A Farewell to Colorado

The past four months I spent living and working around the Northwest region of Colorado has been a rather unique learning experience for me.  It has helped me better understand myself, regarding what I do and do not enjoy doing in a professional setting, and therefore, a more clear understanding of what my career goals are.  On top of that, I have learned and improved a number of important skills while working here.  I had to re-learn the ability to identify plants, as it is definitely one of those “use it or lose it” skills, and I had been out of practice for some time.  I think it is similar to learning a foreign language, in that there is a lot of vocabulary to familiarize yourself with before you can fluidly understand what a key is telling you to look for.

The other skill I had a lot of practice with and became proficient in was data management.  The majority of my internship was dedicated to getting plots done, as we were behind in the goal number of 35 that had been set for our team.  We ended up not only reaching, but exceeding this goal and completed 40 plots for the year.  However, this left us with a considerable amount of data management to catch up on after the field season was over.  In the time it took, I had lots of experience and became pretty confident with the DIMA database system in Microsoft Access as well as becoming more comfortable and efficient in Excel.  I know this doesn’t necessarily sound like fun, and a lot of the time it was pretty tedious, but familiarizing and being comfortable in these programs is definitely something I am glad to have had the opportunity to do.  It’s one thing to have a class where a task is set for you to accomplish in a program like Excel and then be graded on it; it’s another pressure altogether to have real data that you collected and need to organize using that program, so that it correlates correctly with other teams and can be used for making decisions.

Throughout the internship, one of the cooler aspects was how much I was able to travel.  The nature of the job meant we were driving to a new location almost every day, and many times it would be far off any road or trail as well.  This meant the hiking could be a challenge at times, but it often led us to some pretty amazing and remote locations.

img_20161005_175633796_hdr  img_20161102_135138509_hdr

Near the end of my internship, I had one of my more memorable experiences. My co-worker and I were sitting in the office going through plants and data, as we had been for a couple weeks, when the office Wildlife Biologist came in the door and asked if we could help him catch a goat.  He was not joking.  A domestic goat had broken free, as it was around the time of the rut, and he had been spotted by several people along one of the main roads in the area.  On the surface this seemed rather benign and not something of great importance.  However, if he came into contact with the local bighorn sheep population he could very likely infect them with a disease.  He was a breed of goat from the old world and probably carried many diseases that the wild sheep of Colorado had never been introduced to, similar to the Europeans infecting the native peoples of the Americas with a host of diseases they had never been exposed to.  The bighorn sheep herd is quite small as well, only numbering around 40, so a stochastic event such as this could potentially wipe them out.  Given this information, it became clear we needed to find and wrangle ourselves a goat as soon as possible.

We ventured out in the truck and searched the areas where he had been seen with little luck.  Then around noon or so we were coming back from hiking a trail along the Colorado river, got in the truck and were backing out to turn around when the Wildlife Biologist looked up and low and behold there he was standing proud on the ridge nearby.  He was a stout, 150 pound, proper Billy goat, with a long beard and huge curling horns.  I’m going to be honest, as we approached him I was a little anxious at the possibility of him charging.  I can’t say I’ve had much experience with goats and the thought that this one was all riled up for the rut didn’t give me much comfort.  We began to try and herd him with the three of us as best we could, as well as luring him in with some carrots we had for lunch, but it soon became clear we did not have a real plan as to how to secure him in the bed of the truck even if we did manage to get him up there.  We nearly had him at one point with a sandwich bag, but he didn’t like the loud cars along the road and as soon as one would pass by he was running for the hills.  The Colorado Parks and Wildlife members were on their way, but they weren’t going to be there for some time, so we decided the best thing would be to just make sure he didn’t venture too far from the road.  We eventually got him to lay down and sat with him for about two hours as we waited.  The crew grew quite a liking for him in that time; beside the stench, he was a pretty docile and friendly goat.

img_20161031_125649440 goat3goat

Parks and Wildlife eventually showed up and, after a clown show of chasing him and trying to get a lasso around his horns, we were able to thankfully get him in the horse trailer without hurting him.  After that it was decided that until someone claimed him, he would reside in our ware yard, also known as the office parking lot, that was fenced in.  He was there for about two days and escaped a couple times with people going in and out, but it was pretty awesome to have a goat hanging out in the parking lot.  Eventually it was found that he didn’t belong to any of the local farmers and was actually being transported through the area by someone who had gotten him off of a craigslist add.  I know this whole story sounds ridiculous, but I am not making this up.  With this knowledge, a home was found for Billy, as he became known, one that had 200 acres of land for him to roam and spend the rest of his days happily grazing.  All of this was going on during the World Series as well, while the Cubs were still down 3-2 in the series, so was it an omen? Who knows, but it was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.



Gamble Oak, Moose, and Sage: Welcome to Colorado

This is my first post to the blog, as I was very late in coming to the CLM Internship program.  I was notified that there was a position available, and within a very short period of time I was packing up my valuables and making a 20-hour drive from British Columbia, Canada to Kremmling, CO to work for the BLM Field Office located there.  I had very little idea about what I was going to be doing, but I knew it was a good opportunity and that I would be a fool to pass it up.


After being here for a month I think I finally have a good grasp on what our goal is and the methods involved.  I am working under the Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring initiative, or AIM, that was outlined by the BLM in order to guide land management decision making.  In my location specifically, a lot of the data collection revolves around the sage-grouse habitat.  From a broader perspective though, the project is concerned with the overall mapping of habitat regarding species diversity, soil composition and stability, and generally the types of stands that are found and how well they are established.  The data is hopefully meant to show trends over time in how the habitats are progressing, and provide some information for making management decisions.  I was browsing some of the other blog posts and It seems that many others are working under the AIM project as well, so I am sure this is old news to most of you, all the same I thought I would include it in my entry for clarity.

The specific nature of our data collection is fairly rigorous and tedious, as it should be with respect to its implications.  Accuracy is important, however, this can make doing a plot a rather slow process and our team is fairly far behind in the goal that was set for the season.  To be fair though, my mentor and team lead has been handicapped from the start.  She was late in receiving the position and then had a series of interns back out on her in the beginning.  She was alone essentially until a month into the job when the first intern arrived, and then another month later I came in.  Conducting a plot with three people can take long enough, let alone two.  So with that being said, we are behind, but not without reason.


Overall I think we are getting better and sliding into a groove, navigation can be an issue though, with BLM land checker-boarding private land.  At times this makes for very difficult hikes to get to a plot, as there may be a road very close by, but we are unable to access it due to a private gate.  Therefore, we must opt for a road further away and a longer hike.  Most recently, we encountered a gamble oak site, it was a rather humbling experience.  If you’ve ever encountered a gamble oak stand and had to go through it, you know what I am talking about.  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture as my phone was out of battery after camping for 3 nights, but for those who don’t know I will try to describe.  Gamble oak is more like a shrub than a tree, but a large shrub, standing around 8-10 feet tall.  And it is everywhere.  It feels like you’re fighting through the jungle and should have a guide with a machete, except it’s woody.  A long sleeve is recommended, preferably one that you don’t mind being shredded.  I did not foresee this and have the battle wounds to show for it.  Hiking through it is one thing, but laying out and taking data from a transect can feel near impossible.  An entire plot becomes a much longer and more painful/frustrating ordeal.  In summary, I will never forget my experience in gamble oak and will do my best to avoid it.

I feel this post has taken a somewhat negative turn, but that is just a small part of what has overall been a great experience thus far.  I have been camping a lot, and was pretty inexperienced in that regard before coming to Colorado.  I had some minor trepidation beforehand about my ability to cook and get a good night’s rest.  I have since found that cooking is not that difficult if you prepare well, and that there is a lovely calm to falling asleep under the stars with nothing but the sound of crickets.  I have also experienced an abundance of wildlife that continues to amaze me, including bald eagles, great horned owls, and an up-close encounter with a moose!  I stumbled upon it near a stream crossing as I had my head down just chugging along, next thing I knew I heard a loud clomping sound through the water and it emerged out of a thicket of tall shrubs maybe 15-20 meters away.  I think we both startled each other pretty well, and my heart was pounding as we eyed each other with a mixture of fear and curiosity.  I backed up slowly trying not to turn my back, as the memory that moose are known to charge came to the forefront of my mind.  But it didn’t, it just stood there, almost timidly looking at me and hardly moving.  After alerting my fellow crew members to its presence, there was a lot of picture taking as is expected, naturally my phone was out of battery.  I will never forget that encounter though, the picture is in my head.

IMG_20160726_204025230_HDR10928  Sand dunes near Walden, CO

10929 The moose! Taken by my mentor.


Until next time,


BLM Kremmling, CO Field Office