I’m just about halfway through my internship, and I’m so happy that this runs for 5 months, rather than 12 weeks like many of the other internships I was considering did. I can imagine how stressed I would be as I struggled to find my next job or adventure, and am happy to delay the worry for a little bit longer. In the meantime, it’s hard to believe that I’ve actually been here for two and a half months, and that the summer is winding down. Today on my way to work I passed elementary students walking with their parents to their first day of school. Despite the slight nostalgia I feel as many friends prepare to begin another school year, I’m still enjoying living and working out of Denver. This is a great city, bordered by more mountains than I could hope to explore in the next 10 years, and the work continues to be varied and interesting.

My internship is allowing me to catch glimpses of many areas around the state, and I’m grateful for these monitoring trips that allow us to meet and work with many different field offices. We’ve also been ramping up our seed collecting. Up until now we went on a lot of scouting trips to nearby parks and open spaces, but found lots of flowers and very few fruits. Suddenly everything seems to be ripening, and each field day before leaving the office we need to decide which collection would be the best use of our time.

Last week we spent three days collecting Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens). It was a difficult collection because the plants are scattered all over the park we were at, but many were fruitless (ah, the original meaning). The others had between 1 and 50 berries/plant, with the majority seeming to be closer to 1. After hiking for more than an hour up the same hill three days in a row, I was glad to see the end of this collection!

Monarda, plus someone helping to make our seed collection a success!

The next day we went to a different site and were rewarded with an absurdly easy collection of Monarda fistulosa. We had found this pretty purple flower a few weeks before, completely covering an open meadow. Sure enough, it was still there when we came back and many of the seed heads were ready. Within two hours the two of us had collected over 1,000 seed heads, each of which contains between 50 and 150 seeds. As an added bonus, it even smells good!

I’m excited to see how the flora continues to change as we move more fully into the fall, and look forward to seeing new areas and meeting new seed collecting and monitoring challenges.

Sama Winder, BLM CO State Office


The word monitor derives from the Latin monere “to warn.” As I find myself spending much of my time monitoring rare plants, I reflect on what we’re doing. At its core, I suppose that we are keeping track of these plants so that we can warn everyone if they start to decline. However, we are also watching them in order to celebrate population growth and even population stability, and, more often than not, in order to learn relatively unknown details of their life histories.

In the last couple weeks, the team I’m working with has traveled to an area outside of Kremmling, CO in order to monitor two different plants that only exist within a single Colorado county. Penstemon penlandii has an estimated range of only 5 square miles (NatureServe Explorer), while Astragalus osterhoutii is more widespread, occurring in an estimated 63 square mile area (NatureServe Explorer). Both plants were listed under the ESA when a reservoir was constructed within their range, flooding part of the Astragalus’ habitat and creating concern that an increase in recreation to the area would endanger both species. Further, that Astragalus plants are heavily preyed upon by a native species of blister beetle within part of their range. The plants suck up selenium (a stinky element that occurs in the soil) as a defense against herbivory. Unfortunately for them, the blister beetle has also found selenium to be an effective defense compound, so it eats the plants and stores the selenium. The beetles are immune, but any predators are in for a nasty treat. In fact, ingesting only a few accidental beetles can kill a horse.

Due to this herbivory, the plants in one site seemed to be barely getting by and some were bare sticks, from which all the leaves had been eaten. In our other site, the plants appeared healthy, and in both sites monitoring has shown that the populations are steady. The way that this is possible is because the species is extremely long lived. My mentor did her PhD research on this species, following in the footsteps of someone else who was also studying the population. Yesterday we found one of their old plots. Many of the old tags from the early ‘90s were still in place next to healthy, happy looking individuals. This means that some of these plants (which only grow up to 1 or 2 feet tall) are at least approaching 20 years old. This knowledge is extremely important for managing the population. We now know that it isn’t a crisis if no seed set occurs one year, or if blister beetle herbivory is particularly bad for 5 years. Instead, we simply have to make sure that nothing happens to kill the mature individuals.

I enjoy learning these details about different life histories, and about how a species is adapted for its own unique location and predators. I also appreciate that our data is used to make more informed management decisions. It seems that “to monitor” is in fact much more than simply to warn.

Sama, CO BLM State Office


My first paycheck of the CLM Internship just arrived, and I still find myself somewhat in awe of the fact that I’m actually being paid to work outside in such a beautiful area. Three weeks ago I moved to Denver, CO to begin working with the Colorado State Botany Team to monitor rare plants and collect seeds for the SOS program. Unlike many of the other interns, I’m originally from the West (Idaho, to be precise), so the ecosystem here is not completely unfamiliar. Neither are the mountains, though the Colorado 14ers certainly do make me reconsider scale. Going to school in Vermont I became used to deriding the mountains there as hills, but living here is making me wonder whether my beloved Idaho mountains are also better described as hills. I’ve decided that because they’re part of the Rockies they still count as mountains, but this was only the first of my assumptions that I had to rethink after arriving.

Coming into my internship I wasn’t sure what to expect, either from the work or from the BLM as an organization. I suspected that I would be working with the ESA, and was worried because I didn’t know how I felt about protecting plants at the expense of recreation or other land use. Though I knew that the government tends to be a conservative entity, somehow I’d gotten it into my head that I would be playing the role of an environmental organization, defending rare plants at all costs. While plant defense will likely be a part of my job, I’ve been surprised and impressed at how aware everyone here is about all of the issues involved in responsible land management. On my tour of the office the first day, a word I heard over and over again was “balance.” Everyone recognizes that the BLM is an organization that is committed to multi-use land management. Not only do we have to protect the plants, but we also must allow ranchers to graze their cattle and outdoor enthusiasts to drive their ATVs. These goals are not always compatible, and it is when they conflict that we must be able to find the balance between them.

So far, our team has been spending a lot of time gathering data that will allow more informed management decisions to be made. My first week we traveled to the other side of the Continental Divide to monitor Penstemon harringtonii, a wildflower that is only found in the greater Vail Valley region of Colorado. This species has been listed as a sensitive species by the USFS and the BLM, and has been given G3/S3 status. However, very little quantitative data exists regarding the size and density of various populations, and so it has been impossible to say whether the populations are steady, declining, or even increasing. We worked with Carla, an ecologist from a local field office, to set up plots and determine densities. She’s particularly interested in learning more about P. harringtonii because she suspects that there are far more individuals than has previously been estimated. If this is really the case, it may be possible to lower the status of this species to G4/S4 and/or remove it from the BLM sensitive species list, thereby allowing more leeway in future management decisions.

First Field Site


P. Harringtonii

Working towards less protection for a species was certainly not something I expected to be doing during this job, but the next week I found myself in a very similar circumstance. We traveled to the southwestern portion of the state to help a different field office monitor Sclerocactus glaucus, a small endemic cactus listed under the ESA. Again, there was very little quantitative data, and again the local office was hoping to prove that it was doing better than had been claimed. In this case, the known range of the cactus happened to coincide with areas that contained a number of grazing allotments. Environmental groups had seized upon this information to claim that cattle were trampling the cactus and should be excluded. However, we wanted to find out for ourselves whether this was the case. We set up several plots in areas of different grazing intensity and sampled and marked individual cacti within the plots. While this study will require multiple years of data to determine how the populations are doing over time, we saw almost no evidence of trampled cacti. Once again, real quantitative data will give a better idea of how to balance different management objectives on a single piece of land.

Sclerocactus Field Site

S. glaucus


Collared Lizard

I’m looking forward to seeing how my internship continues to grow, and to learning more about how the BLM manages its many millions of acres of land. I am now fairly certain that I won’t be stepping in front of any bulldozers, and am becoming confident that management decisions are made based on data, rather than on political (be they liberal or conservative) agendas. And, now that I’ve accepted that the Idaho mountains are smaller but still noteworthy, I feel free to enjoy the beautiful scenery here to my heart’s content.