Final Thoughts from the Forest

Greetings from Baker City, OR!

I am writing this as I finish up my final day of my internship. For the 5 past months I have had the opportunity to work in Baker City doing forestry work. I have always missed the trees when I move from Michigan for the summer so I was excited about working in the trees. After completing my internship I am still excited about that. It has helped me to define more of my career goals and help me to realize that I would love to get a job working with forestry. It also would be a way for me to hopefully find a job closer to my home state. While I greatly enjoy being able to more to new places and experience new ecosystems, I miss my family and friends.

I finished up my forestry duties with about 2 weeks left so that gave me the opportunity to do other things and expand my learning and experience. Since we had a week of rainy, wet weather that was not great for field work I had the opportunity to visit a project that will be started next summer. I got a chance to see some of the early planning that goes into setting up this specific project. With our projects complete I also got the chance to go out with the new forestry person and pick her brain for knowledge. She transferred over from the west side of Oregon where the forestry program is run differently and their methods vary. We set up a day where we went out in the woods and I just asked her questions. I was able to see how other areas of the country practice forestry and gain a lot of useful knowledge. I also got the opportunity to go out with other people in the office to see what they do and get some experience with other areas of work.

The Project area for next summer’s work

Our main project area for the work we did this summer

Overall, my internship has allowed me to gain some valuable real life experience that will be beneficial for anybody wanting to work in the federal government. You also have the freedom to tailor your internship to your liking. If you have an interest in something you can go out with an employee who works in that area. Its a great way to help narrow down your career goals without getting stuck in something you end up disliking for the whole summer.



Baker City BLM

Snow in September? And Other Thoughts

It’s crazy to think I have one month left until I end my internship here in Wyoming. After four months I have gotten pretty settled in here. I’ve learned a lot from my mentors, co-workers, and the people I have met in this small mountain town, and it is going to be a lot harder to leave this place than I imagined when I first moved here (even though I don’t consider snow and freezing temperatures to be a welcoming fall climate). I have honestly fallen in love with:

  • Collecting data for habitat assessments and wildlife management.
  • Long drives on sometimes difficult terrain through the mountains.
  • Snowcapped mountains, even if it’s only September and this already feels like winter to my Kansas pansy self.
  • Gannet Grill pizza (for shame, if this wasn’t included in my list).

Recently snowcapped mountains of South Pass, Wyoming. They will stay this way until near the end of May.  It’s a love hate relationship, really. Love the beautiful mountains, hate the cold. Although, the longer I stay here, the longer enduring the cold feels worth it.

In addition to the town, my office has been great, and I have gotten to meet some remarkable humans. The people I have met here have been so kind and willing to share the knowledge they have gained from years of experience. I have had opportunities to go out into the field with the Fire and Fuels Lead, the Botanist, the GIS specialist, and the Archeologist in addition to both of my Wildlife Biologist mentors. I have learned that the path to a permanent position, or a long term career, is often a winding road, and that sometimes, you don’t realize you love something until you try it.  Many of the people I have had the opportunity to talk with in the office had started out on a different path before finding what they wanted to do, and it is often not what they expected. And my mentor, Leah, is more than supportive of the different avenues I was to explore. She has also put up with our quirks and eccentrics all summer, and proudly wears the matching “Wildlife Lead” shirt we made her (ours say “Wildlife Crew”). The design, representative of our yet to be grasped hopes of seeing a bear this season.

From Left to Right: Coli Huffman (Shadow), Brittany Culp, Leah Yandow, and Caitlin Ryan (Me).

Hearing the stories of how others were lead to the positions they now fill has opened my eyes to an even broader mindset in how I search for jobs in the future. I have realized that getting your foot in the door is usually the biggest obstacle, and that sometimes, it might look different than you think.  I have enjoyed working with the many different specialists in my field office and I feel substantially more confident in my pursuit of a career in conservation as I have continued this internship. The group of interns I have been blessed to work with this summer has also been something that will stick with me. I love learning where other people come from and sharing experiences we have had before and during this internship. We have made a lot of memories in the field together. With the support this office has shown, I know that when I wind down my internship in a month, that I will be leaving with great connections for the future.  Below, a documentation the intern crew braving South Pass, on the first day of snow.  Only the strong survived. Just kidding, we all survived.

A very cold, snogwy day in the mountains. The name of the game is layers, layers, layers.

A less snowy, but still cold day in the mountains. Myself, Brittany Culp, James Noyama, and Coli Huffman (no longer a shadow).

I don’t like goodbyes

Well, all things must come to an end, but it is certainly hard to imagine how quickly this summer flew by! My time here in Idaho has come to an end and it’s about time I head back to home to Mississippi for a short break. Before I make it back home though, I’ll be sure to stop by a few national parks and forests on the way that I just can’t go without seeing!

Awesome tree haven found during a holiday trip

This summer was filled with a lot of new friendships and some unexpected lessons to be learned. While unfortunately I didn’t get to certify myself for wildlife fighting, I still grew as a person and renewed a few of my other skill sets. I was able to re-certify my CPR training in the beginning of the summer and throughout, I was able to continue practicing my bird, plant and invertebrate (as well as other organisms) identification skills. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily learned any new skills, I feel it is still important to keep practicing skills essential to one’s profession, which I am certain I have. The training provided throughout the summer was very valuable and I was happy to add new knowledge whenever I could, whether it be sage brush identification, or riparian habitat training. Also, learning your way around a GPS model that is new to you can take some practice. I had no idea that GPS units could vary so much! In addition, I also feel like whenever you are given the opportunity to work so closely and continuously with people from different backgrounds in your field, it provides an opportunity to grow and this should not be taken for granted. Socialization and teamwork are skills and attributes that continuously grow throughout your lifetime and I believe each year and each new field partner I receive adds another chapter to my growth. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my summer experience as much as I had if I didn’t have a field partner I could relate with so well on a professional and personal level. Experiences and friendships formed such as these are something I cherish forever and will always be grateful for. You really don’t know how much you appreciate a great field partner turned friend until you’ve experienced working with someone in the past who was a total nightmare! Details like these can make all the difference and can make working your dream job either a living nightmare or a dream-come-true depending on what attitudes and energy you are surrounded by. Thankful to be on the lucky end of things!

the CLM crew electrofishing in Ketchum

burrowing owl

Hera buckmoth found near Malta, ID

little garter snake with a water droplet beard <3

What was rewarding to me was being able to give a helping hand to the BLM, as well as other government entities, whenever I could on a variety of projects. Not only did we assist with sage grouse monitoring, but the BLM also got us out there to pursue studying other organisms of interest whenever they could. From raptor surveys, monarch tagging and jewel beetle wrangling to electrofishing some impressive trout, I feel like our field office tried it’s best to fit in as much wildlife experience as they could in addition to our time in the field studying botany. I found it very rewarding to be able to do both whenever possible, as I have a natural tendency to prefer wildlife over botany. There were a lot of first sightings for me in both the wildlife and botanical realm this summer, and that’s always a plus for me too. 🙂

white lined sphinx caterpillar

the smallest of monarch caterpillars during our search for adults and larvae 🙂

Lycaenid butterfly

I wanted to highlight these experiences that I mentioned above because I don’t want to seem ungrateful at all for the time and experience I gained this summer. The Burley field office has a very welcoming crew and I feel like they did whatever they could to preoccupy us with as much biological surveying as possible. It’s an honor to be the first batch of interns they received from this program and hopefully they will continue to do so in the future!

Beautiful rainbow trout caught while electrofishing with USGS

wood river sculpin also found while electrofishing with USGS

However, I would like to be honest and highlight some expectations that were not met, as requested by the CLM program employees as hopefully this can help other interns in the future. Before accepting the position, it was my understanding that this internship would be majority botany and/or wildlife related. After interviews and questions were all said and done, I went into this thinking that I would be utilized the majority of the time for botany field work. While I did end up working outside more than in the office(which personally, I always appreciate), I feel like the botany aspect was not as prominent as advertised. All in all, the data collection for AIM (habitat assessment for sage grouse) plant surveys, which I understood to be at least 3 out of 5 months of my internship, only lasted about a month. On the other-hand, my field partner and I spent nearly two months placing plastic markers on cattle fence in order to lower sage grouse mortality. While I am not refuting the importance of going to these locations to make sure the fencing is safe for this species, my understanding was that we would be doing majority botany work and I would get a greater opportunity to practice my botanical identification. However, we also got the chance to be involved with the data management aspect of AIM, which is just as important. After the field season for AIM was over, we were also involved with some habitat assessment projects which is a great skill and experience to have, especially if one wants to be involved with ecology. So while I am not trying to knock the internship as a whole because I definitely had some great experiences and cherish this opportunity to look into how the BLM functions, I feel like there is room for improvement for the CLM program.

Coming here as a 3 year alumni from another internship program (Student Conservation Association), I feel like I already had a certain expectation for internships working alongside DOI , which should certainly be taken into account. While working with the people at the Burely office, I could feel that they were doing their best to try and give us as many interesting surveys as possible and I really appreciate that they went out of their way for us, even though they have plenty of their own work to do. This critique is not something that I feel is unique to our field office, as I spoke to other CLM interns in other offices and they had similar thoughts. On the contrary, I feel lucky that our office worked so much to give us as much experience as possible because I feel like compared to other offices, we had more opportunity to work with wildlife and botany surveys. As with many things in life, I am sure this a matter with a multitude of layers and is not something to be pointing fingers at one particular thing. I realize that CLM and BLM are different from other internship programs and government entities, and my only wish is for both of them to continue to flourish despite any obstacles or critiques.

All-in-all with that being said, I know a part of me will certainly miss Idaho and the beautiful views and natural wonders it granted me while I was here. Thanks to this summer, I feel ready and prepared for my next endeavor, which is to attend graduate school, and look forward to what the road has awaiting for me.

Much love to the sagebrush steppe xxxx


City of Rocks reserve near Alma, ID – a must-see if you’re in the area