Stepping stones in the formulation of a career.

Time is quickly dissolving into the past as my CLM Internship approaches the halfway point. So far I have assisted on several projects ranging from inputting archaeological data into a statewide geodatabase to measuring trees for timber harvest in overgrown Ponderosa Pine Forest.  I have also been able to do vegetation transects to break up weeks in the office. About a month ago, I was able to spend a delirious night roaming in the sage trapping sage grouse, my first experience handling birds. I am also working directly with the weeds crew to assist in transferring their survey collection protocol to the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS). The diversity of projects I work on, truly makes this internship a unique experience.

Reflecting on my experiences this far brings a pond showing brilliant displays of progression in my career, despite sometimes feeling negative towards my overall experience. From a skill set perspective I have gained very little, mostly I have applied the knowledge and skills from my previous positions and education towards new projects. At times it seems I have to stir up the dust of old projects in order to find something to keep me busy, which is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the experience so far. Every time I work with a specialist in my office or in adjacent field offices I feel I learn something new and gain a clearer picture of my intended career. As a research scientist, I have outlined my future career by enrolling into a Ph.D. program at Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry. My intention is to begin a career in ecological research that benefits land managers. With a background in plant community ecology, my research interests are shifting to soil community ecology and ways soil organism inoculations can benefit management practices by promoting native plant survival and growth. With a strong background in science and decent work experience in land management, I am well aware of the grand chasm that often exists between land managers and scientist.

Every day I work with a wide array of land managers, whether in the field or in the office, I gain an understanding of their projects and intentions by reading their environmental impact statements and picking their brains to understand the methodology and reasoning behind their actions. With little emphasis on research and virtually all resources devoted to management action I am constantly enlightened to obstacles that inhibit management action based on science. One of these obstacles relates to tradition and simplicity. To stay up to date with recent scientific literature on the variety of tasks land managers complete is tedious and time consuming. Furthermore the audience of scientific conferences and journals are often geared towards academics, making it difficult for members of federal organizations to stay in touch with the latest literature. I know this from experience outside of this internship as I was once hired by an interagency BLM and USFS office to complete a literature review and report, related to genetic conservation.

These experiences and observations will help me gear future publications and outreach to a land manager specific audience. By doing so, I feel I will be able to conduct academic research that also has lasting impacts on how landscapes are managed and how policy is written into law. The major enlightenment I have made thus far at the BLM is that I do not want to be a land manager. Writing environmental impact statements and making decisions confined to agency and federal policy is not my passion. Asking questions about our landscapes and using science as a tool to share the answers to my questions with the greater community, however, is my passion.

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About Mike

I am a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Born and raised in Colorado I am excited to take my adventures to new places. My passions include mountains, deserts, backpacking, bikepacking, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding/skiing and science. Specifically I am an ecologist with strong roots in plant ecology and snow science/ecology. I was an environmental biology major with a minor in geology, I completed a thesis relating to the impacts of early snow melt and warming temperatures on alpine plants in SW Colorado. In August I will begin a PhD program within the school of Forestry at NAU, here I will be studying the role soil organisms play in plant migrations. Specifically I am interested in addressing the question of if stress adapted soil organisms can assist plants living in more stressful conditions, this research could be utilized to assist land managers in buffering against die-back as the climate changes.

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