Today is my last day working from the Bishop Field Office. The plan was to spend one more beautiful day taking in the scenery of the place I now proudly call home, the Eastern Sierra, surveying for pygmy rabbits in the Bodie Hills. However, Bishop awoke today to the blessed sound of rain hitting its thirsty desert dirt. So here I am on the dry side of the window reminiscing over the many amazing field days I have had out there over the past two years.
The Bodie Hills are a place that I have grown to know at an intimate level, the time and space we have shared are incomparable. A vast open landscape, that at first glance appears to be a monotonous sea of sage, is truly an irreplaceable expanse harboring 14 unique plant communities, ancient cinder cones, gently rolling hills, meadows, aspen stands, hidden conifer groves, and much more. These diverse communities support an important collection of fauna including the iconic greater sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, and a variety of endemic rare plants. Perhaps one of the greatest features of Bodie is its removal from the beaten path and because of this I found great value in the hours spent seed collecting while day dreaming. The opportunity to carry on a continuous thought for extended periods is something that a lot of people infrequently have the luxury of doing. Never doubt its value.
As the rain outside continues to steadily fall, my mind is being flooded with feelings of satisfaction from knowing the strength my surroundings have on shaping my attitude. True happiness comes from within, but the things that bring it out are what matter. People and places matter, conservation land management matters, and the opportunity to be a steward of the land is rewarding far beyond our day to day feelings. So the next time you are filling your government vehicle with gallons upon gallons of gasoline and the feelings of being a conservationist are fleeting, remember that your efforts are for everyone. We cannot predict when the (proverbial) sun will shine, but when it does we CAN make sure to embrace it. Edward Abbey sums it up better than I can: “it is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.”
Beyond the places I get to spend my work time, I also must extend great appreciation to everyone in the Bishop Field Office They are a strong community that has made me feel both welcome and valued. Thanks to them and those at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
I am happy to be back on routine. It has been a whirlwind of a month for me, but things are finally settling down and normalizing. After taking a three week hiatus to work as a summer camp instructor, I spent a week in Carson City for Ecological Site Description training, followed by a long weekend of travel to West Virginia for a family reunion. Unfortunately seeds did not wait around to be collected and this month is going to require a solid push to reach our target number of collections. Being back on the routine that I have come to know is certainly going to help that effort, as it will allow me to focus on work rather than a slew of other unrelated chores. Something as simple a finally fixing my bike, and riding to work, not driving, has really helped get me back into the swing of things with the Bishop BLM office. After a painfully slow start to seed collecting back in the spring, things have surprisingly picked up, perhaps due to the decent amount of summer rain the eastern sierra has received this year. Summer camp was an awesome experience that took a ton of energy and I truly enjoyed, but there is something so energizing about wandering the sage brush steepe gathering and scouting for seeds. Just today, mid collection, I had the joy of being right in the middle of a heavy hail storm, which led to beautiful skies and nice cool temperatures. Good to back out in the field experiencing and conserving the wonders of nature.
Taking Root is the title of a documentary telling the compelling story of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. A seemingly innocuous idea, Maathai discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change. Planting trees for fuel, shade, and food is not exactly something that anyone would envision as the first step toward winning such a prestigious award, but as the trees grew, a spirit of hope and confidence also grew in ordinary citizens. Now over twenty years and thirty-five million trees later, the physical and social landscape of Kenya has completely changed.
Many children have few opportunities to break away from their screen oriented lives and get outside to participate in positive outdoor activities and experience nature in a fun way. Over the past school year I have had the chance to provide such opportunities once a month for a local class of third graders through a program known as Taking Root. With the objective of garnishing meaningful interactions between children and the open spaces around them; I was able to share and model my enthusiasm about nature and caring for the environment with 26 youngsters. Unlike so many school activities, lessons in this program were not standard driven; the idea was never to get children to understand the big ecologic picture, but to teach attitudes of curiosity, responsibility, and care for the environment. This was done through the intimate study of individual landscape features: plants, bugs, birds, water, etc. All within a preserved open space just beyond the back fence of the playground. Rather than focusing on proper identification, activities were based on observation and formation of meaningful memories; cattails became known as hotdog plants and mountain chickadee are “cheese-bur-ger” birds.
School and life in general, for a third grader is exceptionally riddled with rules. Just as it is for adults, nature provides the chance for escape and undistracted enjoyment of the moment. It’s okay to run, yell, and throw rocks, if you’re not hoping to see wildlife that is. Environmental education is an opportunity to show kids that school is not a form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world. Similarly to the way Wangari Maathai helped progress a nation using the environment as a tool toward empowerment; our interactions with Mother Nature and her children are the beginnings of potential preservation and conservation. Can we teach children to look at a flower and see all the things it represents: beauty, the health of an ecosystem, and beyond? Can we test for that? Or should we simply appreciate a child’s infatuation with something beautiful and leave the rest up to them?
2015 has brought me back to the Bishop Field Office, and I am grateful for the opportunity to return. The start of last season brought excitement with everything, as all was new. This season my pleasure has come with the chance to return to familiar places, notice changes, evaluate projects, and explore further. Unfortunately, when it comes to noticing changes, all the focus revolves around drought, but I don’t want to get hung up on what I can’t control.
Last year my techniques for seed scouting and collection progressed as the season went along. I began to cover more ground, spend more time out of the car and out of the office; often doing multiple collections at once. After two weeks of work it is clear that collecting will be much more difficult in the Mojave and Great Basin this season, and thus I am even more thankful to have a framework of skills and local knowledge. Locations that I listed last year as potential collection sites are now barren. For me this is motivation to get out there and work harder.
To return to my desk and pick up where I left off, is a positive feeling that is difficult to describe. Let’s just say it feels a lot better to walk in on day one and know exactly what I need to be doing, and who everyone is; as opposed to clicking through those not so invigorating DOI Learn courses with a new and busy environment bustling behind me and my headphones. At the beginning of last season I had an accomplished sense of progression from my previous job, and at the end of that season I was proud of what I learned and had experienced through the CLM program. Can’t wait to see how far I go this time around.
I have now finished my work as a Conservation Land Management intern for the BLM Bishop Field Office. In the 2014 field season I successfully completed the target amount of 15 seed collections. This was probably my favorite task for the season. I was given the independence to scout over an approximately 750,000 acre area and make my own decisions on what to collect and when. This project helped me to improve my individual organization of field notes, data, photographs, and voucher specimens. It was also perhaps the most official work I have been a part of; this gave me a great sense of pride in what I was doing, especially when it came time to submit all of my vouchers to The Smithsonian. I feel honored to have been a part of the Seeds of Success program.
Sage grouse are a topic of major concern in the Bishop Field Office; which contains a majority of the population and habitat for the distinct population segment of the Greater sage-grouse, which is currently a candidate for listing on the Federal Threatened/Endangered Species Act. I was tasked with measuring vegetation monitoring plots at sage-grouse nest sites, one of the top three priorities for the field office. These plots are a thorough method of observing vegetation specifics in and around birds that nested this year. Data collection involved locating the nest site; which required driving many miles on rough dirt roads, hiking off-trail through dense shrub covered hills, and finding the nest itself upon arrival. Reading these plots called for the following of a strict protocol. After becoming familiar with the protocol by working with my mentor, I was able to lead a volunteer in data collection. It was a good feeling to be given this responsibility. Similar to gathering nest plot data for sage-grouse, I also completed or established post fire vegetation monitoring plots and riparian condition monitoring transects. For theses plots I was also given the responsibility of leading a volunteer or co-worker.
I worked on many other projects over the course of the season as well: rare plant surveys, invasive plant survey/treatment, sage-grouse radio telemetry tracking, boundary marking for fuels reduction treatments, bat-surveys, educational youth outreach, stream restoration construction, herbicide spray treatment vegetation transects, greenhouse construction, baseline wilderness survey, and many more. It has been an inspiring and engaging field season filled with personal development and skill building. I knew coming in to this internship that I had been offered an amazing opportunity, and it has gone above and beyond my expectations. My mentor, Martin, and I got along exceptionally well, and he truly is someone I aspire to be like. Thus I have been offered the chance to return next season, I have proudly excepted and am already anxious to build upon all that I learned this year. Until then it will be Tamarisk removal all day, everyday. Preserve the good, remove the bad is now my season to season dichotomy. I would highly recommend the Conservation Land Management internship to anyone looking to expand their relationship and appreciation for public lands. Thank you to the Chicago Botanic Garden for supporting such a meaningful and productive program.
A majority of my last month of field time has been dedicated to Intensive Stream Monitoring in The Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area. It has been a unique and adventurous process to locate monitoring plots that have not been read in over 30 years. I have become familiar with the use of a metal detector as a field tool, and am now more understanding of the placement of rebar as permanent plot makers. These plots have been useful in the development of my cross country land navigation skills, use of maps over GPS units, ability to find a location using 1, maybe 2, old photographs and hand drawn plot schematics. Many of these plots required multiple miles of hiking to get to, thus they also allowed me the opportunity to spend a few nights camping in the Bodie Hills, something I have wanted to do all season. Overall stream monitoring has been a nice way to culminate my field season and has taught me a variety of new techniques and skills, as well as taken me to some remote places to scout/collect native seed.
The ability to monitor status and trends in the biophysical components of wilderness is an essential part of land conservation stewardship. It is also one of the most difficult. The tasks: quantify unauthorized actions that manipulate the land, inventory the abundance and distribution of non-native species, quantify visitor use, record travel routes, and accomplish all this while hiking for 15 hours, climbing 8,500 vertical feet, and topping out two of the top three peaks in the range.
The rugged desert-like range known as the Inyo Mountains presents one of the boldest mountain fronts in North America. They have similar topographic relief to the neighboring Sierra Nevada, but in a fraction of the horizontal distance. Traveling in the Inyo required physical fitness, rock climbing skills and route finding abilities, oh and water is non-existent. The lower slopes of the mountains are covered by desert scrub typical to the Mojave, while higher elevations contain pinyon-juniper woodlands, groves of limber pine, and one of the largest stands of bristlecone pine in California. For the desert explorer, this is paradise.
Similar to running water quality tests in potable water; conducting a wilderness inventory of human impacts in a rarely visited region can feel rather uneventful. We traveled by faint use trail for less than half the day and the only visible human alterations were cairns guiding the way when a trail was non-existent. Uneventful, purely from a data collection standpoint, but outstanding from a hiking/working standpoint. In my previous blog I described a trip up Matterhorn peak on my own time, and peak bagging has been the focus of my weekends. I never would have thought I would get to spend a work day doing almost exactly (I would have gone in the Sierra because there is water) what I want to be doing. I am so fortunate and honored to have the job I have.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to show off the pleasures of the Bishop area to my friends and fellow conservationists, Dean, Sam, and Steve. With the goal of summiting Matterhorn Peak, near the northern boundary of Yosemite, our weekend was based around one main activity, but we accomplished much more along the way.
Dean and Steve arrived in Bishop Thursday evening and we took a “warmup” stroll along the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power built canal and through the desert to check out some local flora and make our way up Agony Hill; a small sandy bump in a valley between 14,000 foot tall mountains, named by the high school cross country team. Albeit small, this mound goes to show how little elevation change it takes to get a vast view in the open landscape of the Eastern Sierra. Agony Hill, just above 4,000 feet the tallest mound in a few square miles, compared to Matterhorn Peak, 12,285 feet the tallest peak in the craggy Sawtooth Ridge range and the northernmost 12,000-foot peak in the Sierra Nevada. We had a good ways to go.
Friday we got a nice early start to a fairly relaxing day. We began with a short bouldering session and followed it up a refreshing swim via rope swing into Gull Lake. Then we payed a visit to the newly opened June Lake Brewery for some after lunch refreshments and foosball, nobody could beat Steve. That evening we finished our drive north to Bridgeport where we met Sam and found a place to camp with the Matterhorn looming in the backdrop.
While no technical mountaineering expertise is needed, this is still a fully strenuous day hike. It is 14 miles round trip and some 6,500 feet in elevational gain that ends in a windswept, craggy summit. The hike starts with a calming path though fir and pine forest along Horse Creek, but before the 2 mile mark the route cuts off the main trail toward Horse Creek Pass. Shortly after this point the lush vegetation gives way to snow, gravel, and loose, sharp rocks for what feels like a really long time before the mountain of interest and the route up it comes fully in to view. With the varying degrees of physical fitness and route-finding experience, by this point, our group of 5 had become split up along the trail within about a half mile of each other. This allowed each of us to choose our own individual routes to the summit and thus provided some time with a greater sense of serenity and exposure. On that note, if those of you reading this do happen to make this adventure someday I won’t take out any more of the uncertainty than I already have. I will say that we made it and that the burgers and beer at the Mono Village at the trailhead went down with smooth satisfaction.
Tyler BLM – Bishop Field Office
Another month of the CLM internship flies by, maybe even faster than the first. Just as the lull of a steady routine started to take its hold on me; I went to Chicago for a week. It was reinvigorating to be surrounded by so many inspired land stewards, but most of you know that, you were there; you got to feel it too.
For one reason, or many, a reoccurring theme for me over the last couple weeks has been; sometimes you need to leave to realize what you came for. This has been true for situations as simple as pulling out of the parking lot and immediately remembering that the plant press is still sitting next to the desk. Or it can be as broad as leaving the Eastern Sierra for ten days, only to appreciate it that much more upon return. Since this theme entered my mind it has been apparently applicable to many day to day scenarios, but what really spurred it on is this internship. I am still learning from the conference, merely by being presented with circumstances that spark my memory of one of the many things I learned each day. On this idea, I think back to previous jobs and how I’ve progressed, how skills that seemed so simple and routine then, can be so helpful to know now. I recognize this could be interpreted as an over analysis of short term memory, or something of the like, and maybe it is, but to me it’s a reminder that you get more out of every experience than is initially grasped. Never let yourself be bored or take an event for granted. If it’s not great in the moment, there will be something memorable and useful about it in the future. I’d like to think this is not an attempt to rectify something more optimistic out of spending two full days last week down on my knees pulling Russian thistle, but rather more of an effort to reverse the theme and appreciate what I am doing, beyond the surface, while I’m doing it. Already the CLM Internship Program is moving me forward, but to think of the benefits I will realize in the future is astounding.
Ironically I am submitting this three days late,
BLM – Bishop, CA
Oh how quickly the first month has gone by, and already how many engaging field hours I have got to spend. Yes of course, my first week was filled with training videos, but lucky for me I was able to space them out just enough to persevere. Now I can safely drive the 4×4 the trucks wherever the seed collection takes me.
Unlike my last monotonous field season (not with the CLM program) of vegetation transects, all day every day, this season is already filled with variety. However, I have realized the importance of the progression from that job to this one. Thus far, I have used radio telemetry to find sage grouse, educated seventh graders in the basics of water quality testing, and collected seed from grass, forbs, and shrubs.
The Bishop field office is wide spread; I have worked in locations over 150 miles apart and many in between, all with the convenience of riding my bike from home to the office in under 20 minutes. Along the way my wildlife sightings have been just as diverse: male and female grouse, pygmy rabbits, horny toads, prong horn, chuckwallas, bull frogs, dragonfly larvae, and many more, all with the stunning Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. I am so fortunate to love what I do in this amazing place!
Bishop Feild Office, BLM