“Tell me what your internship was about again?”

Today – my last day of work – is one of the rare days that I am sitting inside at a desk.  I sat down to write a fitting conclusion to the last five months, which is every bit as difficult as it sounds.  I decided to start by making a graph.  To anyone who knows me well, this would come as no surprise – my background is in quantitative biology, and I am a big nerd about data visualization.  As silly as it sounds, I wanted to answer the question: what exactly have I been doing for five months?

In short, I have been treating weeds and collecting seeds.  I have learned this summer that the hard work of creating and managing healthy ecosystems requires dedicated people on the ground doing work that – if I am being honest – can often by repetitive and tedious.  However, I have gained some valuable skills during this process: plant identification, navigating and recording data with a handheld GPS, and herbicide application, to name a few.  I even got to help mark trees for a timber sale (in case you were wondering what went under that “other” category).  In addition, I got to spend my days in some truly beautiful places.

While collecting seed from Physocarpus capitatum, or Pacific ninebark, we came across this wonderful, quiet section of the North Umpqua River.

Another beautiful vista while on the hunt for some native seed.

It may be burned, but in the year since the Horse Prairie fire this forest has regained a lot of life and beauty.

Spending all of my time outdoors gave me a greater appreciation for the conservation work that I am doing alongside so many other interns, volunteers, and professionals past and present.  As often as I found myself in tedium, I also found myself reflective and immensely satisfied to be a part of something much bigger than my small efforts.  That kind of perspective helped me stay patient with some of my more unexciting tasks, like pulling out false brome or driving all day to search for native plant populations.

I moved out to Oregon after graduating from college with two goals in mind: I wanted to refine my research interests before I committed to a graduate program and gain experience working with a federal agency.  I have really enjoyed working with such dedicated and good-natured people here in the Roseburg office, and I will be sad to leave the BLM – for the time being, anyway.  I would certainly like to work with a federal agency again after my experience here.  As for my research interests, I have a much better idea of what I want to study going forward, and I am currently in the process of talking to potential advisors and applying to graduate schools.  Working on BLM land has gotten me interested in the ways that changes in landscapes – particularly human driven land use changes – drive community composition and overall ecosystem stability, and I want to apply ecological data analysis and modelling tools to explore this.  I hope that I will soon be pursuing my Master’s and doing research along those lines.

I am grateful for the opportunities I had to explore Oregon and contribute to conservation efforts out here.  Although I am ready to move on and get back to school, I certainly will not forget the valuable experiences and new skills that I have gained.  Now, before it starts raining again, it is time for me to leave the Pacific Northwest.  Until next time!

Our Botany team at the Roseburg District BLM.

Some Musings on Invasive Species Removal

With only three weeks remaining in my internship, I am beginning to reflect on my experience and take stock of all that I have learned.  Lately, this means thinking a lot about invasive species.  Unfortunately, this has felt like a monumentally disheartening topic.  While my fellow intern and I are doing our best to pull out weeds or spray them with herbicide, our efforts can feel very small compared to the scope of the problem.  In many cases, the area that we are treating for one invasive species is also home to many others.  If we were able to treat them all, we would be left with a mostly barren field by the end.

It is hard not to feel as if we are fighting a losing battle, so I would like to visit a time when I felt slightly more optimistic.  At the beginning of July, I wrote a blog post marking the halfway point of my internship.  I was never able to post it due to what I have dubbed the Blog Blackout of 2018, but I want to revisit it now, because I think it is a useful way to frame my current pessimistic train of thought.


Today marks the halfway point of my internship.  Hang on, that can’t be right.  While I’ve been stomping around in the woods, time has passed me by.  Collecting seed may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but it sure does pass the time.

The past two weeks have been a race against the clock: trying to find and collect seed from three native grasses before they disperse.  Roemer’s fescue, California oatgrass, and Lemmon’s needlegrass are very charismatic native species (well, as charismatic as a grass can be) and we are trying to collect enough seed to grow them out for restoration projects.  In practice, this means that I look at maps in ArcGIS to try and identify sites where these grasses have been spotted in the past or habitats that would support their populations, and then travel out to these sites and cross my fingers that those populations actually exist.  I have embarked on more than one long walk with disappointing results, but at least most of those hikes end with a view:

In the middle of this seed collecting frenzy, any activity that mixes things up is welcome.  This week, I practically leapt at the chance to pull weeds in a post-Independence Day rafting trip down the North Umpqua River.  The purpose of the trip was to pull out a grass called false brome, a nasty weed which will aggressively push out all other vegetation if left unchecked.  While we found plenty of false brome, we also noticed that it was much less prevalent at sites targeted by past rafting trips.  It was gratifying to see the positive results of a management strategy, and it is a nice reminder that my small efforts at weed control are not futile (provided they are part of a long-term plan of action).


After reflecting on my experience from two months ago and zooming out to focus on the big picture, I am feeling a lot better.  My efforts may feel small right now, but as long as they are part of a larger plan of action there is a brighter, less weedy future to look forward to here in the Umpua Valley.  I can go back out in the field for the rest of the week with renewed energy and determination to knock out all of this false brome or any other invasive weed that gets in my way.

Meet Oregon’s Invasive Species

When you think of an invasive plant, what is the first image that comes to mind?  Something ugly and creeping?  A mat of kudzu, or perhaps the painful spikes of a thistle?  In a cruel twist of fate, two of the most infamous invasive plants in Oregon are a pretty yellow flower and a delicious fruit.  Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry were introduced here as a garden ornamental and a berry crop, and have rapidly spread across the state.  Now their presence is so visible, even the local fifth graders have taken notice.

(A logging road overrun with scotch broom on either side.)

A few weeks ago, I ran a short workshop on invasive plants for Douglas County fifth-grade students.  My time was short, as was their collective attention span, so I gave a simple crash course in invasion ecology.  Non-native plants become invasive when they disrupt the natural functions and processes of native ecosystems.  They often thrive in disturbed habitats and out-compete all other species.  These invasive species need to be managed to maintain healthy levels of biodiversity in an ecosystem.  I was gratified to see nods of understanding, and I came to realize how familiar these students already were with Oregon’s invasive plants.  I heard countless stories of yards bursting with blackberries or roadsides lined with scotch broom.  These kids did not need to use their imaginations to picture the dramatic effect that invasive species have in reshaping ecosystems, because they see it happening every day.

The most common ways to manage scotch broom and blackberry are to manually remove them, spray them with herbicide, or use the cut stump method.  In this last treatment, the plant is cut down to the stump, which is then sprayed with herbicide.  Unfortunately, I do not have a pesticide applicator’s license yet, so my part in these management efforts has been less direct.  For the past three weeks, I have been visiting recently disturbed or soon-to-be disturbed sites and mapping the location of scotch broom, blackberry, and a few other invasive plants.

(Mapping a patch of Himalayan blackberry in aftermath of the Horse Prairie wildfire, which occurred in August of 2017.)

After all, to manage an invasive species, you first have to know where it is.  In addition, mapping the location of an invasive plants over time is a good way to measure the success of various management strategies.  Toward this end, I have been recording the location of our invasive plant targets at two different sites: a road system that will soon be used as a timber haul route, and a large area of land that burned in a wildfire last year.  I was sent to these sites because disturbed habitat is normally a stimulus for the establishment and spread of invasive species, so there is a special need to monitor these areas and target them for herbicide treatment.

(Disturbed ecosystems, like this forest after a large wildfire, are prime habitat for invasive species.)

Managing invasive species often feels like an uphill climb.  An extremely steep one.  Time and resources are limited, and the spread of invasive plants is not an especially charismatic topic to rally around.  But at least I can do my part, in mapping these plants, to contribute to the continued health and integrity of Oregon’s native ecosystems.  Perhaps someday there will be a Douglas County fifth-grader who has never even seen a non-native blackberry.

One Week In

It would hardly be a lie to say that my job consists of driving around and looking at plants.  That is the casual answer I have prepared for friends and family from the east coast who politely ask what, exactly, I am doing in Oregon.  It would be closer to the truth to say that my first week as an intern has been a quick introduction to land management topics and plant identification and monitoring.  We have identified and recorded a population of rare plants, taken a tour of recently burned timber sales, and learned how to recognize countless native and non-native grasses and herbs.

(Our first day in the field, finding and recording the size of a threatened Kincaid’s Lupine population.)

So far, my attempts at identifying unknown plants with a dichotomous key have met very little success, but I think improvement is just around the corner.  After a week of whirlwind introductions and training, I have learned one thing above all else: I enjoy the work here and will keep getting better at it.

After all, when this is your office, what’s not to enjoy?

From the Bureau of Land Management office in Roseburg, Oregon.