Good to be Back

As many people finish up their internships, I feel extremely lucky to be just starting my second internship.  After a summer of working for a private company carrying out vegetation surveys on oil and gas pads all over the west, I am thrilled to be a CLM intern once again!  My first internship was in northeast California at the Eagle Lake Field Office, and I am now working out of the Safford Field Office in southeast Arizona.  I am very grateful for a winter field position—in a warm environment too!  My Arizona internship has been quite a bit different from the internship I completed in California.  However, one thing remains the same: the internship continues to provide amazing opportunities to grow and learn every day.

During my first week, I was thrown right into fish field work.  Having a botany background, this was new and exciting for me.  I helped with a native fish survey of Araviapa Creek, one of the healthiest water systems in Arizona.  The creek flows through the beautiful Aravaipa Canyon and provides habitat for several native fish species, including a few endangered species.  I also assisted with non-native fish removal from Horse Camp Canyon, one of the side canyons of Araviapa Canyon.  The removal of non-native green sunfish from the canyon has been in progress since 2010, and we believe that we have actually successfully eradicated the species from the canyon this year.

Aside from fish work, we have been scampering to finish up seed collections.  Seeds are dropping quickly as temperatures decrease.  Although most of my field experience is in the Great Basin, I am quickly becoming acquainted with the plants in the area, especially the ones that inflict the most pain.  It seems that every plant around here is trying to kill you.  My appreciation for sage brush has increased dramatically in the past month after hiking through mesquite, acacia, mimosa, and cactus.  At the end of the day, though, I just can’t stay angry with the majestic saguaro.

Another project we had the chance to be a part of involves a unique restoration technique that has proved successful in desert environments.  At Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, we helped make seed balls for a prairie restoration at the refuge.  The large marble-sized seed balls consist of clay, aggregate (sand/compost), and seed in about a 5:3:1 ratio.  The hardened clay gives the seeds protection from predation, as animals are unable to penetrate the rock hard seed ball.  The structure also ensures that the seeds will not germinate until there is an adequate amount of water, since it takes monsoon rains to wet the clay enough for the ball to fall apart.  This clever technique may help bring native grasses back to the historically overgrazed areas in the refuge.

Making Seed Balls at Buenos Aires NWR

Making Seed Balls at Buenos Aires NWR


Brown Canyon

Brown Canyon

There are many other exciting projects in the works so stay tuned!

Janyne Little
Safford, AZ

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

After spending six months in Susanville without any real rain event, the weather that November and December brought was startling.  It rained for multiple days in a row with few breaks in the clouds.  Although I was not too fond of the many wet and dreary days, I am relieved that the land is finally getting a bit of moisture.  The plants’ dismal seed production this year showed that they were more than a little parched.  All the precipitation has also created great conditions to apply stabilization and rehabilitation treatments to the 315,000 acre Rush wildfire that raged through the Eagle Lake BLM field office this past summer.

The process of drill seeding the severely burned areas has begun.  The rangeland drill seeder is a beast of a machine and I think everyone in our field office is pleasantly surprised by its capabilities.  Our land is unreasonably rocky, making any of the treatments we are trying to apply extremely difficult to achieve.  Luckily, the drill seeder can handle the rocks and great progress is being made on that front.

We have also started planting antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) in the burned area.  Bitterbrush is an important plant used for cover and forage by deer, antelope, and other wildlife species, and much of this habitat was burned in the Rush Fire.  Finding rock free sites with deep soils to plant bitterbrush seedlings is challenging, however.  Site conditions need to be just perfect for efficient and successful bitterbrush seedling planting, as the chainsaw auger used to drill deep holes for the seedlings does not agree with rocks and shallow soils.  With the help of volunteers, we have managed to plant about 2000 bitterbrush seedlings before the snow came and the ground froze.

As the year 2012 comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting back on my experiences throughout the past year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out.  My first trip out West has been thanks to the CLM internship, and I have seen and done so much because of the awesome opportunity.  I have explored an astonishing nine National Parks in the short time I have lived in California, as well as visited several amazing cities.  I wasn’t anticipating being in Susanville for more than five months, but here I am seven months later, and just starting my extension.  There is still so much to explore and I can’t wait to see what the year 2013 holds!


The past few months have been quite hectic here at the Eagle Lake Field Office in Susanville, CA. In August, a wildfire ignited over 300,000 acres of our field office. As soon as the fire was declared contained, our office began working on the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan for the fire. I put my CLM internship on hold and was hired by the BLM for two months to help work on this plan. There was an immediate need for detailed maps of the fire area so that the resource advisors could check out the aftermath and do their jobs more efficiently. I was thrown into ArcMap with only a little knowledge of the program and was forced to learn how to use it. This is a very effective way to learn a program quickly, and with the help of the other intern, I am now able to swiftly create good-lookin’ maps and run analyses on data in ArcMap.

Coming from the Midwest, I have no experience with wildfires at all. Susanville was blanketed in smoke for a month or two while the 300,000 acre Rush Fire as well as 2-3 other significant sized fires surrounded the town. Wildfires are definitely a humbling event and it was interesting to see everyone’s different reactions to them. Some of my co-workers were in tears over the damage that it was doing to the land, while others were rooting for it to burn more. Having experience using prescribed fires to manage resources in Indiana, my initial reaction was that the fire was a good thing and that the plants would bounce back quickly and with great vigor. I soon learned that there is a key issue that must be considered when a wildfire rages through the West: cheat grass.

I became familiar with cheat grass very quickly when I moved to California back in May. It’s everywhere; and where it’s a little more sparse, it’s always threatening to encroach on and crowd out the native bunch grasses and other native plant species. There is great fear that the burned areas that were once dense sagebrush habitat will turn completely to cheat grass, and will stay cheat grass. The invasive grass species has completely changed the fire regime for the sagebrush habitat so that fires occur more frequently. The native brush does not have a chance to establish itself before the next fire rolls through the cheat grass fields. You can easily pick out where past fires have occurred from the large patches of yellow in the landscape where nothing but cheat grass is growing. It is startling to look at the fire history data and see that the field of grass is the exact fire perimeter of a past wildfire.

This fire has opened my eyes to the severe need for native seed to be used for fire rehabilitation and the importance of the SOS program. Most of fire area did not burn that hot, so the roots of native grasses are still intact and have high potential to bounce back and successfully outcompete cheat grass. However, some areas got completely cooked and are more susceptible to cheat grass invasion because of the loss of the native seed bank. In these areas, seeding with native plant species is very beneficial to help keep out cheat grass. The SOS program is an excellent way to ensure that there is enough seed available for fire rehab (which was definitely an issue this year with all the wildfires that occurred) and that the seed used is native.

My BLM position ended recently so I have resumed my CLM internship. The BLM position was an excellent opportunity and I am very thankful that the CLM internship is so flexible and helped facilitate it. I am now looking forward to the challenge of finding and collecting viable sagebrush seed to help out with the Rush Fire rehab.

Dust devil after the fire

First Impressions of Susanville

My first month in Susanville, California has truly been an eye-opening experience.  Originally from northwest Indiana, the vast, open spaces and beautiful landscapes of the west are awe-inspiring.  I never thought of the desert as an attractive place, but I’ve developed an appreciation for it in the short time I’ve been here and can’t believe how much life there is in the harsh environment.  Even though most of the plants that I am working with are extremely unfamiliar to me since this is my first time out west, I have learned many of the plants already and am slowly acquainting myself with the intimidating Jepson manual.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the project that another Susanville CLM intern, Andrew, and I were given to work on throughout the duration of our internship.  We are ground truthing special status plant species in the 1.3 million acre Eagle Lake field office.  I was extremely overwhelmed with the incredible size of the task at first, convinced that we wouldn’t even be able to make a dent in the data and get things organized.  Since then, I’ve finally managed to become familiar with our field office and wrap my head around the project, making it a fun challenge rather than a daunting chore. 

The first few weeks of the internship were primarily spent indoors as Andrew and I attempted to compile all the data available to us from previous botanists in our field office.  It was a rather frustrating experience because we kept finding new data each day which altered our organization scheme.  We definitely learned a valuable lesson about metadata and good record keeping.  Making sure that the data we collect this summer is clear and easy for future interns and botanists to find and comprehend is one of our main goals.

Although the office work was tedious and frustrating at times, it was very necessary and worth it in the end.  Not only are we saving time finding and monitoring plants in the field, but I was also able to learn the basics of ArcMap and the handheld GPS unit.  The number of things that the program can do is mind boggling and I’m looking forward to becoming more proficient with ArcMap in order to manipulate the data and accomplish things more efficiently.

After a many long hours in the office sifting through file cabinets and computer files, we were extremely antsy to get outside.  We finally felt confident with the data collection and were ready to give this monitoring thing a shot, so we headed out in the field.  The area in Nevada in which we were working was a few hours away from our field offices, so we decided to camp there in order to save time as well as gasoline.  This was one of the most remote places I’ve ever been in my life and probably the smallest I’ve ever felt.  I was surrounded by sage brush country and lava rock for as far as I could see in every direction.  It was refreshing to get outside and explore the field office, and the week was extremely successful.  We were searching for a few rare plant species in particular, including Pentstemon sudans (Susanville penstemon), Illamna bakeri (Baker’s globe mallow), and Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii (Suksdorf’s Milk-Vetch) and found several populations.  I’m looking forward to all the treasure hunts this summer holds!

Failed attempt at a jumping picture by Eagle Lake
Pilgrim Lake- near base camp in NV