Well, I’m back in New York after 5 incredible, enlightening, challenging months in Vernal, UT. I definitely feel as though I learned a lot about plants of the intermountain west and about the Bureau of Land Management and how it is run. Never in my life have I seen this much open space. And while it was vast and majestic and beautiful it was also deeply saddening. Nearly every inch of the land in the Vernal Field Office was blanketed in cheat grass and tumble mustard. The riverbeds were crowded with tamarisk and Russian olive trees. Million year old biotic crust was scraped away in favor of flat dusty drill pads as far as the eye could see.
At the same time, I was in some ways pleasantly surprised. The desert that I thought would be a barren, sandy landscape was dappled with tiny gems. Place out of reach of drills, trucks and bull dozers, held incredible diversity. Even places within reach of such disturbance were managing to hold on to some incredible plant species. I saw beauty such as I’d never seen on the east coast.
I think mixed-use management of land is extremely difficult to accomplish. This land is public, but what does that really mean. You can’t do whatever you want on that land. Who matters more, the people who see and use the land everyday? The whole population of the United States? Or maybe the following generations who will be left with this land after we’re all gone. As of right now, it almost seems to me like no one is happy with the use of this land. Grazers want lower fees and more freedom, oil companies want less bureaucracy, environmentalists want both those groups to do their work responsibly or get lost. Obviously, that is a very over-simplified version of the situation, but that’s the gist. And there are far more players than those 3 groups.
I learned a lot during this internship and I’m glad I did it. I feel now that I know more about my planet and my country and my government than I did 5 months ago. There are a lot of good, smart, hard working people that I’ve met in our government and in this internship program and I hope that in the future I continue to work alongside them towards the goal of a healthy, vibrant, just planet.