Modoc Beginnings

It’s been nearly a month since I first arrived in Modoc County, and so far it has been a dense experience. Settling into a new routine, getting caught up on projects, and meeting new people always seems like a whirlwind. It is always exciting for me to settle into a new place. Being that every place is defined by a unique ecology, culture, and landscape I find endless enjoyment experiencing the uniqueness of a new place.  No two places I’ve spent time have been the same, and the similarities and contrasts between people I’ve encountered throughout my journey have added richness and value to my life.

Seeking out diverse experiences is a priority of mine. I think that in order to best understand the complexity of the contemporary world, having a wide array of experiences is vital. The decision to come to Alturas, CA was in favor of having a new and different experience.

For at least the next five months, I will be filling a wildlife field biologist position with the BLM in the Alturas Field Office in northern California.  Sage Grouse have been my focus thus far. My job has mainly consisted of counting individual birds on breeding grounds (leks) in order to get an idea of the population size of the region. Besides warping my sleep schedule to fit the funky hours of a wildlife biologist the work has been fun and rewarding. Plus, I’ve gotten to see plenty of spectacular high desert sunrises on my morning lek count duties.  The Modoc plateau is home to a peripheral sage grouse population.  The population is isolated from the rest of the Great Basin by the Warner Mountains, and there has been a steady decline of breeding birds over the past half a century.  In this part of the Great Basin seeing any number of birds is a good sign.  As the lekking season comes to a close I am looking forward to finding out what the other work I will be doing this summer will entail.


Phil Krening – BLM Alturas, CA

Rainbow in the Surprise Valley.

Last Week as an Intern

This is the last week of my internship. I have been an Intern out of Laramie, WY since last May. Through my internship I did a variety of jobs; I worked leading a SOS team for the University, as a lab technician focusing on the understanding of native seed germination and a general technician for the WY BLM State Office.
I started this internship straight out of college. To my friends at home, this seemed like a random move. I got a lot of “Wyoming? Is that one of those square states out there?” However, I knew this was a job I wanted to do. It combined my interest in doing field work and research, with conservation policy. After 11 months, I can say it has met my expectations and I have learned a tremendous amount. It has confirmed my continued desire to work in botany and conservation policy.
As someone who has been doing grunt work in the field, lab and office, it is interesting to see how this work was designed by BLM policy at the state office level. Seemingly abstract components of science (like plant phenotypic plasticity) and of national news (such as trillion dollar budget deficit) get combined together by hardworking people to create policy. To add more complexity, they must work to balance what often appear to be two competing goals, utilizing the land and at the same time maintaining a healthy environment. On a botanical level in WY, this policy means that rare plants are being preserved and native plants are being developed for use in reclamation of disturbed area where land has been utilized for minerals and energy development. My summer work and lab work were all part of the overarching policy to sustain healthy, diverse and productive lands for use and enjoyment.
Finally, I should thank all the people who have helped me out including both my mentors, Kristina Hufford and Adrienne Pilmanis.

Ramping up

Well, I asked for it.

Here I am again in Cody, staying busy in the early spring and prepping for the even busier late spring and early summer. The sage-grouse are dancing now in all their glory, so it’s time again to make the early morning drives to my assigned leks to count the romantic hopefuls enthusiastically displaying their prowess as top quality mates. Their dedication is impressive, and I chuckle to watch it increase all the more when the ladies arrive for a casual stroll through this year’s candidates.

Once the sun comes up, the sage-grouse tend to disperse and go about their day as I go about the rest of mine. It’s hard to generalize about what a typical day involves, but anywhere I go in the field office, there is always work to be done. Inventory of infrastructure, such as fences, powerlines, stock tanks, and roads, as well as natural resources like plants, rabbits,

raptor nests, and other wildlife, is a continuous project. I enjoy knowing that all this data collection can benefit wildlife and our understanding of human impact on nature. GPSing roads not previously mapped, for instance, can be included in the DDCT (Density and Disturbance Calculation Tool) analysis of potential impact on sage-grouse within their core habitat areas.

Another project I’ve begun working on is mending fence along an area that has previously undergone significant habitat restoration measures to take back the ecosystem from invasives like Russian olive and saltcedar. Soon we will be planting more native shrubs like silver buffaloberry as replacements, but first we want to make sure we can keep the cows grazing happily in their own pasture nearby, instead of trampling and browsing on all the juicy vegetation we put in. After all, good fences make good neighbors.

Other projects this year have included some drafting of an Environmental Assessment (EA) document, planning a lesson and activities for 6th graders at a Natural History Day event in May, putting the final touches on the wildlife section of the BLM Cody Field Office website and submitting it for approval by the State Office, and preparing all manner of supplies and plans for seed and herbarium specimen collecting. Busy, busy, busy. You just can’t help but be productive with all the things there are to do in the CYFO. Bring it on, field season.