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!


selfie in the sage 🙂


Michelle Smith 

BLM – Vale District

July in Idaho

It’s been another month already? Time flies, and I’m already more than halfway done with my internship.


Setting up transects for our Sage-grouse Habitat Assessment Framework

This month we completed our long-term vegetation trend monitoring portion of the internship. The past couple weeks I have been working on habitat assessments for the Greater sage grouse conservation initiative. It still requires vegetation monitoring, but we use different methods for collecting data. We are mostly concerned with shrub canopy cover for nesting and availability of sage brush and preferred forbs for consumption. We’re able to complete multiple sites in a day, but it goes especially quickly in areas of low diversity and minimal to no shrub canopy cover. 

Thankfully, the weather lately has been bearable, but last month was brutal. Working out in the open desert can be exhausting when it’s over 100 degrees F and there’s no shade for relief. On the worst day, Diana and I finished off a 2 gallon cooler of ice water. Hydration is no joke!


Celebrating America properly with friends, the great outdoors, hot dogs, and sparklers (of course)


Chelsea, Diana, and I visiting the Sawtooths for a day

I’ve also had the opportunity to do some more exploring this month. The 4th of the July weekend I went camping in Hagerman. I also went swimming and cliff-jumping here in Twin Falls (Dierkes Lake & Hidden Lake). Last weekend I went with fellow CLMers, Diana and Chelsea, on a day trip to the Sawtooth National Forest. I’m so glad I finally went because it was absolutely beautiful!


View from an overlook at the Sawtooth National Forest

I try to balance my weekends with rest, work, and play. I love visiting new places around me, but I’m also trying to prepare for my post-internship life. Soon enough, this adventure will be over and I’ll need a new job.

This week the range techs in my office got to participate in a river clean-up day on the Snake River near Hagerman. We got to see our CLM friends from the Jarbidge Field Office, which was fun. Our group of 7 took an inflatable paddle raft, led by our fantastic guide, Evan, from the recreation department in the Boise Field Office. We went at a leisurely pace looking for trash to pick up, but there was honestly no trash in sight. Evan guided us through the eddies and fast waves, giving me my first taste of white water rafting! Afterwards, we all enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch at one of the picnic areas near by.


Taking a float break from all of that cleaning (Feat. Diana in the background)

The rest of this month we will continue with our HAF studies, and hopefully visit some new areas in Idaho on our free time.

Until next post,

Carla–BLM Shoshone, ID

Updates from Shoshone

Almost three weeks have passed since Alexi and I arrived in the tiny town of Shoshone, Idaho. We have settled into our charming creaky home (built in 1886), found running routes around town, befriended our neighbors and their two dogs, raided the nearby thrift stores for home goods, explored the Sun Valley area, and have (almost) gotten used to the trains that roar through town every hour and the mysterious siren that goes off every night at 10pm.

In the Shoshone BLM Office we have completed various tasks around the office to prepare for a field season of vegetation monitoring. In the first two weeks several different people in the office took us out to different BLM allotments to get us acquainted with the Shoshone Field Office and the plants we’ll be monitoring. On Tuesday we conducted our first nested frequency survey and learned about 12 new species.

It is always exciting the first couple weeks at a new field site when you start learning the plant species. The landscape goes from being a sea of unknowns to a sea of familiar faces. I love it when you see a plant you recognize from a previous field site in your new field site. It is like seeing an old friend and begins to make the new place feel like home. The seasonal lifestyle has shown me that I very easily fall in love with a landscape and grow attached to it. By knowing the species in the area you gain a sense of ownership of the land, which is an important aspect of conservation.

One of the highlights of our first three weeks working in the Shoshone Field Office was conducting a sage grouse lek survey and actually seeing the leks! We had conducted two surveys in the first two weeks, but the weather was uncooperative and we only managed to see sage grouse that we flushed out. On Wednesday morning Alexi and I went to a different site where active leks had been observed this year. Since now is when the males normally stop lekking there was a good chance that we wouldn’t get to see them, but we decided to give it a try.


The strutting begins. Time to impress the (absent) ladies.

pensive sage grouse

Guarding his staging turf.

It was difficult to hold our composure when we first saw the males’ white chests puffing out amongst the sagebrush and realizing that we were in fact witnessing a lek. It was still dark out and the males were a little slow at first, but when the sun started peaking over the horizon and warming their feathers they livened up and began to strut. I would not describe their dance as majestic. While their plumage is beautiful and their posture much better than mine, their signature strut is actually quite humorous to me. When they puff up their chest with their vocal air sacs, they look like fat indignant old men. Then they jiggle the air sacs around for a bit and make an odd sound that is similar to a champagne bottle being uncorked. In the first lek we counted 23 males, but no females were to be seen. The males were undaunted by the absence of females and continued their strut, staking their staging territory. We witnessed several fights between males where they would face off and then actually viciously attack each other.


Strut sequence

face off

Face off at dawn

While I don’t think of their strut as majestic, I do admire their efforts to attract a mate. During the lekking season they go out and strut for several hours a day, which undoubtedly uses a ton of energy. They are vulnerable to predators (we’re pretty sure we saw a bald eagle right across the road from one of the leks). Many face rejection since only a few of the dominant males will actually get to mate. And even when most females are probably already sitting on their nests, these males are trying just as hard to impress. We did see one female in the second lek. She was surrounded by two males with her head tucked into her breast and was either a) shy, b) playing hard to get, or c) just not into them.

It was very exciting to get to witness the species that we are trying to protect in action. It puts our fieldwork into context and makes our tasks seem more important. I am very thankful we had the opportunity to observe the leks before we delved into our vegetation surveys.

If you have never seen a lek in action you should check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0M8pZnNlnI

I am very excited for our next six months in Idaho. There is a lot to explore and do here and summer is just around the corner.

Until next time,


Shoshone BLM Field Office