So Long, CLM, and Thanks For All the Fish

My 5-month CLM internship with the USGS in Henderson, NV is now officially over. I have very conflicting feelings about this. At first I was not very fond of the desert (being from Michigan I missed water and real trees) and could not wait to go back home, but now I’m not sure. The desert is not so bad anymore (although I still miss water and trees and would not want to live here long-term) and I will miss everyone I have met and worked with.

When I first told my family that I was moving to Las Vegas my aunt said it must be fate and that everything worked out that way for a reason. Kind of supernatural-y, I know, but I can’t help remembering it now. If I had not taken this position I would not have learned all the things I now know, not only about desert ecology and research methods, but also about myself, and I would never have met the people that have been like family to me out here.

Describing everything I have learned during this internship would take several large novels (I’m talking Game of Thrones-large) so I will try my best to sum it up. During the first few months we learned about desert ecology, how important native plants are to the communities, and how devastating fire and invasive plants can be. We conducted vegetation surveys on annual and perennial plants, and measured cover and density for perennial plants. The last few months have mostly been spent in the office crunching data. I learned a lot about research statistics that I could not have gotten from a college course (I don’t know about anyone else, but my high school and college stats classes did not help me much, I spent an obscene amount of time looking up statistical tests that my boss told me to run because I had no idea what they were), and I learned how to use the program R which will be very useful in the future. We were also involved in the development stage of a project to determine how effective seed cookies and seed balls are in Blackbrush restoration efforts. We will not get to see the results of that project, but we helped start it.

The most important thing I learned in the past 5 months has been about myself. I was feeling a little lost a year out of college, and although I still don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do with my life, I at least know what I do not want. After several months of fieldwork I have decided that it is not for me. As much as I love the outdoors, I love going home at night and being in control of my working environment more. I am going to concentrate my job searches to greenhouse or botanical gardens now.

The most memorable part of this internship, however, has been the people. Krissa and Wes, thank you so much for putting all this together so we can have these experiences and thank you for being so personable and approachable! Fellow interns, whom I met in Chicago, thank you for making that week a memorable one and for sharing your experiences with me! To our bosses, thank you for hiring me and for teaching me everything. To the rest of the USGS staff in the Henderson office, thank you for being so nice and accepting of the lowly interns and for being our buffer to the higher-ups, you are all awesome and I will miss you! And last but definitely not least, thank you Laura, Olivia, and Carson for being the best coworkers/roommates/friends I could have asked for! After living, eating, breathing, and working together 24/7 for 5 months it’s amazing we all still like each other and enjoy each other’s company!

For future CLMers I would just like to say this: DO NOT LET THIS OPPORTUNITY GET AWAY FROM YOU! This is an amazing program and you will learn a lot!

Well I suppose that’s all I had to say. If you find yourself in the Las Vegas area in the next few months and need a place to crash, I’ve got you covered. Otherwise so long everyone, it’s been real.

Joshua Tree in Parashant National Monument in March

The Never-Ending Story of Bromus

It’s official: my least favorite plant of all time is Bromus madritensis.  Wait no, make that ANY Bromus species!  They are all equally evil!  I thought I had escaped Bromus handling forever after our field season ended a few weeks ago.  Boy was I wrong!  Apparently you have to check, recheck, fix, and refix all collected annual plant samples….and since most of the samples were Bromus, guess what I’ve been doing for the past week straight?????  GAH!!!!

End rant.

That being said, with a little help from my friends, I should hopefully really be done with Bromus handling in the next day or two.  Then I can start the cool stuff!  Our mentor is really excited about analyzing all the data we’ve collected while we were here, and she’s given each of the four of us interns a project or two to work on data-wise.  My project is to analyze measurements of ambrosia to see if there are any morphological differences between source populations or seed transfer zones across the Mojave.  Our mentor used an ordination test to check this but it showed depressingly little.  So I’m going to go back and run your basic ANOVA test on the measurements individually with the stats program, R.  I’ve dabbled a bit with the program (I got it to make a pretty graph!), but this will be my first real experience with statistical programs and analysis and I’m really excited about it!  It’s actually a little embarrassing how excited I am about it…so everybody cross your fingers for me so I finish all the stupid Bromus soon and get to the R programming!

In closing, I would just like to remind those of you in monsoon areas to keep an eye out.  Stay out of washes during flash flood watches!  Storms are cool (I actually witnessed a palm tree burn after it got hit by lightning last week), but floods are bad, mkay?  Stay safe out there!

Time to Enter Data

First off I would just like to say that I enjoyed meeting everyone who was at the training workshop!  I had a lot of fun and I’m glad we had the opportunity to meet, hang out, and talk about our experiences!

Now onto the real entry:

Not a whole lot has happened since my last entry aside from the training workshop which everyone already wrote about.  We are finished with the main part of our field season so we’re in the data entry stage now.  It’s a big change from being out in the middle of the desert all week to staring at a computer screen in the air conditioning all week!  But I am not complaining, it was over 115 degrees in the Las Vegas valley last week!  Although it’s usually a little cooler at our field sites, it’s still obscenely hot out there!

We are starting to learn how to run some statistical analyses now.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I have less than very little stats experience (one class in high school and one in college – which turned out to be basically the same class, I didn’t learn very many new things in my college stats class), and the stuff I did learn is not very helpful for the kinds of analyses we have to do now.  Most of the things our mentor says goes way over my head, but I will eventually get the hang of it!  I think the hardest part for me to wrap my head around is that Excel doesn’t do much.  Apparently you go out and buy (or download for free) stats programs to do the more involved analyses and multivariate stuff.  And then you go out and buy (or Google for free) books that explain exactly how to code what you want those programs to do to your data.  My coding skills are zero….Wait no, Friday I was able to get the program (R) to pull up my data table from NotePad!  I will count that as 0.00001 skills since it’s better than nothing!  Hopefully by my next entry I will be a stats wizard and you will all be jealous of my amazing coding skills!

The End (of field season) is Nigh

After kicking major butt the past few weeks, we only have 2 more sites left to survey and then we will be done with the big part of our field season here in Henderson, NV!  Hopefully we will knock those 2 sites out in the next 2 days and then it’s on to entering all the data we have collected.  It has been a rough field season, or at least a rough past week (which I’m sure will be explained in future blog posts, prepare yourselves for a very exciting story), but we have all worked hard and well together to get everything done.  We were told that last year’s group (which was part of SCA, we are the first CLM group here) had one more person than we have this year and they took another week or so to finish all this!  So either we are really fricking awesome or they took their sweet ol’ time getting through it all last year!  Either way I feel pretty good about our group!

I am looking forward to meeting everyone (or most everyone) in Chicago in a couple weeks!  Even though we will be done with our field season by then, it should be a fun and informative experience.  And now I’m off to bed to get a few hours of sleep before our 5am departure into the Mojave Desert…Goodnight!

Successful First Month

We have completed the first month of our internship in the Mojave Desert.  After a couple of rough weeks, I think I’m getting the hang of field work and being in the middle of the desert for 5 days straight.  Who knew it could be cold and rainy in the desert?!  Thankfully it’s starting to warm up, although I’m sure I’ll be complaining about it being too hot before I know it.

We finished sampling annual plants the week before last and started the perennial cover and density measurements this past week.  There are 168 plots that we have to measure in the first site.  Since we only got through 5 plots the first day we were a little nervous about how long it was going to take us.  But the following days we picked up speed and finished over 1/6 of the plots.  If we keep up that pace we should be done with that site in about 2, maybe 3 more weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed that we aren’t still out there in mid-summer!

And now to finish removing Bromus grass from all of my clothing…..

First time in the desert SW

I am doing my internship (along with 3 other interns) with the Henderson, NV-based USGS monitoring burned Desert Tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert.  We will also be working on a few other projects, but this is the one we’re starting with.  I had never been to this part of the country before, let alone the desert, so this was a huge change for me coming from Michigan!  The first thing I noticed about the desert SW was that the speed limit on the highways is 75!  Not important, I know, but it was exciting for me!  I’ve never lived in a city this big, but so far Henderson has been fun, although I’m not a fan of the traffic or the crazy drivers out here…

We spent 3 days this week in the desert just inside Arizona.  It was weird not having any trees around, but I LOVED the stars at night!  It’s amazing how much sky you can see here!  The work wasn’t bad, we hiked around on the foothills and identified and collected little tiny plants.  My neck and back are a little sore, but overall it was pretty cool to be out in the desert.

After one week on the job I’ve decided that I love mountains and I do not miss the snow that they still have back home, but I do miss trees (Joshua trees and the palm trees in the city do not count).