As my internship concludes, I reflect not only on how much I have learned about the BLM and ecology, but also on how much I have learned about myself. I will admit that I went into this internship feeling a bit unprepared and doubting my ability to tackle every aspect of the job. I felt like a floundering fish in the midst of the newness; all the maps of where I would go and the scenes from the car windows all looked like a blur as they were thrown into my new daily routine. I remember gripping the GPS like it was the only light in the dark tunnel of the unknown. To me, the Piceance (Pee-ance) Basin, a word I dared not pronounce for the first week, appeared dry, hot, and monotonous.
It wasn’t until my third or fourth day that I got out into the field to discover that I would become one of the few to become familiar with the rare existence of the Piceance bladderpod and twinpod. I quickly embraced the role of a defender of these threatened plants and became impressed with the swift surfacing of my inner leader as I learned more and more about these plants. Right off the bat I was provided with opportunities to share my knowledge with others. With this, I had to quickly discover how I, the learner, could transition into the teacher. I had to step into the decision-making position and through this, I learned to better trust my instincts and weigh my options in a timely way. I learned that I could really rely on the foundation that I developed during my undergrad degree and that I didn’t need excessive experience to make grounded and wise decisions.
This is a site that was inspected for final reclamation. It failed for numerous reasons: a broken fence allowing for extreme grazing, and undesirable plants such as Russian thistle and Canada thistle.
My time with the plants suddenly transitioned when our field office was assigned with final reclamation inspections at well pad and pipeline sites. At first I felt as though I was given this task by default, but as I became more familiar with the inspections, I realized that I was just the right person for the job; I could even see myself continuing with reclamation in my future. Once again, when I was out in the field, I, the learner, became the teacher. I was provided with a brief overview of the inspection requirements and then sent out to lead the project. My field partner knew nothing of the inspections and I knew very little. My initial frustration ultimately dwindled into enjoyment, surprisingly. Being the leader in this role taught me everyone has some understanding to offer; my field assistant initially acted like she knew nothing at all on the task, I had to keep reminding her of what we were there to complete. I had to be persistent and creative with my questioning to keep my partner involved; eventually she dug deeper within her knowledge to offer great help. By the end of the season, we became a super-efficient team, where we each knew and completed our portions of the inspections.
I had many opportunities to see a wide variety of leadership strategies. I learned that what is most effective is for the leader to employ the skills of all team members. The worst thing I could do to myself would be to take on the entire job myself. I got to see others do this and completely stress themselves out while separating themselves from the team. I found it best to take the time to explain the entire task fully and then break up the work and delegate it to each member. While this can take longer at the beginning of a job, it makes the entire process more smooth and enjoyable. I found that the best way to tackle a daunting task is to break it up into smaller pieces done by individuals and can be done simultaneously with collaboration and corroboration at the end.
Mainly, I am walking away from my internship with a greater confidence in my leadership skills. Over this summer I have stepped into a side of myself that had been unexplored in its entirety. While I am aware that more experience will enhance and further explore this piece of myself, my CLM internship provided me with solid skills from which to draw upon. I now believe that I can accomplish what comes my way, no matter how unfamiliar.
Perhaps my favorite part of my internship thus far has been the reclamation portion. I have had the joy and frustration of surveying reclaimed well pads for surface compliance. In other words, I get to tell huge oil companies, like XTO (formerly Exxon), that they need to do more for the Earth! The most frustrating part of this is seeing the reality of how little these companies actually do.
In the reclamation process, I learned that it is more important to return the land to its natural contour than to have thriving vegetation. Of course the thriving vegetation is necessary, but it comes after the original contour is intact. The contour is the ‘permanent’ part of the landscape, while vegetation waxes and wanes, the contour remains consistent. In addition to that, the soils must be free of weeds and returned in the layers in which they were extracted. I have visited a few locations that looked great from afar with tall flowering grasses, forb diversity, and desirable shrubs; and then, I walked the perimeter to find that the vegetation had concealed a huge pile of rocks or soil that had not been incorporated into the shape of the contour. This created a steep slope that almost looked like the area was on a pedestal or something similar. At first it was rather hard to fail a reclamation effort like these, knowing that they would have to destroy all of the vegetation in order to fix the problem. But I know I am part of the learning process for these companies. The standards of the BLM are rightfully high!
After learning of all the work it takes to return the Earth to her natural state, I wonder if the destruction, in the first place, is necessary. Yet, I do enjoy the luxury of hot showers, lights at night, and road trips… so I conclude that less is best. And thankfully, I know I am not alone.
Challenges are such disguised blessings. Aside from all of the field skills that I am learning, I am learning a great deal of personal skills; tonight I focus on the great mastery of leadership. My pattern in life has been to step up to the leadership role when no one else in the group will. It seems to happen by default and yet, it is where I learn the most. My internship has guided me down that same, familiar route, only this time I am learning to own it before it owns me. Earlier in the season I felt discouraged by the additional responsibilities I had taken on by ‘default’; I realized that I was lacking the sub-conscious encouragement that comes with being ‘appointed’ into the position. Instead of hosting some lame pity-party of, “why am I not more passive? My job would be so much easier!”, I decided to appoint myself into the position. Because, after all, I know what I am doing and I know how to do it well! So I organize, I delegate, I take a lot of notes, and through this, I know most about each detail of the project and that offers me a sense of appointed empowerment. One of the most important things I have learned about leadership, at this point, is that when things get frustrating, or slow, confusing or complicated, the leader should not take everything upon herself; the best thing to do is to keep all team members active in the solution. After all, we have teams to help fill in all the gaps.
One night I received an email saying that I would be helping build a fence the following day. I envisioned your typical field fence made of metal stakes painted green and barbed wire and I thought, “that will be fun”. I was not wrong in thinking this, but I was wrong in what my vision of a fence was. Our team was presented with 7 large pipes that required a deep breath and clenching of every bodily muscle for them to be moved off of the trailer. In addition to that, our shovels were met by stubborn bed rock when we started to dig the initial holes. We each became very familiar with our friend, the auger, as the bedrock presented itself like an angry bouncer at a night club. Our friendly co-worker suddenly became like a slave-driver as he demanded holes two feet deep. I soon realized that the auger was no match for such stubborn bedrock and had to resort to a steel bar that looked much like an over-sized flat-head screw driver. As I drove it into the ground, breaking up small chunks of rock at a time, I started to feel like a clumsy archaeologist, fumbling toward a reward… only my reward was an empty hole… and what a beautiful empty hole it was when it was complete! After smothering all of my hard work with cement we had one pole in place! And only 6 more to go.
Drilling holes for fence posts and meeting bedrock.
But I suppose I should mention that this project was not just for fun on a Monday, our aim was to protect Physeria congesta habitat, of course! This made me think of Dean’s presentation at the end of our workshop in Chicago; similarly in this location, four-wheelers were romping up an old road where P. congesta had colonized. The old road was hanging on to two tire tracks that could be seen from a distance and apparently, were calling to weekend riders. Now that the fence is in place, our threatened friends, P. congesta can spread their seeds without being crushed.
Everyday has offered completely new learning opportunities. One day I am following cow trails to record disturbances in sensitive plant habitat, and the next day I am working with forestry and measuring trees. With all of the variety in my days, I find that I feel most fulfilled when working with the anomalies in nature. For example, my day with the forestry team involved measuring the Ponderosas growing in pj woodland. Previous research has shown that these trees are genetically different from your typical Ponderosas in that they can survive, and even thrive, in dry, desert-like habitat. For some reason, I like the idea of working among “mutants” and aiding in our understanding of them.
In addition to that, I have been monitoring threatened Physeria obcordata populations which only occur on steep white shale slopes on the 13th Tongue. I have been collecting its seeds along with seeds from a sister species for a lab at CSU. In the lab they will be growing each species in hopes to determine why Physeria obcordata populations are limited to the steep narrow bands of white shale when a very similar species is not.
Performing the somewhat monotonous task of collecting seeds becomes suddenly exciting when I acknowledge my role as essential to a new scientific discovery.
Of my first week in the field I have learned an incredible amount. For the first time in my short field career, I am experiencing a project where the field dictates the work to be done. In my past, although the plants may be unpredictable, the methods that I experienced were mostly predicable. Currently, however, I go out to a location that threatened plants occupy to map how the landscape has changed and how it may affect these sensitive species. Most of my work concerns the species commonly known as the bladder pod and the twin pod. These plants grow in areas that are inflicted with cattle grazing and ferrel horses. When I wander across an area occupied by bladder pods, I may find horse “highways” that must be mapped, or I may find nothing at all, and the hiking continues!
With this, I have learned to be even more observant in the field. My observation skills must expand beyond what plants are growing below me, and out into what is all around me. It is so easy to get lost in the search for tiny plants in broken shale, but it is so necessary to keep my awareness cycling all around me. I am certainly developing my abilites to focues while multi-tasking… a certain benefit for all areas of my life!