Almost 4 months in. We recently spent a week working with a USGS hydrology team surveying the Tongue River (the river with our very favorite riparian zone! Acclaimed and adored location of the Mighty Welch Riparian Area Monitoring Program [MWRAMP]!). It was interesting to branch out a bit, both into new techniques and into another government agency. As the government’s main data-collecting agency, USGS is more science- and procedure-oriented and less management-focused than the BLM, and it was helpful to get another perspective as I’m beginning to think about what I might want to do next.
The BLM, USGS, and several other federal, state, and tribal agencies are working together in an aquatic task group that addresses the effects of the water produced by coalbed methane extraction on aquatic ecosystems. To that end, we were sampling for macroinvertebrates, collecting water quality data, and surveying some of the river’s physical characteristics.
After the USGS week, we headed up to the southern Bighorns for a week of sage grouse tracking with radio telemetry. The yellow autumn aspens were stunning, we learned a new skill, and we saw lots of grouse! It’s difficult to imagine a much better way to spend time; after long days of walking around in the mountains, we drove back down the rough road to a little game warden’s cabin overlooking a fork of the Powder River.
As usual, most other days have also been fairly dynamic:
A rancher wanted help loading hundreds of sheep into a huge semi truck. Meet in the corral at 7 and learn fast. “Wear your walking shoes.” (Translation: you will be stepped on by many bleating fluffballs).
Wolf spiders have eight eyes and look like old men. This is not something that I realized before, but check them out with a hand lens, they are AWESOME.
Which is a better method for grouse pellet counts, circle quadrats or transects? If circles, how large? I think that this is the only time Anya and I have ever had what our supervisor approvingly calls a “spirited discussion.”
On rare occasions and with a cursory look, a cow looks alarmingly like a black bear…
… Still very much enjoying my time in Buffalo and looking forward to what’s coming next.
Buffalo, WY BLM
The CLM internship is winding down like the leaves and weather in Anchorage and we are about to be whisked off to our respective corners of the country. Just now, I am experiencing my first snow in Alaska (besides the time I had my accident sliding down a snow drift). Since the last time I posted, our team has traveled to Nome, Fairbanks, and Central, where we performed the usual scouting, collecting, and other official protocol. In total, we made 222 collections this season.
Anyways, here are a few splotches of interesting experiences from our trips and from our homebase in Anchorage:
Nome: Dan and I hitchhiked to retrieve our boss with 2 bearded local characters. The back of their vehicle looked like a junkyard from Star Wars: dusty and a large assortment of scrap parts. One recounted how he repelled bears from his premises by shooting them. Before depositing us at the airport, our drivers expressed how they would not have picked us up had there not been a pretty girl with them. Dan almost retorted that the pretty girl would not have gotten in the car with them without a big strong man. Haha. The tundra was heavy with blueberries, crowberries, and lingonberries. I gorged myself and filled bags full of the delectable fruits as I collected. We saw muskoxen, reindeer, a dead beluga, and the rare CLM intern (Genus: Copp; Species: Belton). Belton Copp and AK930 had a salmon/ falafel bonfire on the shores of the Bering Sea. Dan and I took plunges into the Bering Sea. At the conclusion of the trip, I was temporarily by myself stranded in Kotzebue– which is a small town situated on a peninsula north of the Arctic Circle. Fortunately and the relief of everyone else, I was able to return to Anchorage with a complimentary plane ticket.
Anchorage: Belton Copp paid his jedi mentor (kidding, his mentor is really an employee of the BLM) and us a visit. We brought him to the Alaska State Fair where I had a confrontation with a puppet.
Fairbanks/ Central: Carl Norlen (another CLM intern) and I made birch hats in our spare time. Carl also charmed 2 moose like a pied piper with his trumpet.
Anchorage: Our mentor Paul Krabacher had us over for a shindig last night. In the office, we are working on finalizing the fine details of our collections and producing reports/ posters. Additionally, we have our minds on conceiving the beginnings of seed transfer zones for Alaska.
September has up and gone, but at the moment, summer lingers on. Last week, I worked in the southern Bighorn mountains as the seasons mingled and the aspens turned golden. This region, at around 8,000 ft. is an interesting transition between the rangelands and the montane. The headwaters of the Powder River slither through canyons and firs, and the surrounding country is sage-brushed and expansive. This summer, I did all of my work for the BLM here in Buffalo out on the range, and nearly all of my play in the Bighorns; now I was paid to enjoy myself silly with an important task where both landscapes coalesced. Miriam and I used radio telemetry by day to locate sage-grouse and radio collars of deceased sage-grouse, and stayed in a mountain cabin by night. I loved radio telemetry! I already enjoy map and compass work, but even more exciting—we then got to turn topo lines into actual hills and draws beneath our feet in a biologically significant treasure hunt. We saw 41 grouse in 5 days, far more than we have seen all summer in perhaps more typical (though disturbed) grouse habitat down in the basin. The radio-collared grouse are addressing the question of whether habitat in the area is used by grouse from the different basins separated by the spine of the Bighorns. Distinct populations of grouse in the Bighorn, Powder River basins, and possibly North Platte drainage, may blur at the edges and intermingle here—which may be exceedingly important from a conservation standpoint. This small-scale BLM project is drawing to a close, and I look forward to working with and learning from the produced geospatial data.
The BLM Bunkhouse in Central, AK
Fall has come to Alaska. While normally I delight in colored leaves, crisp air, and the return of sweaters and scarves with earthy hues, autumn here is more of a warning: snow is coming soon.
The reds of the shrubs accent the brown of the moose quite nicely, no?
Despite the transitory nature of anything but winter in Alaska, this brief season continues to astound. On a recent SOS collecting trip to Central, Alaska, we were privileged to stop at Denali National Park. As most of the park is above the tree line, the shrubs of the tundra had turned bright red and purple. Further north, in the hills surrounding Fairbanks, the aspen and birch turned a brilliant yellow. When looking up from a seed collection, I always noticed how the dark green of the spruce mingled with the changing colors.
No. I have no desire to climb that.
Our drive home gave us possibly the most astounding views in Alaska yet (and that’s sayin’ something!). Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) was out in full force, nary a cloud to be seen around it. This behemoth is rarely seen, even on days with nice weather, so we got quite lucky.
The changing season also has implications for our work with the BLM SOS program. Just as the trees are dropping leaves, so too have most of the forbs and grasses dropped their seeds. Aside from one last, quick collecting trip to Homer, we’re moving our work from the field into the office. A pile of data sheets (222 to be exact) and voucher specimens beg for our attention.
And while I am sad to be leaving the best part of our internship behind, there are benefits. As I sit here typing, the first flakes of “termination dust” are falling upon Anchorage.
Jordan attempts a herculean keying task in the UAF Herbarium