My last day of work in Lakeview, Oregon has arrived, or rather snuck up on me. Between work and exploring the area on the weekends with fellow interns, this field season has flown by!
I was fortunate to have been able to participate in a diverse array of assignments. Through my time spent surveying for federally listed species and seed collecting, I have learned much about local plants and their communities. I assisted with post-fire monitoring and learned how different treatments work or fail depending on the situation. I was also able to help with rangeland monitoring plots. And even though I loved my time spent in the field, one of the most important skills that I honed this season was in the office: GIS data management. The various projects that I worked on have helped me to recognize what I want to do in the long term, both educationally and in my career, which I find to be just as valuable as the field-related skills that I have acquired or improved upon this season.
Of all the different aspects of this internship, I will miss the land and the people the most. This area is gorgeous, and I got to explore so many hidden spots that I would probably never have gone to otherwise. I was also lucky to have ended up where seven other interns were also posted. This meant that a diverse group of awesome, smart women (yes, all women) from around the country were here to go camping, hiking, to music festivals, and have barbeques with. Not only were they fun to hang out with, but also to work with. Fieldwork often requires people to work closely for long hours at a time, in the middle of nowhere. It felt like our crews worked well together and made the assignments more of an adventure than a task.
While I am excited to move on to future plans, I feel some sadness for moving on from this endeavor. I hope to visit this area again in the future and to keep in touch with the many people I have gotten to know in the past six months. The CLM internship has been a rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone considering a career in environmental sciences or natural resource management.
Time is passing quickly this field season in Lakeview. October is upon us, meaning that autumn is officially here and that many of our field botany projects are winding down. It is interesting being in the high desert at this time of year for me. The past several years I have lived in an area with many deciduous trees, making fall a spectacular transition of color. In the desert, the season appears in more subtle ways: sagebrush in flower, quaking aspen turning from verdant to yellow, and the temperature at night dropping down to almost freezing. While visually, the change in season here contains more shades of brown than red and orange, the feeling of autumn is pervasive.
In the field, we have returned to working on special status species surveys that can still be completed at this time of year. While we don’t have the same bright flower colors to see from afar, surveying and identifying is still possible. It feels good to be able to spend so much time outside right now, hiking and taking in the seasonal changes.
As my internship and summer have progressed here in Lakeview, OR, our work has evolved from special status species surveying to post- fire vegetation monitoring and seed collecting. While both types of recent projects have been interesting to work on, I especially enjoyed fire plot monitoring. The plots we visited varied (sometimes dramatically so) between each other, both pre-burn and post-burn. We went to sites in lava fields and atop grassy and shrubby ridges and saw invasives dominate some plots and natives flourish in others. Monitoring sometimes involved looking at 100 nested plots around a 100 meter transect, but I like how the repetitive nature of the plots forced me to learn some of our grasses better. In such a dry year, we have had to find somewhat alternative characteristics to confirm identification: the way the leaves feel between our fingers (indicating hairs present or not), what the skeleton of an inflorescence looks like post-seed dispersal, or how grasses species compared to each other in a given area. All of this repetitive thinking and comparing of grass field characteristics made me better understand and appreciate the nuances of our grasses.
Seed collecting has dominated our time in recent weeks, in particular the collecting of Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intercedens (curl-leaf mountain mahogany). Our mentor told us to collect 50lbs of this seed for both Seeds of Success and future fire rehabilitation work in Lakeview. Yes, 50 pounds of seed! For those not familiar with this seed, the best comparison I can think of is a golden feather that sheds tiny fiberglass-like hairs. It is quite a beautiful seed, with many forming curly-cues that twist out Dr. Seuss-style from the branches. While the best trees to collect from had many seeds in easy-to-grab clumps, grabbing these clumps often caused clouds of the tiny gold hairs to be released and float onto our faces and bodies. Itchiness would ensue wherever skin was exposed and/or clothing was rubbing against our bodies. The hot weather, smoky air (from a nearby wildfire), and sometimes windy days, contributed to a not-so-pleasant environment to work in. I think that our crew became adept at patience and meditation, given the amount of time we had to simply think while performing the rote task at hand. In addition to integrating itself into my clothes and skin, the seed also integrated itself into my consciousness, and I began seeing it behind closed eyes and in my dreams. Two weeks of collecting resulted in tens of thousands of seeds but probably less than 10lbs in weight. Our mentor told us at this point that he had been facetious when declaring our 50lb goal. While I won’t miss the itchiness of the mountain mahogany seed, I will miss seeing the morning sun causing the golden feathery trees to seemingly glow.
Curl-leaf mountain mahogany seeds.
One aspect of my internship that I’ve grown to appreciate most is exploring areas where I might not have considered hiking on my free time. Frequently our work involves hiking not only off-trail, but up rugged, steep terrain that doesn’t always look particularly appealing from the bottom.
A few weeks ago, another intern and I surveyed the area around Table Rock for a listed species of Cymopteris. This plant prefers the jagged and rough habitat of basalt rocks. After bushwhacking through sage brush to the base of a steep basaltic cliff, similar to much of what encircles the northern and eastern sides of Table Rock, we found the edge of a previous survey site. Looking up, we could see a few plants growing out of the cliff face towering over us, and so began our ascent to count and map plants. This population ended up spreading out quite a bit over surrounding rocks and boulders, which meant that we were able to spend a couple of days climbing, carefully balancing, and peering over cliff sides to ensure an accurate count. Oftentimes, I found myself thinking of mountain goats or bighorn sheep naturally maneuvering along the craggy rocks while I awkwardly edged along a boulder.
More recent assignments have brought us to spaces further east that very few people drive to, let alone hike around. Cows and antelope seem to be the dominate residents. In surveying for a few different listed species, we have climbed steep pumice hills and edged along the incline as we count plants. Slippery silt and loose rocks can make hiking in these micro habitats difficult, but we are also able to see plants unique to these areas that I would not have seen from afar. Because of the long drive to some of these locations, we were also able to camp in the area for the week. We watched a gorgeous sunset while cooking dinner on the summer solstice.
Spending time in places that people don’t go to a lot, and that I probably wouldn’t pick as my first choice for a hike, makes those places seem more adventurous and special.
The landscape around Lakeview, Oregon is full of contrasts. Volcanic rims tower over rolling pastures and grazing cows. Electric green and orange lichens graffiti gray and brown cliffs. Golden eagles perch on telephone poles that dot the sides of the highway. It is a landscape that can seem at once both innocuous and magnificent.
My internship with the BLM here has allowed me to explore some of this amazing landscape. Fellow botany interns and I have spent much of our time thus far working on a botany clearance. This entails surveying a parcel of land for listed plant species, creating an overall plant species list of the area, and flagging large populations of invasive species. This particular parcel is about 1,000 acres, sliced into three sections by a diverging creek. We have hiked through (and sometimes over) a majority of it at this point, which varies from moss-encrusted soil to boulder piles spilling into the creeks. Grassy slopes lead to cliff walls that tower above the creeks. Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) fill out the parcel, where juniper trees have not encroached yet. We feel fortunate to be able to spend so much time on this diverse piece of land.
While we have not found any listed species at this point, we have found flowers hiding among the sagebrush and junipers, surprising us with their vivid color among the washed out greens and browns of their surroundings. The bright white and red of the bitter root (Lewisia rediviva), mottled purple and green of the purple fritillary (Fritillaria atropurpurea), and deep purple of Anderson’s larkspur (Delphinium andersonii) are a few of my favorites to find. Their beauty enhances the high desert backdrops that they grow against. It often feels like we have stumbled upon an open flower at just the right moment, as if we are the lucky audience for their performance of color in this fleeting spring.