This season in Lander, WY has been an irreplaceable experience for me in so many ways. From the skills that I’ve gained through being a part of so many different projects, to the wonderful people I’ve met here in Lander, each part of this season will shape my seasons to come and have left me so very grateful.
When I first pictured coming to the Lander BLM field office I expected to focus on two projects this season: SOS seed collections and a greater sage grouse habitat assessment report. Looking back now, I can see how different the experience was compared to this. Yes, we worked on SOS this season and it was a highly rewarding project that did take a large portion of our time. Instead of focusing the rest of our time solely on sage grouse habitat monitoring, though, we were enveloped under the whole umbrella of the rangeland management staff projects, which lead to a wonderfully wide array of responsibilities. I didn’t know the first thing about rangeland health before I came to this internship. While I still may not be an expert, I understand the complexities and controversies involved and I’m richer for that understanding. In July we completed this year’s data sampling for an ongoing rangeland production study. Throughout the season we visited key riparian areas collecting data about the utilization of those sites. I was able to help with rangeland health assessments and finally started to get a good sense of judging some of the important indicators of degradation. September through November we spent most of our time driving the horse management areas (HMAs) of our field office monitoring wild horse populations. And as though that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, our season was peppered with excursions to various field sites to help with forestry, archaeology, sage grouse conservation and restoration projects!
Highlights of the season:
- Identifying our first SOS seed collection populations. I was so excited to be contributing to such an important project as the National Seed Strategy, and hope some day to see the positive contribution of the SOS program in changing the protocols and expectations for large scale restoration and reclamation.
- It was equally satisfying to package up our seed, seeing it in all its individual bags with neatly printed labels and to ship it off to the Bend Seed Extractory in Bend, OR.
- Wild horse monitoring. Never had I ever expected this job to be to hiking out to bands of wild horses to photograph them! As time went on and we spent more time near the horses and developed a sense for interacting with them, the more I loved going out and trying to get close to them. Of course with so much territory to cover, much of that time was spent peering through our binoculars at far off shapes, asking under our breathe, “is that a horse or a cow?”. Sometimes from a strange angle or by the trickery of the land we would make ourselves laugh at how close we could get before realizing what we thought was a horse was in fact just a lazy cow. Our ability to distinguish the two from great distance has improved dramatically in the last three months, a skill I was not expecting to have mastered before I came here 🙂
Of course with so much territory to cover, much of that time was spent peering through our binoculars at far off shapes, asking under our breathe, “is that a horse or a cow?”.
- Learning how to capture and collar Greater Sage Grouse in the middle of the night, while simultaneously learning to ride an ATV with one hand. With one hand steering, and one hand holding a giant spot light, we rode around for hours, jumping off and racing toward the grouse with an enormous net each time we spotted one. That was quite a unique experience!
- Spending hours upon hours hiking, driving, and seed collecting in this beautiful country. Our work has brought us all over our 2.5 million acre field office and I’ve gotten to know it well. Erin and I aren’t exactly sure how many miles we’ve put on our vehicle this season, but we’re ball parking it somewhere around 25,000. And those many miles have brought us to some truly amazing places that we may not have otherwise seen in our lifetime.
Thank you Chicago Botanic Gardens and BLM for this unforgettable treasure of an experience.