove towards the American Ranch. Here was a long stretch of fence just begging to be modified. We yanked the bottom wires off rapidly. Old rotten wire and T-poles give up rather easily. By now, the sun had warmth, and we were ready to go. But Doug had run out of work! OK, time to play!
Craig Deutsche led us on an easy walk to some very interesting areas. One big rock was pockmarked with holes up the face overlooking the Plain. We could clearly see four raptor nests. All were empty this time of year. Underneath one I picked up owl pellets with intact little mice and kangaroo rat skulls. Fascinating.
Finally, it was time to leave. As we came down the road from Selby Camp, there, close on our right beside Soda Lake Road, was a herd of about a dozen pronghorn. They were alertly watching us, and the faint breeze seemed to carry their message, "Thank you so very, very much."
Their thanks go to Doug Wreden, BLM maintenance manager. Our volunteers came from all over: Eric Rorer from Mill Valley, Jane and George Collier from Oakland, Jim VerSteeg from Porterville, Glenn Gragg from Santa Cruz, Tony Loftin from Sacramento, Sid Silliman from Upland, Alice Bond from San Francisco, Greg Frugoli from Cambria, Joan O'Keefe from Atascadero, and Jason Hashmi and Craig Deutsche from Los Angeles. They braved rain and cold and did a fantastic job.
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