Wow! Five months of adventure in the high plains, badlands, and mountains of Wyoming! My second internship with the CLM program was an amazing experience! I had a variety of opportunities to practice my plant and animal identification skills, expose myself to new ecosystems and plant communities, understand local politics involving wildlife and oil projects, participate in community education events, and gain a sense of what I want to do with my life. This experience aided in developing a plethora of skill sets, which would help me with my future job(s)! This would be my last blog entry involving stories, gifs, experiences, and even an interview! Brace yourselves! \(OoO)/
- I am going to include “Your Moment of Zen” right now. So grab a cup of tea or root beer and select your play list. This post is going to be long. \(^_^\);;
Botany Treasures of the Landscape
There were a variety of plants that we saw when we were monitoring around Gillette, Wyoming and the Bighorns. We saw seven tree species, nineteen shrub species, fifty-six grass and sedge species, and one hundred and sixty-six forb species!! I expected a lot less diversity in our area, but the high plains desert always surprised me! Of course some of the Astragalus and Aster species were tricky to identify, but the majority of the plants we did encounter were easy to identify. There were a few plants I really did like. The Asclepias species such as green comet milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) and showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) were my all-time favorites. They always had unusual and rare insects crawling all over the leaves. I love the flowers for these plants and they always cheered me up under the blazing afternoon sun. Another unusual forb was the ground plum milkvetch (Astragalus crassicarpus). Their fruit was cool to find in the prairie landscape! The books say they were edible and good in meals, but they tasted horrible. Side note: The plant may induce vertigo in some people. I was fine though.
One of my favorite grasses was the littleseed ricegrass (Piptatheropsis micrantha). This grass was very hard to find and was usually found in forested canyons in Campbell County. I love the seeds and the grass shape. The best part was popping the grass seeds, so they would spring out into the field and reseed. Two of my favorite shrubs were winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata) and silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana)! In my last internship, silver sagebrush was rare to come across and we usually saw them in wet playas or shallow basins that were inundated with water for a small period of time in the spring. In Buffalo, Wyoming, they were ALL OVER!!! O_O At first I was so excited and pointed the shrub out all the time. Eventually I stopped doing that because they were present in almost all of our sites. The limber pine (Pinus flexilis) was my favorite tree species that I encountered on the high slopes of the Bighorns. They were listed as a threatened species in Wyoming, due to the white pine blister rust. In many parts of the West, they were pretty common. They were even considered an ornamental pine tree back in Chicago, IL! I love their bending branches, shape, and pine cones. They were slowly recovering from the rust and efforts from our BLM and other agencies in terms of seed collection and propagation would hopefully make this tree common in the higher elevations of the Bighorns.
From left to right: Comet Green Milkweed, Ground Plum Milkvetch, and Limber Pine.
In the Valley of Junipers and Pine (Mid October)
Recently, we have been helping the Montana Conservation Corp (MCC) with cutting down juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). The reason we were cutting down some of these trees was to create ideal habitat for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). The bird species preferred 10-15% sagebrush cover on an almost flat landscape in our area. The sage grouse do not like anything that vertically grows such as juniper trees. They also do not prefer power lines. Predators like hawks could perch on the tree/power lines and hunt sage grouse with ease. We went into the landscape around the Thunder Basin/ Burnt Hollow area and used loppers and sulkies to cut down many juniper that were growing all over the landscape. The MCC used chainsaws and other tools to cut down some of the junipers over twelve feet high. I did this for a few days with my fellow interns and seasonals and I was able to use my trimming arboriculture skills, but instead of making the junipers pretty, I just cut them down.
This is a gif showing the ideal and not ideal habitats for the greater sage grouse.
Against All Odds! On the Road to Fortin Draw! (Early July)
One of the hardest places Sara and I had to monitor was Fortin Draw. This was an isolated piece of land located parallel to a major highway and rail road system. We got permission from the landowners and drove north of Gillette to a small road leading up to the allotment. The road looked like it was washed out, full of cow tracks, and had the consistency of clay. When walking by yourself on the road, you could easily trip or fall! The truck had an easier time on this road. ^_^ We did come across many boulders that I had to move out of the way, so Sara could drive with the truck further down the road. The road was so narrow, that we could not turn around. After about an hour of slowly driving down this secondary road, we came to our site. We parked along a hill that overlooked the train tracks and the highway nearby. Sara and I went to the site and performed our monitoring duties.
These were some pictures of Fortin Draw. We had to go under a fence to get to our site. Later on we found out there was a gate opening on the other side of the hill.
When we came back, we noticed another road that ran closer to the train tracks that we wanted to take, because it looked smoother and not as bumpy. As we drove, we got stuck twice! We had to dig ourselves out and have the truck in four wheel drive to get around some of the iffy sections. One part of the road was covered with yellow sweet clover, and I went ahead to see if it was safe for the truck to move forward. Much of the dirt and gravel was loose towards the end, but I directed Sara away from the trouble spots. One time the ground underneath one of the front tires started to give making the truck lean downhill. I asked Sara to quickly back up the truck and hug the left section of the road. We finally made it out of Fortin Draw alive and our truck (which was called “Big Mama”) survived with hardly a scratch. Our hearts were beating a mile a minute and we decided to head back early and organize our data and call other land owners.
Interview with Krissa!
I received an email from Krissa regarding the final blog post! There were specific questions she asked me regarding the internship. Let us begin!!
1.) How you’ve grown personally and professionally
I have grown personally, professionally, and physically from this internship! I have grown in confidence and strength in monitoring in the back country areas of Wyoming. Personally, all of the challenges I have encountered made me a better and stronger person overall. Patience and the ability to remain calm in dire conditions really helped Sara and myself figure out many different puzzles. The rangeland monitoring portion of our internship was mentally challenging in a good way and having a positive mentality in the field goes a long way.
Professionally, I have vastly grown in plant identification skills. There were many plants we had to identify, and the use of various textbooks and literature helped myself apply my college education to real world scenarios. This internship helped me grow in understanding the importance of public relations and being able to talk with land owners. I did have some interesting times with some land owners, but all of the experiences I learned really helped me in the long run. Being a people person was very important and being able to talk with people about a variety of subjects helped me grow. Working with advisors and co-workers on different projects really helped me grow professionally in the BLM. My mentor gave me many opportunities to interact and speak with everyone in the resources department. Overall, this internship helped me become very professional and it challenged me to look at myself. The experiences I gathered from this internship would definitely help me in my future career.
I am prepared for any future endeavor!
Oh!! You were probably wondering how I grew physically from this internship. I took Pilates at the local YMCA and I was able to have a better posture. I actually grew an inch! Haha!! ^_^;;;;
2.) New skills you’ve gained
There were many new skills that I have gathered and learned from this internship! With all of the rangeland health and S&G monitoring, I have learned five new wildlife and flora survey methods that would help in future sage grouse and rangeland health assessments. I learned many new grasses and forbs, which really helped with my plant identification skills. I used the taxonomy key and identification books a lot, which greatly assisted me with grass identification. Some plants were tricky like the Astragalus, Solidago, and Penstemon species, but we were able to identify them with the help of experienced rangeland health specialists. This internship provided me with knowledge on computer software and remote sensing analysis. I was able to learn about all sorts of data entry and was able to display collected data in many different forms for reports and maps. I have had defensive driving courses in the past, but this internship really tested my driving skills to the max! I was able to navigate through tough terrain and the streets of Gillette, Wyoming with ease.
3.) Learning experiences that stand out to you
I had plenty of learning experiences during my internship with the Buffalo Field Office. I had a huge amount of experience with file organization and data entry. It was super important to be as organized as possible when working in the Government. I had plenty of off road driving experience in the back country around Gillette. Some sites had steep terrain and secondary roads leading up to the transect. Sara and I used all of our defensive driving training and luckily survived everything nature threw at us. We did get stuck a couple of times, but we managed to escape the clutches of wet clay soils. Monitoring in windy conditions was VERY challenging. At least six days had windy/stormy conditions that made our measuring tape fly all over the place! /)_- We had be creative like MacGyver. We used paperclips, rubber bands, and a series of rocks to keep papers and measuring tapes from flying off. With a field season underneath our belt, I could assure anyone that we were experts at monitoring during windy conditions…hopefully my future job will not require me to monitor during a hurricane. >_>;; My final learning experience that really stood out to me was to deal with pesky grass seeds such as needle and thread (Hesperostipa comata) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Cheatgrass was a huge pain to deal with in the field. Some sites had so much cheatgrass, that it would fill your shoes and ruin your socks. I could imagine myself walking through a cheatgrass field and all of the seeding cheatgrass would say, “Take my babies!” This would result in hundreds of grass seeds stuck in my socks. Haha!! Needle and thread seeds were not as crazy as cheatgrass seeds, but they did hurt when they hit you. I learned to always carry a tweezers or pliers with you when dealing with grass species out in the field.
A close up of needle and thread grass. Yikes!!! Those pointy ends could easily pierce my socks!! D:
4.) Rewarding experiences/memories
There were many rewarding experiences I had during my internship duration at the Buffalo Field Office. Almost everyday working for the BLM was a rewarding experience. I learned something new each day that would either broaden my knowledge or resume in some way. One of my main moments that I was so proud of was when I completed all of the allotment folders. The process took 4.5 months of data collection and entry, making maps, photography, comprehensive report writing, and organization. After all of the hard work and a big pile of allotment folders, I could say that I accomplished the massive project within my internship time at the Buffalo, Wyoming BLM.
Yay!! I completed all of the allotment folders. The process took 4.5 months!
One day, Sara and I were out in the field and found a baby elk tangled up in a barbed wire fence. We helped free the poor creature and managed to save it. We were so proud of ourselves for that accomplishment that we were able to help a living creature in the wild.
A favorite memory of mine was when I went with University of Wyoming: Laramie Natural Diversity Database Research Division to the Fortification Creek WSA to monitor bird species and other fauna. We were out there for a week and I learned an incredible amount about the flora and fauna of northeastern Wyoming. I helped capture insects, search for reptiles and amphibians, watch biologists mist net for bats, and hiked miles on end to locate various bird species. Hiking amongst the badlands and juniper forests was an awesome experience that I would never forget.
The University of Wyoming: Laramie Natural Diversity Database Research Division Group and myself!!
Towards the beginning of my internship, our mentor took us along to a public outreach event where we were with elementary school kids. Our goal was to teach them the differences between different flora. What is a tree? Is this a grass? Can you find a shrub? It was a scavenger hunt for plants that all the kids enjoyed. Allison, Dusty, Charlotte, Jill, and I had a fun time teaching all of the children. Some of the children were so excited about plants that they took many grass samples back to the classroom.
One of my favorite memories happened before my internship! My roommate, Sean wanted to take me out to a lek site to watch sharp tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus). We found two lek sites in the morning and many grouse. The males were strutting their stuff, while the females were just walking around socializing. We saw a truck approach us and a cowboy asked us if we were there for the branding. One thing led to another and we were involved with the local Sheridan cattle branding. We were busy for a couple of hours. They roped the calves and we had to lay them on the ground to be vaccinated, branded, and sometimes castrated. The overall experience was awesome! Later on, I heard that experience of Sean and I helping local ranchers with a branding helped increase public relations with the BLM. ^_^
Some calves that were ready for action!
5.) Expectations that were or were not met
This internship went above and beyond my expectations. I learned more GIS skills that I could definitely use for my future job. Working with different tools and remote sensing applications in ArcMap really helped me grasp what the Government needed and used in terms of mapping projects. Many of the data entry projects helped me understand and elaborate more on my knowledge of computer software. I learned about efficient ways to work with Excel and transfer excel files between various programs. Microsoft Access was tricky, but was very beneficial for comprehensive report writing.
Learning about different survey methods and plant identification was a great experience. Many of the rangeland health specialists gave Sara and I many different sites to survey. We went on mountains, badlands, creeks, draws, buttes, forests, playas, salt flats, and wetlands to monitor all kinds of plants. Some of the locations were near mining facilities and oil platforms, which provided us with plenty of experience with talking with land owners.
Cabin Canyon (East). One of my favorite sites to monitor.
The Buffalo Field Office provided me with a diverse and rich amount of experience that I would definitely use in my future line of work. Unfortunately, I did not have time to work on environmental policy documents before I left. I did receive insight on NEPA documents and other gas/oil documentation. Hopefully, in the future I would learn more about these documents.
Buzzworms (Early August)
I was talking with some of the uranium miners that worked south of Buffalo and Gillette. They were rough people that went through a lot for their work. One of the subjects they talked about were buzzworms. I was perplexed! O_o??? I have never heard of a buzzworm before. What is this buzzworm? I talked with one of the rookie people that were new to the job and he explained to me that a buzzworm was actually a rattlesnake! I froze for a good ten seconds…trying to connect the dots. Then I laughed! Buzzworm was the funniest name I have ever heard for a rattlesnake. For most of the time in the field, I warned the other interns of possible buzzworms in the grass. They would look at me with a confused look and then realize I was talking about rattlesnakes. We all had a good laugh over that word. Fortunately, I never encountered a buzzworm during the Buffalo internship unlike last year in Burns, Oregon where I saw many. The word ”buzzworm” would always stay with me.
This “buzzworm” is not amused. (Actually it was Mr. Rattles Version 2.0 from the last internship.)
I had the great fortune to work with three awesome interns, Heather, Sara, and Jill. They were hard workers and accomplished every task that came their way. No matter what the weather or condition they were always up for a challenge!
Heather’s main job was to help out with the Powder River Basin Restoration Program. She also came out with Sara and I to help monitor different sites in the Bighorns and the badlands region of Campbell County. She even assisted Jill with SOS seed collection! She worked with a lot of managers and created different documents to help with the future monitoring efforts of the PRBR program. She worked with all kinds of GIS and software programs. She also developed a lot of connections with land owners and people within the office. She was a professional! She was a quick thinker and was always concerned for people’s well-being. She worked on a variety of projects that dealt with cheatgrass detection and sage grouse monitoring. Heather was always there for you and cared for everyone. She was calm and collected through a majority of our trip, except when a dog tried to herd her truck. Haha!
Heather and I ready for another adventure.
Sara was the other rangeland monitor. We would travel all across Sheridan, Campbell, and Johnson County to monitor the allotments we were assigned. We went through thick and thin to monitor different sites in the rain, intense sun, and wind storms. She was extremely dependable and very hard working. We hiked through the mountains or into the Badlands to get to a transect. She was well versed at back country driving. Sara went to the limit and surpassed it! She was very helpful in data entry and always lend a helping hand to Heather or Jill. Another job she excelled at was public relations. Many land owners really liked her! She had the charisma that made many people smile in person and probably over the phone.
Sara was ready to identify all the plants! \(O_O\)
Jill was our SOS intern for our office. She collected around eighteen seed collections, but I think she was going to do more Fall collecting. (She could’ve done more, but she only had funding to do eighteen collections…) Jill did accompany the rangeland and the PRBR groups for many data collecting escapades. She was very good at photography and tended to be the S&G photographer for the group. She always had a nice sense of humor and an interesting taste in music. Most of her seed collection occurred during the hot Summer months under the intense sun. Collecting all kinds of forb and grass seeds was her specialty. She was always in high spirits when performing her job. Her plant presses were a work of art.
Jill and I picking seeds for SOS.
I just want to thank all three of the interns for being who they were. It was a sincere pleasure working with all three of them! \(^_^)/
I Want to Give Thanks To These Wonderful People
(Small extended applause could be heard in the background for the duration of this section.)
I want to thank all of the BLM Legends who helped me with the internship and provided support and guidance. I want to thank my mentors and rangeland specialists, Charlotte, Dusty and Kay. They were very helpful and incredibly awesome at their job. They provided the right amount of guidance to help the interns out. They helped anyway they could and provided us with all kinds of opportunities. All of the rangeland specialist were great and would be missed! I want to thank Chris and Don for all of the wildlife biology jobs involving bird monitoring and habitat assessments. I could tell they loved their jobs and had an affinity for nature. I want to thank my head bosses Chris and Bill! They really helped me get settled and figure out some of the technical parts of my job. I always enjoyed talking with Bill about birds or receiving a good morning hello from Chris! (I also appreciated the Chris messages when I came back from work. Heather enjoyed them to a lesser extent.) >;)
I want to also thank Diane who helped provide input on various GIS questions. I want to thank Michelle for helping Sara and I help hunt down land owner phone numbers. I also want to thank her for providing us with unlimited M&Ms. I want to thank all of the BLM/ NRCS specialists, Jen, Allison, Janelle, Arnie, Keith, Scott, Maverick Dan, and Nayeli for all the knowledge they imparted on all of the interns. I want to thank Connie for all the cool rocks and nice rock hounding stories! Last but not least, I want to thank Sean “The Sean” Casler for sharing room and board at the apartments. Thanks for all the stories and adventures! The cattle branding was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had! You may be wondering why he was called Sean “The Sean”, well…why not?
BLM Legends and Interns working in the field!!
I want to thank Krissa and Rebecca at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Thank you so much for this opportunity!!! I have learned and experienced all of what I wanted to get out of an internship. Thank you so much, Krissa, for all of your hard work and for providing me with an awesome internship! I also want to thank Rebecca for helping me with every question I had. Thanks for providing assistance and guidance on different problems throughout the internship! (I do apologize for turning in few of the time sheets late. … ^_^;;;;) Again thank you. You’re all the best in the biz! \(^_^\)
Finally, I want to thank my family members and friends who always called and encouraged me on my internship. The home packages were awesome! I want to thank my parents who were always there for me and supported me every step of the internship! Thanks for the small Canada vacation and the pictures of your adventures. Thank you to my sisters and brother in laws for the packages and phone calls! They were really appreciated. I want to thank my friend, Jo Smith, who provided artwork for one of my previous blogs. You are very talented and the best in the biz! Thanks to all of my friends for all the chats, texts, and private messages. They mean a lot to me!
Oh!!!!! I forgot to mention! If you read this far, congratulations. You won a gold star!! I want to thank any interns or other people who have read my blog! You were all the best!! ^_^
Gold Star for my fellow blog readers.
Riding off into the Sunset
Here is a gif from Indiana Jones. Just picture all four CLM Interns from Buffalo, Wyoming riding off into the sunset.
All the interns riding into the sunset…but three of the interns have to return on Monday to continue their internship.
…….OH NO!!!!!!!! NOT AGAIN!!!!!!!!!
Oh crumbs… this was the second time this happened to me. I forgot to post about important A-ha! Moments in my blog for an entire season…Let me see…. My 2014 Field Season A-ha moment: The woolly bear caterpillar becomes the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella)! Many people think that these caterpillars could predict weather based on the size of the brown band. This was actually considered folklore and there was no scientific evidence to link weather and the woolly bears according to the Farmer’s Almanac website. Another fun fact: They like to gather in cracks of buildings during the winter to keep warm. :3
Woolly Bear and its adult form the Isabella Tiger Moth. Picture came from: https://animalgals.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/woolly-bear-caterpillar/