WYLD and wonderful.

These past few weeks have been crazy busy. During the week of July fourth, we were only in the office from Monday to (half of) Wednesday because of the BLM’s Independence Day paid holiday schedule. My Monday was spent reading vegetation transects and monitoring livestock compliance around two of our pastures: Pickett Lake and Eagle’s Nest. Reading transects means that my team and I are physically walking down a straight line between established posts or rebar to record 20-25 points of data. Every 5 or 6 paces, we stop and measure the droop or stubble height of the designated key grass species for that site. This is an important thing to study because if the grasses are getting too low, the ecosystem and landscape can be seriously affected by it and may not be able to recover easily, if at all, once the cattle leave. If we are performing livestock compliance checks, that involves us literally counting any “trespassing” cows/sheep when we see them on pastures that should be empty. This can take us a long time somedays, because our allotments are literally hundreds of thousands of acres. We also have to draw and get pictures of the brands on the livestock. This is crucial for the BLM to know which ranchers they need to contact in order to get the animals moved. That day we found some pretty little forbs, and I even saw my first sage grouse on the way back to the office. πŸ™‚

This forb is called scarlet globe mallow, or Sphaeralcea coccinea.
One of my favorite forbs to identify out in the field: buckwheat. The scientific name for this species is Eriogonum ovalifolium.
One of our upland transect sites — Wamsutter Road Well. We measure the key grass species Achnatherum hymenoides, Elymus elymoides, and Pseudoroegneria spicata. This site almost always has several dozen cattle and wild horses around the well nearby. As soon as we park the truck, they are surrounding it, looking to see what we have for them — which is literally always nothing.
The very first greater sage-grouse hen, or Centrocercus urophasianus, I saw out in the field. I was lucky enough to see her accompanied by a few chicks. πŸ™‚

On Tuesday, I went out to the field with one of the BLM’s wildlife biologists, and assisted her in the procedures for sage-grouse “HAF,” or Habitat Assessment Framework. Her transect-reading protocol reminded me a lot of AIM’s, so I had a little bit of a head start on HAF’s approach. When we first got there, we used a compass to align ourselves and set three 25 meter transects at 0, 120, and 240 degrees. Along the transects, we used the LPI, or line-point intercept, method to record vegetation heights and forb diversity. LPI sampling provides a quantitative look at the cover of important species in the ecosystem. Since sage-grouse feed on forbs, and nest in sage brush, these were our study’s focus. This took us all day to do, especially since we read two sites and had to abandon the second site to wait out a storm for a bit. When we got back to Lander, I was inspired by my fun day and immediately started studying my forbs. I love seeing all of them out in the field and being able to name them has been really fulfilling. Ever since this Tuesday, I have been studying, and studying, and have learned so many of them already!

Another one of my favorite forbs to identify. This is a perennial paintbrush flower with the genus name of Castilleja. There are so many varieties of this plant that it can be hard to identify the specific epithet every time… like this time. πŸ˜‰
This pretty little flower is called bitterroot, or Lewisia rediviva. You can just barely see some bright yellow sedum, or Sedum lanceolatum, flowers blooming in the background too.
The storm that we saw approaching our second transect site from miles away. Once the lightning started, we decided to head back to the truck for a little while and wait it out.
My coworker’s favorite lizard to find out in the field. This chubby little thing is a greater short-horned lizard, or Phrynosoma hernandesi.
A neat little bridge that we crossed while leaving our transect sites.

Wednesday was a shortened day because of the holiday, so we spent it in the office managing various data that we had been piling up for weeks. The long weekend that followed was a really awesome one for me because my boyfriend flew in all the way from my home state. πŸ™‚ While he was here I showed him some of my favorite places like Hell’s Half Acre, Sinks Canyon, and The Bus. We also went to a rodeo for our first time ever haha… I still have some mixed feelings about that! Towards the end of the weekend, we drove into Boulder, Colorado to see the Dead & Company’s last performance of their Summer Tour 2019. It was such an incredible show and the setlist was nearly perfect. This was probably the best way we could have ended Johnny’s visit out here. He had to leave me the next day from Denver, so I dropped him off and then made the 5.5 hour drive back to my little home in Wyoming.

A (surprisingly) cute picture of myself at Hell’s Half Acre, Johnny’s first stop in WY!
A beautiful view up the Popo Agie Middle Fork from our hike in Sinks Canyon State Park.
One of my favorite short hikes to see the sunset. The Bus has lots of small trails for mountain biking and hiking and just so happens to be managed by the BLM! Johnny somehow found the deteriorating bus that the spot is named for before I ever did.
The double rainbow that we saw at the rodeo in Lander. After a tiny bit of rain, something so beautiful was left behind.
I loved my drive back to Wyoming from Colorado; there were so many pretty landscapes!
Naturally, I took about 30-45 minutes longer than I should have to get back home due to the amount of times I stopped to take pictures. I’m not even a little mad about it.

For the past two weeks at work, I have been getting into the routine of transect reading and livestock compliance checks, and learning the country and the vegetative species of our two allotments. Once we spend about a week out in the field, we are usually ready to spend a whole day in the office compiling, summarizing, and scanning all of our data.

A huge caterpillar we found at the Baby Antelope upland transect site last week. I think this is the larva of the pearl crescent butterfly, or Phyciodes tharos.
A large herd of wild horses being directed by their stallion at the end. We saw this group while we were coming home from the field last week.
One of my favorite, and a frequently visited, riparian transect site called Lost Creek. The key species we look at here are Carex nebrascensis, Juncus balticus, and Scirpus pungens.
My pressed forb and grass collection from just yesterday’s day out in the field. This is just a taste of the plant variety that I see everyday.

The weeks are still going by way too fast, but it’s exciting to see how much I have learned, and just as refreshing to know that I have only been out here for a month. Wyoming is seriously WYld and wonderful; I love living out here.

Another week of adventure :)

This past weekend was one of my favorites so far in Wyoming. On Saturday I went venturing into Shoshone National Forest and found an awesome camping/recreational area around Frye Lake. I met some people who were from my home state, Virginia, and enjoyed talking with them and taking in the awesome views in the chilly weather. The Rocky Mountains in the distance were still snow-capped, despite it being summer, so I’m curious to see if they will ever experience a full melt-off.

A view of Shoshone National Forest’s Frye Lake showing the Rocky Mountains and a rain shower seen in the distance.

An interactive? rock that I found while hiking around the lake.

On Sunday, a couple of friends of mine took Jon and I back into Sinks Canyon State Park and up the “Approach to Killer Cave” trail about half a mile to the rock walls there. I was taught all about the rock-climbing difficulty scale, and little did I realize how complicated it was. Actual rock-climbing, with a rope, belayer, etc. starts at a Class 5 level. 5.1-5.4 routes are considered easy, 5.5-5.8 intermediate, 5.9-5.10 hard, 5.11 to 5.12 difficult, and 5.13 to 5.15 very difficult. Starting at a difficulty of 5.10 and above, there are letters involved as well. This looks like: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, and 5.10d. After our short hike up the trail, and getting to an elevation of about 7,300 feet, we were ready to watch Alex and Brandon (some seriously experienced climbers) have a go at the walls. They started on a 5.12d route… as a warm-up… and only went up from there. Once they got some good climbing in, they lead a couple of easier walls for us to top-rope up. This means that they set the ropes up for us so that we could club up the face of the rock a bit more easily. I was incredibly impressed by them, especially after I completed my first and only wall and was exhausted. We thought mine had a difficulty of 5.8, but later found out that it was a 5.9! I was so happy and proud of myself for getting to the top on my first try. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. πŸ™‚

Me climbing my very first 5.9!

Brandon climbing a muchhh more challenging wall.

Monday came around and I found myself back out in the field, only this time I got to go out with the BLM’s AIM crew. This stands for Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring. On this trip, they were attempting to go out to a couple of sites around the Shoshoni and Gas Hills areas. I quickly realized that I really liked the strict rigidity and structure of the protocols that AIM has to follow because it ensures extremely consistent data throughout the entire West. For instance, all of the sites are centered at randomly assigned GPS coordinate points, but may be rejected due to unexpected fencing, roads, or dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, their first site was centered in a corner of a fenced pasture; any adjustment that they could have made in the four main cardinal directions did not work. So, they had to reject it. We then made our way to their second site, and had better luck with the location. The types of sampling we did assessed soil horizons, stability, and erosion potential, as well as vegetative species inventory and richness. The soil samples included digging a 70-cm-deep pit at the very center of our site, and walking down three transects while assessing the ground cover and small soil tests that were performed. For the vegetation, heights were measured down the transects, and species were counted in the entire plot.

Out with AIM, I finally got to see the prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha) cactus blooming!

On Tuesday, Matt and I stayed in the office and went through years of old files in order to try to wrap our heads around our two allotments’ pasture histories. We spent hours doing this, and ended up creating really helpful, large, summarization sheets for each. This was a nice break from the heat, and left me refreshed and ready to go back into the field the next day. Wednesday was another adventure. Matt, Jon, and I prepared ourselves to go find and read two transects, one in the Soap Holes pasture, and the other in Haypress. After some time, we were able to find a safe route to the first stop on our route. Right as we arrived and were assessing the transect site, the most beautiful barred owl (Strix varia) flew out of the willow trees. This was the second time in my entire life I had ever seen an owl, and I think beautiful is really an understatement. We soon got back to work and realized that this site was very swampy, compared to all of the other the riparian sites they had been to before. Our transect evaluation was tricky, but we were successful in completing it.

Our first site on Wednesday, Soap Holes pasture. These were the willows that we saw the owl fly out of.

One of our keystone species in Soap Holes pasture: Nebraska sedge, or Carex nebrascensis. The shortened blades are clear evidence of cattle grazing.

Some of the ground hummocks that were nearly everywhere in this riparian pasture. This is another clear sign of cattle presence and grazing.

My very first discovery of Wyoming’s wild iris flowers, Iris missouriensis.

Another first for my flower discovery! This is a wild purple lupine flower, Lupinus argenteus.

Once our first transect reading was complete, we started searching for the next pasture: Haypress. On our way out there, we saw the largest herd of wild horses I have ever seen in Wyoming. There were at least 60 of them that we could see resting on an adjacent mountain top. After stopping to take some videos, we continued our journey. We tried several different routes, many of which were washed out, until we found one that looked like it would take us straight up and over Crooks Mountain to our next stop. Upon our climb up the mountain, we got an engine warning. We stopped the truck and realized that it was overheating… we could literally hear our coolant boiling in its compartment. We checked in with the office to decide what to do, and chose to wait it out, and eventually pour some cold water into the coolant tank. About an hour or two later, we made it back to the office without any additional problems.

Today, Thursday, we got it checked out and were told that it should have hopefully just been a one time occurrence. The rest of my day was spent in the office finishing up some defensive driver training, and learning how to input our field data. Like that owl, the weeks are flying by, and I could not be happier with the work I am doing. I am so, so thankful.

“WY” I love it here!

Moving out to Wyoming was probably the best (and scariest) decision I could have made straight out of college. When I applied to the Chicago Botanic Garden, I didn’t really know what to expect. There were so many different directions that they could have sent me, and the Conservation and Land Management internships seemed to cover an endless list of awesome studies I could partake in. When CBG told me I would be stationed out in Lander, Wyoming, I immediately started researching the area and my excitement only grew. I was thrilled to finish my very last “May-mester” class at James Madison University and make the 24-hour drive to Wyoming once early June came around.

Settling in really took no time at all, and the very next day I was out exploring my surroundings. I would take random roads (honestly, there are not very many out here) to see what I could see until I was satisfied. I found one of my favorite spots while traveling up U.S. 287: Ray Lake. It was located just inside the Wind River Indian Reservation, an area that was supposed to be something like 40 million acres of land, but unfortunately only encompasses about 2 million. I enjoyed the sunset here for a long moment and eventually headed home for the night. I still love coming to this spot to relax and listen to the wildlife close by.

A beautiful, cloudy sunset on Ray Lake in the Wind River Indian Reservation.

A few days later, I got coffee with someone I knew I would be working with the next week, Jon, and afterwards talked him into venturing into Sinks Canyon State Park with me. He showed me the natural sink, and how full of water it was from all of the spring snow melt still flowing down the mountains. We drove through the rest of the park into Shoshone National Forest, and started our 3.3 mile out-and-back hike up the Popo Agie (pronounced “Puh-Po Shuh”) Falls Trail. It led us up to an amazing rock formation that’s a popular spot to slide down when there is less water. So many beautiful spring flowers were still popping so we were surrounded by little bursts of color throughout our entire hike. We saw some really neat caterpillars also, as well as another fellow coworker that Jon introduced me to, Matt. It’s definitely a much smaller world out here compared to my childhood home in Northern Virginia, and I have come to love that about Lander. To this day, I have returned to this trail countless times to hammock and study.

At the top of the Popo Age falls hike. You can see how much snow melt is still running down the mountains here.

Some pretty spring color in Shoshone National Forest. These wild yellow flowers are a part of the Asteraceae family.

Western tent caterpillar larvae in their tent, found in Shoshone National Forest.

A view of a distant rainstorm seen from Shoshone National Forest.

My first week of work at the Bureau of Land Management in Lander started June 17th, and I have already been in the field twice for different projects. The BLM here does a really nice job of involving us in several of the many areas of the office. My first day out in the field involved driving about an hour East/Southeast into some of the BLM allotments with two of my wildlife biologist coworkers, Leah and Aaron. We were attempting to assess the habitat framework for a native bird here that is nearly threatened, the greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus utopiasianus. On our way out to our targeted area, Rim Pasture, we saw the most adorable baby fox on the side of the road, and stopped to snap some pictures. Once we got into the BLM allotments, we quickly realized that most of the sandy two-track roads were complete sludgy messes, and nearly impossible to drive through without spinning out, drifting, and basically driving sideways through them. After several hours, since we could not find a single dry path to Rim Pasture, we called it a day, and headed back to the office.

A (low-quality) picture of a red fox kit, Vulpes vulpes.

A unique cloud structure over one of the pastures in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.

A curious cow standing in a patch of Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush). This image was taken in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.

My second day out in the field was spent with Jon, Matt, and one of my mentors, Judi. We met up with a local rancher named Travis in Rock Springs that directed us around the Arapahoe BLM allotment. Travis helped us locate six different transects in the pastures there. We monitored the transect sites, created new GPS coordinate points for them, and practiced our plant identification and methods for vegetation drupe height surveys. Once the time comes when we do not need a mentor with us any longer, we will be measuring the various grass heights in many of the pastures. This will help us assess how much grazing is being done by cattle, as well as the wild horses and pronghorn antelope. A storm eventually looked to be heading towards us, and so we started our journey back to Lander after a full day of work.

One of my favorite parts of the job: off-roading! We got just a bit dirty in Rock Springs.

One of the many herds of cattle in the BLM allotments in Rock Springs. This group slowly made its way through the sagebrush towards us, likely hoping we had some treats for them.

A flowering sedum, Sedum lanceolatum, found in Rock Springs Β during field work.

A view of a storm brewing over Lander, Wyoming from U.S. 287.

Today (Friday) was yet another office day, and a surprisingly nice break from the 11 hour day I put in yesterday. Just in the two weeks I have lived here, I have been very busy; but I am having so much fun in Lander, and have already made lots of great friends and connections that I know will stick around for a long time. I am so excited to see what other adventures come my way, and I am so thankful I pursued this opportunity.

There are countless reasons “WY” I am loving my current life. πŸ™‚