Small Mammal Trapping in Alpaugh: Tippmann Kangaroo Rats
The vast majority of our time in Alpaugh was spent destroying Bassia. Thankfully however, that assignment wasn’t the total of what we accomplished while living there. A month after we arrived at Atwell Island the BLM scientists there began working on a grazing study that they’d been conceptualizing for awhile and we were quickly drafted to help them. Unfortunately for the BLM employees there is a hard cap on the number of hours that proper government employees can work, as interns we had a bit more flexibility in our workload and so we were able to fill in on shifts that they wouldn’t have been allowed too.
As I’ve mentioned before (I believe) the BLM leases its lands to ranchers for grazing. The ranchers can support more cattle that way and the BLM makes a tidy profit off the arrangement. However, the BLM isn’t a ranching organization, their job is land management, and so it falls to them to decide how much grazing is too much, and where the lines should be drawn.
One such line surrounds the habitat of the threatened Tippmann Kangaroo Rat. As a threatened species, the preservation of their habitat is crucial. In theory, Kangaroo Rats thrive in areas of scrub land. Too much ground cover hampers their movement from place to place and too little makes them easy targets for owls and coyotes. Since there are no native grazers to maintain a vegetative level condusive to Kangaroo Rat habitat near Atwell Island, the BLM thought to bring in cattle to mimic a natural process.
The studies purpose was to determine how much grazing would be optimal for Kangaroo Rat populations. Simple really. Our job was to go out just before sundown to bait the hundreds of Kangaroo Rat traps (Kangaroo Rats of all species are nocturnal), then return at sun up to help the BLM scientists check the traps and release the captives before they died of dehydration in their tiny metal prisons. It was a constant race against the clock since we had no interest in attempting to set traps in full dark (its exactly as unfun as it sounds), nor did we want any of our rare charges to expire during the day.
Captured rats were identified, weighed, sexed (male or female, fertile or not), and tagged. In time the researchers will be able to determine the new “best practice” for grazing lands that support Kangaroo rats, hopefully they find the answers they seek before the population sinks too much lower.