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