Biologist For Hire…

Before anything else, let me just say that if you the reader are an employer and looking for a highly competent wildlife biologist, look no further!

Alright now more realistically, that’s five months wrapped up. An adventure that was absolutely worth driving across the country. I was actually a little slow with getting this up. So I am now writing this in a Starbucks in North Carolina visiting friends.

I am extremely thankful for all of the experiences gained through my work with the BLM Prineville district. But if I had to limit the lessons learned down to a handful of tid-bits, it would be this:

  1. Own up to your mistakes and you’ll learn more from it and faster. Especially when I first started working this summer, making mistakes was practically a habit of mine day by day. The worst moment was when I failed to write down directions to a specific site. I dumbly assumed that the roads would be easy to follow…they were not. This bold assumption making two of us marooned on dirt roads, unable to get to our site, with my coworker understandably considering strangling me when it turns out I never wrote down the directions. This leads me to-
  2. Keep a notebook on your person. Credit to Kathleen for this one! She’s right. Always keep a notebook around, old school style. It happens all too often that people sporadically tell you valuable info at the worst moments. Those notebooks can be a lifesaver, or at least help you find difficult locations in rural Oregon!
  3. I don’t know what the deal is with country songs, there’s nothing “fun” about driving a 4×4 through muddy roads. And if it is fun, then you’re not on a real dirt road or you’re an extremely dangerous driver. One of the two.
  4. At the specific moments you feel like you’re falling into complacency…push yourself out of your comfort zone. I was falling a little to much into a routine of just hanging out at my apartment in September, so I forced myself to go backpacking in Rainier. And I wouldn’t trade that weekend for the world. Even if it poured rain and I was on my own, which leads me finally to-
  5. Learn to be alone. There’s a world of difference between alone and lonely. I think too often in the past I used me being alone as an excuse not to do any adventures. And that’s stupid. I started to accept in Oregon that I may never be around here again, so let’s see it all while I can. Hiking alone is a skill that I think is fading away, and while it is nice to have other people join, I see nothing wrong with hiking in solitude so long as you’re smart about it-as in let others know where you are. With my girlfriend still on the other side of the country in North Carolina, I was certainly alone a lot. But that does not mean you have to be lonely, you just have to learn how to be alone, which in the overly connected world we live in today I think learning to be alone is vital sometimes.

I never cared for Dr. Seuss, but I do love “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” as it always alleviates my anxiety when life comes across as too much. So now, after driving across the country twice and countless adventures, I’m excited to see where I will go next.



Adventure on Two Mountains and Bill’s Place

As I approach my last month, I have been trying to use my time as well as possible-besides this weekend, which I’m using to recharge. The past couple weeks I have been working on a bat study, recording data on bat roosts in rocks and trees.

Three weeks ago I made the effort to go hiking in Mt. Rainier. Cold, rainy, snowy, exhausting: I loved it all. And I was relatively pleased for knocking out a 40 mile loop in 3 days.


My favorite moment was probably sharing a campsite with a fellow solo hiker. As it turned out his wife and grandfather went to my alma mater at Wake Forest. He told me how his wife will be “tickled” to hear how he spent a night with a Demon Deacon. He spent dinner telling me how I need to follow my dreams. Backpacking always gives me a renewed sense of optimism in humans, and this man was no exception.

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As I was driving back-less than 24 hours to prepare for returning to work-I came to realize that one of the biggest reasons I love backpacking is afterwards returning to civilization I feel like a better person. I may not smell like one, but I sure feel better in a way no other activity I know can provide.

The weekend following, to the dismay of my recovering feet and knees, I climbed South Sister just outside of Bend. For me, climbing up was the fun part, on the return trip it seemed falling was the only right way to get down. Still, a gorgeous hike.

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Finally, last week for work we got the opportunity to visit Bill’s place. While there we found a visit from some wild horses, so all in all it was a pretty great day.



All in all I’m pretty proud for the high density of adventure, so I’m rewarding myself with a weekend of coffee and relaxing.

Until next time,

Ben Robb

Ponderosas and stress

Since my last update, I’ve been working in a new area-meaning new habitats and new work. Now I’m working in Ponderosa pine restoration sites/fuels reduction stands. Even after a couple weeks of work, I’m still not quite used to being around trees instead of sagebrush. And right when I was starting to appreciate sagebrush! But in its own way these sites I’m going to now are also gorgeous. I’ve especially been a fan of how large Ponderosa bark smells like butterscotch! That said, I’m not crazy about the hordes of hornets that are only becoming more abundant. Last week the smoke was getting so bad in the area it looked like we were constantly in the eye of some great storm. No rain, just smoke.

Because I didn’t go to the Chicago training, I went to the Ecological Society of America Conference in Baltimore a couple weeks ago. All in all it was a blast, I loved catching up with old graduate students and professors. I also got to see some exciting new research and learned a lot. But it was also surprisingly stressful as well when I saw that even after getting my undergraduate degree, I still have a long way to go. At one particular moment I had a chill run down my spine when a colleague congratulated me on finding a job in ecology after graduating. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. So while I enjoyed the conference and learned a lot, one of the biggest lessons I got was not on Bayesian modeling but that I’m just at the beginning of my career in ecology. And while the ecology community is extremely welcoming, I will have to work all the harder to contribute significantly to the conservation movement, my end goal. While I love the work I am doing now, stress will always find me again.

One of the best lessons on stress I’ve ever heard was from my old Orgo I professor. After the first exam, among all the pre-med panic attacks, my professor laid out to us that if you look down the road from here-look at everything else you have to overcome-it’s not going to get any easier. And if you want to succeed, you are going to have to learn how to deal with stress. Or get a serious heart condition by the time you’re 25. Whichever comes first.

Oddly, that lesson comforts me. And I am so grateful I work a job where I enjoy what obstacles I am faced with. And when the stress builds up despite my efforts, I consider it a privilege that I live in an area where I can just hop out of the car, go for a hike on an unnamed trail, and get views like this:



Nests and Thunderstorms

I’m not scared of heights, but when I’m several stories up I don’t want to fall either. Likewise I enjoy a good thunderstorm, but when I’m standing on an exposed mountain my feelings toward lightening changes a little.


John Muir once said that “many of Nature’s finest lessons are to be found in her storms.” Any rational human being would call that an insane reason to wander a glacier field during a blizzard. And they would be right. That’s what makes Muir so much fun is that the guy was nuts. But watching a thunderstorm roll in while I was stubbornly trying to get work done, Muir does have a point. You see the field differently when you’re taking shelter under a juniper tree and considering if it’s worth the exposed run to lower ground amidst deafening thunder.

Of course, I exaggerate some. I wasn’t facing “the perfect storm” or anything. I was fine. But those were my musings as I contemplated how well I could jog down a mountain without needing to be air lifted. Cause there’d be a lot of paper work if I need to be “life flighted” out. And no one likes paper work. Or broken spines.

Thankfully there’s no paperwork. But it was one of those somewhat mundane moments in the field that does get you thinking.

My past couple weeks have been a riot with looking for raptor nests and marking them. Oddly satisfying work when you start to find them. The best was finding a Ferruginous Hawk nest with the two parents screaming away at me right over head. Made my day. I’m moving on to being fuels reduction this week, which will be a fun change of pace. Though that said, I will start to miss these punks:



Ben Robb





What are you doing with your life kid?

As a sophomore in college I met with a professor to discuss what it means to be a biology major. I expressed concern over what my job prospects would be with a bio degree. I know, “do what you love and the money will follow,” but you need to be realistic sometimes. So I asked my professor what my choices were and she laid out 3 options:

1. Pre-Med- I knew from the start that this is not the place for me. I wanted to work with the environment.

2. Education- This option leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I respect teachers, but it seems like a vicious cycle to just major in Bio to continue trying to inspire other kids to become Bio majors.

3. Academia- I’m only 22 now, it still seems absurd to have aspirations of a PhD, and as my mom can testify: just because you have a PhD doesn’t mean you’ll get a job.

And that was it. So I left the meeting still scared of the future but reassured to try it out. I’m a Bio major and I couldn’t be happier for that decision, regardless of the risky job market. But, I’m ashamed my professor never discussed any other options. Because I’m finding now that there’s a lot more out there, you just have to know where to look.

I love it with the BLM. There are things to do, I do not feel idle, supervisors treat you well and everyone in the office is friendly. My theory with this friendliness comes from the fact that everyone has field work, so most people are not stuck in the office 100% of the time. And those that are stuck in the office feed off of the energy from the field. It is neat to witness a system like this take place before your eyes.

I worked previous summers in ecology labs, helping graduate students and professors in the field. I enjoyed those internships as well, but I always felt like I had to know my place. Here, I feel like I am a part of the bigger picture and that is a valuable feeling.

Another attribute of the BLM that I have come to enjoy is people are working these jobs because they love it. It is easy to find people to look up to when you work in an atmosphere where everyone love what they are doing, despite some frustrations at the end of the day. Certainly I have worked with professors who loved their work and what they were working for, however to some degree there was always a hint of personal advancement as well. Ego for lack of a better word: the need to get your paper published, or get your name known by others. And I understand why this is needed by professors, but it is nice in the BLM where that ego is put aside relative to academia. Even the “higher-ups” do what they are doing because they enjoy it. Likewise they value the mission that their department stands by, whether it be BLM, Forest Service or FWS. It is awesome to be a part of this.

When people ask me about my internship, I tell them the worst part of the job is that it is only for 5 months. Certainly no job is perfect, and every place has its cons, but as far as I see it, working with the BLM is as good as I could have asked for. I need to write a letter to my old professor to tell her that if you know where to look, there is a lot out there for the weirdos like me who want to work outdoors. And for a mission they care about.