What a week!

This week has really been the best week that I have had so far in Southern Oregon. The weather has been somewhat cooperating and has made it awesome for weekend activities.

Last weekend I went to Crater Lake National Park. I went with the intent to do two short hikes and enjoy lunch on the rim over looking the lake. I however was not aware that there was going to be over 20 feet of snow covering most of the roads in the park.

Well the best thing you can do in a situation like that is to adapt and to overcome. So naturally in the spirit of fun and adventure, when the park ranger offered up snow shoes to rent, I did a 5 mile snow shoe trek around the rim of Crater Lake. And let me tell you the views were incredible, the sun burn afterwards not so fun.

The next day was Earth Day and there was an event in Ashland, OR that the BLM had a booth and their salmon tent set up at. So I volunteered to help out with it. Having kids come up and play for hours in the costumes, and wait in line to go into the salmon tent to have a story read to them is such a great way to spend the day. It was a super rewarding way to have fun and interact with the local community.

Then this week allowed me to have a pretty incredible random experience………….. I got to meet elephants. That’s right. Elephants. I got to feed elephants. I got to pet elephants. I got to shake trunks with elephants. It was the most incredible chance encounter ever.

I had to cross private land in order to reach a rare plant survey plot that I needed to get done that day. So I called up the resident and he was more than happy to let me come and park my car and walk across his land to get there. When I arrive at his property, he tells me he runs an exotic animal farm so not to be alarmed if I heard any elephants. And naturally I was very confused and I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped to the floor. He laughed and invited me to meet his two elephants. Honestly what amazing creatures to have in your backyard.

And that has easily been the best week so far.

Sierra Sampson

Medford, Oregon BLM

Almost a Different World

Almost a Different World

When I look at a picture of the world, my eyes first go to North America… from there they instantly land on  the Midwest.

Am I favoring them?

Of course. Why?

Clearly, I am from there.  

I had never stepped foot into the Rocky Mountains before this internship and have only thought of Utah in passing. I would say in my entire life, the amount of times I’ve  thought of Utah could fit on my entire hand…. With fingers still missing. These “thoughts”  most commonly occurred when I was forced to learn how to spell all the states and their capitals in school.

U-T-A-H, S-A-L-T  L-A-K-E  C-I-T-Y.

Vernal, Utah….

Never, ever, crossed my mind.

I was used to Chicago.

The flat land, the corn fields, the paved roads. I had more stores than I could handle in a walking distance of me and a sky full of stars (or what I thought was full).  

And yet, I was going to a small town.

With one main road, the store of choice a Walmart, and an apartment I had only seen in pictures.

To say I was nervous to start at the BLM in Utah would be an understatement. To say I was ready for the adventure, would be right on point.

And So the Adventure Begins . . .

I could go into detail about the excitement of the first day. The adventures of finding a fax machine and the drama of getting a working phone, (I took a cord from an empty cubicle). Heck, I could even tell you that my turkey sandwich had a sense of dream-like quality because it was so delicious after being nervous all morning.

But I won’t. Why? Because my second day was much, much, much more exciting.

I actually went into the Mountains. To work.

Four of us traveled into the Rocky Mountains to look for Sclerocactus wetlandicus. This cactus is considered a sensitive plant species of the Vernal Field Office.

Into the mountains, we went for a 2-hour truck ride to our designated location. Through oil pads, natural gas burns, and muddy roads I started to wonder…. Am I really going to like it?

The view was worth all its’ weight in gold.

I honestly couldn’t believe that this internship allowed me to be out in the Rocky’s looking for cacti. Literally, out in the Mountains, and not stuck behind a desk looking at the hills from the window.  

What I Actually Did

Here’s a rundown version of what we did. We got in arm’s length of each other and walked hundreds of feet in each direction of our parked truck. Throwing down flags and keeping our eyes peeled for this cacti. Was it to be expected that we would find one? Nope. Yet, I couldn’t help to think we would (…. we did not).

Sure, my time was spent looking at the ground, making sure I didn’t miss this plant. But just the air, the rocks under my feet, and the cloud laden sky made this a wonderful experience. Even when the weather changed in a split second. From cloudy mornings, to snowy lunch breaks, then finally landing on the hot blazing sun. I prepared for all.

I saw feral horses. No, (it’s not what you think), these horses are not wild but actually invasive. Left to the environment by their owners, these horses have survived and are now eating and trampling upon very important plant species.

I spent my day happy to be outdoors. In mountains (of all places)… where it felt and looked like I had landed in a different world. No corn fields, no flat lands, and no city in sight. 

On the Road and Making a Home in Burns, Oregon.

After eight days of I-40, racing wild horses along side the highway, exploring the Southwest, and being decidedly far from my Appalachian mountain town, I finally made it to the high desert town of Burns, Oregon. Here, I have started my five month term as a riparian intern with the Bureau of Land Management.

While some of my first week has been arduous computer trainings, system enrollments, and rental agreements, there has been plenty of time spent soaking up the natural surroundings offered by BLM wilderness areas and Malheur forests. Our first field assignment took us to hills facing the marvelous snow-capped Steens mountain range, flanked by flooded ranches and flatlands supporting populations of countless bird species, wild burros, antelope, and elk. My fellow CLM intern, Rachel Wood, our mentor, Jarod, and BLM rangeland manager Lisa started our day at 7am to begin on-the-ground demarcation of Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) stands for removal on local public lands. The tree’s post-settlement (new growth) stands have outcompeted some portions of sagebrush habitats, most notably of the sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Much of BLM’s management in the area comes back to protection of this indicator species, as its health reflects the overall ecological health of sagebrush landscapes.

But what does riparian ecology have to do with this? In the desert of all places?

Simply put, removing these junipers frees up various resources, allows for greater storage of water, and production of valuable meadow and riparian habitats for plant species and wildlife forage. This is only one element of riparian health, as well as overall ecological management in the area affected by high density Juniper stands.

My education on the very wet and green east coast mountain ranges will definitely be tested in my new high desert home! As Jarod has explained to me, a difference of 4 inches of rainfall could have serious implications for fire season, vegetation, and wildlife populations. Snow melt from the winter and early spring months provides a large proportion of water used for plants to green out this time in the season. The summer months will invite fire crews, drought season, and temperatures much hotter than the current 50 degree highs. Lips dry, and hands reaching for bight pink tape, we continued walking along the border and flagging the perimeter of one of five 4-mile Juniper stands. In the distance, the Steens mountains reflect bright white caps; the contrast and variation of East Oregon is unlike any location I have had the opportunity to study. As our day winds down, we round the final finger of land mapped to be visited today. The area we mark will be cut by next October, if all funding and fieldwork goes accordingly. After Junipers are cut, it is expected that native shrubs and forbs will return in higher volumes.

Our field team rejoins to talk news drama and pet our canine field assistant, Dee. Our long day of work has started my journey of understanding this landscape, and enjoying its beauty!