“You gotta drive 50 miles to go 5. Welcome to Wyoming”

Quote from the movie “Wind River” based on events that happened in the Wind River Indian Reservation, about 2 hours west of Casper. And one of the most true statements about Wyoming.

My experience out here has been nothing short of an adventure. I have been luck enough to travel around most of the state of Wyoming and Colorado, for work and for fun, during my internship. With only a week left of my internship, I have been reflecting on the amazing times I’ve had out here.

Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had are driving around the wilderness during rangeland health assessments and cheatgrass monitoring, raptor surveys, Ute ladies’-tresses surveys, working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) doing pronghorn antelope surveys in Casper and black-footed ferret trapping in Meeteetse, going bird banding with Audubon Rockies, exploring and mapping subalpine forests with foresters in the Casper Field Office, and getting my Wilderness First Responder Certification in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for my CLM internship alternative training workshop.

Beautiful arches found during cheatgrass monitoring on the Burke allotment

Black-footed ferret in a trap in Meeteetse, Wyoming

The black-footed ferret is a highly endangered species that was considered to be extinct until it was rediscovered in Meeteetse, WY in 1981. I was lucky enough to participate in these intense overnight surveys in the Meeteetse reintroduction site with WGFD in September as a part of my internship. If you work for the BLM, check out the article I wrote about my experience that I submitted to the BLM Daily!

Me holding a Bullock’s Oriole that was banded with Audubon Rockies at Edness K. Wilkins State Park

Finding creative ways to unroll the flagging tape while flagging boundaries for a juniper removal project

Old abandoned car found at Lost Creek. Possibly a new method to successfully growing Sagebrush?!

Beautiful, peaceful quaking aspen stand with a stream running through it at the Snowshoe Creek allotment rangeland health assessments.

A wild Bison and a wildlife intern. Taken on my weekend trip to Yellowstone National Park.

The places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen have been absolutely amazing. I have learned so much about wildlife ecology, land management, and the reality of conservation in the federal government. My last few weeks in the Casper Field Office will be spent writing end of the year summary reports of our findings in the field, which is even more important for making management decisions by interpreting the data I collected all summer. I’m grateful for all the time I was able to spend in the field and for all the technical writing experience I am able to take with me in my professional career.

Special thanks to my mentors Jim Wright and Ben Bigalke for teaching and challenging me everyday. You have both taught me so much and helped me realize why I want to become a wildlife biologist. I hope I find awesome co-workers like the ones in the Casper Field Office in my future career.

Jessica Druze, Wildlife Technician, Bureau of Land Management High Plains District, Casper Field Office

The Wild West

June 2018

It’s my third week as a Wildlife Intern in the Casper Field Office and I am loving it so far. Being in the mountains is such a nice change from New Jersey. Although the landscape here is mostly grassland, there are still so many mountainous landscapes nearby. Every day I think to myself, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

During my first week, I learned about each of the divisions within the resources department here at the Casper Field Office including Wildlife, Archeology, Range, Hydrology, and Forestry. I learned how to ride a UTV, which was a lot of fun! We also trained on our first big project of the summer, Range Health Assessments. During these assessments, the wildlife, range and hydrology crew all go out together to assess the ecological health of different plots of BLM land all over Wyoming to collect data used in making future land management decisions. I learned about a lot of new plant and animal species and I’m excited to keep learning more.

 

An American Badger hunting in a Prairie Dog colony.

Bitterroot flower, one of the many beautiful plants seen during Range Health Assessments

Sego Lily

My second week of work was a full week of Range Health Assessments. The crew and I have a lot of fun driving all over Natrona and Converse Counties while getting work done.

Wildlife, Range and Hydrology crew during Rangeland Health Assessments!

Wildlife Biologist, Jim Wright, and I during rangeland health assessments

My role includes working with the wildlife biologists in the office to evaluate the wildlife habitat, specifically for greater sage-grouse. We use transects to examine the diversity and health of sagebrush shrubs as well as overall vegetation cover to assess the habitat. We are always looking for signs of wildlife in the area, and I have seen a couple of female sage grouse with their chicks so far! The wildlife here is so different from New Jersey and I am really enjoying working with wildlife biologists to learn as much as I can about it.

During week 3, there was a lot of rain which made it difficult driving on the two-track roads to get to our destination. A few days were spent turning around after failed attempts to get the truck past the mud on the roads. In addition to the normal range health days, I got to scout a plot of BLM land that is being overtaken by Pinyon Juniper in the sagebrush ecosystem. We used the GPS to navigate around the land and mark off boundaries for a contractor to come in to take out most of the Pinyon Juniper.

I am so grateful that CBG is able to provide me this amazing opportunity. I am looking forward to the experiences I will have out here, at work and in my free time. So far, it has been life-changing.

Snowshoe Creek allotment

Gone With The Wind

The winds are coming back to Casper. The gusts rush through the cracks of my ranch house in the early hours of the morning. The temperature is falling steadily: biking to work is ever more harrowing. There can be no denial: Winter is coming; seasonal work is petering out, and my time at the BLM is no more.

My last weeks at the BLM office were consumed by the less glamorous, but still important task of organizing and entering data. All of the 80 springs my co-intern and I documented needed to have folders made with maps, photographs, and water quality data. We also uploaded the spring data into a GIS database, which Shane and the range team will use to decide which springs need attention first. Of the 80 springs we visited, only three were non-functioning. To fix the riparian systems, the range team will coordinate restoration work with the lessee. Most often this will mean altering the time at which the rancher has cows on the pasture, and possibly building an exclosure fence to allow the spring time to heal.

The BLM processes a lot of paperwork. A LOT. So much so that after contributing our fair share of new files, we got to box and store thousands of old files and recycle garbage bags full of unnecessary copies.

Old Files and Manuals!

 

After completing our last task at the BLM it’s time to say goodbye to Casper. I leave the CLM program with a profound appreciation for 4 wheel drive vehicles, and for all of the men and women in the resource department of the Casper Field Office. Thanks to them, and especially to my mentor Shane, I now have a much better grasp of what it means to “manage land.” And as the winds pick up in Casper, I travel eastward, to my home land.

The work truck.

Fall is Upon Us

Hey everyone,

Fall is finally beginning to appear here in the Chihuahuan Desert. The cottonwoods are starting to change, the temperatures are dropping, and our chances for seed collection is starting to slow down! As usual, I have been spending most of my time collecting seed. However, the past few weeks have been uncharacteristically rainy. Since the rain makes most of our roads near impossible to drive on, I have been stuck in the office. This isn’t all bad though, it has allowed us to catch up on shipping seeds and doing our soil data.

Me assessing soil data when it was rainy for an entire week

Having been placed in the CFO BLM office, there have been quite a few opportunities to do some outreach! At the beginning of the month, I was able to visit the local zoo (The Living Desert Zoo) and help a few of my colleagues set up a table at a public lands informational event. A few weeks later the employees at the BLM had the opportunity to help judge the middle school’s science fair. These events have just been a few of the many different chances to help with public outreach.

Me and another BLM employee doing the tabling event at the Living Desert Zoo in Carlsbad, NM

I have also had the chance to do a little more cross training with other people here in the CFO office. Two weeks ago, my co-worker and I went to two of our major rivers, the Delaware and Black River, to help monitor riparian areas and assess the Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) of these rivers.

Identifying vegetation at the Black River site – featuring my SOS co-worker and mentor

A storm rolls in while assessing vegetation a the Delaware River site

Below: random pictures from the field

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

Sacred Thorn-Apple (Datura wrightii)

Black Swallowtail friend while we were collecting Verbesina encelioides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caitie W.

Carlsbad Field Office BLM – Seeds of Success Intern

Fall musings in Carlsbad

October 26, 2018

Fall is finally arriving here in southeast New Mexico. The fall chill set in very suddenly and caught me off guard (see photo of me with socks as gloves).

When your hands are cold but you didn’t pack gloves because you didn’t think it would get cold in the desert…

Back when I was in school, I used to dread the stress and work of starting school in fall so much that I never really appreciated the reds and oranges and yellows of fall foliage in the Midwest. The color of fall here seems to be yellow. Yellow leaves falling from aspen groves in the mountains, and from cottonwood trees along the rivers. The hills glow with golden flowers of all shapes and sizes. Sartwellia flaviarae in particular dominates the landscape with its bright yellow hues. It is an aster subshrub that is very common in this area but not prevalent outside of our region.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that we just have a month and a half left of our internship. After the initial shock of moving to a small oil/ranching town in the middle of the desert, Carlsbad has begun to feel almost like – dare I say it? – home. I’ve gone from the landscape being totally foreign to recognizing many of the plants I see while in the field. Of course, I always have more plants to learn. But it is kind of exciting to reflect on where I was—barely being able to recognize any plant genuses—to now being able to identify several species on sight. And grasses! I’m amazed that now I can generally tell grass genuses apart. Before this internship, all I could tell you was if a plant was a grass or not.

This month we also served as science fair judges for the Carlsbad middle school. I was in charge of judging Environmental Engineering projects—a little off from my expertise but I gave it my best! Some seventh and eighth graders had impressively higher-level projects, from thinking about what grass is best for preventing eroision, to testing soil salinity and its impact on crops. One eighth grader even made their own biodegradable plant-based plastic six pack ring.

Fall colors in Lincoln National Forest

These projects gave me a lot of hope about what the next generation of scientists are capable of!

In my weekend time, I’ve been experiencing parts of New Mexico and Texas. Early this month, I attempted to see the hot air balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Much to my chagrin, the wind prevented any balloon launches, but I was still able to check out Albuquerque and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It was a great way to learn about the Pueblo culture, and see some local Pueblo artists displaying paintings, pottery, and jewelry.

The tippy-top of Texas!

The surrounding mountain ranges offer fantastic hiking opportunities here. To the south, Guadalupe National Park offers a hike to the highest point in Texas—Guadalupe Peak. Talk about jello legs coming down the trail! To the northwest of Carlsbad, Cloudcroft also has great mountain hiking trails in Lincoln National Forest. We were able to see the aspens changing color here!

 

With my internship in its last month and a half, I’m trying to learn all I can and really get the full New Mexico experience, but so far I would say it’s been pretty fulfilling.

 

 

Bonus cactus picture!…I just thought it was pretty. Mammillaria heyderi – “Little nipple cactus”

 

Lucy

BLM Carlsbad, NM

 

The Sights of Restoration

Hey, it’s Renata again (one of the interns in Oregon). I luckily have a bit more time at Dorena Genetic Resource Center before I have to head out. However, to date, one of the coolest parts of this internship has been getting to shadow the Restoration Services Team or RST (they have their own fun logo and everything). They plan and often help implement restorations after human land use (especially after things like highway or road construction). I’ve had the chance to shadow them a bit as they go to planning meetings and have gotten to visit some of the previously restored sites. A lot of the plants we grow at Dorena go to these restoration projects so it has been fun to see the end result of our work in the greenhouses and out doing seed collections.

Part of what was so cool about shadowing RST was getting to see the decision-making process. There are a ton of moving parts as they work with different government agencies overseeing the larger project (like building a highway), the engineers, the contractors, and all manner of other experts. RST’s work often comes last because you don’t want to put in the plants only to have them trampled by construction equipment (which has sadly happened before), so their timeline is always partly up in the air. They then have to make sure to collect as many local species as possible and whatever they can’t collect there they have to find in nearby areas in the same seed zone. Then you grow them, propagate them, and then get a crew together for out-planting. To give you a sense, for one project they have 12,000 huckleberry ready to go out for planting. That’s just one species. The scale of these projects can be pretty nuts when you look at the number of people working at Dorena. It is also just exciting to have other government agencies prioritize getting local seed sources and try to have as many native species replanted as possible.

Rather than have me drone on about one project or another, I figured I just give you a sense of what we get to see as we work on these projects. We go from planning, to seed collecting, to propagating, to out planting and then to monitoring and we get to do it all in some pretty breathtaking places. So I hope you enjoy!

 

Dorena Sunrise

Mountain of cells for sowing

The crew doing some transplanting

Sunrise in Klamath Falls

Seed collecting in Klamath Falls (with smoke, of course)

Seed collecting in foggy Klamath

Foggy Klamath seed collecting

Klamath area seed collection

Foggy Nestucca

 

Nestucca when the fog cleared up

Part of a restored highway for restoration

Bridge view at restoration site

The view in Pacific City (where we stayed while doing some seed collection)

Haystack rock at Pacific City

Sunset at Dorena

As Alaska Gets Darker

Fall colors amongst the short plants of the Alaskan alpine and tundra are beautiful!

I left Alaska on the 21st of September, the Fall equinox. When Alaska becomes darker than the rest of the world. Where Fairbanks loses 8 minutes of light everyday. On the winter solstice there isn’t even 4 hours of sunlight there. Now I’m just another seasonal employee who came to enjoy the easy months of the year while skipping out for the brutal winter. I’m alright with that. I don’t think I like winter enough to want 7 months of it!

Myself very excited about picking wild blueberries. In my hand is a blueberry-picker, which combs the berries off of bushes. I had no ideas these existed until I was in Alaska.

On top of Crow Pass, a classing Anchorage hike. It’s 23 miles, so I took three days to do it but many Alaskans I met enjoy it as a single day hike. Alaskans are crazy about the hardcore.

Over the course of my CLM internship I got to work with people from so many disciplines and agencies. Of course I worked with BLM employees, who gave me insight into the Federal world that is almost impossible to get from the outside. I worked with Soil and Water conservation district people, who end up being contracted out to all sorts of projects. I liked their gig a lot, because they were able to be full-time professional ecologists with fewer bureaucratic hoops. I spent lots of time with the University of Alaska botanists, who were more academic in their efforts. On one hitch, we camped with a private contracter who had a crew of 5 field techs that were doing forest inventories for the BLM. There were plenty of other types of natural resources people I got to meet and talk to. I understand the options in this field of work better than before, and know about some job pathways that I didn’t know were options before. The ‘career seasonal’, for example, where you only need to work 6 months out of the year but still get Federal benefits for the entire year, and can work up to 50 weeks a year if there is funding. This sounds like an awesome gig! Too bad there aren’t a ton of them out there…

Denali summit! Highest point in North America.

My supervisor suggested that I attend the Society of American Foresters conference in Portland for the end of my internship. He was there and thought it would be a good alternative training opportunity. I recently attended and learned more about forestry than I ever have before. I haven’t taken any classes on forestry and wouldn’t consider myself a forester by any stretch of the imagination. This meant that, while some of the talks were way over my head, I had a lot of room to learn during the conference. I networked with some industry professionals and participated in the job fairs, which are arguably the most important part of these events. My supervisor and I closed out there, and he headed off to Europe for a month to unwind from the crazy-busy Alaskan summer. Enjoy it over there, Eric! This is the second conference CBG has helped me attend. The first was the Entomology Society of America conference in Minneapolis in 2015 for my senior thesis in college. It’s so special that the CBG is willing to help out with these sorts of events, because they invigorate the imagination and allow for invaluable connections.

I can’t overstate how special it was to get to spend so much time in remote parts of Alaska. Places very few people every get to see. While the mosquitoes and rain and conditions were usually tough, I deeply appreciated being out there. This was ecology on a mega-landscape level, and there are precious few places left in the world where people can actually experience this sort of biologist’s dream. Growing up in Seattle, I have had a dream of seeing Wild Alaska since I was 4. My dream was certainly fulfilled this season, which means a lot to me. I got to see the salmon run up river and the bears who eat them. I saw where the fish remains sink into the soil to help the trees grow. I saw the caribou who eat the lichen and forage nomadically across millions of acres of wilderness. I saw the musk oxen, who stand stoically in -60F temperatures on the tundra. I got to experience endless sunlight for 2 months. My job brought me up to 70 degrees north. So species. Thank you, CBG, for employing me and offering me such an incredible internship.

A mandala we made on the beach out of natural materials in Seward, Alaska.

Arctic Dreams

Hanging out in camp after a day of work. I swear we didn’t quit early, its just always light up there in the summer! This was probably 10 pm.

This last hitch out was a month of on and off time in the Arctic. It’s a harsh place. Definitely not where humans are meant to thrive. This is understood by some quick Googling to figure out that, while the Arctic is about 10% of the Earth’s landmass, only 0.005 percent of humans live there, or about 4,000,000 people. I have a deep respect for anyone who lives there after experiencing firsthand how ruthless it is. Mosquitoes, wet ground, snow on August 6. No trees for shelter. Tough.

It was great to spend time up there, however. Jacob DeKraii, a former CLM intern in Alaska who currently works for the BLM through a contract, and myself spent a few days searching for non-native plants north of the Brooks Range. Very few invasives have proved hardy enough to make a reproductive living up here, but last year someone spotted some Hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum) in a BLM owned gravel pit up here. A team had gone out a treat it, and we were back to see if any remained. We found one lonely plant, along with two stems of non-native Timothy Grass (Phleum prantense). That’s about the best case scenario for a multiple day non-native plant search! However, it did make for some rather mundane and anti-climactic walking about.

Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. Out of the mountains on the other side is the North Slope, a barren, flat expanse of tundra that stretches all the way to the Arctic Ocean

A boardwalk at Toolik Field Station. They have installed boardwalks like this all around the area so that researchers don’t unknowingly affect the ecology of this place.

We took a trip up to the Toolik Field Station, which is the primary Arctic research facility in the U.S. Scientists from across the globe use this place to further P.h.D.’s, monitor permafrost, and measure climate change. The Arctic is warming 2-3x faster than the rest of the world. Huge amounts of methane are frozen in permafrost, but this permafrost is melting. The methane-permafrost feedback loop is among the least understood and most daunting of climate challenges. So that’s why Toolik is popular. We hung out in the sauna while it was snowing outside (again, August 6) and jumped in the bitter cold Toolik Lake. I’ve never heard such academic language in a sauna full of naked people. It was quite entertaining.

The view near our campsite in the Brooks Range

Just another awesome Alaskan expanse.

For the next few weeks we collected seeds with the University of Alaska Anchorage botanist, Justin Fulkerson, and his herbarium assistant. Suki Wilder, the only other CLM intern in Alaska, helped on one of the hitches. That was great because I haven’t gotten to work with other CLM interns this summer.She was based in Glennallen, nearly 4 hours away from Anchorage.

Suki Wilder, the other Alaska CLM intern, and I collecting wild blueberries for SOS. We did some extracurricular picking afterwards for personal use…

I found that I could get deep into the zen of seed picking. Hours would go by and I wouldn’t notice. Just fill the pillowcase. Fill the pillowcase. For the most part the weather was good. That’s huge!

The Story of the Caribou and the Lichen

998 Tango Papa!

A giant blender vibrates the entire world. We approach it and let it whisk us into the air across this giant, sloppy tundra. A tundra where, in some places is so flat and so wild, that the rivers bend and loop upon themselves enough that they seem to go nowhere. Former oxbow lakes appear as slightly greener, U-shaped depressions hanging on to the river like forgotten appendages. Occasionally a pingo will appear on the horizon. This is an ice dome up to hundreds of feet tall that has heaved itself out of the tundra throughout the years, and sits on the tundra as a perfect lump of short plants. Just a foot beneath those plants is pure ice. This landscape never turns fully green. The tussocks (Eriophorum vaginatum, or cotton grass) that form it are plants decades old who build upon their former selves. Rising up to two feet above the mucky flats, these tufted tussock plants have dozens of dead leaves from previous years for every live leaf of this year. In places, this single plant can make up an astonishing amount of the total biomass. Therefore, it never gets truly green here in the arctic tundra, because even in the height of the growing season, most of the biomass is still dead. These landscape level features are so easy to see from a helicopter!

Views over the tundra from the chopper. The brown area is all cottongrass tussocks.

A caribou. This was in Denali National Park because there aren’t any where we were in the summer.

We were out there to collect AIM data on caribou and reindeer rangelands. Reindeer are simply domestic caribou. During winter, herds of these animals migrate to the Seward peninsula to forage on lichen atop windblown ridges. You know life is rough when your winter grounds get to -40F (or C, it’s the same at this temperature) and you can only eat nutrient scarce lichen on exposed areas with huge windchill. Yikes. This lichen, being a lacking and slow-growing commodity, can make caribou populations quite volatile. When a lot of lichen is exposed, herd numbers grow, and when it becomes overgrazed, they shrink. The BLM formerly let up to 80,000 reindeer use the Peninsula, which created a profitable reindeer meat industry in the 30’s and 40’s. However, scientists determined that reindeer were negatively impacting wild caribou herds by eating their food. Since this industry was competing with the largest caribou herd in North America, tensions flared. The BLM decided to increase restrictions on reindeer grazing permits. Currently there are very few reindeer in this part of Alaska. It’s sort of hard to imagine the BLM taking this sort of drastic action to stamp out local industry, given their multiple-use ethic. Until, that is, I realized they were dealing with Indians instead of white folks. I am aware I don’t have all of the information, but I just can’t imagine the BLM actively managing for conservation 60+ years ago at the expense of white cattle grazers in the lower 48. It would be great if that was the case, but I realize the BLM has a more missions than just conservation.

Here’s 20 species of lichen I collected on one of our days in the field. I got pretty good at identifying these creepy little creatures.

Anyways, we collected AIM data, along with supplementary data, to monitor caribou rangeland health on the peninsula. Parts of this project are new, whereas some permanent transects date back to 1980. The objective is to determine how the lichen resources are used.

Each year the caribou grow a new set of antlers. In the winter, they typically shed them on ridges where they forage for lichen.

We definitely saw use of lichen by caribou, and in some places they had ‘cratered’ the ground. This is where they eat the lichen all the way down and begin to dig up the ground beneath. And you might be wondering, as I did, how can lichen support big game? Well, this lichen isn’t like lower 48 lichen. This lichen forms mats up to a foot thick and can cover huge areas of ground, so in places there is a lot of it.

A view from the helicopter on our ride back to Nome, the regional metropolitan area of 3500 people.

This project was great. I got to spend quite a bit of time with my supervisor and the lead botanist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, along with lots of other fun folks. I’ve never been so removed from the rest of the world. It’s pretty tranquil out there.

And of course a salmon picture. This was taken just outside the BLM facility in Nome, Alaska. The pink salmon were swimming in huge numbers while I was there.

Explorer

July 2018

As a kid, I always dreamed of being “an explorer”. I read stories of Lewis and Clark and pretended to traverse uncharted territory with my brother. We navigated through forests and deserts and built “birds’ nests” out of beanbags and countertops. I never thought this dream job would become a reality. Twenty years later, I inventory springs in forests and search for hidden water in deserts. I climb through rock formations and discover rosehips and wild raspberries where water seeps between the rocks. I hike along springs with vegetation up to my waist and jump back in alarm as a snake passes in front of me. I walk past a cottonwood and discover a family of owls nested in its branches.

In July, my co-intern and I began a spring inventory project that will span several field seasons. We will traverse forests and mountains and deserts to inventory nearly 400 springs and seeps in the Casper Field Office boundary. Using the Arc Collector app, we will plot the location and create a polygon to map the extent of each riparian area. Additionally, we will document riparian plant diversity and water quality data from each site.

As we begin this process, our mistakes become our biggest learning opportunities. We’ve learned that mapped two tracks don’t necessarily exist, backcountry navigation is a tedious and time-consuming process, and a lot can change in twenty years. The importance of planning and organization has become increasingly evident. Most of the riparian areas we’re visiting were inventoried nearly twenty years ago. Twenty years for vegetation to grow. Twenty years for springs to dry up. Twenty years ago, when there were no handheld GPS units. No exact coordinates. This creates a lot of challenges for our work, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and problem solving. Finding the most efficient method is as much a part of the job as the actual spring inventory process.

Twenty years ago, I pretended to be an explorer. Around the same time many of these springs and seeps were inventoried for the first time. Now I scramble through rocks and trees. I traverse forests and mountains and deserts. I cross streams and listen to owls give warning calls as I walk by their homes. I pick a raspberry and savor the reality of my childhood adventures.

 

Wild rose and wild raspberry bushes at West Rock Spring.