East coast to west coast

Hello from eastern Oregon. I have travelled all the way from southern Florida. All I am asking is where are all the trees? Haha! A few weeks ago, I began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Vale District Office – located in far eastern Oregon.

For the past two weeks, I have been learning about the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat. A group of us have been conducting Rangeland Habitat Assessments in super-southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. With all different backgrounds: wildlife, botany, soil, air, water, and range; the specialists assess the sites to see if cattle should continue to graze in the area, if erosion by air or water is destabilizing the site, or if the site is in its prime condition. In other words, the assessment is to determine how the ecological processes on each site (49 sites) are functioning.

It is interesting to see the slight differences in habitats depending on the dominant species of sagebrush (Wyoming sagebrush, low sagebrush, bud sagebrush, etc.) at the site. The soil could be crusty, pedestals may form where Poa secuna (Sandberg bluegrass) grows, shrub composition alters, as well as forb and grass composition, the slope of the “hills” (not quite mountains) determine water flow and/or water erosion. I could go on. All of these determine whether or not the site is in good condition for the greater sage grouse to fulfill its lively duties. Celebration is required when Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), a non-native (invasive) plant, is NOT found in the site.

A sagebrush site

A sagebrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

In addition to assessing high desert habitat, we have assessed several riparian (watershed) habitats using different criteria to determine how the ecological processes on each site are functioning. Most of the cattle and the calves hang out in the riparian areas during the high-heat summer days. The cattle create hummocks in the riparian areas which ultimately alter the flowing water patterns.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

cattle created hummocks

Hummocks (like pedastals) created by cattle in the riparian site.

I am incredibly excited about learning the plants out here. Consciously, I am comparing those I see here to the plants back in southeast United States. It amazes me how plants are adapted to their habitat. A lot of the plants are much more pubescent (hairy) than what I am used to!

In the upcoming months, we will be monitoring and surveying habitats and vegetation for the greater sage grouse throughout the Vale District. Some sites will be on the mountains! We will be conducting “monitoring plots” using the spoke design transect, line-point intercept, gap intercept, vegetation height calibrations, and plant species inventories. All this field work, we get to identify plant species, which is obviously the best part!

It is hard to grasp distance out here. Hills seem closer than they really are. I won’t be getting dehydrated this summer, I am keeping cool! I am beyond excited to share with you all the next few weeks of my journey. Talk to you soon!

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selfie in the sage 🙂

Cheers,

Michelle Smith 

BLM – Vale District

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