About Mike

I am a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Born and raised in Colorado I am excited to take my adventures to new places. My passions include mountains, deserts, backpacking, bikepacking, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, mountaineering, snowboarding/skiing and science. Specifically I am an ecologist with strong roots in plant ecology and snow science/ecology. I was an environmental biology major with a minor in geology, I completed a thesis relating to the impacts of early snow melt and warming temperatures on alpine plants in SW Colorado. In August I will begin a PhD program within the school of Forestry at NAU, here I will be studying the role soil organisms play in plant migrations. Specifically I am interested in addressing the question of if stress adapted soil organisms can assist plants living in more stressful conditions, this research could be utilized to assist land managers in buffering against die-back as the climate changes.

Reflections on my Internship: Smooth water within a flowing career

Let me begin by apologizing as I missed my most recent blog, I decided due to the proximity to my last day of work I would dedicate my energy to one grand final blog entry.

As I meander down my career path I seem to find riffles that carry me to tranquil pools of understanding. My time spent here with the Bureau of Land Management has more or less been a series of riffles with small intermittent pools that ultimately led me to pure satisfaction with my internship. In this case the turbulent flow was not water flowing through a channel, but rather thoughts and ideas racing through the thalweg of my mind as I developed critical personal skills at the workspace.

I was hired by the wildlife biologist to work as a geographic information systems intern. I came with a series of expectations that were highlighted in my interview as the primary and secondary duties of the position, when I arrived many of these expectations were flooded away. I struggled with the mental aspect of disappointment as rills formed in my mind about showing up to work to complete some menial tasks, including installing signs, mapping fences, and digitizing data. Rather than allowing these rills to progress into gullies that would have washed away tons of satisfaction from my acceptance of such a powerful internship opportunity, I found I was able to diversify myself and complete outlined work priorities while still gaining valuable experience.

Initially I was caught up in the fact that my mentor seemed to push me to work for the office GIS specialist, rather than for the wildlife biologist. The GIS specialist had minimal work for me to do and expected me to complete office work as it arose. When things around the office were slow, I set out on my own to find work to complete. Approaching my mentor was difficult at times due to her busy schedule. It started to become clear that this was the ultimate learning opportunity. As the season progressed I did my best to use my skills to deliver high quality product in a timely manner, while reaching out to learn as much as possible.

With August just around the corner, the summer seems to have flown by; those cold early mornings of leking season are long gone. As I reflect on my summer the negative aspects that initially engulfed me are dwarfed by the positives. I was able to work in the field and office with the forester, the archeologist, the real estate specialist, the weed manager, the range specialists, the botanist, the recreation planner, the GIS specialist, and a few of the range and weed technicians. My  initial expectations of applying my skills to wildlife biology and learning about wildlife biology management were not met; however, the list of people I was able to work with wash away my expectations in unexpected learning experiences. Not only was I able to apply my skills in assisting these diverse specialists with diverse backgrounds while learning about topics I never would have otherwise been exposed to, but additionally I was able to train these specialists in some of the topics that I have a background in, GPS mapping and GIS. I feel that these aspects have combined into giving me an incredibly strong understanding of how these land managers interact together to develop and achieve management objectives.

The Conservation and Land Management program ultimately exposed me to exactly what I wanted, applied science and land management. While five months is far too short to grasp how these agencies function and how their decision making process ultimately influences several hundred thousand acres of our natural landscapes, I most definitely gained exposure to these concepts. Not only were my initial objectives of gaining federal land management experience met, but I feel I can comfortably say my personal skill set and personality grew an immeasurable amount. Since it has been barely over one year since my college commencement ceremony, this was only my second biology related job. Excited and passionate about conservation I dove into the opportunity with minimal questioning during the interview process, something I will not do again.

This experience has helped me develop a skill set in interviewing potential employers who have scheduled an interview with me. It can often be easy to lose sight of the idea that a job is a mutualistic relationship amongst individuals and their employer. The employer is seeking someone with a skill set and background appropriate to the tasks that need to be completed, while the employee is seeking respectable individuals with reasonable expectations to report to, if either becomes unsatisfied with the relationship, the situation becomes less than ideal. Using this concept as a framework, I know that any future interviews will involve a lot more than simply answering the potential employer’s questions. Additionally, I learned about what aspects of a mentor, or boss rather, do not appeal to me and more importantly how to cope with personality conflicts at the work space in a professional manner. As an individual who has been blessed with outstanding advising from previous employers and professors, I plan to advise students and hire seasonal workers to assist me with my future endeavors. Learning how to cope with a mentor I did not always get along with has taught me what I do not want to be for anyone that works for me or relies on me as a mentor. These personal developments came early in my career, and in a comfortable setting.  Doubtlessly I am convinced that most individuals will learn these same skills in a similar manner at some point in their career, but for me personally I am glad to say I am advancing my career with these skill set under my belt.

In just a few days I will be moving to Flagstaff, Arizona where the skills I have learned in this position will be applied to obtaining a Ph.D. in Forestry. My aim as a research scientist is to develop research projects that provide land managers with useful information that can  be applied at the landscape level. Working with the land managers in this office has given me the background needed to better relate to and conduct research that land managers will find useful.  I feel many scientists lack experience working in the field of land management, despite the fact that their research is often directly related to land management. Certainly, working for the BLM has helped me understand the concept of land management and the processes land managers have to go through when making decisions.

In addition to career and personal developments, this internship ultimately gave me one of the best adventure opportunities of my life. Being from Colorado, Northern California, or even Western Nevada, is a destination that only gets talked about. This summer I was able to backpack among giant redwoods in the fresh scent of ocean air, visit high mountain lakes in the massive granite batholiths of the Trinity Alps and Sierra Nevada, wander through old growth forests in the coast range of southern Oregon, visit the majestic volcanoes of the southern and central Cascade Mountains, navigate lava tubes in the vast lava plains of the Modoc Plateau, hike along the crest of a seldom discussed fault block mountain range of rhyolite in the Warner Mountains, and soak in hot springs in the vastly empty playas of the Great Basin in Nevada. These adventurous experiences only strengthen the wonderful time I have had as a Chicago Botanic Garden employee working for the Bureau of Land Management in the Northeastern California town known as Alturas. Seeing all of these delightful new places has broadened my world view by exposing me to new places rich with unique history, ecology, geology, and scenery. The number of plants I have learned while out exploring this region dwarfs the plants I knew before coming here, not to mention my photography gallery has expanded an otherwise un-achievable amount.

There is not a doubt that the riffles and sometimes turbulent flow of the last five months has built a meander in my career that adds outstanding beauty to the bigger picture of my life. There is no such thing as a negative experience, as exposure to anything is associated with a learning opportunity. As I continue forward in my career, the Conservation and Land Management Program is something that will stand high on my recommendation list to qualified individuals. The networking opportunities associated with this internship are fruitful, from the outstanding staff associated with the Chicago Botanic Garden to the land managers and professionals that work for and alongside the federal land management agencies, the possibilities are endless. Any experience is what you make of it, so make the best of all that you do even when the situation seems to be less than ideal.


Michael Remke

Bureau of Land Management, Alturas Field Office

GIS Intern




Refreshing skills in new ecosystems

Since my last post, I have dedicated most of my time to teaching other people how to use ArcPad. The California State BLM office has announced they are going to stop buying and renewing TerraSync software licences, thus forcing individuals to use ArcPad. My background in field based surveying using both TerraSync and ArcPad made me an ideal candidate to supply training to my office, as folks prepare for this transition. While this task ended up only including 4 or 5 members of the office, it exposed some folks to a new skill set that I hope they continue to practice. Otherwise, I continue to find various tasks to keep me busy.

I also attended the CLM Training Workshop in Chicago, where I met tons of great people and received excellent information related to botany, monitoring, and career paths. I was able to put my plant identification skills to test by picking up a key and spending some time in the tall grass prairie portion of the Chicago Botanic Gardens. My experience in Chicago was nothing but delightful and insightful. I feel like I met some great people with common interest and learned a lot. This experience was a highlight of my summer.


That is all




Alturas BLM Intern

Stepping stones in the formulation of a career.

Time is quickly dissolving into the past as my CLM Internship approaches the halfway point. So far I have assisted on several projects ranging from inputting archaeological data into a statewide geodatabase to measuring trees for timber harvest in overgrown Ponderosa Pine Forest.  I have also been able to do vegetation transects to break up weeks in the office. About a month ago, I was able to spend a delirious night roaming in the sage trapping sage grouse, my first experience handling birds. I am also working directly with the weeds crew to assist in transferring their survey collection protocol to the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS). The diversity of projects I work on, truly makes this internship a unique experience.

Reflecting on my experiences this far brings a pond showing brilliant displays of progression in my career, despite sometimes feeling negative towards my overall experience. From a skill set perspective I have gained very little, mostly I have applied the knowledge and skills from my previous positions and education towards new projects. At times it seems I have to stir up the dust of old projects in order to find something to keep me busy, which is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the experience so far. Every time I work with a specialist in my office or in adjacent field offices I feel I learn something new and gain a clearer picture of my intended career. As a research scientist, I have outlined my future career by enrolling into a Ph.D. program at Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry. My intention is to begin a career in ecological research that benefits land managers. With a background in plant community ecology, my research interests are shifting to soil community ecology and ways soil organism inoculations can benefit management practices by promoting native plant survival and growth. With a strong background in science and decent work experience in land management, I am well aware of the grand chasm that often exists between land managers and scientist.

Every day I work with a wide array of land managers, whether in the field or in the office, I gain an understanding of their projects and intentions by reading their environmental impact statements and picking their brains to understand the methodology and reasoning behind their actions. With little emphasis on research and virtually all resources devoted to management action I am constantly enlightened to obstacles that inhibit management action based on science. One of these obstacles relates to tradition and simplicity. To stay up to date with recent scientific literature on the variety of tasks land managers complete is tedious and time consuming. Furthermore the audience of scientific conferences and journals are often geared towards academics, making it difficult for members of federal organizations to stay in touch with the latest literature. I know this from experience outside of this internship as I was once hired by an interagency BLM and USFS office to complete a literature review and report, related to genetic conservation.

These experiences and observations will help me gear future publications and outreach to a land manager specific audience. By doing so, I feel I will be able to conduct academic research that also has lasting impacts on how landscapes are managed and how policy is written into law. The major enlightenment I have made thus far at the BLM is that I do not want to be a land manager. Writing environmental impact statements and making decisions confined to agency and federal policy is not my passion. Asking questions about our landscapes and using science as a tool to share the answers to my questions with the greater community, however, is my passion.

Going with the lava flow

The Alturas field office sits on the Modoc Plateau, a high desert ecosystem that rests on rhyolite and andesite based lava flows from the Medicine Lake, Lassen, and Cascade complexes.  Here, dramatic diurnal temperature swings keep life living on the edge. Day time temperatures can approach 70 degrees, while the night creeps down into the low 30s or 20s. Flowers such as Fritillaria pudica (Gold Bell) can yawn in the morning sun on Sunday, and wither in frost bitten Monday Blues the next day. The office is still buzzing with conservation plans related to sage grouse, but a much bigger problem seems to loom on the horizon, relatively unmentioned.

Here in the high desert water can be scarce. Springs, hot and cold, seep out of the porous volcanic rock near fractures caused by the countless faulting that has occurred in the area. The Warner mountains gleam in the sun, recent spring snow has refreshed the high peaks with one of Earth’s most efficient water storage methods. By the time this water makes it to the vast lava plains of the Modoc Plateau, it only exists in canyon bottoms and valleys. Rivers have been fed with enough energy to cut through the gradually uplifting rock, leaving behind meandering canyons, filled with riparian vegetation amid an arid landscape. Even in wetter years, perennial grasses fail to emerge and grow to their fullest potential. Annual grasses from Eurasia, such as Bromus tectorum and Taeniatherum caput-medusae, seem to capitalize on brief periods of moisture faster than any native bunch grass can. Here, water flows like gold towards the major rivers, the one thing all life needs, is more precious and overlooked than the minerals that are used for luxury.

So the challenges of management surface like an explosive volcano. Ranchers wish to graze their livestock on the precious lava plains, consuming young sage, Stipa occidentalis var. californica (California Needle grass) and Poa secunda (rush blue grass) leaving behind trampled fertile volcanic soil for the aggressive invasive species to thrive in. To complicate things, prolonged drought inhibits the growth native plants and prompts disease in the forest. Lack of fire and short wet periods at the turn of the 19th century promoted Juniper establishment, which has begun choking out sage. Change is on the horizon, yet we struggle to account for it. We thrive to manage the landscape as it was found, leaving no room for growth for fluctuation. We treat the ecosystem as if we govern it, failing to realize its independence and resilience. We fear the Sage grouse may be declining in NE California; we are probably right, so we invest thousands to ensure we understand we are right, when management may be impractical according to the science.

This brings me to the ultimate question looming in my research driven mind. How can you manage a continually changing landscape for the betterment of its health? In the constant tug-of-war between anthropocentric demands for ecosystem services and the long term health of an ecosystem it is unclear what the future holds. The great destructive force of volcanoes has bred fertile soil and life in the Pacific Northwest and other places of the world, yet we fear the chaos of destruction. How then do we play our cards in Nature’s tango between life and death? Should we convince the Sage Grouse that the Modoc Plateau is a nice place to live after all? Or should we let them chose where they want to live, as we did when we moved west?

From Modoc


Michael Remke:  BLM Intern


Welcome to Modoc

Exploring Cedar Mountain in early spring.

A faint orange glow turns the clouds on the eastern horizon to a fire in the sky. The Warner mountains yawn with warmth as the sun rises over the great basin, Alturas remains dark. It is my first day working for the BLM here in Modoc County, the job still remains as mysterious as the country surrounding me. Yesterday I reached the summit of Cedar Mountain (8,140 ft) in the Warner Mountains. Here lava flows were violently tilted upward in a classic fault garben that was formed with the rifting of the great basin. Erosion has dramatized the mountains by exposing large naked cliffs, towering above clay and fine volcanic soil. Staring to the south feels like gazing into a world unique from the one I am standing in, the north facing slopes of Payne Peak (7,618 ft) are decorated with White Firs towering out of snow, while the slopes I stand on are spotted with Artemisa tridenta and Western juniper and are almost completely lacking snow. To the east alkali lakes and arid desert are exposed in the great basin. To the west Mount Shasta (14,179 ft) gracefully towers above the lava plains, cinder cones, and canyons of the Modoc Plateau. Hot springs are everywhere along these fault blocks, quietly seeping into pools of hot water, breeding unique life forms and reminding us all of the energy Earth contains.  This vantage spot describes what I know of where I will be spending the next five months. Several unknowns remain, but no secrets can hide on the naked Modoc Plateau.

After meeting my supervisor, I am given introductions to the rest of the staff, and we drive to the Suprise Valley Field office to meet more individuals I will be working with this summer. I am starting to get a better idea of the projects I will be working on throughout the summer, one major theme continually arises, Sage Grouse. We also happen to be one of the most western locations containing Sage Grouse habitat, and a nation wide effort to better understand these birds and how we can protect them has created a large money pool, and tons of collaboration. From habitat modeling to track analysis, and lek counts to bird trapping the number of projects related to these birds are endless. Encroaching juniper threatens portions of critical habitat, creating opportunities for the forester to be involved in restoration projects. My office is participating in a inter-agency Sage Steppe Ecosystem Restoration Project (http://ltdl.wr.usgs.gov/SSERS/default.aspx), and many of my tasks will relate to this effort.

(Two weeks later)

As someone with a background in land conservation, forestry, plant ecology, invasive plant management and wildlife tracking. I have a diverse skill set that allows me to assist on a variety of projects. My primary position is to provide GIS services ranging from data management to more complicated analysis to the staff here in Alturas and Surprise Valley. However, in my first week of work I assisted in tree marking for timber improvement, surveyed noxious weeds, installed recreation signs and assessed the current status of designated OHV areas. In my second week of work I visited a few leks and got busy organizing data. Clearly a diverse number of projects are begging for help and I am very excited to take advantage of the opportunity to diversify my skill sets.

This week I got to know Jeffery, the pine that is, and his relationship with Incense-cedar in lower elevation mixed conifer forests of the Eastern Cascades. The diversity of coniferous trees only increases as you travel north and west from Alturas, and this fact seems to have me very excited, I love trees.

Knowing that the redwoods are just on the other side of the mighty Cascades my adventurous nature beckons to escape the rain shadow and enter the moist lands of the coastal range. Until next time, I am out exploring.



GIS Intern- BLM Alturas Field Office