Whew! One week of training and two weeks of intense office work and I am beginning to forget what the inside of my tent looks like. For several weeks it seemed I spent more nights in that tent than in my own bed. Not that I am complaining of course- hiking on the dunes of Sand Mountain, counting rare butterflies, collecting native seeds in alpine meadows, and my favorite: watching epic desert lightning storms, these are all of the perks that come with fieldwork.
Here is a snapshot of what the past 3 weeks away from the field have looked like:
- Truckee River Education Event (TREE) at the Nature Conservancy’s McCarren Ranch property. This event has been occurring for several years and is intended to get low income, inner city, elementary school children not only learning about nature but interacting with it in a hands-on way. We had the opportunity to develop a new activity for the students that would get them thinking and talking about invasive species and the importance of biodiversity and native species. We decided given their ages a game would be the best way to engage the children. A lot of planning and research went in to creating this game and in the end it was deemed a success.
- California Native Plant Society (CNPS) Releve/Rapid Assessment: For two and a half days we spent our time around professionals from private and state agencies learning standardized methods of vegetation classification. The training was housed at U.C. Berkley’s Sagehen Field Station in Truckee, CA. The beautiful lodge pole pine forest was a nice contrast from the harsh desert landscape we have spent so much of our summer surrounded by. This training was an excellent chance to network with professional scientists from a variety of disciplines. It was reassuring to hear that despite talk of a shrinking job market- there is job creation and stability in the private sector.
- Assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the listing of a rare/endangered species: This project has definitely been a labor of love. Being the first listing for our office in recent history, the amount and types of data requested have changed several times. Primarily we have been tasked with compiling spatial data in the context of natural and anthropogenic threats, in particular, development, mining, livestock grazing, and fire. This project has required organization and an adaptive attitude. It has been satisfying to pull together years of spatial data to tell the story of the threats posed to this species. If all goes as planned we will ship our data out this afternoon and eventually have a federally protected species!
It’s hard to believe 5 months have already passed by. If you had asked me one year ago where I would be now, I probably would not have said somewhere skirting the Sierra Nevada, with Lake Tahoe for a weekend playground.
Working for the BLM has been a lesson in patience, planning and back-up planning. Having been here for several months, I feel like I am finally getting my feet under me. I don’t think I have ever appreciated the value of over preparation, until this position. The mantra: plan on plans changing. A trip to the field means plan for anything: GPS units failing, radios dying, people getting lost, extreme heat followed by extreme cold, or you may get reassigned to a new project entirely. This type of uncertainty requires flexibility. Being flexible means being versatile and with the vast amounts of land our district office oversees being able to change plans quickly means accomplishing more. For instance, several weeks ago we drove to an HAF, sage grouse habitat site that was roughly 3 hours away. After arriving at the site and spending a few hours looking for the pre-established transect plot we had found nothing. At that point the day could have felt like a failure. Luckily we were aware of a rare plant population in the area that required a distribution survey. Our team was able to quickly transition from one task to another without wasting our trip to such a remote site. This situation also underscores the value of being familiar with the land uses and interests of the office you work in. Often times the surveys we conduct apply to multiple disciplines in our office and knowing this allows you to plan well for appropriate data collection and management.
Every few weeks our field office will have a big meeting that brings together all the specialists, staff, and field managers. Most recently our gatherings have revolved around data calls, that is, when the data collected by specialists, technicians, contractors etc. gets turned in so decisions can be made. These decisions can vary from grazing permit renewals, to redeveloping legislation at the federal level.
During a data call it can be easy to get overwhelmed with the years of unprocessed field data to wade through, particularly when given only a few days to assemble the information. At times the sheer volume of information can feel insurmountable. This past week, the importance of these data calls were underlined at our field office meeting where we watched a congressional hearing that, among other things, highlighted data supplied by our office.
If you’ve ever held a position in which you were collecting/processing data for projects that were developed before you and will carry on after you, you know that occasional feeling of doubt where you question your place in the process. Watching the hearing proceed, calling on our facts, it was a reminder that good data relies on good collection and management methods. It was also a reminder that while at times we can feel swept up in the transience of seasonal positions, we as the collectors and processors are integral to the system.
I am now 2 months into my CLM internship and have already been given several opportunities to expand my resume and skill set. Last week for instance, our 6 person team traveled to Boise, ID to participate in the BLM Pesticide Applicators Certification Program. Having passed the general exam and 4 category exams I am now certified to apply both general and restricted use pesticides on BLM lands in a variety of habitat types.
Yesterday our team was able to join a NCC crew to help with their tree planting effort at Indian Creek Campground. It was an excellent opportunity to get out of the office and meet another group of conservation oriented individuals.