When I left Burns last October I didn’t think I’d be back in Oregon for a long time. Yet, here I am again 8 months later living in the pretty green city that I passed through on my way to other adventures last summer. Compared to Burns, Prineville is a big city…. well its 3x bigger in population and only 45 minutes from Bend, the biggest city in central Oregon.
During my first CLM internship my job was emergency stabilization and rehabilitation monitoring. After a summer working in the high desert though, I realized that I missed being near water and decided to focus on getting jobs related to aquatic ecology. This summer I’m working as an aquatic AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) technician. Basically, I take physical habitat and water quality measurements of streams on BLM lands. Learning the aquatic AIM protocol was fairly exciting for a number of reasons. The protocol, which is being developed by the National Aquatic Monitoring Center, Utah State University, and BLM is new (in-fact the official protocol is unpublished), so I felt privileged to be among the first technicians to be trained to use it and the very first to implement it for the Prineville BLM. I’ve never been to Utah, so of course traveling there and crossing off another state was a plus.
After a week of training in Utah it was time to implement AIM in the field. Our first site was on the North Fork of the John Day and unsurprisingly getting into the work flow was kind of slow. Reaches (the stream survey length) can range anywhere from 150m to 2km. On the North Fork of the John Day the reach was 800m long and consisted of pools so deep that were impossible for me to wade –least I top my waders. Remembering left bank and right bank and transect letters (where data is collected) was counter-intuitive at first. In AIM transects are labeled KA with K being the topmost part of the reach and A the bottommost point. Left and right bank orientation is considered while facing downstream, however data is collected starting at A and walking upstream.
Nine completed sites later and all of this is second nature. Hopefully next time I blog we will be 2/3 of the way through our monitoring.
Although my internship with the Burns, BLM is officially over, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about one of my favorite hashtags — #Fieldworkfails — since my last post was fairly reflective. The Burns District is located in the high desert, therefore it’s usually dry and crispy during the peak of summer, but every once in a while Mother Nature (or maybe climate change) decides to throw a curve ball. And so it was that Burns had a usually rainy July, which is likely the reason that Burns didn’t burn this summer. The district and town were spared from the roaring fires that claimed canyon city and almost consumed John Day. Besides keeping us inside, for the most part our fieldwork is not directly affected by rain. However, we did have a couple days like these:
Now, when you get a Ford F-250 stuck in the mud, getting it out isn’t an easy feat. These trucks are huge, nothing can stop me, run over all the things monsters!
See what I mean?
Immediately you may be tempted to rev the engine and push on through. DON’T DO IT. You’ll only make it worse and dig yourself hub cap deep. After taking a few deep breaths and a moment to lament, assess the situation. Depending on how deep you’re in the mud, primitive methods may yield results. Dig out under your wheels and stick pieces of sagebrush and rocks under them for traction. Then carefully work your way out of the rut.
This is maybe hour 3 of being stuck
If you’ve already dug yourself deep and the former doesn’t work, you’ll probably need more muscle and sometimes that doesn’t even work (atleast not initally). Pull baby pull.
After about 6 hours we finally rescued our truck from the cluthces of that soupy road and then got milkshakes as a reward. All in all the work of an intern is dirty job, but wouldn’t I have it any other way. With this post I bid you all adieu and much luck in future ecological endeavors.
They say that in your twenties you meet alot of temporary people. Immediately that may conjur up a lot of negatives — best-friendships, romantic relationships, the removal of bad vibes and people from your life — but as an ecologist, temporary people are an integral part of our careers. The early stages of our careers are often seasonal and short-term, which is a hinderance and a blessing. As soon as you learn to identify all the grasses on the range it’s time to move on, by the time you get to really know your co-workers – adios the next place is acallin’. We become a jack of all ecosystems (learning a little about each place we visit) and are yet to be masters at any. But, we see some of the most scenic and beautiful places and by understanding how our interactions with nature shape the land, we gain a greater appreciation for where we live. This transient-ness in the prime of our lives allows us to connect with a lot of new people, reshape and modify our opinions, and challenge ourselves in ways we may have not expected. As I enter my last month of working in Burns, OR I’ve been reflecting on how lucky I am that this is one of those temporary places. Therefore, I dedicate this blog to some of my favorite moments.
Seriously, one of my favorite parts of living in Oregon is living out on a farm. Every evening I take a walk in the fields and feed treats to horses, donkeys, and cows. Pictured above is Fuzz, one of the barn cats.
some of the critters we see at work:
Moments with Friends:
Hiking the Strawberries. My First Back Country Camping Trip
Fishing at Delitment Lake my first weekend in Burns
Hike to Wild Horse Lake on the Steens
Currently, I’m 2.5 months into my internship with the BLM in Burns, Oregon. I’ve learned life on the range is not easy; hot 80 degree days, chilly 30 degree nights (who can thermoregulate with these temperature fluctuations?), and a scarcity of water for miles. But perhaps more difficult than adapting to the physical struggles of living on the range, are navigating the politics of managing them. Trigger words such as “sage grouse” and “crested-wheat grass” cause a passion of emotions according to who you talk to. Some believe that “the sage grouse agenda is going to cause the destruction of the range” or that “the BLM’s preference to seed with crested hasn’t created a market that makes natives affordable to grow or purchase.” In reality, some of these assumptions and accusations are from more of an emotional than scientific standpoint. As a result, this often causes conflicts between environmental groups, policy makers,and range managers. Due to the nature of politics, influential lobbyists may direct law makers (who are not in the field) to issue (mandatory) ordinances that will not necessarily translate to effective management on the ground. The reality of land manager is that funding is limited and every penny matters if one wants to prevent a burned allotment from changing into a field of BRTE or medusa head (invasives). So, is it better to seed a monoculture of crested that will be able to establish itself and compete with invasives or to seed with native perennials that will likely be out-competed anyway? In this way resources and funding are wasted in the name of compliance.
Alvord Desert, Steens in the Backgorund
It’s been about 5 weeks ish since I’ve moved from my home in Baltimore, Maryland to a small rural town in Burns, Oregon. The act of moving to Burns was hard at first since I basically packed my bags the night of graduation and flew here immediately, meaning I missed a lot of grad parties and celebrations with friends. However, I wouldn’t really have it any other way. I can honestly say I really adore life here in my double wide trailer and with my 3 other CLM intern roommates. I open my front door in the morning to donkeys Duncan and Fiona, and horses Chester and…. I forget the other one’s name. At night I have 2 pretty kitties that love to cuddle and be pet. I miss rain though. It’s very hot and dry here, and now that its hitting over 100 during the day, there is no relief. In a way Burns is its own cultural immersion experience. Cowboy life is real here, the big brimmed hats, cowboy boots, rodeos and bull riders, and high-waisted wrangler jeans are legit and not just for fashion. I’ve seen cow brandings and got a taste of Rocky Mountain oysters. All that “organic”, “grass fed” beef you like so much? It’s bred out here on the range in this way that’s not necessarily meant to be environmentally friendly, but is more or less anyway. The cows frolic all day on the range. Be wary though, because if you hit one, you pay out $5,000 to the farmer. Being a black girl moving from a city to a small conservative town, I was not sure exactly what to expect in coming to Burns. But let me tell you, everyone in this town is super friendly. I have literally not met one mean boned person here. Also I learned the BLM doesn’t slaughter/cull horses, which is nice to know because that was my only impression of the organization before coming here.
Wild Horse Lake on the Steens
By the end of my time here I shall be a botany goddess (at least when it come to identifying grasses of Oregon). So far my work has mainly been emergency stabilization and rehabilitation monitoring. In other words, I visit areas that have burned in the last few years and determine which plants (mostly perennials) have reestablished themselves. Sites vary from a decent mix of sagebrush and other natives to mostly invasive cheat grass. Sagebrush and high desert county are very different from the deciduous forests I grew up in, but I fancy the vastness of the range. I work 4/10s so 4 10hour work days a week. This schedule is necessary, as it takes almost 2 hours to commute to any one field site. Actually, a 2 hour commute is generally a rule of thumb to get anywhere out side of Burns, thereby a 4/10s schedule is awesome because it also gives us 3 day weekends, which we have used to adventure to the steens, the city of Bend, and nearby lakes.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this snapchat of a CLMer’s life!