“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”
- Opening line from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin
I that this is an apt description of my first couple weeks of my internship with the Carson City BLM, and a decent way to relate that I do not own a camera.
This will be my third field position with a federal agency out West since graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015, having sprayed weeds with the US Forest Service in Ely, NV and surveyed for post-fire vegetation with the US Geological Survey out of Boise, ID.
As such, I knew to expect all the preliminary paperwork and training that comes with starting with an agency, but it was still quite dry. Due to the (literally) wet weather and sketchy road conditions, the other CLM interns and I were somewhat limited in what we could do the, but we still had a nice variety. That included office organization, helping to put together pesticide-use-proposals and biological assessments for vulnerable species, and attending a couple interagency/public meetings.
Somewhat predictably, the most fun and insightful moments were those working with plants in the herbaria we’ll be using and the one trip out to a field site. Through past experience in the Great Basin region, I have a passing familiarity with the native flora here, but due to a lack of practice and the quick-and-dirty method I used for rapid assessments in Boise, I’m finding that I have a ton to learn.
For my last field position, time was of the essence, so we were taught to identify plants either just to the genus (like “eriogonum spp.”) or ID the recognizable ones to their USDA PLANT database symbol. Those symbols are the first two letters of genus, first two letters of species, followed by a tiebreaking number if needed, so for example artimesia tridentata, or big sagebrush, is ARTR4. For whatever reason, I thought this was a pretty universal thing, but blurting out “deeso” (DESO2 = descurainia sophia, or tansy mustard) or “ivax” (IVAX = iva axillaris, or povertyweed) has gotten me blank/confused stares and comments. Learning how to actually key out plants will be extremely useful for me, so that if I ever come across a plant I don’t know off the top of my head, I’ll hopefully be able to be a little more specific/sensible.