End of Internship

My internship in Kemmerer, Wyoming is coming to a close. All in all, it has been a very productive summer and fall. I am so thankful that I got to experience the work of a professional wildlife biologist. Even though paperwork is everyone’s least favorite part of the job, I really appreciated that my mentor taught me how to complete some of it. This will be very important in my career.

This internship has been integral in helping me narrow down what I want to do for graduate school and the rest of my life. Even though the funding prospects are not promising, I am getting a lot of positive responses about my field work and qualifications for graduate school. I am depending heavily on my field work and work with a government agency as the unique factors that will set my application apart.

I will always remember this experience and the memories I have made here. Thank you to my mentor, all the people in the office, and the CLM program for making this possible!


Back to work

I’m back from our federal furlough and everyone is frantically trying to catch up on missed work. Since I came back, I’ve been building willow exclosures, mapping water sources, and monitoring riparian areas post-grazing season. Last night we got about four inches of snow so more people are in the office than I’ve ever seen at one time.

The big news this month is that I am busy applying for graduate programs. This CLM internship has given me the perfect opportunity to narrow down my interests and finally settle on a field of study. Yay, wildlife biology! Although the government furlough was not ideal for anyone, the shutdown came at a relatively good time for me. I was able to use my time off to study for the GRE, research graduate programs, and contact prospective graduate professors. There is always much more to do on my applications, and the next part will be to just wait and see!

Living and learning in Wyoming

Sometimes it can be easy to fall into the rhythm of working: put in your hours, go home to eat and relax, go to bed ridiculously early, and get up ridiculously early to do it again. Thankfully, when the rut gets a little too deep, sometimes all it takes to remember why we love our jobs is a step back and a conversation similar to the following:

“I’m going camping in a beautiful forest tomorrow with biologists from across the state to look at lynx habitat.”
“You’re right, my job is awesome.”

I adore the desert and hate to see how underappreciated it is, but I am thrilled to be going to the forest for a change of pace.

And speaking of change of pace… I have recently learned how to do wildlife clearances on GIS. GIS, as always, is a powerful tool that will be invaluable in my professional life, but is also a pain in the butt. The first rule I have learned about GIS and Trimble GPS is: if it doesn’t work today, try it again tomorrow; in all likelihood it will magically work. On GIS’s good days, I have been having a blast playing around with the layers and learning about sensitive species, important management areas, and modeling habitat.

Although office work is decidedly less fun and glamorous than field work, it is nice to get a true taste of the duties required of government employees. I hate to make decisions haphazardly so it is important to me to gather as much information about my potential career as possible.

I am a proponent of gathering information and weighing costs and benefits in all major decisions. This is because from my personal experience at the BLM, I have seen how decisions made many years ago have a large impact on today’s land management. For example, the BLM now constantly monitors willow growth and regeneration to rectify problems with stream bank erosion, loss of fish habitat, warming waters, sedimentation, and more. Needless to say, the absence of willows has caused its fair share of headaches to BLM employees and ranchers alike. Only recently did I learn that the willows are no longer present because they were purposely removed. Just 30 or 40 years ago, it was a common practice to spray and kill willows to make more water available for grass growth. I am continually amazed at how decisions of the past shape land management for years to come.

Now that I have completed two months of this internship, it’s time to start looking for jobs again. The CLM program has taught me some incredibly valuable things about myself and the kinds of jobs I may be interested in. I value everything I have been exposed to during my two internships so far. The least glamorous but potentially most important thing I have learned is that I am not cut out for searching for jobs and relocating every 5-6 months. A year and a half out of college, and I am ready to commit to graduate school or a permanent position!

Fossil Fish Capital

I’m still in my first month here in Kemmerer, but I have gotten to do a lot of exciting things so far. To make the most of my time here, I want to learn as much as I can from as many people as possible. Luckily, I am off to a good start and have gotten to join several different projects. I spent the first couple weeks doing stream assessments, including Winward Greenline studies and Proper Functioning Condition. I then moved on to exclosure maintenance and fence building. I also got to join a reclamation assessment on the Ruby Pipeline to see how well it is coming along. I enjoyed this particularly because my previous field office was located at the end of the Ruby Pipeline and I have moved four states over to a field office at the beginning of the line.

Building a fence for the first time

When the field work on all these projects started to die down, I finally got to start work on my pet project for the summer, which is locating and mapping all the seeps, springs, and reservoirs in the field office. It has been a sharp learning curve, but I am beginning to be able to distinguish blown out reservoirs from the surrounding terrain and determine the difference between snow catches and springs.

But enough talk about work. I am thrilled because I found my first fossils! Kemmerer is the “Fossil Fish Capital” and I am beginning to see why!

Wyoming flat fish


High desert rock flounder

First week in Kemmerer

Here’s a fun party trick: tell someone that you are moving to Wyoming and wait for their reaction. There is a 95% guarantee that your proclamation will be met with a dropped jaw, an uncomprehending sneer, and a single word: “why?” After a week here, I can now tell you why. So far I have gone out in the field every day and have learned how to map springs, seeps, and reservoirs on a $6,200 GPS, fixed a fence, seen beautiful country, and tried to track my very first moose. As soon as I finish this blog, I will walk across the street and fly fish for a couple hours.

I haven’t been in Kemmerer for long but I am looking forward to learning about a familiar ecosystem from a new perspective. As this is my second CLM internship, I will be looking at wildlife habitat instead of range. It’s a whole new world; just going out with my boss and coworker (an ex-CLMer himself) proves to be a lesson in animal systematics and identification. I am having a great time so far and really believe that this internship will help me pin down a field for graduate school. I’m sure to collect some great information, pictures, and fossils to include in my next blog!

Thanks, CLM

Through this internship, I have come to love the town of Lakeview and will truly miss it. However, it is becoming clear that it is time to depart and move on to my next adventure. As one of the last hangers-on after the fire crews, the high school and college seasonals, and most of the other seven CLM interns have filtered out of town, the smell of wood smoke and forecasts well below freezing are signaling the end of the season. I have seen more territory, learned more about land management, and gotten to know more interesting people than I ever thought possible.

Although I could go on and on about driving four-wheelers in the winter rain, watching helicopters drop flame retardant a mile away from town, and sneaking suspiciously away from Disney Princess balloons, I mostly want to use this final blog to express my extreme gratitude to the Chicago Botanic Garden for establishing this program. These days, it is next to impossible to find a paid professional job right out of college. Like countless other students, I was incredibly frustrated to discover that my tens of thousands of dollars and four years of nose-to-the-grindstone hard work meant nothing to employers scanning solely for “real” experience. The Chicago Botanic Garden stands among very few institutions that think out of the box and use a different method in their hiring practices. Thank you, CBG, for understanding our plight and establishing a program to smooth the transition from school to work. You are leaders in making the professional world accessible to recent graduates.

The CLM program offered me the most valuable thing one could ask for: that elusive professional experience. My work leaders were incredible about sending us out in the field with different crews and making sure we understood every aspect of our work. They explained what we did not know and sought our opinions on what we did know. We took pride in our data and felt that we became an indispensable part of the interdisciplinary team for evaluating rangeland health and writing Environmental Assessments. My resume seems to grow on a daily basis, filled with new skills and bragging rights.

Beyond experience and payment, everything else should have just been icing on the cake. Yet this internship came to mean so much more to me than just a job. I had an incredible time bonding with my partners in the field and my trailer-mates in our living quarters. I learned so much from this huge variety of people with such different backgrounds and knowledge to share. In the BLM office, just about everyone was incredibly nice and helpful. My first time living in a small town in the middle of nowhere was an extraordinary success. I will never forget the roaming animals, the gigantic stars, the stereotypical cowboys and the exceptional small town gossip. I only hope that my future employment experiences will be as fulfilling as this one.

A sense of accomplishment

My first thought upon arrival at the Lakeview office this summer, looking up at the towering stacks of trend monitoring binders, was “yeah, right.” With 158 three-inch binders full of trend plots in combination with the person-sized cabinets of utilization and project folders, I figured there was no reasonable way we would even open most of them. You know where this is going; four months later I can look at most of those binders and see accomplishment instead of a mountain of endless work. Now starts the real fun of synthesizing all our data with those from the past 40 or more years to determine rangeland health and to assist in the writing of numerous EAs.

Our field season here was wonderful. In addition to learning a ton about plant systematics, ecology, and management practices, we had a lot of fun driving all over the resource area. As a biology purist, I’ve never been very interested in rocks but the area around Lakeview has some of the most interesting geology I have ever seen. In case the southern Oregon desert isn’t high on your list of tourist destinations, consider looking up some of the amazing places we have been on field days: Fort Rock, Crack in the Ground, Hole in the Ground, the sunstone collection area, Abert Rim, the Coyote Hills, the Christmas Valley sand dunes, the obsidian needles mines, and the various lava flows, uplifts, and mesas common to the area.

Although the amount of daily driving has skewed my version of “close,” there are also some amazing sites within a few hours for weekend trips. This little town in the middle of nowhere turns out to be smack dab in the middle of everything. I have not had a single disappointing weekend so far what with the accessibility of Mt. Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Eugene, Bend, Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Reno and Lake Tahoe, Boise, and even Portland. It has been a great summer for camping and adventures, but fall is in the air (it has already gotten down to the 30s and 40s here at night) and I’m excited to see what the next few months will bring.

Where the deer and the antelope play

Four weeks ago I repacked the entire contents of my college room and made the 6-hour drive to Lakeview, Oregon. Although I was thrilled to be moving back to the colorful desert after a 4-year hiatus in rainy western Washington, my untrained eyes saw only sagebrush and cheat grass on the roadside as I sang along to oldies in the car. After one intense week of fieldwork with the three other range interns, the familiar landscape along the highway suddenly transformed before my eyes. After altering my search pattern, I not only spied the rabbitbrushes and bunchgrasses mixed in with the sagebrush I know and love, but I found myself subconsciously keeping a running tally of family names and species in my head.

That classic issue that many biology students know intimately – that of having their uninhibited enthusiasm about the natural world met with bored and blank stares – has not been an issue here. Everyone around me is so excited about working for the CLM. We talk about plants and sage grouse during work, after going home, and even on weekend hikes and camping trips. We would probably talk about them before work too, if we conversed at all through our 6:00 am stupor.

Most importantly, my reservations about living in a middle-of-nowhere town have been assuaged. However, the locals have been as friendly as can be and the accessibility to nature more than makes up for the lack of conveniences and abundance of conservative values. I don’t envy my college friends striking out to New York City or Los Angeles, as far from the natural world as a person can get. A couple of weeks here have awarded me with spectacular views of antelope, wild horses, jackrabbits, sandhill cranes and pelicans, as well as fresh bear tracks, bobcat scat, geysers, astoundingly gigantic stars, and a triple rainbow. These combined with the desert colors and constant sunshine keep me energized about going to work each day.

-Anna Moeller

Castilleja and rock formations in the Lakeview District