Jack Frost Does Not Like Oregon

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is doing well and having a good time in the new year! January has been quite the busy month here in the Umpqua, but that has really made time fly by! The first few weeks were relatively quiet. We worked on seed cleaning and started the new process of extracting and packaging Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines for an assisted migration project, which addresses their geographic distribution in regards to climate change. It is a monotonous task; however, it does make the time pass because there is always something to be done. At Dorena, there is always something to be done, which I kinda love. I am never bored here.

Buuuuuuut, mid-January a gnarly ice storm hit my area and caused major damage to the community, native deciduous trees, and the power-grid. This storm created a temporary ice rink on every exposed surface and allowed me to slide to the grocery store rather than walking there. Do not get me wrong, it was beautiful, but it was also incredibly dangerous. Although I was lucky and only was without power and water for 6 days, others in the community did not receive their power for almost two weeks. After this experience, I think I take the doomsday preppers a little bit more seriously. This storm left my city in shambles from houses and cars being squashed by trees to fallen telephone lines across roads and sidewalks. Throughout the past few weeks, the community is still recovering and has dramatically increased their supply of firewood.

Post ice storm, Dorena regained power and normal activities returned. We continued on extracting and packaging the Douglases and Pines, but we had the awesome experience of having multiple jobs corps groups and volunteers come in to help the project. It was incredible. The extra hands turned the expected end date from two months to two weeks. Without their help, we would have been extracting and packaging for weeks.

Overall, this month has flown by. I am sure I am missing a few events here and there but that is kinda the gist. There was definitely some good moments, like sowing oaks with everyone in the greenhouses after the storm, which was so fun to drink our coffees and chat, but there were also some learning moments. Life is not life without both sides. This month definitely was a wild ride, but I am excited to see where February takes me. Also unfortunately, last week I did break my laptop; thus, I will have to share all my photos for next month 🙁

Hope y’all have a good February!

Iced in

I’ve never thought of Oregon, especially western Oregon, as having a particularly harsh winter. I was expecting lots of rain, this is the “wet coast” after all, but I still didn’t think it would be harsh like the winters I was used to in Utah and Colorado. I especially wasn’t expecting a winter storm so severe it closed down our nursery for a week due to unsafe driving conditions and a lack of power and water. This wasn’t just a winter storm though, this was an ice storm, and wow it delivered a LOT of ice.

I had never experienced an ice storm before, so I didn’t know what to expect. People who have been here for a while didn’t seem too concerned about it, so I figured it wasn’t much to worry about. I thought “okay, it’ll just be cold for a couple of days, nothing too bad” and things will go on as normal. Plot twist, that is not what happened.

We finished our (first) week of extracting and packing firs and pines with relatively few problems, most of the problems weren’t real problems, we just needed to work the kinks out so we could effectively extract and pack 62,000 trees (yes, 62,000, I know, it’s insane). After a week of putting trees into boxes, I was ready for the long weekend. My co-intern and I had plans for most of the weekend, we were going to go hiking and shopping one day, then go to the coast another. None of those things happened because starting that Friday night, everything was snow and ice covered.

At first we decided to change our hiking plans from Saturday to Monday as it was snowing Saturday when we were supposed to meet up, we figured it was better safe than sorry. Then Sunday came and the road conditions were somehow worse than Saturday, so we cancelled our coast plans and hunkered down in our perspective homes. Fast forward to Wednesday, and my house hasn’t had power since Tuesday night, but it’s starting to warm up and rain at least. By this point, me, my roommates, and all of our neighbors had been trapped in our houses since Saturday and were all going stir crazy, so we all went outside and started shoveling the melting ice so we could try to escape. After hours of shoveling ice in the rain, we had cleared tracks for car tires down our hill to the main road, and after a couple of attempts and fixes, we were able to escape.

This was my first time experiencing an ice storm, and I have to say, I think I prefer the snow that Utah and Colorado produce. This position has been full of a lot of firsts, which has been very exciting, but this is a first I probably could have done without. Oh well, at least now I know to prepare better the next time Oregon has an ice storm.

Christmas Season at the Umpqua

December 2023

Hello dudes, hope everyone is doing well. This internship is flying by and refuses to slow down. This month has been a combination of cleaning seeds and a few other projects like propagation and transplanting. I have worked on Ratibida tagetes, Prunus virginiana, and Achillea millefolium this month, and man are these guys dusty. The propagation of POC and transplanting of Foxtail and Limber pines were exciting and different, which I love. As it grows colder here in Oregon, I have resorted to wearing as many layers as possible, the top number has been 4 jackets (quite cozy honestly but maybe I should buy a wearable sleeping bag at this point).

In my professional opinion, “podcast-studies” should be normalized, like instead of books it’s a podcast. Anyways, my podcast theme this month was murder mysteries with a sprinkle of conspiracy theories. Some favorite topics include the Black Sisters and the theory that Sun Tzu (the supposed author of The Art of War) never existed and is actually a collection of authors. Anywho, there is quite a variety of podcasts to listen to and I cannot wait to explore a few more.

This month has been packed full of festive cheer and incredible sights. I am trying to hike as much as possible, but it seems there are too many things to do in this short amount of time. I have seen some incredibly beautiful waterfalls this month, and I am in love with the forests of the PNW. I am really becoming a weekend warrior at this point, but my hiking boots were made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do. Our office Christmas party was a hit! The food was immaculate. The White Elephant gift exchange was hysterical. Wreath making was gorgeous. Dutch Blitz was riveting. The people were incredible. I think it was the best work Christmas party I have ever been to. In addition to having a blast at Dorena during the Christmas season, I also got to go home and see my family and pups for the holidays. There was telework involved, but researching plants barely counts as working in my opinion. I am quite a fan of learning about plants so it was kind of a holiday treat.

I also have a confession. I told myself I would not fall for it, but I in fact do think Dutch Bros is better than Starbucks. I have truly embraced the culture of the West. It is a hard realization to come to, but I am at peace with it. I am also now addicted to their dirty chai (it is a problem physically and financially). Thank you for understanding and acceptance everyone.

This month did not have any wild or crazy stories just the constant anticipation for the holidays, but the quiet excitement and giddiness around the office was unmatched. As the festive season winds down, the daunting time between January and April, which have minimal holidays, has begun. We will make it through this, but it is going to require a substantial amount of coffee, tea, and a few sweet little treats here and there. Good luck everyone and I will update y’all next month or should I say next year?!

(that joke hurt me too)

bye! 🙂

Stickers and Festivities

December is one of my favorite months of the year, and probably the only winter month I actually enjoy (I’m from the desert, snow and cold aren’t my things). The thing I enjoy most about December is Christmas, for the obvious reasons, but also because it means I get to see my family. There were two things that I didn’t expect to happen this December: one was our office has a holiday party, and the second was that I needed to put stickers on POC cells and it needed to happen fast. Obviously the first one is very exciting, but I wasn’t sure how exciting the second thing would be. Turns out, stickering is fun, satisfying, and pretty relaxing.

The Christmas party that happens at Dorena happens every year, there are even retired employees that come back for it every year, so it’s a big deal. I can’t speak to other years, but this years was so fun! There was so much yummy food, a white elephant gift exchange, paper snowflake making, Dorena trivia, wreath making, seconds on food, and just enjoying an afternoon of fun. Personally, aside from the food, the Dorena trivia was my favorite part of the afternoon. Everyone wrote their own questions about silly things found around Dorena, there were questions about books that have been on a bookshelf in the seed cleaning room for years, questions about Teo (Dorena’s resident cat), questions about posters in the bathrooms, and questions about a long time employees dog, just to name a few. I learned a lot during trivia, but the thing I learned that surprised me the most was that I’m really bad at making paper snowflakes.

Before the Christmas party could happen though, we still had a full week of work to get through. At our normal Monday morning meeting, we found out that all of the POC seedlings had been labeled wrong and that it was very important for us to get them relabeled correctly ASAP. I don’t know how they got labeled wrong, or how the POC biologist found out they were labeled wrong (that’s above my pay grade), but I did know that I was going to be a part of helping to correct the problem. I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about what we were doing, and how many stickers we had to apply to the cells, I was very worried that this was going to be a very long week and not very fun. I was wrong about both of those things.

The seedlings already had tags, so the POC biologist printed out stickers that we needed to apply to the existing tags. The stickers had to be applied in a specific way so they covered the incorrect information on the tags. The stickers were sorted into rolls based on which group of cells they needed to be applied to. Like I said, I was really worried that this was going to be a much less than ideal task, and boy was I wrong. It turns out, that stickering was very relaxing, satisfying, and honestly a bit meditative. Time flew while we were stickering, it took about an hour to do a full rack, and we were doing 3-4 racks a day. I don’t think I’ve ever had 3-4 hours of work go so fast or be so relaxing. It was honestly a great week leading up to the Christmas party, and a nice break from the constant seed cleaning.

Like I said, I knew the Christmas party would be a blast, but I was unsure of the hours of stickering I was going to have to do. That week was one of my favorite weeks here so far, and I’m hoping it only keeps getting better.

Our office Christmas tree.

Start of Something Incredible

Hello everyone! It is so cool to see all the incredible projects and places people are working in right now. My name is Brenn Kurtz, and I work with the Forest Service at Dorena Genetic Center in Oregon. So far, it has been an incredible experience! My position revolves around extracting and cleaning native seeds from different locations along the West Coast, which will be sent back and planted. The focus here is restoration work, and I love it. I feel like I am actually doing something. I have had numerous opportunities to learn other aspects of the nursery and other projects at Dorena. For example, the Port Orford Cedar (POC) conservation project is working to increase the species’ natural resistance to Phytophthora; thus, I have had the opportunity to help with cone collection and serial propagation efforts for this project. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to treat and sow germinating oaks for future nursery stock and dispersal. This position has allowed me to work with species I have not heard of and familiarize myself with the incredible species on the West Coast.

I am a big fan of fieldwork, and this job has the perfect balance of fieldwork and indoor work. I get to help maintain a nursery and research the plants. It is so sick. While cleaning seeds, it is a great time to listen to podcasts and music. I love a good murder mystery podcast or conspiracy theories podcast on a seed-filled rainy day. The other day, I was cleaning Ratibida tagetes and listening about how Antarctica may simply be the guarded entrance to the center of the earth (very scientific arguments obviously). There is never a lack of tasks to do, which I kinda enjoy. I am never bored here and there are always great people to talk to.

There have been so many firsts in this position. First time cleaning seed. First time seeing Oregon. The first time accidentally creating a geyser by tripping over the irrigation system. There have been so many firsts, and this position is truly a plant nerd’s dream (or definitely my dream at least). I get the opportunity to explore Oregon as part of my job. How sick is that! I have met so many incredible people, and I am stoked to see how the rest of this season goes.

Oh my goodness! I almost forgot, but I would also like to say we have an office cat. His name is Teo, and he loves to try and steal mashed potatoes. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!

Busy, yet somehow slow September!

September has flown by, and it was my last full month at the RMRS in Boise. It has gone by so fast!

September was busy for the RMRS, yet slow at the same time. We started off the month by checking on the hornworms, and they were progressing beautifully!

Hornworm cocoon

I went on a trip to the Ruby Mountains in Nevada for fun with my friend Matt, and we hiked around the area and found some ERUM (despite being off the clock we still checked out the population!)

After I got back from Nevada, I immediately went back with my Forest Service coworker Bebe. We drove down to Ely to check on 3 ERUM populations, and all 3 were still not seeding! In September, we were not expecting them to still be flowering/developing seeds. The phenology this year was so interesting due to how wet the year has been. So, we decided to stop by Great Basin National Park to look around the area for ERUM while corresponding with our boss back in Boise. We found a gorgeous alpine lake, and hiked around outside the park in search of ERUM.

When we received a final set of coordinates to go check out, we headed towards the area. We pre-download maps before heading into scouting areas, and normally these maps with satellite imagery are great. Bebe and I were 15+ miles away from a main dirt road, and we were following satellite imagery to get to our location, when we found out that the satellite imagery must be pretty old. We were looking for roads that were completely overgrown with trees and brush, and with the sun quickly setting, we decided to keep trying to find an alternative route out of the area instead of retracing our steps. We struggled for two more hours trying to find real roads, but once we got out back onto the main dirt road, we were so relieved. The sky was dark, with no moon in sight, so the stars were incredible. As we were driving, hundreds of jackrabbits were running across the roads, as well as Kangaroo Rats (a lifelist animal for me to see!!). We got so see some up close, as they were pretty common on the road.

Later, I met my friend Matt again in Elko, and we went out looking for plants. We went to Angel Lake, and hiked up a fair ways to check out all of the amazing flora. Nevada has amazing diversity, and the alpine areas are stunning.

Elric, Marguerite and I then trekked out to Silver City, Idaho in search of ERUM. We were successful early on in our search, which is such a morale booster. We collected our ERUM and got to see a historic small mining town too!

Then, my time off began. I went to the Oregon Coast with my family, and my brother and I drove separately so we could visit Crater Lake National Park along the way. We accidentally went on what felt like the busiest day of the year there, called Ride the Rim day. Hundreds if not thousands of people come to bike around the entire rim of Crater Lake, which has incredible gain and loss on it. They close off 3/4 of the rim for bicyclists safety, so my brother and I only got to experience the west side of the park. It was still stunning! We decided to go hike to some waterfalls afterwards on the Waterfall Scenic Byway, which heads towards the Oregon Coast.

Then, we made it to the coast! It was nice to relax and spend time with my family, as well as see so much flora and fauna! We did another famous Oregon hike called The Trail of Ten Falls, which was absolutely stunning! It’s a seven mile round-trip hike that is worth every step!

Then, when we got home my parents surprised us with a puppy! His name is Mac, and he is an adorable addition to the family.

Unfortunately, after my trip I tested positive for Covid for the first time in my life. It was such a bummer, since I missed out on some of the last seed collection trips for the 2023 season. But, since I was home I was able to see my hornworm emerge!! If anyone knows the specific ID, let me know! I know it’s in the sphingidae family!

Overall, this month was so busy yet so slow. This summer has been jam-packed full of adventures, and I’m so sad that it’s coming to an end!

East coast to west coast

Hello from eastern Oregon. I have travelled all the way from southern Florida. All I am asking is where are all the trees? Haha! A few weeks ago, I began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Vale District Office – located in far eastern Oregon.

For the past two weeks, I have been learning about the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat. A group of us have been conducting Rangeland Habitat Assessments in super-southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. With all different backgrounds: wildlife, botany, soil, air, water, and range; the specialists assess the sites to see if cattle should continue to graze in the area, if erosion by air or water is destabilizing the site, or if the site is in its prime condition. In other words, the assessment is to determine how the ecological processes on each site (49 sites) are functioning.

It is interesting to see the slight differences in habitats depending on the dominant species of sagebrush (Wyoming sagebrush, low sagebrush, bud sagebrush, etc.) at the site. The soil could be crusty, pedestals may form where Poa secuna (Sandberg bluegrass) grows, shrub composition alters, as well as forb and grass composition, the slope of the “hills” (not quite mountains) determine water flow and/or water erosion. I could go on. All of these determine whether or not the site is in good condition for the greater sage grouse to fulfill its lively duties. Celebration is required when Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), a non-native (invasive) plant, is NOT found in the site.

A sagebrush site

A sagebrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

In addition to assessing high desert habitat, we have assessed several riparian (watershed) habitats using different criteria to determine how the ecological processes on each site are functioning. Most of the cattle and the calves hang out in the riparian areas during the high-heat summer days. The cattle create hummocks in the riparian areas which ultimately alter the flowing water patterns.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

cattle created hummocks

Hummocks (like pedastals) created by cattle in the riparian site.

I am incredibly excited about learning the plants out here. Consciously, I am comparing those I see here to the plants back in southeast United States. It amazes me how plants are adapted to their habitat. A lot of the plants are much more pubescent (hairy) than what I am used to!

In the upcoming months, we will be monitoring and surveying habitats and vegetation for the greater sage grouse throughout the Vale District. Some sites will be on the mountains! We will be conducting “monitoring plots” using the spoke design transect, line-point intercept, gap intercept, vegetation height calibrations, and plant species inventories. All this field work, we get to identify plant species, which is obviously the best part!

It is hard to grasp distance out here. Hills seem closer than they really are. I won’t be getting dehydrated this summer, I am keeping cool! I am beyond excited to share with you all the next few weeks of my journey. Talk to you soon!

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selfie in the sage 🙂

Cheers,

Michelle Smith 

BLM – Vale District

Greetings from the High Desert of Burns, Oregon!

Hello everyone,

I have just began my internship with the Burns District Bureau of Land Management in the beautiful high desert of Eastern Oregon. My name is Dan Mayer and I am a very recent graduate of Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondack Park in Northern New York. I graduated last weekend with a B.S. in Fisheries & Wildlife Science (Wildlife Concentration) and a Geographic Information Systems Certificate. After graduating, I was home for one day before driving cross country to Oregon, complete with a multitude of National Park Visits and National Forest drive throughs.

This is a beautiful landscape of rangelands, volcanic rocks, and high desert scrubs.

Today was the first day of my internship based out of the Burns District BLM. During my internship, I will be conducting vegetation sampling techniques in order to evaluate the effectiveness of post-wildlfire rehabilitation efforts as part of the BLM’s Emergency Response & Stabilization Program (ES&R). A large part of the beginning of my internship will be spent familiarizing myself with the native and noxious vegetation in the nearly 1.1 million acre district. As part of the program, we will be revisiting many of the fires from last year’s season, to see what’s growing back or more importantly what isn’t.

Sagebrush leaves are collected, weighed, and dried, to evaluate fire conditions.

I was able to get into the field this afternoon with my mentor, Casey, in order to evaluate fire conditions by collecting, weighing, and drying sagebrush leaves.

The vistas and landscapes seem to endlessly stretch in every direction.

For those of you unfamiliar with Southeastern Oregon, it’s an almost alien landscape of ancient volcanic rocks, arid and cracking soil, sagebrush, western red cedar, and the ever present invasive cheatgrass. Thus far, the weather has been gorgeous sunny days, and cool calm nights. The vistas and landscapes seem to stretch on forever in every direction, and the uniqueness of the terrain is hard to put into words.

This is the vehicle of choice for working in this tough environment.

Overall, I was very impressed by the group of hard working, passionate, and knowledgeable natural resource professionals that I met today at the Emigrant Creek Ranger Station and Burns BLM Office, and I look forward to prying their brains for more about the area as I settle into my CLM role.