Bank angle, embeddedness, bankfull height, canopy cover… These are just a few of the parameters that I will be measuring this summer as part of the Western Rivers and Streams Assessment (WRSA). Training is in full swing in northern Utah, and each day of this past week has been marked by long hours wading up and down streams in rain, hail, and most recently, the hot sun. The days have also been marked by considerable learning, getting to know my fellow technicians, and beautiful landscapes. Throw in a weekend camping and climbing trip, and it’s been an exhausting but productive past seven days.
To start, why? Why have I spent 60 hours of the past week learning how to calculate the slope of a stream reach, collect benthic macroinvertebrates, and assess bank stability? The WRSA project aims to complete the first comprehensive assessment of the health of stream and river systems on public land in the American west. Yes, you have read correctly. Surprisingly, this is the first study of its kind. Sporadic assessments and regional sampling have been completed in the past, but a robust data set collected using a uniform and standardized protocol has yet to be completed. Unlike in the east, vast tracts of public land (primarily BLM) exist in the western states. Much of this land is managed for multiple uses such as cattle grazing, logging, mining, and recreation. Determining the impacts that these activities have on stream and watershed health, as well as establishing a reliable set of baseline data, is the goal of the WRSA project. This summer is the culmination of three years of fieldwork, and once data analysis has been completed, the trends observed will be used by the BLM to better allocate funding to protect or restore the most degraded stream systems.
As mentioned previously, training has been intense, but in a good way. It’s been great be able to take the theoretical knowledge and basic principles that I learned in classes this past semester and apply it in the field to complete the structured assessment protocol the BLM is using to evaluate streams. The first couple of days of training consisted of rotating stations in which we learned different sections of the sampling protocol: things from how to identify and measure pools to how to perform a visual riparian characterization of each stream bank. The last few days have focused on combining all of the steps of the protocol and sampling sites in their entirety. Tomorrow we graduate to sampling and assessing an entire reach (150m divided into 11 transect sites).
So far training has been 90% outdoors with only a couple of indoor sessions, like learning how to use a fancy ipad app (it’s super cool and designed especially for this project) and looking at a powerpoint of rivers in other geographic areas (accompanied by delicious Indian food no less). The rest of the time we have learned by doing, which happens to be in the beautiful canyons outside of Logan. There’s really not much to complain about. I can make case against the watered down 3.2% Utah beer, but if that’s the only complaint at the end of the day, I’d say life is looking pretty good. Training continues the rest of this week for the entire group, and since I will be on a specialized boating crew I also have additional training next week, and will leave on my first hitch soon after. It’s only been a week, but I’m excited for the rest of the summer to come!