The reality is that the global climate is shifting, and the United States is already experiencing erratic severe weather, uncontrollable fires, and diminishing natural resources as a result.  My name is Mary Buford Turnage, I am a current M.S. candidate in Conservation Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, in Massachusetts. My field focuses on the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health, meaning the ways in which changes in a wild or domestic population of animals or plants may impact human public health, and visa versa. In my career, I am interested in integrating this “one health” approach into solutions and strategies aimed at addressing global climate change. At the moment my academic focus is on agricultural desertification and the ways in which altered weather patterns coupled with modern industrial farming techniques are degrading farmland soil and threatening our ability to grow food and raise livestock in the United States.

Me with the sign in for the Colorado-side entrance to Dinosaur National Monument | Photo: Mary Buford Turnage

About a week ago, I moved to Dinosaur National Monument, at the corners of Utah and Colorado, to begin working as a Scientists in Parks (SIP) Fellow. Dinosaur National Monument comprises 211,000 acres in the northern area of the Colorado Plateau. It is characterized by dramatic colorful canyons, its visible array of dinosaur bones and prehistoric petroglyphs, and is the traditional land of the Ute people, therefore having substantial geological, paleontological, and cultural significance.

The canyons are cut by the Yampa River, flowing from the east, and the Green River, flowing from the north, which eventually converge in the park, and ultimately flow south towards the rest of the Colorado Plateau. The Yampa is one of the remaining wild tributaries of the Colorado River system, and the two systems together foster complex river habitats and biological communities, complete with endangered fish and plant species. Wildlife that live here include mountain lions, mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and bears, among others, altogether offering unending opportunities for tourism, education, and research.

I am working on three main projects here, mainly based in GIS mapping software, and fieldwork.  The first project is analyzing and summarizing several years-worth of bighorn sheep data, as part of an intensive long-term herd population assessment. This will assist the park in future development and habitat conservation planning.

Me with my bug net learning how to catch bumble bees during a pollinator survey | Photo: Mary Buford Turnage

Secondly, the Yampa River is experiencing an infestation of leafy spurge, an invasive plant that is rampant in agricultural pastures causing significant economic and ecological damages. I am working on mapping leafy spurge infestation and presence of biological control agents (insects that eat leafy spurge) along the river, and on communicating the challenges and successes of the monument’s management plan to the public.

Third, I am working on a method to collect data on the Ute Ladies’ Tress orchid, the park’s only federally listed threatened plant species. Within Dinosaur, Lodore Canyon on the Green River is one of the largest populations of this flower throughout its range. I’m really excited to learn about these species, contribute to these projects, and explore this place more throughout the summer.

If you’re interested, follow along for updates on my maps and more desert pictures 😊. (twitter = @mbufordturnage) (she/her/hers)


Green Canyon from Harper’s Corner Road at Dinosaur National Monument | Photo: Mary Buford Turnage