Delving into grasslands of Northeastern New Mexico Delving into grasslands of Northeastern New Mexico
28 July 2021

Delving into grasslands of Northeastern New Mexico

Written by: Cole Bleke

I’m approaching three weeks completed at Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge (Rio Mora NWR) through the Directorate Fellows Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The shortgrass prairie landscape of Northeastern New Mexico really has grabbed my attention. My office is conveniently located on a rise overlooking a large chunk of the refuge and it will not get old. I get to see and hear a lot from that window. The biodiversity of this landscape is really eye-opening, from plants all the way up to large herbivores like bison. I’ve seen lots of insects, from grasshoppers to cicadas to pollinators, wildflowers, and ungulates like pronghorn, elk, and bison. I have been greeted with a multitude of rainstorms passing through which has turned this landscape a vibrant green.

My background coming into this project focused on ruminants and ruminant physiology, different feeding types, and their relationship with the habitat. Ruminants are a hooved mammal with a multi-chambered stomach that enables them to digest plant matter with the assistance of microbes in their rumen. Ruminant feeding type is dictated by their body size and rumen size. This project is challenging me to flip flop that focus, a bottom-up approach, to the grasslands and the factors and disturbances that play a role in structure and diversity. Bison came with the donation of the land to become this refuge and are being used as a tool to promote healthy grasslands on the refuge. I’ve had the chance to meet with multiple stakeholders that are involved with the refuge, its grasslands, and subsequently the bison. My task is to incorporate their work with current science to develop a grassland assessment to enhance and promote grassland communities and resiliency on the refuge.

This project combines my scholastic background with a passion of mine. Growing up in a rural area, I’ve always been interested in grazing animals and, more recently, regenerative/holistic grazing management. My summer internship grants me the ability to mold the two into an . This opportunity, granted by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the USFWS, will give me the chance to learn about different programs within the service and their responsibilities, as well as potential future employment. I feel very fortunate to have been offered this position.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area

MANO Project
is an initiative of Hispanic 
Access Foundation.

P: (202) 640-4342