Welcome Field Season

The wonderful thing (in my opinion) about the Forestry Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program at the US Forest Service here in the Pacific Northwest is the seasonality of our work. Maybe you’re familiar with seasonal work, or have spent time as a seasonal employee, but what makes FIA comparatively unique is most of us are seasonal permanent–we not only have the winter off, but we keep our benefits and our job is waiting for us to come back to. Why winters off? Believe it or not, it’s difficult to collect vegetation data when there’s blanket of snow covering everything. “Summer Vacation” may be the idealistic dream harkening back to the school breaks of our youth, but personally I prefer having a break during the winter months. Aside from the convenience of overlapping with three holidays I celebrate, what better time to travel south to visit friends and curl up with my reading list? 

But now that spring is in full swing we’re gearing back up—literally. For the next few weeks we’ll be training, catching up on protocol changes, and rounding out the pre-field administration work. I’m grateful for this small transition, as I’ve just relocated to a different duty station on the opposite side of the state. Exciting, right? I certainly think so.

While I like my nomadic life and the chance to explore somewhere new, moving duty stations does have drawbacks. For example, I am ever so slightly intimidated by the amount of new vegetation I’ll have to identify. As someone without a background in botany, forestry, or natural science of any kind, vegetation identification has been the most daunting part of this job. While I’m great at spot the difference games, my brain isn’t wired well for visual retention. For example, quickly identifying a tree’s species on sight? That connection doesn’t come naturally and requires a a few extra mental steps. My solution is to memorize ways to identify trees based on needle color and shape, bark texture and color, cone size, etc. and create a sort of mental flowchart to reference each time I need to identify a species (which, in this job, is every day). So a bit of a learning curve, but this is proof of my favorite mantra: anyone can learn anything if given the necessary support, resources, and time.

My crew last season was amazing, taking time to invest in teaching me and answering my (admittedly numerous and often pedantic) questions. I’m incredibly grateful to them both, because within a few months I felt confident and competent–something I was told would take an entire field season. So, with that strong start in my pocket, I’m looking forward to getting to know new my crew, the duty station, and all of the plants and protocol that come with it.

Well, it’s time to inventory some gear. Stay tuned for some imminent field stories!

Until next time,

Lia



P.s. Here’s a picture of my crew last season. We had just finished a tediously difficult plot with a long and hike, and just as we reached the truck a rainbow appeared right over the plot we’d left. In a day of ups and (many more) downs, this was a fantastic note to end the day on.
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