7 miles

On Sunday I ran seven miles. I believe that’s a new record for me.

My seven-mile run: a mostly consistently flat out-and-back loop along the road in Rock Creek Park. I went off on a fairly rugged side trail for probably about 2 miles in the middle stretch, which kind of put a dent in my pace.

My seven-mile run: a mostly consistently flat out-and-back loop along the road in Rock Creek Park. I went off on a fairly rugged side trail for probably about 2 miles in the middle stretch, which kind of put a dent in my pace.

Sure, there are people that run that far every day. Maybe twice a day. Seven miles makes just over half of a half marathon, which is half of a full marathon— and there are folks out there who run one of those at least every day. (Well… maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but comedian Eddie Izzard did manage to run 27 full marathons in 27 days earlier this year.) So, yeah, my seven miles is not a huge deal.

I grew up running varsity track through middle and high school for around five years between 7th and 11th grades. I was a mid-/long- distance runner, specializing in the 800m and 1600m races, so I’m not exactly a stranger to long training runs. I never did cross country in the fall, though, so before now I’ve never really extended into true higher mileage training. I think in my high school career, I topped out at about 6 miles.

So the completion of what may be my first seven-mile run marks the beginning of my voyage into new territory.

I decided at the beginning of this summer that I needed some sort of solid goal to reverse my body’s slow decline into pudding-blob jelliness. I’ve gone through “I’m going to start running again” campaigns in the past to no real success: when your only goal is some abstract “running” or “fitness”, it’s hard to get yourself to “run” or “do fitness” every day when you leave the choice up to your own mood. So this time I’ve committed myself to a concrete goal with a structured training plan, and I’ve gone around and told nearly everyone I know that I’m doing it so I’m compelled to actually follow through— under penalty of severe shame and embarrassment.

I’ve put myself on track to run a half marathon at the end of the summer, just about the time I should get back home to Utah. I just finished Week 4 of a twelve-week training schedule.

Besides the very concrete reasons of training and fitness, I think I naturally turn to running when I move to new places and unfamiliar circumstances (even if not always in as regular a manner as I’m currently keeping). When you’re thrust into a new environment and have to shoulder different responsibilities and aren’t quite sure how expectations are stacking up against you, it’s very easy have your feet pulled out from underneath you and to find yourself free-falling as you lose control of your situation and little parts of yourself. Running, I’ve found, gives me a sense of control when everything else may begin to fall loose.

Running is familiar and uncomplicated; for someone like me who has neither the coordination nor the patience to put up with more elaborate hobbies or means of recreation, it’s perfect. The actual act of running itself really requires nothing more than a decent pair of shoes and a halfway reliable internal compass. And there aren’t a lot of variables in the act that are left out of your hands: when running, you have the power to determine how fast you go, how far, and (for the most part) where you end up.

I prefer to run without a phone, without headphones, with really nothing at all. A lot of people will decry how the unbroken monotony of an undistracted run will make the run seem longer, harder, and more unbearable. But I find running to be a valuable form of meditation.

During the time that I’m out on a run, I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. There’s no sort of media content to bombard and distract my mind, and because I have nothing else I should be doing at that exact moment, my thoughts are free from being picked at by a sense of obligation and things “I have to do…”. It makes for an ideal time to work things through my mind, whether that be a song that’s been stuck in my head all day—often a single line will loop continuously through my head through the whole run until I practically sweat the darn earworm out— or more complicated thoughts or emotions. The continuous movement in a run allows me to work things through without being overwhelmed by the physical sensations of anxiety, so I find it a valuable time for contemplation.

Sometimes, though, my mind goes mostly blank as I’m consumed by the sheer act of running. The difficulty breathing, the aching muscles, the maintenance of pace, those things most people try to distract themselves from while running—sometimes I allow those things to occupy my thoughts instead of everything else my mind usually ends up chewing over and over.

As I’ve moved and run in different places, I’ve found running to also serve the very practical function of introducing me to a new neighborhood. When I’m running, I’m often wandering around places I would never end up in my point-A-to-point-B destination-oriented commutes. Through running, I can get a feel for the neighborhood and discover where neat stores are, or stumble upon different paths and parks. Being out there on my feet allows me to map things out and know things for myself.

Sometimes there may be a little trial-and-error and I’ll end up 3 miles off of where I thought I was, but that’s usually when I learn the most.

As my mileage keeps creeping up, from 7 miles this past week to 8 this next, I keep venturing a little farther and farther out, and I’m left with more time to myself and overall a greater sense of power.

What's up with the horses?

In a previous post, I mentioned visiting the Wild Horse and Burro adoption event out in Lorton, Virginia. Since then and really all throughout my time here, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from those folks unfamiliar with the finer BLM details along the lines of… why?

Why is there an adoption event for horses taken from America’s West in this small East Coast town 40 minutes outside of DC?

Why are they even adopting these horses out in the first place?

Why am I—as an office intern in Washington DC—even concerned with these horses (and burros, too, I guess) at all?

 

I’ll start with the last question and work my way up.

(Again, the disclaimer that I’m not writing as a representative of the BLM in any sort of official capacity. Anything I write is publicly available information, and any other commentary is made from my personal views.)

Though I’m kind of a free-floating intern for all of the BLM’s Resources and Planning directorate, my physical home within the directorate’s floor is with the Wild Horse and Burro division. None of my work so far has been strictly within their concerns, but my supervisor works for the division and I’m surrounded all day by posters and pamphlets covered in majestically galloping horses and their shaggy burro cousins.

Before I started work I had no clue what I’d be doing here, so I jumped on the opportunity that the Meadowood adoption event gave me to learn more. Like I said, that was great, and seeing the actual people and animals that concern the policies I’ve been reading has proven to be invaluable.

But that brings us to the question: what is the BLM doing with these horses and why do they need to be adopted?

As of March 2016, the BLM officially reports that there are more than 67,000 wild horses and burros on Western public lands. When these horses’ herd sizes get too big, they start to put major strains on the land, overgrazing to the detriment of the rest of the ecosystem and to the point of starving their own populations. In order to avoid these negative consequences, the BLM estimates that the lands can only sustainably hold less than 27,000 horses and burros.

Wild horses and burros aren’t the only animals whose booming populations pose a danger for the ecosystems around them. However, due to the close relationship of their species to humans, the matter of controlling their populations becomes a little more complicated.

In 1971 Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which requires the “protection, management, and control of wild free- roaming horses and burros on public lands.” The idea is that with their close connections to humans and the history of settlement on this continent, horses and burros are “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West,” and “they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.”

No, not that "'Spirit' of the West"... geez.

No, not that "'Spirit' of the West"... geez.

With this Act, the BLM was charged with the task of managing the herds. It has to somehow find a way to reconcile the 40,000-animal difference between the number of horses and burros that are out there and the number that can actually survive on the land.

With unchecked herd sizes doubling every 4 years, the BLM has struggled to implement any truly effective population management measures. It invests a lot in research to control reproduction rates, but has yet to find a single reliable method. For now, the only solution it can find is to round up and remove those extra horses and burros and place them in off-range corrals and pastures.

Right now the BLM is holding somewhere around 46,000 horses and burros in these off-range sites. It’s expensive to keep them in there, though, with the costs for caring for a horse over its lifetime approaching something like $50,000. To try and mitigate these costs, the BLM tries to adopt out those animals it can to people with appropriate means to keep them. The adoptions can really only put a dent in the problem, though, and it doesn’t help that fewer and fewer people are adopting at all as the years go on.

Most of these horses roam in the Western states, so the question of how they would end up in Virginia is fairly reasonable. Adoption events are actually held across the country, with the horses being transported from their different holding sites to the adoption locations.

Even though the adoption event in Lorton is apparently fairly small compared to more rural and horse-friendly locations, it’s apparently an important one for publicity’s sake. A big part of these events—perhaps even bigger than the actual adopting out itself—is raising awareness of the horses’ situation and what the BLM is doing. Being so close to the nation’s capital and where a lot of decisions affecting the program get made, the Lorton event is important for increasing visibility of the issue among people who are otherwise extremely removed from its implications.

And, even with its sogginess, the Lorton event apparently didn’t do so bad for itself. Out of the 38 total horses there for adoption, 27 were placed in permanent homes.

What is the BLM?

Mired for eight hours a day in its policy papers and being slowly surrounded by its people and culture, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that a lot of people aren’t quite familiar with what the BLM does. So before moving any further, I thought I’d give a basic rundown of the Bureau to give my readers an idea of where I’m spending most of my time this summer.

(And, even though I’m not writing anything that’s sensitive or that’s not already very much public knowledge, I should include the disclaimer that I’m not writing as a representative of the BLM in any sort of official capacity. Anything I write in this blog is my own conjecture.)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a federal agency within the US Department of the Interior, and is in charge of about 250 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights (give or take a few million acres depending on who you talk to). Almost all of the BLM’s land is located in the Western states, and much of it is made up of patchworked parcels leftover in the West’s settlement era as land that “nobody wanted”.

Unlike the National Park Service or the US Forest Service whose missions focus almost entirely on the protection and conservation of their lands, the BLM is tasked with administering its lands with multiple-use policies in mind. This means that they have to balance a variety of uses, such as energy development, mining, livestock grazing, recreation, and timber harvesting alongside conservation and preservation of historical resources.

The mission of the BLM is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations."

This can get tricky for them. With all the competing interests on its lands, the BLM usually falls under criticism from at least one side (and often more) of any issue. Conservationists want it to keep people and development entirely off the land; energy developers want access to the land for drilling or for the lands’ renewable energy resources; recreationists want to be able to access the land to hike, climb, shoot, and ride as they please; ranchers want ample provisions for grazing their livestock; and certain groups think the federal government shouldn’t have any say in what happens to the land…

In administering their policies on the federal level as well as state, district, and field levels, the BLM tries to listen to all these demands and weigh them alongside their responsibilities to keep the lands and wildlife healthy and productive for the future. The BLM relies a lot on its partnerships with local communities, researchers, and other interests to get a lot of their work done, so they really try to maintain positive relationships with the people concerned with the land.

The BLM has many offices across the states and in the field, but I'm working in the Washington DC office where the central guidance and direction comes out of. The Washington Office is separated out among seven directorates, four of which are concerned with the actual administration of the lands and three which are for internal support. Each directorate is then separated into different divisions with more specific focuses.

  • BLM National Directorates:
    • Fire and Aviation
    • Resources and Planning
    • Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management
    • National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships
    • Communications
    • Human Capital Management
    • Business Fiscal and Information Resources Management

I work for the Resources and Planning directorate as a whole. Rather than being assigned strictly to any one division, I’m available for projects from all. Those divisions include:

  • Decision Support, Planning, and NEPA- (compliance with environmental policy)
  • Forest, Rangeland, Riparian, and Plant Conservation- (conserves the plants on the different kinds of BLM lands)
  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation- (considers effects of BLM activities on the breathing, moving critters on the lands… different than the US Fish and Wildlife Service in that this BLM division is more concerned with managing the physical landscapes than messing with the actual wildlife)
  • Cultural, Paleontological Resources and Tribal Consultation- (consults with native tribes and Alaska Native corporations; also concerned with historical research of the lands and the BLM as an agency)
  • Recreation and Visitor Services- (serves and educates public lands visitors)
  • Wild Horse and Burro- (manages wild free-roaming horses and burros on BLM lands; more on this later)
  • Environmental Quality and Protection- (maintains and restores health of land, which includes managing pollutants in water, soil, and air; deals with abandoned mines and hazardous waste materials)

It’s an interesting place for me to work because this is where the bulk of the BLM’s actual, on-the-ground work runs through. I get a lot of exposure to what’s going on in projects across the country.

Adventures Big and Small

When it comes to destination internships, DC's got a lot of things going for itself. Besides the volume of high-influence people and organizations and the pure essence of importance it hosts, though, I'd argue that one of its strongest pulls is its sheer capacity to keep a poor, unpaid, undergraduate intern occupied.

If you're bored in this city, you're doing something wrong.

DC boasts a wealth of free destinations and entertainment. The National Mall alone could probably keep a person busy for most of the weekends in their 12-week internship. Even if you decide to marathon all the monuments in one long run, each of the museums holds more than can really be digested in one visit. And spreading out to the area just outside the Mall is a continued plethora of museums and historical sites, everything easily within walking distance.

With relatives living in Arlington, I grew up visiting the DC area at least once or twice every year until I was about 14. Although we would stick mostly to many  of the same sites— the Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the National Zoo (not on the Mall, but definitely our most frequent destination)— I feel I've had a fairly decent introduction to DC's biggest attractions.

We managed to fit in a Monument Walk while visiting our family this past Thanksgiving 2015.

We managed to fit in a Monument Walk while visiting our family this past Thanksgiving 2015.

Staying here this summer for such an extended period of time— really living here, actually— has afforded me some new opportunities outside those of the usual week-long family trip. I've found myself discovering adventure in places I probably wouldn't have otherwise, as a combination of my abundance of time, the simple acts of living, and my internship-related purposes for being here have brought me outside of the usual destination locations.

In my first weekend here, a suggestion from one of my supervisors at the BLM had me snagging a ride with my cousin out to the Meadowood Recreation Area in Lorton, Virginia. There we managed to catch the tail end of one of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro adoptions, where they adopt out horses and burros gathered from those herds in the wild that exceed appropriate management levels.

It was miserably rainy and we ran the high risk of getting our Accord mired in the dirt-turned-to-mud road, but we both found ourselves enjoying the uniqueness of this event we would have otherwise never even known about. It also gave me the fantastic opportunity to see some of the work of my division within the BLM (Wild Horse and Burro Division) out in its practical applications out there in the field, even before I started work in the office.

I've had time to stroll through galleries at my own leisurely pace, and have managed to go kayaking on the Potomac with my relatives. I've even found merit in just the little adventures I put myself about around town. The weekends have seen me venturing out with my roommates to some of this neighborhood's many unique restaurants, witnessing a violent scuffle at the local public library, finding my way to the nearest authentic Japanese market and enjoying its sweet mochi, and trudging around to two different running stores across town to find the right pair of shoes. 

There's a whole lot to see and experience in just living in this city.

Bureaucracy 101: A Lesson in Patience

We were welcomed to DC by gloomy weather these past two weeks. 

Apparently our nation's capital has seen record-breaking consecutive days of rain, a 15-day streak at the beginning of May shattering previous records (which have been kept since 1882) and a rainy persistence sticking around through to the end of the month.

For those of my colleagues who feel most at home in Utah's dry heat, it's been a bit of a rough introduction into the East's thick humidity. Dispersed between the periods of gloom have been days of bright sunshine with temperatures pushing close to 90 degrees, which—as anyone who's lived long enough outside of the desert's dry refuge knows— makes for all-around smothering conditions.

A native South Carolinian myself, I've found myself dealing well enough. And with air-conditioned apartment, metro stations/trains, and office, I actually find myself enjoying being enveloped in the warmth in those moments I step outside.

But enough about the weather.


I boarded the green line train last Monday, tight-lipped and stomach flipping, on my way to my first day at the BLM's office. I consider myself pretty sharp, but I'm also acutely aware of my own lack of concrete qualifications. Considering my educational youth (I've just finished my first year of university), I've felt incredibly fortunate to even be allowed to be here. But I also feel a lot of pressure because of  my inexperience, like I have to prove that I can contribute something here.

That all said, the folks here at the BLM office have been almost a dream in welcoming me. They've been friendly and more than understanding of my limited knowledge of the Bureau and its various divisions and directorates, and more than once I've been given a pretty thorough rundown of the organizational structure and responsibilities of the BLM and the other Department of the Interior (DOI) organizations that work closely with the BLM. Most of the people working here are not native to the DC area at all— many having moved their way through the ranks or working on temporary work assignments from various field stations out west— so the overall personnel atmosphere is a fairly familiar mix of practical, unpretentious folks from places like Colorado, Alaska, and Wyoming. 

While things are still getting rolling, it seems that they're planning on entrusting me with quite a bit of personal responsibility. Rather than being relegated to making copies, fetching coffee, or doing simple data-entry, I'm to be given my choice of several proposed projects from various divisions within the BLM's Resources and Planning directorate. My supervisor made the point of telling me that I was chosen for my writing skills, and that he wanted to utilize my critical eye for a few projects he had been planning to do but that had fallen to the wayside due to lack of time or manpower. That's been inspiriting, but it comes with a fair heaping of that pressure to perform well.

Getting started has been slow, though. Due to circumstances that keep being described to me with a shrug and a dismissive "That's government bureaucracy for you," it's taken over a week to get me fully set up on a computer in the office. Apparently the IT department has had a backlog of onboarding requests, so it took a few days to get me cleared for access and yet another few days to get me actually all set up on the hardware. And I still have issues with my email that I have to get sorted out.

Without a computer and with my supervisor in and out of the office, I haven't been able to be really set loose on my work. So I've spent most of the last week reading and re-reading policy briefing papers and sitting around biding my time. From what I can gather from the office chatter around me, the slow turning of the bureaucracy's gears is nothing new nor unusual. 

I've found a valuable silver lining in the slow start, though, as it's allowed me plenty of time to become accustomed to the people around me and to simply being in the office. Rather than having to jump head-first into the deep end, I've been able to wade in slowly. I hope that the slow start will help give me a little more solid of footing from which to move forward.

A Self-Introduction

Hello, I'm Taylor.

I'm a double major student at the University of Utah, studying Political Science and Environmental & Sustainability Studies.

I grew up in a small town called Easley in the upperstate of South Carolina before moving to Provo, Utah my freshman year of high school and then again to Riverton my sophomore year.

As a sort of gap year experience between after graduating high school and before starting at the university, I spent a year from March 2014 to February 2015 studying at a high school and living with a family in Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan.

I've been interested in studying environmental concerns from a policy-making perspective, the combination of my two majors providing an ideal mix of material and atmosphere for that intention. This summer, I've been graced with the opportunity to learn more about the relevant issues and procedures within the field through interning with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) here in Washington, DC.

I've heard that previous interns have had fantastic experiences with the BLM, so I'm excited to see what I end up encountering and how I come to grow throughout the summer.