Conquered Fears

Temperatures are dropping rapidly in Idaho, and I’m ready to flee before my long route back to New England starts getting snowy.

Our work truck one chilly morning. Freezing cold in October is normal in New England. Freezing cold a week after 90 degree averages is just one of those Idaho things.

When I was first offered a CLM position in Shoshone, ID, I was honestly very hesitant to accept. I didn’t know anything about Idaho, and it was frightening to consider living in a remote area so far from everyone and everything I’ve ever known. Looking back now, I’m grateful to my past self that I took that leap! My time with the BLM was an incredibly valuable experience with awesome co-workers, and Idaho has been a beautiful place to explore.

I’ve been doing some last minute projects for the past month. We wrapped up our assessments of 5 Year ESRs – areas that burned 5 years ago and were seeded to hopefully maintain a healthy habitat. This was absolutely my favorite project of the summer – other CLM interns and I worked together judging whether seeded plants had successfully established in old fire areas, and wrote reports discussing our findings and recommending further management actions. It was awesome insight into how the BLM makes large-scale management and funding decisions.

The last few weeks have been given to sagebrush mapping, which is pretty dull work, but vital to sagebrush seed collection efforts. We often drove 7-8 hours a day checking on isolated sagebrush populations – whether we had the right species, how big the population was, how productive the plants were, insect damage, etc. We found ourselves alternating between confidence and complete confusion in regards to sagebrush ID, but I think we found our groove by the end. Hopefully we found enough good Wyoming big sagebrush populations for seed collection, which will be carried out later this fall.

Mountings of my SOS co-workers specimens, plus sagebrush mapping specimens to confirm which species we found. Many that we initially thought were Wyoming turned out to be Big basin, a less desirable species. Oops.

I recently got to check out a juniper treatment project – large swaths of juniper are removed to increase sage-grouse habitat, with the added benefit of reducing fire risks in mountain areas. It was a bit shocking to see the destruction and desolation created by the machines, but the result will hopefully be healthy sagebrush slopes with plenty of habitat for sage-grouse. Sometimes environmental management isn’t pretty, but the results are worthwhile.

These machines grind up juniper and reduce it to shreds – scary! But the downed juniper will insulate seeded plants through the winter.

Temporarily ugly. What was once a low diversity juniper forest will soon be prime sagebrush/sage-grouse habitat.

Learning about all of this management and project assessment stuff was great, because I’ve been leaning more toward a professional career in natural resources management than botany. However, I am disappointed that my botanical skills weren’t noticeably strengthened this summer. Working with a fuels crew meant that we saw pretty degraded habitats that were recovering slowly from recent fires – a whole lot of cheatgrass, Sandbergs bluegrass, phlox and not much else. It was awesome to learn a lot more about grasses, I was lucky enough to attend a Carex identification workshop, and we searched for rare plants on several occasions, but more opportunities to botanize would have been great to help me learn the families better. It’s something I’m determined to improve upon in my own time.


Like I mentioned above, working with the BLM helped me develop a lot of confidence in natural resources. But I’m 100% certain that my choice to live away from my known world for a while did more for my confidence than all of that (valuable as it still was!). To anyone who might be reading this blog after receiving a similar offer from CLM, do it. Leave your big city world, or rural corner of the country, and test yourself with something new and maybe a little scary. I moved from Boston to rural and very-much-on-fire Idaho, made friends from strangers, and learned a whole new set of plants in a whole new set of environments. Kinda doubt that anything’s gonna seem insurmountable after this.

Bye Idaho! I look forward to seeing your scenic vistas again someday.

Monitoring Winds Down, Reporting Begins

I’ve been in my Fuels position for about three months now, and our post-fire rehabilitation monitoring is coming to a close. I was helping a fuels crew monitor the status of areas that burned 1, 2 and 3 years ago to see how well the BLM’s seeding projects are doing. Now that we’re done with these projects, I’m working with other CLM interns to assess areas that burned 5 years ago, as we should be seeing more diversity and sagebrush seedlings in these older projects. We’ll be generating reports on our findings that will go to the national office, so we’re doing our best to take copious field notes and write out detailed interpretations of what we saw!

Found on one of our last monitoring days – the elusive Hedgehog cactus!

Leaving my Burley fuels crew has been a little sad, as I really enjoyed working with them and getting a glimpse into wildfire management and control, but starting new projects is always exciting! We’ll also be doing some different projects here and there, such as rare plant inventories and botanizing in caves.

Speaking of caves, I recently had the greatest field day of my life, and have been talking about it to anyone who will listen. I joined the Geocorps interns for a day of inventorying invertebrates, bats, archaeological signs and other points of interest in caves. It was an incredibly cool experience. Most of the things we were looking for are pretty small, so we had to scour the walls, ground and ceiling of each cave looking for tiny invertebrates while trying not to bother any bats we found. Some caves had pictographs or old artifacts that we tried not to disturb, and some were quite creepy with how many pitch black chambers they had. My favorite (pictured below) was full of car-sized boulders that we had to scramble over, and the entrance had a stone arch overhead. The mystery of what we would find in each cave definitely made this the most exciting field day I’ve ever had, and I’d love to work in more cave systems in the future.

Stone arch cave entrance!

Green rock at right was the size of a small cabin

I also recently had the privilege of attending a Carex workshop, where sedge experts taught us how to recognize and identify Carex species. It was great to get so much experience with a single genus, but even more awesome to take a break from the sagebrush steppe and do some botanizing up north in subalpine forests and a fen.

Day 3 of the Carex workshop – worked in a fen, definitely the most unique environment and plants I’ve ever seen

Though monitoring has been winding down, I’ve gotten to do some very exciting things lately, and look forward to my last two months here.

Botanizing in Burley

Like many other interns, I came out West from the East Coast- specifically Boston, though I grew up in Vermont. A supervisor from a previous job recommended I get some interesting western experience to help my resume stand out back east, so when I was offered a CLM position in Shoshone, Idaho on a fuels crew, it seemed to fit the bill! I was apprehensive at first about transitioning to such a different area so far from everything I’ve ever known, but Idaho has, surprisingly, been feeling a lot like home.

A typical day’s habitat, cheatgrass galore

When I first arrived at the Shoshone office, I was informed that I would actually be working in the Burley field office from now on. I was a bit disappointed, as Burley is quite the drive from Twin Falls, where I found housing, but quickly changed my mind. The Burley field office includes a large mountain range on the Idaho-Nevada border, so I’ve been getting experience with an exciting variety of habitats – from the typical sagebrush steppe to juniper forests. My field crew was incredibly welcoming from the start, and after only a week, I felt more comfortable with them than any other field crew I had ever been on. It must be something about firefighting – there’s a camaraderie about them that welcomes even “rookies” (even a botanist like myself who won’t be fighting fires in any form this summer!) into the family.

My crew were very excited to see my terrified reaction to this ~60 degree road we drove up

Our field work is fairly straightforward – areas that have been burned in past years are quickly reseeded with a mixture of grasses, forbs and sagebrush, and then monitored regularly in order to assess how those plants are doing versus the ever-present cheatgrass. It can be disappointing at times, since most 1,2 and 3 year plots are still generally 50+% cheatgrass, but sagebrush and other established grasses look promising in some of the older areas. It’s unfortunate that the diversity is somewhat low in these plots – I started my time here in a whirlwind of plant ID, trying my best to learn all of these Western plants as fast as possible (grasses are the toughest), but haven’t had many new plants to learn since starting the fuels work. However, the presence of a new or showy plant in plot does become more valuable to me as a result (prickly pears are blooming! Castilleja too!)

Prickly pear definitely have the showiest flowers around

I’m in love with Castilleja

While I’m not doing as much straight botanizing as I expected, I’m glad to have been chosen for a fuels position. The work focuses more on management, and though I don’t have any plans to continue working on fire projects in the future, I have been hoping to shift my experiences from botany to more general natural resources management. As this position is all about assessing whether a fire management tactic is working as hoped, I feel more confident in habitat and project assessment, as well as project planning. We should be switching things up from the fuel monitoring projects very soon, so I look forward to new challenges and sights!

-Bureau of Land Management, Burley Field Office