Reflections on a sea of sage

Hi all,

Carrie and I finished collecting seeds for the SOS program in late October. Along with this came finishing our SOS paperwork and sending the final stacks of boxes of seeds to the Bend Seed Extractory—leaving our cubicle surprisingly spacious.

Our final project has been ground truthing possible spring locations for the office hydrologist, Landon. We were handed a map with numbered points, a GPS, and some data collection tools and went off to areas of our choosing to look for undocumented water sources at those points. This has been a great project to end our internship on. It’s different from anything we’ve been doing, and I’ve learned how to use a turbidimeter as well as some other ways to analyze water. It’s been a nice change after months of seed collecting and plant monitoring. Best of all, we’ve been able to visit some areas of the field office that we haven’t been to yet. On our first trip we went to the Buffalo Hills (probably my favorite part of the field office), and after finding the first 4 spots visited dry, we found 3 running springs—2 of which even had minnows. It was pretty amazing to see the tiny streams of clear, cool water which turn the surrounding plants a bright green amidst a seemingly endless hillside of dried forbs and basalt rock. And we get to name the springs we find. We’ve also checked for undocumented springs in the Smoke Creek Desert where we saw lots of jackrabbits. On our long hikes in search of springs, we’ve seen countless wild horses, some burros, and even a badger.

The final spring we surveyed at the end of Stone Corral canyon. By far my favorite.

The final spring we surveyed at the end of Stone Corral canyon. By far my favorite.

For two days, I helped our mentor, Valda, and archaeologist Marilla with an archaeological clearance of land that will be planted with bitterbrush seedlings. This involved scanning the area systematically for signs of an archaeological site (we found some projectile points and lots of obsidian flakes), mapping the area, and digging test pits. Once archeologically sensitive areas were identified and set aside, Valda was given the go-ahead on the bitterbrush restoration project. I also spent a few days creating labels and mounting herbarium specimens that Carrie and I collected both for SOS and personal collections to benefit our office’s herbarium. The last major project Carrie and I have been working on in the office is creating a more user-friendly plant list for future employees and interns to use. We’ve included photos, whether the plant is upland/riparian/perennial/annual/biennial, if it’s invasive, if it’s listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society, plus an area to make personal notes about the plant. It’s a great feeling to see the final list coming together, and I really think it will get a lot of use in our office! I’m a little jealous we didn’t have this list when we started our internship…back when we had no familiarity with Great Basin plants…it would have been quite handy.

It feels odd to be wrapping up our time here. Our friends and coworkers at the Eagle Lake Field Office have been so welcoming and easy-going that I fell instantly into place. I really do feel lucky to have been placed here in Susanville—even though I had no idea this place existed or what to expect from it before flying out here in July. I learned that field work is definitely what I want to be doing, but that working for the government may not. It can be frustrating. No matter how dedicated and passionate you are about your projects and the land, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, many of which are coming from offices far removed from the environment you’re working to manage. I’m glad I saw this first hand, and that my co-workers were honest about their experiences in the agencies. I have a much better idea of what I’m getting myself into if I pursue a career with the government. After all, there are some great benefits that come with managing a million acres of land. I’ve been able to do so many things: seed collection, rangeland monitoring, archaeological surveys, hydrological surveys, rare plant monitoring, and herbarium work. I even learned how to drive a stick. I’ve explored mountains, pine/fir forests, canyons, sagebrush scrub and the tiniest, most beautiful hidden springs. I’ve seen golden eagles, wild burros, colorful lichens and delicate desert plants. I’ve worked with people who enjoy their jobs and the company of their coworkers, even after 13-hour days in the field. And our mentor has been fantastic. No wonder the summer and fall seemed to fly by. It’s time to move on to the next great adventure, and if there’s anything my time out here has taught me, it’s that I shouldn’t hesitate to venture out in search of the things I love–no matter how impassible the road may seem.

Goodbye sagebrush!

Goodbye sagebrush!


Eagle Lake Field Office

Back in action


Not much new happened before the government shutdown–the usual collecting of Mountain Mahogany and Great Basin Wildrye seeds for SOS. The most exciting development was that it snowed on us the last time we collected Mountain Mahogany (on Sept. 25th)! This gal from Florida/Texas has never seen the likes of a September snow…Ah, the mountains are full of surprises.

First snow of the field season for Carrie and I!

First snow of the field season for Carrie and I!

It made us a little giddy:

Best part about hugging a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi): it smells like vanilla. Ahhhhhh.

Best part about hugging a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi): it smells like vanilla. Ahhhhhh.

The next week we were out of work and left to twiddle our thumbs in the high desert. There are worse places to do this in, really. Nonetheless, I was glad to hear we could work again.

Today was my first day back at work, and I accompanied Missi, our wildlife biologist, on a trip to survey part of the field office. We were checking to see that people hadn’t taken advantage of the shutdown and disobeyed public land rules (dumping garbage, creating roads through burn restoration sites, etc.). Luckily we didn’t find any evidence of such activity on our route.

Then we checked in on the Biscar Wildlife Area, composed of two reservoirs that are home to many nesting water foul, as well as some good fishing, rumor has it. We picked up a little garbage and checked on parts of the reservoirs where willows and invasive vegetation had been removed in order to keep the spillway clean and dam structurally sound. Some of the resilient willows have moved back in already, and a beaver has joined the ranks of the inconvenient vegetation, damming up the spillway itself.

The upper reservoir and a flock of coots!

The upper reservoir and a flock of Coots!

With only a few weeks left, I’m trying my best to savor my time at the Eagle Lake Field Office. Stay tuned for more epic tales of my conservation adventures out here.

Until then,


Middle point of my internship


The field season is barely winding down here at the Eagle Lake Field Office (which I am perfectly content with). Carrie and I have been collecting more Mountain Mahogany and Great Basin Wildrye seeds to plant in the areas damaged by the massive Rush Fire (Aug. ’12), and we’ve managed to monitor another handful of Special Status Plant populations, too. After collecting Mountain Mahogany on a mountain called Fredonyer, we drove up to the top (7789 ft) and climbed into the fire Lookout. We met the lookouts, Bob and his wife, who stay up there in the single-roomed cabin-on-stilts 4 days each week in the summer months–which they’ve been doing for 31 years! It was awesome being able to see our field office from a bird’s eye view, and I was able to point out areas where Carrie and I have done field work, such as the Horse Lake area. Best of all, Bob helped to point out more Mountain Mahogany stands all over the mountain for seed collection.

Horse Lake, a dry lake, or playa, surrounded by mountains.

One of my favorite features of the basalt mountains out here is the myriad of lichens that grow on the ancient rocks:

It almost looks like the rocks have been spray-painted!

We also did some surveying of areas that were burned during the fire last summer. Some areas that had been drill-seeded and planted with seedlings aren’t doing as well as hoped, but then there spots like this aerial seeding site in the Skeddadle Mountains where sagebrush and grasses are sprouting beautifully. We visited an aspen stand high up in the Skeddadles, and were amazed to see the aspens not only re-sprouting from the charred ground, but spreading, leading us to believe the stand may be larger than it was before the fire!

You can see a sagebrush seedling popping out from behind the rock among the burnt antelope-brush trunks and ashy soil.

As the internship reaches its middle point, I’m anxious to spend as much time in the field as possible, gaining more familiarity with the beautiful landscape in which I’ve been placed and more experience with monitoring, plant ID, and understanding the BLM’s unique task of managing public lands.

Until next time,


SOS and Searching for Rare Plants

Hello Curious Readers,

This month, Carrie and I have been working on our main two tasks, collecting seed to use for the re-vegetation of the Rush Fire and monitoring Special Status Plants (SSPs). We searched for the candidate species Webber’s ivesia, aka wire mousetail, Ivesia webberi, at a location near Vinton, Ca, where it had been seen in the ’90s. We unfortunately could not find it. We have stumbled upon a couple populations of Susanville penstemon,  P. sudans, while searching for other SSPs and collecting seeds. 

The endemic Susanville penstemon grows in some unlikely places, including this rock outcrop at an elevation of 6,000 ft.

Beautiful outcrop on a slope near Babbitt Peak.

We collected seeds from Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus, on Horse Mountain, and Great Basin Wildrye, Leymus cinereus, in Secret Valley and near Willow Creek.

See the corksrew shaped tail? When the wind blows on the seeds, it drives them into the soil. The hairs on the seeds are also very irritating–they feel like insulation.

Basin Wildrye, the large clumping grass in this picture, was growing mostly on the steep slopes of the valley wall, making collection a little challenging!

We’ve assisted in some other projects, too, which have proven to provide great field experience. Last week Carrie and I helped Valda, Amy, one of our rangeland managers, and Derek, our rangeland supervisor, in completing surveys of AIM plots. I practiced my line-point intercept, canopy gap, and soil characterization while getting to experience the Horse Lake area in the cool, gray early morning. During the last week of July, Carrie and I assisted Missi, our wildlife biologist, Valda, our ecologist, Marilla and Sharynn, our archaeologists, and Clif, our fuels specialist, with a survey of the Jeffrey pine forest near Cleghorn Reservoir. The forest needs to be thinned to allow for saplings to grow and to prevent overly-destructive fires. But before treatment can occur, the units have to be surveyed for sensitive plant and animal species and habitat, archaeological artifacts and other aspects that could be damaged from the machinery and process of cutting down the trees. Surveying required long days of constant walking, but it was fun to spend time in the vanilla-scented forest—most of our field office is high desert—and I learned a few things: how to identify black bear scat, the call of a nighthawk, what a young red tail hawk looks like, how uncomfortable water-bars are to drive over, and dozens of plants.

On top of look-out near north Eagle Lake.



Land Health Assessment Training

Hi again!

This week we joined tech crews who will be working in the Eagle Lake, Surprise and Alturas field offices for an intensive week of training for a new, statewide land health assessment field protocol called AIM. AIM was developed primarily by the Great Basin Institute and Jornada with partners including the US government (BLM in our case), Nevada Conservation Corps, and International Conservation Volunteer Exchange. The goal of the new protocol is to provide a standardized set of data that is interdisciplinary and scalable. In other words, we collect data on vegetation and soil in such a way that the data from the hundreds of plots across Nevada, California, and Utah (to list a few) can be combined into a single analysis or broken down into understanding how best to manage the land on a small-scale, such as in each field office.This type of standardized methology is especially helpful to the BLM in providing scientifically sound data and a system that can be repeated by different offices. 

We had long field days learning everthing from the detailed protocol, soil morphology and taxonomy, UTV driving and plant identification so that we can break into our prospective groups to carry out AIM at our own randomly selected plot locations. I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and was able to meet field scientists from different offices and organizations, including the GBI crews that will be working on AIM and ES&R (Emergency Stabilization and Restoration after fire). This is my first full week on the job, and although it was long (averaged 11 hour days), I never got tired of being out in the field practicing useful, interesting skills and protocols.

As a reward, my roomate/fellow CLM intern and I will be floating down the river this weekend! Mmm.  

Until next time,



Workshop at the Botanic Garden

Hey curious readers!

You’ve probably heard a lot from interns who’ve been out in the field, so now it’s time to get the low-down from an  intern fresh to the program. This week was the CLM workshop held at the gorgeous Chicago Botanic Garden. There were about 50 of us in attendance, and only a handful have yet to start our exiting adventures at our respective field stations. My fellow intern at the Eagle Lake Field Office and I will head out west to Susanville, CA. next week to begin our work helping the BLM with a number of tasks. Meeting so many interns who’ve been out in the field for some time already was great. I got some clues as to what to expect from my job and future home, and I am more eager than ever to get started.

The workshop was a wonderful experience. I’ll give you a quick summary of our activities:

  • Monday: Introductions to the CLM Internship Program and federal jobs, an overview of the Endangered Species Act, and a fun activity on field navigation using a compass and GPS
  • Tuesday: Monitoring and Inventory Methods and Great Basin Ethnobotany
  • Wednesday: Flora of the West
  • Thursday: Seeds of Success Training (and a tasty BBQ at the Garden!)
  • Friday: Career and grad school advice, Conservation Genetics, Field Hazards, and some more on field navigation

These sessions were taught by an experienced and wonderful group of professionals from both CBG and federal agencies and were jam-packed with great information. I’m honored to have the opportunity to learn so much from such knowledgeable people. The interns came from all over the US, are interesting, enthusiastic and a lot of fun to be around. Some of us are already planning a 4th of July trip to the Tetons! I’m shocked this week is already over. Before I know it, I’ll be writing a post about my first month in Eagle Lake!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a picture of the Chicago Botanic Garden: