The past five months haven’t always been easy for me. It was harder than I expected to move so far from home, but I’m glad I did. The landscape of southern Idaho is full of surprises. From a distance, it may look like an endless sea of sagebrush and grass, but when you take a closer look, you find all sorts of incredible things such as giant rock formations, lava tubes, and dramatic canyons. You also find bright colors and beautiful wildflowers.
Over the course of the season, I’ve had the opportunity to try all kinds of new things personally and professionally. Here are a couple of my firsts:
- First time living out west
- First time monitoring wildlife
- First time driving a pickup
- First time driving off-road
- First time electrofishing
- First time seeing a wildfire
- First rodeo
- First time on a UTV
My first rodeo
Thanks to all the interns, our crew leads, my mentor, Joanna, and all of the people in our office who showed us around and answered our questions for a great field season!
This past month we’ve gotten the opportunity to work on a bunch of really cool projects! We’ve tagged monarch butterflies, gone caving, helped assess wetland function, and electrofished!
We spent a couple days chasing down butterflies. It was lots of fun! Idaho Fish and Game tags monarch butterflies to try and track their migration patterns. This is important especially since a recent study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that monarch butterfly populations in the west are dramatically declining. The tags are little stickers, about the size of a hole punch with tiny identification numbers on them. Hopefully, the butterflies will get recaptured somewhere along their migration route so we learn more about what happens to them once they leave Idaho. I got to tag one and test it for disease. Here is a shot of me holding the butterfly I tagged!
Unfortunately, the butterflies were too few and too fast so we weren’t able to catch very many. We did, however, catch some cool bumblebees! Below is a series of pictures of me catching Hunt’s bumblebee (Bombus huntii) so it can be photographed, identified and uploaded to a citizen science project on the Bumble Bee Watch app.
I also really enjoyed helping with Properly Functioning Condition assessments for wetlands. I enjoyed getting to learn new riparian plants and hiking along beautiful streams, like this one below. It was a cool experience to explore wetlands here in the desert, because they are so different than the ones I’m used to back east.
Last week, fall/winter came all of a sudden. We even got some flurries up north in the Sawtooth National Forest where we were electrofishing. It was beautiful but pretty chilly for standing waist deep in a river.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with wildlife more this season. It’s something I haven’t really done before and it’s been fun!
One of our monitoring sites – now all dried up
Ever since we got back from the workshop everything here has really dried up. Most plants here are dry, brown and past flowering.
So we’ve been shifting into more range work like checking livestock use and range improvements. Now that everything has dried up, fire season has really begun. At any time a lightning strike or a spark could start a fire and then half the office has to run off and go fight it. A couple of weeks ago, a fire came within a mile of the office and burned almost 30,000 acres. By the end of the day we could see the flames from the office!
Now we’re chasing spring into higher elevations where the plants are still alive and in some cases where the snow has yet to melt! This is great because we’re getting to discover some of the most beautiful parts of the district and some of my favorite places in Idaho.
Quigley Canyon near Hailey, Idaho
Mount Harrison, Sawtooth National Forest
Recently, we got to help Idaho Natural Heritage monitor an endemic species of paintbrush (Castilleja christii) which is only found on one mountain in the world! It is only found here because this mountain is sky island – a mountain that is like an island because it is surrounded by different habitat, preventing gene flow. Like many alpine species, this makes Christ’s paintbrush especially vulnerable to climate change because it is unable to move north as the weather warms.
Other CBGs enjoying the last bit of snow
Almost since we first arrived in May, we’ve been hearing about preparations for the eclipse. The path of totality went through the northern part of our field office and thousands of visitors were expected to pour into the area. No one knew exactly how many people would come but there was general fear that the traffic would overwhelm the two highways north and unprecedented demand would empty remote, rural gas stations and grocery stores. There was even talk that highways would come to a complete standstill and be shut down. Our office planned teams to drive around with extra supplies, rescuing stuck cars, checking campsites, and teaching people about fire safety. There was so much buildup, we almost didn’t go see it. Luckily, we braved the craziness and found no major issues.
One of the interns and I drove a couple hours north to the Salmon-Challis National Forest to be in the path of totality. It was one of the strangest and coolest things I’ve ever seen. For most of the partial eclipse, if you didn’t have the glasses, you would hardly know anything was different. The sun is so powerful half the sun is nearly as bright as a normal sunny day. Through the glasses, it looked like a cookie with a bite out of it at first and gradually shrank down to look like a crescent moon. By the time it got down to a tiny sliver, the day had dimmed noticeably,. It was almost like twilight but without the golden or reddish tinge that usually accompanies sunrise or sunset. At some point as it darkened, the crickets began chirping and the birds began twittering as if it were evening.
At the moment that the sun finally disappeared, everything went silent for a second and then the crickets began chirping again like crazy. I expected totality to be darker, like the middle of the night. Instead, there was still some light, it was more like an hour or so after sunset. There was even a pink tinge on the horizon. The sun looked incredible. I wasn’t able to get a good picture during totality, but this photo captures it the best.
Totality ended so fast. In a matter of seconds the light went from dark, to dim and bluish, to normal daylight. It seemed to end so much faster than it began/
The MAIM (Modified AIM) crew and our mentor – Joanna Tjaden
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I have now been living and working in Idaho for just over a month. I work in the Shoshone Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management as a range tech intern along with three other CBG interns and two crew leads. We don’t really have range (as far as I know) east of the Mississippi so I’m excited to learn more! Right now that means we are monitoring ground cover to learn more about sage grouse habitat, but next week we’ll wrap that up and move on to other projects. I’m particularly excited about going out with Idaho Fish and Game to look at insects and plant clearances (looking for sensitive plant species).
Davis Mountain Road
The landscape and climate is dramatically different from the hot, humid, and patchy forests of Southeastern Virginia where I worked before. I am still amazed at how far you can see here without hills, trees, or buildings to interrupt the view. It felt strange at first, but the incredible views and tiny wildflowers are winning me over.
Callochortus nuttallii (Sego Lily)
So far I’ve learned a lot! The first week or two included training in some important skills including first aid, defensive driving, changing a tire and how to recognize hazardous materials that might explode or kill you. Best of all though, I’ve picked up all kinds of useful information about the local flora and botany, more generally just from being surrounded by people who are excited about plants every day!