These last few weeks I’ve been finishing up my field work with season wrap up work. I went to all the Ranger stations within Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and retrieved the moth traps we put up in the beginning of the season to trap invasive moths, collected our pollinator transects and phenology logs. Throughout the season I’ve gotten a chance to go out in the field with several different people in other divisions of the park and broaden my field experience. I went out with the archeologist and did plant and cultural compliance surveys and also with the park planner to do trail monitoring survey work. Many of the trails within the park are primarily used for subsistence hunting and are accessed by 4-wheelers. The ground cover on the trail we were monitoring consists of moss and mud. When 4-wheelers rip up the top layer, permafrost melts and creates huge mud holes and the land subsides. Along this 16 mile trail, 20 transects were set up to monitor the braided diversions off of the main trail people are taking their 4-wheelers. Once we approached a transect, we measured the length of how wide the trail had gotten from the braids and divided that length by 20 intervals. At each interval we recorded the depth of subsidence and weather the pin hits litter, bare ground or vegetation. Wrangell-St. Elias and Alaska Parks in general are different National Parks than those found in the lower 48 because there are several private property parcels within the parks. Legislation provides private property access to owners within the Park boundary and we found that the use of this trail from hunters and visitors staying with the private property owner is creating major damage of the trail. It has been an awesome summer learning from various divisions within the Park, it has given me a new perspective of how the park’s resources are managed. I am truly grateful to expand my resume to include these new field experiences!
Today marks the last day of my CLM internship in Vale, Oregon. It’s pretty amazing how time as flown by. It seems like it was July just yesterday. However, it’s obvious that the seasons are starting to change. September has brought rain and thunderstorms. I never thought I would see torrential downpour in this part of the country but it still happened last week. We had been scheduled to do a camping overnight trip in Leslie Gulch, surveying for Senecio ertterae. It’s a good thing that we didn’t go because when we arrived for a day trip the next day, the evidence of flash floods were everywhere and we were blocked by washed out roads. Living in eastern Oregon has been almost like living in a different country for me. Ranching is the predominant way of life. Lightening-caused fires are a constant summer time threat. Smoke from the fires leads to days of poor air quality. Water erosion is not a gradual process: the landscape is so barren that one large water event can move huge amounts of dirt. Birds are everywhere: quail, chuckars, kestrals, ring-necked pheasants, and killdeer. I also find myself with an acute awareness that if I were stranded out on these landscapes, I would not survive for very long. It’s humbling to be reminded that despite all of our constructs of modern civilization, nature is still in charge.
The sagebrush has been interesting to experience but it won’t be a moment too soon for me to go back to living among trees. The people who grew up here say that they get clastrophobic in forests; they don’t feel comfortable if they can’t see the landscape for tens of miles around. I think I’m the opposite; I almost feel uncomfortable without the cover.
One of the things I think about a lot is how much potential there is for renewable energy on public land out here. While it doesn’t look like we have much, there is a huge wealth of wind, sun, and geothermal. There are relatively few people who would be bothered by having renewable energy projects nearby. There are large amounts of land that have already been overrun by cheat grass and/or other invasives and can really not get that much worse in terms of disturbance. Despite all this, according to my mentor, there is one single wind farm of about five windmills on all of BLM land in Oregon. We went to see the project and look at the relatively small level of disturbance it posed on the flora in the area where it was placed. The BLM is already heavily involved with mining and ranching. I really hope that in the future, there is a push for renewables on public land because they are already there, just waiting to be tapped.
My next adventure will be a 10 1/2 month Americorp position with the Center for Natural Lands Management in Olympia, Washington. I will be doing prairie restoration science. I think that the botany skills I’ve gained during this summer helped me to get this position. I’m excited about this opportunity and happy to get back to a wetter environment (though, check back with me in a couple months…. I might be complaining about rain). If any current or future CLM interns happen to be in that area, look me up! I’ll always have a couch for crashing. Anyway, cheers! It’s been great seeing how things have progressed this summer. I wish everyone luck with whatever their future endeavors are.
The field season is barely winding down here at the Eagle Lake Field Office (which I am perfectly content with). Carrie and I have been collecting more Mountain Mahogany and Great Basin Wildrye seeds to plant in the areas damaged by the massive Rush Fire (Aug. ’12), and we’ve managed to monitor another handful of Special Status Plant populations, too. After collecting Mountain Mahogany on a mountain called Fredonyer, we drove up to the top (7789 ft) and climbed into the fire Lookout. We met the lookouts, Bob and his wife, who stay up there in the single-roomed cabin-on-stilts 4 days each week in the summer months–which they’ve been doing for 31 years! It was awesome being able to see our field office from a bird’s eye view, and I was able to point out areas where Carrie and I have done field work, such as the Horse Lake area. Best of all, Bob helped to point out more Mountain Mahogany stands all over the mountain for seed collection.
One of my favorite features of the basalt mountains out here is the myriad of lichens that grow on the ancient rocks:
We also did some surveying of areas that were burned during the fire last summer. Some areas that had been drill-seeded and planted with seedlings aren’t doing as well as hoped, but then there spots like this aerial seeding site in the Skeddadle Mountains where sagebrush and grasses are sprouting beautifully. We visited an aspen stand high up in the Skeddadles, and were amazed to see the aspens not only re-sprouting from the charred ground, but spreading, leading us to believe the stand may be larger than it was before the fire!
As the internship reaches its middle point, I’m anxious to spend as much time in the field as possible, gaining more familiarity with the beautiful landscape in which I’ve been placed and more experience with monitoring, plant ID, and understanding the BLM’s unique task of managing public lands.
Until next time,
For a moment there I thought the monsoon season was over. August here in southwest Utah was defined by bright, hot days and evening thunderstorms that produced more lightening than rain. Now it is September, the beginning of fall, but it certainly does not feel like fall. It feels like spring. Every day there are steady rainstorms, occasionally heavy rain that will fill normally dry washes. Being from the east coast, I am enjoying this refreshing rain. It has cooled off the hot desert and revived the dry, fire-prone sagebrush habitats.
We have started to do some browse assessments, examining key species along a transect to determine how much vegetation is available for animals like mule deer, elk, wild horses and cattle. This involves measuring the leaders on the key species, which is often Wyoming sagebrush. With all this recent rain, all the vegetation has experienced a lot of new growth, like the sagebrush below.
Grasses that were brown and desiccated a few weeks ago are now bright green and alive. Valleys are full of yellow and purple flowers. Lupine, globemallow, sunflowers and thistles are reappearing. The entire region looks more vibrant and alive than it did in May, when I first began work with the Cedar City, BLM office.
September is going to be a month full of work and wrapping up reports as my internship is coming to a close in a few weeks. For those experiencing a lot of rain, be safe out there. Flash floods are a real threat you got to be aware of. I know a lot of interns are also preparing to finish up in different offices, so be sure to enjoy your final weeks!