Season’s Over!

It’s not easy to sum up the past 5 months here at the BLM office in Missoula, MT. I have had a wonderful experience learning all about vegetative, wildlife and stream monitoring, bird identification, rangeland health, special status plants, seed collection, forestry, GIS and so much more. But what has truly made my experience here so wonderful is the people I have had the pleasure and honor to work with. My mentor and my two field partners,  John H., Lea and John F. have made my experience here unforgettable. They have all taught me so much and we have had so much fun this season.  This experience would not have been the same without them. But alas, it had to end sometime, as the snow has been slowly pushing us out of the field and into the office. So on to the next adventure!

View while collecting Sage Brush seeds on the last field day of the year 🙁

First snow!

Monitoring, monitoring and more monitoring!

Over the past month here in Missoula, MT, we have been busy implementing new wildlife and forestry monitoring before the season comes to a close. We have been helping with a Snowshoe Hare project conducting habitat monitoring on stands with the ultimate goal being: to determine how long after thinning projects it takes for hares to re-enter and use the area. The monitoring consists of horizontal cover data, canopy cover data, habitat typing, shrubs and seedlings found in the plot, pellet counts (my favorite) and habitat typing the area.  Looking for the little m&m sized pellets is like a scavernger hunt!

The forestry monitoring project we have been working on is a new project so it has been a difficult process to determine our exact protocols and plot locations. However, it has been a great opportunity to be on the planning side of a monitoring project to see how protocols are determined. The picture below is a group of us at our first site, trying to finalize the protocols. The goal of the project is to monitor the response of understory vegetation to different thinning treatments (clear cuts, single tree selections and salvage) over a long term timeline. We are establishing plot locations and collecting baseline pre-treatment data. The data we are collecting is horizontal cover, canopy cover, vegetation height, fuels data (Brown’s survey method) and understory plant diversity and composition (with a Daubenmire transect).

Besides the monitoring projects above, I have been busy helping monitor a riparian site using Multiple Indicator Monitoring, collecting seeds of Black Hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii), Snowbrush (Cenothus velutinus) and Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), preparring herbarium samples and surveying for more sensitive plants. The photo below is of Pyrola picta, White-veined Wintergreen, a sensitive plant that is found in moist and dry forests. Unfortunately, this year most of the plants we have found did not flower, perhaps due to the lack of snowmelt. Thanks for reading!

Halfway done already!

Wow, time is absolutely flying by here in Missoula, MT.  Since my last blog post, I have been busy finishing up our last Daubenmire and Pace transects for the season as pictured below. In the first photo we are trying to identify a grass in a Pace survey and in the second photo we are conducting a Daubenmire survey.


We have also been busy monitoring seed maturity and collecting mature seeds (for the following species Camassisa quamash, Lesquerella carintata, Purshia tridentata and Ceanothus velutinus), surveying for sensitive plants (Pyrola picta, White-veined Wintergreen, and Botrychium paradoxum, Peculiar Moonwort) and attending two different trainings in Montana. The first training was a one day wetland plant identification training just south of Missoula at a wildlife refuge. The training was so informative and it was great to meet other botanists who work in the Missoula area for other organizations besides the BLM. The other training took place in Butte and focused on Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) which is a monitoring system for riparian areas. At the MIM training I learned so much about riparian plant communities and how to quantitatively evaluate the health of a stream. The training also covered what to do with data once you have collected it and how it can best be used to affect management decisions, specifically relating to range management strategies. Attending both of these trainings made me think a lot about pursuing riparian ecology after this internship, but who knows! There are just too many fields that interest me right now.

Besides attending the MIM training, the other highlight of the past several weeks would have to be discovering a couple rare orchids! The Mountain Lady Slipper (Cypripedium montanum) is found in dry to moist forests in mountain to foothill zones. It has maroon colored tepals and a white lower lip, that slightly resembles a slipper, giving it its common name. The Hooded Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) has a beautiful spiral of white flowers and is found in moist meadows (see picture below).

It’s hard to believe I am already halfway through my internship. I have learned so much already and I can’t wait to learn more. In the next few weeks we will be conducting more surveys for rare plants and I will be helping out the fisheries team with their MIM monitoring. More on that in my next post! Thanks for reading :).

Livin’ in Big Sky Country

Hello from Missoula, Montana! My name is Rachel and I started my CLM internship with the BLM on June 4th. Where, oh where to begin. In the past month I have been cramming my brain with new information, meeting all of the wonderful, friendly people in my office, hiking and adventuring in the beautiful country around Missoula and also exploring the awesome city itself.

On a more day to day basis, my mentor, my field partner and I have been doing a variety of things in the field, most of them revolving around vegetative surveys or monitoring BLM sensitive species plants and culturally important plants. Relating to the BLM sensitive species plants, we have been scouring potential habitats for Keeled Bladderpod (Lesquerella carintata), a rare mustard that is found in dry, steep sites with very loose, rocky soil. This is not easy hiking by any means due to its preferred habitat, however the scenery and views are stunning (as pictured below).

The culturally important plants we are monitoring are Camas (Camassisa quamash) and Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), two beautiful wildflowers that are shown below. Bitterroot is my favorite wildflower I have seen in Montana, it grows very close to the ground and has small succulent leaves, if leaves are even seen.


Later on in the summer when these plants are seeding, I will be collecting seeds, along with a few other species of shrubs (including Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata, which is also pictured below).

The vegetative surveys we are conducting are Pace and Daubenmire surveys. These are conducted every 5 years to monitor changes in species diversity and soil, litter, moss and rock cover as a result of cattle and wildlife grazing in the area. Each survey involves finding the transect location using a GPS and photos from previous years. Once the transect location has been found the surveys are different in their methods. A Pace survey involves walking 100 paces from your starting point along the contour of the land (following a specific azimuth) and identifying the plant touching the tip of your boot and any over-story. A Daubenmire survey, which is shown in the picture below, involves running a 100ft tape from the transect’s starting point and placing the Daubenmire frame (the red and white rectangular box in the picture) every 5 feet on one side of the tape and every 10 feet on the other side of the tape. Then, all of the plants within this frame are identified in terms of their percent of ground cover.

Both of these surveys have helped me a great deal in learning my native plants here (and unfortunately non-natives too). Additionally, since the transects are scattered throughout BLM land, I have been lucky enough to explore lots of different habitat types and areas. I have seen some incredible landscapes and wildlife, including a Snowshoe Hare, a Red Fox den with playful pups, Mule and White-tailed Deer, Elk, Wild Turkeys, raptors of all sorts and so much more.  I have also been learning a lot about using GPS units and GIS software which is often frustrating and slow going but a necessary skill to have in any field of biology.

Overall, I have had an amazing month! My internship is off to a great start, it is hard to believe sometimes that I get paid to go hike in beautiful country and look for and identify awesome plants! Thanks for reading!

Until next time,