Biological Science Technician: Field work on the National Grasslands!

In the featured image above I am using a hose to wash out the roots of Sphaeralcea coccinea, commonly known as scarlet globemallow. My coworker, Myesa and I were helping Jackie Ott (our boss) and her postdoc, Seton Bachle, with a project that required us to wash out many S. coccinea, microwave, and then dry them. The weather while we were doing this particular batch was not very good. You can see the snow behind me. The worst weather phenomena I have had the pleasure experiencing out here in South Dakota is wind! Wind turns normal temperatures into cold, unbearable time spent outside. Anything over 25 mph is not enjoyable wind to be out in.

A day with a Forester

I learned a lot on my day shadowing Josh Widmer, a Forester for the USFS Black Hills National Forest. He manages timber sales. I learned that the Black Hills is consistently top 3 in the nation in timber production. Managing and protecting this system is crucial ecologically and economically. The most common tree here is the Ponderosa Pine. They can grow quite tall. Josh took me to a few different areas that he is managing – one of which had a lot of machinery that contractors use to thin young groves (so they can grow better) and cut trees to extract them. These machines are quite impressive and can work on slopes that I would not have guessed feasible. It’s always amazing — and somewhat alarming, as an ecologist — to imagine how hard it was just a hundred years ago to do things we can accomplish with technology and engineering.

Field work

I’ve learned how to be more prepared doing field work this past month. The field sites are far and require a lot of good preparation to ensure work goes smoothly. Sometimes I will work 10-11 hour days, of which 4-5 hours is spent driving! I feel very fortunate to have gained this field work experience in a part of the US not many people know/understand/have seen. The Great Plains in South Dakota have a certain untamed beauty about them. A true sea of grass.

As I look forward to my graduate studies in Oceanography, I feel thankful to have had the opportunity to learn about this ecosystem. Segue, I took a long weekend earlier this month to visit graduate programs on the East Coast, and have since decided to attend University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography ( I am humbled, driven, and blessed to be able to start my MS/PhD work under Dr. Andrew Davies at Rhode Island. I will always look back at my experience in South Dakota with fondness… that’s it for now, until next time.

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