Idaho: Month 2

I’ve been living and working in Idaho for almost 2 months now, and time seems to be going by reasonably fast. Most days I get up very early for work, drive 30 miles each way to and from the office, and come home around 5 pm. By the time I get home, I only have the energy to eat, shower, watch some Netflix, and go to sleep. I enjoy this routine sometimes because I’m busy and time flies, but it also makes me eager for adventure and relaxation on the weekends.

Me on the Snake River Feat. Diana’s toes

I haven’t had the chance to go out and explore very much outside of Twin Falls. I did take a mini road trip to Pocatello to visit a friend from school. Two other CBG interns came with me, and none of us had ever been to Pocatello, so it was good to explore a new area. However, there are still things to do in Twin Falls! I finally went kayaking down the Snake River with some friends and it was a relaxing day on the water.

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Native plant garden in Twin Falls. We came here for a forb workshop led by the Department of Fish & Game.

Almost 2 months into this internship, I can already tell that the rest of my time here with the BLM in Shoshone will be extremely valuable. Most of my time here has been spent training and learning about the botany and wildlife found in our field office. I’m starting to feel more comfortable identifying plants, but there is still so much more for me to learn and apply in the next 4 months.

In the near future, I would like to get more involved in the GIS work happening in our office. By the looks of it, many other interns are using GIS in their work, and I’m jealous. I enjoy collecting data and then analyzing it in GIS because it offers such a unique visualization. I’m always amazed by what GIS can do and I want to continue to improve my skills. If I were to go into a graduate program, I would likely focus on spatial analysis or some type of environmental informatics (GIS/remote sensing/modeling).

Doing work

Work perks

For now, I know that I want to improve my applied ecology and botany skills. Before studying something on the large scale, I want to have on-the-ground experience. Field work is the perfect way of acquiring those skills. Our training workshop in Chicago was somewhat helpful in learning about botany. It was made very clear that all of the CBG interns have varying levels of botany expertise. So when it came to the botany lesson, some people could follow along and identify plant families quickly, while several of us struggled to keep up. My school doesn’t even offer a botany or plant systematics class. 🙁 I guess most of my western botany knowledge and skills will have to be acquired on my own time and on the job. Thankfully, hands-on learning is one of the best ways for me to learn.

The training workshop was a great way to meet other CBG interns, and I am so thankful for that opportunity! I met some great people that I would love to spend more time with. It was great to see so many people with similar interests in terms of conservation and land management. I know that many of you will go on to do great things.

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Go Blackhawks!!!!

The workshop was also scheduled at a perfect time for me because my graduation was that weekend. I went to college in Chicago, so I got to see most of my friends and family. After a month of being in Idaho, I was so so so thankful to see the people near and dear to my heart. It was a perfect refresher. I got on the L after arriving in Chicago, and I never thought I would be so happy to smell the lingering odor of urine on the train. I know it’s gross, but it was a reminder of the last 4 years I spent in that beautiful urban city.

But now I am back in Idaho, and I want to enjoy my time here while it lasts. I’ve never spent this much time in a rural area, nor have I done this much field work. This area is growing on me and I’m starting to feel more at home. I’m so glad I have other interns here with me because we can share the new experience with each other.

Until next time,

Carla

BLM-Shoshone, ID

A Wyoming Summer to Remember

It’s hard to believe that three months have flown by since the CLM training workshop at the Grand Canyon. Thanks again to Krissa and Marian for organizing such a great week! I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

My Geographic Information Systems (GIS) internship with the Rock Springs, Wyoming BLM field office has afforded me many opportunities to learn new skills in GIS software. Most of my time is spent inside working on various small projects for numerous employees throughout the office. One day I may be working on a map showing the spatial relationship between oil and gas wells and sage grouse core areas for the Minerals and Lands department and the next I’ll be working on creating a reference map of Herd Management Areas for the Wild Horse Specialist to use out in the field. It is nice to have such a mix of assignments.

I’ve become more experienced in digitizing geographic features, as well as in general data management. Over the course of three months, I’ve assisted in geographic data acquisition, organization, analysis and maintenance. I’ve also become more experienced in the manipulation and creation of shapefiles and have done extensive work in readying sage grouse and pygmy rabbit datasets for further analysis by our wildlife biologists.

My cubicle workspace

While office life may not parallel the glamor and excitement of field work, it has helped me improve my computer skills and hone my interpersonal skills in a professional environment. I’m especially thankful for my mentor, Doug, who has imparted his vast GIS knowledge with patience and enthusiasm throughout my time here. He describes himself as “eccentric” and brings a welcome boost of levity to the office environment with his humorous perspective and playful attitude.

Doug on a normal day

Using a Trimble GPS to ground truth features in the field

Along with indoor activity, I also manage to get outside occasionally. In addition to accompanying my mentor for some GPS ground-truthing work, I’ve also been fortunate enough to assist various field crews from the recreation, wildlife and Seeds of Success divisions here.

Folgers coffee beans? Nope, my collection of chokecherries for the Seeds of Success program.

Some memorable moments from the field include: Sitting by a pristine creek for a lunch break and enjoying the scenery and perfect weather, trying to winch a truck out of a muddy sinkhole, walking fencelines inspecting them for sage grouse “strikes” in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, watching wild horses and bull elk from atop White Mountain (just west of Rock Springs) and seeing two red foxes dart in front of the truck on the way to check a recreation site.

A very stuck truck!

Two fellow CLM interns enjoying a beautiful day for planting trees on National Public Lands Day.

I also had the opportunity to participate in my field office’s National Public Lands Day (NPLD) event a couple of weeks ago. Myself and other CLM interns helped to direct and assist nearly 100 high school students and teachers in planting over 950 native trees along a local riparian corridor. It was a rewarding service project and an enjoyable outing with my fellow interns.

Fall hiking with my roommates

Speaking of the other interns here, we have grown close as friends and share a camaraderie that extends beyond the workday. Although you might not guess it from a glimpse of Rock Springs itself, there is no shortage of places to go and things to do here in southwest Wyoming. Weekends are always jam-packed with fun, adventurous activities. Over the course of the summer, I’ve been hiking, camping, backpacking, road biking, mountain biking, swimming, rock climbing, tubing down rivers and playing in sand dunes. It’s been great to enjoy such varied activities with a fun group of people!

Fellow CLM intern Deanna sledding down a giant sand dune

Myself on a backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountains

I look forward to my last month here as a CLM intern and eagerly anticipate the remaining adventures that await me!

Melissa Buchmann
Rock Springs, WY
Bureau of Land Management

Plague Dogs

The title of this entry may actually be an exaggeration: the prairie dogs that my fellow intern Michelle and I have been working with this week probably don’t have Yersinia pestis(bubonic plague).  Even so, we’ve been taking precautions like wearing long sleeves (or in my case an old jumpsuit) in the desert heat to avoid flea bites and heavy leather gloves to avoid prairie dog bites.  It turns out that both were great ideas since I’ve picked a few fleas off my arms and been bitten a few times without the gloves being pierced.

The prairie dogs in this colony are... healthy.

The prairie dogs in this colony are... healthy.

Michelle happily buries a prairie dog's head in the hand-crafted anesthetizer mask.

Michelle happily buries a prairie dog's head in the hand-crafted anesthetizer mask.

This current project that we’ve jumped into is intended to evaluate the effectiveness of a new method to treat Utah prairie dogs for fleas that should save time, money, and labor.  The Utah prairie dog (Cynomus parvidens) is actually an endangered species; others, e.g. white-tailed prairie dogs, are common as dirt  but there are likely at most ten thousand Utah prairie dogs left thanks to habitat loss and misguided extermination efforts in decades past funded by the government, ranchers, and farmers.  Several months ago, a few colonies were filled with bait laced with an anti-flea drug.  Our job is to gather the data on how the flea counts are now.  “But how will you count fleas on prairie dogs?” you might ask.  Let me tell you.

The first step is to trap them.  We’ve been setting out standard small mammal traps at the entrances to burrows and lured them inside with delicious off-brand peanut butter: they respond much less favorably to name-brand stuff, apparently.

We keep the prairie dogs cool in the shade while they await processing.

We keep the prairie dogs cool in the shade while they await processing.

After we’ve trapped them, we anesthetize them with a compound called isoflurane.  It’s administered with an improvised face mask made from an old sports drink bottle because funding is always tight when you work for the government.  We sometimes gently whisper things like “Sleeeeep” or “It’ll be all right, sweetheart” or even “Breathe deep, seek peace” just in case the animals can understand us and will calm down a little; they hate the smell of the stuff and are understandably a little panicked about the whole procedure.

Tanya demonstrates to the interns how to properly comb for fleas.

Tanya demonstrates to the interns how to properly comb for fleas.

Once the prairie dogs are out cold, we tag their ears if they haven’t been caught before and then groom them.  The fleas like to hide in the thickest patches of fur, so we comb the whole drugged animal with a flea comb.  All the fleas need to be sent to be identified, so we stash them in bags labeled with each prairie dog’s ID number.

New bling and no fleas, truly this is living.

New bling and no fleas, truly this is living.

When we’re done, we take off the mask and the poor, woozy critter is placed back into a cage so that we can drop it at the site where it was caught.  They don’t seem to mind the whole process that much.  Who could blame them?  They get peanut butter, ear tags, and all the ectoparasites combed out of their fur.  It’s sort of like a five-star dinner, new jewelry, and a spa treatment.

Being interns, we’re not major players in this project and we’re only involved for three days, but that’s part of the beauty of it. Michelle and I continue to get to take part in all kinds of projects here in southern Utah. We’ll both keep updating as we get to do more.

Nelson Stauffer from Cedar City, Utah over and out.