These will be my last few weeks as a CLM intern in Lakeview, Oregon, and I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given through the CLM program.
Two years ago, the CLM internship program brought me from the chaos of Manhattan to the peaceful land of big sky in the northern great basin, to work in a BLM resource area the size of New Hampshire with the population 1/1000th of New York City. And I have loved every second of it. From my first cattle drive, and the first time I learned to identify a bunchgrass, I’ve been enamored with the high desert and with the public land management system in these wide open spaces. Being a CLM intern has widened both my interest in conservation and my career options in this field, and has given me a new home and a new sense of place in the Western United States.
From high desert paradise,
Now that it’s March, just about the time I’m used to winter being completely over, the snow and cold have finally arrived to southeast Oregon. Although my warm-weather-loving sensibilites might not be happy about this right now, all those poor little thirsty plants definitely will be. Last season was a great one for seed collection because of the awesome precipitation levels last winter/spring. And as I write, my mentor is finishing the process of hiring the upcoming season’s interns, and I hope for them that we get a little more of this snowwy stuff so they can experience the brief but amazing emerald color of the desert in May.
I have only two weeks left here, and as much as I’m ready to move forward to a new position and learn some new skills (that involve tractors, chainsaws, blowtorches, and academic research!), I love it here (!), even while I sit on the computer all day and work with data, and will miss it.
Thank you, Lakeview! for being my first home in my new life in Oregon. You’re awesome.
From the tallest town in Oregon,
As I get ready to head to the SRM (Society of Range Management) Annual meeting in Spokane, WA this weekend, I’m starting to get really excited about meeting other people as nerdy as I am about this kind of stuff.
I’m a little obsessed with public land management and agriculture, especially after working with the BLM in cowboy country for 8 months. My family doesn’t get it, my friends from home in NYC don’t get it. Why would you want to spend your time in the middle of nowhere… and think about cows??
I’m not sure. But I love it. And I admit, I’m not in love with just cows. I’m also in love with the awesome grass species they eat and the awesome volcanic geological history they walk on, and the awesome wildlife they share the wide open spaces with. And, they’re also just delicious.
When I was growing up in New York, I used to think that cattle ranching in the West was a bad thing, that it was taking something irreplaceable from the ecosystems and produces a net negative effect on the landscape. But, it turns out that no one in NY knows anything about cattle, or ranching, or ecosystems in the Great Basin! Whoops. I’ve been so impressed by the ambitious goals of sustainability, both environmental and economic, that the BLM is committed to, and I quickly learned that (much to my disbelief as a life-long horse-lover) the beautiful wild horses romanticized in my childhood and Mid-Atlantic U.S. culture, actually cause dramatically larger ecological problems than cows. Cows are well-managed and the management is dynamic and informed by ecological theory and monitoring. The active management of horses on the other hand, because of little high school NY activists like me 10 years ago (!), is incredibly restricted due to public disapproval. Because they’re cute.
Anyway, I am ridiculously excited to begin my career in this field and to stay in Oregon and to eat lots of cows and to love these amazing landscapes. I will start working with the Agricultural Research Service as a Technician for plant community ecology research this summer, and the SRM meeting will sort of confirm for me that this is actually happening.
From the tallest town in Oregon,
Lisa at the Lakeview BLM
As the days now get longer (happy!), the temperature only gets colder (sad). But the work at the Lakeview BLM is still fulfilling and wonderful, For the next month and a half I will be working on mapping datasets from the ongoing invasive species management, and organizing the information for all of the Special Status Species (plants). I also decided to go to the Society for Range Management annual meeting in Spokane, WA which is pretty exciting. Even though it’s a hike to get up there, I’m really looking forward to learning in more detail about the research going on in the Great Basin and beyond in the field. I never knew that I could love living and working in the desert as much as I do (which is a lot!) and I’m excited to hopefully be working in this area in the future.
A highlight from the last week of fieldwork: For most of the field season, my internship partner and I were like a curse to everyone we worked with who told us they normally see wildlife every time they go out in the field. We rarely saw any. Maybe it’s that wildlife tend to stay away when they see crazy New Yorkers happy and awestruck at every single thing (AKA ..me), but it was strange. SO, on the very last day of fieldwork for 2011, a huge herd of Bighorn Sheep crossed the road right in front of me, but instead of climbing up the hill, they just hung out right next to my truck for the next 20 minutes. The animals finally decided they liked me.
Bighorns on Abert Rim
Transformation in the desert: sagebrush sheds its seed, as I do the last seed collections of the year in the biting dry wind of the southeast Oregon winter. No significant snow yet, perfect for my final excursions around the resource area spent searching and reflecting. Passing along all of the places I visited for the first time this field season and trying to remember how it used to be warm and even hot. It’s pretty quiet now, and most plants are pretty much hibernating. I’m sure I’ll feel like hibernating too once it starts to snow and gets below zero. But for now I’ll just coast along the empty highways with plant press handy and watch the sun reach all of the beautiful places.
When I moved to Oregon in May, after spending 23 years on the East Coast, I had no idea what to expect. I never even fathomed the possibility of loving it so much that I would never want to return home. I am unabashedly in love with Oregon and the West Coast. So this post is going to cover all of the things that I accomplished and learned about myself out here that were not work related. 1) I’m almost a cowgirl: I’ve always had a moderate obsession with equestrian things, but where I grew up in New York riding is an expensive and sort of fancy activity. So the prospect of hanging out with horses never really materialized until I got here to Eastern Oregon, where horses probably rival the number of people, and riding is much more casual (and affordable). So I’ve fallen in love with horses all over again in a new and much more fitting context for me. 2) On a whim, I decided to run a 10k (all uphill!) up Steens Mt., one of the highest peaks in Eastern Oregon. I got lost and got a speeding ticket along the way, but it was well worth it to feel on top of the world, looking down on hundreds of miles of deserts and lakes… and it is now one of my favorite places on Earth now because of the perspective it gave me. 3) Working four 10 hr. days and thus having 3 day weekends really opened our lives up to other places in Oregon, Washington and California. And becoming so accustomed to driving long distances on the beautiful roads out here (where highways are only two lanes and wind along through beautiful and remote places! Unheard of in the East), we got to Seattle, Portland, the Willamette Valley with berries coming out of its ears, Crater Lake National Park multiple times (Because 3 hours away is now equivalent to what 30 minutes used to feel like for me), the California Redwoods, and the Pacific ocean. So peaceful, even the cities are calmer, more relaxed, and much greener. 4) Quiet: After living in New York City where silence doesn’t exist, I am still amazed every night when I step outside my house and can so easily enjoy the stillness of real quiet, and it makes me happy. Conclusion: I never want to leave the Northwest.
One of the most remote areas we work in, called Beatty’s Butte, is about 100 miles Northeast of our office, and almost completely outside of our county. Next to this 6800 ft. peak lie a few surrounding buttes and hills, calmly rolling and looking like green-grey velvet in the dry sun. One of these, aptly named Mahogany Butte, is just like the others except for certain things that live on the very top. As we climbed the steep slope, we entered an old-growth Mountain Mahogany forest. There we found a rare combination of shade and abundant seeds for collection. The seeds were itchy and beautiful. The tiny hairs on the long, wind-adapted spirals irritated our wimpy human skin. The view was 360 degrees of amazing. The ecology of Mountain Mahogany is mysterious, and why it colonizes certain tiny sections of the landscape is debated. As a general rule, they grow in the few high-ish elevation spots where moisture is found, but on the very top of this steep butte it seemed unlikely that this was the characteristic defining their recruitment. Just one of many undefined desert mysteries, but maybe my favorite.
Lisa, Lakeview District BLM
Itchy, beautiful, and amazingly engineered
Not this particular canyon, but another one of my favorite hikes and favorite views. The tiny white dot on the right is our vehicle
For this post I’m just going to outline one of my favorite days at work so far this summer. We have been past our seed collection quota for a while, so our recent initiative has been to continue periodic censuses for sensitive plant species. Today, we planned on surveying a 2-mile long canyon that seemed fairly straightforward.The plants we were looking for should be clear on the rim of the canyon, growing on the uppermost rock outcrops. So we hiked up the first ridge. Took about an hour. Onward, towards the target rock outcrops.They were slanted almost, and all along the inner slope of the canyon. Count plants, try not to slip on the “skree”, feel like a mountain goat, get rattled at by a rattlesnake, run away. We continued to climb and hike up and down the slope, counting thousands of individuals, for another few hours until we finally reached our end point – for the first side of the canyon. The sun had begun to emerge from the clouds, high in the sky, the humidity dropped, we slid skillfully to the bottom of the canyon. Found peace and wild mint in the strip of flat ground until climbing up the south slope. This has been one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever been on. Once we get to the top, I think, easy stuff, beeline for the mouth of the canyon, toward the truck, toward the water. We follow the ridge for a while, see a rattlesnake skin, start to talk about watermelon and other high-water-content fruits while we become drier and drier. Walk another two miles through sagebrush and spiny shrubs. Rationing water, seems like we will never get to the beginning. We see the truck, still another mile down the ridge at the mouth, trying not to slide down the loose gravel and staying on deer and cattle pathways. We’re beat once we finally arrive back to our beloved vehicle. Five hours of intense and difficult hiking, multiple dangerous situations (I’m a little dramatic when it comes to snakes), a field notebook filled with data, scraped hands and knees. For some reason, even though at first I was fearing for my life, I began to appreciate this day more and more as I sat in the truck sore and thirsty and restful, traveling back to the office. I am in love with the fact that out here the abilities of navigation, driving to remote locations, endurance hiking in the desert in places where people haven’t been perhaps in several years on volcanic rocks that really do not facilitate hiking, these are the essential and expected activities of a botanist and that all of this work and struggle is necessary for the completion of a simple census.
Lakeview, OR BLM
Now at the end of July, the desert moves from lush green to brown and beige, and I’ve been drinking more water every day than I ever have before. Water never tasted so good until I moved here. The dry heat is really what challenges me, but I am slowly seeing myself be able to handle longer days working outside with no problem, and even with pleasure. Seed collecting is somehow really therapeutic and satisfying, and gives me plenty of time to think about how great this job is and to find elk droppings and see badgers and explore the strange geology of the area. My love for the great basin over the past month or so has deepened tremendously. In a place that, at first, seems so simple and so homogenous, new things keep popping up at us all the time. First of all, this is embarrassing, but I did not know there were badgers in the western united states! Secondly, I had always just thought of grasses as these simple undifferentiated organisms that didn’t have as much personality as other plants. Now, the ones that we see and collect are becoming a whole new world to me, full of grasses that are as cute as bunnies and as beautiful as the redwoods. I am learning so much every day and finally beginning to feel at home in Lake County, OR. Also, time is moving much too fast. Slow down, summer!
Big Rock in the Middle of Nowhere
Hello from the land of sunshine, south-central Oregon. I had never been anywhere west of Wisconsin before coming to work at the BLM in Lakeview, so this month has been quite an adjustment. For the first few weeks, my sense of place and knowledge of botany was pretty confused. The high desert of Oregon isn’t a place that people in New York hear a lot about. Pretty much everyone who I told about my plans to move to Oregon talked about how gross and wet and rainy and green and beautiful it would be. And although I assured them otherwise, I still didn’t know what kind of things to expect. Once I got here, I only knew one or two plants, and marveled at the lack of trees and at the amazing huge wide spaces you have to travel through at least an hour in your truck to get anywhere. I’ve never seen so many livestock in my life. Or so many eagles. Being from New York, I have a lot of wildlife bragging points out here whenever I call someone from home. I remember the first week I was here I made a list of the animals I had seen already and it made everyone jealous… bald eagles, golden eagles, marsh hawks, sandhill cranes, 10 different kinds of waterfowl, qails, more quails, antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, not to mention the dozens of less charismatic fauna like all of the burrowing rodents and a bull snake that got sassy with us one day. It’s sort of unbelievable, considering all my life seeing an eagle was something really rare. Also I quickly realized that most of our field sites would have almost no shade, but first I got some nasty sunburn. Only 2 weeks earlier, on Memorial Day, It snowed about 5 inches, and when the other intern, Diane, and I went to go hiking at Crater Lake National Park one weekend, it was under 12 feet of snow. The high desert weather was one of the hardest things to get used to.
Crater Lake with 12 feet of snow! No Hiking for us...
Working here is pretty illuminating though and I’m really enjoying it. The concept of localized ecosystem management is something I had hoped to understand better here because I came directly from a very theoretical ecology academic program. Everyone here at the BLM office has plenty to say about it, so that part is working out just fine, and I’m learning a lot about what it’s like to be in the middle of the social/cultural/economic playing field when it comes to environmental issues on public land.
Things I have learned here that I never would’ve thought would be so important to the career of an ecologist: riding an ATV, driving a 4-wheel drive truck up a mountain, changing that truck’s tire, learning to navigate using incomplete maps with roads that don’t exist.
Hanging out at 6,000 feet - Black Cap Butte overlooking Lakeview