Sayonara, Susanville!

At the beginning of June I was fresh out of college with a fully packed car, ready to drive west across the country for the first time, eager to see places that had only been flat names on a map come to life, and unsure of how living in the wild west would feel. Sure enough, there were some frightening parts including rattlesnakes, marijuana gardens, forest fires, bears, and large boulders hiding behind sagebrush on barely drivable roads. Along my journey to Susanville, CA I gained a deeper appreciation for the vast expanse of our beautiful, diverse country. My first day at the office I eagerly walked in wearing a t-shirt and trail running shoes. I soon learned that the basalt rocks in Lassen county will absolutely rip your tread to shreds, and that the sun is so strong that wearing a t-shirt means you’ll be getting some irreversible tan lines. It is not possible to imagine how big the sky feels out west. Before becoming a CLM intern I’d never seen cheat grass or medusa head. The concept of a dry lake had never been illustrated to me in person. I had never gone more than three months, let alone three weeks without rain in the summer. I had also never hiked through snow pack in July, or seen flakes fall and accumulate on the first weekend in October. I have measured more JUOC trees than I ever imagined I would. I have gained a better understanding of how our land use practices have left us with the landscape we see today. I have seen how “natural” beef and wild horses can truly wreck the landscape and demolish natural springs. I have puzzled over a fair number of water rights, and wondered, how was this huge earthen dam constructed out here (and why)? I have had the pleasure of watching sage grouse flush out of the shrubs, coming across elegant Calochortus sp. blooming, witnessing pronghorn racing across the sage flats, and seeing some very cute Astragalus sp. growing in the dry sand. I have seen beautiful springs in the middle of the desert, and also helped clean up special designated shooting ranges with more shot gun shells and pieces of target clay than sage brush. I learned that unlike in the east, fences in the west are used to keep things out. I have a better understanding of range, and how trees are marked for timber cuts. My 22 weekends were spent on various trips adventuring to some of the country’s most well known outdoor recreation areas and some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The past month I have had the chance to help with education outreach and visit with 4th grade classes at Lassen county elementary schools for the Every Kid in a Park initiative from the Obama administration, which gives every 4th grader a free annual pass to visit national parks. Visiting children, telling them about what the BLM does, and getting them excited to hopefully use their park pass has been a great part of my last month here, and gives me hope that we can help encourage the next generation to cherish and care for our public lands.

Rain in Susanville, CA

People said that the rain would come this fall, and it is finally here! This weekend we are getting three days of rain. After finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail this past weekend, it is almost a reward to get to relax and stay at home. It is also nice to get the chance to use my umbrella and raincoat that I brought all the way from the east coast. Going out in the field next week should be interesting after a few inches of rain. We have mainly been working on water rights and juniper mapping for the past month. Our first snow on the mountains in town came on September 22, and we got to experience snow in Desolation wilderness on a backpacking trip over the first weekend of October. Earlier in October, we also got the chance to help run a session on pH and DO water sampling at the Lassen County Youth Camp for 6th graders. It was really fun to spend the morning with the kids and try to understand where all of their energy comes from. This was my second time at the camp, since the week earlier I had helped at the previous session with a binocular walk to look for birds. Lassen County Youth Camp is located on the east side of Eagle Lake, and is down a very long, bumpy road. The kids all walk in the last 4 miles because the road is so bad that buses won’t go down it. Even though the funding for the camp has been cut, there are still a few determined teachers who get help from parents and figure out a way to make the camp happen for a few days in the fall. While the kids are at camp, their studies focus on science curriculum and they have the opportunity to attend guest programs from people with the forest service, Cal fire, and other natural resource organizations. Over the past few weeks we have also packaged all of our seed and sent it to Bend. We have also packaged all of our herbarium vouchers. It is very satisfying to have completed our collections. All that remains now is to send in our photos.
A few weeks ago we went out to rake Atriplex seed in to the ground. The 4-winged saltbrush is a great forage plant, and a local rancher had given the BLM 6 large bags of seed. It was hard to find suitable locations for the seed, which was collected at around 5,000 ft. Hopefully it will germinate in the locations where we raked it in. The same day we were out scouting for sites, we found cows had been let in to an upland plant exclosure. Apparently ranchers will drive by, see their hungry looking cows, open the gates and then blame it on the hunters. We had fun chasing cows out of the exclosure; they knew they weren’t supposed to be in there, but who knows when someone will open the gate again. Last week we went to the pine dunes past Ravendale. Sand dunes formed in the middle of the sagebrush basin plant community from an ancient lake that dried up. There are Washoe and ponderosa pines up to 100 years old in this rare community, but there has not been reproduction in the pine stand recently. We walked the perimeter of the fence exclosure, which unfortunately had been cut in several places, and picked up cones that will be checked for viability. There was an eagle nest in one of the pines, and we got a chance to see it fly over us while we were walking in the dunes. The trip to the pine dunes was especially memorable because on our first attempt we ended up getting the truck stuck in the sand. To our surprise, a small kitten managed to find us out in the middle of no where, it must have come from one of the small houses out on the nearby road, and stayed with us until the BLM fire crew came to help us out. It was pretty skinny, so it probably would have died after a few more 30 degree nights if we had not happened to cross paths out in the pine dunes. Luckily one of the BLM fire guys decided to take it home with him!
With just three weeks left, the end is coming near. The days are much shorter, and the field work projects are wrapping up. There seems to be rain in the forecast more often now and it’s hard to get out on the roads when things are wet. The Diamond mountains in town have had snow on them for a week now. I am hoping to make a trip up to Oregon next weekend, which leaves just one other full weekend in November before we get ready to part ways in mid-November.
BLM Eagle Lake Field Office
Susanville, CA

Hot and Cold in Susanville, CA

Though the days have cooled off here in Susanville, CA, the fire heat hasn’t died down yet. A recent wildfire, the Willard fire, started over the weekend of September 10th just around 7 miles west of town and has now burned roughly 1,000 acres. I was not expecting to see a big plume of smoke while driving back after the weekend, but sure enough, the smoke was coming from just beyond Susanville! This is the closest I have ever been to a big wildfire, so it is a whole new experience for me. They are evacuating people along the Susan River now, and I’ve seen several planes flying overhead. The Willard fire is now 100% contained and burned a total of 2,575 acres. Structures destroyed include 2 houses and 5 other structures. The past month has been filled with water rights and juniper mapping. I’ve been able to explore so many roads at the Eagle Lake Field Office that are tucked in between 395 and 139. It is always a shock to emerge back on the highway after spending a day bumping along on the back roads. Being on the two track roads almost always makes time feel as though it passes more slowly. There is a very nice and relaxing element to the solitude of the places we visit. The marijuana growing activity has picked up since Lassen county passed a new ordinance allowing a limited number of plants to be grown for medical marijuana. Because it is harvest season, part of the field office has been closed off until things die down. Fall also marks the beginning of hunting seasons here. I am glad that my field shirt is red! Our seed collecting has been slowing down here since most things have died or the seed has gone already. We are already thinking about the possibility of driving the seed up to Bend later in October. With 6 weeks left, the thought of leaving is starting to set in a little. I really hope I get to experience some actual rain here before I leave. I don’t exactly wish to be stuck out in the field in a storm, but it would be an experience. I am also looking forward to seeing how I reflect on my time here after I leave. While taking the train back from San Francisco to Reno a few weeks ago, I was amazed by how the journey felt so different with a different vantage point. I am sure I will be processing my experiences here over many more miles of travel along new roads here and others leading to new places. The next few weekend plans include hiking around Tahoe and going up to Oregon. We are running out of weekends for adventures here in Nor Cal. The fall also means that there will probably be more office work soon. We are currently looking for sites to rake in Atriplex canescens seed, in addition to mapping upland exclosures. Last Thursday we woke up to snow on the local Diamond range, which marks the end of the Sierras. It’s pretty exciting to see snow so early. This past week it warmed up to 90 degrees during the days and felt like July again. Hopefully more snow will come soon!


Bureau of Land Management

Eagle Lake Field Office

New views in Susanville, CA

This past week we were able to experience some new things in the field office. On Monday and Tuesday, Brian and Laura came from Chico to do some mapping on the Skedaddle mountains. They are working on a large vegetation mapping project, which aims to map all vegetation in California. It was interesting to hear about their work. Our main purpose was to help them get up to the Skedaddles. I never appreciated what Jeeps are capable of until working with the BLM. I sort of compare the Rubicon Jeeps we drive to full suspension mountain bikes that can roll over a pile of rocks with relative ease. Nothing could have prepared me to understand how much off road driving we would be doing in this job, but now it seems only normal to bounce around in the car every day. Once we got up to the Skedaddles (around a 2 hour drive) we got out and hiked to their random vegetation plots. This was the first time we had hiked through aspen groves. From a distance it doesn’t look possible for there to be deciduous trees on these quite bare and rocky mountains, but sure enough in the wetter spots there are some beautiful green groves of aspen. They look at species within 30 meters of the random point and take soil texture samples. At non-tree/shub vegetation plots they also make a 10 by 10 meter square and do visual estimates of plant cover. We were able to help with the soil texture samples, which was fun because we got to get our hands dirty. Coming down off of one of the Skedaddles on Tuesday we got to see a little bird nest in a sagebrush with baby chicks! They were very cute. The best part of accompanying and transporting the mapping crew was that we got to have two gorgeous views from the top of two different peaks of the Skedaddles both days (>7,000 feet). The first day we had a stunning view on a windy summit looking east into Nevada. It was fun to see a very blue looking Pyramid Lake, which none of us had seen before. The second day we were able to see the dry bed of Honey Lake and more of the familiar spine of the northern most Sierras. This week was cooler than it has been, but it was also such a temperature relief to be up at a higher elevation.

The past two days this week we went out to learn about lentic AIM with a crew from the Eagle Lake Field Office and the Alturas (Applegate) Office. The BLM is trying to create a new protocol for collecting data on the vegetation and condition of springs. It was interesting to hear different people bring up ideas and introduce thoughts on how the protocol can be developed in the next few years. It is easy for policy to be written, but implementing it in the field is much more challenging. What happens if a pedestal (where soil has been lost due to cow trampling) is sloped at an angle, or has less than 50 % vegetation? How do you measure it and where do you measure it? How long are the transects? How many transects can you do? Where do you prioritize your work? Which springs do you visit and how often? These questions and many questions like these were what the group grappled with for the afternoon. It was encouraging to hear that those working to develop the protocol, one being Melissa from the NOC Colorado office who visited us, are trying to integrate methods from other protocols that already work well. Visiting trampled springs always makes me feel somewhat at a loss inside. It’s pretty depressing to see what once was probably beautiful and green just a strip of trampled grass with significant soil loss. All of the spaces between the pedestals are where soil has been lost. Although we are collecting a lot of native seed for restoration, we have all agreed that there really isn’t any point trying to put it here unless these springs get fenced. It was nice to have the perspective of the range technicians because they were able to explain how areas have to be fenced with consideration for how the wild horses will access the water. Pat, one of the range managers, explained how you would need to create a fence in a “V” shape in order for them to go around the fence without running through it. It seems like there is a fair amount of fencing that needs to be done before some of the riparian seeds can be effectively used for restoration.

The next spring we visited had a very springy bed of grass in the channel, which almost felt like sphagnum moss. Melissa called this a fen, and estimated that the amount of organic matter (perhaps 30 centimeters) would have taken over hundreds of years to form. Unfortunately it doesn’t take that long to destroy. Valda, our mentor, said that the sides of this channel used to be crisp and vertical so that the cows did not go down, but now the banks have eroded so that the cows are able to come down to the channel with water and create trouble. Apparently the area around this site was an archaeology site, so no fencing could be put in before the area was surveyed. It will probably take a while for this to be done. I wonder what the condition of the spring will be by then.

A few days ago, Jocelyn and I had quite an adventurous day in the field. We set out to collect mimulus seeds, but were unlucky in finding pods that still had seed in them. The pods of the seeds are somewhat see through, and all of the very small seeds are visible in a thin black line at the bottom of the pod if they are still there. The pods were dried and the wind had blown most of the seed out by this time. We have definitely struggled somewhat with timing for seed collections. The other day we went to collect Lotus corniculatus, but we were too early, and most of the pods were still green. Though Lotus corniculatus is not native, it is a forb that the sage grouse enjoy eating, so we have been asked to collect it. However, we were successful in coming across a rattlesnake for the first time in the field while walking around. It rattled consistently; we paused, and then turned around. It was frightening mostly because we couldn’t see where it was or if it was moving. Upon returning to the office we were told that only baby rattle snakes rattle continuously, and they are also not able to control how much venom they use. Needless to say, we felt pretty lucky to have escaped unharmed. While we were driving out to our next site to check for more Lotus corniculatus, we happened upon a pot garden. It was on private land, and these sites are not usually as dangerous as the ones tucked away on BLM land, but it still freaked us out a fair amount. So the two things I’ve been wondering when I would see in the field office were seen in one day!

I forgot to mention that last week we had some small earthquakes here! It’s exciting to experience small earthquakes, but still a bit shocking when they wake you up from your sleep early in the morning. They do serve as a nice reminder of the interesting geologic setting we are in. The geology is pretty stunning in the west. Our field office manager has a background in geology, and it has been fun to talk with him about how much this place rocks.

Smoky days in Susanville, CA

It’s getting to be fire season in northern California! This past week I saw the first big fire plume I’ve ever seen burning in the field office. The rhythmic patterns of four work days and three day weekends seem as cyclical as the morning to evening cycles between cool, hot and cool again. Over the past month and a half since I last wrote I have been bounced along more BLM dirt “roads,” collected seed from native plants, visited a fair number of stock ponds, measured a bunch of juniper trees, picked a lot of cheat seeds from my boot laces, lost some rubber on my boot soles to the basaltic rock, learned a handful of monitoring codes for plants, and done a fair amount of zooming in, out and panning on the Trimble Juno SB. I’ve almost used my first bottle of sunscreen I started the summer with. My tan lines have deepened, as has my dislike for juniper. We have also visited a few fire lookouts (my favorite of which was on a weekend trip to Mt. Harkness in Lassen national forest), determined our 14 in DBH arm grip, and marked a fair number of cut trees on BLM stands. We still do not have door access or our own computers to work on in the office, but I am hopeful that this might happen before we leave. Who knows though, it might not.

Going out with Clif, the forester, in the trees is one of our favorite work activities. Being in the cooler air with the shade is a relief from the blazing heat and sun, but there are also a lot of beautiful pinecones. Marking trees is in fact, as Clif says, more of an art form than a science. We mark for cut trees over 14 inches DBH based on spacing, tree form (no ramiform branches!), and ladder fuels. Most of the lots we are marking will probably be cut in 2017. We won’t be around to see the job get done, but it is satisfying knowing that the forest will be healthier and safer after it is thinned. We all enjoyed the first time we went out with Clif so much that we joked about all applying to forestry school together at the University of Nevada Reno.

We have started trying to think about some projects that we might like to start individually. I am particularly interested in the issue with juniper trees because of their importance in the ecological narrative of most of the ELFO land. As I mentioned before, juniper trees have expanded their range in the past 100 years as forest fire was limited. Once juniper trees grow older and become more artichoke shaped, they shade out all plants underneath them, leading to bare ground so no sage brush or native bunch grasses can grow. They also use a lot of water, which stresses other plants. There is really nothing that great about them, and they will definitely be part of the picture moving forward for this field office. I am interested to know how the aerial/ spectral mapping of junipers can help the BLM deal with their presence. We are interested in trying to help with some hand removal of small trees, since this is really the only reasonable method for controlling juniper at this point. It would be a pretty satisfying feeling to remove some of those little trees before they grow into monsters.

We have also been working on sage grouse forb inventorying, though at this point everything is dead so most of our plant ID work could be aptly described as “forensic botany.” The sage grouse forb inventory line point intercept counts were supposed to be done in May to June, but we are just getting started on them now and I see a fair number more in our future. We do these plots mostly for the range technicians at spring locations. We visited a spring off of Horse Lake road that has to have been one of the most upsetting things I have seen on the land while I have been here. Some springs are fenced off while water is piped to troughs on the other side of the fence, which protects the spring from destruction by cows. Unfortunately, this spring had not been fenced and the whole spring and green way, where riparian forbs should be growing, had been completely demolished by cow traffic. There was just a gurgle of murky, slimy water and a few tufts of green grass where the cows hadn’t trampled it too much.

It is in these instance that I am reminded of the scale and differences in the western landscapes, as well as the limitations on what we as people, and of course smaller organizations like the BLM, can do. It’s a lot of work first of all (I still don’t understand how they get big machinery out here to bulldoze reservoirs and move large troughs) but there is just so much land. It’s not possible to ensure that everything is taken care of and preserved. I do wonder how many springs on BLM land are in this condition, which unfortunately is likely beyond restoration. It is so surprising to come around the corner on a two track and see something so unnatural. It is sad.

We have successfully collected from Elymus elimoides (squirreltail), Poa secunda (sandberg bluegrass), Leymus cinerus (great basin wild rye), and Cercocarpus ledifolius (mountain mahogany). Squirrel tail has to be one of my favorite grasses to collect. It’s easy to pull the bottle brush seeds off of the plant and feel satisfied with a large bag of fluff. We originally thought it would be really fun to collect mountain mahogany, but then we discovered how painstaking it is to collect. The trees themselves are beautiful when the seed is ready to collect, the awns on the seeds are 2 to 3 inches long and curly. The awns also have a million small minute hairs that fly off and stick on everything when you pick up the seeds or shake the branches. The awns look fun and fuzzy, but the hairs make your skin itch like crazy, and if you have any respiratory issues like Jocelyn, I think they make it so that you can’t breath. We probably have to collect mountain mahogany again, so that will be less exciting than it was the first time.

A few weeks ago the state botanist of California and a man from the state office in Nevada came to tour around some sites of our field office. We toured with them, visiting a site off of Smoke Creek road where sagebrush seedlings had been planted. Unfortunately most of them had died, probably due to the fact that they really only spread by seed, and that the contraction and expansion of the soil in this area, as the man from the Nevada office noted, would have probably broken their roots. It is easier to dig in this soil though. They are interested in creating green belts with plants that stay greener longer along barriers to fire like the road. This is an area where the Rush fire burned in 2012. One of the questions is which plants should be used. Solely natives or non-natives if they stay green longer? The second site we visited was at Ramhorn. The BLM has a 14 day campground here off of 395. This is a successful site that has been seeded. Native plants and shrubs have re-grown here post-Rush fire. Seeing this sight brightened their moods a bit and we enjoyed lunch at a look out towards Observation peak at the top of the road.

I finally saw a rattlesnake out on Horse Lake road the other week. It was sunning itself on the road in the morning and thankfully Julie saw it in time so we didn’t run it over. We hopped out of the truck and grabbed a few pictures, but the snake wasn’t interested in rattling so it slithered away without giving us any entertainment. While we were out driving near Fredonyer with Clif, the forester, we saw a really fluffy baby owl. Dalton, a seasonal range technician, and I saw a huge thistle while visiting a stock pond the other week. It is hard to get excited to see thistles, but this thistle was at least five feet tall, probably taller, and about 5 or more feet wide so it honestly looked like a cactus. Unfortunately the Susanville fair had just ended, otherwise we probably could have won a prize or something. I have yet to see a mountain lion (Jillian saw one!) or a marijuana garden. The most magical and exciting wildlife sighting was when Jesslie, Christian (wildlife biologist), and I saw 19 sage grouse while we were leaving a water right (that we had seen a not so pleasant, but nonetheless quite interesting and relatively fresh, but eaten and dead cow at). The sage grouse were a complete surprise as they flew out of the sagebrush in groups of 3 to 4 as we kept walking along the path.

It’s hard to give a complete update about how things have been going without talking about the other 3 days of the week. Susanville is not a destination of any kind, but it has its benefits in that there are some pretty amazing places within a 5 hour radius. Thus far, every weekend has consisted of some great exploring and adventuring to Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Echo Lake, Juniper Lake, Lassen National Park, Greenville, Fort Bragg, Mendocino, and Reno. There is so much to see here in the western United States and we are all really happy to be making the most of it with our trips so far and the ones we have planned.

Unfortunately I had taken the time to write a pretty thorough and detailed blog post earlier that was probably two to three times as long as this, but it was accidentally deleted. I don’t think I will be able to re-create the same type of entry again, but I hope this gives you an idea of what life in Susanville has been like since my initial post. We’re excited to go out with an archaeology mapping crew from Chico this week on the Skedaddle mountains. Hopefully the interns from Alturas will have a chance to come visit the ELFO office later in August. We are nocking down the number of juniper and water right points that are done. I’m not sure how many more acres of trees need to be marked. As exciting as the summer has been, I think we are also really looking forward to those cooler, clear autumn days.


BLM Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA

Sunny days in Susanville, CA


Susanville from Road 139After 3,000 miles and a mid-trip flight back to Chicago for the CLM workshop, I am finally in Susanville, CA. Training in Chicago seems like a lifetime ago, but I feel lucky to have had the training before I got to my field office. It is hot, dry, and sunny every day here, but thankfully the nights are wonderfully cool. There are still a few patches of snow on top of the Diamond mountain ridge and people in the office are betting on when the last snow will disappear. Susanville is in a unique location at the edge of the Sierra Nevada’s (Lassen national forest) and the Great Basin. There are so many places to explore in the area, so it will definitely be a busy summer. I am really excited to hike and explore a bunch of the other small lakes, reservoirs, and some of the small western towns. My other co-interns have not arrived yet, so the past four days I have spent helping other seasonal BLM workers. On the first day I went out in the field with Julie, a seasonal worker whose project is focused on juniper surveys. Julie’s project is aimed at providing ground measurements of junipers to use to help verify how junipers appear in aerial photographs (junipers have their own spectral signature which can differentiate them from other plants). Junipers have greatly expanded their range in the past 100 years due to suppressed fire regimes, and can create dry conditions that are hard on endemic plants and sagebrush. Hopefully the juniper surveys will be helpful to use for estimating juniper cover using imagery. The views on the drive up out of town on 139 offered great views of the Diamond and Thompson mountains. We turned off of 139 and drove up Horse Lake road (536) towards Black Mountain and hiked to find two random plots. The random plots are 60 meters in diameter. Measurements of any juniper in the plot include height (measured with laser), canopy width (measured in 2 cross points), diameter at root base, as well as a location point. Being with Julie is pretty great because she has experience identifying plants from working in the Great Basin. I was scribbling down plant names and trying to repeat them in my head the whole time we were out.

I also had the chance to go out with Jessie, a seasonal worker who is examining and documenting the status of BLM water rights. I knew I was going to write this blog, and on my second day when we finally got out of the office driving out on 139 after some Trimble issues, Jessie was glad to stop at the view point for me to snap a picture of the beautiful view I had seen driving out the previous day with Julie. Though she’s lived here for a while she said she had never taken the time to actually stop! We spent our time up on the east side of Eagle Lake, which is north of Susanville. Some of these stock ponds have not been visited or monitored since the 1960’s, but the drought conditions have brought attention back to their importance. It’s been quite the adventure to ride along these two track roads. I feel like we should be in a truck commercial. After locating the stock pond we measure the water, take a point, take photos, and document what the water is like and if we see any wildlife. We saw a gadwall duck with ducklings in one of the stock ponds, as well as a handful of mountain bluebirds and one crusty rancher guy. Jessie says there are 883 water right locations for the Eagle Lake Field Office, which add up to a lot of points to go out and find, especially since some of them are not that accurate. The second stock pond was over 150 meters from its location on the Trimble. With the field work for both Julie and Jessie’s projects, there is something really special about going out to find a random point and taking time to observe a specific area where many people will never go. 

The field work has been fun, and I have already learned a lot of dos and don’ts. Hiking boots are an absolute necessity and ones that are all leather won’t fall victim to being attacked by pointy cheat grass seeds. Insulated water bottles are wonderful because everything heats up like crazy in the truck and nothing tastes better than cold tea or water. Never think about wearing shorts. For some reason, before I came out here I thought I might wear shorts on some days, but after being in the field for 1 minute I realized that is a very foolish thought. Driving out here also has its differences. First of all, there is a lot of dust. It would never have occurred to me to slow down while passing a ranch so as not to dust the house. The mosaic of private and public land gives you one more consideration to make before parking the truck before hiking to access some location, which is another consideration that would not have naturally occurred to me. After growing up in New England where entire roads are covered by deciduous trees, I have found shade on the roads and paths to be quite meager here. You sure can see for miles though! Experiencing the concept of the open range is also new to me. It remains somewhat puzzling to me when I see one cow out in the middle of nowhere. Driving up past Horse Lake was the first time I had seen a big dry lake. The shades of green, yellow and brown are quite beautiful in their own way. The colors look like more of a tray of mixed yellow, brown, and green water colors than the deep blues I am used to associating with the term ‘lake’ in the east. Water in the desert is pretty special. It is amazing to come down a dry, rocky ravine and find a creek with cattails and mud that you never could have imagined in the hot, dry desert. 

To mark an end to my first week after days in the field with Julie, Jessie, and then Julie, I went out with Clif, the forester in the office. We drove up the ever more familiar Horse Lake road north of town, but this time we drove across the dried lake up on to the lower parts of Fredonyer mountain (around 7000 ft). The increase in junipers in the area is important to the work that Clif does, because larger junipers kill the sage brush underneath them and they can create big, hot fires that can become serious monsters. After growing up in the east, the thought of fires burning huge numbers of acres seems crazy, but a lot of things are just bigger out here. The Rush fire in 2012 was a massive fire that burned a significant amount along the ridges of the mountains east of 395. Clif explained that while fire regimes are natural here, fire cannot be used as a cheaper method to control the junipers at later growth stages because the fires will burn so hot that they will kill everything. Management options are limited to hand thinning, which reduces the disruption of the soil (this is important around sage grouse leks),  and full on removal with skid roads, which chew up the dirt and create conditions for cheat grass to invade. Going up to Craemer spring and Fredonyer reservoir was quite magical because this was another one of the few places I have seen a gurgling stream and standing blue water. Leaving Fredonyer reservoir Clif started walking off at an angle from where we entered and I followed him. Situational awareness is pretty important out here in the big sky country. When we got back to the sage brush I said, “Where are we going?” He answered, “Where is the truck?” He was just testing my directional awareness, and I was able to point in the direction of the truck and guide us back. Clif thought we might see a rattle snake up along the old stone wall line we were walking to scout for a landing for the next juniper removal, but alas I have managed to get out of four days in the field without seeing a rattlesnake yet. I have seen several pronghorn, marmots, and cottontails. I am still looking forward to seeing a sage grouse at some point. Hopping out of the truck to open and close 6 barbed wire gates along our drive seems like a natural rhythm to break up the drive now. Clif gave me a quick tutorial on the radio and then we finished our tour driving out the end of Horse Lake road to 395 where we drove south back towards Susanville and passed another BLM fire station. We drove past a chipping plant in Wendel, where all of the small junipers are taken to be turned into wood chips. During a power outage in recent years, Clif said the wood chips from this plant were used to power Susanville for a few days! Unfortunately the plant is up for some sort of re-licensing, which will hopefully go through, otherwise there will be some issues with dealing with the medium sized juniper waste. Leaving it chopped to dry up in the field is not a viable option because this would mean more dense fuel on the ground, but the other facilities are 300 to 400 miles away. Driving back into town I got my first real view of Lassen, which honestly almost blended into the sky because of how much snow is on it still! The BLM also manages the land along the scenic Bizz Johnson trail, which runs near the Susan River, and Clif was kind enough to take me over to Pigeon Cliffs to get a great view. Meeting new people in the office who have ended up in Susanville too is really wonderful. I can see that one of the most valuable things from the internship will be experiencing a new place to the most of its entirety possible. As thankful as I am to see a new part of the country, it is also nice to hear that BLM employees like Clif think it’s refreshing to have new people from different parts of the country in the office too. I am looking forward to all of the people and plants that will be on my path through the next five months. 

Hopefully we will be able to go out on some days and continue helping Julie, Jessie, and Clif with their projects. While my first four days have been a whirlwind, Susanville is growing on me and the office is feeling more familiar. I have a great feeling about what’s to come and I am gaining an appreciation for all of the beauty and surprises in the high desert. My brain is hurting a bit from all of the new plant names that I am starting to learn. My favorite grass so far is Briza maxima (rattlesnake grass). It even makes a little rattling sound in the wind. The nuances between different sagebrush are becoming clearer, and I am able to identify some of the flowering forbs. It is really fun to see so many new and different plants, as well as completely new scenery. This first week is flying by and I’m excited for my team of SOS interns to get started here soon. On Thursdays there is goaltimate frisbee up at the field on the track at Lassen College. The scenery is quite something from this spot; the views of the Diamond mountains and Thompson Peak are pretty nice. I met two former CLM interns who are still working in a related field in the area, one of whom was hired by the BLM. After a bunch of sweat, sage smells, dirt, dust, views, cheat grass, sunscreen, meter tape reeling, barbed wire gates, and Trimble time, I feel well primed to jump forward to what lies ahead. 


BLM Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA 

The northeast corner of Eagle Lake from a BLM road while checking stock ponds.

The northeast corner of Eagle Lake from a BLM road while checking stock ponds.