I finished my 5-month internship in Carson City, NV last Friday (July 31, 2015). Although an extension was offered to all members of the CLM intern team, I did not take it, as I have other plans for the fall and winter. I had a wonderful time in western Nevada. The Great Basin Desert and the Sierra Nevada Mountains are unique and beautiful ecosystems. Most of the locations I traveled to were isolated and displaced from the well-traveled paths; places that I probably would have never gone to, even if I permanently lived in the area. I was able to explore the unspeakable pulchritude of the sage brush steppe in the desert and the impressive array of granite rock in the Sierras.
So why did I choose to do the CLM internship in the first place, and why did I choose an internship with the Bureau of Land Management? In order to answer such a question, we must first dig deeper into understanding why I even care about the public lands and wilderness.
I was born and raised in Durango, Colorado – a small southwestern town, located about an hour and a half away from the Four Corners Monument. The town’s adjacency to the Rocky Mountain alpine tundra, the red rock desert of Utah, and the badlands of New Mexico provided me numerous opportunities to venture into the wild. I grew up camping, backpacking, and climbing mountains. As I grew older, I explored other methods of discovering bliss in the wild – including mountain biking, fly-fishing, and rafting. The wilderness is who I am; without it, I’m lost.
It saddens me to imagine a world without these large expanses of open canyon country and forests. In my early college days, I realized that I wanted to study nothing else other than ecology, conservation biology and land management. I have a profound obligation to pay the land respect and fight for conservation in exchange for the happiness and life it gave me. But, although I cherish the public lands and wilderness areas immensely, I used to not know what happened behind the scenes. How were we managing lands and natural resources? How were we promoting the health and biodiversity of public lands? Once I got the job offer in Carson City, I realized that this internship would be a great way to discover what it is like to work for the BLM and to understand the mission of this agency in greater detail. I also wanted to recognize the obligations and relationships between the BLM and other collaborative agencies, stakeholders and the general public.
I graduated from Fort Lewis College in May 2014 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and a GIS Certificate. My undergraduate research experiences focused on plant-pollinator interactions and avian biology. I’ve taken advantage of my current break from school to explore different biological studies and to discover the type of research and career path I wish to further pursue. I was interested in the position of Botany Intern for several reasons. During my undergraduate career, I conducted two independent research projects focusing on plant-pollinator interactions in the subalpine forests of Colorado. I was particularly interested in understanding how various climatic factors may influence floral rewards (e.g., nectar volume and sugar concentration) and how such variation may affect the survival and fitness of pollinator communities. As a result, I’ve always had an underlying interest in plant biology.
But another large portion of my undergraduate career also focused on studying avian species – including the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) in Virginia and the Emperor Goose (Chen canagica) in Alaska.
With my plant and avian research experience, I’ve developed an interest for understanding how nesting success and population dynamics of various avian species may be affected by food resources, habitat composition, and climatic variations. Furthermore, I’m interested in understanding how such factors could influence the short and long-term temporal and spatial variation in population dynamics.
I wanted to be a Botany Intern to see if studying plants was my true passion. From this internship, I have undoubtedly realized that I do not want to pursue a career focusing only on plants and taxonomy. Although I do not wish to obtain a career in botany, I still have a fond interest for plant identification and biology. In fact, this internship has made me a more well-educated biologist, and I can strongly use my botany background for future research. As a wildlife biologist focusing on habitat composition and availability of food and nesting resources, I will find it very beneficial to understand the type and extent of vegetation within the area. This internship provided me with an opportunity to refine my academic interests and career goals.
I have a gained a lot of new skills through this internship. My resume is now saturated with new skills and training. Some of the training that I participated in include the following: (1) Integrated Pest Management and Pesticide Applicator Certification, (2) Vegetation Rapid Assessment Relevé Workshop, (3) Conservation and Land Management Workshop, and (4) CPR First Aid Certification. My favorite training was the Vegetation Rapid Assessment Relevé Workshop in Yosemite National Park, CA. The workshop was provided by the California Native Plant Society and focused on applying rapid assessment and relevé methods for vegetation sampling, classification, and mapping. I discovered how valuable this training was to my career as a biologist. I’m now more confident with classifying vegetation cover and determining the best methods for vegetation sampling. Additional skills that I have gained include competency with ArcPad 10 software, plant identification skills, experience with pressing, mounting, and archiving plant specimens, experience collecting viable seeds from native plant populations, and familiarity with the AIM (Assessment Inventory Monitoring) of fire rehabilitation.
I contributed to the CLM intern team and the BLM office through a variety of ways. I was able to use my GIS education and knowledge to georeference grazing utilization maps, help manage the GPS and GIS data, develop maps for scouting and seed collecting trips, and guide my fellow interns in the use of GIS software. I was also able to use my plant-pollinator and avian knowledge during an environmental education outreach program focusing on Fliers: Bugs, Bats and Birds. I was very content with realizing how I could apply my education and experience in a professional setting.
I have a lot of good memories from my time as an intern. One of the best memories I had was going to Yosemite National Park for the Rapid Assessment Relevé Workshop. I had never before been to Yosemite. My parents have this remarkable Stephen Lyman painting of Half Dome in the living room at home. I grew up staring at Half Dome every day, but that was in Colorado – about 1,000 miles southeast of the actual granite wall. When I got to Yosemite, I could not believe how impressive Half Dome truly was. During the evening, after our first day of class, we went to the Yosemite Valley to eat and rest. My priority was to see Half Dome and nothing else – dinner could wait. When we got to the valley, I wandered off to a meadow where I sat for an hour as the sun set. I just sat there and stared at Half Dome. I wasn’t thinking about anything else but the wall, and I tried to imagine the thoughts John Muir had when he first wandered into this valley more than 100 years ago. The internship not only provided me with a great training, but it also offered me the opportunity to be immersed in Yosemite Valley and to watch the alpine glow majestically appear and disappear on the face of Half Dome.
Another memorable moment occurred during a scouting mission near Pyramid Lake, NV. Pyramid Lake has almost the same surface area as Lake Tahoe and is just as wonderful and blue as Tahoe itself. The lake is jaw-dropping. But, the lake’s distance from the Sierras and the Jeffery Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) forests has caused it to not be a destination for the majority of vacationers. Furthermore, there is almost no development on the lake and in the area compared to Tahoe. For me, the lack of development is pure joy; for others, the opposite. One day, the team and I were scouting for potential seed collections in an area known as the Hardscrabble Canyon Allotment. We split up and went on our separate ways. I followed a route up a high ridge. At the time, Amsinckia sp. and Blepharappapus sp. were blooming. Being a botany intern can mean staring at the ground for long hours at a time. I would often forget to take a break, to look up, to view the surrounding landscape. During this scouting mission, I remembered to stop and look around. When I did, I saw my co-workers and supervisor wandering on the adjacent slopes. Behind them, the deep sapphire blue of Pyramid Lake stood out remarkably against the dusty desolate desert. Storm clouds were forming along the eastern horizon and lighting bolts were striking randomly across the hills. The dappled landscape and stormy scene were collectively beautiful and I could not remove my stare from the contrasting desert colors. In that moment, there was nowhere else I would have rather been.
I’m spending the rest of August and part of September backpacking, mountain biking, and fly-fishing throughout the Rocky Mountains. My journey will take me to Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. In mid-September, I’m moving to Laramie, Wyoming where I will spend the fall and winter months. I’m hoping to have a biology-related job during this time. Next spring and summer are full of unknown adventures. I would love to return to the last frontier and explore the Alaskan mountain ranges in more depth. I will be returning to school within the next year to obtain a Ph.D. in plant-animal interactions.
With the end of my blog, I will leave you, the readers, with one quote to ponder upon:
“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”