Reflections on a sea of sage

Hi all,

Carrie and I finished collecting seeds for the SOS program in late October. Along with this came finishing our SOS paperwork and sending the final stacks of boxes of seeds to the Bend Seed Extractory—leaving our cubicle surprisingly spacious.

Our final project has been ground truthing possible spring locations for the office hydrologist, Landon. We were handed a map with numbered points, a GPS, and some data collection tools and went off to areas of our choosing to look for undocumented water sources at those points. This has been a great project to end our internship on. It’s different from anything we’ve been doing, and I’ve learned how to use a turbidimeter as well as some other ways to analyze water. It’s been a nice change after months of seed collecting and plant monitoring. Best of all, we’ve been able to visit some areas of the field office that we haven’t been to yet. On our first trip we went to the Buffalo Hills (probably my favorite part of the field office), and after finding the first 4 spots visited dry, we found 3 running springs—2 of which even had minnows. It was pretty amazing to see the tiny streams of clear, cool water which turn the surrounding plants a bright green amidst a seemingly endless hillside of dried forbs and basalt rock. And we get to name the springs we find. We’ve also checked for undocumented springs in the Smoke Creek Desert where we saw lots of jackrabbits. On our long hikes in search of springs, we’ve seen countless wild horses, some burros, and even a badger.

The final spring we surveyed at the end of Stone Corral canyon. By far my favorite.

The final spring we surveyed at the end of Stone Corral canyon. By far my favorite.

For two days, I helped our mentor, Valda, and archaeologist Marilla with an archaeological clearance of land that will be planted with bitterbrush seedlings. This involved scanning the area systematically for signs of an archaeological site (we found some projectile points and lots of obsidian flakes), mapping the area, and digging test pits. Once archeologically sensitive areas were identified and set aside, Valda was given the go-ahead on the bitterbrush restoration project. I also spent a few days creating labels and mounting herbarium specimens that Carrie and I collected both for SOS and personal collections to benefit our office’s herbarium. The last major project Carrie and I have been working on in the office is creating a more user-friendly plant list for future employees and interns to use. We’ve included photos, whether the plant is upland/riparian/perennial/annual/biennial, if it’s invasive, if it’s listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society, plus an area to make personal notes about the plant. It’s a great feeling to see the final list coming together, and I really think it will get a lot of use in our office! I’m a little jealous we didn’t have this list when we started our internship…back when we had no familiarity with Great Basin plants…it would have been quite handy.

It feels odd to be wrapping up our time here. Our friends and coworkers at the Eagle Lake Field Office have been so welcoming and easy-going that I fell instantly into place. I really do feel lucky to have been placed here in Susanville—even though I had no idea this place existed or what to expect from it before flying out here in July. I learned that field work is definitely what I want to be doing, but that working for the government may not. It can be frustrating. No matter how dedicated and passionate you are about your projects and the land, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, many of which are coming from offices far removed from the environment you’re working to manage. I’m glad I saw this first hand, and that my co-workers were honest about their experiences in the agencies. I have a much better idea of what I’m getting myself into if I pursue a career with the government. After all, there are some great benefits that come with managing a million acres of land. I’ve been able to do so many things: seed collection, rangeland monitoring, archaeological surveys, hydrological surveys, rare plant monitoring, and herbarium work. I even learned how to drive a stick. I’ve explored mountains, pine/fir forests, canyons, sagebrush scrub and the tiniest, most beautiful hidden springs. I’ve seen golden eagles, wild burros, colorful lichens and delicate desert plants. I’ve worked with people who enjoy their jobs and the company of their coworkers, even after 13-hour days in the field. And our mentor has been fantastic. No wonder the summer and fall seemed to fly by. It’s time to move on to the next great adventure, and if there’s anything my time out here has taught me, it’s that I shouldn’t hesitate to venture out in search of the things I love–no matter how impassible the road may seem.

Goodbye sagebrush!

Goodbye sagebrush!


Eagle Lake Field Office

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