From Boston to Buffalo

Despite numerous trips out west, I’ve never had the opportunity to drive the whole way. So as I started thinking about the logistics of moving to Wyoming there was clearly only one option: road trip. Well, I could not have had more fun transitioning from New England. It was a perfect excuse to explore some beautiful national parks along the way, have a little adventure, and spend some extra time getting to know home for the next 5 months.

The sun begins to set in Badlands National Park, SD

Now, over 2,000 miles and 12 states later I find myself in Buffalo Wyoming, surrounded by the Bighorn mountains, and about to wrap up my first week as a Surface Use and Environmental Compliance (SUEC) Intern with the BLM.

Spring Snow on the Bighorn Mountains, WY

My time in Buffalo started off with a snow storm, road closures and unpredictable weather, but it took a turn for the better as my internship began and we are now experiencing daytime temperatures in the 60͒s and 70͒s; it’s supposed to hit 80͒ this weekend! My first week as an intern has certainly consisted of the necessary enrollments and trainings – not to mention getting to know the logistics and numerous aspects of the position – but there are plenty of assignments for me to get started on. I’ve been inundated with information and work in the best possible way, and now that the weather is cooperating I’ve gone into the field to join on some inspections. Of the number of sites we visited, the largest was easily a reclamation site waiting for final approval of abandonment. It had been resurfaced and reseeded, and after a number of years, had integrated back into the landscape. While the sagebrush regrowth wasn’t complete, we were happy to see that the other native vegetation had completely filled-in, and that the sage brush is making good progress. On the opposite end of the spectrum, is a plugged pit we inspected. With no regrowth and some erosion, the reclamation process will have to start over.

The vegetation hasn’t taken at this pit, plugged last year, and will need to be reseeded

View of the high plains landscape just up the road from the reclamation pit

I was also excited to realize that although unplanned, the start of my internship overlapped with the last week of lek counts/visits for the sage-grouse mating season. Given that sage-grouse have been a standard reference in pretty much every biology, animal behavior, and conservation book I’ve ever read, it was about time I see them in action. With their inflated gular sacs and fanned-out tail feathers the males are striking, and their performance did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to hear plenty of booming, and see the males strut and square off.

The first time out we visited an easily located lek, but the second day found us moving through the sagebrush looking for signs, until we finally found the lek had shifted to another hillside. It was definitely worth the 4am wake-up, and provided some great wildlife viewing. There’s nothing quite like starting your day with a sunrise and some sage grouse, or viewing a nesting golden eagle as you head to the office.

I’m already looking forward to next week, and can’t wait to meet the rest of the interns who join the office on Wednesday!

Bachelor group of Bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park, SD

Looking up at Devils Tower, SD