Farewell for Now, Modoc

My last week here on the Modoc has finally arrived.  When I first arrived in early May I had no idea I would end up spending over 7 and a half months here.  I have gained many experiences and learned much during my season working for the BLM in Alturas, California. Even though I was extended I still don’t feel I am ready to leave.

  I have spent these last few weeks working on a project I have found to be very exciting and fulfilling. During the summer I surveyed four different plots for several rare plants. The plots are located in Ash Valley, which is south on 395 near the town of Madeline. The plots are located in a range allotment and have data recorded dating back to 1985. The three rare plants I helped monitor for are Ivesia paniculata, Erigognum procidiuum, and Astragalus andersonii. In order to keep the data consistent, we used the same monitoring techniques that were also used back in the 1980’s. These techniques included pace/frequency transects with 50 hits and photo plots.


Ash Valley Pace Frequency plot



  When surveying these plots it was noticed there was quite a bit of soil pedestaling and erosion throughout the area. There looked to be heavy range use all around several of the plots.  After recording the data for 2012, during these last few weeks, it has been my job to add and calculate all the years of data based on percent of frequency, cover and composition per key species. I then took all of the results for each of the plots added them into excel and converted them into graphs.  When calculating the data I also included a non-rare native plant, Calyptridium umbellatum for comparison. Looking at the trends represented, there has been some definite downward trends of the rare plants in several of the plots.  The data and graphs I have compiled will be used later this year to assess this particular allotment and area range use/plan.

I have worked on portions of projects like this before, however I have never been able to play a major role from the monitoring of a site to the completion of the data results. I have always said I would rather be out in the field any day than behind a desk, but when I worked on this project I did not mind the hours in front of a computer screen. I am not ashamed to say I enjoyed it! I look forward to hearing the outcome of the assessment.  My boss informed me, funds permitting, he would like to try and hire me as a full time seasonal for the BLM next year. I would love to come back to continue to learn and improve the land I have begun to appreciate.     

It has been an incredible season with many adventures and learning experiences. I have been fortunate to watch all four seasons pass across Northeast California. From the late frosts in late spring to the much colder snow flurries of winter, here are some of my favorite pictures. ..


Fall colors at the Pit River Campground



On the way to one of our collection sites. Mt Shasta in the distance


Working this season through the Chicago Botanic Garden, Seeds of Success program and the BLM, I have come closer to realizing what I want to pursue as well as ignited a desire for engaging in this type of land management.  This Conservation and Land Management internship aided me to follow my passions and kindle new ones for this type of work and landscapes. Thank you for the awesome opportunity!    

Snow flurries in the Modoc

November has arrived. I am now the only seasonal left in Modoc county… or at least that is how it feels, but I do not mind. Watching the snow begin to cover the tablelands and Warner Mountains is well worth the isolation. I must admit I began to panic when I realized I would not be enjoying the outdoors as often when the cold weather began, but I have still been able to have some field time. I travelled to nearby Cedarville to help the Surprise BLM fuels crew with a sage brush planting project and ended up helping lead the project. My partner Joe and I gave instructions for planting Purshia tridentata and Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana. We recommended planting them in clumps of 7 to 10 down from the ridgeline. The area we were planting in was located in western Nevada in the Lost Fire, which was ignited by lightning in August. The fire burned more than 61,000 acres including habitat for sage-grouse, mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn.  Restoration planting will continue into December and I hope to be a part.

Here is a picture of the Lost Fire:

Lost Fire

My partner Joe and I enjoyed sending a huge collection of seeds in as well as labeling numerous herbarium vouchers for the Smithsonian and Berkley. Joe left at the beginning of the month and I am now the only seasonal left in the field office. Collecting seeds takes longer with only one pair of hands, but I was still able to make a couple more collections before the weather set in. I was able to make a fairly large collection of Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis. Artemisia arbuscula proved to be a harder collection presumably because of the drought this season. The total number of collections we were able to make this season was 37! Now that field work is mostly through, I have a couple of projects to work on in the office and look forward to getting better acquainted with ArcGIS. (:


Changes on the Land



  Field Season here on the Modoc is definitely on its way out. Walking out of the Alturas field office one can feel the crisp cold bite of winter on its way. Hiking up Patterson Lake in the South Warner Mountains last weekend was incredibly beautiful. Amidst the dark pines and grasslands groves of Aspens were beginning to turn a golden delicious yellow.  One by one other seasonals from all departments are falling away like leaves, returning to school or their next adventures. My partner Joe and I have made so many seed collections this season we have lost count. Among the last ones aquired were Yellow Rabbit Brush, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, California Rudbush, Cercis occidentalis var. orbiculata and Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus. The latter of which is aptly nicknamed “hell feathers” by cowboys. The Seed hairs can attach to eyes and skin, and CAN cause considerable discomfort.   If I ever find myself collecting this unique seed again I will be wearing a hazmat suit!  Another collection we made was in a range allotment named Cold Springs. This allotment is in Lassen County, right off of highway 395, in Termo. This particular collection site was at Dodge Springs, a riparian area in the midst of sagebrush habitat which had burned two years ago.    

Dodge Springs when we collected seed in early July.

   Later on this season Joe and I went back to check up on a couple other plants this is what we found…

Major change!


 …Once we arrived back at Dodge Springs it was quite obvious we would not be making any more collections at this site. The vegetation use was vigorous and soil erosion was apparent. There were at least 17 head of cattle “hanging out” in the spring area. We also observed 4 wild horses in the area.  When going back to the field office the range supervisor informed us the cows should have been taken out of this area at least three weeks prior. When we went back two weeks later, to check the survival rates of some sagebrush we had planted, the cows were still in the exact same place. One cow had even died — we theorize from getting stuck in the mud. What a drastic impact one season of overgrazing can cause.  Once again here is what it looked like two months ago…

Dodge Springs when we collected seed in early July.

According to the BLM Northeastern California Standards for Rangeland Health and Guidelines for Livestock Grazing Management, “Adequate stubble will be present on all stream-side areas at the end of the growing season, or at the end of the grazing season if grazing occurs after fall dormancy. The residual or regrowth should provide sufficient herbaceous forage biomass to meet the requirement of plant vigor maintenance, bank protection, and sediment entrapment” (June 1999). I also read that a 4-6 inch minimum stubble height must remain at the end of the growing season in most riparian areas.  

It is clear this is not the case in this riparian area. Possibly this type of heavy use could be improved, with changes in season of use, timing, duration, rotational grazing, herding, fencing, herding and or changes in number of stock. Unfortunately, however, although Dodge spring is surrounded by BLM lands the spring itself is privately owned. As of now the state of California has no rural private landownership standards or guidelines for riparian areas currently in effect.

Thanks to my extension I still get to spend two more months in Alturas and I am looking forward to seeing the first flurries of snow fly on the tablelands.



Loving the Modoc

I cannot believe fall is already rapidly approaching the Modoc. Already the redbud has ripened and some leaves are beginning to turn colors. My field season experiences continue to be interesting and varied. My partner Joe and I scoped out a habitat corridor to post a game camera for Arlene, the wildlife biologist at our field office. The sight for the camera is under a bridge which is over the South Pit river across from the Modoc Wildlife Refuge. Arlene is hoping to capture any wildlife crossing under highway 395. Besides helping out other departments in our office, seed collection is still the main project we have been working on. Joe and I have made over 20 seed collections and have plans on making even more. We often drive out into the field looking for more plants populations to collect from while exploring new areas. Last week we collected coffee plant and elderberry.

When I first arrived here I was rather uncertain how I would like working here for the entire summer…but the truth is I have really grown to love this area. A few weeks ago I went to the county fair in nearby Cedarville. The fair was quite the adventure complete with demolition derby and line dancing. (: So something really exciting is the fact that Joe and I both got extended to work into the fall. I am looking forward to gaining more work and life experiences on the Modoc. One of the projects we will be working on is mapping Wyoming sagebrush with GPS using ATVs.

In other news, there was a large fire that started near Likely, CA, a mere 22 miles from Alturas. Joe and I were out checking out some potential seed collection sights and saw smoke quickly grow from a small few acres to hundreds in a matter of minutes. The fire started from a RV on 395. Over the next week the fire grew to over 10,000 acres and is still not declared contained.

Looking forward to watching the rest of the leaves turn across Northeast California…

Modoc Phenology

This past month has flown by in the Modoc. Already I cannot believe all of the incredible opportunities that have been afforded me. I am already growing very fond of the expansive skies and open spaces of this ruggedly beautiful area. Every day I am discovering something new and appreciating more about this place.

Last weekend I went camping a mere 14 miles up from where I live at Mill Creek Campground near Clear Lake. Several of the CLM interns from Lakeview, OR BLM joined us up there and we all enjoyed the quiet beauty surrounding us- and some campfires and smores as well! We went hiking around the lake while pausing to study various plant species and discuss similarities and differences between our field work.

Just this last week my partner Joe and I traveled to Lava Beds National Monument, where we stayed and worked for the entire week. The first day we attended a California Phenology Project workshop, which was fascinating. Phenology is the study of seasonal or bio-logical changes such as leafing out, flowering, pollination, seeding and animal migration. According to the California Phenology Project’s website,

“The phenological status of plants and animals across the seasons is very dynamic and is closely linked to climatic and ecological variables. Consequently, tracking the phenology of plants and animals is a compelling way in which to study how living systems are functioning in response to climate variability and, over the long-term, to climate change.

The CPP is initially focusing on plants in seven pilot parks,encompassing desert, coastal and mountain areas, and building upon existing monitoring protocols and programs of project collaborators. However, project products and infrastructure are being designed to support monitoring and educational activities for 18 California NPS units and parks in adjacent states.”

For more information on this awesome project or how to get involved go to http://www.usanpn.org/cpp/

Learning about this Phenology Project was great because it is something that we do everyday- looking at many different species of plants in their various stages. For instance, back at the BLM lands near Alturas Joe and I are finding many of the species of plants we plan on collecting seeds from are nearly ready. It is so exciting to see the grasses ripening and flowers giving way to fruit. When we get back from attending the CLM Workshop in Chicago we will have many ready to collect!

First Impressions: Alturas, CA

I was headed South on 395. I had just left Bend, Oregon where I spent the winter working near Mt. Bachelor. After enjoying a cold and crisp winter I began to be more intimidated by the thought of driving further and further into warm Sagebrush country. About 100 miles from my destination of Alturas, California the clear sunny day unexpectedly became a blizzard. Soon at least 2 inches of snow covered the desert-like landscape. The snow continued to fall as a drove on when about 5 miles from where I would be living I saw a very large cat nimbly crossing the road… not even my first field day and I had already seen a local mountain lion! This summer was looking to be a interesting one.

I have now been working in Alturas for the BLM and living in Likely, CA for about two weeks. It is only May and the heat is already intimidating to someone who grew up in Western Washington. Not to worry though, I am collecting an entire arsenal of sun protection. The time is already passing very quickly. The town of Alturas is small, remote and seems quite friendly. Many of the storefronts have CLOSED signs hanging in them. The ones that remain open seem all the more charming and welcoming because of their empty neighbors. And thankfully yes, there is actually a Thai restraunt in town. (:

The people working at the Alturas Field Station are even more welcoming. I am working as a Botany tech this summer, however, I have already had offers from the archeology, wildlife, fire and range departments to come along with them for some training and new adventures in Modoc country. Everyday has been different, radio training, inventorying with the weed-crew, GIS work, rare plant surveys, exploring different range allotments. I quickly realized I do not know much about the flora and fauna of this region, but I soon will. A couple field days have entirely been spent looking for several rare plants, driving down back-country gravel roads, hiking up and down ridges, around dried up creek beds and vernal pools … it is like a botanical treasure hunt!

One of my favorite days so far was spent driving West towards Mt. Shasta to Falls River Mill, here the landscape not only includes Sage and Rabbit brush but Juniper, White Oak and Grey Pine trees as well. This diverse canvas of trees and shrubs is enhanced by numerous wildflowers sprinkling the landscape with brilliant pinks, bright purples and florescent yellows and oranges. (I am still learning their names) On this particular day my partner Joe drove us to a place for lunch near where we were taking some herbarium vouchers. We sat on lava rocks looking out over a valley, in the distance was Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta, I could not imagine a better lunch hour. I couldn’t help thinking- there is so much knowledge to be gained, experiences to be had and people to learn from here… I definitely need to make the most of all these opportunities and I can’t wait!