July 2018

As a kid, I always dreamed of being “an explorer”. I read stories of Lewis and Clark and pretended to traverse uncharted territory with my brother. We navigated through forests and deserts and built “birds’ nests” out of beanbags and countertops. I never thought this dream job would become a reality. Twenty years later, I inventory springs in forests and search for hidden water in deserts. I climb through rock formations and discover rosehips and wild raspberries where water seeps between the rocks. I hike along springs with vegetation up to my waist and jump back in alarm as a snake passes in front of me. I walk past a cottonwood and discover a family of owls nested in its branches.

In July, my co-intern and I began a spring inventory project that will span several field seasons. We will traverse forests and mountains and deserts to inventory nearly 400 springs and seeps in the Casper Field Office boundary. Using the Arc Collector app, we will plot the location and create a polygon to map the extent of each riparian area. Additionally, we will document riparian plant diversity and water quality data from each site.

As we begin this process, our mistakes become our biggest learning opportunities. We’ve learned that mapped two tracks don’t necessarily exist, backcountry navigation is a tedious and time-consuming process, and a lot can change in twenty years. The importance of planning and organization has become increasingly evident. Most of the riparian areas we’re visiting were inventoried nearly twenty years ago. Twenty years for vegetation to grow. Twenty years for springs to dry up. Twenty years ago, when there were no handheld GPS units. No exact coordinates. This creates a lot of challenges for our work, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and problem solving. Finding the most efficient method is as much a part of the job as the actual spring inventory process.

Twenty years ago, I pretended to be an explorer. Around the same time many of these springs and seeps were inventoried for the first time. Now I scramble through rocks and trees. I traverse forests and mountains and deserts. I cross streams and listen to owls give warning calls as I walk by their homes. I pick a raspberry and savor the reality of my childhood adventures.


Wild rose and wild raspberry bushes at West Rock Spring.

Rangeland Health

June 2018

One of the key objectives of the Casper Field Office is to manage sustainable livestock grazing on public rangelands. Rangeland health surveys provide an important way to monitor these areas and provide feedback to lessees about why certain aspects of rangeland health are passing or failing.

In June, we completed rangeland health inventory on six allotments — Marton, Snowshoe Creek, Casper Canal, Banner Mountain, Hess Draw, and Steamboat Lake. As a hydrology technician, my role was to inventory Soil Surface Function (SSF) and analyze signs of erosion at rangeland health sites. I set up a 10ft x 10ft soil plot and collected samples at 4 inches, 12 inches, and 20 inches. In addition, I checked both the soil plot and nearby drainages for signs of erosion, including surface movement, flow paths, rills, gullies, and pedestals. Soil samples were analyzed in the lab and used to calculate the percentage of sand, silt, and clay in each area. These percentages will be compared to pre-existing soil data and used to further analyze grazing patterns at each rangeland health site.

Working with the Casper BLM for a second summer, I have become much more aware of the big picture reasoning behind Rangeland Health inventory and the methods of choosing rangeland health sites. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the diversity of the places in which we work. One week, we may be working in a flat, arid, overgrazed pasture. The next, we’re surrounded by mountains and trees and cool granite rock formations. A day later, we’re wandering a sandy, beach-like area littered with mini dunes and rocks that have been naturally polished by windblown sediment. Each site has its gems: aromatic pine forests, rocks of every color, a young rattlesnake coiling and rattling at a distance (key words, “at a distance”). I look forward to the rest of the season and everything Casper, WY has to offer.

Here are some of the places we worked:

Steamboat Lake Allotment

Snowshoe Creek Allotment

Marton Allotment

Hess Draw Allotment

Casper Canal Allotment

Banner Mountain Allotment


New and Old

Two weeks into my second summer with the Casper BLM, I am struck by the simultaneous newness and familiarity of it all. Driving for hours over highly-eroded dirt roads or hiking through public lands that haven’t been inventoried since I was four years old, I am reminded of the thrill of living and working in a place with so much uninhabited land.

A year and three weeks ago, I left behind 22 years of big city life and arrived in Casper, Wyoming — where for the first time, I could walk into a coffee shop and be the only one there.

One of the things I’ve learned about working somewhere like Casper is that the abundance of open land makes the work diverse. As a hydrology technician, I do so much more than look at water. The first two weeks of this summer have consisted of a lot of planning, some map making, exploring new areas, 15+ hours of driving, a lot of mud, a Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) workshop, processing water samples, and a family of mice found in a cardboard box of sample bottles.

When every day is an adventure, the unexpected becomes the norm.

Everything isn’t always clearcut. It’s important to be flexible because plans will change. A rancher will call with a leaky pipe that needs to be fixed immediately. A 50-year rain event will render bentonite roads untravelable for days. What appears to be a 40-minute drive on a map will take an hour and a half on sketchy dirt roads. Occasionally, an afternoon hail storm will leave you fishtailing back to the office. Planning and organization can only get you so far.

It’s interesting knowing what I know from last summer and seeing new interns experience Wyoming country and all of its challenges for the first time. It’s easy to forget that I was once that person who gawked at every pronghorn and had never navigated using ownership layers. Two hours seemed like a long drive to me. I hadn’t experienced wet bentonite and barely even recognized the rocky dirt on the side of the mountain as a road my first week in the field.

These Wyoming country quirks seem so second nature to me now. Township, cattle guard, and allotment are everyday words in my vocabulary. And yet, there’s still a particular wonder about exploring new parts of Wyoming, watching baby pronghorn frolic through the fields, driving for hours without seeing another vehicle. I’ve learned a lot in the past year, but I still have a lot to learn. I look forward to all the new adventures this summer brings and all the old memories it reawakens.