July in the Copper River Valley, AK

It is astonishing that I’ve been in Alaska for two months as of today! The beautiful Copper River Valley surrounding the cross-roads town of Glennallen is definitely beginning to feel like home. For the past two months at the BLM Glennallen Field Office, I’ve been exposed to an incredible diversity of projects. These include, but of course are not limited to, collecting woody and herbaceous specimens to be used for educational flip-cards, cruising timber and marking boundaries for future winter timber sales, floating down the Gulkana Wild River searching for invasives, and zooming down the Top of the World ATV trail helping out the recreation crew spread gravel. It’s been a wild ride so far in the 49th state- and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my internship thus far.

The magnificent Chugach Range touching the Prince William Sound. (Taken during a rare sunny day in Valdez, AK)

While the boreal forest is not known to be very diverse (I mainly deal with four different tree species- white & black spruce, quaking aspen, and balsam poplar), it is absolutely mind-blowing how vast the area is that this circumpolar forest blankets. Even though I drive long stretches of the surrounding highways to and from job sites nearly every day, I am always taken aback peering out into the wide, seemingly unbroken sea of spruce.

Keying out specimens on the beautiful Liberty Falls Trail near Kenny Lakes, AK

Coming from my forestry program at the University of Vermont, where most of my studies revolved around rich northern hardwood sites, I have to admit I was a little nervous about what kind of forestry work I would be doing as I passed a classic “Dr Suess”-esque black spruce bog off the highway. Because of the permafrost conditions and short growing seasons up here, trees don’t really have the luxury of growing to merchantable size for saw logs. Instead of marking living trees for timber sales, most of the forestry program’s focus is on dead standing timber for firewood and sometimes biomass. Timber sales usually take place in the winter to prevent any disruption to the soil and permafrost. I luckily still get to be involved in the preparation and marking of these sales. Most of these sales take place in an area south of Glennallen, known as the Tiekel Block, where a spruce beetle infestation killed huge bands of white spruce in the late 1990s. Salvage sales are extremely common in this area and are mainly what I focus on. This site also happens to be the home of an apparently very healthy grizzly and black bear population, so bear spray is always a must when working here!

From the Glennallen BLM Field Office, I can’t wait to see what August brings! Take a look at the photos below for more of my AK job adventures!

-CLM Intern Katlyn Williard

Preparing for a salvage timber sale. These white spruces though killed in the late 1990s by the spruce bark beetle are still valuable for firewood and biomass.

A wolf track spotted at a site in the Tiekel Block. No actual wolf sitings (yet).

I’m stumped. How is the pith or center of this recently cut white spruce is still in tact!?

Probably the cutest plant I’ve had the pleasure of seeing so far. Cypripedium passerinum, also known as the sparrow’s egg orchid :o) Seen alongside the McCarthy Road.

Preparing for our Gulkana Wild River three-day float.

I’m on Top of the World! (The ATV Trail that is!). This is probably the most beautiful work site I’ve been to. 360 degree views of Isabel Pass and the Alaska Range.

ATVs and UTVs used for trail maintenance, featuring the infamous AK pipeline