Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 10: The Little Things & Other Perks

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship Program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Besides the variety of activity and scenery (certainly all the field locations but also at your desk in the office), a conservation and land management career may offer several other types of benefits and perks.

TOURIST MOMENT. What initially appeared to me to be an old, run-down homestead near an SOS seed collection site is actually a movie set from Memoirs of a Geisha. (Yes, this inspired the title for this series of blogs!)

A moment as a tourist–a movie set from Memoirs of a Geisha on BLM land

LUNCH BY THE RIVER. The South Fork of the American River runs just north of Pine Hill Preserve before it flows into the Folsom Lake reservoir. Our SOS seed collection efforts has brought us to sites near the river, providing a lovely setting for a lunch break.

Mokelumne River near Big Bar

South Fork American River at Dave Moore Nature Area

SWEET TREATS. And after lunch, a craving for something sweet may be satisfied with a simple dessert prepared by nature. Who can refuse a handful of grapes or blackberries!? Note: these delectable dishes are available in season only.

Sweet treats in the field (grapes in this photo, but also blackberries)

MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE. As an intern, sometimes I have the opportunity to assist people other than my mentor within the BLM office. My mentor is the manager of a rare plant preserve so we focus on botany-related land management and conservation. However, I have also surveyed for the federally endangered red-legged frog and participated in bird counts at the Cosumnes River Preserve with wildlife biologists, painted a vandalized restroom and stained bridges in a nature area with a maintenance worker, and served in the role of public relations when the fuels management team conducted a prescribed burn of brush piles at the Pine Hill Preserve. Although all of these were enjoyable, the pinnacle of mixing business with pleasure involved rafting down the South Fork American River with the recreation planner and another CLM intern to deliver toilet paper and cleaning supplies to the restrooms along part of the river before a busy Memorial Day weekend.

South Fork American River through Cronan Ranch near where we delivered t.p. and cleaning supplies to toilet facilities…and stopped for lunch 🙂

Mouth of the South Fork American River where our rafting adventure ended

THE LITTLE THINGS. What life is made of, what keeps life going. Little in terms of small physical size. Little in terms of a short amount of time. Little in terms of its seeming significance in this gigantic world. Little in terms of minimal numbers in existence…these are all truly “rare” treasures.

Flower of Bisbee Peak rush-rose (listed as a Review List species by the California Native Plant Society)

Pollinator on a blooming Pine Hill ceanothus (federally endangered)

Young Red Hills soaproot (federally endangered) and a stalk of last year’s growth

Little red bug on El Dorado bedstraw (federally endangered)

Stebbins’ morning-glory (federally endangered) displays its unique narrow, spindly, finger-like leaves

Insect on Layne’s butterweed (federally threatened); Lemmon’s ceanothus in the background

Bee on Pine Hill flannelbush (federally endangered)

An inchworm (???) among the disk flowers of El Dorado mule-ears (listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society)

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 9: Beauty

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! One of the greatest perks of a career in conservation and land management is having an office in the great outdoors. Not only is this work environment essentially void of stress, it often contributes to relieving any stress that one may have. And how can one end a day’s work in the field without some sense of awe and inspiration garnered from natural aesthetics? From the grand landscapes to the minute details of creation, there is much beauty for the eye to behold.

PHOTOGRAPHY. Not only is photography beneficial for qualitative monitoring (photo points), there are countless landscapes, habitats, and wildlife (animal and plant) subjects to photograph when working in the field. Sometimes the photos we take are used to produce education and outreach materials. All my other blog posts (as well as the blog posts of other CLM interns) show a plethora of photos that attest to this. As someone who enjoys photography as a hobby, some days I have to practice restraint!

A volunteer assisting with photo point monitoring of the response of vegetation after fuels treatment

FLOWERING PLANTS. Intriguing. Stunning. Charming. Lovely. Sometimes the best response to nature’s beauty is a silent pause of deep awe and genuine appreciation.

White fairy-lantern (Calochortus albus)

Creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis)…pleasant scents add to the pleasure of field work

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon sp.)

Purple lupines and yellow asters in the spring

Yellow star tulip (Calochortus monophyllus)

Blue flax (Linum lewisii)

Common soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)

Penstemon (Penstemon sp.)

Monkeyflower (Mimulus sp.)

Western blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)

Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans)

Sierra fawn lily (Erythronium multiscapideum) dancing in a meadow under the sun

LANDSCAPES & HABITATS. Grandeur. Breath-taking. Magnificent. The big picture. Sometimes nature is appreciated more from a distant standpoint than amidst it.

Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of Folsom Lake from atop Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains from the top of Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains from atop Pine Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

Fog in the foothills, view from Pine Hill looking toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Red Hills (left foreground) and storm clouds building over the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Stream flowing in spring through the Red Hills ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern)

South Fork American River along the Dave Moore Nature Area

South Fork American River running through the Pine Hill Preserve; gray oaks & chaparral shrubs cover the canyon slopes

Golden grasslands and rust-colored chaparral covering the foothill slopes (try to ignore the yellow star thistle in the foreground)

Golden foothills: lovely from a distance but terribly disconcerting to see the nonnative annuals when walking through them

Spring colors of the chaparral in Pine Hill Preserve

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 8: The Dirty Work

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Anyone who pursues a career in conservation and land management must be willing to get his or her hands dirty. One must also be okay with other discomforts and what some may consider “unpleasant” encounters with various wildlife ranging from insects that enjoy a good blood meal (on you!) to plants that enjoy lathering you with their potent chemicals. In this field (either way you look at it–career field or the outdoor office), there’s just no way around the dirty work.

TICKS. A day in the field–espeically during the spring but also on spring-like days during any other season–must end with a tick-check. Finding just one on me can incite the psychological game of thinking that I keep feeling one crawling on me…This spring, I saw one in our work vehicle after it had not been used for at least 3 days and I have also found one in my place of residence…So look carefully! You never know where their hitch-hiking journeys will take them and get them closer to you, their potential feast. Has anyone researched whether the color of clothing worn is correlated to tick attraction? I think they like brown pants…

Tricky ticks…tiny, camouflaged, stealthy…they could move and hide anywhere without me even knowing–yuck!

BARBED GOATGRASS. “Yikes! Is that a grasshopper in my pants!? Oh, no. It’s just barbed goatgrass.” This is probably the typical thought process of anyone who walks through a patch of this horrible albeit effective invasive annual grass for the first time. Make it a contest: how far up one’s pant leg can a barbed goatgrass seed head go before it gets too annoying that it has to be pulled out? I had one come up out of the top of my pants…does that mean I win? 🙂

Head of invasive barbed goatgrass

Sea of barbed goatgrass on a rare plant preserve

Never underestimate barded goatgrass…it can and does enter the bottom of your pantleg and can maneuver all the way up to the top of your pants

YELLOW STARTHISTLE. Multiple ways exist to combat this nasty and highly invasive species in California, but it’s incredibly ept at reproducing profusely, flowering throughout the summer and fall, supplying the seed bank with a large number of seeds every year, choking out natives and taking over the landscape. Because I have been working on a rare plant preserve, we do not use herbicide but instead have been attacking armies of yellow star thistle by hand removal and bagging. How satisfying to remove them one-by-one and see an area of the preserve void of YST…at least for the moment as we may have left behind seeds, which is why combating invasives is a constant battle.

Yellow starthistle (most invasive weed in California?!) in bloom, defenses ready…

Pulling yellow starthistle at Pine Hill Preserve

“Yellow starthistle–you’re goin’ down!”

POISON OAK. Whether we like it or not, poison oak is native in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. And, of course, one of the federally endangered plants at Pine Hill Preserve–El Dorado bedstraw–likes to grow in the understory of live oak or black oak woodlands…where it is not uncommon for poison oak to flourish. To make it even more exciting, this plant species is small and dies back every winter so to see it or find it among the oak leaf litter during its growing season, one must get close to them as well as these toxic chemical-exuding plants which love to cause itching misery to any who dare touch them…or simply brush against them unaware. But the icing on the cake: El Dorado bedstraw is dioecious. To try to gain an iota of understanding about this species to begin working toward development of appropriate conservation strategies for it, we attempted to identify male and female plants within two separate populations. This required getting on our hands and knees, bending our faces to the ground and using our handlenses to determine if the minute, pale flowers were male or female. Avoiding poison oak was impossible. So El Dorado bedstraw: small, inconspicuous, federally-endangered plant species which commonly grows among poison oak. No wonder not much is known about this species!

Poison oak…”Leaves of three, let them be.”

Stand of poison oak in autumn

Attempting to identify male and female plants of the diecious El Dorado bedstraw (federally endangered)

FUEL BREAK CONSTRUCTION. Fuel break construction is a top priority for the Pine Hill Preserve because the chaparral plant community is composed of highly flammable shrub species. Not only so, but the Preserve consists of five main discontiguous units; thus, the edge to core ratio is significant. Furthermore, the Preserve exists approximately 30-35 miles east of Sacramento, California, where the population is growing and development is expanding; hence, a notable portion of the Preserve’s boundaries are considered Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Because human health and public safety are a top concern and the potential for wildfires consistently exist (especially during the hot, dry summers and as fuel loads continue to increase), management of Pine Hill Preserve emphasizes a proactive, preventative approach by incorporating fuels management. Fuel breaks involve the removal of woody vegetation on BLM land which borders private property on which residences have been built; the typcial width of a fuel break is 100 feet. At the Pine Hill Preserve, shrubs are generally cut with chainsaws; the brush is masticated, chipped and deposited, or piled and burned. Because the majority of the rare plants at the Preserve either respond favorably to fire or require it for seed germination, prescribed burning is a preferred option to simultaneously promote public safety and rare plant conservation. Conducting a prescribed burn of brush piles in a densely developed area requires a lot of preparaton and specific environmental conditions; fortunately, this was achieved during April 2011 at Pine Hill Preserve.

I flagged rare plants while AmeriCorps crew members cut woody chaparral vegetation with chainsaws to construct a fuel break

TRASH REMOVAL.  Public lands are just that: land managed to be 1) used by the public for purposes appropriate to the nature of the land and its resources and 2) enjoyed by members of the public. Individual citizens (taxpayers) each have a stake in public land; along with this right comes the responsibility to respect and care for the land. Unfortunately, some assume that their right as a stakeholder permits them to utilize public lands as dumping grounds (for whatever reason…I assume it’s to save money and perhaps the time it requires to take it to a landfill or pay monthly garbage fees…but then it puts the cost of one individual’s trash removal on all taxpayers and takes away time that civil servants could otherwise be dedicating to valuable management activities). Preventative measures such as installing posts and signs work to prevent such illegal dumping on public lands…some of the time.

Household trash dumped at the Preserve

An old appliance dumped and lumber added to one of our brush piles–this can be dangerous and adds extra work for fuel reduction/fire crews who are already working hard

Illegal disposal of a sofa and mattress at Pine Hill Preserve (public land for the conservation of 8 rare plant species and the unique soil in which they grow) near a major highway; we loaded it and took it to a landfill

FACILITIES MAINTENANCE. Most folks who enjoy using public land for outdoor recreation activities (whether it be hiking, biking, equestrian use, birding, photography, rafting, fishing, hunting, etc.) appreciate the land, its natural resources, the opportunity to use the land, and the facilities constructed on the land for enhancing their recreational experience (i.e., parking lots, restrooms). Hence, they typically respect these aspects of public property by keeping it clean and restricting activity to what is allowed. However, there are always a handful of people who do not use public lands and facilities for the intended recreational uses; instead, vandalism becomes their “recreation activity” of choice. As satisfying as it is to clean up a vandalized site, I much prefer proper care and respect of public lands and facilities by all inidividuals. Civil servants whose job it is to maintain public facilities have a big (sometimes kinda nasty) job, but they also get to contribute to enjoyable projects such as staining a bridge to improve the aesthetics of a walking trail through a lovely natural area.

A vandalized restroom painted and repaired

Staining a bridge at Dave Moore Nature Area as part of a volunteer work day

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 7: People

In addtion to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management Internship (CLM) program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Within a BLM field office, it is likely that any one employee will work with a variety of BLM specialists. (Personally, I have worked with the botanist, wildlife biologist, archeologist, recreation director and planners, engineer, fire/fuels management officers, realty/land specialists, public relations, and IT personnel.) Furthermore, civil servants (such as BLM employees) and careers in conservation and land management involve interacting with individuals and groups from the public in multiple ways: educating students, promoting conservation as both a career option and an opportunity for public participation, guiding field trips, facilitating volunteer activities, administering public meetings, and working with neighbors to protect their property and ours.

PUBLIC MEETINGS. Monthly public meetings were held by our BLM office to engage the public in a community-based planning process to develop recommendations for a management plan for land recently acquired by the BLM. Public meetings are one way for government agencies and organizations to work alongside the public whom they serve. It provides a place where civil servants can inform, educate, listen to, and discuss ideas, issues and concerns regarding projects with the interested members of public whom the project may affect.

Community-based planning for the development of a management plan for a new land acquisition

HIGH SCHOOL CAREER FAIRS. Many high school students do not know which career they plan to pursue; this is precisely why attending high school career fairs to present conservation and land management as a career option is an excellent idea. As a representative of the BLM (which many high school students have not heard of) and of the Conservation and Land Management Internship program through the Chicago Botanic Garden, I have had the privilege of participating at two high school career fairs to promote conservation and land management as a possible career path. Although this did not seem to be on the radar for a lot of students, we were able to engage in conservation about what we do and the career possibilities with some fantastic students who did express interest. We actually have one high school student who already volunteers with us when he is available and have met another student at a career fair who expressed interest in joining us as a volunteer in the near future.

Serving as representatives for the BLM, Pine Hill Preserve, and the CLM Internship program


VOLUNTEER WORK DAYS. I have been granted the privilege of organizing and facilitating a monthly volunteer work event for a local group. Despite the small numbers of participatants, their time and effort have been critical in helping us accomplish important work at Pine Hill Preserve. For instance, they assisted with the installation of jute matting and straw wattles along a newly constructed trail; this was completed shortly before the onset of the rainy season. They have also contributed to conservation and land management efforts at the Pine Hill Preserve by collecting seeds, planting propagated plants of one of the rare species in the Preserve, pulling yellow star thistle, installing posts and signs, and picking up trash; they also participated in staining bridges at a nature area owned by the BLM.

Planting propagated Pine Hill ceanothus at Pine Hill Preserve as part of a volunteer work day


FIELD TRIPS. What better way to spend a beautiful spring day than to walk through a natural area with others who possess the same passion for nature as you! Observing birds by sight and sound, identifying the species of wildflowers making their showy appearance, and photographing the scene, from the broad landscapes to the minute details that catch one’s eye…even the guide and other participating naturalist-type experts typically enjoy and appreciate learning from others in the touring party and sharing the experience with fellow nature-lovers. But I also enjoy field trips in which individuals, particularly young kids to teens, truly encounter nature firsthand for the first time, engaging multiple senses to learn about and experience wildlife habitat that has not been significantly altered or disturbed nor is regularly manicured…sometimes the initial awareness of nature up close can be a transforming moment when one realizes the plethora of mysteries, the intricacies of the smallest details, the coordination of countless interactions, the adaptations that allow unique situations of survival, or the greatness of how it all continues to function as one ultimate system.

Looking at blooming wildflowers and rare plants at the Pine Hill Preserve




Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 6: Danger

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! When working on public lands, it’s important to be on guard; one can never fully anticipate the plethora of dangers that could be lurking in the grass, underneath a shrub, behind a tree, or ANYwhere!

RATTLESNAKE. A few months ago, I encountered my first rattlesnake in the wild! I was so excited (especially because I wasn’t under immediate danger as it was about 10 feet away)! Another intern and I heard it rattling behind us then turned to see it’s rattle-tipped tail slithering from the dirt path into the golden-brown grasses and forbs. I really wanted to get an awesome photo…but I also did not want to end up in a hospital that day so I kept my distance and took the best shots I could get using the zoom.

Can you see the rattle?!

Rattlesnake in its liar under that rock outcropping

DEVIL’S CLAW. Now what kind of plant is this!? I came across it on the border of public land and someone’s backyard. Lovely flowers but oofta! It’s odor is definitely not one to market as a perfume fragrance. The big green pod-like fruits are coated with a stinky wet substance…and the dry skeleton of these fruits–vicious-looking! These are some serious hitchhikers–watch out. But, on a lighter note, they make for a great jack-o-lantern moustache. 🙂

Devilish fruit with semi-slimy, odorous fleshy coat surrounding a sharp-pointed wood-like capsule

As good as they are at hitchhiking, Devil's claws make pretty good moustaches.

THE CHAPARRAL CRAWL. Many of the plant species composing the chaparral plant community are intriguing, eye-catching, hardy, rare, or any combination of these. Throughout the changing colors of the seasons, the beautiful vegetation attacks nature-observers, photographers, and hikers. And it is lovely to hike through the chaparral…as long as there is a wide path. The dense shrub layer of the chaparral adds an interesting challenge to botanical work; it’s nothing like walking through grassland or under the canopy of a forest. To get through the seemingly impenetrable sea of whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) and chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), one has to either do some bushwhacking (but with care to minimize damage, especially near rare plant populations) or learn how to do the chaparral crawl (described so eloquently by my partner in crime in a previous blog post “Chaparral”). I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much one has performed the Chaparral Crawl obstacle course, it will always be awkward and lacking grace. Not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia, lack of sleep, or a bad day as performing this task has the tendency to exacerbate irritation and frustration levels. For those brave enough to ever attempt the chaparral crawl (I’m pretty sure this would only include individuals whose job requires it, volunteers who think participating in a plant survey sounds exciting, adventurers who just have to try it for the experience, and extreme geocachers), be sure to wear thick pants (else they’ll tear), a long-sleeve shirt (even thick flannel has been  torn by the woody weaponry of the chaparral shrubbery), a cap or hat (prevent the entanglement of hair on branches…also a reason to tuck shoelaces into your shoes), and eye protection (yes, branches do snap back). And, of course, always be on your guard for poison oak among the shrub ranks and don’t forget to check for ticks after crossing the finish line.

Can you see the Chaparral Crawl participant in this photo?

On this particular day, my pants did not survive the chaparral unscathed

DEFENSIVE DRIVING. Assuming the average CLM intern has been driving for at least a few years by the time they begin their internship position, it may be that some, maybe many, don’t pay that close attention to the defensive driving training. The key is to remember it is just as much about awareness of other drivers in other vehicles as it is about you in a government vehicle. Here’s an example: this “truck” appears to have been put together by students in a high school shop class using pieces of various vehicles left in a junkyard. Besides lacking doors, the body of the “truck” was not centered on the axles, on which it appeared to be resting or tied together with a few pieces of wire rather than bolted together; thus, whenever this so-called truck took a curve, we slowed down (defensive driving!), bracing for it to tip on its side. Because it eventually turned onto a side road, we can only assume this vehicle succeeded in transporting the driver and passenger safely to their destination.

Appears to be dangerous...are vehicles like this even legal?

I would not trust that truck to not tip over!

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 5: Technology

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Most everyone is familiar with technological tools such as GPSs (Global Positioning Systems) including Garmins and Tom-toms; and anyone who has ever used a map online such as Google maps or MapQuest has used GIS (Geographic Information System). These devices and programs which most people use for navigating while traveling or, for the adventurers, geocaching, have become essential tools for conservation and land management.

GIS (GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEM). GIS is useful in many ways: producing maps that give directions to our destinations, tell distances from here to there,  show particular features of interest, document and re-locate particular features and sites (i.e., rare plant populations, trails, boundaries, etc.), just to name a few. But more and more, land managers are utilizing the spatial analysis capabilities of GIS to guide their management practices. As with all technology, it is only as useful as the user’s ability to use it. 🙂 And I’m definitely still learning (and re-learning when I haven’t performed a particular function for a while). It’s one thing to read a map, quite another to create it and to manipulate the tools of the software program to do what one needs it to do, and yet a different task to combine multiple layers providing spatial information relevant to a conservation or land management issue in a way that analyzes the data and informs management decisions.

Through trial and error, finding a way to accomplish what I need to do on ArcGIS

GPS (GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM). GPS has fast become a daily encounter as this technology is now built into the design of cars and into the programming of cell phones. What the average person may not know is that GPS has become to land managers what American Express has been for its cardholders: Don’t leave home (the office) without it. As long as it can receive a sufficient number of satellite signals and the batteries don’t go dead (a reason to always have a compass as well), GPS units are crucial for navigating in the field; I have found this to be especially true in the chaparral where the vegetation is too dense to walk through and too tall to see over…it’s very easy to get disoriented. I have used GPS to map populations of rare plants and invasives, sites of SOS seed collections, locations of potential variance projects, incidents of tresspasses, and a trail and its features (i.e., bridges, large Pacific madrone tree, restrooms, etc.). Within our BLM field office, GPS units are utilized by various employees for other map features according to their specialty: archeology, geology, engineering, recreation, wildlife biology, fuels management/firefighting, and land realty.

Searching for a signal...

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 4: Holidays & Birthdays

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! It’s important for people who work together to also…celebrate festive occassions together!

BIRTHDAYS. To celebrate the birthdays of those with whom we work on a regular basis, we go out for lunch together. (No photo available.)

PUMPKIN-CARVING CONTEST. For Halloween, our office promoted a pumpkin-carving contest for staff participation and a pizza party. I work with another CLM intern; our mentor supplied the pumpkin, and we took care of the rest, utilizing our carving skills and incorporating our botanical work into our jack-o-lantern creation.

Carving out the mouth of our botanical jack-o-lantern

That's a BIG mouth!

"Botany Jack" on display--notice the buck-"eyes" and the sharp, pointy teeth (yellow star thistle!)

TREE-DECORATING. To commemorate Christmas, some staff members decorated a Christmas tree. Additionally, we shared a potluck lunch in the conference room, also decorated for the occasion. Staff had been invited to participate in a white elephant gift exchange in conjunction with the potluck; although the most fun was likely had by those involved, I enjoyed simply being an onlooker.

The decorated Christmas tree

The theme of this Christmas tree: the BLM Mother Lode Field Office


Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 3: Animals

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Although my work focuses primarily on botany, one just can’t avoid encounters with the animal side of wildlife when working in the field.

DEER–HERE, THERE, AND…ALMOST EVERYWHERE. In some areas in and around the Pine Hill Preserve, it is not uncommon to see deer.

Caught on camera: A buck pursuing his dear doe for a date

SMALL CREEPY, CRAWLY CREATURES. I am fascinated by spiders (there are so many kinds, some with beautiful coloration and patterns), and I like to observe and photograph them. BUT the thought of just one crawling on me creeps me out. Thus, I am generally attentive to what is in front of me when I walk through any type of grass and herbaceous vegetation where they tend to build their webs. During the spring before conditions turn hot and dry, ticks are typically abundant so it is important to always do a tick check when leaving the field. And in the aquatic habitats, one may be able to watch a slinking slug move effortlessly and gracefully, leaving a trail of slime behind itself.

Black and yellow garden spider, a common orb web spider typically found in gardens and fields

Green lynx spider on sticky rosinweed

Watch out for these little suckers (literally!)

Slimy stealty slithering slug

BIRDS AND FLYING INSECTS. By participating in bird counts at the Cosumnes River Preserve, I am beginning to learn how to identify some of the waterfowl and wetland bird species. Interestingly, one of the Pine Hill Preserve neighbors has a couple of emus (he had a few more but supposedly they were taken as a meal by a mountain lion). Although wild turkeys are relatively common, there are a few peacocks which roam a residential neighborhood bordering the Pine Hill Preserve. When wildflowers are blooming in the spring, butterflies flitter about, moving from flower to flower playing a critical role in pollination. Near aquatic habitats, dragonflies can be seen darting around. Every now and then, I encounter a praying mantis; now these guys can be fascinating to watch if they begin acting aggressively toward other creatures (including pestering humans).

A neighbor's emu

Wild peacock on a neighbor's lawn


Praying mantis

FROGS. Every now and then we’ll come across a tree frog while collecting seeds or conducting botanical surveys.

I'm by no means a herpetologist, but I believe this is some type of tree frog

SNAKES. Having grown up in an area of Iowa void of poisonous snakes, it has been both a bit nerve-racking and thrilling to conduct field work in rattlesnake territory. A few rattlesnake sightings occurred either in the BLM office parking lot or just outside the shop garage door, but I didn’t personally see them. Another CLM intern and I did come across a young snake in the parking lot one afternoon; the pattern looked like it could be a rattlesnake, but it’s head wasn’t the right shape and it lacked a rattler…the snake expert of the office confirmed its identity as a gopher snake. We also had the privilege of first hearing then seeing a rattlesnake in the wild! The snake actually warned us from behind with its rattle. We were walking along a trail and stopped to look at the map on the GPS unit when we heard it. When we turned to look, we saw the tail end of the snake disappear from the trail into the vegetation about 10-12 feet behind us. Exciting! And I’m so grateful it wasn’t any closer or any more of a surprise than it was!

No worries--just a gopher snake

Young rattlesnake coiled up just outside the shop garage door of the BLM field office

HERP IN CAMO. The horned lizard is appropriately named; the distinguishable pointed “horns” above their eyes and along the back of their neck can make this little lizard look a bit like a dangerous dragon, downsized. Due to their coloration, they are not so easy to see in the reddish, high-in-iron gabbro soils in and around the Pine Hill Preserve.

The horned lizard blends in well with the gabbro soils of the Pine Hill Preserve

THE PROOF IS IN THE PRINTS. As much as I would like to see a bear in the wild (but from a safe distance and not as a surprise close encounter), sometimes I have to just take what I can get. Like a paw print providing evidence that yes, a bear has tread the same trail as I.

Bear print near the South Fork American River

HEE-HAW. Like the plants, some of the animals we meet are not native but have been domesticated. This neighboring donkey gets a little curious about what we’re up to every now and then when we work on the Pine Hill Preserve parcel across the private road from his stomping grounds. One time he even tried to distract us by making funny faces and noises at us. 🙂

"Whatchya doin'?"

Neighbor's donkey making funny faces

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 2: Rare Plants

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Each internship position is unique–different types of ecosystem, varied tasks, particular emphases; I have had the great pleasure of serving at Pine Hill Preserve, a plant preserve established in western El Dorado County, California, to protect eight rare plant species and their habitat.

MONITORING. The Pine Hill Preserve manager (my mentor) has multiple monitoring projects set up; each one is intended to gather basic scientific data to help identify management activities that benefit a particular rare plant species or the suite of rare plants in any given area of the Preserve. In addition to partaking in the counting, measuring, and recording of data in the field, I have also entered data into spreadsheets and created graphs to aid in analyzing the data.

Monitoring response of Stebbin's morning-glory (Calystegia stebbinsii) after a fire several years ago

Point and line transect data to monitor the federally endangered Pine Hill ceanothus in a fuel break

Monitoring percent cover of Pine Hill ceanothus

Counting stems of El Dorado bedstraw (federally endangered) and unsuccessfully trying to avoid contact with poison oak

Counting stems and flowers of the rare El Dorado mule-ears

SURVEYING. Throughout California, proactive measures to protect human life and private property from the potentially devastating effects of wildfires is critical, especially when the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) borders highly flammable vegetative communities like the chaparral. The Pine Hill Preserve is composed of 5 primary discontiguous units; accompanying the fragmentation of the Preserve is a lot of WUI. One of the main units is essentially surrounded by dense development; thus, fuels reduction of this unit is a number one priority. Before any cutting or removal of the woody vegetation can commence, the proposed fuel break must be surveyed for rare plants. Surveying in thick chaparral is not a simple task (read “Chaparral” blog post); it’s not a walk in the park, through a grassland, or under a forest canopy. We are currently about halfway done surveying a 10-acre plot which is due for a fuels reduction make-over; this took over 28 person hours. If we were not finding any rare plants, I might become convinced that my time and effort awkwardly crawling through the chaparral was in vain. BUT…such is not the case, and we have been finding many small, young Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae) on this 10-acre parcel! How rewarding!


Flags mark the federally threatened Layne's butterweed in the Pine Hill Preserve

Flagging of rare plants accomplished while doing the Chaparral Crawl (elaborated upon in a future blog entitled "Danger")

Pink flags (upper left side) signaling El Dorado bedstraw plants

Rare plants flagged to indicate where NOT to pile and burn brush

DISCOVERY: As much as I’d like to claim I’ve discovered a new plant species OR an unnamed relative of an identified species OR even just find an undocumented population of a rare species, it is still quite amazing and very cool to be able to simply observe an unnamed species or subspecies or variety, even if I didn’t discover it. Anatomical features initially pointed to a possible close relationship with one of the rare plant species at our Preserve. Over the past year, a former CLM intern has been conducting molecular studies on this species and several related species as part of her graduate work; her findings currently do not support a close evolutionary relationship between the newly discovered specimen and the federally listed species at Pine Hill Preserve.

How marvelous! Looking at an unnamed plant species

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 1: Seeds of Success

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Check it out–this is a brief overview of an exciting program which engages CLM interns in a significant nationwide conservation effort. More information can be found at the following website:

PARTICIPATION IN THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS (SOS) PROGRAM. This conservation effort primarly involves collecting seeds of native plants to develop native plant material for restoration purposes. Collecting the seeds of some chaparral species–coffeeberry, toyon, fairy-lantern, and redbud–in the Sierra foothills of central California have been enjoyable, but I can’t say that for all of them like tarweed/rosinweed and hollyleaf redberry, which leave your hands sticky or slimy and scratched, respectively. Another part of the SOS program has been collecting voucher specimens.

Collecting coffeeberry fruits (Frangula californica)

Drying fruits of toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Fruits and seeds of white fairy's lantern (Calochortus albus)

Sun revealing seeds inside the fruit of western redbud (Cercis orbiculata)

Sticky rosinweed (Calycadenia multiglandulosa)...yes, it is sticky!

Fruits and seeds of hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia)

Counting seeds to determine an estimate of the total number collected

Pressing voucher specimens of creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis)