Like many other interns, I came out West from the East Coast- specifically Boston, though I grew up in Vermont. A supervisor from a previous job recommended I get some interesting western experience to help my resume stand out back east, so when I was offered a CLM position in Shoshone, Idaho on a fuels crew, it seemed to fit the bill! I was apprehensive at first about transitioning to such a different area so far from everything I’ve ever known, but Idaho has, surprisingly, been feeling a lot like home.
When I first arrived at the Shoshone office, I was informed that I would actually be working in the Burley field office from now on. I was a bit disappointed, as Burley is quite the drive from Twin Falls, where I found housing, but quickly changed my mind. The Burley field office includes a large mountain range on the Idaho-Nevada border, so I’ve been getting experience with an exciting variety of habitats – from the typical sagebrush steppe to juniper forests. My field crew was incredibly welcoming from the start, and after only a week, I felt more comfortable with them than any other field crew I had ever been on. It must be something about firefighting – there’s a camaraderie about them that welcomes even “rookies” (even a botanist like myself who won’t be fighting fires in any form this summer!) into the family.
Our field work is fairly straightforward – areas that have been burned in past years are quickly reseeded with a mixture of grasses, forbs and sagebrush, and then monitored regularly in order to assess how those plants are doing versus the ever-present cheatgrass. It can be disappointing at times, since most 1,2 and 3 year plots are still generally 50+% cheatgrass, but sagebrush and other established grasses look promising in some of the older areas. It’s unfortunate that the diversity is somewhat low in these plots – I started my time here in a whirlwind of plant ID, trying my best to learn all of these Western plants as fast as possible (grasses are the toughest), but haven’t had many new plants to learn since starting the fuels work. However, the presence of a new or showy plant in plot does become more valuable to me as a result (prickly pears are blooming! Castilleja too!)
While I’m not doing as much straight botanizing as I expected, I’m glad to have been chosen for a fuels position. The work focuses more on management, and though I don’t have any plans to continue working on fire projects in the future, I have been hoping to shift my experiences from botany to more general natural resources management. As this position is all about assessing whether a fire management tactic is working as hoped, I feel more confident in habitat and project assessment, as well as project planning. We should be switching things up from the fuel monitoring projects very soon, so I look forward to new challenges and sights!
-Bureau of Land Management, Burley Field Office