Leaving Nevada

As my time as a CLM intern in the Carson City, NV BLM office comes to a close, I am reflecting on how much I have learned during this experience. After completing my second CLM internship (my first was last year in Miles City, MT), I feel like I have a more well-rounded background, which will help me in my career. I have gained a lot of knowledge from my mentor, and am very appreciative of how much training I now have which I can take with me as I search for my next field position. We attended the USDA Nevada Pesticide Applicator Certification in Salt Lake City, a grass identification course in Reno, Ecologically-based Invasive Plant Management training in Reno, and NNPS Rare Plant Meeting in Las Vegas, just to name a few. I was also able to attend Riparian and Wetland Plant identification training, from which I came away with a better understanding of those habitat types and a stronger botanical background.

In addition to trainings, I have gained a wide variety of field experiences. Our team has spent time fire monitoring, rare plant monitoring, noxious weed surveying, seed collecting, and a lot more. I have really enjoyed the crew of nine interns that I have been a part of. We each bring different backgrounds to this internship and all of our skills mesh very well to form a team. I have really enjoyed getting to know each of them and it’s sad to see my time with this team come to an end. It will be interesting to see where each of us goes in 2013!

Seed collecting in northeast Nevada

Site for milkweed seed collection

Here in Carson City we’ve been staying very busy this field season. We’ve been doing a wide variety of projects, but most recently we’ve been doing many seed collections. We were scouting and collecting on the east side of the Pine Nut Mountains last week, and camping there at night! Our group successfully made about 20 collections, including Woods’ rose, fourwing saltbush, milkweed, and scabland penstemon. It was a great and productive trip. I really enjoy the field work we do because we get to go to  so many remote places that we wouldn’t otherwise see!

Outreach Events in the Carson City District

In celebration of Earth Day, our Carson City crew headed up to Reno on Sunday for the annual event at Idlewild Park. We set up our booth in preparation for the crowds that were there from 9 am to 5 pm. Representing the entire BLM, the information we provided covered many realms. Our team made brochures on local geological features, key habitats of Nevada, and activities on public lands. In addition, we put together a pamphlet on local wildflowers, the effects fire has on the region, and noxious weeds and integrated pest management. We had many coloring and activity booklets for children, crossword puzzles and scrambles for older youth and adults, all relating to the information being discussed in our various handouts. We had several interactive activities for the public to engage in, including a “Tread Lightly” Pledge for people to sign and magnets with the pledge on it for them to take home. Another hit was a Trash Trivia game that I put together, allowing people to match up various litter items (aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, banana peels, etc.) with the amount of time that item would take to decompose in the environment. People definitely got the message of the importance of not dumping trash because so many of the items take a surprisingly long time to biodegrade! Despite it being rather hot out, the event was a huge success and many people went away much more informed about their public lands and what we do as the BLM.

The following day, we had an environmental education outreach day planned at McCarran Ranch, the 300 acre site of The Nature Conservancy’s first restoration project on the lower Truckee River. Third and Fourth graders were bused out to the site for a few hours to learn about the restoration efforts for the Truckee River, including what healthy habitats are and the importance of conservation. There were five different stations- our team did the Plant Diversity station and a few of us helped with the Water Quality station. There was a Wetlands station with touch pools, an Ecosystem and Invasive Species station, and a River Meanders station. The kids seemed to be really engaged in the activities and most of them were very excited about what they were learning. The outreach day was such a fun event to be a part of, and I am definitely looking forward to our other public outreach events!!


Training in Salt Lake City

This past week, the rest of the Carson City intern crew and I were given the opportunity to attend the BLM Integrated Pest Management and Pesticide Applicator Training Course in Salt Lake City. After a long day of driving across Nevada and into Utah on Monday, we finally made it, just in time to get some sleep before our rigorous training week that began bright and early on Tuesday. There were many different lecturers, who spoke on a broad spectrum of subjects. These included an overview of plant taxonomy and identification methods, common invasive weeds of the west, forest pathogens, biocontrol methods, and targeted grazing, to name a few. We learned a lot from these speakers, and also learned many technical aspects of applying pesticides, such as when and how to apply them, and what kind of pesticide works on different plants. For example, one should not apply a foliar contact herbicide to a creeping perennial weed, because this would not target the roots and the plant would come back the next year. On Thursday afternoon and Friday morning we had a general exam and category exams, in order to be certified in pesticide use in agricultural plant pests, forestry, aquatics, and right-of-ways.

Overall, it was a great week, we all passed our exams, and we were able to explore Salt Lake City a bit too! It was really cold out, but it was so beautiful because it snowed a few times while we were there, which was really fun. We returned to Carson City late on Friday and then left before daybreak on Saturday for a Lichen Identification course in Chico, California. The weather there was the complete opposite— 70 degrees and sunny. All of the acclimating my body had done to cold weather in Salt Lake was swiftly undone in that one day…but learning about lichens was fascinating and definitely worth it!

Open spaces

My CLM internship has been a very significant learning experience. Being my first time working for a federal agency, I got to see first-hand what the work environment was like, as well as the sort of things that the BLM deals with on a regular basis. My mentor, Mel Schroeder, was very helpful in teaching me about the processes that go on and the frustrations and benefits of working there. As an intern, I got to be out in the field a lot, so I was able to enhance many of my field skills and also build many new ones.

Being in eastern Montana was an entirely new thing for me. I am originally from Richmond,VA, but even though I had been in western Montana several times, Miles City, MT was a completely different landscape that I had never experienced before. I enjoyed being in the sagebrush habitat and badlands of the area. The diversity of species was amazing and I enjoyed being able to identify and learn completely new plants, as well as being in pronghorn antelope country!

This internship allowed me to experience new things and try to narrow my ideas for my career. I made many contacts at the BLM, and my mentor was very supportive in me finding a career that would suit my interests. I look forward to pursuing my interests as I search for jobs, and am hopeful for the possibility of doing another CLM internship in a new location and possibly with a different agency.

Trip to the Grand Tetons to see the aspens in fall colors

Brooke Stallings

BLM Miles City, Montana

New experiences

Aside from seed collecting, the past few weeks I have been able to explore other field work at the BLM. I went out with the fisheries crew one day and helped them survey two sections of a creek, which happened to be loaded with fish! There was a lot more diversity in those prairie streams than I would have expected. Another day I went out with the seasonal wildlife biologist to assist with a swift fox study. I helped take down several camera traps to check the results after three nights of their being out, and we also set up two new transects with camera traps. It was a pretty neat process, and it was cool to see some of the pictures of skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and jackrabbits. I was also invited to tag along with a group to a recently burned area south of Miles City, for training on BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response). It was really interesting to learn how to assess a burned area on the severity and intensity of the fire on the landscape, and what different treatments might be appropriate, depending on the rating.

Outside of work, I recently volunteered at the annual bluegrass festival in Miles City, and helped sell food and slices of pies (70 total pies, of all different types!). That was a neat way to get involved in the community and hear some local talent. I also met a local woman who has been kind enough to teach a beginning quilter! That is something I’ve always wanted to know how to do; I’m almost finished with my first quilt, and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Area burned in recent fire south of Miles City

Branching Out

Eriogonum visheri

Work at the BLM continues to go well, with a few more seed collections in spite of the fact that the landscape is in transition to the hotter, drier season. Fire is starting to become a concern – which is hard to believe after this spring’s flooding! – but soon the fall plants will set seed so we can collect from those.
While in Miles City, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to experience several other botany -related activities, apart from my job. In late June my awesome mentor, Mel Schroeder, encouraged me and my co-intern to attend the MT Native Plant Society annual meeting in Ekalaka. That made for a very enjoyable and informative weekend; I got to do a rare plant survey of the native Visher’s buckwheat Eriogonum visheri, under the guidance of Scott Mincemoyer, botanist with the MT Natural Heritage program in Helena.
I have also spent two days helping out at the Special K Ranch, near Billings. Their mission is to provide a place for adults with developmental delays to learn life skills by working on the ranch raising livestock, growing bedding plants in the greenhouse, and caring for trees and shrubs in the nursery. I enjoyed transplanting some of the native plants, like sagebrush seedlings, that they are growing for revegetation.
Finally, I was in Glacier National Park for the July 4th weekend and stayed an extra day in order to participate in the Native Plant Nursery’s summer volunteer program. I helped transplant Oregon grape, rose, and other seedlings and helped weed some of the existing cells. It was fun meeting the employees and the other volunteers and sharing watermelon with them at lunchtime.
It’s hard to believe that my time in Miles City is halfway done; I am looking forward to all the things I will get to do and learn in the upcoming months!

Silver buffaloberry cash crop!

The past few weeks have been exciting- we’ve been busy trying to hit the timing right on many of our target species because they all seem to be in full swing with seed right now! One of our most exciting collections so far has been of silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) . This is one of our high priority species because it provides good habitat in woodland and riparian sites. After scouting for this shrub throughout our field season, we were losing hope on it being a viable collection because we could only find small stands of it, and those seemed to have little fruit. Two factors which make buffaloberry of particular difficulty are that this species is dioecious- male and female reproductive structures are found in different individuals (meaning not all individuals have berries), and also typically there is only a good seed crop every 3-4 years. So it was a difficult chase, but we were finally able to hunt down a large stand of buffaloberry in a nice green ash draw, and there were tons of berries!!! We spent several days collecting the small, bright red berries (and trying to avoid the thorns!) and collected quite a lot! We had plenty to cover the 10,000 seed needed by SOS and will have plenty leftover to use for reclamation work!
After work yesterday I attended the opening of my very first county fair! I went with my mentor to the Eastern Montana Fair, which is in Miles City through Sunday. It was fascinating to see all the homemade entries and the livestock; I plan to go back this weekend when I will have more time to fully enjoy the experience, including my first rodeo, and to get another funnel cake!

Brooke Stallings, Miles City, MT BLM

Therese and I collecting berries of Shepherdia argentea

Finding Beauty In The Badlands

When I arrived in southeastern Montana for the first time, it was obvious that this part of the country is very different from the northwest, where I had studied and worked previously. Most evident was the lack of large numbers of trees in most of the area; in addition, the geology is very different, causing the badland formations, marked by layers and layers of different types of rock. As the softer sandstone has eroded over time, what remains are columns topped by harder structures known as “hoodoos”. Quite scenic!

Since a significant portion of the BLM lands are badlands (so called because they are “bad land”, not suitable for cattle or farming), I have gotten to explore very interesting pieces of the landscape. To the untrained eye, the topography and vegetation seem very similar throughout many of the sites we have monitored. But just as I was beginning to describe this region as “all the same”, I began to stumble upon areas that surprised me with their beauty and diversity. While scouting for populations of buffalo berry, we explored a few areas around Fort Peck Lake. As we drove further towards the lake, I was surprised to see the pastures merge into forested badlands and rolling hills covered in lush vegetation. Although we didn’t find what we were looking for, we were amazed by the number of sego lilies! I also found a new perspective on eastern Montana and the beauty in its diverse landscape. And with any luck, we will get out there again to collect sego lily seeds later in the season!!

One thing I’ve learned from this experience so far? Never assume things about a landscape. You will always be surprised.

Westward Bound

I set off on my journey, my car bulging at the seams with all of my stuff for the next five months, on my trip across the country. Beginning in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, I had many adventures along the way. I got to see the St. Louis Arch, stopped for dinner in Manhattan, Kansas (the “little apple”), and had my first ever live sighting of tumbleweed! I also got a chance to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for a day before the three-day Seeds of Success training workshop in Denver, Colorado. I had never been to that park, and it was beautiful! I saw big horn sheep and even got dusted with a few snow flakes! That’s something Virginians don’t see too often in May…

The training was really great, and it was neat meeting other interns from many other states who will be doing similar work. After that, I went to finish getting settled at Miles City in southeastern Montana. A few weeks prior to my arrival I had found out that I would be moving in the same weekend as the huge Bucking Horse Sale, which would swell the small town to many times its normal size! I was able to enjoy a few hours at the street dance and the rodeo.

On Monday morning I jumped right into orientation and training at the BLM, and everyone has been so friendly and willing to help, even when I continue to get lost in the maze of cubicles. This week has entailed a lot of paperwork and procedure training, but we’ve also begun research for determining our target species list for seed collection in the district. It has been a great experience so far, and I can’t wait for it to stop raining so I can get out in the field!!

Brooke Stallings
Miles City, MT BLM

Big Horn Sheep in Rocky Mtn Natl Park