Vale: the Western Experience

It’s the middle of my second week interning with the BLM in Vale, Oregon. So far, so good. Well, great actually. I am extremely happy with my experiences here thus far, and am excited for what the next five months have in store.

Everyone in the office has been more than welcoming, and I could not have asked for a better mentor. This is the second year she, Susan Friits, has hosted CLM interns, and I’m overjoyed to be working with her. I know I’ll be able to learn a lot from her. Not only because she’s intelligent, but also because she’s kind, accommodating, and genuinely wants to help us learn and achieve our goals this summer. I say “us” because I am one of two interns working with Susan. The other intern’s name is Jeremy, and I’m looking forward to working with him as well. We’ve been working really well together so far. He seems very intelligent. It will be nice to be able to learn from each other as well as from Susan.

The past week and a half has been a mixture of work. There has been a bit orientation, driving training, sitting in on meetings, getting into the field, keying species, becoming familiar with species in the herbarium, and compiling data from previous interns’ work in an effort to define our targets this summer. Our main goals over the next five months will be collecting seed for the Seeds of Success program. We’ll target species from which have yet to be collected, or very few collections have been made. We’ll also monitor a few sensitive plant species in eastern Oregon, and work in the herbarium in Vale. I’ve already learned countless new botanical terms, how to identify several new plant families, and am getting more comfortable with ArcMap. Next week we’re going out to watch a lekking of greater sage-grouse. I cannot wait!

I’m living six miles outside Vale with a woman named Shelli who also works in the BLM office. I’m more than pleased with my living situation. First off, I love Shelli. She has been so helpful, and a real joy to get to know and spend time with. I love the house too. It’s a good size and quite quaint. Not having to bring or buy any furniture or kitchenware was an amazing selling point as well. Although I do yearn for a washer and drier. More than half the machines at the laundromat here in Vale are out of service. The house is in the center of a small farm, two horses in a pasture to the east, and a small herd of cows grazing to the west. It’s peaceful and simply beautiful. Watching the sunrise and sunset are two of my favorite times of day at home.






I was able to spend a week in Vale prior to my starting date and had a few exciting experiences during that free time. My first being an encounter with the herd of cows at the house. The owner occasionally locks all 30 or so of them in the gates that surround the house in order to do some work in the much larger area that they’re usually in. I was aware that this, and had no problem with the idea. However, I didn’t realize how nerve wracking it would be to try and leave the house. I can laugh now, but being home alone and having to walk through a herd of about 30 large animals that I’ve never been that close to before was scarier than I was expecting.  Once I left the front door they all looked right at me. As I started to move through them, they all stood up and kept staring at me. At first I went right back into the house and called Shelli. She laughed and told me to grab a jacket and wave it at them with confidence while walking. It worked. They didn’t trample me. It seems silly to be afraid now that I look back on the moment.

I was also able to watch and help out just a bit at a cattle branding. This is the season for ranchers to brand their livestock, and Shelli invited me to one in Harper, about twenty minutes east of Vale, my first weekend here.  I was nervous that I’d be a nuisance, but have come to learn that brandings are social gatherings. Several people and families usually get together on these occasions to help where they can, watch, and enjoy one another’s company. I was able to ride on a UTV and experience how the UTV and people on horseback steer the herd from pasture and into the necessary gates for branding. We tried to lure the cattle from pasture with hay at first, but once they saw the horses they started running in the opposite direction. We sped downhill and around the far side of the herd to stop them before they got too far out, and were then able to more slowly guide them out of pasture, down the road a ways, and into the proper gates near the house. I found the experience extremely exciting. Then the cows were separated from the calves, and the calves were caught, tied down, branded, given two shots, and the males were castrated. The process was hard to watch at first, it’s not anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m realistic about where our food comes from, and what it takes to raise and grow that food, so the process didn’t surprise me. It’s just a bit hard to see for the first time. Eventually I was able to help castrate one of the little bulls. This was an idea I had to be talked into, but it was not nearly as bad as I thought it’d be. Since it’s been so hot here, they decided to bind instead of cut, which is essentially putting a small, thick rubber band around the testicles. Then they eventually fall off.  In all, I’m really glad I went. It was a great learning experience and I met some really kind people.


Getting her tied down

I’m getting used to, and enjoying the “small town” experience so far. I have had to adjust my concept of distance since arriving. A forty five minute drive into Chicago used to be far to me. Now it’s twenty minutes to a decent restaurant, better grocery stores, and any kind of shopping. It’s an hour and twenty minutes to Boise, Idaho, the nearest city, which doesn’t quite feel large enough to be a city, and an hour to four hours to most of the sites Jeremy and I will be collecting seed at this summer. I’m looking forward to seeing the state, more so than I already have. There is so much to see, explore, and experience in this county alone. I plan on learning from and exploring as much as possible from the area this summer. It’s going to be a great five months.


Colleen Sullivan-BLM Vale, Oregon Office

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