About Michelle Smith

Hi, I'm Michelle. I'm doing an internship with BLM in Vale, Oregon. I'm doing vegetation site and lek site monitoring. I drive a Ford F150 and I climb mountains with it... safely.

It has been awhile, this is what I’ve been up to.

Since our last encounter, myself and the other intern have camped in the Trout Creek Mountains in southeastern Oregon near the Nevada border. Our first night camping was the summer solstice, June 20th. The sun set around 10:30 PM that night. Within the next hour, it was light again…but from the moon. The moon was the brightest I have ever seen in my entire 24 and half years of life. Camping couldn’t be any better…well maybe with s’mores, but fires aren’t allowed due to the fire band this year since it is so dry!


The sunset.


The moon rise over the cliff we had to hike up the next morning.


The next morning, around 7:00 AM (Mountain Time)


Another night camping in the Trout Creeks. This was a beautiful sunset to watch.


Breakfast from the truck bed!

I really love the nights that we camp. I enjoy looking out into space, seeing so many stars, shooting stars, and satellites orbiting earth. Some weeks I’ve stay and slept at a BLM station. I’ve stayed in McDermitt, NV, Jordan Valley (Heart of the Owyhee’s), OR, and Rome, OR. These stations allow us to stay in the field and not have to commute every day from home – which would be 4 hours one way and it also allows us to not have to camp. There is this really great coffee place in Jordan Valley, called the Rock House. I have the frequent customer stamp card and yes I have gotten my free 11th coffee. I get the lattes though, so good. I mean, I’m supporting the local business. According to Google, the population of Jordan Valley in 2013 was 175. Near Jordan Valley is Jordan Craters. McDermitt, NV is unincorporated. Google tells me the population of McDermitt in 2010 was 513. Rome, OR is also unincorporated. In Rome, you can visit the Pillars of Rome and the Owyhee Canyonlands. I have yet to do so.

To get to the field sites, we drive, A LOT! I’ve driven on gravel roads and on two-track roads, used 4-wheel drive, and have driven over large rocks. I haven’t hit the oil pan yet – and definitely plan not to. The idea is to drive over the rocks with your tires. Sometimes, you can’t even see the roads, since they aren’t used very often.

There are times when on the road, the two-track roads, are barely visible. This one time, myself and the other intern led the truck for a few miles, over very large rock and boulders hidden in the sea of large shrubs and thriving forbs.


Myself and the other intern guiding the truck through the valley.


The “road”.

Driving on public lands that allow cattle grazing have given myself the pleasure of seeing so. many. cows. So many.


Cattle and calves.


That’s the bull. He’s holding down the herd of cattle!


Cattle 🙂

Photos I have taken in the field to show you what we do in the field.



Here we are trying to get the roads to load on our GPS unit. When the roads wouldn’t load by adding the Base Layers, we would try to load the township, section, and range to figure out where we are and where we need to go.


Here we are mapping burned and unburned areas on the Trout Creek Mountains; commenting on which species of sagebrush was growing before the burn; if the site needed a planting or if there is good recruitment of sagebrush.


Setting up one of the transect lines, for the spoke, line point intercept surveys (at a vegetation site).


Determining the suitability of a lek site.


Always need to know where North points.


In this grassland, we’re trying to figure out what species of sagebrush this was.


Determining the suitability for a lek site.


Us conducting a line point intercept on a 25 meter transect (at a vegetation site).


Taking reference photos with the photo-board.


I am the official time keeper. I just keep track of the time. Also, I have a compass bracelet, given to me by my boyfriend, so I don’t get lost.

Field work views, sites, and experiences.


This is an ant hill we came across while hiking to one of our sites. Interestingly, the ant hill is surrounded by a species of Mimulus flowers (Monkey flowers).

I don’t know who’s idea it was to plant Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), but it was definitely a bad idea. We had to hike through seas of cheatgrass and if you don’t wear the correct attire, like I didn’t this day, they will get all into your pants, socks, and boots. The seeds are so sharp, they are painful when they start to rub against your ankles and boot while hiking. My roommate told me how one day she had to hike through a sea of cheatgrass and I did not understand what she meant. This day, I understood. I UNDERSTOOD!


Cheatgrass all up in sock and boot.


The field day gets exciting when you find deer antlers that have been shed off. But first lemme take a selfie.


Look tumble mustard! Look I’m a cheerleader!


While hiking around to lek and vegetation sites, we came across burned Mountain Mahogany trees. They got burned from the fires that occurred in 2012. This is at Trout Creek Mountains (near McDermitt, NV).

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Well, that is all for now! I look forward to next time and sharing my Oregon adventures with you!


Myself at the Trout Creek Mountains near McDermitt, NV. with Disaster Peak behind me.






East coast to west coast

Hello from eastern Oregon. I have travelled all the way from southern Florida. All I am asking is where are all the trees? Haha! A few weeks ago, I began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Vale District Office – located in far eastern Oregon.

For the past two weeks, I have been learning about the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat. A group of us have been conducting Rangeland Habitat Assessments in super-southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. With all different backgrounds: wildlife, botany, soil, air, water, and range; the specialists assess the sites to see if cattle should continue to graze in the area, if erosion by air or water is destabilizing the site, or if the site is in its prime condition. In other words, the assessment is to determine how the ecological processes on each site (49 sites) are functioning.

It is interesting to see the slight differences in habitats depending on the dominant species of sagebrush (Wyoming sagebrush, low sagebrush, bud sagebrush, etc.) at the site. The soil could be crusty, pedestals may form where Poa secuna (Sandberg bluegrass) grows, shrub composition alters, as well as forb and grass composition, the slope of the “hills” (not quite mountains) determine water flow and/or water erosion. I could go on. All of these determine whether or not the site is in good condition for the greater sage grouse to fulfill its lively duties. Celebration is required when Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), a non-native (invasive) plant, is NOT found in the site.

A sagebrush site

A sagebrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

In addition to assessing high desert habitat, we have assessed several riparian (watershed) habitats using different criteria to determine how the ecological processes on each site are functioning. Most of the cattle and the calves hang out in the riparian areas during the high-heat summer days. The cattle create hummocks in the riparian areas which ultimately alter the flowing water patterns.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

cattle created hummocks

Hummocks (like pedastals) created by cattle in the riparian site.

I am incredibly excited about learning the plants out here. Consciously, I am comparing those I see here to the plants back in southeast United States. It amazes me how plants are adapted to their habitat. A lot of the plants are much more pubescent (hairy) than what I am used to!

In the upcoming months, we will be monitoring and surveying habitats and vegetation for the greater sage grouse throughout the Vale District. Some sites will be on the mountains! We will be conducting “monitoring plots” using the spoke design transect, line-point intercept, gap intercept, vegetation height calibrations, and plant species inventories. All this field work, we get to identify plant species, which is obviously the best part!

It is hard to grasp distance out here. Hills seem closer than they really are. I won’t be getting dehydrated this summer, I am keeping cool! I am beyond excited to share with you all the next few weeks of my journey. Talk to you soon!


selfie in the sage 🙂


Michelle Smith 

BLM – Vale District