Conquered Fears

Temperatures are dropping rapidly in Idaho, and I’m ready to flee before my long route back to New England starts getting snowy.

Our work truck one chilly morning. Freezing cold in October is normal in New England. Freezing cold a week after 90 degree averages is just one of those Idaho things.

When I was first offered a CLM position in Shoshone, ID, I was honestly very hesitant to accept. I didn’t know anything about Idaho, and it was frightening to consider living in a remote area so far from everyone and everything I’ve ever known. Looking back now, I’m grateful to my past self that I took that leap! My time with the BLM was an incredibly valuable experience with awesome co-workers, and Idaho has been a beautiful place to explore.

I’ve been doing some last minute projects for the past month. We wrapped up our assessments of 5 Year ESRs – areas that burned 5 years ago and were seeded to hopefully maintain a healthy habitat. This was absolutely my favorite project of the summer – other CLM interns and I worked together judging whether seeded plants had successfully established in old fire areas, and wrote reports discussing our findings and recommending further management actions. It was awesome insight into how the BLM makes large-scale management and funding decisions.

The last few weeks have been given to sagebrush mapping, which is pretty dull work, but vital to sagebrush seed collection efforts. We often drove 7-8 hours a day checking on isolated sagebrush populations – whether we had the right species, how big the population was, how productive the plants were, insect damage, etc. We found ourselves alternating between confidence and complete confusion in regards to sagebrush ID, but I think we found our groove by the end. Hopefully we found enough good Wyoming big sagebrush populations for seed collection, which will be carried out later this fall.

Mountings of my SOS co-workers specimens, plus sagebrush mapping specimens to confirm which species we found. Many that we initially thought were Wyoming turned out to be Big basin, a less desirable species. Oops.

I recently got to check out a juniper treatment project – large swaths of juniper are removed to increase sage-grouse habitat, with the added benefit of reducing fire risks in mountain areas. It was a bit shocking to see the destruction and desolation created by the machines, but the result will hopefully be healthy sagebrush slopes with plenty of habitat for sage-grouse. Sometimes environmental management isn’t pretty, but the results are worthwhile.

These machines grind up juniper and reduce it to shreds – scary! But the downed juniper will insulate seeded plants through the winter.

Temporarily ugly. What was once a low diversity juniper forest will soon be prime sagebrush/sage-grouse habitat.

Learning about all of this management and project assessment stuff was great, because I’ve been leaning more toward a professional career in natural resources management than botany. However, I am disappointed that my botanical skills weren’t noticeably strengthened this summer. Working with a fuels crew meant that we saw pretty degraded habitats that were recovering slowly from recent fires – a whole lot of cheatgrass, Sandbergs bluegrass, phlox and not much else. It was awesome to learn a lot more about grasses, I was lucky enough to attend a Carex identification workshop, and we searched for rare plants on several occasions, but more opportunities to botanize would have been great to help me learn the families better. It’s something I’m determined to improve upon in my own time.


Like I mentioned above, working with the BLM helped me develop a lot of confidence in natural resources. But I’m 100% certain that my choice to live away from my known world for a while did more for my confidence than all of that (valuable as it still was!). To anyone who might be reading this blog after receiving a similar offer from CLM, do it. Leave your big city world, or rural corner of the country, and test yourself with something new and maybe a little scary. I moved from Boston to rural and very-much-on-fire Idaho, made friends from strangers, and learned a whole new set of plants in a whole new set of environments. Kinda doubt that anything’s gonna seem insurmountable after this.

Bye Idaho! I look forward to seeing your scenic vistas again someday.

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