Another week of adventure :)

This past weekend was one of my favorites so far in Wyoming. On Saturday I went venturing into Shoshone National Forest and found an awesome camping/recreational area around Frye Lake. I met some people who were from my home state, Virginia, and enjoyed talking with them and taking in the awesome views in the chilly weather. The Rocky Mountains in the distance were still snow-capped, despite it being summer, so I’m curious to see if they will ever experience a full melt-off.

A view of Shoshone National Forest’s Frye Lake showing the Rocky Mountains and a rain shower seen in the distance.

An interactive? rock that I found while hiking around the lake.

On Sunday, a couple of friends of mine took Jon and I back into Sinks Canyon State Park and up the “Approach to Killer Cave” trail about half a mile to the rock walls there. I was taught all about the rock-climbing difficulty scale, and little did I realize how complicated it was. Actual rock-climbing, with a rope, belayer, etc. starts at a Class 5 level. 5.1-5.4 routes are considered easy, 5.5-5.8 intermediate, 5.9-5.10 hard, 5.11 to 5.12 difficult, and 5.13 to 5.15 very difficult. Starting at a difficulty of 5.10 and above, there are letters involved as well. This looks like: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, and 5.10d. After our short hike up the trail, and getting to an elevation of about 7,300 feet, we were ready to watch Alex and Brandon (some seriously experienced climbers) have a go at the walls. They started on a 5.12d route… as a warm-up… and only went up from there. Once they got some good climbing in, they lead a couple of easier walls for us to top-rope up. This means that they set the ropes up for us so that we could club up the face of the rock a bit more easily. I was incredibly impressed by them, especially after I completed my first and only wall and was exhausted. We thought mine had a difficulty of 5.8, but later found out that it was a 5.9! I was so happy and proud of myself for getting to the top on my first try. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. 🙂

Me climbing my very first 5.9!

Brandon climbing a muchhh more challenging wall.

Monday came around and I found myself back out in the field, only this time I got to go out with the BLM’s AIM crew. This stands for Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring. On this trip, they were attempting to go out to a couple of sites around the Shoshoni and Gas Hills areas. I quickly realized that I really liked the strict rigidity and structure of the protocols that AIM has to follow because it ensures extremely consistent data throughout the entire West. For instance, all of the sites are centered at randomly assigned GPS coordinate points, but may be rejected due to unexpected fencing, roads, or dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, their first site was centered in a corner of a fenced pasture; any adjustment that they could have made in the four main cardinal directions did not work. So, they had to reject it. We then made our way to their second site, and had better luck with the location. The types of sampling we did assessed soil horizons, stability, and erosion potential, as well as vegetative species inventory and richness. The soil samples included digging a 70-cm-deep pit at the very center of our site, and walking down three transects while assessing the ground cover and small soil tests that were performed. For the vegetation, heights were measured down the transects, and species were counted in the entire plot.

Out with AIM, I finally got to see the prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha) cactus blooming!

On Tuesday, Matt and I stayed in the office and went through years of old files in order to try to wrap our heads around our two allotments’ pasture histories. We spent hours doing this, and ended up creating really helpful, large, summarization sheets for each. This was a nice break from the heat, and left me refreshed and ready to go back into the field the next day. Wednesday was another adventure. Matt, Jon, and I prepared ourselves to go find and read two transects, one in the Soap Holes pasture, and the other in Haypress. After some time, we were able to find a safe route to the first stop on our route. Right as we arrived and were assessing the transect site, the most beautiful barred owl (Strix varia) flew out of the willow trees. This was the second time in my entire life I had ever seen an owl, and I think beautiful is really an understatement. We soon got back to work and realized that this site was very swampy, compared to all of the other the riparian sites they had been to before. Our transect evaluation was tricky, but we were successful in completing it.

Our first site on Wednesday, Soap Holes pasture. These were the willows that we saw the owl fly out of.

One of our keystone species in Soap Holes pasture: Nebraska sedge, or Carex nebrascensis. The shortened blades are clear evidence of cattle grazing.

Some of the ground hummocks that were nearly everywhere in this riparian pasture. This is another clear sign of cattle presence and grazing.

My very first discovery of Wyoming’s wild iris flowers, Iris missouriensis.

Another first for my flower discovery! This is a wild purple lupine flower, Lupinus argenteus.

Once our first transect reading was complete, we started searching for the next pasture: Haypress. On our way out there, we saw the largest herd of wild horses I have ever seen in Wyoming. There were at least 60 of them that we could see resting on an adjacent mountain top. After stopping to take some videos, we continued our journey. We tried several different routes, many of which were washed out, until we found one that looked like it would take us straight up and over Crooks Mountain to our next stop. Upon our climb up the mountain, we got an engine warning. We stopped the truck and realized that it was overheating… we could literally hear our coolant boiling in its compartment. We checked in with the office to decide what to do, and chose to wait it out, and eventually pour some cold water into the coolant tank. About an hour or two later, we made it back to the office without any additional problems.

Today, Thursday, we got it checked out and were told that it should have hopefully just been a one time occurrence. The rest of my day was spent in the office finishing up some defensive driver training, and learning how to input our field data. Like that owl, the weeks are flying by, and I could not be happier with the work I am doing. I am so, so thankful.

Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads”

View on the Highland Scenic Highway- just a few minutes from the office!

When I told friends, family members, or even strangers I was moving to West Virginia, their first response was to serenade me with John Denver’s ode to the mountain state. Now that I’m here, I have to say- the country roads do live up to the hype.

A stunning view of the Allegheny Mountains from the side of the Highland Scenic Highway.


My new home in Marlinton, WV is in the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ). The NRQZ is a large area where radio transmissions are heavily restricted for scientific research and military intelligence purposes. In my case, this means no cell service.

At first, I was anxious about not having my cell phone available to me whenever I needed, or, rather, wanted it. This all disappeared within the first few days, when I realized this gave me all the time in the world to read, to explore, and to live in the moment. At work, I’m fully able to focus on the task at hand. I am more observant and in tune with nature. Though we have WiFi in the bunkhouse, I have come to prefer watching lightning bugs blink in the night to watching the blue light of my laptop screen.

A peaceful evening’s view.

Moving to West Virginia has given me a chance to slow down and take things in at a new pace. A pace that allows me to pull over on the side of the road to watch wildlife for hours at a beaver pond. One that allows me to stop my rollerblading to key out a plant on the side of the rail trail. One that allows me to ask questions about the world around me and seek out the answers. The peace and quiet of the mountain state is just what I needed to further my botanical knowledge in this internship.

A photo of Seneca Rocks, a scenic attraction in the Monongahela National Forest. I took this when my fellow CLM intern, Abbie, and I went on a hike here on our day off… we ended up working here just days later!

Protecting Native Ecosystems

Native plant communities support a variety of wildlife by providing food and habitat. We, as humans, also directly benefit from other ecosystem services native plants provide such as water filtration, erosion control, and carbon storage. However, these communities are threatened by invasive species. Invasive species are species non-native to the ecosystem whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Coming from Massachusetts with a background in primarily wildlife, my West Virginia plant identification isn’t perfect. This big book is helping me learn the beautiful flora of West Virginia.

In the early 1970’s, areas of Monongahela National Forest were mined for coal, negatively impacting the ecosystem. When the areas were reclaimed, the species that grew back were grasses or non-native pines. One major focus of the U.S. Forest Service’s mission in this area is to restore red spruce ecosystems through planting of native species and removal of non-native invasive species (NNIS). As a CLM intern, my main emphasis is management of NNIS.

Abandoned coal mine at one of our restoration sites. We are re-vegetating the area with native plants.

Through my NNIS work so far, I’ve helped to protect several rare species- some of which I got to see up close and personal! For example, I saw the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), which is only found in two places in all of West Virginia. Other beautiful rare plants I helped protect through NNIS management are Yellow Nail-wort (Paronychia virginica), Smokehole Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa var. brevis), Limestone Adderstongue (Ophioglossum engelmannii), and Kates Mountain Clover (Trifolium virginicum) to name a few.

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) in bloom.

Although NNIS identification, inventorying, and treatment/removal can be grueling work, West Virginia native ecosystem and views like this make it all worth it. As my first month here comes to a close, I’m feeling more at home in the area and with the people I work with. I’m looking forward to all that this internship has in store for me in the coming months!

A day of herbicide treatments, an important part of NNIS eradication. Because this was an area with protected plants, we carefully applied herbicide with sponges to reduce any drift.

A panoramic view of Smoke Hole Canyon- a perfect reminder of why I do what I do!

Until next time,

Tara McElhinney

Marlinton District Ranger Station


Welcome to the West

One of the many scenic drives on our way to monitor Spadefoot Toad calls.

One of many gorgeous wetlands we stopped at for species monitoring

Calceolaria mexicana at the Chicago Botanical Garden

Lamprocapnos spectabilis at the Chicago Botanical Garden

Peace and tranquility at the Chicago Botanical Garden



Egg Masses of the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad



The past couple of weeks have been full of excitement and I have already learned so much during my short time living here in Rawlins, WY. The amount of change after coming from the southeast has been immediate and overwhelming, but in such a positive way. I jumped right in my first week and started night shifts with my co-intern and mentor. Our goal was species monitoring. We surveyed along various two tracks that our mentor mapped out in order to listen for calls of the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad. Their natural history is somewhat unfamiliar but is thought to be closely related to the Plains Spadefoot Toad. Key characteristics of this species include elliptical pupils and a single tubercle found on each hind foot, which aids in burrowing during the colder months. Only after two days were we able to hear their calls as well as find their egg masses. This was the first time our mentor heard their calls in three years. This was such an exciting time for everyone, especially since this was my second day on the job! I then realized how incredibly lucky I was to experience this moment and to be here getting paid for what I was so passionate about.

During my second week I attended the Conservation Land Management Internship Conference at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. I was able to meet others with similar interests that were just as passionate about our environment and conservation as I was. Our week was full of classes and field work, as well as Seeds of Success training. Because of these classes I was able to gain so much knowledge and enhance my skills during my time here in Rawlins. Everyone I met was so generous, including our hosts. I had such a positive experience and it made me realize that whatever goals I have set for myself, I can fully reach them with the networking and skills that I will now have after this program. I appreciate every piece of advice and every person I met along the way. I will fully embrace this internship with an open heart and mind, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of this internship has in store for me.

Getting to Know Buffalo

As my second week at the Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo field office draws to a close, I can begin to see what my time working with the well program will be. Though my federal ID access card is still being resolved (I cannot enter the building on my own yet), I have still made progress in understanding my job’s responsibilities and procedures. While not in the office, though, I will be travelling through the vast expanse of Wyoming’s high plains district, inspecting the reclamation of oil and gas wells that have been abandoned. The goal is to have an active site such as this: 

look like nothing was ever there but the flat, waving grasslands that naturally occur here.

While driving between well sites there are plenty of opportunities to experience the striking landscape of Wyoming as well. From the well site seen above, the Pumpkin Buttes can be seen standing proudly in the distance.

While on my own time, I have begun to explore the beautiful Bighorn Mountains located just West of Buffalo. The Bighorns have a mesmerizing presence over the landscape, standing over 13,000 ft at their peak.

These mountains hold a huge amount of hiking and camping trails, which myself and my fellow CLM interns have begun to venture into. Many of the most scenic are inside the Cloud Peak Wilderness area, named after the highest point of the Bighorns. Within this wilderness area, we were able to encounter many beautiful scenes and creatures, including a serene mountain lake and a mother grouse protecting her chicks.

I’m very excited to see what hidden secrets these mountains are holding, and begin to explore the life cycle of fluid mineral extraction!

Time flies when you are sampling Astragalus applegatei

I can’t believe we are already 2 months into this adventure!

We finished up our turn at larval fish collections the week of 6/3 and have moved on to surveying a rare plant endemic to the Klamath Basin called Applegate’s milk vetch (Astragalus applegatei).

I miss the baby fish and the day-to-day of our fish hatchery life. When we left, the fish were growing and changing rapidly. I have to admit, one of my favorite parts of hatchery work is watching the way the fish feed and how their bellies turn bright orange after eating. Over the course of our time doing larval collections from the Williamson River our collection numbers went from a peak of almost 10,000 fish larvae to less than 100. Just a conspicuous reminder that timing is crucial to a project’s success in this line of work.

Here is one of the 2018 fish from the outdoor ponds. We took weight and length of fish sampled from separate ponds to assist in determining the effects of different feeding regimes —

Sunrise on the road to the fish hatchery after larval collections.

And Jessie on one our drives from site to site–

In the week between larval collections ending and plant surveys beginning, Brianne, Jessie, and I packed up and headed to Chicago for the official CLM training at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was a treat to get an introduction to the amazing work happening there and to meet our fellow interns! It is fortunate timing that we get to use the training we got in plant sampling techniques so quickly after getting home–

Jessie and Brianne taking a look at the GPS before we set out to census a population of Astragalus applegatei

Our target rare plant is Applegate’s milk vetch (Astragalus applegatei), a member of the Fabaceae plant family- I will forgo a description, the picture below will do a better job! This week we have focused on censusing the smaller populations, but we’ll get a chance to do some honest to goodness population sampling next week on the larger populations. This has been a fantastic opportunity to work through the process of designing and implementing our own sampling methodology.

Our plant only occurs on about 8 different sites that FWS knows of. It has really felt like a treasure hunt trying to pick it out from in between the rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) and squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) – particularly after it’s been chomped on by cattle.

Our target rare plant species! Cutest little plant in the west

We also got a chance to take down wolf fladry (electrified fencing with red flagging) from the perimeter of a local ranch. This was a great opportunity to see the kinds of nonlethal techniques that are employed to deter wolves from livestock and to meet Oregon wolf experts. Huge thank you to Jeanne S. and Elizabeth W. for showing us the ropes! Soon, we’ll get a chance to check some wolf cameras that are up in the Wood River Valley – this is a dream come true and a chance to catch a glimpse into the life of the Rouge Pack!

Mt McLaughlin in the distance

Made some friends on the ranch

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) eggs on one of the ranch alley ways




“WY” I love it here!

Moving out to Wyoming was probably the best (and scariest) decision I could have made straight out of college. When I applied to the Chicago Botanic Garden, I didn’t really know what to expect. There were so many different directions that they could have sent me, and the Conservation and Land Management internships seemed to cover an endless list of awesome studies I could partake in. When CBG told me I would be stationed out in Lander, Wyoming, I immediately started researching the area and my excitement only grew. I was thrilled to finish my very last “May-mester” class at James Madison University and make the 24-hour drive to Wyoming once early June came around.

Settling in really took no time at all, and the very next day I was out exploring my surroundings. I would take random roads (honestly, there are not very many out here) to see what I could see until I was satisfied. I found one of my favorite spots while traveling up U.S. 287: Ray Lake. It was located just inside the Wind River Indian Reservation, an area that was supposed to be something like 40 million acres of land, but unfortunately only encompasses about 2 million. I enjoyed the sunset here for a long moment and eventually headed home for the night. I still love coming to this spot to relax and listen to the wildlife close by.

A beautiful, cloudy sunset on Ray Lake in the Wind River Indian Reservation.

A few days later, I got coffee with someone I knew I would be working with the next week, Jon, and afterwards talked him into venturing into Sinks Canyon State Park with me. He showed me the natural sink, and how full of water it was from all of the spring snow melt still flowing down the mountains. We drove through the rest of the park into Shoshone National Forest, and started our 3.3 mile out-and-back hike up the Popo Agie (pronounced “Puh-Po Shuh”) Falls Trail. It led us up to an amazing rock formation that’s a popular spot to slide down when there is less water. So many beautiful spring flowers were still popping so we were surrounded by little bursts of color throughout our entire hike. We saw some really neat caterpillars also, as well as another fellow coworker that Jon introduced me to, Matt. It’s definitely a much smaller world out here compared to my childhood home in Northern Virginia, and I have come to love that about Lander. To this day, I have returned to this trail countless times to hammock and study.

At the top of the Popo Age falls hike. You can see how much snow melt is still running down the mountains here.

Some pretty spring color in Shoshone National Forest. These wild yellow flowers are a part of the Asteraceae family.

Western tent caterpillar larvae in their tent, found in Shoshone National Forest.

A view of a distant rainstorm seen from Shoshone National Forest.

My first week of work at the Bureau of Land Management in Lander started June 17th, and I have already been in the field twice for different projects. The BLM here does a really nice job of involving us in several of the many areas of the office. My first day out in the field involved driving about an hour East/Southeast into some of the BLM allotments with two of my wildlife biologist coworkers, Leah and Aaron. We were attempting to assess the habitat framework for a native bird here that is nearly threatened, the greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus utopiasianus. On our way out to our targeted area, Rim Pasture, we saw the most adorable baby fox on the side of the road, and stopped to snap some pictures. Once we got into the BLM allotments, we quickly realized that most of the sandy two-track roads were complete sludgy messes, and nearly impossible to drive through without spinning out, drifting, and basically driving sideways through them. After several hours, since we could not find a single dry path to Rim Pasture, we called it a day, and headed back to the office.

A (low-quality) picture of a red fox kit, Vulpes vulpes.

A unique cloud structure over one of the pastures in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.

A curious cow standing in a patch of Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush). This image was taken in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.

My second day out in the field was spent with Jon, Matt, and one of my mentors, Judi. We met up with a local rancher named Travis in Rock Springs that directed us around the Arapahoe BLM allotment. Travis helped us locate six different transects in the pastures there. We monitored the transect sites, created new GPS coordinate points for them, and practiced our plant identification and methods for vegetation drupe height surveys. Once the time comes when we do not need a mentor with us any longer, we will be measuring the various grass heights in many of the pastures. This will help us assess how much grazing is being done by cattle, as well as the wild horses and pronghorn antelope. A storm eventually looked to be heading towards us, and so we started our journey back to Lander after a full day of work.

One of my favorite parts of the job: off-roading! We got just a bit dirty in Rock Springs.

One of the many herds of cattle in the BLM allotments in Rock Springs. This group slowly made its way through the sagebrush towards us, likely hoping we had some treats for them.

A flowering sedum, Sedum lanceolatum, found in Rock Springs  during field work.

A view of a storm brewing over Lander, Wyoming from U.S. 287.

Today (Friday) was yet another office day, and a surprisingly nice break from the 11 hour day I put in yesterday. Just in the two weeks I have lived here, I have been very busy; but I am having so much fun in Lander, and have already made lots of great friends and connections that I know will stick around for a long time. I am so excited to see what other adventures come my way, and I am so thankful I pursued this opportunity.

There are countless reasons “WY” I am loving my current life. 🙂

I didn’t realize I was out of shape?

This week was off to a good start as I returned from the CLM Workshop feeling energized about the field work (and super happy to be away from poison ivy and ticks!).

The view out the window as we begun the descent into Hobbs, NM. If you look close, you’ll catch the moon. Feelings were mixed… A return to a familiar place that isn’t quite home.

Monday saw Linum allredii seed collecting, which required a healthy dose of hiking in terrain. I’m still trying to get used to the frequent changes in elevation as I’m from plains country, but the sights were spectacular.

Trekking to the site

View from atop a hill near the collection site. It was a few hours into the collection that I stopped to take in this landscape. Regret I didn’t pay attention sooner.

Tuesday was an office day, familiarizing ourselves with our targets and where to find them, then scouting on Wednesday. That was where we came across this horse crippler…


Today involved cross-training with the archaeology crew, which was pretty great. We hiked 8 miles along a fence line proposed for re-constructing. Temperature was 104F; the heat is reminiscent of home, so I like it. I tried to look for artifacts, but I mostly looked for plants… There were so many hills…

Every hill we crested, the next was taunting us in the distance…

Was admiring my favorite forb (Hoffmannseggia glauca) when I spotted a hopper pal doing the same.

All in all, a great past couple of weeks. But Alex is tired and going back to Texas… At least for the weekend.

~Signing off

The Wolf Pack

“Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County on USFS land. Photo courtesy of USFWS.”

No, we haven’t seen or heard any wolves—but they are here! This week our work has taken a full 180; we’ve transitioned back to our diurnal habits and away from fisheries work. We’ve pivoted to helping out two female biologists at Fish and Wildlife, and we’re diving head on into two very different endangered species from the Shortnose and Lost River suckers: the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) and the no less majestic, and significantly underrated Applegate’s milkvetch (Astragalus applegatei.)

Astragalus applegatei flowering

We began the week on or new project getting to know how to ID the astragalus, in hopes that by the time we were out in the field monitoring polygons from previous years we’d be able to get through each plot relatively efficiently. Using our handheld GPS to mark the outermost points to each polygon, we split the area into transects that we would then visually scan for individual plants. Jenny, Brianne, and I are working together to formulate a sampling plan for those polygons that contain more than 11,000 individuals. More on that later!

Jenny excitedly flags separate Astragalus applegatei plants!

I sat here trying to think of a clever transition between astragalus and wolves, but after five minutes of staring at the cubicle wall, I found that there really is no easy segway. So I’ll just dive right in!

2016 pups from the Rogue River Pack captured by USFWS camera trap.

The Rogue River Wolf Pack is led by Alpha male OR7, named such as he was the seventh wolf to be radio collared in Oregon. Born into a litter in Northeast Oregon, OR7 left the pack he was born into, wandering as far south as Lassen, California—becoming the first known wolf in California since the last wild wolf was shot in the very same area in 1924. Eventually OR7 made his way back north into the east Cascades of southern Oregon, where he’s been denning and raising pups with a female (also linked to Northeast Oregon) since 2014.

Brianne and Jenny taking a pause between fladry breakdown

As we drove to the site, we were reminded that the pack dens just six miles from the property, and that their range spans across the county line between Jackson and Klamath Counties. The ranch itself is found just northeast of Klamath Lake, in Jackson county, and because the pack has chosen to make its denjust east of Klamath Falls, ranchers in the area are inevitably affected by the range the wolves wander as they hunt. As a result, we’ve been spending time de-commissioning fladry (wire line fitted with red flags that flap in the wind that have historically been used to deter wolves from entering onto ranch land) and electric fencing for a ranch just southwest of Crater Lake. Both had originally been installed last year by Oregon Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) in response to calf depredation on this ranch (just last year three calves and one of two Tibetan mastiffs were killed by the pack.) Now that the landowner is rotating his cattle to another field, the fladry is no longer needed and we were the lucky ones called upon to remove it!

Current range of the Rogue River pack. Image courtesy of Wolf pups of the Rogue Pack. Image captured using an USFWS camera trap on July 12, 2016. Courtesy of

All in all, it was pretty labor intensive work, seeing as the fencing spanned the area of the property, but we were able to roll up the entirety of the flagging, collect the motion detector lights (also used to deter the pack at night), and pull the hundreds of fiberglass posts the wire line was attached to, all before the workday ended! Needless to say, even with gloves on, those fiberglass shards found their way into the palm of your hand. But despite the long day, we feel pretty lucky to be involved with the project.

A Golden-rod crab spider (Misumena vatia) devours a butterfly on the ranch property.

We also found a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) nest on site at the ranch property. Photo credit: Brianne Nguyen

Next week we’ll be conducting more milk vetch surveys, and heading out to check camera traps for the pack; we’ll be sure to update you if the wildlife cameras have captured any more exciting photos!

Floral Blooms and Birds of Prey

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been living in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I’ve been lucky enough to watch the rapid transition from snowy mornings to sunny ones. Variability in Alaskan weather, and short term variability at that, is noteworthy. Not long ago I was cycling to work with nothing but my eyes exposed and walking outside to see this on my bike one afternoon…

…now this morning I walked outside with shorts and a t-shirt on after a week of forest inventory and another of a raptor surveys. In my last post I mentioned the infamous abrupt change from winter to summer that occurs in Alaska (one I had only been told about by then); in this one I’ll tell you a little more about what that looks like, as well as some of the incredible things I’ve seen and been a part of so far.

Though I showed up in April, it felt as though winter wouldn’t end. Teasing days of warmth gave way to rain or snow for weeks at a time. The transition was subtle yet sudden. As the snow melted, golden grasses of yesteryear showed themselves – their jobs done and their previous summers work about to show itself off. After all, these grasses had spent 2018 creating seed now primed and ready for germination. They weren’t alone in their endeavors either. Following the transition from gold to green, dandelions showed up by lining the roadsides with their infamous yellow flower heads.

The bloom of dandelions only slightly preceded that of willows, birch trees, aspen, and cottonwoods which burst to life from their dormant winter. Green foliage appeared as buds and within a week unfurled into light absorbing leaves ready to transform sun and water into sugars for both themselves and for other wildlife. The city of Fairbanks followed suit. Restaurants that had been closed all winter opened, and I started seeing people standing outside enjoying ice cream in the sun where I had biked through the snow only a few weeks ago. I could see and feel the parallel between the awakening of the natural world and the manmade one.

With the average nightly temperature now above freezing, I was ready to explore more of the Fairbanks area with some overnight camping. Granite Tors became the first stop. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, these granite formations sit about an 8 mile hike off the highway to Chena Hot Springs and are well worth a visit. Some of the flowers I saw on the hike (from top left, clockwise) were Arctic Anemone (Anemone drummondii), Milky Draba (Draba lactea), Northern Kittentails (Synthyris borealis), Lowbush Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea; who’s delicious berries I’ll be eating in a couple of months!), and Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus).

I even got lucky enough to avoid a bit of the commonplace afternoon rains on this trip by staying in the cabin on trail…

Leaving Granite Tors, I was excited to discover more arctic plants, but just as much to help out on a Peregrine Falcon survey on the Fortymile River. This trip marked the beginning of the field season for me, and was one incredible way to kick things off. Located six hours outside of Fairbanks toward the Canada border, Fortymile country embodies interior Alaska. There’s a mixture of majestic rolling hills and mountains, the occasional burned through tree stand, wandering families of moose, and constant reminders of remote wilderness. These things combine to bring both a smile to your face and a respectful uneasiness that often dictate if a person stays in Alaska or not.

After setting up the raft and camping riverside the first night, we set off on a sunny morning just outside of Chicken. Craig (a BLM biologist and my supervisor) had taken the truck up to our end point and caught a ride back to the put in. He, Teri (a BLM recreation specialist), and I floated about 30 miles in total, stopping across from potential Peregrine Falcon habitat to sit with our binoculars and scan cliff faces for signs of perches, nests, or the birds themselves. We rafted for a total of four days and spotted around 20 Peregrines, several Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and plenty of Marmots. While paddling on our third day, I only just managed to avoid colliding with a moose and her calf; we spotted them after coming around a bend on the left bank. As I began paddling to the right to avoid disturbing them, they decided they’d cross the river so back to the left we went! From ten yards away, we sat and watched the mother moose and her calf swim to the right bank and continue their lunch, only a little perturbed by our presence. I don’t have the photo of this but here’s one from the trip…

The morning after I returned from the river trip, I drove out 3 hours from Fairbanks in the same direction as the Fortymile River to Tanacross for the first stage of a forest inventory project. A small airport with only a couple of buildings sits east of the native town with a population of 136. The forest surrounding the airport was the focus of our inventory, where BLM and Tribal Corporation land was torn through by winds raging up to 114 mph in 2012. The project involved measuring live and dead tree heights and their dbh (diameter at breast height), counting downed woody debris along transects, estimating forest canopy cover, and compiling a vegetation list with each species’ total coverage.

I learned how to distinguish white and black spruce on this trip, which I’ve been puzzling over for a few weeks now! The easiest method is to look at their cones (pictured below) – white spruce has long slender cones and black spruce cones are about as wide as they are long. In the absence of cones however, new branch growth can give a clue. White spruce have pubescence along the new growth whereas black spruce do not. It’s not always easy to spot but it works!

We stayed in Tok for this project where we had to stop by Mukluk Land after a long day in the field. This little amusement park/Alaskana museum has been around since 1986 and is run by an elderly lady anyone would be happy to call grandma. She even runs the local newspaper, and if you break 300 in skeeball you get your name in it. I managed to hit 310 after a try or two (or thirteen!), and am waiting for my copy of the June edition with my name and score! Another highlight was the smoked salmon mac and cheese we made for lunch and ate next to the airstrip…

On the 17th of June, I will leave for the Arctic Circle for a month to continue a forest inventory that began last year. I won’t be online until I’m back in town mid-July so my next post won’t be for a while. Good luck to all my fellow CLM-ers in the meantime, it’s been great reading through all of your blogs and hearing about your adventures.


Time flies

I’ve been working at the BLM office in Roseburg Oregon for about a month now and I have loved every day! I came all the way from Florida, not knowing anyone but everyone in the office has been super friendly and done a great job making me feel welcomed. While there’s not much to the town, the beautiful landscape, being surrounded by mountains, lush woods, and the Umpqua River running through it makes up for it.

So far everyday has been a new experience, going out to survey the endangered lupine, surveying for noxious/invasive weeds, and treating it, I’ve even had the opportunity to go out with wildlife to survey bald eagles. My favorite experience so far though has to be the workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was great meeting the amazing individuals who run the CLM internship, truly some of the nicest people I have met. It was also great meeting the other interns stationed in other offices around the country, some of the best people I’ve met and while we all come from different walks we had a great time! During this week I got advice on career and grad school, learned new skills and refined skills already known. Thank you Joanne, Chris, and Krissa for making it all possible!