A City Girl in the Country

I love my new job working at the Burns Bureau of Land Management in Burns, OR. The people at the BLM as well as the people in Harney County are unbelievably friendly. However, moving from the densly populated city of Chicago to the rural high desert of Burns has been somewhat of a culture shock. First off, cowboys DO exist! I thought that the American West was a romantic historic notion; never did I think it was still alive and well, especially in Oregon!

My first week working at the BLM, I tagged along on a Rangeland health monitoring with an ID team. We took the big government trucks and drove through hundreds of acres of Sagebrush country into these remote locations. Once there, we looked at the plants in different ecological sites to determine the health of the rangeland and its fire susceptibility. This is done using different ecological indicators. Never before had I see such unique flora! The desert shrubs and forbs are so beautiful and small! That same week, I was able to accompany two BLM employees in an ATV to do a fish liberation in one of the stock ponds on their allotments. While we cruised into the mountains, a buck pronghorn antelope raced us- I felt like I was in Africa! When we got to the pond, we were really cold so we made a fire while the fish acclimated to the water.

I’m working 10 hour days, 4 days a week so I have 3 day weekends, which is great because that means I can travel to other places on the weekends! I’m living on a farm, and every morning I wake up and I see the horses outside of my window, which is quite different than seeing and hearing thousands of cars and people like in Chicago. And there are also cows, goats, donkeys, and a llama. Oh and there are two adorable barn cats that require an impossible amount of attention.

Two weeks later and I have finished my field work training with my new roommates! What I essentially have to do is go to these fire rehabilitation sites, and survey what kind of plants are growing back. They have a lot of wild fires here because it is so dry; millions of acres burn at a time! And global climate change has exacerbated this. Therefore, the fires are burning longer than they ever have before, and at a much higher intensity. Invasive species, such as cheat grass and medusa head, are also contributing to this, making the landscape more flammable. After a fire, my roommates and I come in and we do a survey called the Line-Point intercept and the Pace 180. First, we set up a photo plot and take photos in all 4 cardinal directions, which gives us a visual of the current area to juxtapose year by year. Next, we walk 50 paces. For each pace, we drop a flag, and whichever plants the flag touches, we have to identify and mark down. We repeat this for 50 spaces, walk 10 paces to our left, and then repeat the same methodology back for 50 paces. This gives us an unbiased sample of the vegetation composition! And based on this, you can determine what plants are making a comeback after the fire. If the species composition is diverse and native, the current land management techniques the BLM are using is working. If the species composition is homogeneous and has a lot of invasive species, then the current land management techniques are not working and they need to be modified. So it’s cool! Oftentimes, we drive at least 2 hours to get to our field sites. And there, you can see for miles and miles. It looks like a landscape picture. The landscape is usually dotted with cows and antelope. But it does get boring after a while, especially since the drought here has curtailed the wild flower season. I do miss the green of the forest in Illinois. Nothing is quite as green and lush here as it is there- but I am in the high desert after all!

Until next time!

Burns District Bureau of Land Management

Rangeland Health Monitoring in Sagebrush Country!

Rangeland Health Monitoring in Sagebrush Country!

Desert Cushion Buckwheat

Desert Cushion Buckwheat

Desert Indian Paintbrush

Desert Indian Paintbrush

Bitter root

Bitter root

Alvord Desert

Alvord Desert

Trout fishing!

Trout fishing!


Summer Nights

Over the course of the last month here in the Carson City BLM office the SOS interns and I have been conducting field work, field work, and MORE fieldwork!!! We have frequently been spending 10 hours a day or more in various BLM allotments collecting seed stock from a multitude of plants. As the growing season has progressed many of these species have begun to drop their seed. This has and will continue to mean many long day in the increasingly hot Nevada sun in order to meet our project seed collection goal. These hot days however have been tempered with wonderfully cool nights abounding in ample amounts of stargazing and howling of coyotes. In short, life couldn’t be better.

Until next time


Treeless Spaces


When I was offered a position with the BLM at the Boise District Four Rivers Field Office (FRFO) in April I immediately started looking for apartments. I’m one of two CLM interns at the FRFO under the guidance of a jovial wildlife biologist named Joe. If you live in the West long enough you come to learn that the BLM has something of a reputation. That reputation rests on a spectrum sliding from positive to negative depending on who you ask. In my opinion, the BLM is an agency at the center of an endless multi-stakeholder tug of war, hugging a rope thickly braided with the threads of duty, politics, litigation and time. Where the winner and agency is penalized for capture. So naturally, I was intrigued to get an insider’s perspective of what the BLM is like. Thus far, the people I’ve met are true stewards with a deep reverence for and knowledge of the lands, who diligently work to balance the values and needs of the many with limited resources.

My position is primarily tied to the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, where we collect seeds and inventory and map native plant populations. The focus of the SOS program at the FRFO is to bolster Greater Sage-Grouse and Sagebrush-Steppe conservation. So we are also tasked with conducting wildlife habitat assessments in order to discern the quality of Sagebrush habitat. The topic of Greater Sage-Grouse protection and listing is mentioned here on the radio and in print almost daily. Work has never felt more relevant or meaningful. This internship really is an opportunity to bear witness to a historic time in U.S federal conservation.

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The David Bowie of Birds: Is he charismatic enough?

Our first week in the FRFO started off fairly slowly, hampered by lots of rain and a couple of seasonal employee trainings. Since then, lucky for us, there haven’t been too many days in the office. My fellow intern, Dan, and I have ventured into the field with some powerhouses of knowledge to collect seeds, plant vouchers, as well as conduct habitat assessments. Our first seed collecting experience was guided by Ann Debolt of the Idaho Botanic Garden and Sandy, a long time volunteer. Listening to them discuss plants is analogous to someone reading the Intermountain Flora volumes aloud. It is incredible. We spent quite a bit of time collecting seeds for Nineleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium triternation), Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and vouchering Wyeth’s Buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides) and Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis). For a few hours we quietly combed the hillsides for seeds, a situation which appropriately allowed for some musing on one of Wendell Berry’s poems.
“Our memory of ourselves, hard earned, is one of the land’s seed, as a seed is the memory of the life of its kind in its place to pass on into life the knowledge of what has died. What we owe the future is not a new start, for we can only begin with what has happened. We owe the future the past, the long knowledge that is the potency of time to come.”

Wendell Berry, excerpt from At A Country Funeral

The decline of Greater Sage-Grouse seems quite paradoxical to the untrained eye, especially when you are standing in a seemingly endless sea of Sagebrush. But all one need do is look down and investigate the ground, for below the Sagebrush surface is a blanket of invasive weeds like Cheat Grass. This past week Dan, Joe and I have spent some full days conducting habitat assessments in a designated grazing allotment called Emigrant Crossing. So far, the data collected reveals what is already known, much of the Sagebrush-Steppe is suffering from overgrazing, low diversity and invasive weeds. Not a winning combination if this area wants to see Sage-Grouse return. We did see come across some old Grouse scat. Despite the current situation, Joe is hopeful that this area can return to a better condition.  If nothing else, it is great to spend time in those places most of us only drive past, as Mary Austin once noted “treeless spaces uncramp the soul.”

Looking forward to meeting you all in Chicago!

Emile Newman, Boise District Four Rivers Field Office

Welcome to Klamath Falls, OR!

2015-05-26 15.29.02First, I will tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Erica and I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, IL. I went to college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO and graduated this past December. I have a degree in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with a concentration in Conservation. After graduating, I worked for the USGS FORT Science Center in a lab processing macro invertebrates for a Jams project. I was thrilled to be offered an internship through the CLM. My internship is with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Klamath Falls, OR. I had never been to Oregon before moving here. Oregon is so beautiful!!! I am working with two other interns, Nicki and Alia. We are currently assisting with three projects.

Josh, our mentor, has us rearing and monitoring Lost River (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose suckers (Chasmistes brevirostris). Both are currently listed as endangered. A major contributing factor to their decline was crucial habitat loss and/or degradation. Due to high mortality rates of larvae and juveniles, their recovery is limited. My first week, we went out into the field at night to collect sucker larvae. We collected the larvae with a sweep net dropped off of two bridge sites. Kircher’s bridge is absolutely gorgeous.

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Bridge Site. Kircher’s Bridge.

Before we started collecting, we saw a Bald Eagle eating a fish near the water. It was awesome! We collected at these sites for two nights until we had a significant amount of larvae (estimated over 2,000). We placed them into water pens at the office. We will monitor and feed them until we transfer them into our net pen docks that are within natural waters. We will continue to study and monitor the suckers until we release them near the end of the internship. This week we built the docks at Rocky Point. Today we installed the nets. We will transfer the larvae into the net pens next week.

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Alia at the water pens!

Photo May 26, 3 42 24 PM

Floating Docks.

Julie, a Fish Biologist, has us assisting with a rearing program for the Lost River and shortnose suckers. We will monitor three different sized fishponds. These ponds are not stocked yet. Last Friday was my first time at the ponds. We monitored for predators and fish. We collected water levels and sonde data.

One of the three ponds.

One of the three ponds.

Darrick, a Senior Fish Biologists, has us assisting with Applegate’s Milk-vetch (Astragalus applegatei) surveys. The Applegate’s Milk-vetch is currently listed as endangered. We will be surveying for this milk-vetch at the Crater Lake Klamath Regional Airport. The airport has planned to expand and develop another runway. We will be in the field all next week conducting surveys.

I started my internship May 11th. My first week I went into the field two times (stated above) but most of the time I was at the MOCC (Motorboat Operation Certification Course). I learned a lot of useful information during this course. I had never driven a boat before and did not know how to tie boating knots. Now I feel 100xs more confident about boating. I will definitely use everything I learned at MOCC throughout this internship.

Completed Net Pen Docks!

Completed Net Pen Docks!

My second week consisted of various required training. I went out into the field one day to collect zooplankton for our larvae. It is so neat to see how much life is in the water! This is my third week and it has been a busy one. We built the floating docks, prepared the nets, and installed the net pens. Brock and James from BOR helped us. It is so beautiful here. It looks like we will be out in the field most of the summer. AWESOME! Everyone at the office has been so welcoming and nice. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. I am excited to see how the rest of the summer goes.

Till next time,


The Sagebrush Sea

After my third week I can say I’ve successfully explored a large swathe of my Cedar City field office. My work so far has encompassed a plethora of activities from Mexican Spotted Owl surveys in Kanarraville to point-counts in Hamlin Valley. As a wildlife technician for the Cedar City BLM, it is my duty to survey large areas of land for wildlife so that the BLM can properly assess and treat locations with species of concern.

Once such species is the sage grouse, which is a member of the pheasant family and is roughly the size of a chicken. It is dependent on an environment composed entirely of sage brush. This makes managing for sagebrush habitat an instrumental part in prevent their listing as an endangered species. My work thus far has put me on the forefront of monitoring for both sage grouse and any other wildlife exploiting the sagebrush habitat.


Relaxing in front of the sagebrush sea.

Outside of sage grouse monitoring, my team and I have surveyed for raptors and raptor nests along unauthorized trails. These unauthorized trails pose a danger to both the public and wildlife. It is the hope of our BLM to help create new trails that allow outdoor enthusiasts a fun and safe environment, while protecting native/migratory birds, mammals, and reptiles. My surveys are the first step in improving the path of these trails to help avoid clashes with wildlife hotspots.


Surveying for raptor nests.

Finally, we were able to participate in Migratory Bird Day. There we, and a number of other government programs, set up activities and educational booths to help teach the community the importance of migratory birds. Programs like these help ensure a healthy relationship between the public and our government agencies.  All of this combined has made for a tremendous experience so far. I look forward to finding out what else my CLM internship has in store for me.


First Weeks in Lander

Hello all. I have been in Lander, Wyoming for about two weeks now. I moved here from Minnesota, which is a very different place than Wyoming. One of my first thoughts after moving here was that I had never seen so much open space in my life. There are very few trees, making it easy to see for miles in every direction.  The habitat here is considered sagebrush steppe, a landscape dominated by sagebrush (Artemisia) species and short bunchgrasses. This area of the country has a semi-arid climate and there is much less water here than I am accustomed to.  Lander is located at the base of the Wind River Mountains. From many places in the field office you can see snow capped mountains in the distance.

The sagebrush steppe habitat

The sagebrush steppe habitat in the Lander Feild Office.

My first couple weeks at work has consisted mainly of introductions and training. Various employees have been taking my fellow intern and I out for tours of the field office. The Lander Field Office manages 2.2 million acres, so there is a lot to see. We are just starting to get oriented so we can eventually head out to the field by ourselves. Much of the land is only accessible on two-track dirt roads, so we have been doing quite a bit of off road driving. We have also started talking about some of the projects we will be working on over the course of our internship. We will be doing quite a bit of rangeland monitoring, which involves monitoring key species to measure both the intensity and the impact of grazing in different grazing allotments. We will also be doing some experimental repair of wetlands in areas where livestock have caused “hummocking” of the wetland. We will also be doing some seed collection of native species with the Seeds Of Success program.

One of the prettier areas in the field office

I have started learning some of the native species in the field office. One of the rangeland specialists helped us with some identification tips in the field and we have also been studying from the herbarium. Many of the plants are species I have never seen before, which I find exciting. Out in the field last week I got to see Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja linariaefolia) for the first time.

Indian Paintbrush

Wyoming Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja linariaefolia)

We have also seen a lot of wildlife in the field. I’ve seen hundreds of Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), they seem to be everywhere. Also many mule deer (Odocoileus heminous), rabbits, horned toads (Phrynosoma douglasi brevirostre), and a few elk (Cervus canadensis).

Pronghorn are generally very skittish. However, this one stood his ground

Pronghorn are generally very skittish. However, we got pretty close to this one in the truck.

It looks like it will be a great season, I can’t wait to see what it will bring. Until next time!

Erin, Lander Field Office, Bureau of Land Management- Wyoming