Welcome to the Uintah Basin

Hello everybody a little late but it’s sure here. My first blog entry for my second CLM internship. This time I got a botany position with the botanist at Vernal, Utah BLM Field Office. My first weeks here went by really fast and it was all fun.  First day, of course some paperwork, a few trainings and certifications and get all the gear ready for the rest of the week.  We would be rafting/floating in the White River, a river originating in Colorado from snow meltdown. The project in the river consists of removing non-native shrub and tree species, in this case Tamarix ramosisima and Elaugnus angustifulia, salt-cedar and Russian olive respectively. The removal of this species will improve native wildlife habitat. Our team consisted of two wildlife biologists, our mentor and botanist Jessi, fellow CLM intern Dani, and myself. The wildlife crew would take us to the spots where treatments would be applied and then plants crew (us) went in and assessed the area to try to come up with a monitoring plan for before and after treatment plots.

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The following week I starting out by going out in the field with the weeds tech Jim. The plan of the day was to spray with herbicide the invasive species white top, which mostly occurs in riparian areas. The first half of the day went well but after we returned to the truck and loaded the UTV spraying vehicle, we noticed we were missing a pin from the trailer gate. We had to go back to town get it fixed before any serious damage happened. After we fixed that we went out and did a little more spraying. During this week I also completed another certification.  Then I explored the Seeds of Success database from previous years’ collection seasons and tried to figure out where to start scouting/collecting this season’s seeds. We ended the week by touring around the Vernal BLM resource area with two biologist from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Utah state office who were interested in seeing the work and progress being done in the conservation-monitoring of various sensitive species; a few of them were two species of penstemon as well as two different species of barrel cacti; Sclerocactus wetlandicus and Sclerocactus brevispinus.

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So far this internship looks promising for a fun and learning work experience in the conservation and natural resource management field.

Until next time!

Hector Elias
2014 CLM Intern
BLM Vernal Field Office
Vernal, Utah

A Month in Twin Falls, Idaho

It has been a month since moving out to Idaho and starting work and things are starting to take off.  The sagebrush and grazing pastures are starting to look familiar, and I no longer feel completely disoriented when we take a new route to a site.  Our work consists primarily of HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring to collect data on the vegetation and habitat available to Greater Sage Grouse in Twin Falls’s field office.  I’m still struggling with many of the plants and some days feel that grasses are beyond my grasp, but it is incredibly rewarding to be able to walk through a pasture and name so many of the forbs we pass on the way to our transect sights.

The days are long and we are still working on establishing a routine in order to get more sites done in one day.  Despite the long days, the work is interesting.  We will never revisit any of our sites and I am intrigued by the idea of spending so much time and effort on 100 meters of an area only to uproot our transect lines and move on without much more thought.  The world shrinks down to one meter points for a few hours and then expands back out into the large skies of the sage brush.

We just got the third member of our five member crew.  The three of us are all CLM interns and it’s been incredibly enjoyable to help train him in and watch someone else experience the brush with such enthusiasm and pleasure.  Next week we’ll start doing 4 days camping out in the field in order to reach the further sights.  I’m thrilled at the idea.  Our trailer will be in a campground by a river.  To be near water again is going to be wonderful.

The desert here is beautiful, with the real beauty showing in the details and the intensity of the landscape.  From a car the scene looks homogenous, varying only in so much as whether areas are grassy or filled with sage and rabbit brush.  Once on the ground the area is quickly differentiated by many details and the land’s character shows through.  It is a harsh landscape in that there is no shelter whatsoever, from sun or the often intense wind.  But it is a wonderfully serene place and I am always thrilled to be able to see for miles and to watch the clouds move in.  These kinds of skies are some of my favorites.

I’ve had the opportunity to see some phenomenal birds while out here, including our main focus the sage grouse.  Horned larks, Brewer’s sparrows, sage larks and Swainson’s hawks are daily companions.  We lucked out to see what I think was a short-eared owl sitting on a fence post the other day and drive by a Ferruginous Hawk’s nest.  Horned toads are everywhere and even a bull snake was spotted today.  Earlier this week we were watched by four pronghorns, all strung out along the horizon line, and two days ago a group of young cows attempted to eat our transect tape.  The animals are ever present and often very subtle, a challenge and daily delight.

I’m looking forward to the next several months and the thought of becoming adept at the work.  I am also delighted by the idea of what we might see during this time and how we will begin to understand the area better.

Hello Missoula

From rolling prairie to mountainous forests, I have made it to Missoula, MT. The landscape is incredible here, with Pondersoa pine forests, snow capped mountains, and moss and lichens EVERYWHERE. Even the wildlife is unique, like Sasquatch, just kidding! The biggest struggle so far is getting comfortable hiking up these mountains, and getting used to the elevation which is over 1,500 feet higher than Iowa, yowiee!

Right now all of the seasonals are starting to join the BLM crew and we are starting walk-through inventory. Which is just a fancy term for “hiking up a mountain then talking about all of the plants and wildlife you see”, which is pretty awesome. We have been collecting inventory for the layers of the stand, habitat type, canopy cover, average diameter breast height. During these stand inventories we are also looking the understory vegetation, invasive species and sensitive species. All of this information is used to evaluate stand overall health and for sites for further projects. We survey the stands every 10 years.

We are also preforming five needle pine surveys, which include limber pine (Pinus flexilis) and White pine (Pinus strobus). They are hard to find for several reasons: the first is the mountain pine beetle. These beetles are using five needle pine trees in high elevation to attract a mate and lay their eggs.  Then the beetle larvae eat the phloem, leaving the tree to die! The second is blister rust, which is actually a rust fungus, not a chemical reaction. The blister rust is basically a parasite using the bark of the pine as a home. Luckily, we have found quite a few viable trees!

Until next time!


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