It is funny how quickly I have adapted. When I think about my first evening here it seems so long ago. My third week on the job is coming to a close and I have settled in a healthy routine, learned everything I need to know to work successfully in the field, and made pals with some of my coworkers. Now I don’t mean to sound cocky, there is so many things to learn here, and I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the plants around here. This area is so vast and the maps are not 100% trustworthy, the value of local knowledge here is great and in no short supply. It would take years of being in this area and talking to people to be totally comfortable to head off into the hills for the weekend.
On the other hand, I feel comfortable with the three main sagebrush species associated with the sage grouse. This is fundamental to identifying good habitat and can also tell you much about other factors influencing a site. I have learned the major invasive species impacting the habitat, Medusa head (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and north africa grass (Ventenata dubia), and I understand how and why they are impacting sage habitat so strongly. Some of the major areas of our work I know like the back of my hand and drive them at 4 am in the dark on the way to conduct surveys without slowing down at every turn or side trail to recheck my map and compass, which is huge (and now allows me a little more sleep). So when I say I know what I need to know to get in the field that is what I mean.
It seems as though most people in this area are preparing to some degree for the summer. I am expecting some pretty intense wildfires this year and it seems that the whole county has that same expectation. This is one reason that those grasses listed above are so bad. They alone are not so bad, I see them everywhere blending into the communities, sagebrush is fine, forbs are in place, native grasses may be lacking, but they are there. The problem is how they affect the behavior of the wildfires. They spread the fire rapidly and increase the intensity of the burn. These grasses live under and around the sagebrush so it can lead to the destruction of hundreds to thousands of sagebrush at a time. Sagebrush takes anywhere from 35 to 100 years to return to its mature productive status. But while it is rejuvenating, the grasses move back into the open spots and out compete and allow western junipers to move in. The poor sage grouse…they need healthy sagebrush habitats to live and be happy!
I love it here. I have always wanted to get to an area like this; one that still has a rugged and slightly wild feel. But I can see how interns coming from a more city life setting or life style may arrive and not know what to do with it. There isn’t a Walmart for 100 miles (awesome), there is no McDonald’s, everything is like 30 miles away at least, and even then it’s probably something outside involving exercise. There is no internet connection unless you rent your own house and pay for it. But I have found the time to pursue my many interests that, during school, I had little time to enjoy. Thanks again CLM!