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

Bees and streams

This last month has been spent mostly doing data collection for different projects in the Bodie Hills.  Bodie was a mining town in the 1880s, but is now a ghost town and state park.  The land surrounding the park, however, is managed by the BLM.  We’ve been spending a lot of time working on projects there while many 0ther BLM lands are too hot to work on.  Recently, we’ve started working on riparian transects – collecting data about the contours of the streambed, how impacted it is, etc.  It is not always easy to work along the streams, with the willows and the rosebushes, which sometimes make access both difficult and painful.  I’ve found that my favorite part of doing these transects is the hunt to find the starting points that were established in the 80s.  Its like hunting treasure – you have a map with the location of the old rebar that marks the end of each transect loosely sketched.  From there you can infer were these rebar relative to the landmarks (which are mostly sagebrush bushes) of twenty-three years ago.  The fun doesn’t always stop there though.  Last week, we enjoyed several encounters with hornets/yellowjackets who decided in two different locations that they did not want us around their nests, and proceded to sting several members of our team, including getting me a couple of times. There was a lot of grabbing of the equipment, and running.


stream 1

A tough stream and some don't have any water at all!


Vale BLM 1000

It wasn’t until I brought a friend from home out into the field with me that I realized how much I have learned over the past few months. “Wow, you know a whole lot about an area that seems to be a whole lot of nothing” he said.  Though I was a little offended by the comment, thinking back, I remembered similar thoughts at my first glances of the Vale district. How wrong I was. Over time the “whole lot of nothing” has become an incredible, diverse land of not only plants but of rock, animals, water, and people. 

Camissonia boothii

Plants. The plants are why I wanted this job. I wanted to learn more about them and about plant conservation. Over the last few months, I have not only learned about plant development, pollination strategies, seed development, and geobotany, I have seen it all in action. I have seen Sidalcea oregano grow, flower, and go to seed within two weeks. I know that on exposed, rocky slopes I can probably find Lewisia rediviva, if I get there early enough in the year.  I have discovered that the easiest way to identify a Mentzelia is to stick it to my clothes, and to never wear my favorite clothes to collect it.  Having an amazing mentor and a plant nerd co-worker was like having two encyclopedias constantly on hand, without having to carry them around. Four months of collecting, dissecting, pressing, and identifying plants has allowed me to not only learn about them, but to understand them to a far greater extent than I thought possible in such a short time.

Devil’s Gate

Rocks. At the beginning, the sagebrush desert of the Vale district seemed to roll on in one continuous, unchanging landscape. Its vast openness seemed almost overwhelming. As we looked for plants in open fields, narrow canyons and atop mountains (to me incredibly large hills), I discovered how differed the landscape really is when you just take the time to look at it. The majority of Vale’s epic landscape was created about 15 million years ago when liquid basalt flooded the area during a period of significant volcanic activity. Over time this basalt has cracked, withered and been buried by sediment, soil and plants. Now, these elements come together to create some of the most amazing landscapes I have ever seen. From the vast valleys to the base-ball sized thunder eggs locals eagerly collect, Eastern Oregon is a geologist’s wonderland.  

The Owyhee Reservoir










Animals. I never thought so many animals could survive in the desert. A few of my most memorable encounters have been with rattlesnakes, herds of over 50 elk, coyotes, and wild horses.  Wild horses are a key concern for the Vale district. Though many believe wild horse populations in the West are in danger, those individuals who dedicate their lives to their protection and management would certainly disagree. In Oregon, herd numbers on average increase by twenty percent annually. To manage these growing populations, the Vale BLM gathers herds and makes young horses available to the public for adoption.

Water. Though at first the land seemed barren and dry, over time I have explored the countless springs, streams, reservoirs, and rivers of the Vale district. From the smallest seep to the massive Owyhee River, water in the desert allows for unique micro-habitats to exist for plants and animals. Many of these water bodies are continuously being degraded by livestock or being channeled away from their natural paths for irrigation. Once again, water and its management is one of the key challenges of the BLM’s multiple-use management plan.

People. The people I have met at the Vale BLM are passionate and caring. They care about the land, the animals, and the people in the area.  Over the months I have sat through some of the greatest lessons I have ever heard while riding in the passenger’s seat of the rig or sitting on my pack in the field. What I have learned this summer at the Vale BLM I could have never learned from a textbook or lecture.

The Oregon Outback





Peace in the desert

One of the most remote areas we work in, called Beatty’s Butte, is about 100 miles Northeast of our office, and almost completely outside of our county. Next to this 6800 ft. peak lie a few surrounding buttes and hills, calmly rolling and looking like green-grey velvet in the dry sun. One of these, aptly named Mahogany Butte, is just like the others except for certain things that live on the very top. As we climbed the steep slope, we entered an old-growth Mountain Mahogany forest. There we found a rare combination of shade and abundant seeds for collection. The seeds were itchy and beautiful. The tiny hairs on the long, wind-adapted spirals irritated our wimpy human skin. The view was 360 degrees of amazing. The ecology of Mountain Mahogany is mysterious, and why it colonizes certain tiny sections of the landscape is debated. As a general rule, they grow in the few high-ish elevation spots where moisture is found, but on the very top of this steep butte it seemed unlikely that this was the characteristic defining their recruitment. Just one of many undefined desert mysteries, but maybe my favorite.

Lisa, Lakeview District BLM

Itchy, beautiful, and amazingly engineered


As the second to last month winds down to a closure, I almost feel as if the month that remains were slipping away alongside too. I think of how many things I have yet to do, so many places to fall in love with, and definitely not enough time. I’ve even began planning how I can come back next year. This last month has been a mixture of working with vouchers, working with different divisions learning their skill set (or some of it anyway) and field work. But most its activities have proven to make it a month of personal reflection. It is of my belief that humans can have almost anything they want, but it’s finding the wanting that is difficult. I have learned so much about life through this job: How to push my boundaries so far they get lost in the distance; how to be grateful for life in every situation, just for simply being alive; how to wake up every morning and decide to have a marvelous day…
For example, just a few days ago I went camping to this beautiful and remote area of the park. I chose to go here because it had never been surveyed. I knew this because of map I made using GIS; I plotted all the points that have been entered in the Herbarium Database, of both the Working and Historical Collection. These points give me a good idea as to which areas of the park should still be surveyed and using the points of the Historical Collection, I can find out where the plants that the Working Herbarium is missing actually are. As I was hiking in, I saw a beautiful gigantic butte. It was basically impossible to get to it, but I knew I wanted to, and that no one else would go there. So the next morning I climbed up the steep mountain for several hours, finding different interesting Haplopapus (Asteraceae) on the way. When I got to the butte I felt I had taken myself further than I would normally have, and I succeeded. Thus, now I know that the furthest point I think I can reach, still falls short of what I can actually do. As it is with everyone, I think. Among the Manzanita and Quercus gambelii slithered out the biggest rattle snake I have seen in my life. It was going toward me, so I moved to let it know I was there. It stopped dead in its tracks and when I left to get the camera, it disappeared. I left soon after that, just finished making Chysothamnus and Eriogonum vouchers and bolted down the mountain. When I got to the trail I saw that the way I had come down was probably the only way that was remotely possible to ascend. I had not noticed, but there were small cliffs to either side of the path I took. And that leads me to the idea that gratefulness is really key in life, because anything can happen, yet we are still here with the possibility of loving life. I went on another long hike and found many other plants but by the time I got back to my car and the trailhead leading to my campsite, it was already dark. I left the excess gear and started down Lee Pass. About mid way I saw probably the only other sight that would have shot my adrenalin more than a rattle snake… The glow of two bright green orbs 50 m ahead of me. Mountain lions are common in this area, but if I was to see one, I had always hoped it would be at least in the day time… Alas it was not this way, so I did what I was taught and got ready to fight, just in case it came to that. After waiting some time, hopefully giving the cat time to mind its business, I continued onward to my tent where I laid awake feeling wonderfully alive, albeit in a tad of peril (just the way life usually is).

Ploughing through

After savoring my last couple field days in Rocky Mountain NP, it has been back to the office to continue work on the Great Lakes Invasives project. I am now essentially complete with all the data input, which has thus far taken me through just over half of my internship. While much of this has been tedious, it is certainly nice to look through all the spreadsheets, species profiles, and data interfaces and confidently explain the system and how it will work to my supervisors. I can certainly appreciate the importance of this work for the future management of the parks and it has allowed me to consider natural resource and ecological management far more in depth than I have previously. I can also tell you that I will miss my days trotting through the beauty of the Rockies and calling it “work”. One day…

So I am now to continue the presentation side of my project through website design and publicizing. I’ve attach some of my favorite pictures from my time in Rocky.

The mornings feel like fall now. It’s harder to get up because the pitch black sky is telling me that I should still be asleep, and the chill in the air makes me want to curl up in my cozy bed. The days are still warm, however, and I’m taking advantage of all the available sunlight and warmth before winter sets in. Although many plants have been done seeding for a while, there are still many that are waiting for their moment. Yellow rabbitbrush turns entire valleys into golden seas and the flowers of the sagebrush discreetly beckon pollinators to help them reproduce. It has been great to be out in the field nearly every day, as I explore new areas and rediscover others, drive through amazing canyons with nearly sheer rock walls, all while looking for plants and collecting seed. I’ve also been able to continue working at the National Wildlife Refuge just out of town, and have helped Forest Service crews with monitoring. Getting to talk to these crews and to discuss differences in monitoring techniques, and to hear about their past experiences and amazing stories has reminded me why field biology is so appealing to me. I am not ready to settle in one spot yet, and seasonal jobs offer me the opportunity to discover parts of the country that I would otherwise never visit. I have been able to explore some amazing areas of California and Nevada that I would never have known existed, while hiking and collecting seeds as part of the job.

A rainbow after a desert storm collecting rabbitbrush seed with Liz in Nevada High Rock Canyon, NV

I have been collecting seeds from plants for a while now, and everything seems to be winding down for the last flush of seeds that will be collected late October/early November. Driving through a meadow after picking from a population of sideoats gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula) I am suddenly made aware of how everything has changed since I first drove this road in June. Everything was so new and green and full of promise back then. Now colors have changed, plants have died back and I am filled with a sense of calm anticipation. I can almost feel the silent activity as everything around me prepares for the coming winter. How beautiful this all is!

Mahoghany Butte-iful

Oregon is a large state made up of a gradient starting with the huge pine forests on the west to sagebrush steppe on the east. I can tell from observing the reactions of visitors to the area and those who look at my photos from Lakeview that the bleakness of the high desert in fall is not attractive to everybody. The majestic beauty of pine stands impresses the average person, while the stark beauty of the high desert may be lost upon them. This time of year it is especially easy to dismiss the splendor of southeast Oregon, when everything but the shrubs and junipers have said their goodbyes and turned a hopeless shade of blonde. Maybe because I grew up on the prairie, making me partial to empty horizons, but the beauty of the high desert continues to amaze me everyday.

The sagebrush steppe may seem like an endless homogeneous ecosystem, but upon closer look there are numerous distinct micro-ecosystems. The extremely varied geology of this area creates semi-isolated pockets with their own specific soil types, and microclimates, allowing for an array of unique places to develop.

Among these unique places is a formation called Mahoghany Butte. At first glance there is nothing remarkable about this compared to the other buttes it is nestled between. It is a large, regular, butte-shaped, covered in grasses, rocks, and sagebrush. However, on closer inspection of the very top of this butte one sees a dark patch. This patch is a very old mountain mahoghany forest that crowns the butte at 6800 ft, and barely spills over the edges. This shrub has grown to 12 to 15 feet making it the tallest thing for miles. Looking out over the area, one can see nothing similar to it, and the recruitment for new mountain mahoghany seedlings lower on the butte seems to be quite low. The isolated forest is one of Mother Nature’s mysteries. I am sure that with a little soil and climate inspection the forest could be readily explained. But on top of the butte, surrounded by the twisted mountain mahoghany limbs and the feathery seeds, shimmering in the sun, the place feels almost magical.

Mahoghany Butte from a distance

A view from the top of Mahoghany Butte

In the "forest"

4 of 5 Months

WoW….I can not believe that I am half way through the fourth month of five to complete with the SOS program. Recently I have been working with a family that contracts with the BLM and grows BLM SOS seed. The couple joined me in the field last week to complete Symphoricarpos rotundifolius (Mountain Snowberry) collection. The time I spent with them was valuable and interesting. They are exuberant about the SOS program and have many great research ideas, some of which include defining species group parameters. Cataloging which species are found in conjunction with one another so that restoration efforts can be maximized. It is refreshing to work with civilians that are passionate about improving the quality of public lands.
Recently I was speaking with another intern at our neighboring office and found myself saying that with every passing month I feel much more confident in my ability to complete the job successfully. I am able to identify seed ripeness much more easily and with confidence, I am able to collect more quickly efficiently and accurately, and my off-road driving skills have improved tremendously. The privilege of driving the government trucks is wonderful and has allowed me to see a lot more of the beautiful country out here then I would if I were traveling as a civilian. I am up to a total of 24 collections, when I package and send out the completed seed lots I feel a great sense of pride to see my completed work. The fall is just about in full swing here in Surprise Valley and many of the shrubs are nearing seed ripe. I should be busy with collections for a bit longer thankfully, and I hope that the weather does not turn too cold to fast.