Curbing A Sense of Burnout

At this point in the season, there is much to be done and so much to stay caught up on. Our main task here at the Belt Creek Ranger Station has been our seed collection efforts. I feel so very lucky to be able to focus wholly on these efforts as it makes me feel that much more productive at the end of a day. Carrying home many a bag filled with seed and high hopes. It seems that some other teams/individuals have been balancing a wide range of tasks throughout their time this internship. This, of course, provides its own perks as there are endless opportunities to learn within the various agencies. Whether it’s rare plant surveys, vegetation monitoring, planting for restoration, or even attending training, there are so many opportunities and things to learn!
While acknowledging this fact, I have also been incredibly content with the way things have gone at this position as far as the focus on the seed collection. I enjoy being able to focus whole-heartedly on the collection process. Having the freedom to collect any day of our work week is also incredible because it has allowed us to do our best to time collections well and I’d say we’ve been fairly successful as far as timing goes this season!
We’ve also been able to get into a bit of a groove with our collection process so we know who does what and when and how the whole process comes together to achieve the end goal. My co-seed collector and I have also been good about sharing tasks between each other, that way we are both accustomed to the entire seed collection process front to back. This is incredibly valuable for us because when it comes to future job opportunities, we will be able to confidently say to a future employer “Yes, I know how to ethically carry out the entire seed collection process, and yes, I can do so in a timely manner.”
While acknowledging the value in this, I have to admit that this part month, I hit a bit of a wall near the middle of the month. I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint the reason, but I think it had something to do with the potential government shutdown, combined with the downturn in moods of those around me due to this potential, as well as the shift in weather with the changing seasons and the slowdown in seed collection changing our day-to-day activities.
Most likely, it was a combination of all these factors, but I think what weighed on me most heavily was the moods of those around me. I could tell that the federal seasonal employees were quite distressed at the unknown outcome of their positions into the future and seeing this in them was enough to sadden me. Not only this, but because I felt rather secure in my job as a contracted worker, I felt it would be insensitive to be my normal chirper self. I could feel in myself a lack of energy that was impacting my job performance and my confidence in my ability to do my job whole-heartedly.
In order to combat this, I tried to find a balance between positivity and checking in with my co-workers when I had the time and energy to do so. I also tried my best to focus on the aspects of my job that I really enjoy. The things I would miss if we shut down. I began to find that there are many things about this position that bring me joy!
1). Being at the mercy of the elements-sometimes treacherous but mostly exhilarating.
2). Getting to be outside most of the day and being able to use a government rig that can take you (almost) anywhere- Allows for some of the best views in the state!
3). Doing something that will have an impact for years/generations to come-having a defined purpose
4). Getting to spend time and become acquainted with plants all day!
5). The fascination of seeing new seeds-they are all so different.
6). The fact that I am physical for my job-so many people do not have this luxury and I do not want to take it for granted.
7). Working alongside passionate people!
8). Getting to watch the change in vegetation as the seasons shift.
9). ….

There are still more things I enjoy about this job, but I’m sure you get the point. Focusing on these aspects of the job instead of the potential for impending dooooom was an incredibly helpful strategy for curbing burnout during a tough time. It really helped me to frame my mind to focus on the things that make me happy. It sounds so simple, yet it can be so powerful to change your mind. So for anyone out there who was feeling a sense of dread these last few weeks, please know you were not alone! Hoping you were also able to find a strategy that worked for you to get out of any funk y’all may have been experiencing, and that you’re able to finish up your season on a good note. Looking forward to reading all about your last few weeks on the job.

In the Swing of September!

As summer comes to a close in Western Montana, I turn my attention back to the beginning of the season. I have been dusting off my rare plant survey skills to help out with some Whitebark Pine surveying and Howell’s gumweed monitoring/seed collection. Howell’s gumweed has quickly become one of my favorite flowering plants. Not only is it cute, but it is fun to collect and smells amazing!! Like many other gumweed species, it grows mostly along disturbed areas like roadsides and decommissioned roads. This makes for a great restoration species, but also makes it subject to roadside spraying. We revisited a historically prominent and very large population that had been mistakenly sprayed with herbicide last year. Unfortunately, much of the population had been decimated by the spraying. This species tends to dwell with the most noxious of weeds, so this makes that it would unknowingly get caught in the crossfire between an herbicide handgun sprayer and oxeye daisy.

The population had once been counted at around 9,000 individual plants, the number had been knocked down by about 60%. We estimated only about 3,000 plants remained. We were able to make a collection of seed that will be used for genetic testing and future grow outs.

This season I was able to experience collaborative efforts from many different organizations. The most special partnership so far has been with a former CLM Intern, Jen McNew, who was an intern in the San Juan Islands in 2014. Jen now works for the BLM Missoula Field Office, and was kind enough to take the Lolo Botany Crew to a BLM Grindelia howellii population. Grindelia was collected and memories were made.

Whitebark pine surveying also made up a larger part of this month. On a trail monitoring project we found upwards of 20 Whitebark pine, including 2 individuals that could be potential plus pines. I had not seen so many Whitebark pines in a stand like this, so it was really cool to be present for this find on our forest. The trail we were monitoring led up to a historical lookout, so we were rewarded with a cool view!

Skookum Butte Lookout
Bighorn Sheep Herd

After numerous bear sightings this season, I finally got to see some different wildlife on the forest. I recently spotted my first Pika while monitoring some collection sites. The elusive creature slipped away into the rocks before I could grab a picture, but I did get some cool pictures of a large Bighorn Sheep herd that was blocking my path on the same road. I expected to see these sheep also on rocky hillsides as well, but it seems they like to come down to the valleys right where I need to be driving through.

There is something strange about this snowshoe hare…

Another animal that I found somewhere unexpected: a domesticated rabbit is occupying a picnic area in the southern part of the forest. If you happen to be eating your lunch at Fort Fizzle on the Lolo, keep your eyes out for this little guy! You never know what you’ll see in the field.