Last Days in the Last Frontier

Today, we drove to work in chilly, 29 degree weather. Snow covers the mountain tops surrounding Anchorage. Most of the ducks have left the partially frozen ponds. Yes, it is time for me to migrate as well.

When my mentor first offered me the SOS position with the BLM in Alaska, I agonized over the decision for a full week and a half. I also had an offer to teach English in Indonesia, and I couldn’t decide which position to accept. But now I know I made the right choice. The past four months have really been a whirlwind of activity and excitement. I can’t think of another job that I could have gotten right out of undergrad that would have allowed me to travel so frequently, learn so much, and come into contact with so many fantastic people– all while utilizing my education and setting me on the track to a great career.

Perhaps the best thing about this internship was the sense of independence that I had throughout much of it. Here I was, traveling to Alaska. No study abroad program was waiting at the airport to pick me up. No friends were waiting in the city to take me out. I was alone in the Last Frontier.

On the first day of work, we figured out what needed to be done. On the second day of work, we started doing it. We acquired permits, planned trips, drove (and flew!) to far corners of the state, analyzed ecosystems, and collected lots and lots of seeds. For the vast majority of the time, I felt like I was in charge of something new and exciting. I felt empowered to use my knowledge to make scientific decisions. I felt like I was making a difference.

Although I had never been to Alaska before, I really grew to love the state. Anchorage is not the million-person metropolis that I am used to, but its natural beauty is unsurpassed. Minutes from my house lies one of the largest state parks in the country, where backpacking, mountain-biking, hiking, and bears abound. Sea kayaking, water skiing, and pack-rafting lie just a bit further away. Coupled with an extremely active populace that utilizes every second of sunshine to its fullest, I really wanted to stay. But alas, the job market had other plans for me.

A big thanks to Marian and Krissa, without whom this internship would not have been possible. Their tireless work and patience was much appreciated. I also want to thank my mentors, Mike Duffy and Paul Krabacher, who were excellent teachers and friendly bosses. Finally, to Jordan, Chrissy, and Vania, my fellow interns, we actually survived living, working, commuting, traveling, and playing together for four whole months. I don’t think I could have done it with anyone else! You guys are my newest lifelong friends. I look forward to our reunions.

Dan Brickley

BLM State Office

Anchorage, AK

Alaska is Groovy : )

My stay in Alaska is coming to an end. After 4 long months and numerous adventures, I am sad to leave. Between seeing bears, moose, musk oxen, reindeer, wolves, coyote’s, ground squirrels, and collecting seeds, my time in Alaska will always be remembered.
This internship has been such a great post college experience. I have learned so many different plant species and so much about field work. I’ll be leaving with a love for Alaska, it’s plants and it’s overall greatness.
The CLM internship program is such a great idea. I hope it lasts a long time and gives many people wonderful experiences like it has given me.

Arrivederci Colorado

My internship at the Colorado State Office has come to an end. We spent the summer collecting numerous species and we reached our target numbers. This job was physically demanding since we worked in the field every day, but I enjoyed working with the other interns and I gained knowledge about the biology and phenology of the species we worked on. I got to know more about plants like cacti – they have such beautiful flowers and fruits. I really learned a lot about the species we found by keeping up with their development in the field throughout spring and summer, from germination, to flowering and then fruiting.

During these five months I also had the opportunity to see various ecosystems around Colorado like Ponderosa pine forests, the prairies of the Plains, spectacular canyons and scenic mesas. Some of the most beautiful places here in the West lay on BLM and other public lands and having the opportunity to work there and see these places was a great experience.  We got to take a trip to Roan Plateau, a high area in western Colorado where we collected a species of paintbrush. When we got to the top the view was striking. It was interesting to see oil shale on the steep mountain cliffs.

I have enjoyed my time at the BLM and in Colorado and will certainly use the knowledge I have gained in my future career.

Lorenzo Ferrari

BLM Colorado State Office

Good Bye, Alaska

Alaska is such a huge, diverse state that even in 4 months I have only seen a small part of it.  However, I am grateful because I have seen more of the state in these 4 months than almost all tourists and many locals.  It seems that fieldwork is the perfect way to tour Alaska.

A couple experiences that stood out:

1. The Denali highway is 135 miles of dirt road through BLM land in the heart of Alaska.  Though the summer had been rainy, we got a gorgeous day when we were collecting on the Denali Highway.  It was just so amazing to pull off anywhere along the road, hike a short distance and be surrounded by collection opportunities.  It was sunny and warm, and the shrub tundra stretched out into the distance until the foothills and the sharp summits of the Alaska Range, which we could see in all of their glory.  There were also plenty of ripe blueberries on which to snack.  I think we collected for at least 8 hours that day, and had we not had a two hour drive home to dinner, I think we would have stayed until midnight.

2. We got the opportunity to go to the Seward Peninsula, location of historic Nome and home to numerous reindeer and muskoxen.  The flight to Nome is more expensive than a flight to Seattle, so we would not have been able to go there if not for SOS.  Along the three dirt roads that leave Nome, we made numerous collections over the course of 6 days.  Though the days were long and often quite chilly, I enjoyed every minute of it.  I could not stop thinking “I’m in Nome!”  As an unexpected bonus, fellow CLM intern Ben Copp welcomed us to Nome with a salmon cookout on the beach.  It was a trip that I will never forget.

I will definitely have fond memories of my internship in Alaska, and even if these memories grow dim I have thousands of photos to remind me.  Here are just a few:

Goodbye Klamath Falls

Here’s a look at the town from on top of a hill at sunset 🙂

It is time for this internship to end. It was nice to have an internship that was five months instead of 3, your field season is longer and you get to spend more time with friends you meet at work. This internship placed me in Klamath Falls, OR which was a transition area between a high desert and and coniferous forest. Learning about different landscapes really helped me to understand other ecological systems, because here water is so scarce. There are different issues of concern than the Midwestern states I’m from.

I learned a lot of different plants, which is awesome because I love identifying plants and trees. I have a pretty good idea what a botanist’s job entails. I like doing the work, I just think working in an area that received more rain than Klamath Falls would be ideal. I miss my green grass. The terrain here was quite interesting, every step landed on volcanic rock, so you definitely spend more time looking at the ground than anywhere else. The scenery was gorgeous, there were 2 mountain peaks (Shasta and McGloughlin) in the distance and the rest of the area was full of buttes. Quite a nice change from flat Minnesota.

Besides working with plants, the thing I liked most about this internship was being able to work with a government agency, the Bureau of Land Management for me. I loved the people that work here, and it’s great to meet all the people from different departments: fire, wildlife, forestry and archaeology. I’m really glad I met these people, and it’s all thanks to the Chicago Botanic Garden!

-Erin Strom, Klamath Falls, OR

This is the last thing on aliens, I swear.

Unlike most of my co-workers at the BLM (and most of Roswell in fact), I was curious about the whole alien thing upon arrival. I expected to see people in the streets dressed as sci-fi characters, preaching about how they will return and save/destroy humankind.  That is not the case at all.  Aside from the alien newsletter that only the 6 alien themes shops carry (which coincidentally is collaborated by the owners of those 6 shops), no one really cares about extra terrestrials.  Despite this, something inspired me to watch sci-fi movies during my time here, as well as westerns.  Anyway that’s all I have on aliens, “the truth is out there.”

As I finish up my last handful of days here, I realized that I learned a lot in the past five months.  I learned about an ecosystem that I was completely unfamiliar with beforehand, regards to biology, geology, and a little anthropology.  My favorite part was seeing new species of all kinds; crazy insects, succulent plants, variety of reptiles, new birds on my life list, and lots of big game mammals.

Something I didn’t expect to be a part of the job was the amount of manual/mechanical labor. What I mean by that is assembling wildlife waters, fixing fence, and using things like water pumps and tractors.  I never experienced any of that before and now i can say that I am somewhat “handy.” 

In my last post I mentioned that I was working on my own wildlife project dealing with species diversity in an old mesquite treatment.  In case you were wondering, bird and plants species were greater on the treated side by about nine species each.  Birds and plants were the easiest to observe, but i did notice differences in reptiles, mammals and insects too.

Also since my last post I helped with the Lesser Prairie Chicken surveys – it was really cool to see the males do their fall dancing display.  Another great opportunity was helping with the Restore New Mexico tour organized by some folks in the office. Restore New Mexico is a program that is run primarily through the BLM but with other partners like US fish and wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, NM game and fish, ranchers, and several others.  The office put on a tour of all the major projects they completed to show the partners where their money went.  I assembled the booklet (which is harder than it seems), prepared posters, and helped clean up at each stop.  Although that doesn’t sound like much fun, it was. I got to hear a lot of good speakers discuss what’s best for the land and have an awesome lunch. 

I accomplished other things outside of work. I studied for the GRE and took that almost two weeks ago, which was not fun.  I also participated in a 20 mile bike race and finished sixth, which was fun.

So overall, I had a great experience here in New Mexico. I learned a lot of great information, was able to go places that most people can’t, met cool people, see things unique to the region, and lots of valuable things that I may be forgetting right now. Now time to focus on that next step, whatever it might be.

Thanks everyone

Grant Izzo
Wildlife Intern-Roswell Field Office
Roswell, New Mexico

Wyoming in the Rearview

I’ve officially been labeled a short-timer here at the Buffalo Field Office in Wyoming.  As I prepare to head back to the Pacific Northwest I’m finding it hard to think of words to describe my time in Wyoming.  Ever since I arrived here I’ve struggled to full accept that the Powder River Basin is energy country.  Energy production is the reason I have a job, the reason everyone in my office has a job, the reason my lights come on at night, and the economic backbone for the majority of this beautiful state.  Yet I still can’t shake the voices of my environmental philosophy professors preaching the horrors of exactly what’s going on in the area I work.  I do not support the thousands of miles of two track roads, the countless produced water reservoirs, the fragmentation of habitat, the draw down of aquifers, the possible extinction of the sage grouse, or the risk of selenium tainting the Powder River – and yet I think I’m starting realize I can only lament so much when I don’t have a better solution.  The reality is I enjoy electricity, I enjoy driving my car, and I enjoy having a job.  I guess all I can really do is observe how things are done here currently and continue working to be part of better solutions in the future. 

My job itself has been a great experience and I have learned a lot of new skills.  For the last couple of weeks I have been working on a project to sample soils in the reservoirs filled with water that comes from natural gas production.  I think I would have enjoyed this project just as much as an eight year old child.  Basically I’m getting payed to play in the dirt.  Using a hand auger is messy, especially when used in the bottom of a reservoir.  I come home everyday with my jeans ruined and my hands smelling like a vulgar mix of mud and cow poop, but it’s fun work.   Hopefully though all my dirty days will produce some valuable information that will influence how reclamation is done in the Powder River Basin. 

As I think  I stated in my last blog, the best part of this experience continues to be exploring the beauty this part of the country has to offer.  I spent the last weekend basking in the glory of autumn in Yellowstone.  It’s hard to complain about walking the boardwalks around Old Faithful without the yammer of a thousand people or standing alone at a view point over the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  It may also be worth mentioning that we saw a very large grizzly bear near Yellowstone Lake and two wolves snacking on a carcass in the Lamar Valley.  Besides Yellowstone I’ve also gotten to travel to Grand Teton and Glacier Nation Parks in addition to the time spent in Big Horn Mountains a couple miles west of here. 

I’m going to miss Wyoming.  The sky, the landscapes, the geology, my friends, and co-workers are all things I’m going to look back on fondly.   The internship has been a wonderful experience personally and professionally.  I could not of have gotten my next position without the skills I’ve learned in Wyoming. 

Jacob Dyste

Multiple Use Management

The past five months has been defined by an amazing assortment of experiences. I have participated in so many fun and stimulating activities, ranging from participating in archeological digs to compliance monitoring at Burning Man. I am still processing the Burning Man experience. It may yet take several weeks for me to fully form coherent thoughts regarding the event. Needless to say it was fun and I will never forget it. Burning Man not only was a fun experience, but also educational. The duration of my internship has mainly focused on land management activities that are centered on conservation efforts. During Burning Man I was able to witness first-hand how the BLM manages large scale recreation events on public land. I learned that it is a complicated process in which multiple organizations must participate and requires intensive coordination efforts and inter-agency cooperation. The experience emphasized for me how the BLM truly is a “multiple-use” agency.

Another use of public lands that I became quite familiar with was made possible through my work with the range department in our field office. Having helped with many range projects, I gained a wide variety of experiences with the methods used to monitor the health of land used for grazing. The reality of management for ranchers and cattle grazing became very clear during these experiences with the range department.

During my internship I have truly witnessed the wide range of efforts the BLM makes to manage land for sustained use for ranchers, recreationists, and the flora and fauna that inhabit them. Before I had participated in this internship, I had only a vague idea of what kind of effort is being made to protect our public lands. These experiences have given me a renewed respect for the efforts that the BLM makes. Because of this time I have developed the desire to participate in the future in making these efforts the most effective possible, so that our public lands may be managed in the best and most effective ways possible.

A Wyoming Summer to Remember

It’s hard to believe that three months have flown by since the CLM training workshop at the Grand Canyon. Thanks again to Krissa and Marian for organizing such a great week! I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

My Geographic Information Systems (GIS) internship with the Rock Springs, Wyoming BLM field office has afforded me many opportunities to learn new skills in GIS software. Most of my time is spent inside working on various small projects for numerous employees throughout the office. One day I may be working on a map showing the spatial relationship between oil and gas wells and sage grouse core areas for the Minerals and Lands department and the next I’ll be working on creating a reference map of Herd Management Areas for the Wild Horse Specialist to use out in the field. It is nice to have such a mix of assignments.

I’ve become more experienced in digitizing geographic features, as well as in general data management. Over the course of three months, I’ve assisted in geographic data acquisition, organization, analysis and maintenance. I’ve also become more experienced in the manipulation and creation of shapefiles and have done extensive work in readying sage grouse and pygmy rabbit datasets for further analysis by our wildlife biologists.

My cubicle workspace

While office life may not parallel the glamor and excitement of field work, it has helped me improve my computer skills and hone my interpersonal skills in a professional environment. I’m especially thankful for my mentor, Doug, who has imparted his vast GIS knowledge with patience and enthusiasm throughout my time here. He describes himself as “eccentric” and brings a welcome boost of levity to the office environment with his humorous perspective and playful attitude.

Doug on a normal day

Using a Trimble GPS to ground truth features in the field

Along with indoor activity, I also manage to get outside occasionally. In addition to accompanying my mentor for some GPS ground-truthing work, I’ve also been fortunate enough to assist various field crews from the recreation, wildlife and Seeds of Success divisions here.

Folgers coffee beans? Nope, my collection of chokecherries for the Seeds of Success program.

Some memorable moments from the field include: Sitting by a pristine creek for a lunch break and enjoying the scenery and perfect weather, trying to winch a truck out of a muddy sinkhole, walking fencelines inspecting them for sage grouse “strikes” in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, watching wild horses and bull elk from atop White Mountain (just west of Rock Springs) and seeing two red foxes dart in front of the truck on the way to check a recreation site.

A very stuck truck!

Two fellow CLM interns enjoying a beautiful day for planting trees on National Public Lands Day.

I also had the opportunity to participate in my field office’s National Public Lands Day (NPLD) event a couple of weeks ago. Myself and other CLM interns helped to direct and assist nearly 100 high school students and teachers in planting over 950 native trees along a local riparian corridor. It was a rewarding service project and an enjoyable outing with my fellow interns.

Fall hiking with my roommates

Speaking of the other interns here, we have grown close as friends and share a camaraderie that extends beyond the workday. Although you might not guess it from a glimpse of Rock Springs itself, there is no shortage of places to go and things to do here in southwest Wyoming. Weekends are always jam-packed with fun, adventurous activities. Over the course of the summer, I’ve been hiking, camping, backpacking, road biking, mountain biking, swimming, rock climbing, tubing down rivers and playing in sand dunes. It’s been great to enjoy such varied activities with a fun group of people!

Fellow CLM intern Deanna sledding down a giant sand dune

Myself on a backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountains

I look forward to my last month here as a CLM intern and eagerly anticipate the remaining adventures that await me!

Melissa Buchmann
Rock Springs, WY
Bureau of Land Management

Start to Finish

It is hard to believe that 6 months has gone by already! In that short time I learned the SOS protocol from mapping suitable populations in the beginning all the way to the end product at the Bend Seed Extractory. It is the first season of SOS for BLM Surprise and my project was SOS from start to finish. I really enjoyed working with BLM volunteers Ed and Wendi Lutz who have a ranch over in Nevada about 25 miles from the office. They are doing germination studies of native plants and small scale garden studies. They really kept spirits high even on scouting trips which weren’t so successful and on days where the weather was not ideal.  Our trip to Bend was made exciting by the fact that we got to see our collections at every stage of the process. The workers at Bend don’t just stand there at a machine and push seed through-they have to be inventive for those tough collections that can’t go through the machines. We had a collection of Balsamorhiza which consisted of mostly flower heads and they put the entire collection in a wire mesh tumbler that reminded me of the things they use at the grocery store for raffle tickets and drawings (see picture). Turn the crank to mix them up and the achenes drop through to a collection bin.  We watched as the workers pulled seed out of the brown paper bag I helped put it into and then feed it into the hopper of a deawning machine and see the seeds come out one end and all the awns out another. We saw x-ray photographs taken at this stage that show the ratio of filled seed to empty-our Thurber’s needle grass looked excellent! We saw material that looked like lawn clippings being fed into a Clipper and watched as the machine sorted the material out by weight separating seed from straw-my mentor Kathryn and co-intern Maike really enjoyed this!  The neatest thing was seeing the package of seed with our office code on the label along with information on seed purity and quality. I enjoyed the small town of Cedarville even without the services one is used to in more populated areas and I really enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful back country of northwest Nevada and northeast California. I saw, for the first time ever, wild mustang and bighorn sheep and I got to camp at High Rock Canyon which requires a 4×4 with adequate clearance and at least 8-ply tires to get through safely. I may not have had the adventure of a lifetime but I certainly accomplished my goal of working on a project from the beginning and seeing it through to the end and I call that success.