Even Batman likes puppies.

Much like our window for preventing the Earth from becoming a big, stormy swimming pool, my CLM internship is soon coming to a close. There were laughs (both “at” and “with”), there were tears (both “of sadness” and “in all of my work shirts”), there were many, many tins of smelly kipper snacks eaten in the field. I am grateful to have had the privilege of working with dedicated, loving, and mostly hygienic people who consistently brightened my days with warmth and affection.

My colleagues were undoubtedly the heart and soul of a most memorable field season in Groveland, CA, but the shock and awe of surveying the vast swaths of scorched moonscapes that had once been shiny-green conifer stands of the Stanislaus National Forest will not soon be forgotten—burned into memory, if you will.

“Hey, why did someone replace all the lush crowns of pine and fir trees with acre upon acre of gangly, black sticks that look like the burnt skeletons of creepy scarecrows?”, is what I assume we were all thinking on our first day in the field. It was soon explained to me by Google that the “someone” was the 2013 Rim Fire and the “why” was because that’s what historically massive, high-intensity fires do.

It was a sight to behold, certainly. Some of my coworkers thought that the toasted hills and grilled valleys were still beautiful, but just in a different sort of way. Okay, I think I can understand that. Like how a Jackson Pollock is beautiful, just in a different, less beautiful sort of way than pretty much any other painting.

Though I tried to see beauty in the destruction, the pleasure I derived from our newly redecorated forest was not from the multitude of charred things everywhere. I was quite taken, however, with the absence of a pesky understory that normally inhibits one’s ability to walk through a decadent forest without constantly tripping and getting poked in the face by twigs. It had all been burned away! The simple act of leisurely strolling from A to B instead of army-crawling and bush-whacking my way there was proof enough for me that there was a bright side to the effects of the Rim Fire.

And there were other benefits of working in the burn zone all season. Through the month of June we found ample flushes of black morels (Morchella sp.) almost daily. Did we leave them be, in accordance with the Forest Service’s foraging policy for employees (and because of our unfair advantage over the public, to whom this year’s unprecedented MOREL-TOPIA was not legally accessible)? I’m going to go with: “Yes, we did.”

But, as a less cliché-prone writer wouldn’t say, the season was not without its challenges. Do you remember the tears I mentioned in the opening paragraph? They were real. We shed real tears (figuratively) over the shortcomings of our vehicle fleet, the odor that descended upon our cramped office space, 30-crewmembers deep, at the end of the day, and the overall charlie foxtrot that was our grasp on protocol and logistics for a not-so-brief portion of the season. Did we dwell on the myriad speed bumps and misfires? Perhaps, but only in confidence.

Our crew soared to great botanical heights, lifting our sensitive plant brethren out of darkness and casting a cleansing light on the plague of noxious weeds. Each and every day the Botany Superteam of Groveland was out there flaggin’ and GPSin’ all kinds of sexy plants: slenderstem monkeyflower (Mimulus filicaulis [aka Mimulus phil collins]), mountain lady’s slipper (Cypripedium montanum), yellowlip pansy monkeyflower (Mimulus pulchellus), and a bunch of Clarkia spp. all over the dang place. Seriously, that stuff was everywhere.

What else can be said about my 2014 CLM internship? Probably nothing blog-worthy, to be honest.  Well, there was that one day when I walked around for half an hour with a lizard in my hard hat.  But I will say this: even though glimpsing the inner workings of a small slice of the federal government gave me a new and unsettling understanding of what libertarians are so mad about, and aside from the nauseating stench of bear clover (Chamaebatia foliolosa) on all our boots, it was a (mostly) rewarding and productive experience. Not to mention the hilarious “dirt leggings” we wore at the end of each day from walking through so much dust.

At last, if I may, I will sum up the entire season with the best joke I heard all summer: What is the best thing about Switzerland?  I dunno but its flag is a big plus.


Chris McCoy
Groveland District Office
US Forest Service

Winding on down…

The mountains surrounding Pinedale, WY have turned white. We got our first dusting of the season and with it came the undeniable feeling that winter, true winter, will soon be here. I could definitely do without the wind but I welcome the lower tempuratures on the condition that they will be accompanied by plenty of precipitation, a very pleasing combination to all snowsports enthusiasts.
With the onset of winter come the final few weeks of my CLM internship. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to spend the second leg of the program in Pinedale. Not that Rock Springs didn’t have its charm, well perhaps charm is a bit too generous of a word, but I’ve enjoyed Pinedale very much. It’s a cozy, quaint little community at the foot of the Wind River Range that has lots to offer in terms of culture and recreation. And they have a great brewery here, too. What more could one ask for?
This year’s drought left plenty to be desired in regards to available projects but luckily, upon my arrival in Pinedale, I’ve been able to keep busy and get out into the field. No seeds were collected by this intern but many a wildlife survey and habitat assessment have received the McCoy treatment.
The absence of rain made most of the plants brown and crusty and the field season less than ideal. But how often is anything ideal really? My Wyoming adventure hasn’t quite turned out how I expected but that alone has served as a valuable learning experience. And thankfully, I got to move to Pinedale.

“Oh Yes, Wyoming!”

  • Destination:  Rock Springs, WY
  • Mission:  Seeds of Success
  • Mood:  Enthusiastic

     Standing beneath the midnight stars at a rest stop in the Bonneville Salt Flats after hastily constructing a bed accross the passenger seat of my car I had more time to consider what may lie beyond the horizon, both literally and figuratively…mostly figuratively.

     Yes, there would be plenty of sagebrush in southwestern Wyoming.  Everyone knows that, right?  But what else would be waiting for me in this new, dry land–this wild arena of mystery and vastness that would become my home for the next five months?

     I envisioned an endless swath of flat desert, dotted with solitary hills and lonely roads disappearing into the unknown.  Rock Springs itself sounded like the kind of rough and tumble town you’d stop in for the evening to tie up your horse and hang your hat after a long day’s ride through the great, American steppe.

     Upon arrival it became clear that whatever changes this adventure held in store for me would be welcomed and explored with curiosity and patience.  Indeed, Rock Springs bears little resemblance, physically or in cultural atmosphere, to Berkeley, CA, from where I began this journey, but I foresee the myriad differences serving to foster in me an attitude of excitement and acceptance, a proclivity toward adaptation.

     Rock Springs is beautiful.  I am happy to be out of my comfort zone and in a new land full of opportunity.  Opportunity to explore the West, to meet new people, to see new things and to see things anew.  My time with the BLM is still in its infancy; I’ve been here only a couple weeks and have yet to really delve into my internship.  But I’ve definitley enjoyed the days I’ve spent in the field so far.

Lots of space, lots of wildlife, lots of wind, lots of trucks, lots of outdoor recreation, lots of friendly folk.   “Oh Yes, Wyoming!”

-Chris McCoy

Botany Joke of the Month:  What’s a sheep’s favorite flower?

Answer:  Phlox!