Yesterday was my last day with Fish and Wildlife. Since my last post, we’ve been busy trying to finish all the end of the season chores like data analysis, write-ups, and gear cleaning. We didn’t get to everything though because a few things came up. One day we spent with USGS sampling adult suckers in Clear Lake, CA. It consisted of pulling a seine net between two boats and then pulling it up to shore and collecting all the fish from it. We also pulled up a few trammel nets that were set out at specific spots to get fish swimming in the area.
We also had to tag and release our last net-pen of fish and we were able to take a reporter out with us so she could do a write-up of our season. We were lucky to have zero mortality from tagging and released a few hundred healthy juvenile suckers between all of our net-pens. So hopefully in a few years we’ll see them spawning!
Overall, I had a great season out here and learned a lot about sucker fish, lake systems, the west and all the challenges it presents. I’ve never worked in an area where water was such an issue, so it was definitely interesting to see how water availability affected things over the season. I have a background in marine science, but after this season I’m definitely more open to working with freshwater resources. I’ve also realized that I want to go into a more active management career such as working for Fish and Wildlife or USGS instead of working in academia, which is what I previously thought I wanted to do.
I got to work with a great crew this season and I’m sad to leave them, but I’m definitely ready for the next thing, which I don’t actually know what that is yet. But I also feel much more prepared for grad school or another job, whichever comes first, after learning all sorts of great new skills. I feel like thanks to CLM and everyone at my office I’m more confident and ready to take on anything new!
I will start off this post by saying how happy I am to be working for the BLM and the Chicago Botanic Garden. However, when I first applied to this internship, it was with the hope that I would be offered a position with the U.S. Forest Service. I studied forestry in school, and it is a passion of mine. Being from the Northeast, I am used to being surrounded by hardwood forests filled with trees of several different species. I was a little disappointed when I first came to Susanville and discovered that the field office was pretty barren of trees, except for the occasional grove of Western Junipers. Nonetheless, I have made the most of my opportunity here and have come to appreciate the High Desert ecosystem and the plants that reside here. But still, it would be nice to see some trees…
Enter the Pine Dunes Research Natural Area. I first saw the pine dunes in July, when I drove past them on the way to another project. ”Wow, those pine trees seem out of place,” I stated. A co-worker explained that the pines are growing on sand dunes that are the result of an old lake bed in the area. After the lake dried up, the sand from the bottom blew across the valley and piled up at the base of some hills. The resulting dunes are a perfect, yet unusual, site for ponderosa pines to grow. The nearest pine tree is 15 miles north of the site, and is at an elevation 1000 feet higher. The nearest pine forest is 20 miles to the north, in the south Warner Mountains. It is not fully understood how the pine groves came to be, but it is estimated that they are at least 300 years old.
The pine dunes was designated as a Research Natural Area in 1987 by the BLM. The area on BLM land was fenced off from livestock and motor vehicle use, and signs were posted to inform visitors of the uniqueness of the site. Some of the pines are growing on private land, right outside the BLM fence. The hope was that the site would be monitored every year, and that each tree would be monitored every five years. After digging through documents dating back to the 1970′s, I could not find any evidence that the site had been monitored in the past 20 years. Monitoring the site is important because the trees have not been reproducing in the past 40 years, and it is important to understand why.
I, along with the other CLM intern at the Eagle Lake Field Office, Natalie, were tasked with monitoring the site. I was excited to finally do some work involving forestry. Our job the past two weeks has been to measure the DBH (diameter at breast height) using DBH tape, and height, using a clinometer, of every tree in the grove. There are about 90 trees at the site, so this is no small task. We also fill out a data sheet for each tree that involves measuring an ovulate (female), and staminate (male) cone from each tree, measuring the length of the seed and of the needles, and indicating the health of the tree based on its bark and evidence of insect infestation.
We have currently monitored 61 of the trees at the site. So far the thickest tree has a DBH of 148 cm, and the tallest tree is almost 32 meters tall. These are impressive numbers, but the largest ponderosa pines in the U.S. can grow to a DBH of 263 cm, and height of 70.7 meters! Most of the trees seem to be healthy and producing plenty of seeds. However, we have not found any evidence of seedlings at the site, indicating that the trees are still not reproducing. This may be a natural occurrence, as the site is sort of an anomaly and was not meant to last long. It could also be that rodents or insects are getting to the seeds before they have the chance to germinate. We did discover some ponderosa pine cone beetles in some of the cones. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks may be eating the seeds and seedlings as well. My theory is that since the site is restricted from fire, too much duff and debris has built up under the trees and the seeds are not able to reach the soil to germinate.
Whatever the cause for the lack of reproduction, I hope that the trees are able to overcome it. The pine dunes is such a great spot in the Eagle Lake Field Office, and a very rare and unique site for ponderosa pines in general. Even if the trees are unable to reproduce, the trees there now may be able to survive for another 300 years, as ponderosa pines have been known to grow that old. No matter how long they survive, I am grateful that they are there now, and that I have been given the opportunity to monitor them. After spending all summer in the desert, it has been a relief to be working in the shade of a forest.
Eagle Lake Field Office
With the last of the 2014 season’s seed collections wrapped-up and shipped away, our attentions have turned to other projects. A major portion of the work now involves the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). During the past few months I have had the good fortune to work on several interesting NEPA projects.
One such project involves developing and analyzing alternatives to determine the level of future grazing use, within the Kelso Peak Allotment. The allotment is situated mostly within the Bright Star Wilderness, an especially interesting location that receives influences from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Great Basin Desert, and the Mohave Desert, making the location extremely diverse botanically. One of the many interesting plant species of the project area is the Kelso Creek monkeyflower (Mimulus shevockii), a BLM sensitive plant species, which is known to occur in only a total of eleven populations on the planet.
Work for another NEPA project is set alongside Cottonwood Creek, the only National Wild and Scenic River in the Ridgecrest Field Office. Here our field office is assessing the impacts and requirements of conducting a fuels reduction burn in an area of old-growth sagebrush.
A third Environmental Assessment (EA), to which I am contributing, analyzes proposed range improvements within the Deep Springs Valley and South Oasis grazing allotments, at the northern end of the Ridgecrest Field Office. This project area, located in the Great Basin Desert, offers an interesting change of plants and other scenery, compared to the Mohave Desert that forms the majority of our work area. One of the highlights of the field work required to prepare this EA involved trekking cross-country through the wilderness, in order to locate, assess, and document a spring, which no present BLM employees had ever visited. A less pleasant aspect involved discovering approximately 125 contiguous acres of Russian thistle associated with a water trough site, on one of the above mentioned allotments.
As far as NEPA writing is involved, I have mainly contributed to the vegetation and non-native, invasive species sections, two areas for which I possess a high level of interest. The NEPA process required for an EA requires the consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives. I enjoy the process of looking at issues from various perspectives, in order to analyze different scenarios and their possible effects on the multiple resources stewarded by BLM.
Another important and useful part of the process of performing NEPA analysis has involved using GIS. Examples include consulting the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) for the known occurrences of Special Status Species and NISIMS (National Invasive Species Information Management System) for the locations of invasive plants. A related aspect, which I also enjoy, involves the utilization of mobile GIS. For each of these NEPA projects I have used a Trimble device, running ArcPad, to collect geodata of features such as fencelines, burn piles, springs, watering troughs, and invasive species infestations.
I have also used GIS to create several maps for EAs, which display project areas and the measures that would be implemented under each of the possible alternatives. These maps generally undergo changes as projects develop, enabling BLM staff and members of the public to understand proposed actions. This, and all NEPA work, is intended to contribute towards the making of well-informed decisions, better decisions being the ultimate goal of the NEPA process. Viva NEPA!
BLM Ridgecrest Field Office
I’m happy to report that this is not my final blog post, and that I get to spend another exciting month working for the BLM, Jarbidge Field Office.
As interns, our primary objective has shifted to conducting transect inventories for the proposed endangered slickspot peppergrass (Lepidium papilliferum), and mapping its critical habitat (slick spots). These slick spots create a unique heterogeneity in our field office, and have been compromised by common rangeland threats such as fires, trampling, and invasive species. We have mapped many slick spots, but have not found any slickspot peppergrass.
Walking through the high desert all day has proven to be a very meditative experience. I enjoy listening to music and taking in the vastness of the sagebrush steppe. Fall on the range is beautiful. Everything is golden. The air is smoky and crisp. To top things off, I saw a bobcat last week! I followed it with the pickup before it jumped into the brush to crouch down and stare at us. Talk about a once in a lifetime experience.
As always, thank you for reading. This continues to be an incredible internship.
Jarbidge Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
This has been fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I am grateful looking back at all the people, plants, and places I’ve had the privilege of experiencing. Seasonal work is pretty cool, too. A lot of my time here in Boise has been spent talking with Cara, our mentor, Joe, and many other people from the office about where we want to go or where we’ve been as far as jobs and careers are concerned. I think there’s an unfortunate expectation and pressure for young adults to have an idea of what they want to be and how they plan on getting there as fast as possible. From a financial standpoint I understand this mentality if you are in debt or want to avoid debt in the future or even if you just need to know that you can afford to live and maybe one day afford to support a family. Personally, I am so incredibly grateful for the privilege to not need to stress about whether I have something lined up next. But that’s a hard thing to be okay with. I often have to make a concerted effort to remind myself that it’s okay to not know what I’m doing or even where I’m going. It’s okay to not know if I want to go back to Grad School. It’s okay to not know if I want to embark upon another internship. It’s even okay if I don’t want to go into land conservation and anything remotely involved in Biology as a field of work! Who knows maybe I’ll go into culinary arts or physical therapy or criminal justice.
All of this is to say that as much as I’ve truly appreciated learning to ID plant species, remembering the plant codes, and so many other skills for land management/conservation work, above everything else, I have appreciated being a part of something genuine. This wasn’t some cookie-cutter, superficial, resume-boosting couple of months. This was hard work. Physically and mentally, we invested ourselves into this experience just as others, both people and plants, invested in us. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I’m most excited about from this internship is being able to return to the allotments we worked on in ten, twenty, even sixty years and hopefully see the actual efforts in the land. Who knows, maybe I’ll just throw on some gloves and start planting sagebrush plugs when I’m ninety.
Anyhow, much respect to all of you fellow interns for your tales and toils and I look forward to seeing where we all go from here! A big thanks to the Four Rivers Field Office staff and our mentor, Joe, for your friendships and knowledge. And many thanks to the CBG staff that are really the source for the sincerity and meaning that this program holds for me.
All my best,
Four Rivers Field Office, Boise, ID
While summer blooms elsewhere are winding down, the Dixon Prairie is still alive with many fall flowers.
Asters, sawtooth sunflowers, gaura, and goldenrod are going strong. All of them are abuzz with bees and other insects. Grasshoppers dance from plant to plant. Butterflies fuel up for a last fling or long journey.
Grasses, some with tiny fragrant flowers, sway gracefully; many have grown more than 7 feet tall in this one growing season. Early morning dew transforms the seedheads into works of art. Silken strands of unseen spiders glow in the sunlight. Flocks of goldfinches munch on seeds, stocking up for winter, chirping their happy tunes, while shy sparrows occasionally pop up from the shadows, giving us a glimpse of their subtle beauty. Milkweed seeds blow gracefully in the wind.
The prairie truly must be walked to be appreciated. There is so much diversity, and so many stories to tell.
Touch a compass plant leaf on even the hottest day and it will be cool to the touch—with roots going down 14 feet, they pull up water that is chilled underground.
Monarchs live in symbiosis with milkweed plants (as do many other insects). Look closely and you may see a whole world on a milkweed plant.
Surprises can be anywhere—a hummingbird zipping by for a quick sip, a great blue heron flying overhead, drama as a hawk dives down to grab a vole. Fall on the prairie is colorful, alive, and a place of great wonder not to be missed.
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