They Don’t Call it Big Sky Country for Nothing

Wow! So here I am, living and working in Montana. There have been several times now that I have been standing on the crest of a hill looking out on endless prairies and distant mountains, or watching Sage Grouse through binoculars as the sun rose and wondered when it would all start feeling real. I asked one of my co-workers what he thought while we were driving in the truck, and he told me it wouldn’t sink in until it was time to leave. Go figure.
Having grown up and lived on the East Coast my whole life, this CLM internship has provided the opportunity to experience a part of the country I have always dreamed of visiting- Montana. The rugged beauty of this state is awe-inspiring and humbling, and in the presence of such forces you are at all times reminded of how small and fragile people really are. Having come from a place where civilization is never more than a holler away, these huge expanses of unsettled land are both liberating and exhilarating; unlike back East you have to stay on your toes out here or you could land in a heap of trouble!
Like many other early spring interns, the first few weeks of my internship were spent on Sage Grouse surveys in the morning and training in the afternoons. Getting up before dawn was never something I got used to, but seeing those birds strut their stuff, bright yellow chest sacks jiggling, never failed to make me laugh. During this time I also received many hours in 4WD driving instruction, and I would have never even imagined back in Maryland the road conditions they overcome in central Montana! During this wet spring I have driven on washed-out and lumpy two-tracks that were scarcely more than a few ruts carved into the dirt, fishtailed across miles of muddy and potholed roads and escaped the infamous Missouri Break’s “gumbo” which has succeeded in getting me stuck once already. (After a half hour of trying to dig myself out I wasn’t too proud to radio for help- an employee was in the area and kindly pulled me out- see pic above).
Since my initial few weeks of training I have been given several of my own projects to take charge of. I jumped on the opportunity to do some Mountain Plover surveys, for which I mapped out points and called landowners about those on private land, (I have met a bunch so far, and most are very friendly). With an interest in PR I also took the opportunity to try to convince locals to keep their cats inside as part of a bird-friendly initiative. From that effort I have a newspaper article in the review pipeline and a pamphlet we are going to try and get printed. I have been trying to get involved in every other project I can in the office including habitat restoration, bug collection and herp surveys, and recently attended the MT State Biologist’s Meeting where I was able to meet a bunch of other BLMers.
My mentor is a Wildlife biologist at the Lewistown field office. He is patient and receptive to my comments, and always asking what I am interested in pursuing. The town itself is idyllic and peaceful- big enough to have all of the supplies you need but small enough that you bump into folks you know everywhere, and I love it. Having come from a huge city like DC, it feels good to belong to a small community and not have to worry about crime. The low rent and huge apartment I can afford is a big plus as well. So far I have been getting a great taste of Western culture through going to some rodeos, attending a co-worker’s ranch wedding and going out drinking and dancing at the local bars on Friday nights. I have even gotten myself some cowgirl boots and hat.
I have already been to Yellowstone a few times and can’t wait to get to Glacier and Teton once things start to melt. I am defiantly having a great time, but this summer is about getting great professional experience, getting a better understanding of how BLM works and figuring out what I enjoy doing most. I am about 1/3 of the way through and so far it has been very successful! I am excited to see what I get done come September.
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About emily.hutch

Grew up in Westborough, MA. Graduated from University of Maryland, College Park (the one with the turtle mascot) with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Conducted research in marsh ecology during undergrad and plans to attend grad school in Fall 2012. Currently working at the BLM field office in Lewistown, MT as a wildlife field tech and would love to work for Interior in the future.

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