The month of September has been filled with various goings and stayings. I continued going out in the field for the first three weeks of the month. When the massive Buzzard Complex Fire was put out, which roared through Eastern Oregon burning around 400,000 acres, I began traveling all over Harney County to take initial monitoring photos and notes at trend sites. Many of these plots are way out in the boonies and required several hours of travel over rough roads to get to. It has been interesting to see the variation in the intensity of the burns at different plots. Some plots were scourged bare, the black stumps of sage and rabbitbrush thrusting despondently from the soil, a few brown bottoms of burned perennial grasses here and there, but no green showing. Other plots had burned much more lightly and patchily, showing unburned clumps of vegetation and grass with seed heads intact. In many plots a little green had returned, only weeks after the fire. Rabbitbrush seemed particularly good at regenerating, and there was green at the base of the scorched bushes. The non-native perennial grass, crested wheatgrass, was also regenerating in many plots.
I also got to attend a tour of the Buzzard Complex Fire. This tour was to give members of other organizations a chance to see the scope of the fire. The hope was that seeing the fire and hearing members of the BLM and researchers from the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center speak would help them understand why particular rehabilitation efforts are important and gain their support. Mainly, they explained why it is important to use non-native species (mostly crested wheatgrass, perhaps forage kochia) for rehabilitation. Crested wheatgrass has shown a much higher rate of successful growth with aerial seeding than natives. The BLM staff emphasized that they are not against using natives, and if they were effective they also would prefer to use natives, but that since natives are not effective, it is important to get something that will seed successfully on the ground in order to prevent annual grasses from coming in and soil erosion. Having annual grasses come in and soil erosion creates another sluice of problems. There was a lot of discussion back and forth between the scientists, the BLM managers, and the guests, which was very interesting to listen in to. I think most of the guests were on board with the need to use non-native plants to rehab. Some of them seemed to be putting on battle faces to go back to their organizations and convince those dead set against using non-natives for rehabilitation.
As part of the tour, the researchers from the Agricultural Research Center showed us one of their research plots. Consisting of five subplots, the research is focused on understanding what treatment and vegetation is most effective for post-fire rehab. There was a control plot (no herbicide, no seed mix), a plot that was only sprayed with herbicide, a native only seed mix (herbicide, then seed application), a native/non-native, 50/50 ratio seed mix (mostly crested wheatgrass; herbicide, then seed application), and a seed mix with a higher ratio to non-native to native seed (herbicide, then seed application). There was a drastic difference in how the vegetation in each plot did after the fire swept through, and you could really see that the seed mix with the higher ratio of non-native bunchgrass seed had both more vegetation per square meter than the other plots, as well as having had greater fire resistance.
Besides all of the above, I have spent a significant amount of time staying in the office to complete paperwork. Along with getting all of our collected data organized, I have been helping the Rangeland Management Specialists enter data and organize it in file folders. Some of the data is from last year, so I am glad to help them catch up on it all. Everyone has a lot on their plates now, what with all the paperwork needed to secure funds to rehab this year’s burns. Settled at the computer in my little cubicle, I often hear bodiless voices drifting, expounding about the recent difficulties in getting the paperwork done. Clearly, there is a lot to be done and a lot of subtleties and complexities to contend with. It is not always easy working within such a large organization as the BLM. I have been amazed, however, by the integrity with which the members of this office approach their jobs. Despite setbacks and bureaucracy they really want to move forward and make progress by doing what is best for the land even if it is not the easiest to accomplish.
I am looking forward to the last month of my internship! I have absolutely no idea what I will be doing next week. 😉