NEPA Analysis

With the last of the 2014 season’s seed collections wrapped-up and shipped away, our attentions have turned to other projects. A major portion of the work now involves the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). During the past few months I have had the good fortune to work on several interesting NEPA projects.


Kelso Peak Grazing Allotment, within the Bright Star Wilderness

One such project involves developing and analyzing alternatives to determine the level of future grazing use, within the Kelso Peak Allotment. The allotment is situated mostly within the Bright Star Wilderness, an especially interesting location that receives influences from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Great Basin Desert, and the Mohave Desert, making the location extremely diverse botanically. One of the many interesting plant species of the project area is the Kelso Creek monkeyflower (Mimulus shevockii), a BLM sensitive plant species, which is known to occur in only a total of eleven populations on the planet.


Cottonwood Creek, National Wild and Scenic River

Work for another NEPA project is set alongside Cottonwood Creek, the only National Wild and Scenic River in the Ridgecrest Field Office. Here our field office is assessing the impacts and requirements of conducting a fuels reduction burn in an area of old-growth sagebrush.


‘Old growth’ sagebrush at Cottonwood Creek

A third Environmental Assessment (EA), to which I am contributing, analyzes proposed range improvements within the Deep Springs Valley and South Oasis grazing allotments, at the northern end of the Ridgecrest Field Office. This project area, located in the Great Basin Desert, offers an interesting change of plants and other scenery, compared to the Mohave Desert that forms the majority of our work area. One of the highlights of the field work required to prepare this EA involved trekking cross-country through the wilderness, in order to locate, assess, and document a spring, which no present BLM employees had ever visited. A less pleasant aspect involved discovering approximately 125 contiguous acres of Russian thistle associated with a water trough site, on one of the above mentioned allotments.


Russian thistle (a.k.a. tumbleweed) infestation on the South Oasis Allotment

As far as NEPA writing is involved, I have mainly contributed to the vegetation and non-native, invasive species sections, two areas for which I possess a high level of interest. The NEPA process required for an EA requires the consideration of a range of reasonable alternatives. I enjoy the process of looking at issues from various perspectives, in order to analyze different scenarios and their possible effects on the multiple resources stewarded by BLM.


Non-functional watering trough at One Tub Spring, on the South Oasis Allotment. BLM is considering repairing this and other grazing allotment improvements.

Another important and useful part of the process of performing NEPA analysis has involved using GIS. Examples include consulting the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) for the known occurrences of Special Status Species and NISIMS (National Invasive Species Information Management System) for the locations of invasive plants. A related aspect, which I also enjoy, involves the utilization of mobile GIS. For each of these NEPA projects I have used a Trimble device, running ArcPad, to collect geodata of features such as fencelines, burn piles, springs, watering troughs, and invasive species infestations.

Wildlife utilizes available water from One Tub Spring

Wildlife utilizes available water from One Tub Spring

I have also used GIS to create several maps for EAs, which display project areas and the measures that would be implemented under each of the possible alternatives. These maps generally undergo changes as projects develop, enabling BLM staff and members of the public to understand proposed actions.  This, and all NEPA work, is intended to contribute towards the making of well-informed decisions, better decisions being the ultimate goal of the NEPA process. Viva NEPA!


Marcus Lorusso

BLM Ridgecrest Field Office


Monitoring Plant Populations

I have recently returned from an excellent training experience in Billings, Montana. The class is titled Measuring and Monitoring Plant Populations and Vegetation.

I attended the class as an alternative to the CLM workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was during the 2013 CBG workshop, that I first met John Willoughby, one of the primary instructors for the course. In Chicago we had a brief 1-day introduction to the material; In Billings the material was greatly expanded. The class in Montana met every day (including the weekend) for an entire week. In attendance were botanists, wildlife biologists, and rangeland management specialists, from the BLM and NPS, across the Intermountain West.

In addition to lectures there were ample opportunities to work in groups with fellow classmates, both in the classroom as well as in the field. Some aspects of the curriculum included:
• Management objectives and monitoring objectives, differentiating between both, and important aspects of each.
• Vegetation measurements: a range including frequency, cover, and density.
• Data recording and management methods.
• Statistical analysis techniques and which are most appropriate for various types of data.

The technical reference used for the course contains a lot of complex and detailed information, yet is easily approachable. It is available at the following link:

Technical Reference

Technical reference used during course

Back on the job, I have already been able to apply some of what I learned, conducting rangeland trend assessments, and designing a protocol for invasive species monitoring.

Vegetation monitoring transect for rangeland trend study

Vegetation monitoring transect for rangeland trend study

The class is offered most years. I recommend it to all who enjoyed the introductory experience at the CLM workshop and want to learn more, or for anyone else with a need to design or implement vegetation monitoring programs.

Marcus Lorusso

BLM Ridgecrest Field Office


Mojave Blooms!

After working as a botanist and environmental educator in Oregon for more than 7 years, my present stint at the BLM Ridgecrest Field Office feels a bit like a sabbatical. What a learning experience and adventure it is proving to be; less than 2 months into my internship here, I have already experienced a tremendous variety of work projects and outings, here in the Western Mojave.

Nine Mile Canyon

Wildflower display in Nine Mile Canyon, Sacatar Trail Wilderness

Taking advantage of recent spring rains in the Western Mojave and Eastern Sierra Nevada, and the amazing blooms that have followed, the Seeds of Success program is once again a major focus for me. The combination of sufficient precipitation and our team’s dedication has resulted in more forb-species seed collections than have occurred here during the past several years.


Caulanthus inflatus population, Grass Valley Wilderness

In addition to the native seed collections I have taken the opportunity to involve myself in several other aspects of botanical work, at the Ridgecrest Field Office, and elsewhere in the California Desert District. Highlights include:

  • As part of an interdisciplinary team, I helped conduct rangeland health assessments in the Bright Star Wilderness, where we performed quantitative toe-point vegetation transects, as well as qualitative proper functioning condition (PFC) assessments of a grazing allotment.

Interdisciplinary team, hiking into the Bright Star Wilderness

  • Another exciting aspect of the internship has been several days of rare plant monitoring, tracking the progress of populations of Astragalus magdalenae var. peirsonii (Peirson’s milk-vetch), Cymopterus deserticola (desert cymopterus), and Mimulus shevockii (Kelso Creek monkeyflower). Other BLM special status plants that I have had the pleasure to encounter in the field include Erythranthe rhodopetra (Red Rock Canyon monkeyflower), Phacelia nashiana (Charlotte’s phacelia),  Eschscholzia minutiflora subsp. twisselmannii (Red Rock poppy), and Pholisma sonorae (sand food).
Algodones Dunes

Rare plant monitoring in the Algodones Dunes


Phacelia nashiana, a BLM special status plant

  • While perhaps not quite as much fun as finding rare plants, another important project has been working with invasive plant inventories. This has included becoming familiar with the NISIMS (National Invasive Species Information Management System), using mobile GIS tools to record, map, and report weed infestations and treatments.

Workers prepare to remove an invasive salt-cedar from a riparian area in the El Paso Mountains

  • Collecting for the plant display at the Ridgecrest Desert Wildflower Festival, teaching botany lessons to fourth graders for the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program, and helping to document a new species of Claytonia with botanists from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, are a few more of the diverse botany projects, in which I have participated so far.
Owens Peak Wilderness

Owens Peak Wilderness


Gopher snake near Grass Valley Wilderness

And much remains to come! On the horizon is a NEPA training in Las Vegas, a vegetation monitoring class in Billings, plant mapping projects, writing assignments, and yes, more native seed collections. I will be sure to keep you posted as things begin to heat-up here in the Mojave.

Marcus Lorusso

BLM Ridgecrest Field Office

A Season to Remember

The seed collecting season has finally come to an end.  Upon reflection, the last several months, working with the BLM in Medford, Oregon, has been an excellent opportunity to use my skills and knowledge, as well as gain a tremendous amount of valuable new experiences.

One major area of growth was my understanding of the geography of Southwest Oregon. Although I made good use of my previous knowledge of botanically interesting areas, I also had the experience of visiting and working in a great number of amazing new locations. As recently as six months ago, I had not even heard of King Mountain, Big Elk Meadow, Drew Lake, Walch Fen, and Josephine Creek. It is now difficult to imagine a world without such places.

Darlingtonia fen above Josephine Creek

Instrumental to the discovery of many of the new locations was GIS. I began the season with a good background in GIS, and was pleased to be encouraged to utilize and improve my skills in my new position. I was provided with ArcMap software, and used the technology to select promising new locations, track routes traveled and sites visited, and record locations of collected vouchers and seed. GIS also made easy work of obtaining and recording ecoregion and geology data for each seed collection. It was also fun to make use of the relatively new, data driven pages feature, to make a nice final set of maps, showing all of the season’s seed collection locations. I felt fortunate that, through my internship, I was given access to ESRI online tutorials, as well as USFS webcast classes.

Also, botanically, I had plenty of opportunities to build upon my prior knowledge. While for some time, I have been able to recognize plant families and most genera by sight, this past season afforded me plenty of opportunities to practice keying plants. The vast floral diversity of  Southern Oregon continues to surprise me, and presented our team with many interesting challenges. Some of the most perplexing, were a couple members of the family Asteraceae, as well as the genus Perideridia. Other botanical highlights included encountering rare plants such as Calochortus howellii, Gentiana setigera, and Perideridia erythrorhiza. Working with the CLM program has also allowed me the honor of having many of this season’s botanical vouchers placed with the U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution.


Deer Creek, Josephine Co., Ore.

This past season with the CLM program has given me many challenges and rewards that I will fondly remember for a long time to come.

Success with Seeds

With 90+ collections, so far, we have surpassed our original goal by more than 50%. We are now able to slow the collections a bit and shift our focus to packing and shipping seed, and finalizing the supporting documentation for each collection.

  1. Each collection requires photographs of plant, seed and habitat. From the many pictures taken, we must now choose the best. Thanks to Jonathan, who has been keeping up with this aspect of the project from the beginning.
  2. From the multiple pressed vouchers that we have made all season, the very finest are being selected to be be sent to the Smithsonian. The remaining quality specimens will be reserved for local and regional herbaria. Labels for each voucher must also be created. It is interesting to look back on all the plants that we have known this year.
  3. While vital habitat data was collected at the location of each plant population, field data forms now need to be fleshed-out and finalized. This includes updating information such as driving directions to each site. Thank goodness for Google Maps! Also, GIS layers are of great assistance, in filling the ecoregion and geology fields for each seed collection.
  4. We are also using GIS to create detailed maps for each site.

Although the new seed collections seem to be slowing a bit, there are still several species that have yet to ripen, and 100 or more collections for the season still seems realistic. Here are a few of the later-season plants and scenes that we have encountered:

Ageratina occidentalis

Chamerion angustifolium

Our primary work vehicle gets us to the plants

These little ones didn’t seem so cute while they were jumping up on me as I attempted to collect seed

Helianthus bolanderi cooperating for the group photo

Helianthus bolanderi

Saussurea americana

Epilobium brachycarpum

Hyatt Lake

Frangula californica with pollinator

Lupinus luteolus

The myco-heterotrophic Pterospora andromedea

Trichostema lanceolatum

Betula glandulosa

Ericameria greenei

The appropriately named Rock Creek, Jackson Co., Ore.

Seeds, Seeds, Seeds

The seed harvest continues here in the Medford District of Southern Oregon, and shows no sign of slowing yet. Our team has already surpassed the initial goal of 60 collections. With each collection being at least 20,000 seeds, that makes 1.2 million seeds so far! More than 100 collections for the year, seems entirely reasonable at this point. The nearby availability of a wide range of elevations, along with an abundance of high-moisture areas, certainly contributes to a sustained seed season in this part of the world. Here are a few of the habitats we have visited lately, along with some of their denizens.

Marsh in the southern Cascades

Cicuta douglasii with characteristic chambered root. Do not eat this plant!

Siskiyou Crest meadow ‘Where the sagebrush meets the stream’

Boykinia major and Aconitum columbianum

Senecio hydrophilus in Cascades vernal lake

Hemizonia congesta and Blepharipappus scaber, together in oak woodland. ‘Won’t get fooled again’

This Cascades fen is home to some fantastic flora…

such as Drosera rotundifolia

Mimulus primuloides, Ranunculus aquatilis, and Gentianopsis simplex

Enjoy the rest of summer, everyone!


Seeds Don’t Take a Vacation

This is a very busy time of year for seed collecting in Southwest Oregon. We have been in the field every day, with little time to write. Fortunately, photo-documentation is an important component of our protocols, and I can share some of the plant images from the past few weeks.

Calochortus howellii 

Asclepias fascicularis


Castanopsis chrysophylla

Chimaphila umbellata

Hemizonia fitchii

Horkelia sericata

Orthilia secunda

Pyrola Picta


Southern Oregon Seed Collecting

It has been a great few weeks, since the beginning of my internship. As a member of the Seeds of Success team in Medford, Oregon, I am responsible for locating and identifying populations of native plants. When we find a promising population, we prepare quality botanical vouchers, and later return to the site to collect seed, which will be used for long-term germplasm preservation, as well as for restoration projects. The days are spent researching geography, exploring beautiful natural areas, identifying and mapping plants, and collecting seeds. Since I would normally do most of these activities on my days off from work, I don’t know if I could think of a job better suited for me.

My mentor, Doug is an enthusiastic seed collector

Some of the highlights so far, include visiting botanically rich serpentine areas, collecting the uncommon Ashland thistle, and making the trip to Chicago to see the gardens and meet the CLM crew.


Heritage diversity display at the Chicago Botanic Garden

As much as I love my job, It would be good to have a couple of extra days in the week. Returning from the trip to Chicago, I am feeling the pressure of the ripening seeds and the possibility of getting behind in our collections. Not to mention the data management (including GIS) and volunteer coordination responsibilities that I have accepted. I am optimistic, however, that with proper planning, persistent effort, and a little patience, we just might do alright.

Marcus Lorusso

Medford Oregon