The Great Basin Experience has come to a close.

The eight months I spent in Eastern Oregon working for the Bureau of Land Management gave me a good amount of time to understand how land management operates within a government organization. Coming from Illinois, and not working for the government before, this was a completely new experience, and worth every moment. Throughout my time at the Vale District BLM, I tried to to take advantage of the wide variety of resources available and learn as much as possible.  This included going to the field with range technicians, range conservationists, soil scientists (NRCS), wildlife biologists, horse and burro specialist, hydrologists, etc., when my mentor gave me the opportunity to do so. Aside from all of the required work, having the opportunity to go out with this wide range staff let me learn so much more than I would have expected.
One of the major skills I took away from the internship is taxonomic identification of a very wide variety of plant species. This will help me in the future, no matter what type of habitat I end up working in. This is a basic skill set that I was not taught in college, unbelievably so, and my mentor took time to help me out with this. Along with that, my navigational skills were immensely improved, both within the backcountry terrain and in general. The main expectations of me and the other intern were to accomplish a set goal of monitoring sensitive plant sites and seed collections. These two tasks taught me about seed viability, the importance of native seed collection, and the proper protocol to efficiently and effectively collect seed. The sensitive plant monitoring taught me how to assess a particular habitat and identify where sensitive plants are likely to occur within a specific location.
A learning experience that stands out to me most is the importance of being prepared for anything while out in the field. While working in extremely remote areas, you ALWAYS have to make sure you have absolutely everything you need before leaving for the field. Along with being prepared, the most important learning experience I will take away from this is to always ask questions even if they might seem ‘stupid’.
My expectation going into the internship was that I would be able to bring together my academic knowledge and other field work experiences in a way that would be very useful in future jobs. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of how everything needs to come together to complete a specific project. My main interest is ecological restoration, so working on restoration project would have been ideal. So, were my expectations met? Yes, but not in the way I originally thought they would be. After getting to the BLM and spending time learning what it was I would be doing for the next couple of months, it turned out I would not have the opportunity to work on a specific restoration project. That is not to say I didn’t get to learn about what I wanted though. Being a part of the Seeds of Success project, I was a part of restorative practices at the beginning level. Also, asking the specialists in the office different questions, I was able to learn more about land management, not just in the restoration realm.
The opportunity to work in a location for an extended period of time, rather than just a typical three month stint, helped me learn a lot more. After reflecting on the internship, I am grateful and appreciative to have had the chance to work in such a beautiful landscape and learn as much as I can while there. The full scope of bringing my academic and field experience together was possible, and I hope it will help me in my next step.

On to my next adventure

Since being back at work since the furlough, I have been busy entering data into the different databases. It has been a long process, but I have learned a lot along the way. Currently, my mentor and I are looking for sagebrush collections before I leave in the beginning of summer. We are hoping to get at least one collection in, but it has been fairly rainy/snowy here the past week and has made things very difficult.

This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to the BLM managers and higher-ups about my internship and why it is good to have interns to help out on the District. It was a little scary presenting to them, but it was good to see that there is genuine interest to keep entry level younger people coming into the office to learn and gain experience.

Overall, the next couple of weeks will go by fast, and it will be bittersweet to move on to my next adventure; but sad leaving behind great people that I learned so much from. I’m always awed by the landscape and the opportunity to come out West.

Holy Smokes, It’s almost September!

August has been another busy month of trying to grasp everything that the BLM is managing and what they are responsible for. The other intern and I started our month off with heading to the Northeastern area of Oregon in Baker City. For the second time this internship, we were given the opportunity to work with an independent contractor and another BLM botanist to set up climate change monitoring plots. The plots were set up on a mountain side, and hiking up to these sites was definitely a test of endurance and strength. Why set them up on a mountain side? Well, the location is in a “transitional” habitat, and over a span of time they will be used to see if there is a shift in vegetation and if climate change is impacting this specific ecosystem. We did a whole lot of dbh, marking, and identification of the trees in the plot area; along with identifying the wide variety of forbs and shrubs. It was a great week to see a new project and full of learning.

The most exciting part of this month, and probably the whole internship so far, was having the chance to work with the E.S.I crew for a week! E.S.I. is Ecosystem Site Inventory.

They were hired to perform the initial soil survey for BLM land in Malheur County. Malheur County is one of the last areas in the United States to not have any soil surveys or ecosystem site inventories on its land. So, BLM hired the NRCS to complete the initial soil surveys and E.S.I. by 2020. A long process indeed. Anyway, one of the soil scientists let me follow her throughout the week to see what they do. For this project, they are paired with a botanist/ecologist to get thorough data on both the vegetation and soil. A very important aspect of the Ecosystem site inventories is to get the full view of the landscape. Seeing them at work and talking about the relationships of plants and soil really clicked a light bulb in my head! Landscape ecology and understanding all of the different relationships is exactly what it is I want pursue. Which is a very wide category, I know, but it has helped me find a focus, yipee! Learning about the soil and plant relationships made sense to me and I cant wait to follow through and see what comes next!

Eastern Oregon, full of surprises!

There has been a lot of work accomplished these past two months, and a lot of knowledge gained. Aside from the regular schedule of scouting for new seed collections, collecting seed, and monitoring sensitive plants; I have been given the opportunity work on different projects and with people from many different organizations.

1) Hells Canyon: The botanist in the Northern Resource Area of Vale District needed help collecting a sensitive plants seeds for conservation purposes. Rubus bartonianus – which is Bartonberry – is endemic globally to Hells Canyon along the Snake River. The other intern, the botanist, and I had to climb steep talus slopes to collect the berries, and it made for a very tough hike. The views were amazing, and we stumbled upon an abandoned mine. Didn’t fall in, luckily (thanks for the heads up CLM training workshop).
2) Traveled to the Nevada border to monitor Emergency Rehabilitation and Stabilization trend plots for a fire that consumed nearly 500,000 acres of shrubland last July. The point of monitoring the plots is to determine when the land is stable and ready for grazing to be allowed back on the land.
3) One of the most informative weeks of the internship was the week I got to help out an ID team with Geographic Management Area standards and guideline monitoring. An ID team of a hydrologist, botanist, horse and burro specialist, wildlife tech, and Range Conservationist were put together to interpret rangeland health through qualitative indicators. The objective was to gather information at the site, determine the health at the time, and if the land was degrading due to grazing: determine what method should be used to monitor the change, and if needed, use adaptive management to improve land. Overall, I loved this week most because it brought together much of what I have been learing the months I have been here. Also, a comprehensive overview of the purpose of the BLM was made clear to me this week.

4) Hunt Mountain: This was another great week for learning and working with people from other federal agencies other than the BLM. There was a collaborative effort between the Forest Service, a private contractor, and the BLM to monitor Blister rust (Cronartium ribicola) on White bark pine (Pinus albicaulis). We set up transects on Hunt Mountain and followed a particular protocol for determing if there was blister rust present and the severity of it on the white bark pines. Hiking up to 7200 ft on Hunt Mounatin was definitely worth it.

So far I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge, and cant wait to learn more! The amount I have written in this blog is only a small portion of what I have learned.

Hells Canyon, Oregon

Learning Learning Learning

There has been a lot to absorb this past month and a half working at the BLM District in Eastern Oregon. The whole comprehensive view on what the BLM does and is trying to accomplish is extremely interesting to learn about. My mentor has given the other intern and me an opportunity to explore the different sectors of BLM. Going out into the field and talking with the other workers who comprise the Vale BLM district has given me a great perspective on government work and the ins and outs of what needs to be done to get projects accomplished. So far I have learned getting anything done is a big balancing act of budget, meeting environmental standards, and pleasing the public. So far, from my point of view (only just getting my foot in the door), it appears that the district is understaffed for the amount of land and work that needs to be managed…I just don’t know how anything will get done properly, thoroughly, or efficiently with the amount of money and employees present.

Aside from the overall view of what has been happening, I have been learning a lot here. My plant identification skills have improved drastically, I have been able to work with GIS and improve upon that, and finally hiking just about everywhere has been great. Most of the days are spent doing sensitive plant monitoring. The other intern and I have been on our own to navigate, identify species, assess the habitat, and learn how to monitor the different sites. Learning how to properly assess land and determine the quality of it has been the most interesting so far. What plants species need to be present? Are there many invasives? What about the state of erosion? … There are so many different variables involved and so much to learn. On other days, we are able to go out and search for possible collection sites for SOS. Also, we have been able to work with a private contractor and set up long term climate monitoring plots on a few of the Resource natural Areas here on BLM land. We just started with this and will be going out next week to learn how they monitor the sites.

Overall, this past month and a half has been a lot to take in, but I have enjoyed every minute of it learning.

Just arrived in Eastern Oregon

So far, I have been working for the BLM botanist for just over a week in Vale, Oregon.  Vale is located in the Eastern part of Oregon near the Idaho border and is miles upon miles of sagebrush country.  This area is drastically different from the “prairies”( a.k.a. the corn/soybean fields) of the Midwest where I grew up, and it is a good change.  I have worked in sagebrush habitat once before, loved it very much, and am glad to be back to learn more.  This past week and a half has mostly consisted of getting re-familiarized with all of the different plant species of the area. We have been going out in the field with the botanist and identifying the various species of sagebrush, asters, mustards, grasses, sedges, and many others.  The different field sites we will be going to throughout the summer are spread across a huge district (5.1 million acres) and will require learning to drive on unpaved, rugged trails to get to most of our destinations. Excited!

So far, one of the more memorable experiences was driving on the actual Old Oregon trail to a cottonwood restoration site.  Seeing the original trails that settlers traveled on was amazing, in the least; no trees, no shade, very little water, and very bumpy…  hard to imagine how rugged a life they had.

There are many projects to work on pertaining to sensitive plant species, climate change monitoring, community ecology, range land monitoring, and so much more.   I am still getting the hang of everything, and will be getting more involved with the different projects next week.  Can’t wait to learn more, and get some pictures up next time I write!