My first week after graduation was filled with excitement and anxiety. I actually skipped walking across the stage during graduation because I was moving in to my new house that same weekend. I finished my last day as an undergraduate on a Thursday and started work in a new state the following Monday! Thankfully, I have very supportive parents that helped me trek my way with each passing minute farther and farther west than I had been before.
Our drive was only supposed to take 2.5 days, from Madison, WI to Twin Falls, ID. It turned into almost 4 because we got swamped with a snow storm in the middle of May!? Never would have thought to pack snow boots for May weather as I had already experienced 70 degree weather coming from Wisconsin. We ended up getting stuck in Cheyenne, WY for 9 hours. But here’s my dad as we happily continued to make our way as the roads cleared!
The following first two weeks were flooded with new information and training. Besides all the online training, we also had some great hands on training in the field. I work directly with 4 other CBG interns, there are another 3 at my office. All 4 of the CBG CLM interns I work with come from different states and are familiar with different flora, so learning new plants in the arid environment of southern Idaho has been quite entertaining!
As a contractor working for the BLM, I am assessing habitat cover and preferred forbs for sage grouse.The methods we used to do this assessment was modified as soon as the interns arrived, so as we learned the ins-and-outs of the methods, so were the crew leads and supervisors, to some extent. This was quite a bumpy ride to start as we all were interpreting specific methods differently and encountered different scenarios than were provided in the new manuals. Each day we came up with new questions and each day we solve them with gusto and readiness to continue the following day, knowing we’d come back with still more questions.
Throughout the next few weeks I learned to adjust to the lack of trees and the beautiful diversity that can (surprisingly) be found here! I started to learn common grasses and forbs and learn varieties of sagebrush.
As my roommate and I got a feel for the area, we began most of our weekends traveling to some touristy sites. These areas were nice to visit while we’re learning about the area because they were so chock full of historical information and just fun random facts that are super useful for newcomers like us!
Back out in the field the following week, I started slowly discovering I had some favorite plants and animals we continue to run into. I had studied trees for my undergrad but I’m finding myself drawn to some of these little forbs in southern ID.
At the start of the next week I traveled to CBG for the Workshop, which was an incredible opportunity and I am super grateful I was able to attend. I had the chance to meet other interns in the neighboring field offices for the BLM. I was happy to be back in the Midwest and actually had the chance to see my parents again after a month in Idaho.
Back in Idaho, our big group split into 2 groups of three people, we were officially on our own! Driving to any one of our plot points may take anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours one-way. The drive can be a little daunting, but each location is so unique and the views there are so absolutely incredible, it’s always so gratifying once we arrive.
Coming from Wisconsin and having spent a lot of time up north where there are unpaved roads, I knew how to drive a pick-up truck on gravel roads, but some of the “roads” out here barely warrant the name. Thankfully, I have stellar crew lead that has extensive experience driving on these same roads last summer! Also, I will admit, I have a really poor sense of direction, so I am thankful for her navigation skills too.
I’m also learning how to use USDA plant codes for these common plants. I’ve worked with plant codes previously doing monitoring but since the locations of these plots may have upwards of 45 species, keeping up with all plant codes and numbers following each code has been a struggle of mine. I tend to learn the common name first, then the scientific name, then the code. But sometimes the same code can be used for 2-10 different plants so you also have to remember which number corresponds to which plant! Ex. ERNA6 & ERNA10, one is a forb and one is a shrub, and you could possibly have both on the same site!
To help me with learning plant codes and scientific names I’ve made a little “key” of all the ones we’ve come across and keep the booklet with me out in the field. So far, it’s been pretty useful and have only used it 2 days but have to update it already!
I’ve been in Idaho exactly a month and I really cannot wait to continue exploring this state. I’ve been trying to convince all my family and friends from home to come visit me, because there’s so much here to see! One month down, four more to go. So far, this has been one of my favorite summers, yet.