Farewell to San Juan Islands National Monument


Now in the sunset of my internship, I am wrapping up data collection for my project of baseline vegetation monitoring in the San Juan Islands National Monument.  I have spent most of my time here using the AIM strategy to look at vegetation throughout the BLM managed land in the archipelago, quantifying what plants exist where and in what numbers.  I run 50 meter plots starting at randomly generated transect points, counting plants at each meter and performing a rapid species inventory assessment for each transect.  I have enjoyed immensely days running transects within fifty feet of the water, seals barking beneath me and gulls squawking above.


Start of a transect at Colville Point, Lopez Island. In this photo you can see Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri), Puget Sound Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), and Hairy Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata).

I have enjoyed less immensely days inching through thick patches or roses, crawling on hands and knees to reach sample points in the deep forest.  During the data collection season, I have gotten to visit so many beautiful spots, from small rugged islands to huge lichen heaths hidden in the forest to expanses of pristine pebble beach.  I have visited a dozen islands during my internship, each with their own history, feeling, and most relevant, vegetation.

This summer has been a great opportunity to experience parts of the San Juans and of Lopez Island, the monument home island.  As someone who has lived in this area before working with the BLM and is hoping to reside here in the future, I am hugely gratified to see places and go places I would not have had the chance or boat to otherwise.  I have been able to get out to remote islands and meet the people who care about the place most.  I’ve seen the rugged landscape of these islands and the incredible tenacity with which people preserve and restore it.


View of lighthouse and landscape of Patos Island

On Lopez and off work, I’ve gotten a taste of rural farm life.  I’ve been living on my partner’s family property, which consists of five acres of once tilled farm land and over a dozen plum and apple trees.  In the last few weeks, we have been harvesting cherry plums like mad.


Cherry Plums on Lopez Island


More cherry plums

With their sweet juice and tart skin, cherry plums are perfect for jam and we have been using an old grape press to harvest gallons upon gallons of sweet use (which I am hoping to distill) and pulp (largely for vanilla ginger cherry plum jam).  I digress.  Being on rural farm property gives great perspective on plants.  Gardening has allowed me to work more intimately and gingerly with plants while harvesting is a great reward.

All in all, this program has been a wonderful experience.  I have met a number of great people in the BLM community as well as in the San Juan Islands.  I learn at least something every day, whether a trick to identifying grasses or learning from my bosses’ incredible skill communicating and managing with kindness, care, and incredible efficiency.  I’m grateful to work in this great place with wonderful people.  I’m also grateful for cherry plums.

I hope everyone is loving their positions and the people around them.  Happy botanizing to all and to all a good hike.


Jennifer McNew



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