Over three weeks ago I packed up my bags and headed for Northeastern Oregon to the little town of Baker City. While I left the coast behind for the first time ever, I was welcomed by the awe-inspiring mountain ranges of the Wallowas and Elkhorns. The wilderness that surrounds this area beckons any outdoorsy folk to strap on the boots and explore! I am already planning my adventure on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. As it is also my first time in lovely Oregon, I plan to pack in as many ventures across the state. Ideas are welcomed!
I came to work at the Baker BLM field office with the hydrology tech, monitoring the water quality streams and rivers as well as conducting riparian surveys. My first few days were full of the general orientation: defensive driving, computer access training, rig maintenance, calibration of equipment and of course a soldering lesson. One of the skills I am excited to gain from this job is MacGyver-like problem solving, be it fixing a malfunctioning probe in the field or soldering on wires to ensure proper connection for a flow meter. As any field scientist knows, you got be prepared for the unexpected from missing sample bottles to finicky Trimbles that just don’t feel like working today, thank you very much.
We kicked off our field season on day two. Our main focus for now is measuring physical parameters, nutrient levels and flow at sites throughout the Powder River Basin. This is part of an ongoing project examining the nutrient export quantities from tributaries in the watershed, looking at long-term trends from 2003 to 2016. We often work in the lower elevations amongst the familiar (I hail from the coastal scrub of San Diego) sagebrush, which is currently bristling with lupine, arrow leaf balsamroot and an ever growing plethora of other wildflowers I’m only beginning to learn. Plant geeks, I’m a novice with the species so bear with me. At some of our sites, we enjoy the shade of cottonwood groves and the sweet smell of wild mint with the lovely sound of our (hopefully) burbling brook. In these idyllic settings, I’m learning how to examine stream systems such as appropriate sites to measure flow to identifying potential concerns such as elevated temperature, abnormal algal growth, or channel shifts. I am excited to gain a better understanding of the geomorphology of river systems.
I’m looking forward to our riparian surveys where we shall identify the surrounding plant community, as well as look more in depth at changes in the environment. I hope to learn not only the techniques and protocols of stream monitoring, but also riparian plant species as well as different stream classifications. I plan to learn more about the rest of the river community with our fish and wildlife biologists. With my college days behind me, I find myself itching for the chance to learn. Here’s to geeking out!
The pictures below are from my favorite site that is in the higher elevations where the greenery shocks my dry California eyes from the coniferous forest to aspens alight with vibrant new leaves. Currently our resource area also faces drought conditions, but as my mentor points out, the season can always change. Working on my rain dance!
BLM, Baker Field Office
will have more field pictures to come.
Check out 20 food-waste-saving ideas here—and learn more on World Environment Day at the Garden, June 6.
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I just moved from Gainesville, Florida 2 weeks ago to Twin Falls, Idaho to work at the BLM Shoshone field office. I studied political science and natural resource conservation with a minor in sustainability at the University of Florida. Moving away from my family and friends was bittersweet. I spent my entire life in Florida (save for a few pretty forgettable years in Alaska from ages 0-3). But since my first day of work with the BLM I felt very welcomed by the staff and excited to learn everything I can about this mysterious state.
During my first weekend in Twin, my roommate and fellow CBG-er Carla and I visited Shoshone Falls, Snake River, and Dierke Lake. I was surrounded by beaches, lakes, and even the world’s highest concentration of springs in Gainesville, but we definitely don’t have the jaw-dropping cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls we found here. I was deeply impressed by the geological and aquatic beauty of these areas just 15 minutes away from our apartment.
On our first day of work, our mentor Joanna introduced us to everyone in the office and then we headed out to do a training session for HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring. It was a great way to get to know everyone and get an idea of the ecology of the area. I learned a few plants and we even spotted a moose on the other side of the valley. My first impressions of the area were of how blue the sky was, the smell of sagebrush, how dry the air was, and… wait where’s the water? The allotment was called Poison Creek but I soon found out Idaho is in the midst of a 4-year drought. However, Magic Valley (the name of our region) was named after the ‘magic’ that is the construction of the series of dams and canals that profoundly improved irrigation and agriculture in the early 1900s in a previously desolate and uninhabitable area. The creation of giant reservoirs of water in a desert in the early 20th century would seem magical to me, too.
I heard about more unique and unexpected landmarks in Idaho such as Craters of the Moon National Preserve and Monument, which the BLM co-manages with the NPS. President Coolidge himself described the area as “unusual and weird” and the Apollo 14 astronauts trained there to prepare for the moon landing. And, I was excited about the prospect of getting some training in raptor and bat monitoring. That will have to wait until the bulk of our range land monitoring is done and bat season starts, but! we did get to visit and do some caving at Craters of the Moon and it was pretty awesome:
And of course, plant identification! Dendrology was one of my favorite (and one of the most difficult) classes I took as an undergrad. We had to learn 130 species of plants, lots of different varieties of pines and oaks, which made transitioning to sagebrush grasslands a little difficult. I knew a handful of southeastern grasses and switching over from identifying mostly trees and large shrubs to shriveled up remnants of forbs the size of a pinhead and a variety of grasses took some getting use to. Luckily we got plenty of practice in the field and jumped right into long-term trend monitoring using photo plots and line transects. Just two weeks in and we’ve learned to identify ~30 species. What was most surprising about the fieldwork was how much driving was spent getting to different BLM allotments. The prospect of getting very lost is daunting but the trade off for the scope of ecological diversity we get to experience is more than worth it. Also, the weather has been great so far. Highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 40s, that’s fall weather for Florida (or winter if you’re in south Florida)! It won’t last, but I could definitely get use to it. Also I have seen more cows here than I have ever seen in my life. It’s great.
Thanks for reading! Shorter and more botanically inclined posts to come.
BLM, Shoshone Field Office.
My name is Carla and I’m finishing up my second week here in Shoshone, Idaho working for the BLM. I just moved here from Chicago about two weeks ago, so I’m still trying to take in all the new people, places, and things around me. I love the city, but it has been very refreshing so far to be in a new environment. Considering I grew up in Michigan and did forestry research in college, one of the most noticeable changes for me was the lack of trees. However, I can’t complain that I get to see beautiful views of canyons, rivers, and snow-topped mountains every day on my way to work! (Although I could do without the sulfuric odors coming from some of the farms).
My first day of work at the Shoshone Field Office actually consisted of very little time in the office. I went out to one of the BLM field sites with several of the office employees for a training session–for all, not just the new interns–on their Habitat Assessment Framework project, which aims to study sagebrush habitats for the Greater sage grouse (a ground-nesting bird I was not familiar with until I got here). It was a great way to meet the people who work in the office and get a view of their group dynamics. It was impressive to see how much they knew about the local plants and ecosystems. There were times when I had no idea what they were talking about, but there were other moments when I did understand their references to ecological/GIS terminology and I knew I was in the right place.
I also couldn’t help but think about the importance of this work that the federal government is doing. I bet so many people have no idea that the BLM is doing such detailed research in the fields of botany, ecology, geology, and more! Perhaps it is more common out west, but since there are not as many BLM field offices in the Midwest/east, it felt pretty new to me.
The rest of the week consisted of touring the field office and BLM field sites. I got to visit the Craters of the Moon National Monument, which was full of lava rock, and surprisingly full of wildflower life. I got to explore dark and icy caves with one of my co-workers that knows the insider places to go (Way to go, John!).
I have also been working closely with a fellow CLM intern (& roommate), Diana, on long-term trend monitoring. This project consists of visiting specific locations and conducting plant surveys to see how the vegetation is changing over long periods of time. It feels good to get back into the habit of plant ID and spending the days outside while it’s not too hot yet.
It has been fun going off-roading and driving around the many scenic areas in this part of Idaho. It’s amazing how the landscape can change so drastically from flat range land to steep slopes, snowy mountains, and quick-drop-off canyons. I look forward to exploring more of Idaho and the surrounding states in my free time!
Until next time,
My internship is with US Fish and Wildlife in Klamath Falls Oregon, I have been here about a month. Klamath Falls is just east of the Cascade Mountain range and very close to the border of California. While in Klamath Falls, I will be working on a number of different projects, but right now I have been working primarily with endangered lake suckers. There are two main species in the Klamath Basin. (Klamath Falls is located in the northern portion of this watershed.) These are the Lost River Sucker and the Short Nose Sucker. Both of these species are listed as endangered by both the state of Oregon and the federal government. There are several agencies working together to rehabilitate the suckers, including US Geological Survey, the Klamath Tribes, the Bureau of Reclamation (they deal with water and irrigation) and of course US Fish and Wildlife. It has been fun getting to work with different government agencies and seeing how they coordinate their efforts and pull resources.
Both species of the listed sucker live primarily in lakes but spawn in the rivers…right now is spawning season! I have spent most of the past two or three weeks working on either trying to catch adult suckers or trying to catch larval suckers. We are attempting to catch adult suckers to get genetic samples. One of the main goals of the season is to establish a captive breeding for the suckers. Our mentor Josh wants to get an idea of the genetic diversity present in populations so that an appropriate level of genetic diversity can be represented in our captive breeding program. To get these samples, we would snorkel behind a group of fish and try and grab one. This was tiring and difficult, but so much fun!
Another task we have worked on the past couple of weeks is catching larvae in the streams that we will rear in net pens in Upper Klamath Lake. This involved some night work. We would drop a trammel net with a cod attached (basically a cylinder with really small mess) from a bridge and wait twenty minutes. Most nights we would repeat this procedure two or three times at two different sites. Mostly what you get in the sample are sucker larvae. They are less than a millimeter when we catch them. But you also get a variety of bugs, some of which are predators on the larvae and need to be removed. We also got some lamprey when we went out this week.
Associated with this sampling our mentor gave us a problem to solve. We needed to try and prevent algae from getting into the nets. The algae can make it difficult to find the larvae, as well as crush some of the larvae and kill them. To solve this, we zip tied snow fence to the front of the trammel net to try and strain out some of the algae. It worked really well and it was fun to think about. One part of field work that I find really enjoyable is the problem solving that goes on. It is a chance to stretch your brain and be creative. So far there have been several chances to be creative and I can’t wait for more opportunities.
In addition to the larvae that will be raised in the lake, there is a project going on to try and salvage fish that end up in the irrigation canals coming off of the lake. There are several small ponds set up on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and salvage fish will be placed in these ponds and reared for two years before being put back into the system. This is a brand new program that we get to help set up. One of the first problems that had to be solved here was that juvenile fish like structure. They like to hide in the roots of emergent plants and rocky substrate. These ponds are newly constructed so there is no structure to speak of. So we are going to create some structure mostly with PVC pipe, decorative rocks and fake aquarium plants. It is going to be fun! There are some exciting projects coming up in Klamath so stay tuned.
Howdy from the Rawlins BLM Field Office,
It has been another busy week here in Wyoming. After rain last week we had a lot to catch up on! As it is still early in the season, my SOS partner in crime and I are busy scouting for populations to make collections. Luckily for us that means seeing amazing parts of Wyoming, from The Ferris Mountains to Hay Reservoir to the Seminoe Mountains… we are getting to see it all. This state is truly gorgeous.
As varied as the scenery has been, the flora has been equally varied. Coming from the midwest, the plants we are looking to collect are totally new. Everyday is a learning opportunity. I’m surrounded by people whose skill level far exceeds my own and most days I come home with my brain swimming with new names, terms, and images to sort through.
Working with the BLM, we get the opportunity to work with people outside of the SOS program. In the four short weeks that we have been here we’ve met with people from all different departments in an effort to really learn the facets of the BLM. We’ve helped monitor oil rig sites, Sage Grouse Leks, reclamation sites, youth outreach programs, and we visited the future home of the world’s largest wind farm.
Like I said, busy.
So far everyone has been really supportive and helpful, which has made the transition of moving from the midwest to the west relatively easy. The most challenging part of our job so far has been navigating to the middle of nowhere. We are afforded maps and a GPS, but sometimes well roads pop up out of no where and you take a wrong turn. A lot of our time out scouting has been trial and error. Our supervisors are supportive of our learning and are very patient with us as we learn to navigate steep, muddy, sandy, or rocky roads.
As the summer draws on, in addition to my SOS duties, I am really looking forward to exploring our field office. Several of our coworkers have offered to take us to the best spots this place has to offer. This includes: rocking hunting, fossil hunting, petrified forests, fishing, camping, and of course hiking! I can’t wait!
Hello Fellow CLMers,
Our 2015 collecting season is already off to a good start! I have been here in the Medford, OR BLM office since early March, watching plants transition from their winter dormancy to spring blooms and in some cases already seeding. My collecting partner for the season, Ryan King, started on April 20th and we have already been out and about; covering a lot of diverse landscapes, elevations, and floristic habitats. Since this is my second year working on the Seeds of Success program, I have been getting Ryan up to speed on the protocols and techniques to be most efficient in the field. We have already shipped off 11 collections to the Bend Seed Extractory since the start of 2015, and we currently have 5 other species drying out in our seed shed getting ready to be shipped.
Since out district office has been participating in the Seeds of Success program for over 13 years, we have been focusing on making collections in areas that have not yet been targeted, or areas with rare and endemic plants. This has proven to be successful and quite fun. Over the past few weeks we have explored lots of amazing places in our own backyard that neither of us had ever seen. We hope to keep this momentum going as the season progresses.
Medford, OR BLM
This month I’ve been doing another kind of preparation for field season–I make identifying lichens fun (and easier)! In the tundra of interior Alaska, lichen mats are a huge source of winter forage for maintained reindeer herds and their wild brethren, caribou, Rangifer tarandus. So much so, that we’re worried about depletion, so we’re preparing to tally up the lichen mats and make sure they’re not being crunched on too hard. Included is the one of my favorites, “vagrant lichen” Masonhalea richarsonii, which dries out, curls up and wanders, rolling across the tundra until it becomes moistened and flattens out again. Now, however, spring is springing in AK, and the green things here are stealing the limelight once again.
A few weeks ago, in lieu of the Chicago Botanic Garden training I attended last year, I went to the National Native Seed Conference in Santa Fe. I’d never been to the southwest before, and took advantage of roaming the city when I wasn’t learning about native seed grow-out strategies and applications. The art-filled city, home to the “Game of Thrones” creator R. R. Martin and inspiration to artist Georgia O’Keefe, is filled with entire streets of galleries–paintings, pottery, and the like. The nearby mountains have names like “Sangre de Cristo” and “Atalaya”, and the surrounding country side is dotted with Pueblos and the exceptional Bandelier cliff-dwellings.
The Conference itself is in its third year, and was host to Thor Hanson on its opening night, author of the new book “The Triumph of Seeds”, which he told us was largely based on his young son’s absolute obsession with finding seeds. Taking us from his family’s countyside wind-race experiment with parachute-like seeds to his more academic excursions to study the genetics and distribution of rainforest giants, Hanson made us aware of just how “ingrained” in our life seeds are, pointing out that even our diction is molded by seeds. Even the origins of “culture,” a very people-centric word, is based on a farmer’s term for the maintenance and upbringing of seeds. Thus we all began the conference with a new respect for our subject.
The week-long conference had panels ranging from the Monarch Project, which is a large movement to provide better habitat for monarchs, especially by assessing milkweed populations, to the much-discussed fate of the sagebrush and sage grouse.
And of course, S.O.S. collecting was on everyone’s lips. The value of a conference like this is in collaborating with people who might be having similar problems–it seemed like so many offices came up with unique solutions to cleaning seed, optimizing production, dealing with local seed producers (or the lack there-of), and challenging climes, often with a small budget, or none at all. Some of my favorite talks were about finding ways to construct machines to very accurately dry, de-beard and clean seeds using only parts from the local department store.
And although it is a National conference, speakers and students popped up from the UK, Spain, Italy and beyond, working on developing policies to make native seed distribution feasible in their own countries. One project I was excited to hear about was the restoration of olive grove lanes in Spain; olive plantations take up a large proportion of land along the Mediterranean, and farmers keep the lanes between them bare for easy maintenance and pest/disease management. Thankfully, a list of compatible (short, disease and pest resistant) native plants is being compiled and sourced to fill in the spaces which make up so much of their landscape. And in the heartland, I was glad to hear of small private projects such as MPG Ranch, a large tract of philanthropically conserved land in Montana, that is now being closely monitored for restoration after being used extensively as range land.
I was happy to draw nearer to seedy people with the shared cause to solve native plant population issues, which are only becoming more urgent as climate change alters the landscape. Seeds may be everyone’s savior! If any of you end up repeating your internship next year as I have, I would highly suggest this conference next spring!
Over and out,