About emily.hutch

Grew up in Westborough, MA. Graduated from University of Maryland, College Park (the one with the turtle mascot) with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Conducted research in marsh ecology during undergrad and plans to attend grad school in Fall 2012. Currently working at the BLM field office in Lewistown, MT as a wildlife field tech and would love to work for Interior in the future.

Looking Back on 5 Wild months in Central Montana

My CLM internship in Lewistown, Montana has been a formative, fun and deeply educational experience. Having lived my whole life in the urban areas of the East Coast, coming out West was like traveling to another world; a contrast which provided me with as many learning opportunities as my internship with two BLM Wildlife Biologists. During the last five months I have been able to come to many conclusions about myself and what I want in my future, as well as learn about the inner workings of a federal agency and how the “other half” of Americans live. It was some good country fun.
To begin, within my 872 hours of work I was able to gain many unique skills and get a clear impression of what it was like to work for the BLM, both as a Wildlife Biologist and many other positions. I am now familiar with the mission and goals of the agency- not only sustainable extraction of mineral, wood and range resources, but also a new push towards maintaining biological diversity at an ecosystem level. As my mentor has pointed out several times, since no other agency controls such vast stretches of land, we have unique opportunity to create landscape-level impacts. There are many ways to fit into this picture depending on what part you want to focus on- wildlife, water, plants, fire, range, forest, minerals, P.R. and others.
To the great benefit of my resume and future career growth I gained experience not only in wildlife surveying techniques and tracking, but a great deal of GIS use and mapping, PR and writing, project planning and off-road driving. With such a large Field Office as Lewistown I benefited from the diversity of experts available to work with, as well as the encouragement of my mentor for me to pursue whatever projects interested me. This array of experience (about twenty projects with a dozen different employees) allowed me to better explore what I enjoy doing and am good at- perhaps the best information you can be armed with when going out job-hunting. I am very grateful for the patience, guidance and kindness of both the Biologists I worked with, who often let me tag along with their field work and spent many hours teaching to me drive trucks, conduct surveys and think for myself.

The time spent outside of my work hours were equally valuable. I was able to travel to many iconic National Parks; places I had always dreamed of visiting, and became aware of my own frailty against such vast stretches of wilderness (i.e. the importance of good preparation!) I was able to do a lot of thinking, and decided upon importance of family to me (therefore the need to live closer to them in the future) and my readiness to attend graduate school for Natural Resource Management. I also got to experience what rural American values and life entail; the emphasis on independence, hard-work and self-reliance, an enjoyment of outdoor activities and the gathering of friends at Friday-night bars and Saturday-afternoon pig roasts. In the end I am not sure that I belong in this world, but I am thankful to all of the generous people who welcomed me with open arms into their community. I have enjoyed my summer tremendously.
During a talk with my mentor a few weeks ago he described my current methods as ‘stumbling through life’, as he had when he was a young man. But I disagree with his description- I would argue that my lack of distinct goals are adaptive- I am being flexible in a difficult job market, and perhaps a little ‘stumbling’ is the best way to get through. For the moment, I am open to whatever new opportunities may come my way, and eager for an experience which may teach me as much as the last 5 months have. Thank you so much, Chicago Botanic Garden, for giving me this opportunity. If you are reading this post as a prospective applicant, I would highly recommend the Program and Lewistown field office in particular.

Summertime Point Counts

Although I have been helping people in my office to reintroduce native plants (sage brush, buffalo berry and winterfat), check exclusions fences around campsites on the Missouri River, do call surveys for raptors and other odds and ends, my main task lately has been conducting point counts for birds.
Point counts are a tool often used by wildlife biologists to estimate bird populations, and they work like this- make a transect line (often a road or trail) and stop periodically to listen and look for birds, then record what species you found and how many of each. This by no means gives you hard figures, but rather something to compare to other areas and years. Back in 1998 our field office employed an avid birder who took it upon himself to get in-depth estimates of bird populations within our district. Now that it has been more than ten years I was eager to re-do his point counts, see how things have changed and estimate causes.
In addition to the satisfaction of getting the most up-to-date data, I enjoy conducting point counts because I see something new or unexpected every day. I am constantly having to look up new birds and calls and am expanding my knowledge base. So far I have been able to see neat things like Hawks fighting, curlews getting really up close to yell at me and rare birds like Sprague’s Pipits and Loggerhead Shrikes.
Loggerhead Shrikes, also known as ‘butcherbirds’, are a very interesting species who maintain the delicate body type and feet of a songbird but have evolved a hooked beak with which they can sever the spines of lizards, snakes and even other birds. As a result you have a sweet-looking bird with the not-so-nice habit of skewering prey on barbed wire to hold it in place while it tears off pieces- hence the gruesome nickname. Sprague’s Pipits are known for having the longest flight display of any bird (one was recorded going for three hours non-stop; a trick that would consume half of his fat reserves!)
I am now done with my rounds and on to analyzing data, and one trend I noticed was a decrease in sagebrush-dependent birds towards mid-story grassland favoring ones. This is a fairly common result of human activities, and is not surprising when that is what the BLM and ranchers manage for grazing.

Wolf Tracks in Yellowstone and the Immovable Psychology of Preservation

 I am now more than half way through my Wildlife internship in Lewistown, MT and things keep getting better and better. The weather has become agreeable to field work and I have had the opportunity to attend some wonderful training and networking events.

Having opted out of the CBG intern orientation last month my travel funds were freed up for me to pursue wildlife-specified training. Just last week I attended a mammal tracking course in Yellowstone National Park with renowned tracker and scientist Jim Halfpenny, who specializes in wolf and bear research. As if you need an excuse to enjoy your time in Yellowstone, I cannot think of more interesting subject matter than learning to identify the footprints and gaits of its most charismatic residents. By meticulously searching along muddy riverbanks and flood plains my two classmates and I learned to read the stories that tracks leave- interpreting the size, speed, direction and behavior of an animal. For example, we followed the trail of what we determined to be a young female wolf as she ambled along the riverbank and gathered clues to determine why she slowed down, sped up, stopped or looked around that morning. We also measured and took plaster casts of the best preserved footprints and I cherish my souvenir wolf, elk and grizzly prints.

Big male Grizzly print

Although standing in the same spot where a wolf had been hours earlier gave me a near-spiritual chill, there has been no lack of controversy regarding their reintroduction and management in the West. Some people dedicate their lives and careers protecting them while others want them all exterminated- how are such polarized opinions possible?

It was while I was helping a colleague with a plant restoration project that I was given insight into the psychology of preservation. Although an advocate for endangered animals, I found myself at a loss when trying to muster the same enthusiasm for the plight of plant species. There was an upcoming botanical meeting where they would be searching for a rare plant, and I was excitedly invited along. “It will be really neat” they said, “there are only a few square miles in the whole world where these are found!” But this rare plant had no known medicinal value, nor was it especially colorful or pleasant-smelling or have any other stand-out characteristics. The poor thing was small, twiggy, and brown. I found myself forcing a polite smile and thinking to myself “what’s the big deal” and instantly realizing that I had seen the same polite smile before, and that I was having the same response most do to endangered wildlife. I now understand where they are coming from, and how my compulsion to keep species from going extinct is not shared by everyone.

I began examining my own motivations and asking what the purpose of it all was; what is the point? Surely there must be some logical reason why people work so hard to preserve endangered species. In the end, I decided that although we can try to use rational arguments (there may be medicines in there! it may cause the food web to collapse!) the heart of the matter cannot be produced or negotiated with. It is an ethical and emotional response that some people feel, a reluctance to lose any of the world’s hard-won and awe-inspiring diversity. The botanists and I share this feeling, and I am doing my best to never again become so entrenched in my position that I cannot see when our goals are same

They Don’t Call it Big Sky Country for Nothing

Wow! So here I am, living and working in Montana. There have been several times now that I have been standing on the crest of a hill looking out on endless prairies and distant mountains, or watching Sage Grouse through binoculars as the sun rose and wondered when it would all start feeling real. I asked one of my co-workers what he thought while we were driving in the truck, and he told me it wouldn’t sink in until it was time to leave. Go figure.
Having grown up and lived on the East Coast my whole life, this CLM internship has provided the opportunity to experience a part of the country I have always dreamed of visiting- Montana. The rugged beauty of this state is awe-inspiring and humbling, and in the presence of such forces you are at all times reminded of how small and fragile people really are. Having come from a place where civilization is never more than a holler away, these huge expanses of unsettled land are both liberating and exhilarating; unlike back East you have to stay on your toes out here or you could land in a heap of trouble!
Like many other early spring interns, the first few weeks of my internship were spent on Sage Grouse surveys in the morning and training in the afternoons. Getting up before dawn was never something I got used to, but seeing those birds strut their stuff, bright yellow chest sacks jiggling, never failed to make me laugh. During this time I also received many hours in 4WD driving instruction, and I would have never even imagined back in Maryland the road conditions they overcome in central Montana! During this wet spring I have driven on washed-out and lumpy two-tracks that were scarcely more than a few ruts carved into the dirt, fishtailed across miles of muddy and potholed roads and escaped the infamous Missouri Break’s “gumbo” which has succeeded in getting me stuck once already. (After a half hour of trying to dig myself out I wasn’t too proud to radio for help- an employee was in the area and kindly pulled me out- see pic above).
Since my initial few weeks of training I have been given several of my own projects to take charge of. I jumped on the opportunity to do some Mountain Plover surveys, for which I mapped out points and called landowners about those on private land, (I have met a bunch so far, and most are very friendly). With an interest in PR I also took the opportunity to try to convince locals to keep their cats inside as part of a bird-friendly initiative. From that effort I have a newspaper article in the review pipeline and a pamphlet we are going to try and get printed. I have been trying to get involved in every other project I can in the office including habitat restoration, bug collection and herp surveys, and recently attended the MT State Biologist’s Meeting where I was able to meet a bunch of other BLMers.
My mentor is a Wildlife biologist at the Lewistown field office. He is patient and receptive to my comments, and always asking what I am interested in pursuing. The town itself is idyllic and peaceful- big enough to have all of the supplies you need but small enough that you bump into folks you know everywhere, and I love it. Having come from a huge city like DC, it feels good to belong to a small community and not have to worry about crime. The low rent and huge apartment I can afford is a big plus as well. So far I have been getting a great taste of Western culture through going to some rodeos, attending a co-worker’s ranch wedding and going out drinking and dancing at the local bars on Friday nights. I have even gotten myself some cowgirl boots and hat.
I have already been to Yellowstone a few times and can’t wait to get to Glacier and Teton once things start to melt. I am defiantly having a great time, but this summer is about getting great professional experience, getting a better understanding of how BLM works and figuring out what I enjoy doing most. I am about 1/3 of the way through and so far it has been very successful! I am excited to see what I get done come September.