Tracking Nevada Wildlife With Biologist Travis Allen
From the rugged bighorn sheep scrambling atop rocky ridges on high peaks, the Greater Sage-Grouse living in seas of sage stretching as far as the eye can see, to the Devils Hole Desert Pupfish endemic to one geothermal pool in Death Valley. Nevada wildlife has truly bears it all in this Great Basin state.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a Biologist in the State of Nevada, working primarily with ungulate species such as Rocky Mountain Elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and mountain goat. A mix of animals not found in many other states. There are actually three different species of bighorn in Nevada: Desert Bighorn, California Bighorn, and Rocky Mountain Bighorn, all calling different types of mountainous habitats their own.
I spend much of my time tracking these animals, and in a way I see the lives of these populations unfold every year. From when they have their babies in the spring, to their migrations between summer and winter ranges, and when their life comes to an end I’m often out discovering how they passed, whether it be old age, predation, or a winter that proved too harsh.
The past four springs I’ve been a part of five different radio collaring projects focused on newborns: four seasons radio collaring mule deer fawns, and one collaring Desert Bighorn lambs.
These research projects aimed to discover what types of habitats and resources mothers chose to give birth and raise their young in, and how that translates to survival.
A couple months spent tracking pregnant bighorn sheep proved to be a challenge. Each morning, hours were spent glassing face after face of steep, rocky, sage covered mountains until our target ewe was located. Like a special ops team of two, we would take turns guiding each other through radio ear pieces in on the ewe and her baby, the sneak was on. Circumnavigating the mountain to get close enough not to scare off the mom can take hours.
The closer you get the slower you move; these animals spend their entire lives avoiding predators, so sometimes it takes an hour to move 30 feet, but patience is key when trying to radio collar baby bighorn. Then the moment comes, close enough to spook mom but still catch the lamb, it happens fast. Measurements are taken, the tiny collar is fitted, and down the mountain we ran. Handling time we’re always targeted to less than 7 minutes to not have any negative effects between mom and lamb. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Just like every season being unique, so is every day. One day I’ll be tracking back in on that mother bighorn sheep to check on how her and her new lamb are doing, the next I’ll find myself at 11,000 feet searching for a Mountain Goat who didn’t make it through the winter, or in the foothills for the mule deer that just couldn’t outrun a mountain lion. The best part of all this exposure my job puts me through is the places I get to experience it in. I often find myself hiking through parts of Nevada I never knew existed, the type of places you’d miss in the blink of an eye from the highway. With peaks reaching over 13,000 feet tall and valleys below 500 feet Nevada truly has it all. It’s not until you’re on foot hiking up ridgelines and drainages in these remote corners of the state that you realize their beauty. And when you’re tracking wildlife in total silence, you notice so much more.
Entering into their world under the radar, there’s nothing like being there when they have no clue you are. You see their true behavior, their personality, their life. A mother nursing her young, devoting so much of her resources to her future generations. Two young bucks playfully sparring, practicing for the ruthless encounters to get a mate in their future. Goats jumping and spinning, shredding their winter costs. This is what makes the long days trekking across the rough, but beautiful, terrain that Nevada is worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And while I’m still fairly fresh into my career, I have decades of trudging Nevada wilderness ahead of me. Watching these animals through their struggles and triumphs each year has given me a whole new perspective on Nevada wildlife. It is such a rewarding and enjoyable experience to be apart of wildlife management in this incredible state, and is something that just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.