Tales of the Dark Arts: a GIS Diary, Chapter I

I’m still in some disbelief that I am in Oregon! Almost a month ago today I was dipping my toes in the Atlantic off Maine’s coast, and now I’m looking at a beautiful snow capped mountains and sage steppe in Eastern Oregon. I mean, there was a whirlwind drive across the country, and a quick trip to the Pacific so I could dip my toes in that ocean, but that all seems ancient history now that I’m falling to a rhythm living in beautiful Baker City.  I’ve been at my GIS internship with the BLM’s Baker Field Office for 2 weeks now and it’s been awesome!

My first week was filled with the obligatory paperwork and trainings, followed by a bunch of meetings and then more online trainings (which to my dismay have continued into this week, but there’s got to be an end somewhere, right?). All of the meetings did allow me to meet most of the office and get some of my ducks in a row to begin working on projects. I’m the only GIS support person in the Baker Field Office, and therefore I have to direct most of my question to the District Office in Vale and self-help manuals. But fear not, there a lot of people around to help me when I get lost, and I’m so grateful to them.  This past week I was given some longer term tasks, but they all are proving to have their own bumps along the way, mainly issues with finding the data/creating it. But these challenges can be fun! Unlike most of the other CLM internships, I will be living the beautiful days of summer in a cubical and not enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. I’m a little bummed about that, but I also like GIS, and until a computer is made that will allow me to walk around while making maps, I guess I’ll have to daydream of mountains and bluebird skies. Hopefully my posts will get more interesting as I become more familiar with the labyrinth of GIS databases and I begin producing useable GIS products for people and not just certificates saying I’ve completed a training ;). Until then, enjoy this beautiful panorama of the borrowed cubicle in which I’ll be spending most of my time.

(ohhh, look how lovely the screens glow, almost like fireflies)


A Bloomin’ Good Time

The desert is starting to feel like home; it is very beautiful and I am fortunate to have landed the position in Palm Springs, CA. The past two months have been eventful and there has been much to to see, much to do and much to collect. We have already made seven full collections and hopefully there will be more to come.
Furthermore, we have just begun vegetation monitoring season and conducted our first survey today.


Fouquieria splendens bark

In addition to work experiences, I have been able to do some sight seeing. I have now been to Joshua Tree, somewhere I have wanted to go to for quite some time, and I have hiked the Cactus to Clouds trail that takes you 12 miles from sea level to 8000 feet up San Jacinto mountain!

Can’t beat that view

Feeling wiser, confident and accomplished. Cannot wait to see what the next three months have in store for me.

From the desert with love,

Lysa DuCharme
BLM Palm Springs, CA

The Labyrinth to Success

The Seeds of Success field season has begun by scouting sites where we may find large populations of our priority species.  Sites were carefully selected on a map, based on data such as previous seed collection locations, herbarium specimen locations, and desirable climate adapted traits.  However, the plants didn’t read the map.  Blooms shift based on a myriad of precipitation and seed bank characteristics, so may not reoccur or be found in anticipated locations.  This is where the scouting comes in to play.  The majority of my time has been spent navigating a maze of backroads. Each day, I delve deeper into the labrynth of nameless dirt access roads. It consists of named but unsigned roads, numbered signs that don’t appear on maps, roads on the map that no longer exist, and roads that are drawn on no map but mysteriously exist anyway.  By the end of the season in November, they shall exist in a mental map.

The end of the road for our Beeplant site. Just imagine the size of the flood that ate the road! We may have to bring in the UTVs and camping gear on the second attempt.

When I do leave the truck, the desert rewards a keen eye. The landscape may appear barren from a distance or while it passes by at 70 miles per hour, but in fact quite a bit of diversity can exist within feet of the tires.  Many of the species are unique to this area, so are especially rewarding to come across.

The flower is beginning to open on this federally threatened Sclerocactus in the Uinta Basin.

Uinta Basin Spring-Parsley (Cymopteras dushesnensis) is one of 50 or so species that are endemic to the Uinta Basin.

Don’t Stop Believing

Over the last couple of days, my fellow interns and I hand collected roughly 65,000 juniper cones for our first seed collections for SOS, so that was cool.

In other news, I had the opportunity to substitute the Chicago Botanic Garden workshop with a Wilderness First Responder course, which just concluded last week. The training was wonderful and I now feel better prepared to handle various medical situations in the back country.

We made the most of our free time in Mt. Shasta, California after our WFR course ended each day. We scaled a mountain with breathtaking views, explored the gorgeous Lake Siskiyou, and gallivanted to a waterfall with incredible force and power.

Black Butte Lookout

Lake Siskiyou

McCloud Falls

Other than that, we have been waiting for the field season to start here in Carson City, and it’s finally arrived. I’m sure there will be more to talk about in my next blog post.

P.S. Remember everyone, when administering your chest compressions during CPR, pump to the beat of “Don’t stop, believing. Hold on to that feeeeeeeling”.

Jason Fibel – Carson City District Office – BLM


Liv In Oregon – First thoughts

My first three weeks as an Oregonian have come to an end! I am a first time intern for the CLM and am currently working in Grant’s Pass, OR as a botany crew intern. Our main focus has been to survey and monitor rare plant species in the South Western region of Oregon as well as removing invasive plant species. Grant’s Pass is located next to the Rogue River which is frequented by many rafters during the summer and the area we work in is mainly referred to as the Rogue River Valley. Many days have consisted of scouring riparian areas for an invasive weed called Dyer’s Woad, Isatis tinctoria, then mapping these areas for future years to continue the work of removing this pesky weed.

Beautiful view of the Rogue River Valley

One of the two federally endangered rare plants we survey and monitor is Fritillaria gentneri, a member of the Lily family, Liliaceae. Such a beautiful plant!

J. Herbert Stone Nursery in the Rogue Valley – large planting of Delphinium menziesii

Thus far, Oregon has been kind to me with mostly sunny days and stunning views. I am very happy to have chosen Oregon for my internship season and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!

Welcome to the Klamath Basin

Views of Upper Klamath Lake from atop Moore Mountain.

I floated along a ridgetop trail, dancing over rocks through the mixed juniper forest. A bite in the chilly spring air heightened my senses as I ran. My eyes wandered up from the dirt under my feet to the north, where a massive lake nestled amongst ridges glimmered softly in the low-lying evening sun. A quick turn of the trail revealed a tree-studded urban landscape fading quickly to sprawling farmland in the valley below. The basin was penned in by low-lying mountains, accented by the volcanic cone of Mount Shasta glowing a brilliant golden-white in the distance. As I ran to the summit of Moore Mountain, I had a fantastic vantage point from which to survey the Klamath basin, the area that I would call home for the next six months.

It has now been a month since I moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and went on that first glorious trail run. It seems to be a trend for CLM interns to note how “time flies,” and I concede that I am experiencing the same phenomenon. My initial impression of the area has also held true: the Klamath Basin is wonderfully beautiful. I was lucky enough to be placed here to work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of my work (and the work of fellow CLM intern Marissa) revolves around two endangered sucker species, though we’ll also dabble in the realms of wolves, bald eagles, butterflies, and frogs. When I am not working, I am usually running up, down, and around all of the fantastic trails accessible from town.

Marissa and James pulling in trammel nets on Lake Ewauna as four pelicans pass by.

Hand-over-hand, Marissa and I pulled in the first of eight 100-meter long trammel nets into the boat. The soaking net comes in haphazardly as we repeatedly stop hauling to pick sticks, rocks, logs, and by-catch out of the net. The sun creeps higher in the sky, eventually surmounting a ridge lying to the west. I wish I could say the warmth of the sun landed on our skin as we basked on the deck of the boat, but aside from our faces it only warmed our waders, jackets, gloves, and hats. It was cold, but we had it easy. Brock and James, from the Bureau of Reclamation, had been out in the sub-freezing temperatures at 5:00am setting the nets. Marissa and I certainly get the quite long end of the proverbial stick on that one. With each net that comes aboard the boat, we continue to release any assortment of blue chubs, brown bullheads, and net-eating logs back into the cold waters of Lake Ewauna. We pull, and the white grid work of net comes shimmering out of the water foot-by-foot. A later we feel more resistance, and up comes a two-foot long dark object. “Sucker!” I yell as Brock hustles over to help remove the endangered fish from the tangle of nylon. The fish is swiftly put in a holding tank, and we resume our constant pulling. The work may be repetitive, but luckily for Marissa and I, Brock and James are superb company. Brock and James teach us about the myriad of water bodies nearby – Upper Klamath Lake, the Link River, the Klamath River, the Williamson River (to name a few)-, the Klamath Reclamation Project, and the biology of the basin. After two hours, our noble team of four arrives back at the dock and we work up our one lone sucker. We process the fish and note length, sex, presence of parasites or lesions, and tag it with a PIT tag before moving the sucker into a waiting transportation tank. With any luck, this old fish will successfully reproduce after being released north of Lake Ewauna into the breeding grounds of the Williamson River.

Marissa and I processing juvenile fish at “Gone Fishing,” the Fish and Wildlife Service’s sucker hatchery.

The Lost River and shortnose suckers were listed as endangered nearly 30 years ago, in 1988. Prior to and after being listed, both species have faced habitat, water quality, and recruitment issues. The Fish and Wildlife Service here in Klamath Falls continues to battle ahead, working with other government agencies, nonprofits, and the public to help recover the two formerly abundant sucker species. In addition to relocating adult suckers from Lake Ewauna to the Williamson River, Marissa and I have also spent time at the Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery program, affectionately known as “Gone Fishing.” At this outdoor facility, juvenile suckers are raised into sub-adults that will have a better shot at surviving when released into the wild. While measuring and weighing hundreds of these fish is a great opportunity to get our hands on the animals we are protecting, the real fun came when a number of us from the office released nearly 800 young suckers back into Upper Klamath Lake. The morning of the release was cold, but the beauty of the lake and excitement in doing a release made up for the slight discomfort.

Releasing juvenile suckers in Shoalwater Bay on the Upper Klamath Lake.

Marissa and I are enjoying our time settling in to life in Klamath Falls. In our free time, we both adore sampling the surprisingly large amount of food trucks in town and delving into rural Oregon’s finest cuisine. Hands down, my favorite Klamath Falls locale is the Waffle Hut, a total dive of a restaurant with positively exquisite fancy waffles. After a long week, nothing beats a hot golden waffle topped with crispy hash browns, savory melted cheese, steaming scrambled eggs, and a sprinkling of spicy jalapeños. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to both eat fantastic waffles and learn about endangered species conservation for the next five months!


Bloomin Bishop

Time is flying-

I’m finishing up my 7th week working out in the BLM Bishop field office. My days are full of plant scouting/collecting, bird counting and luxurious weekends. I successfully completed my first seed collection for SOS of Lepidium flavum– a tiny yellow annual in the mustard family. The plant only grows up to a few inches tall, so I was dreading crawling through the hot desert sand full of Amsinckia tessellata bristles.  But the collection actually proved to be effortless, as each handful of seeds ranged from 100-300 seeds. I made sure to collect well over 10,000 seeds. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually came close to 20,000-25,000! L. flavum seeds are about the size of sand grains, so accuracy can be difficult but hey the more the merrier. This collection was made in the scenic Alabama Hills, a popular set location for western films due to the striking landscape and juxtaposition of the dry desert and looming peaks of the Eastern Sierra.

The Alabama Hills- my work space for my Lepidium flavum seed collection. Mt Whitney is up there somewhere!

My days of plant scouting have been beautiful. I’ve been collecting vouchers for potential seed collections and I’m up to about 23 vouchers. Ideally I will be able to make seed collections from all of these species. One of my vouchered species (Grayia spinosa) went to seed and got blown out by high winds, which was very sad. But there are two other populations that have great potential and are located in less extreme areas- I’m optimistic!

The Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii) has been blooming like crazy in the central regions of the Bishop BLM property out here.

I’ve additionally encountered interesting insects, which always tugs at my love of entomology. Pollinators like monarchs and sphinx moths are busy at work and colorful sap sucking beetles litter the shrubs. The mosquitoes have not been an issue… yet. With all the water from the snow melt, the mosquitoes are expected to be terrible this year- I’m scared because I’m one of those people they love to feast on.

These playful little guys love to flutter around my bouquets of voucher specimens- Hyles lineata (Hawk/Sphinx moth).

The landscape out here is changing rapidly as the ice and snow sheds off the Eastern Sierras. The days are warming, which is making the early morning Sage Grouse counts more pleasant. I’ve heard tales of single digit temperatures on these mornings in years past, so I’m incredibly grateful to have temperatures in the high 30s low 40s- it’s still freezing for my Southern California skin but well worth it. Sage grouse are the weirdest birds I’ve seen, they’re incredibly entertaining. It would be much more difficult to brave the 2:30 AM wake up times and freezing temperatures to observe a less interesting animal.

We use telescopes to count the grouse and keep our distance from their mating grounds (Leks). Long Valley.

Grouse counts in Bodie can be cold! My co-worker scouting for birds on this blistery morning in the snow and wind.

Strange lighting in the Bodie hills during our bird counts- Bodie is a famous ghost town so you tell me what’s going on here.

It’s not all work out here in Bishop (the work really doesn’t even feel like work) there’s plenty of playtime. Bishop is a spectacular climbing area- climbers come from all around the world to work their stuff in the boulder fields.

Climbing in the caves at the Buttermilks on the weekend.

And the hiking is out of this world…

Things are heating up in Bishop! As the wild flowers keep doing their thing I’ll keep doing mine. Excited to get my SOS collections done and see more interesting animals and insects.

Till next time-

Brittany Betz – BLM Bishop Field Office

April 2017

It has warmed up quickly in Maryland this year.  I spent a lot of time surveying the limestone bluffs along the Potomac River which has a very nice spring ephemeral display.  In my previous season working at the canal I arrived after the peak of this floral display. Twinleaf is a prime example of one these spring ephemeral species.

Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) I don’t always catch this species with flower because they last for a short period of time.

I keyed out a couple new invasive plant species as well.  The first was Thlaspi alliaceum (Garlic Pennycress).  This weed seems well established in Maryland and probably has been for a while.  It has been described as a “newly invading species” by some in states such as Ohio as recently as 2015. It occupies acres upon acres of fallow agricultural fields in the Hagerstown Valley and occasionally occurs in smaller though still dense patches along the floodplain forest of the Potomac River.  These observations lead me to believe it prefers open sun and recently disturbed soil.  I have never seen it in upland habitats.  It looks similar to some other weedy species of the Brassicaceae family.  One of the better diagnostic characters of Garlic Pennycress is the slight garlic odor it emits when the tissue is broken.  It belongs to the same tribe as Alliaria petiolate (Garlic Mustard).

Thlaspi alliaceum (Garlic Pennycress) The light green in this photo is Garlic Pennycress flowering in the thousands in a farm field close to the canal.

The other invasive species is Lamium galeobdolon (Yellow Archangel).  I found a small patch along the Potomac River in central Maryland.  The Mid-Atlantic Exotic Plant team of the National Park Service recently released an invasive plant alert for this species in the region.  I reported the location of this species to the Park Biologist for eradication.

Lamium galeobdolon (Yellow Archangel) To my knowledge this is the first time this invasive plant has been recorded in the canal boundary.

The state Natural Heritage Program botanist was nice enough to meet me in the falls line area of Maryland to review several species of Amelanchier that he had done genetic testing on several years earlier.  Amelanchier nantucketensis is one of the G1-G3 plant species that I am focusing my surveying efforts on this season.  We found it in flower and he schooled me on some of the nuances of hybridization within this genus and their morphological character overlap.

Amelanchier nantucketensis (Nantucket Serviceberry) The short and narrow petals of this species are diagnostic. Interestingly, the petals will sometimes bare pollen.

I briefly visited the shale barrens of western Maryland as well and was happy to find a few of the endemic plants that grow there in flower.

Trifolium virginicum (Kate’s Mountain Clover) Shale Barren endemic


Coleman Minney

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

What a week!

This week has really been the best week that I have had so far in Southern Oregon. The weather has been somewhat cooperating and has made it awesome for weekend activities.

Last weekend I went to Crater Lake National Park. I went with the intent to do two short hikes and enjoy lunch on the rim over looking the lake. I however was not aware that there was going to be over 20 feet of snow covering most of the roads in the park.

Well the best thing you can do in a situation like that is to adapt and to overcome. So naturally in the spirit of fun and adventure, when the park ranger offered up snow shoes to rent, I did a 5 mile snow shoe trek around the rim of Crater Lake. And let me tell you the views were incredible, the sun burn afterwards not so fun.

The next day was Earth Day and there was an event in Ashland, OR that the BLM had a booth and their salmon tent set up at. So I volunteered to help out with it. Having kids come up and play for hours in the costumes, and wait in line to go into the salmon tent to have a story read to them is such a great way to spend the day. It was a super rewarding way to have fun and interact with the local community.

Then this week allowed me to have a pretty incredible random experience………….. I got to meet elephants. That’s right. Elephants. I got to feed elephants. I got to pet elephants. I got to shake trunks with elephants. It was the most incredible chance encounter ever.

I had to cross private land in order to reach a rare plant survey plot that I needed to get done that day. So I called up the resident and he was more than happy to let me come and park my car and walk across his land to get there. When I arrive at his property, he tells me he runs an exotic animal farm so not to be alarmed if I heard any elephants. And naturally I was very confused and I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped to the floor. He laughed and invited me to meet his two elephants. Honestly what amazing creatures to have in your backyard.

And that has easily been the best week so far.

Sierra Sampson

Medford, Oregon BLM

Almost a Different World

Almost a Different World

When I look at a picture of the world, my eyes first go to North America… from there they instantly land on  the Midwest.

Am I favoring them?

Of course. Why?

Clearly, I am from there.  

I had never stepped foot into the Rocky Mountains before this internship and have only thought of Utah in passing. I would say in my entire life, the amount of times I’ve  thought of Utah could fit on my entire hand…. With fingers still missing. These “thoughts”  most commonly occurred when I was forced to learn how to spell all the states and their capitals in school.

U-T-A-H, S-A-L-T  L-A-K-E  C-I-T-Y.

Vernal, Utah….

Never, ever, crossed my mind.

I was used to Chicago.

The flat land, the corn fields, the paved roads. I had more stores than I could handle in a walking distance of me and a sky full of stars (or what I thought was full).  

And yet, I was going to a small town.

With one main road, the store of choice a Walmart, and an apartment I had only seen in pictures.

To say I was nervous to start at the BLM in Utah would be an understatement. To say I was ready for the adventure, would be right on point.

And So the Adventure Begins . . .

I could go into detail about the excitement of the first day. The adventures of finding a fax machine and the drama of getting a working phone, (I took a cord from an empty cubicle). Heck, I could even tell you that my turkey sandwich had a sense of dream-like quality because it was so delicious after being nervous all morning.

But I won’t. Why? Because my second day was much, much, much more exciting.

I actually went into the Mountains. To work.

Four of us traveled into the Rocky Mountains to look for Sclerocactus wetlandicus. This cactus is considered a sensitive plant species of the Vernal Field Office.

Into the mountains, we went for a 2-hour truck ride to our designated location. Through oil pads, natural gas burns, and muddy roads I started to wonder…. Am I really going to like it?

The view was worth all its’ weight in gold.

I honestly couldn’t believe that this internship allowed me to be out in the Rocky’s looking for cacti. Literally, out in the Mountains, and not stuck behind a desk looking at the hills from the window.  

What I Actually Did

Here’s a rundown version of what we did. We got in arm’s length of each other and walked hundreds of feet in each direction of our parked truck. Throwing down flags and keeping our eyes peeled for this cacti. Was it to be expected that we would find one? Nope. Yet, I couldn’t help to think we would (…. we did not).

Sure, my time was spent looking at the ground, making sure I didn’t miss this plant. But just the air, the rocks under my feet, and the cloud laden sky made this a wonderful experience. Even when the weather changed in a split second. From cloudy mornings, to snowy lunch breaks, then finally landing on the hot blazing sun. I prepared for all.

I saw feral horses. No, (it’s not what you think), these horses are not wild but actually invasive. Left to the environment by their owners, these horses have survived and are now eating and trampling upon very important plant species.

I spent my day happy to be outdoors. In mountains (of all places)… where it felt and looked like I had landed in a different world. No corn fields, no flat lands, and no city in sight.