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