Last Week in Alien City, USA

As I am quickly approaching my last day here at the BLM in Roswell, NM, I am feeling grateful and reflecting on all the interesting experiences I have had here.

Eight months ago, if you were to ask me anything about rangeland ecology, I would have not known how to answer you.  Now I can rattle off a wealth of knowledge I’ve acquired about rangeland ecology with confidence.

Another interesting aspect of this internship was what I learned about the Oil & Gas industry.  Oil & Gas is a large part of my office and a vital part to the economy in New Mexico.  I learned that the local economy heavily relies on the industry and it is obviously necessary if we wish to continue to drive cars around.  With the proper protocol set in place and cooperative attitudes, this industry will continue to be important  and efficient in this area.

I am happy I decided to take this internship in such a random place.  It has opened my eyes to another way of life in America.  The pace of life here is slower than where I grew up, and I will gladly take that with me.  Because of this internship, I am increasingly marketable for other jobs.  I can now say I have 8 months of vegetation monitoring, GIS mapping, data entry, report writing, etc.

Leaving here in a few days will be bittersweet.  I will miss my friends I made here, but I am excited to see what lies next.




Winter Time in the Desert

The past few weeks here in Roswell have been hectic and busy.  I was fortunate enough to go home for two weeks due to compensation time I saved up, and being back in the office has been a warm welcome back.  There have been a variety of meetings we have attended this week alone, which has spiced things up a bit.  One meeting was for the Lesser Prairie Chicken.  Referring to my previous blog, the Lesser Prairie Chicken is up for listing as “threatened” with the Fish & Wildlife Service.  The meeting was held here in the conference room at the BLM and a variety of people were there in attendance.  The room was filled with oil company representatives, conservation groups and other federal employees.  Two gentlemen from the Game Commission were running the meeting and one of them was a Lesser Prairie Chicken biologist.  He provided an interesting history and ecology on the bird, as well as statistics from the last ten years.  One of the interesting facts that caught my attention was that the numbers of birds has spiked within the last few years – solely due to increased precipitation.  They hypothesize that the numbers will go back up if there is an annual increase in precipitation, however the likely hood of that is unknown.  Not only was the meeting interesting to learn more about the bird, but the tension in the room was evident.  The oil companies have a lot on the line with their businesses and the conservation groups are adding other pressures.  Overall, it was interesting being the fly on the wall.


Besides the Lesser Prairie Chicken meeting, we also attended a meeting just for the Natural Resources section of the office. Until this point, I hadn’t fully understood what everybody else I work with actually does.  It was eye opening to hear all of the different things going on and actually understand how they are all related.


I have just about a month left until my internship is complete and I am having a hard time believing this!  My last couple of weeks here will probably involve finishing up various projects – including my wildflower brochure.  Almost all of the plant species are identified and the only thing really left is to complete the layout of the brochure.  I sincerely hope to finish this before my internship is over and add a link for it to my last blog post.


Jaci Braund

BLM Roswell, NM

LPC Territory

As we quickly approach the holiday season, the office here in Roswell has shifted into holiday-mode, complete with holiday luncheons, cookie exchanges and food drives.  Overall, the office is feeling quite cheery.  Unfortunately, that is not the case for some other people in the area.  This is the because last Friday, November 30th, the US Fish and Wildlife Service began the process to consider listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. 

The LPC range extends from eastern New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Due mostly to habitat destruction, the LPC range has significantly decreased from historic levels. The LPC’s habitat is being taken over mostly by oil/gas exploration, cattle ranches and other forms of energy harvesting.  The listing of the LPC is upsetting to many people in these areas because there is a huge amount of the population that rely on these industries as a lively-hood.  If the chicken does get listed, it will mean even stricter regulations on these industries, potentially shutting some of them down, and thus terminating jobs. 

Some people I’ve spoken with about the topic think it is purely politics. Politics aside, the fact is that the Lesser Prairie Chicken has significantly decreased since mass amounts of people have come into its’ territory.  We need to do everything we can to rebound from this and get the LPC back to a sustainable population. 

Since this has all just occurred in the last few days, it will be interesting to see what will happen in the office.  The LPC has already been on the radar for rare species and is often talked about as is.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service will hold a public meeting in February to discuss the topic.  If I’m still in the area, I think that will be an interesting event to attend.

Fall in New Mexico

5 months flies by fast!  But, thankfully, I have 3 more months of extension!                                     


Since I’ve posted last, we have been settling into fall.  Being from Pennsylvania, I know fall.  And I know it well.  I also know that New Mexico does not have nearly as many deciduous trees.  So as fall was quickly approaching, I wasn’t expecting much.  I was in for a pleasant surprise.  In Fort Stanton, which is one of the recreation areas in our field office, there are a few different species of shrub-sized oaks.  Cruising through there one day for work, all the different oaks were wonderful bright reds, yellows and the occasional tan.  It was beautiful!  And not only were the shrubs vibrant, but also the cottonwoods along the rivers, and the grasses!  I’ve noticed the grasses shimmer in the right sunlight – especially Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and Burrograss (Scleropogon brevifolius) both having exceptional fall tones.


Best of luck to the other interns who are all finished!



Roswell, NM

Post #3

Since I’ve last posted, not too much has been going on around the office.  We’re entering this time of year where the field work starts to slow down and the office work starts to pick up.  One interesting thing that we have started to do is production surveys.  This is only done in the fall because these surveys measure how much has grown in the growing season.  Besides that, it’s been pretty slow! So I thought I would use this post to summarize some things I’ve learned so far.


Not only have I learned a ton about scientific monitoring, working at the BLM and the ecosystems in the field office, but there have been some other lessons that have come my way.  One thing in particular is risk management in the field.  In our field office, we can drive in one direction and get into the mountains of New Mexico, and we can drive another direction and be in sand dunes of the desert.  With all these varied landscapes, also comes a necessary thorough understanding.  In the mountains, we can encounter crazy weather changes in a matter of minutes.  In the sand dunes, we can get the truck stuck (and I mean STUCK) if you’re not careful.  Also not forgetting about bringing enough water, food, having a means of communicating, and perhaps even a emergency kit.  And if you don’t have these things, it’s important to keep your emotions in check and deal with the situation the proper way.  For example, a few weeks ago, after a full day of cruising through the sand dunes on the ATV – it decides to overheat.  And of course, we had no coolant.  Icing on the cake, it was after 5 pm and nobody was back in the office to help us out.  We were forced to wait over an hour just for it to cool down.  After a few failed attempts, we were able to get back to the truck and get back to the office.  It was a stressful few minutes when it first happened, but after we relaxed and figured out a game plan, we were good to go.


So risk management sounds like a boring topic, but it’s quite interesting.  I think once you have a good handle on your surroundings and your equipment, you can conquer the world!



Never a Dull Day Around Here

Since I last posted, we have gotten to do some FUN things.  It has been an exciting past month or two, and I’m pumped to share.


Cave Swallow Mist-netting & banding in C-bad

-The other CBG Intern and I had the opportunity to meet up with the folks at the Carlsbad, NM BLM office for their weekly tradition at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Every week, for the past 30 or so years, scientists and eager interns participate in the mist netting surveys of the cave wwallows.  This study was started awhile back in attempts to figure out where these birds nest in the winter.  Since then, there has been a vast amount of data collected on the birds and each week more data is added to it.  Basically, at the mouth of main entrance of the cave, we set up a large net and waited until we caught about 10 or so birds.  It was easy to tell if the birds were older and had been caught a couple times, versus the baby ones, because the little ones squawked and freaked until they tired themselves out! Upon getting about 10 birds, we would take the net down, and carefully try to untangle them from the net.  This proved to be quite the challenge sometimes.  The older birds would usually just hang there and take it, but the young ones would get nervous and make it worse! Once they were finally untangled, either their existing band information was noted, or they got a new band, and simply released back into the cave.  This went on for a few hours until the grand finale – the bat flight.  Everyday, hundreds of people come to the Caverns to experience the bat flight.  There is even and auditorium style set up at the mouth of the cave for easier viewing.  Once it got dark enough, we quickly packed up our belongings and posted up on the sides of the cave.  And only a few minutes later, you could hear a very low hum – that grew louder, and louder – until … BATS! And literally millions of them came spewing out of the cave.  It was quite the experience, I highly recommend it!


How many interns does it take to catch a lizard?

-Normally, we work with the range department in the office and slowly check our way through a long list of sites-to-be-monitored.  Same goes for the wildlife crew.  So we decided to mix it up on two separate days, the wildlife crew came out with the range, and then on another day we went out in the field with them.  In our field office, there are two different endangered/threatened animals – the Lesser Prairie Chicken and the Sand Dune Lizard.  On the day we went to see what it’s like to be a wildlife intern, they were going to check some traps previously set out for the Sand Dune Lizard.  All was going well until one of the wildlife interns caught site of a lizard. For the next 10-15 minutes, all ten of us were crawling, jumping, diving in the sand, and occasionally waiting very still for this little lizard to come back out.  And finally, it was captured! We were all very excited and us range interns carefully watched as the proper documentation was taken for this endangered species.  After we gently put it away, the pictures were reviewed by the wildlife biologist, only to our dismay, it was NOT a Sand Dune Lizard! So sad, but it was fun in the mean time.


Exploring the Recreation Areas

-Yet another fun thing we did a few weeks ago was a caving trip! A group interns went out with the cave specialists and the recreation planner to inspect the caves.  It wasn’t my first time caving, but it was my first time caving in the southwest, and it was hot! The cave was in the desert, and even though we were underground, it didn’t get much cooler inside.  But it was still lots of fun and I’m happy we got to do it. We saw a few cool things, such as a dead porcupine, and one of the other interns had a very close encounter with a very large rattlesnake.  I felt very fortunate to be able to explore the cave at all, because due to white nose syndrome, all of the caves in the Roswell Field Office are closed.  However, the cave specialists introduced us to the proper decontamination methods in order to keep the cave in pristine condition.


New Mexico Native Plant Society Annual Conference in Alamogordo, NM

-Thanks to the Farmington CBG Interns (Shout out to Diedre and Henry!) we found out about the Native Plant Conference that was August 9-12.  The Native Plant Society is an organization that not only promotes the use of native plants but also gives a lot of support to students in New Mexico pursuing plant research.  Myself and the other interns here headed over and decided to camp out at a state park near by, and commuted to and from the conference, which was at the local branch of New Mexico State University.  There were a variety of lectures, seminars, and hikes. We also viewed a documentary about Aldo Leopold called Green Fire.  Overall the whole conference was a great experience.  We chatted with many people who have been in the “business” (or some sort of dealing with plants) for their entire lives.  It was an eye-opener for potential career paths and networking possibilities.  And, on top of all that, we went to White Sands National Monument Saturday night, just in time to view a meteor shower. 🙂


Besides all the extracurricular activities we’ve gotten to participate in, we have also been doing different types of monitoring studies.  I definitely enjoy these because it only broadens my scientific horizon.  I am also starting a side project here with the Recreation Planner and also the Oil & Gas Environmental Consultant.  Together, we are creating a wildflower brochure for at least two of the recreation areas in the Field Office.  I am extremely excited and proud of this project, even though it is still in its’ beginning phases.  Hopefully the next time I post I will have many more details about the project.

Hilarious 90’s Style BLM Rap Video… a MUST see.

Chasin’ Aliens


Hello from Roswell, NM! This is my first post to the blog, and I feel like I have a lot to cover!


This is now my 4th week on the job, and just about a month since I’ve been out here in New Mexico.  I am originally from the Pittsburgh area, so moving to the desert has been quite the adjustment.  Before I came here, I personally thought I had a pretty good understanding of botany.  As I was packing up my things for the move, I noticed all of my botany field guides didn’t apply for this area! And now I’m out here, I completely understand.  But nonetheless, I have been quickly learning all about plants that can survive (and thrive!) out here in this hot, dry place!

I am thoroughly enjoying my time out here working for the BLM – I feel like a real scientist! Some of the projects/methods I’ve been introduced to are:

-Mesquite monitoring.  We went out to a study site that has been previously sprayed to control mesquite, which is a native plant (with some nasty thorns) that has been out-competing other important plants.  At the study sites, we did a qualitative assessment of the growth by looking to see what stage of growth the mesquite was in.  As one of the range scientists put it, we don’t want the mesquite to be gone completely, but it would be great if 70% of it was gone.

-Rangeland Health Assessment. Or more commonly, RHA’s.  These are also qualitative and take some getting used to, mostly because you rate the land based on what it is supposed to look like, and I don’t have much to compare it to!

-Traditional monitoring. This includes some different things (that I’m still trying to wrap my head around) like a one-line and production.  These are both quantitative, and provide some real data that can be analyzed later.

-Compliance checks. Although these are a little tedious, they are equally important.  Occasionally we will drive around the rancher’s property to basically check and double check that everything is running smoothly.  This includes counting cows (sometimes the most exciting part) and generally having a look around the property.


As I said earlier, I am just starting out at the BLM, and still trying to wrap my head around everything.  My apologies to whoever reading this already knows all about the daily life of a range scientist, but it actually helps me to organize all of it like that.


Besides all this monitoring stuff, the Workshop a few weeks ago was an awesome time! Not only did I learn  A LOT about working for the federal government and field work in general, but I have a new sense of pride for my job.  Every piece of data counts and is extremely important to get the most accurate measurements.

To summarize things thus far: the BLM “speaks for the trees” and I  need to learn my grasses! But as any botanist knows… grasses are hard. I’ve included some pictures of pretty scenery, cows, and aliens. -Jaci