Where Do I Begin?
Five months have passed since I first started my CLM internship in Burns, Oregon. I have traveled a long way both physically and mentally through the rough terrain of Harney County. From collecting sagebrush moisture samples to mule deer monitoring, this internship had given me a vast amount of knowledge and skills that I could apply to my future job. Over thousands of miles and many honey peanut butter sandwiches later, I have acquired a solid understanding of high desert ecosystems and the flora and fauna the populate the landscape. The heterogeneity of this area surprised me! I remember when I first came here, all I saw was sagebrush. I was wondering where all the forests were, since this was Oregon. The more I worked in the area the more I was shocked. Sagebrush steppe was a dominant community, but there were alpine tundras, deserts, riparian/ wetlands, hot springs, farm land, aspen forests, wet meadows, alkaline flats, outwashes, and talus slopes to name the main types of habitat I encountered. Even in the most harsh and remote places within Harney County I saw beauty everywhere. ^_^
Where do I begin? I know a few of you have followed my blog and saw all of the adventures. I tried to be as informative and entertaining as possible to help people understand all there was being a CLM intern. You work very hard and at the end of the day you feel proud that you actually contributed to making the world a better place. Even in the harshest conditions a sense of humor could go a long way. Dan and I always had a good sense of humor, which helped us work through every condition nature threw at us. We established, monitored, and drove to hundreds of sites, which was over thousands of miles of travel. At the end of our internships we could confidently say that we have grown from all of the experiences.
Our first line of work was moisture sampling sagebrush. We would go out to three specific areas and collect sagebrush samples twice a month. We would dry the samples and compare the wet and dry weights. This data would be digitalized and given to our mentor for his end of the year reports. Some days at the beginning of our internship we would look for rare plants and monitor them, which could always be a challenge. A huge bulk of our time was spent doing ES&R monitoring at the DSL, Miller Homestead, Lamb Ranch, and Holloway fires. We have identified hundreds of plants and used countless resources to help us identify all of the flora. Towards the end of our internship we typed our portion of the ES&R reports and created a huge amount of folders and databases to help our mentor. Once Dan had left, I worked on a couple of GIS and plant identification projects to help my coworkers and future interns when they go out in the field. At the end of my internship, I would be out in the field doing mule deer monitoring. During these five months I have acquired an enormous amount of skills that would help me accomplish many projects for my future job. Thanks to this internship.
Skills and Techniques
During my internship I learned how to properly identify a huge number of plants. Working in a variety of habitats, I was exposed to hundreds of flora. I used many taxonomic keys and guide books to the point where I knew the page numbers and where to look up a specific genus of a plant. I would gladly lecture my friends or coworkers about the specific plant communities that we monitored to help them with their plant identification skills. The knowledge I developed in my college experience easily transitioned over to help people understand how to identify plants. With the incorporation of remote sensing and GIS, I could go out in the field with vegetation maps and could segregate plant communities based on composition, soil type, elevation, sun exposure, and slope. After all of the field plant identification experience I was able to update the Burns District flora database and create specific local flora powerpoints for coworkers.
While working on plant identification, I gained experience with many different monitoring techniques. ES&R monitoring helped me transition the field experience I gained from college and apply it to the real world situations in research. Point-Line intercept and Pace 180 was our main vegetation monitoring techniques we used to survey a specific site. Random sampling, erosion, and vegetation density monitoring was used to collect the necessary information for the end of the year reports.
In the office, I built on my knowledge of GIS with new GIS hardware and software. I was exposed to a fantastic amount of new tools on ArcGIS, which helped create maps and geodatabases. I gained bonus experience with working with metadata and digitizing field collected data into the computer. Working with ArcPad, ArcCatalog, and ArcScene helped improve my understanding of remote sensing and GIS theory, which would definitely help me in the future. Working with the Trimble JUNO System in the field helped me bring GIS out into the field where I was able to create new maps and navigate around our study area.
Understanding the spatial distribution of animals in the landscape had always been a passion of mine. To be able to go out into the field to look for Aroga moth had been an exciting experience. Not much was known about this moth due to their mysterious life cycle and lack of research collected on it. I was able to go into the landscape, take pictures, record dates, and inform state entomologists of my findings, which would help contribute towards future research and control of the species. I was very fascinated by how such a small moth could do so much damage to a sagebrush community within a couple of years! o_O
With mule deer monitoring I was able to transition from monitoring small moths to large undulates. My research experience had always been with bird species and their environment and I was surprised by both how similar and different it was to monitor deer. I learned different field monitoring techniques and gained a valuable skill on how to track and identify animals and their scat.
I have improved on many skills I have acquired before. My plant identification skills have improved with the exposure to different plant families and genus. My landscape photography had greatly improved through much trial and error. Before I was very nervous about off-roading, but with this internship I could easily go off-roading with trucks, UTVs, and ATVs. Changing tires and fixing machinery had become second nature. My bird and rock identification skills had greatly improved due to the unique landscape of southeastern Oregon. I improved profoundly on my GIS skills involving working with maps, creating databases, digitizing field data, working with GPS naviagation, and working with different GPS hardware/software. Writing different end of the year reports helped me with developing PowerPoint presentations, creating word documents, and inputting data into spreadsheets. Most of the experience had been with Microsoft software.
This internship helped myself transition from a college/academic environment to a real world environment. Being able to apply my skills I learned from college to a government job built up my confidence and gave me a perspective of what to expect in future jobs. As an added bonus with this internship, our mentor Casey had enrolled us for a large amount of certifications. I have my CPR, off-roading, ATV, radio, and safety certifications. He gave us the opportunity to attend the Rangeland Firefighter seminar where we learned about all of the potential natural hazards, blood born pathogens, and fire safety. We even had diversity training!! Beyond Burns, Oregon, the Chicago Botanical Garden provided an awesome seminar, which helped with field methodology and plant identification. This helped many interns with transitioning to their present or future internship.
Medusahead was only found in a couple of locations, thankfully this grass was well managed.
Hitting the Jackpot (End of July)
The day was very long and tedious. Dan and I were monitoring lower elevation sites that have been burned by the Holloway Fire. We had to go to one last site located on a drilled seeded slope with a southern exposure. By the looks of the site, not even cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) wanted to grow. Dan and I were recording mostly barren ground with no canopy of forbs. The nearest forb would be 10 meters in front of us. The wind was blowing and the temperature was slightly over 100°F. The mirages were dancing around us and all we heard were the rock wrens chirping in the canyons with the occasional spitting sound from our local guide, Randy. Both Dan and I established a plot and took our pictures. We headed out into the desert.
Justin: None, Soil, Bare…closest…AGCR…waaaaaaay over there…
Dan: Got it.
Tumbleweeds would be rolling by us with the shadows of red tailed hawks and turkey vultures flying in the thermals overhead.
We were almost towards the end of the transect until….
Justin: None, Soil, (Cling!)…..Whoa….WHOA! DAN! Look!!! We hit something!
Dan was writing bare and quickly started to erase it. Dan ran over to my location to see what I hit. I smiled and pointed. “Dan we hit the jackpot…we hit a rock instead of bareground. Put THAT in the record books.” Dan’s face grew from a stoic look to a look of excitement. Dan was speechless and then said, “What are the chances!? I am definitely putting this in the record book.” Dan and I knelt down to observe the rock until we noticed a plant growing nearby the steel rod we were using. The plant was partially green and was about to die due to the harsh conditions of the surrounding environment. The plant did have a flower, so we decided to identify it. I shook my head with a large grin on my face. I said, “Dan, we just have found a PHLO2 or Phlox longifolia….we’ve found LIFE!!” We both stood up and dusted ourselves off. Randy was near us and walked over to our location to see what we were looking at. Randy looked down and then looked at us asking what we found. We smiled and Dan said, “We hit a rock instead of bareground and we found a phlox!!” Dan and I finished the transect and made a special note about the rock and phlox we found on this site. Today was a good day….
This was the location where we found a rock and Phlox longifolia!!
Shoo Cows, Don’t Bother Me (Early August)
Randy, Dan, and I were doing vegetation monitoring for the random sampling project on the border of Oregon and Nevada. We were supposed to take a landscape picture of the cardinal directions and perform one vegetation density survey. Each spot was randomly generated by ArcGIS and we were supposed to go to each location and record our information.
Long Canyon was one of the hardest terrains to drive in. The canyon was very steep, the roads would disappear and reappear, and this was considered some of the best country for mountain lions to live in. We followed the GPS the best we could, but the signal was bouncing all over the place. There was a small creek surround by a stand of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and we had to get out of our vehicle and walk uphill to our random location. When we were unpacking our measuring instruments and started to head up the hill until we noticed a single cow walk out of the aspen stand and stare at us. It mooed and stood there eating some delicious basin wild rye (Leymus cinereus). Dan and I laughed and continued up the hill. I named the cow Moona and took a picture of her. We almost got to the location when I noticed I forgot the GPS. I walked backed down and noticed Moona with two other cows that came out of nowhere. They were all staring at me with a serious expression on their face. Whenever I turned my back to them, they would moo. I quickly acknowledged their presences before running up the steep hill.
When we were monitoring the site I would look back to our vehicle and notice Moona getting dangerously close to our UTV… and our lunch. Each time I would look back I would see more cows coming out of the aspen stand and walk towards the vehicle. Moona would stare at us and then sniff through our items in the back of the UTV. Dan, Randy, and I completed our survey and cautiously headed back towards the vehicle. There was one bull in the herd and he was sleeping in the aspen stands. We approached our vehicle and the cows slowly walked away with a calf over exaggerating to our presences and running away kicking up dust near us to show the other calves how tough it was. Moona stared at us nearby for the longest time before moving on with her herd. We looked in the back to see if our food was gone, but nothing was damaged. We ate our food and moved onwards to the Fields Station.
This is Moona… The most devious cow I have ever encountered…
Onwards CLM Intern!!! The Future Is In The Past!
(October 23, 2013: Day Before the End of My Internship)
The fall colors of the Steens Mountains were especially pretty during my final day out in the field. The Indian Summer had lasted for a long period of time and the conditions for mule deer monitoring were excellent. I was traveling with three other BLM employees on ATVs to various locations within the Five Creeks area to do monitoring. The roads were very dusty and the dust clouds had actually created a dust mask around my face. You could even see the outline of my sunglasses! <_<
I was on the tail end of the group trying to catch up, while avoiding major rocks in the road. Most of the roads were very rocky and hard to drive through. I was traveling around this large hill and slowed down the vehicle to go around many of the rocks sticking out of the ground. My brakes were not as effective because of all the loose dirt and rocks. Suddenly, my ATV slide off the road to a rocky cliff! O_O,, The vehicle was caught on the cliff and my right side started to lean down slope. I tried to move a little forward but there were rocks that kept the ATV from moving forward or backwards. The more I moved around on the ATV, the looser the ground underneath became. The cliff was not too steep, but the steeper drop off seventy feet further downslope was my major worry. I tried to move the ATV until it started to lean further. Now I was very scared and I had to jump off the vehicle while trying to keep it from rolling. What was I going to do!? I held onto the ATV as it was slipping… I had to think fast…
(Flashback to Early June)
ATV Instructor Toby: Alright! Many of you are probably not going to have to do this, but just in case you were stuck on a steep hill, you would have to do a K-Turn.
ATV Instructor Toby: Very good. Now, I will show you a couple other ways to deal with steep terrain. If you stuck on this angle with your vehicle, you may have to do….
(Instructor continues to demonstrate different turns)
ATV Instructor Toby: Any questions?
Myself: O_O…….(I hope I don’t have to do this someday….)
(Flash to Present)
My mind screamed, “DO THE THING THE INSTRUCTOR SHOWED YOU THAT ONE TIME!” I held onto the steering, while standing to the side of the vehicle. I pushed on the lever to make the ATV reverse over one of the rocks to do a half a K-Turn. With a quick bump over the rock, the ATV almost left my grasp and started to head down hill towards the steep drop off. I tried to steer the vehicle and reach for the brakes. If I turned the vehicle too much, there was a chance it could roll again. I managed to face the ATV upslope. I quickly jumped on the vehicle and squeezed the brakes as it was sliding. I shifted to low gear and pressed the lever for the ATV to go forward. The ATV responded at the right time and I managed to drive up over the rocky cliff onto the road!! ^_^ That was a close call…even though it was not a true K-Turn or a turn the instructor showed me (It was more like a weird obtuse double parallel mirror U-Turn…it was a weird turn) I managed to follow the principles of navigating a vehicle on a steep slope and managed to make it to safety. I continued down the road to meet with the other BLM staff who were wondering where I was. The rest of the day we continued monitoring and we all made it safely back home.
There are a couple of people I would love to thank for this experience! Thank you Krissa and Wes for this amazing opportunity and for helping me find this internship out here in Burns, Oregon. I also want to thank both of you for all of the time and effort you spent calling, emailing or answering questions for the interns out here. I know it was your job, but both of you went above and beyond to help make sure that each intern had what they needed. I want to thank my mentor, Casey. You are the best in the biz! ^_^ Thank you for giving Dan and I many different opportunities for our internship. Your guidance and knowledge had really helped us out here. I want to thank all of the Burns BLM Legends for their guidance and help that they provided with our reports and monitoring efforts. Especially our local guide Randy, who was a life saver and helped us navigate through the Trout Creek Mountains. I am thankful for my family for their love, support, and care packages! Thank you so much Mom and Dad for visiting and encouraging me during this internship! You are both awesome and beyond totes! I finally want to thank the people who have been following my blog and giving me feedback. I hope you enjoyed the experiences, pictures, comics, emoticons, and the blog updates. ^_^;;
CLM Intern for the Burns/ Hines BLM
….OH NO!!! I forgot!!! I did all of these blog entries and forgot to do an “Aha” moment… Let me think… My “aha” moment was when I learned when washing your windows,squeegee vertically outside horizontally inside. If you see streaks, you will know which side they are on. (The more you know! ^_^)