As the internship comes to a close, I’ve looked back and realized that it has been made up of a number first time experiences. It has allowed me to be a part of large projects with the Bureau of Land Management and given me insight into the conservation world out here in the western U.S. Being exposed to a completely new set of flora, and having to learn them for the job, is just one of many new skills that I have able to gain from my time here. New ways of studying trends in habitat monitoring and different factors to consider when making recomendations for the land out here are just a few areas in which I have grown professionally. But the thing that stands out the most to me, is just how many things I was able to see and experience for the first time. This summer has allowed me to see my first canyons, lava fields, lava tubes, extinct volcanoes and cave systems. This was all because of places that I worked. I saw my first, rattlesnake and others, lizards, elk, mule deer and the list continues when it comes to the animal life in southern Idaho. It was my first time in a desert ecosystem as a whole, so everything it had to offer was completely new to me. So you can about imagine that the list of first itme experiences goes on and on. All of these experiences I take back with me as rewarding memories and feel that they have given me a new skill set and a different way to look at problems that I will be able to transfer to countless other areas of life. The only thing that I wished that would’ve happened that didn’t, was an extension. The time spent here was defiitely well spent, and like most good things, went to quickly. Anybody who has the chance to take this type of opportunity should not hesitate. No matter where the assignment is, I am confident in saying that you would be surprised as to what you will learn, see, and experience.
Finishing a project never means you’re done with anything. It only means that you now have time to start something new. And for me, this is always a welcomed treat. This allows for a ever varying array of tasks and brings you to new locations. After finishing the last trend plot the other day we immediately headed of in search of Sagegrouse leks. This brought me to many locations that you would expect to be a lekking site but also brought me out to another that I still question. After parking the truck, my partner headed out approximately 0.35 miles out into the middle of a lava flow in the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Although the spot was a pretty wild one, surrounded by rock boiled up from the center of the earth, with deep crevices strewn about, holes down into the earth, and just a seemingly endless sea of lava, I found it humorous thinking of a lone sagegrouse in the midst of this extreme environment, dancing and strutting his stuff for the delight of the ladies, or more likely, lady, if any female Sagegrouse would be as crazy as this male to think this spot the best place to showcase his male prowess. It also made me think, for just a moment, if not just a passing thought, that if this was an actual lek, this Sagegrouse may just be the smartest of all the Sagegrouse. Picking a spot, where undoubtedly he would have no competition. But more often than not my mind wanders back to the picture of the lone male, dancing his heart out in an unforgiving landscape to an audience of none. But his will never waivers, and year after year, he will return to perform his show, knowing that from somewhere, there is always somebody watching.
Even when it’s over 90 degrees out, your burning up, and all you wish for is shade in a country where the tallest object within site is yourself. You look back on the day, or weeks possibly, and take notice of all the things you saw while spending hours upon hours in the field. In areas that people haven’t set foot in, in some instances, for some time. It’s only after these grueling tasks are completed that you get a sense of how lucky you are. And if you’re even luckier, you didn’t forget your camera and have the pictures to prove it.
For the past month, many of us in the Shoshone, ID field office have been busy and working hard to do Sage Grouse Habitat Assessments. Yesterday, my partner and I finished the last one. This inventory and analysis project has been not only a fantastic learning experience in the technical aspect of the project, but has given me the opportunity to work in numerous areas that probably few people get to see up close. Through all of this, I have been on mountain ridges overlooking huge lava flows that blanket the valley below to right down in the lava itself. Working in such a vast area and in so many different little ecotypes has allowed me to see such a wide variety of plant life. I am truly amazed at the amount of diversity that the high plains deserts have to offer. I came from a place in Minnesota that was on the border of the tall grass prairie and the deciduous forests. The plant life there is truly remarkable. Coming to the desert I had the mindset that there was not going to be any diversity in the plant life, if any forbes at all. I had a picture of sagebrush and dry earth blanketing the landscape, with a few stragglers clinging on to life in the slim hope of rain. To my joyful surprise, there is an abundance of forb diversity and an entire new set of flora for me to learn and experience. The desert has truly shown me some of the most stunning flowers that I have seen to date. I look forward to the coming months, with new projects to do, new country to see and new wonders to be exposed to. The summer just gets better and better.
Over the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to have been asked to go out early in the mornings and check on the status of different Sage-grouse Lek’s. The first couple of trips out were a little disappointing, not seeing any birds. But this most recent excursion definitely made up for the past ones. My partner and I left at about 5:30am to go and check 6 different Lek’s. The first one was an awesome experience. We counted 20 males and 1 female at this Lek. The males were in full display, strutting around and doing their best to gain the female’s attention; while also asserting their dominance to the other males, to gain the best spot to dance. We left the lek and moved onto a couple others, which had no birds, but then the last one of the morning gave us the same turnout and show as the first. A fantastic experience and definitely worth the early morning hours.
I continue to spend many days in Craters of the Moon National Monument, helping out with range improvement projects. It has allowed me a number of opportunities to see many different types of terrain, ecosystems and the vast landscape that this area has to offer. Spending most days, or at least part of the days, in the field, I have been able to see the succession of flowering plants bloom throughout the desert landscape and even across vast lava fields. Being able to witness the progression of which plants are flowering when and where has become one of the most valuable tools in the aid of identification that I have acquired in this new ecosystem.
As time goes on during this internship I only see countless opportunities that are going to present themselves to me, and look forward to the vast new skill set that they will provide. Time has shown already that you just never know what is going to come next, but if the past is any indicator to the future, there are only good things to come.
I started in the Shoshone, ID field office this week and already it sounds like I am going to have plenty of work to do, and even more fantastic opportunities to look forward to in the coming months. It sounds like there will be a wide range of projects to work on and the opportunity to hone my plant ID skills and overall field techniques immensely. So far I have nothing but good things to say about my supervisor and the other people that I have the opportunity to work with. Looking forward to a great summer and the adventures to come.