SciSun: It takes a Vole-age   4 comments

Life for threatened or endangered species is, understandably, uncertain and any setback or challenge that other, more established plants and animals can overcome could be the end of endangered species that might exist in only one area, consist solely of one population, or otherwise be at the brink of extinction. The Amargosa Vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis), a small mammal living in the California/Nevada desert, is one such species because every vole – estimated at less than 100 remaining in the wild – lives in just a few miles along the Tecopa Lake Basin and the Amargosa River. And as this area is prone to drought; flooding; off-road driving; and earthquakes, the status of the vole is truly on shaky ground.

Yet in the middle of December, an historic collaboration took place that turned weed-infested and in-hospitable land into the perfect vole habitat, possibly turning the corner for success of the species. In the restoration of half an acre of privately owned land (which might not sound like much – less than a third of a usual city block. But as an average vole is only about five inches long and typically home-bodies, that’s lots of room in vole-scale), representatives from the Amaragosa Conservancy; BLM (US Bureau of Land Management); the Shoshone (Native American) Village; the Nevada Conservation Corps; local laborers; and one student conservation intern; with the support of a grant obtained from the California Fish and Wildlife Service; worked together to recover and re-create historic bulrush (wetlands) habitat, which, hopefully within two to three years will grow and establish into marshland habitat suitable for voles; habitat which, although on private land, is set aside for environmental conservation and eco-tourism. And where, you ask, will these voles-without-a-home come from? For years, scientists have been re-creating, as best as possible, vole habitat inside research and holding facilities, where a small population of voles has survived. While not the best situation – plastic pipes and hay-covered floors aren’t exactly a voles preferred lifestyle – young vole pups have been born and many survive into adulthood.

Amargosa vole measurement BLM

“For Christmas, all I asked for is a pair of custom-fitted earbuds. I didn’t know that would require full body measurements.”


The fate of a small mammal in the desert doesn’t seem to matter much, even taking into account any unique qualities, or special environmental niche, or other ‘reasons’ to save a species. The Amaragosa Vole isn’t particularly compelling, like the Elephant, Polar Bear, or Condor, and most of us will probably never even see a vole or be anywhere near their home. But in the protection of one species, it’s being demonstrated – and lessons learned – that the work and interests of many agencies, communities, programs, individuals, and villages can come together for the benefit of all (a type of working together only recently attempted; as many groups and individuals, even when striving toward he same goals, have often set out on their own rather than asking, or accepting, help). Aside from saving a unique and rare species, if that’s one of the results of collaboration, communication, and partnership, it’s something even one little vole can be proud of.


Michonne Says: All these men came together and made homes for the little voles? That seems like a lot of men because the voles are really, really small and men are really, really big. I guess men helping is good, but I hope I never need men to make a home for me. It’s better if the men just don’t change things in the first place, then they won’t have to go back later and make them right.

4 responses to “SciSun: It takes a Vole-age

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  1. It is indeed a shame that so many habitats have been destroyed.

    • One time I had a really nice burrow that had taken me like weeks to dig and it was just right with extra-big sleeping space and even TWO secret escape tunnels. One day I went out to eat some flowers, and when I came back most of the burrow was buried under some gravely-rocks. I’m not blaming anyone, but not too far away the men were building one of those flat hard paths they seem to like so much, and from what I could see, their new path was the same type and color of gravel that had been dumped on my burrow. Thank you for understanding! – Michonne

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