Successful First Month

We have completed the first month of our internship in the Mojave Desert.  After a couple of rough weeks, I think I’m getting the hang of field work and being in the middle of the desert for 5 days straight.  Who knew it could be cold and rainy in the desert?!  Thankfully it’s starting to warm up, although I’m sure I’ll be complaining about it being too hot before I know it.

We finished sampling annual plants the week before last and started the perennial cover and density measurements this past week.  There are 168 plots that we have to measure in the first site.  Since we only got through 5 plots the first day we were a little nervous about how long it was going to take us.  But the following days we picked up speed and finished over 1/6 of the plots.  If we keep up that pace we should be done with that site in about 2, maybe 3 more weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed that we aren’t still out there in mid-summer!

And now to finish removing Bromus grass from all of my clothing…..

Just arrived in Eastern Oregon

So far, I have been working for the BLM botanist for just over a week in Vale, Oregon.  Vale is located in the Eastern part of Oregon near the Idaho border and is miles upon miles of sagebrush country.  This area is drastically different from the “prairies”( a.k.a. the corn/soybean fields) of the Midwest where I grew up, and it is a good change.  I have worked in sagebrush habitat once before, loved it very much, and am glad to be back to learn more.  This past week and a half has mostly consisted of getting re-familiarized with all of the different plant species of the area. We have been going out in the field with the botanist and identifying the various species of sagebrush, asters, mustards, grasses, sedges, and many others.  The different field sites we will be going to throughout the summer are spread across a huge district (5.1 million acres) and will require learning to drive on unpaved, rugged trails to get to most of our destinations. Excited!

So far, one of the more memorable experiences was driving on the actual Old Oregon trail to a cottonwood restoration site.  Seeing the original trails that settlers traveled on was amazing, in the least; no trees, no shade, very little water, and very bumpy…  hard to imagine how rugged a life they had.

There are many projects to work on pertaining to sensitive plant species, climate change monitoring, community ecology, range land monitoring, and so much more.   I am still getting the hang of everything, and will be getting more involved with the different projects next week.  Can’t wait to learn more, and get some pictures up next time I write!

grab bag

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning about the future of management and policy adjustments necessary to address changes in the listing status for the Black-footed ferret (BFF) in the State of Wyoming, as all BFFs will now be considered 10(j) populations . The 10(j) connotation is specific to that section and part of the Endangered Species Act discussing experimental populations.  In this instance, the existing populations of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming are considered non-essential to the continued existence of the species.  BFF management is typically tied directly to management of habitat for their specialized food source, prairie dogs.

I’ve also been assisting with a Congressional data call involving a significant undertaking to collect information and correspondence related to the conservation efforts for greater sage-grouse across the west.  Sage grouse have been and will continue to be a source of debate and interest in Wyoming and across the west.  The USFWS  is scheduled to have a listing decision in the fall of 2015, and the bearing of that decision regardless of the final ruling, will have impacts biologically, economically, and politically.  The interworkings of how species listings shape and change policy is a complicated one that requires a lot of people working diligently to manage public lands to the best of their ability, and I continue to learn the processes piece by piece…

Sage-grouse Leks

Over the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to have been asked to go out early in the mornings and check on the status of different Sage-grouse Lek’s.  The first couple of trips out were a little disappointing, not seeing any birds.  But this most recent excursion definitely made up for the past ones.  My partner and I left at about 5:30am to go and check 6 different Lek’s.  The first one was an awesome experience.  We counted 20 males and 1 female at this Lek.  The males were in full display, strutting around and doing their best to gain the female’s attention; while also asserting their dominance to the other males, to gain the best spot to dance.  We left the lek and moved onto a couple others, which had no birds, but then the last one of the morning gave us the same turnout and show as the first.  A fantastic experience and definitely worth the early morning hours.

I continue to spend many days in Craters of the Moon National Monument, helping out with range  improvement projects.  It has allowed me a number of opportunities to see many different types of terrain, ecosystems and the vast landscape that this area has to offer.  Spending most days, or at least part of the days, in the field, I have been able to see the succession of flowering plants bloom throughout the desert landscape and even across vast lava fields.  Being able to witness the progression of which plants are flowering when and where has become one of the most valuable tools in the aid of identification that I have acquired in this new ecosystem.

As time goes on during this internship I only see countless opportunities that are going to present themselves to me, and look forward to the vast new skill set that they will provide.  Time has shown already that you just never know what is going to come next, but if the past is any indicator to the future, there are only good things to come.

Shoshone Idaho

Shoshone Idaho is a great place. I have been working and living in this small town for 3 weeks and I really have no complaints. My co-workers in the Shoshone BLM field office are great and very excited about their jobs. Most of our time has been spent in Craters of the Moon National Monument inventorying range improvements and other structures and monitoring sage grouse leks. Yesterday morning we left the office at 5:30 am and visited 5 leks, I got paid to watch this endearing bird strut its stuff; a great way to start the day!

Recently, we started doing the sage grouse Habitat Assessment Framework training which is a preview of what I will be doing most of the summer. I am excited to hone my plant identification for the great basin and learn more about how to use GIS while helping the BLM manage our public lands.

Being from the west, I couldn’t imagine life without these wide expanses of open land to enjoy and am excited to be a part of the team of people that work to preserve, restore and make available this land for the next generation.

Stay tuned- This is going to be a great summer!

Field season is coming……

We are only a few weeks away from really kicking off field season and it can’t come soon enough! So far we have had a few days a week out in the field but still split with a decent amount of office work and I am going a bit stir crazy. I am really looking forward to seed collections, weed surveys, rare plant surveys, and everything else we will be doing this summer. I have been keeping busy in the office with designing outreach materials. My favorite is “ecosystem jenga”, it consists of a jenga blocks each colored differently to represent plants, animals, soil, and water. There are event cards that go along with the game that describe an alteration to the ecosystem which results in the addition or removal of blocks. It needs some work still but I think it worked really well to get the point across to show the fragility of an ecosystem that has been altered too much. We used it at an Earth day event and I was hoping the kids would be interested but they were way more entertained by coloring. Maybe next time I’ll bribe them with candy and stickers to keep their interest. The most entertaining day of work since my last entry had to be our ATV training. I have never ridden one before and it was a blast, I am looking forward to using them in the field. Not much to report on other than that; looking forward to some training events coming up in May (which will be saved for the next blog entry) and just getting out in the field.

Until next time,

-Nate T, proud member of Team Manatee

Paradox Valley: Welcome to the Wild West


Hello! And greetings from Montrose, Colorado!

I started my second CLM Internship two weeks ago and let me tell you, they sure know how to keep a girl busy here! Aside from my first two days of work (which involved some crappy weather – snow, rain, wind, dust, etc.) which kept me inside – learning GIS, organizing the herbarium, sitting through meetings, and a variety of other busy work – I’ve been outside in the field nearly every day. Mainly in a place they call Paradox Valley – or as my mentor says, the lawless land of the wild west.

Paradox Valley

Paradox Valley

Image from Google image search – I take no credit for this image!

From Paradox Valley, we headed up nearby Monogram Mesa and then dropped down into Bull Canyon, with the Abajo Mountains near Monticello, Utah clearly visible in the distance. Our goal was to hunt down a list of abandoned mines ready for closure and clear them for any BLM sensitive plants, a variety of which are known in the Uncompahgre Field Office. This involved some daring transverses across sketchy terrain, and while we haven’t found any plants of concern, our hard work was well rewarded by breathtaking views.

Old Mines

Uranium Mine

Imagine from Google image search.

I wish I had real pictures of some of the mines we were seeing. They are truly impressive specimens of the ingenuity of man, shafts and roads built into sheer cliffs, often without the use of machinery.

While we’ve mostly been focused on finishing up mine closures, I’ve also had an opportunity to check out some of the rare plants in the field office including:

Eriogonum pelinophilum, Buckwheat (truly an endangered species)
Scherocactus glaucus, Hookless Cactus (a threatened species)
Lomatium concinnum, Desert Parsely
Astragalus naturitensis, Naturita Milkvetch
Astragalus sesquiflorus, Sandstone/San Rafele Milkvetch

My mentor, Ken, is an excellent botanist, and though I’m fairly familiar with the flora in the area (I went to college just about an hour down the road) I am amazed and humbled and excited by how much I’m already learning from Ken and how much I’m going to learn from him throughout my time here.

I’ll end this post with a picture of the beautiful and elusive Naturita Milkvetch and a big thank you to the Chicago Botanic Garden for the opportunity for another internship!

Naturita Milkvetch

Naturita Milkvetch

Image from Google image search.

Brandee Wills
Montrose, CO

Outreach in the Danger Zone

This month, our team traveled to the Naval Air Station in Fallon, NV to participate in an educational Earth Day event. Now I know what you are thinking. Is that the Fallon, NV where they shot the majority of the air sequences to the 1986 action film Top Gun? YES. Yes it is.  It was an honor to represent the BLM at the scene where such epic cinematic history occurred. To be working in the place that singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins fearlessly referred to as the Danger Zone was literally a dream come true.

At the event, we had a variety of activities for everyone. Busloads of kindergartners enjoyed leaf rubbings and coloring Gordon Lightfoot, the squirrel who teaches the importance of treading lightly. Others tested their knowledge in our quizzical trash game and the edible/poisonous plant challenge, “Tasty or Deadly”. Ecosystem Jenga demonstrated the interconnectedness of the environmental and how disturbance can be disruptive.  Overall, it was fun to interact with the public and to provide educational opportunities to children living in and around the Danger Zone.

A Sea of Data

Every few weeks our field office will have a big meeting that brings together all the specialists, staff, and field managers.    Most recently our gatherings have revolved around data calls, that is, when the data collected by specialists, technicians, contractors etc. gets turned in so decisions can be made. These decisions can vary from grazing permit renewals, to redeveloping legislation at the federal level.

During a data call it can be easy to get overwhelmed with the years of unprocessed field data to wade through, particularly when given only a few days to assemble the information.  At times the sheer volume of information can feel insurmountable. This past week, the importance of these data calls were underlined at our field office meeting where we watched a congressional hearing that, among other things, highlighted data supplied by our office.

If you’ve ever held a position in which you were collecting/processing data for projects that were developed before you and will carry on after you, you know that occasional feeling of doubt where you question your place in the process.  Watching the hearing proceed, calling on our facts, it was a reminder that good data relies on good collection and management methods. It was also a reminder that while at times we can feel swept up in the transience of seasonal positions, we as the collectors and processors are integral to the system.

The Next Generation of Environmental Stewards

Earlier this week, a group of high school girls dedicated an afternoon of their lives to restoring the ecosystem in Patagonia, Arizona. I was lucky enough to work alongside a few masters of their field – permaculture goddess Kate and rainwater harvesting guru David – as they facilitated the construction of permaculture earthworks.

These girls are spending the week at Windsong Peace and Leadership Center, an educational facility located just outside of Patagonia. They’re learning about many different forms of justice (social, food, environmental, etc) and even spending a few days in Mexico learning about the influence of the border to people living on both sides. The forward-thinking facilitators at Windsong put together a program to involve these kids with the Patagonia community in the hope to inspire these future leaders to get involved with their local communities. My work with the Chicago Botanical Garden’s partner organization, Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative, afforded me the opportunity to be a part of the growth of these girls.

After a quick tour of Deep Dirt Farm Institute and the habitat restoration efforts that are underway there, the seven high schoolers, their two mentors, the five representatives from Windsong and four of us from Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative got to work. Together we built rock structures that will counteract erosion while capturing rainwater. We set in motion the framework for ecosystem reconstruction. The erosion control structures we built will hold on to more water, supporting pollinator-attracting plants which are the base of the food chain. An abundance of these plants will support a stable pollinator population (and food for migrating pollinators) which will in turn bolster our food system through reliable pollination. And a resilient food system will create a resilient ecological community (for both human and non-human beings alike).

Engaging with the youth, about our connection with the ecosystem was so fulfilling to me. The steps our group set in place to restore the ecosystem were paralleled within the group. The kids were presented with the experience of Kate and David, while the youthful energy of the girls nourished us all. I’m excited for the future resilient relationships that will form due to my work with Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative.