Signing Out

Eight months ago, all I knew was that I had accepted a job in Buffalo, Wyoming. I knew I would stay at least five months, I knew I’d be moving into an apartment with a perfect stranger, and I was entirely uncertain of what my internship responsibilities would include. I had lived in remote places before, and I had lived outside of my home state prior to May 2017, but this move felt especially intimidating. I had never been to Wyoming, but I was very aware of the vast cultural differences I would likely encounter between the conservative Western state from my urban homeland of New York.

Upon arriving in Buffalo and showing up to my field office for the first day of work, the other CLM interns and myself were thrown head-first into the field season. Training after training, deciphering protocols for the various field methods and databases we were expected to know, learning the names of our office coworkers and USDA plant codes; there was never a dull moment, and there was always something needing to be done.

My time spent in the field was met with a variety of interesting challenges: interacting with landowners who make their vehement animosity toward federal agencies known; explaining ecological concepts to folks who are certain sagebrush is an invasive species to the American West (**it’s not**); diffusing contentious conversations that inevitably arise within a crew containing an array of personalities; learning to identify Carex and Poa species for the first time. These tasks were absolutely a strain on my mental and physical wellbeing, but nonetheless served as indispensable growing experiences that have allowed my communication, professional, and botany skills to expand beyond horizons I initially could not see. Of course, my  coworkers were instrumental in this journey which has allowed me to reflect and grow in the way I’ve just described. My mentor, Bill, gave myself and his other mentees the laissez-faire approach we needed to navigate our way through this internship, but was also more than helpful when we needed guidance. Dominic, my crew-lead and absolute MVP of the field season, was encouraging and excellent company at each of the forty-something remote field sites we visited last summer. Not to mention the countless other employees at the Buffalo Field Office that have adopted me as their intern since October and allowed me to participate in the work that they do (Rachel, Charlotte, Wyatt, Chris, etc.) I am fully aware of how fortunate I was to have been placed in such an inclusive office, at the foothills of a mountain range, and within close proximity to several national parks, forests, and monuments.

I know I’ve written about this before, so please pardon my redundancy, but even with all of the skills I’ve gained and experiences I’ve had since accepting this internship, I feel my greatest and most rewarding accomplishment has simply been living here. Making a home in a place I never felt I would fit, filling a niche I was certain wouldn’t exist for someone like me, has allowed me to realize just how parochial my worldview was eight months ago before I embarked westward. No place is perfect, but I am proud of myself for not only living in Buffalo, but for also making myself feel at home in a place I never thought I could. I managed to befriend people both inside and outside of my workplace, climb the highest peak in the Bighorns, see a mountain lion run along the Powder River as I waded upstream, hold a horned toad, camp underneath a starry sky in Medicine Bowe, stumble upon a free jazz concert somewhere in Montana, and I can’t remember feeling as if I had missed an opportunity or circumscribed myself to a comfort zone.

Shadowing employees from Fish & Game while mist-netting for bats. I believe this one was a northern long-eared.

Forcing my dad to try hiking in Wyoming.

Outside of Casper, Wyoming awaiting the 2017 solar eclipse with friends, David & Martín.

BFO Wildlife Biologist, Chris, observing bighorn sheep licking the minerals off our truck outside of Jackson, WY.

Moonrise over the appropriately named Mistymoon Lake after summiting Cloud Peak in the Bighorn Mountains.

Moving forward.

I feel an appropriate way to end this blog post, along with my internship, is to borrow words from CLM intern Tyler Rose: “I don’t know if I truly understand all the ways in which I grew through this internship…I do know, however, just how inspired I feel to continue to go forth and engage in conservation as a full-time focus of my life.”

As I try to express my gratitude for this internship and programs like CLM, as I anticipate the wave of sadness that will overcome me as I drive toward the California coast in a few weeks, and as I continue to imagine what the coming months will look like while I acquaint myself with a new place and a new job, I know I will always have my time in Wyoming to look back on and my ambitions as a conservation biologist to motivate me as I inevitably move forward.

Some of the memories from my time in Buffalo are more fond than others, but all are meaningful, and each has contributed to forming this experience I’ve just had and the experiences I will have when I leave. Again, a thank you to CLM, the BFO, and anyone who has been reading these. Its been a pleasure.

Signing out —

Elyna Grapstein

CLM Intern - Buffalo Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

January 8th, 2018

Final Weeks

Wyoming. It’s a state I can honestly say I never had any intention of visiting. I knew nearly nothing about it until I moved to Buffalo in May. It sounded exotic to me. The environment, culture and language felt foreign upon my arrival here from the northeast. In many ways they still do, yet I’ve somehow managed to finally feel at home.

With only a few weeks of my internship remaining, I’ve been trying to get as much done as possible for the Buffalo Field Office (BFO) before a new set of interns come in May. Most of the remaining work to do involves georeferencing aerial images from the 1970s. The work is tedious, but I like to think it will help somebody at the BLM in the future who might not have the time to do it themselves. There has been no shortage of coworkers offering to take me out to their field sites. The wildlife biologists even managed to take myself and another CLM intern to The Wildlife Society – Wyoming Chapter conference in Jackson last week where researchers from across Wyoming presented on their findings on all sorts of study organisms, ranging from pollinators to mule deer. Of course, we also made sure there was time for site-seeing:

Moose siting along Route 16 as we drove through the Bighorn Mountains on our way to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Tetons greeted us as we entered Jackson after our long truck-ride from Buffalo.

Dream home beneath the Tetons.

Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) gathered around to lick the minerals off of our truck. Their historic range spans the American West, but sadly today their range hardly compares.

As much as I love botany, it’s hard to not immediately fall in love with wildlife.

My last bighorn sheep picture. I promise.

I still can’t believe I get paid for this. A summer of backpacking and vegetation monitoring, the opportunity to further develop GIS skills and understand the inner-workings of a federal agency, learning to interact with stakeholders and landowners (and even coworkers) with worldviews vastly different than mine. This internship has allowed me to gain and develop a skill set more elaborate and wide-ranging than I could have imagined. I’m hopeful that, eventually, I will find a full-time permanent position someplace that I will love as much as I’ve enjoyed this internship. Not to say it hasn’t been difficult at times (particularly the office days…those can be tough), but the hardships are what have made the experience rewarding.

I’ve begun the countdown to the end of my internship. I will work through the beginning of January, and then afterward head west to California where I have another seasonal position, this time with a private company. I am certain that my experiences with CLM will translate across state boundaries as I immerse myself in an entirely new ecosystem with countless new flora and fauna to identify. I’ll probably have one more blog post or so before I leave my internship, but to anyone out there reading this and considering accepting an internship with CLM: it has been an invaluable experience for me, it has embellished my resume, and I have met too many wonderful people during my time in Wyoming than I can list. Seriously consider taking it.

Considering Next Steps

I’m missing the field season these days. Although I feel lucky to have had my internship extended and the opportunity to further my knowledge of things like GIS and NEPA, it’s hard not to feel antsy after a summer of intense activity. Soon, the field office will begin planning for the 2018 field season, and I’ll begin to uproot my lifestyle and move on to the next one. My daydreams of wandering around Wyoming’s public lands will dwell as I zone out to aerial images from 1976 that need to be georeferenced.

The Thanksgiving holiday was a nice break. I traveled from Wyoming to the Pacific coast of Washington where I was reminded how dark canopies can make the forest floor, the smell of wet soil, and what precipitation feels like. Hiking in Deception Pass State Park reignited my interest in ecosystem diversity and forest ecology. I am now a firm believer in the importance of stepping away from your (temporary) home to gain some perspective. Although I’ve managed to travel a fair amount during my time in Wyoming, pushing yourself out of your element, or back into your element after stepping away for a while, serves as an excellent reminder that no matter where in the world you are, there’s still more world out there.

Viewpoint off a Washington beach in Deception Pass State Park.

Deception Pass State Park bridge.

In a few weeks, I’ll be off to new places. I’m not sure where yet. Reading some of the other CLM blog posts feels discouraging. Complaints of not finding another job to move on to or applying to graduate school as a result of not having other options seems all too common in environmental and botanical fields. I am also pondering the thought of graduate school, only to shrug and put the thought away. There are seasonal opportunities in warmer climates where plants continue to bloom through the winter, but it seems to be competitive for a full-time permanent position in a generation where people are arguably over-educated, a graduate degree might be necessary in this field. Please somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

Same Internship, New Chapter

Five months ago, I imagined how I would feel on October 10th. The day my internship funding would run out. I wondered where I would go from my time in Buffalo, Wyoming. If I would have a job lined up, if I would travel for a bit, if and how my future career aspirations would change. I still wonder these things, but the date I wonder about has changed now that I’ve accepted a two-month extension to my CLM internship.

Watching my fellow interns pack up and head out has inspired a sense of motivation and focus for myself. Everybody is moving on to something new, and everybody is leaving their CLM experience having grown in some way. Reflecting on my time in Buffalo, I can see changes in myself I couldn’t have imagined I would. I value professionalism more than when I crossed the Wyoming border; my ability to articulate concepts and write technically has been exercised; my tolerance level for those who might not necessarily agree with me on certain topics has developed a flexibility in a way I never could have foreseen when I left New York at the start of the summer. With these newfound skills and a renewed passion for all things environmental, I feel ready to continue developing a strong work ethic and finish out my internship with enthusiasm for this job and whatever lies ahead.

One of our final summer field days completing some routine soil texturing. From the left: myself, Christine Downs, Jessica McDermott (all CLM interns).

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the remaining sunny fall days by spending them outside as much as possible. Unfortunately, those moments camping, hiking and bicycling in sage-steppe and forest ecosystems are interspersed with study parties for the GRE and filling out graduate school applications. I’ve finally come to realize my career interests require I continue my education for a few more years. Just when you think you’re done with school. Oh well.

Now, with two months left, I have a hard time not wondering what more I will learn and experience during my time in Wyoming and with the BLM. My field office has been nothing short of generous, offering me continuous opportunities to shadow and pick the brains of professionals in various departments. I may have been hired as a crew member to complete vegetation monitoring throughout the summer field season, but my supervisor has encouraged a “renaissance man” mentality for myself and the remaining interns, pushing us to expand our resumes and pursue our personal interests through connections in our office. Long story short, I’m feeling pretty grateful these days to work with the people I do and live where I am. This internship has been an invaluable experience, and I’m excited for it to continue for another couple of months.

The beginnings of the winter hiking season in the Bighorn Mountains. I’m psyched.

Transitioning into a Cubicle

This week marked our last days of the field season. Having spent the previous three months digging 44 soil pits, locating 44 plot centers in the remote reaches of the Buffalo Field Office, establishing 132 transects and identifying the grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees along each of them, and spending hours upon hours driving, I will truly miss our time outside. Now begins the real work: data entry.

Enjoying one of our final sites before the end of the field season. From the left: Amiah Warder (CLM Intern), Dominic Jandrain (BLM Hydrologist), and Camille Rodriguez (CLM Intern).

Oh, is it brutal. Alas, if data are to be collected, they must eventually be stored properly. We will be spending the next week or so organizing every piece of datum we’ve collected this summer in a way so that they will be easy to find and navigate through. This involves going through each of our plot photos (there are 176 photographs total) into digital folders also containing scanned copies of our field data forms. We will also need, after entering our data into the Database for Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment (DIMA), to generate DIMA reports for other employees at our Field Office. Unfortunately, we’ve spent the entire field season entering our data into an outdated version of DIMA, and to generate the final reports we need, the newest version is required. This is where we’ve hit our most significant roadblock, but we will overcome. First, coffee. And I suppose a picture of a lake since it’s the only other photograph I have currently.

Lava Lake located in Gallatin Nat’l Forest, Montana. Just a drive and a hike away from Buffalo, Wyoming.

Once we get through this period of our internship, only one month will remain of my time in the Buffalo Field Office. Five months never sounded like an especially long time to me, but even so it is remarkable how quickly my time in Wyoming has flown by. This has been an invaluable experience for me thus far. I’ve expanded my resume, and I’ve gotten to live in a beautiful place surrounded by endless outdoor opportunities. I can only hope my next work experience is just as memorable.

Dead Stick Botany

As my coworker so eloquently put it, we are officially entering “dead stick botany season” here in northern Wyoming. As if learning how to identify grasses for the first time wasn’t difficult enough, learning to identify dead or dry grasses has proven to be quite the challenge for me. But, flowering plants are still abound and much easier to find in a key than grasses are. Even this late in the season, there are some angiosperms here still doing their flowering thang. Check it:

Rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea)

Not an angiosperm, but that’s fine. Horned lizards are the state reptile of Wyoming.

Now that we are in the full swing of the field season, our crew has officially gotten a groove going. Each day, we arrive at the field office early to beat the heat, load our truck and head out to one of our ninety-something randomized field sites to collect species richness, canopy gap and soil data. Once we’ve finished with data collection, we return to the Buffalo BLM Field Office and complete entering the data into DIMA (an online database specific to the type of monitoring we do).

Amiah (CLM intern) looking at canopy gaps along a transect we established.

Dominic (BLM hydrologist) working the spud bar as we try to get a 30″ soil pit dug. Camille and Amiah (CLM interns) in the background carry out the Line Point Intercept method along a transect to collect species inventory of the site. I like my job.

Soon enough, most plants will no longer have obviously identifiable features and our ID season will come to an end. After speaking with my supervisor, I learned once it becomes too difficult to identify plants in the field, all us interns have the option to work with the rest of the office departments and explore other interests we may have such as wildlife biology, hydrology, mineral rights, GIS, etc. I’m not entirely sure what interest I’ll end up exploring, but I’m absolutely looking forward to new experiences.

Six Weeks In

I wouldn’t consider myself an eloquent person, particularly when it comes to reflecting upon experiences I’ve had. This perception of myself has made it difficult for me to sit down and write this blog-post. Thus, I’ll try to keep it concise.

This internship has forced me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. I find myself stumbling upon new plants and wildlife that, as a native east coaster, seem otherworldly. From a political perspective, I am absolutely a minority as I’ve relocated from New York, possibly the liberal epicenter of the country, to Wyoming.

This internship, although I am just six weeks into it, is exposing me to more than just a potential career with a federal agency or as a botanist. It is introducing me to new people and perspectives I wouldn’t otherwise come across. It is forcing me to change the way I discuss the environment and other issues I feel are important.

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about my workday since many of the other blog posts seem to focus on that, but also because thus far, the most valuable experience for me as a result of this internship has been the culture shock of relocating my life to a completely new place. I’ve adjusted plenty over the last six weeks, and I look forward to finding out what the rest of this internship will introduce me to.

E. Grapstein -–Buffalo Field Office, Buffalo, WY