Jack Frost Does Not Like Oregon

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is doing well and having a good time in the new year! January has been quite the busy month here in the Umpqua, but that has really made time fly by! The first few weeks were relatively quiet. We worked on seed cleaning and started the new process of extracting and packaging Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines for an assisted migration project, which addresses their geographic distribution in regards to climate change. It is a monotonous task; however, it does make the time pass because there is always something to be done. At Dorena, there is always something to be done, which I kinda love. I am never bored here.

Buuuuuuut, mid-January a gnarly ice storm hit my area and caused major damage to the community, native deciduous trees, and the power-grid. This storm created a temporary ice rink on every exposed surface and allowed me to slide to the grocery store rather than walking there. Do not get me wrong, it was beautiful, but it was also incredibly dangerous. Although I was lucky and only was without power and water for 6 days, others in the community did not receive their power for almost two weeks. After this experience, I think I take the doomsday preppers a little bit more seriously. This storm left my city in shambles from houses and cars being squashed by trees to fallen telephone lines across roads and sidewalks. Throughout the past few weeks, the community is still recovering and has dramatically increased their supply of firewood.

Post ice storm, Dorena regained power and normal activities returned. We continued on extracting and packaging the Douglases and Pines, but we had the awesome experience of having multiple jobs corps groups and volunteers come in to help the project. It was incredible. The extra hands turned the expected end date from two months to two weeks. Without their help, we would have been extracting and packaging for weeks.

Overall, this month has flown by. I am sure I am missing a few events here and there but that is kinda the gist. There was definitely some good moments, like sowing oaks with everyone in the greenhouses after the storm, which was so fun to drink our coffees and chat, but there were also some learning moments. Life is not life without both sides. This month definitely was a wild ride, but I am excited to see where February takes me. Also unfortunately, last week I did break my laptop; thus, I will have to share all my photos for next month 🙁

Hope y’all have a good February!

Iced in

I’ve never thought of Oregon, especially western Oregon, as having a particularly harsh winter. I was expecting lots of rain, this is the “wet coast” after all, but I still didn’t think it would be harsh like the winters I was used to in Utah and Colorado. I especially wasn’t expecting a winter storm so severe it closed down our nursery for a week due to unsafe driving conditions and a lack of power and water. This wasn’t just a winter storm though, this was an ice storm, and wow it delivered a LOT of ice.

I had never experienced an ice storm before, so I didn’t know what to expect. People who have been here for a while didn’t seem too concerned about it, so I figured it wasn’t much to worry about. I thought “okay, it’ll just be cold for a couple of days, nothing too bad” and things will go on as normal. Plot twist, that is not what happened.

We finished our (first) week of extracting and packing firs and pines with relatively few problems, most of the problems weren’t real problems, we just needed to work the kinks out so we could effectively extract and pack 62,000 trees (yes, 62,000, I know, it’s insane). After a week of putting trees into boxes, I was ready for the long weekend. My co-intern and I had plans for most of the weekend, we were going to go hiking and shopping one day, then go to the coast another. None of those things happened because starting that Friday night, everything was snow and ice covered.

At first we decided to change our hiking plans from Saturday to Monday as it was snowing Saturday when we were supposed to meet up, we figured it was better safe than sorry. Then Sunday came and the road conditions were somehow worse than Saturday, so we cancelled our coast plans and hunkered down in our perspective homes. Fast forward to Wednesday, and my house hasn’t had power since Tuesday night, but it’s starting to warm up and rain at least. By this point, me, my roommates, and all of our neighbors had been trapped in our houses since Saturday and were all going stir crazy, so we all went outside and started shoveling the melting ice so we could try to escape. After hours of shoveling ice in the rain, we had cleared tracks for car tires down our hill to the main road, and after a couple of attempts and fixes, we were able to escape.

This was my first time experiencing an ice storm, and I have to say, I think I prefer the snow that Utah and Colorado produce. This position has been full of a lot of firsts, which has been very exciting, but this is a first I probably could have done without. Oh well, at least now I know to prepare better the next time Oregon has an ice storm.

Christmas Season at the Umpqua

December 2023

Hello dudes, hope everyone is doing well. This internship is flying by and refuses to slow down. This month has been a combination of cleaning seeds and a few other projects like propagation and transplanting. I have worked on Ratibida tagetes, Prunus virginiana, and Achillea millefolium this month, and man are these guys dusty. The propagation of POC and transplanting of Foxtail and Limber pines were exciting and different, which I love. As it grows colder here in Oregon, I have resorted to wearing as many layers as possible, the top number has been 4 jackets (quite cozy honestly but maybe I should buy a wearable sleeping bag at this point).

In my professional opinion, “podcast-studies” should be normalized, like instead of books it’s a podcast. Anyways, my podcast theme this month was murder mysteries with a sprinkle of conspiracy theories. Some favorite topics include the Black Sisters and the theory that Sun Tzu (the supposed author of The Art of War) never existed and is actually a collection of authors. Anywho, there is quite a variety of podcasts to listen to and I cannot wait to explore a few more.

This month has been packed full of festive cheer and incredible sights. I am trying to hike as much as possible, but it seems there are too many things to do in this short amount of time. I have seen some incredibly beautiful waterfalls this month, and I am in love with the forests of the PNW. I am really becoming a weekend warrior at this point, but my hiking boots were made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do. Our office Christmas party was a hit! The food was immaculate. The White Elephant gift exchange was hysterical. Wreath making was gorgeous. Dutch Blitz was riveting. The people were incredible. I think it was the best work Christmas party I have ever been to. In addition to having a blast at Dorena during the Christmas season, I also got to go home and see my family and pups for the holidays. There was telework involved, but researching plants barely counts as working in my opinion. I am quite a fan of learning about plants so it was kind of a holiday treat.

I also have a confession. I told myself I would not fall for it, but I in fact do think Dutch Bros is better than Starbucks. I have truly embraced the culture of the West. It is a hard realization to come to, but I am at peace with it. I am also now addicted to their dirty chai (it is a problem physically and financially). Thank you for understanding and acceptance everyone.

This month did not have any wild or crazy stories just the constant anticipation for the holidays, but the quiet excitement and giddiness around the office was unmatched. As the festive season winds down, the daunting time between January and April, which have minimal holidays, has begun. We will make it through this, but it is going to require a substantial amount of coffee, tea, and a few sweet little treats here and there. Good luck everyone and I will update y’all next month or should I say next year?!

(that joke hurt me too)

bye! 🙂

Stickers and Festivities

December is one of my favorite months of the year, and probably the only winter month I actually enjoy (I’m from the desert, snow and cold aren’t my things). The thing I enjoy most about December is Christmas, for the obvious reasons, but also because it means I get to see my family. There were two things that I didn’t expect to happen this December: one was our office has a holiday party, and the second was that I needed to put stickers on POC cells and it needed to happen fast. Obviously the first one is very exciting, but I wasn’t sure how exciting the second thing would be. Turns out, stickering is fun, satisfying, and pretty relaxing.

The Christmas party that happens at Dorena happens every year, there are even retired employees that come back for it every year, so it’s a big deal. I can’t speak to other years, but this years was so fun! There was so much yummy food, a white elephant gift exchange, paper snowflake making, Dorena trivia, wreath making, seconds on food, and just enjoying an afternoon of fun. Personally, aside from the food, the Dorena trivia was my favorite part of the afternoon. Everyone wrote their own questions about silly things found around Dorena, there were questions about books that have been on a bookshelf in the seed cleaning room for years, questions about Teo (Dorena’s resident cat), questions about posters in the bathrooms, and questions about a long time employees dog, just to name a few. I learned a lot during trivia, but the thing I learned that surprised me the most was that I’m really bad at making paper snowflakes.

Before the Christmas party could happen though, we still had a full week of work to get through. At our normal Monday morning meeting, we found out that all of the POC seedlings had been labeled wrong and that it was very important for us to get them relabeled correctly ASAP. I don’t know how they got labeled wrong, or how the POC biologist found out they were labeled wrong (that’s above my pay grade), but I did know that I was going to be a part of helping to correct the problem. I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about what we were doing, and how many stickers we had to apply to the cells, I was very worried that this was going to be a very long week and not very fun. I was wrong about both of those things.

The seedlings already had tags, so the POC biologist printed out stickers that we needed to apply to the existing tags. The stickers had to be applied in a specific way so they covered the incorrect information on the tags. The stickers were sorted into rolls based on which group of cells they needed to be applied to. Like I said, I was really worried that this was going to be a much less than ideal task, and boy was I wrong. It turns out, that stickering was very relaxing, satisfying, and honestly a bit meditative. Time flew while we were stickering, it took about an hour to do a full rack, and we were doing 3-4 racks a day. I don’t think I’ve ever had 3-4 hours of work go so fast or be so relaxing. It was honestly a great week leading up to the Christmas party, and a nice break from the constant seed cleaning.

Like I said, I knew the Christmas party would be a blast, but I was unsure of the hours of stickering I was going to have to do. That week was one of my favorite weeks here so far, and I’m hoping it only keeps getting better.

Our office Christmas tree.

Start of Something Incredible

Hello everyone! It is so cool to see all the incredible projects and places people are working in right now. My name is Brenn Kurtz, and I work with the Forest Service at Dorena Genetic Center in Oregon. So far, it has been an incredible experience! My position revolves around extracting and cleaning native seeds from different locations along the West Coast, which will be sent back and planted. The focus here is restoration work, and I love it. I feel like I am actually doing something. I have had numerous opportunities to learn other aspects of the nursery and other projects at Dorena. For example, the Port Orford Cedar (POC) conservation project is working to increase the species’ natural resistance to Phytophthora; thus, I have had the opportunity to help with cone collection and serial propagation efforts for this project. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to treat and sow germinating oaks for future nursery stock and dispersal. This position has allowed me to work with species I have not heard of and familiarize myself with the incredible species on the West Coast.

I am a big fan of fieldwork, and this job has the perfect balance of fieldwork and indoor work. I get to help maintain a nursery and research the plants. It is so sick. While cleaning seeds, it is a great time to listen to podcasts and music. I love a good murder mystery podcast or conspiracy theories podcast on a seed-filled rainy day. The other day, I was cleaning Ratibida tagetes and listening about how Antarctica may simply be the guarded entrance to the center of the earth (very scientific arguments obviously). There is never a lack of tasks to do, which I kinda enjoy. I am never bored here and there are always great people to talk to.

There have been so many firsts in this position. First time cleaning seed. First time seeing Oregon. The first time accidentally creating a geyser by tripping over the irrigation system. There have been so many firsts, and this position is truly a plant nerd’s dream (or definitely my dream at least). I get the opportunity to explore Oregon as part of my job. How sick is that! I have met so many incredible people, and I am stoked to see how the rest of this season goes.

Oh my goodness! I almost forgot, but I would also like to say we have an office cat. His name is Teo, and he loves to try and steal mashed potatoes. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!

A Bright Day in a Sea of Change

The end of November means that I’m one month into this five-month internship, and wow has it gone by quickly. I moved to Oregon from Utah for this job, and it came with a lot of life changes, some I saw coming, but others I was unprepared for. I’ve spent this past month learning about Oregon, trying to do as many local things as I can, and of course trying to get as much out of this internship as possible.

My main job here is seed cleaning, but I am not alone in this objective. There is another CLM intern here who I sit and clean seed with for most of the day. We spend a lot of time chatting and getting to know each other (and the Forest Service employees we work with), but we also spend a lot of time listening to podcasts while getting lost in the seed.

Probably the most exciting day of this internship (so far) was the day we got to drive west of Portland to Viento State Park to deliver plants that our Forest Service unit has been growing for a revegetation project in Viento. The day started out cloudy and foggy (as Oregon winter days are apt to do), but by the time we reached the outskirts of Portland, the sun had come out and we were able to see stunning views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens. It was my first time seeing these volcanic mountains, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Eventually we started driving though the Columbia River Gorge, which was absolutely stunning: the fall foliage was in full swing, the waterfalls were pouring, the Columbia River was flowing, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Once we arrived at Viento, the job was fairly simple. We unloaded the plants and sorted them by species so that when the state park employees planted them later, they would know which plants went where. After about a half hour of unloading, we started the drive back to Dorena. On the way back however, we decided that an extra stop was necessary so my co-intern and I could get more acquainted with the local area. We stopped at Multnomah Falls for lunch and enjoyed not just the spectacular views, but watching a Search and Rescue training as well. After taking in the views we started our drive back to Dorena for the second time.

After we passed Portland, the clouds started to move in again, and before we got to Eugene, it was raining again. Another 30 minutes to Dorena, and you would have never known that just a couple hours earlier we were enjoying the sunshine while unloading plants and looking at waterfalls.

There have been a lot of good days in my first month at Dorena, but this was the most memorable. Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, you just have to embrace it and know nothing lasts forever. I’m excited to see where my time at Dorena takes me, and I’m excited for all the things I’m going to learn.

An Ode to Moab

Coming to Moab felt like walking into an old friends house, kicking off my shoes and slouching into a chair that felt like it had been made just for me. As the Colorado River has effortlessly carved its way through this landscape, Moab has just as effortlessly shaped me in the short time I have been here. Just as water to the desert, this place brought so much life and growth to me.

The desert can seem so barren at a glance. It is such a harsh and trying landscape. Flash-floods, rattlesnakes, extreme heat, scarce water, and the list goes on and on. But if you take a closer look, you see that it is actually teeming with life and the creatures and plants that have made their way out here are each strong and unique. There is inspiration everywhere and everything has a lesson to teach you, if you are willing to listen. Every plant has a story to tell about perseverance, every grain of sand was once a part of something bigger than itself and every drop of water has travelled hundreds of thousands of miles and moved mountains to do so.

Canyon Walls

This uniqueness is not just isolated to the desert. When most people think of Moab they think of arches made of red sandstone or the Colorado River running between two massive rusty walls. It is not the mountains that first come to mind. As you make your way up into the La Sals it is very clear that you have found yourself on an island surrounded by a sea of red. These 12,000 foot giants stand tall above the desert floor. As the sun rises in the morning the desert is slowly untucked from their shadowy embrace, setting the desert ablaze with color. No matter where I am, my eyes are always drawn to these mountains. Perhaps it is the way that these mountains are perched so precariously in the middle of the desert that has me so enamored with them.

The La Sals at sunrise

In a few short days I will be packing up my belongings into my car and driving away from the place I have been lucky enough to call home for the past 5 months. I will be bringing a few lessons with me when I go..

  1. Beautiful things can grow out of difficult circumstances.
  2. Mountains can be moved one grain of sand at a time.
  3. Stand tall, even when you are different.
  4. Always bring more water than you think…
  5. Life. Always. Persists.

End of Season

I’ve had a very memorable season this summer with lots of great memories. I want to thank CBG for such a fun opportunity! The end of the season has come, and I have submitted our season’s work! We shipped out all of our leaf tissue for the ERUM plants as well as our Modoc Plateau tissue. We also submitted a ton of seeds! A massive box of just seeds was shipped out.

Our 3 boxes for this season’s work!

Our last week of the job, Beth and I went to wilderness first aid training in Bend Oregon! It was very fun and we ate some good food, as well as staying in a very nice pink hotel:).

We learned a ton about wilderness first aid, and it was some extremely valuable information. I am very grateful that we got to do this training. We learned how to bandage and pack wounds, as well as pop back in dislocated joints. We learned how to properly assess a wilderness injury and situation. We did a lot of simulations with injured people and fake injuries with fake blood and bruises! I had a great time having a serious stomach injury and not responding to my rescuers :).

Thanks again for a great season! It was so amazing meeting all of you and I hope to cross paths with all of you again someday!

Fall Flames

I had an unexpected end to my season in the Lincoln National Forest. The looming government shutdown had me holding my breath, wondering how I would spend my last month. On top of that, Evie had been called for jury duty and was planning on leaving early. In a turn of events, both were avoided. We finished this month strong with seed collecting and grazing allotment vegetation surveys. During our “off” days, we helped Range with allotment surveys. We followed the “Common Non-Forested Vegetation Sampling Protocol” (CNVSP), which collects data on vegetation composition, species richness/abundance, ground cover conditions, and dry-weight composition. I’m glad we were able to help out with these surveys, as they flexed our growing botanist muscles. Every plant in the survey needs to be keyed out, meaning no plant gets left behind. It’s tough keying plants because of how dry everything is. Not many species have fruits or foliage left (if they had any to begin with).

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) along the Sunspot Highway

The forest has been ablaze this month (in color, not flames). The aspens, insects, and sun have taken the edge off the evening chill with their fiery displays. I’m used to fall in Ohio, where you’d be lucky to have a single day without a cloud in the sky. Here in New Mexico, that’s a common occurrence. The annular eclipse, however, was not. On the morning of Saturday, October 14th, the moon waltzed in front of the sun. I met up with Evie and Spencer (a Natural Resources technician with the Forest Service) at Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Roswell. The path of totality fell directly on Bitter Lakes, meaning we could see the infamous “ring of fire.”

We patiently waited for the first sliver of celestial shadow to appear in the upper right corner of the sun. An astronomy hobbyist graciously let us borrow his hydrogen telescope for a better look. Not only could we see the moon’s outline, but also sunspots and solar prominences. As the eclipse progressed towards totality, the Refuge started to hum with excitement from fellow eclipse watchers. Yet, the air had its warmth steadily drained as the solar energy was blocked by the moon. It was the same temperature–if not cooler–as when we had arrived at 8 a.m. Time sped up and slowed down. Shadows behaved strangely, masquerading as miniature displays of the eclipse overhead. Because it was an annular eclipse, the sun was never entirely blocked by the moon. Plenty of light made its way around the moon’s edges, making it unsafe to look at without eye protection. Totality lasted 4 minutes but felt much shorter. The eclipse wasn’t inherently spectacular to a layperson, but the shared experience of such a unique moment made it memorable.

This season was filled with other memorable moments, from seeing my first Mexican spotted owl or looking for Sacramento Mountain salamanders to nearly getting hypothermia while participating in a Hawkwatch survey (everyone underestimated how cold it would be). I’m grateful for the wonderful memories, lessons learned, and friends I’ve made along the way.

I may be leaving Lincoln National Forest and Ruidoso, but my time in New Mexico is not done! I will be working in Carlsbad, NM, as a Botany Support Specialist (through Conservation Corps New Mexico) with the Bureau of Land Management immediately following this position. There, I hope to use what I learned about seed collecting and the flora of New Mexico to assist other Seeds of Success (SOS), Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM), and Special Status Plant Species (SSPS) crews with their work.

End of Season Wrap-Up

Last month on the job was melancholy (in the best way). Since the last blog post, I have had quite the odd work schedule since I needed to readjust my time to extend my end date.

To start off, I got to hang out with Dan and Levi one last time at the rose garden before their season ended! I’m so grateful that this job connected us, and we made some great memories this summer! Good luck on your next adventures!!

Next, I went on a trip with my dad to Winnemucca to see the total solar eclipse! It was spectacular, and we got to catch up with family. It was a wonderful but short trip!

I then immediately went with Marguerite, Bebe, and Nyika back down to Reno to monitor the common gardens and do some weeding. We put in some good work on the garden, and got through a lot of weeding. We also spent time after work exploring Reno (since I’ve never been there), and we also visited Lake Tahoe right at sunset, which was spectacular. This was my last trip with the RMRS crew (minus Joe), and I’m so glad that I got to spend the season working with such tough, inspiring, and hilarious coworkers. Thank you guys for such an amazing season and I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish!

Then, both Elric and I extended our season to go to Wilderness First Aid training (thank you Jessica!). Elric and I drove down to Bend, Oregon on Halloween to get ready for the training. We had some great food, hung out and learned a lot about wilderness first aid scenarios. I’m thankful that we were able to get this training since it may come in handy someday!

Thank you Elric for such a wonderful season. I had such a great time with you on all of our adventures together, and I’m so thankful that this job connected us. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

This season was so successful and busy, and I am so thankful for everyone that I met from this job. Thank you Jessica for being such a wonderful mentor and pushing me to try new things, meet new people, and give me so many wonderful opportunities throughout this season. I appreciate you! Thank you to the RMRS crew for helping us with seed collection and having a great time being in the field. You all taught me so much and I am forever grateful that I met all of you! Thank you Monica and Chris for all of your help in the preseason and during this season, you both are amazing and I appreciate you both!

This was such an amazing season! RMRS Crew 2023!!

RMRS Office