Take Off to the Rangeland

Heather McDougald Murphy | Class of 2023

Rangelands Sciences | Pasco, WA | Marine Corps Veteran

Ready, Set, Skills

I am a human being, always striving at being a better human. My biggest non-academic interest is volunteering with my county search and rescue unit. Search and rescue is a great way for me to be involved with and contribute to my community. It aligns with my skill sets and interests. I just started serving on the board in January and am learning a lot about the workings of a non-profit. My favorite hobby is long-distance running and hiking. I am happiest out on a lonely trail eating miles for breakfast. I have found nothing better in the world than being alone on a trail with just my thoughts and the rhythm of my breath and feet hitting the ground.

Endlessly Educating

I chose my field of study because I find rangelands endlessly fascinating. I am drawn to the rugged beauty of rangeland ecosystems, and the abundant ecosystem goods and services they provide. Many people that do not understand the complexity of rangelands simply see a landscape devoid of value. I want to increase the understanding of why healthy rangelands are essential for sustainable human population growth. I am most drawn to working with livestock operations on rangelands and finding the intersection of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Well-managed livestock operations on rangelands can increase carbon sequestration, and food security, and protect ecological services and wildlife habitats. If I could make one difference in our rangelands it would be educating folks that livestock operations can be synonymous with Sustainability.

Feeling Feildwork

I had the opportunity to take an ODFW internship in Baker County in 2021. I moved up there for the summer from Bend, then fell in love with northeastern Oregon. I got to spend the summer out on the Elkhorn Wildlife areas bumbling my way through designing plant monitoring sites for a grazing management plan. The most valuable part of the internship was all the self-directed learning to figure out how to achieve my tasks. I loved the fieldwork and the summer outside. I took an NRCS internship in the summer of 2022 in southeastern Washington. I rode along with the rangeland conservationist on most of her projects and learned a lot about livestock operations. Working with the ranchers was my favorite part of the summer.

Getting Together

I started at OSU in January 2020 as an e-campus student. For reasons we all know about, there were no options for hands-on learning for quite some time. I ended up transferring to the La Grande campus as part of the EOU/OSU partnership at the end of 2021. I had some chances to take in-person classes that involved fieldwork. It was a great change. Having the chance to get together with other students and gain practical skills was such an enjoyable part of my academic life.

Make Yourself

I am a Marine Corps veteran, and I went through some hard years after I completed my service in 2013. I got out with PTSD and learned that women veterans are not seen, our service is often dismissed, and our pain is not acknowledged. I belonged nowhere and felt like I had no one in my corner. I was consumed by anger and lost myself in a haze of alcohol and bad memories. I lacked the language and a safe space to put words to my thoughts and suffered in isolation for years. My big achievement from that era was not getting fired from Whole Foods and staying alive. I realized that Texas would quite literally be the death of me and needed to find a way to be okay again. I had heard about the Appalachian Trail and spending months out hiking sounded good to me. I sold all my stuff, and I went. I found such solace in that trail that I decided to keep going and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail too. Those trails gave me a place to process and start putting the broken parts of me back together.

Pursue Passions

After my long hikes, I felt I could passably navigate the civilian world. I found my motivation to stop my destructive drinking and a group of people that accepted me. After a couple of years of getting my feet under me, my passion for rangelands led me to OSU. I learned how successful I can be when I am able to focus on academic pursuits with a healthy mind. I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. I am a woman; I am a Marine Corps veteran and I am done being invisible.

Jumping Juniper

I moved to Bend in 2017 and got a job as an AmeriCorps crew leader. I became the lead on fuel reduction projects and spent a lot of time running chainsaw crews out on juniper-infested rangelands. I learned all about junipers' encroachment and saw firsthand how they can dominate ecosystems and destroy native shrub and grass communities. This was my exposure to rangelands and the complex challenges of managing them. My time crew leading is how I found my passion for rangelands and inspired me to enroll at OSU in the range program.