A reflection of my time in Pinedale, Wyoming

As my time in Pinedale continues to decrease, I can’t help but to look back at the past five months in amazement…in awe of all the inspirational people I have met and all the things I have learned. I came to Pinedale timid and nervous….uncertain about what to expect. Before this internship, the Bureau of Land Management was just some branch of the government that deals with the feral horses.

But now, through the completion of this CLM internship, I know that it is so, so much more. It is the caretaker of the public lands, and I am honored to have been a part of its role. Throughout my time in Pinedale, I have surveyed for amphibians, lynx, and pygmy rabbits. I have enjoyed learning about the different habitat requirements and surveying techniques. I have also been introduced to GIS software, something that will undoubtedly be very important in my future career. There were some days when I went out into the field with various people, including range specialists, and learned analyze the land for over-grazing (utilization). Helping with AIM introduced me to just a small amount of the plants native to the west. Trapping grouse allowed me to gain a more thorough understanding of the importance of radio telemetry. And of course, the internship wouldn’t have been complete without many backcountry adventures with my fellow interns…driving on two-tracks, especially in the mud, can be a challenge!
That leads me to one final point. My two fellow interns, Val and Lara. I am so, so, SO extremely grateful that I had these two along for the ride. Meeting them and working with them made daily work so much more adventurous. They have both inspired me in multiple ways, and I am certain that they will be successful wherever they end up!
I would highly recommend this internship to absolutely anybody. It was an eye-opening experience and led me to develop many resume-building skills. I will certainly miss the Pinedale BLM, but I know it has prepared me for whatever comes next.

The Greater Sage-Grouse

It’s happened multiple times. I will be casually wandering through the sage, on another adventure for the Pinedale BLM Office. As I walk, I take in the beautiful, serene landscape around me. I relish the peaceful, quiet air.

All of the sudden, I’m so startled that I jump, nearly clearing the earth’s atmosphere. I hear a squawk, and wings moving as a majestic bird takes off from the ground. I never even saw it before it took flight. Sometimes, others birds will join in flight, as they rise from their hidden havens in the sage. They are….the sage-grouse. I often ponder as to whom is actually more startled: me or the grouse?

Sage-grouse, also known as the prairie chickens, are a major species of interest in the Western United States. They nest in the sage (shocking, right?), and are considered to be an “umbrella species”; conserving these species will undoubtedly conserve many other species of plants and animals that make up the fragile sagebrush ecosystem. In recent years, sage-grouse habitat has dwindled significantly, mainly due to drilling and mining. In fact, there was some debate as to whether or not this bird should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The BLM, along with other organizations such as the Forest Service, have come up with a plan and assessment tool to continually monitor and conserve the sage-grouse and their habitat.

In order to implement this, however, it is of course important to know where the sage grouse spend their time…i.e. what/where is their range? To this end, several biologists at the Pinedale Field Office have caught sage-grouse, attached radio collars to the birds, and then released them. These GPS radio collars allow the birds to be tracked and also give important geographic information regarding the bird’s whereabouts.

We were very excited when Dale (wildlife biologist) came to ask the interns if we would like to go out with him to catch a grouse and remove the radio collar so that the data may be analyzed. We tried to contain our excitement as we happily drove off to the general area where Dale knew this particular grouse was. In order to pinpoint her location, we used a hand-held antenna, as Lara demonstrates below:

Lara with the hand-held antenna, trying to find the location of the grouse.

The receiver is dialed to the same frequency as the grouse’s collar, and we slowly move the antenna around. Beeping signifies that the bird is off in the direction that the antenna is pointing. It takes us about three hours of hunting and closing in on the bird before we are actually near enough to capture her. Dale has brought a net gun that will hopefully capture the bird. We walk slowly, like a predator closing in on its prey. However, the grouse are smart and quick. The grouse we wanted was with others, and they all panic and fly away. We struggle to identify which one has the radio collar. We do successfully do this, but unfortunately the birds have flown off public land and are now on private land. What’s important to realize is that this is the very foundation of working with un-predictable and wild animals. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. We were not discouraged! Dale promised that we would try again, and then even demonstrated how to use the net gun. It was a neat, educational experience with radio telemetry.

After Dale demonstrates how to shoot off the net gun, the net must be meticulously re-packaged back into its holder, so that it goes off properly the next time.

Cows, cows, and more cows

Well, I think one thing that all the BLM internships out West here probably have in common is cows. Many cows. Every day. Everywhere. They stand in the middle of the road. They stare at us. They run away from us. They moo. They break through fences. They eat. And that’s where potentially the problem may arise. Could cows completely destroy a piece of land by over-grazing?

Thankfully, the BLM has measures in place to prevent this. And I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along to see what this entails. The protocol I got to witness is called utilization. Basically, in each allotment, there are six or seven points that are to be surveyed. At each point, we do an initial plant survey and compile a species list. We are especially interested in the grasses because that of course is what the cows eat. There is a list of the different grasses and which ones are of more concern/priority. Whichever one seems to be common and is also on the list is what we chose! Next, we measure the height of the designated grass. To do this, we take two paces and find the closest grass of our species of interest. Then two more paces, then measure the nearest grass. The person measuring must determine if the grass is grazed or un-grazed. Measurements cease when we have measured 20 un-grazed plants. Pictures are taken of course! We need pictures of the different species of plants that occur in the area, but more importantly, we need picture documentation of all the grasses that can be found in the allotment, both grazed and un-grazed. At the office, the numbers are crunched and the percent utilization of the land is determined.

Here are a couple pictures of some cool plants I saw!

Astragulus jejunus (2)

Astragulus jejunus….weird seed pods!

orobonche spp. (2)

Orobonche spp. Produces no chlorophyll-parasitic!

Utilization was very educational and enjoyable! It was wonderful to see another side of the BLM. As a primarily wildlife intern, I was also thrilled to be able to learn more of the plants that make up this unique landscape!

Wyoming Wildlife

Pinedale, Wyoming: 30 hours away, my GPS read. I was excited and nervous about this new adventure! And so my sister and I set off on the epic road trip from Pennsylvania to Wyoming.

Well, here I am, five weeks later, at the end of another successful week of my internship at the Pinedale BLM Field Office. Never did I dream that I could have such a great time out in the field, GPS in hand, navigating the two-tracks through the draws and ridges of Sublette County, in our team’s bold quest for frogs! Our intern team is currently assessing different areas for potential amphibian habitat. This is done by walking the area, making note of location, emergent vegetation, shore type, and bottom type (among other things). We have found a couple of amiable amphibians!

Chorus Frog


Blotched Tiger Salamander


I even had the opportunity to assist my mentor Josh, and Justin from the Range crew in their AIM monitoring. This was loads of fun and entailed setting up the transects, gathering GPS data, and digging soil pits! I was especially fascinated to learn about the different textures of soil and was amazed at the difference in feel of each type. I’m also learning the different plants that are scattered throughout the Wyoming landscape!

Castilleja angustifolia (2)

Castilleja angustifolia (Desert Indian Paintbrush)

Penstemon cyananthus (2)

Penstemon spp.

Hackelia floribunda (2)

Wild Forget-Me-Nots!

I love Pinedale, as I adore small towns and large open spaces nearby. No matter what, there is something for everyone! Pinedale is near many different habitat types, so whether you long to go trudging through the desert sagebrush community or wander in the mountains, we have it all! I am especially thankful that the employees at the Pinedale Field Office have made me feel very much at home. I am a rather shy person, but am grateful that the people I work with are understanding and willing to help me out and teach me!
GRL1 (2)

Green River Lake

GRL3 (2)

Green River Lake