Wrapping things up

Hi all –

I believe this is my last required post to the CLM blog before my internship ends. It is refreshing to browse the blog and see so many interns starting out there positions with the various Federal agencies CLM partners with. This internship has been a great experience, getting to know a new part of the country, as well as making connections with scientists leading their field.

I’m happy with the diversity of the projects us interns have been able to work on. This job has built on my past experiences working on large-scale vegetation restoration projects. For me it’s the best way to understand the workings of a landscape, and finding the best ways to bring back native plants to degraded areas is a cause I truly believe in. I’ve been lucky enough to see these landscape-scale restoration projects in action from the tropics to the desert and I can still say there’s always much more to learn.

In this internship I have helped out on several different restoration and ecological monitoring projects. We’ve surveyed and monitored plots seeded with native species in efforts to restore severely burned areas in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument; installed moisture sensor probes to study water use by two endemic dune species–as well as taking growth and reproductive effort measurements–in Death Valley Natl Park; outplanted almost 2,000 native seedlings across the Mojave desert in common garden experiments, an effort to delineate zones within which seeds can be safely transferred for restoration projects; done nighttime mammal surveys to estimate Golden Eagle prey densities; and finally I helped inventory and measure perennial forage species for the threatened desert tortoise. It’s nice that each one of these projects grabs my interest, but most importantly they helped me develop skills useful in a variety of science jobs–whether it’s in the field, in the lab, or as an educator. It’s a shame the internship only lasts 5 months, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.



Sam Somerville

USGS Las Vegas Field Station

Henderson, NV

Post-Fire Restoration

Hi –

For the past two weeks the other interns and I have been working long hours in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. We’re monitoring six large plots in an area of the Hidden Valley that have been burned repeatedly. I learned early in the internship that desert landscapes, once degraded, take a long time to regenerate the diversity and habitat structure once present. In an area that has been repeatedly burned, with a particularly harsh wildfire sweeping through the area in 2011, the native species on the landscape have had little luck regenerating. And in the meantime, of course, invasive species like Bromis grass have taken over the landscape, making it doubly difficult for natives to regenerate.

Needless to say, this area of the Arizona Strip could use a hand in recovering. Two years ago people at the USGS, partnered with the BLM, seeded the area with native species in an attempt to enrich the soil seed bank and test several methods of deploying the seeds. Some study plots were hand seeded, others received seed cookies–a way to hold the native seed together with a cement-like mix in hopes of better germination rates, and still others were sprayed with herbicide, then seeded. In all there are 28 combinations of treatment and seeding methods out there on the landscape. Our job in year two was to identify and count the perennial seedlings coming up in each plot.

After two weeks of working sun up to sun down we finished surveying the plots and are left with a mountain of data. Us interns are eager to get into the analysis to reveal if, at this early point in the project, there are differences between treatments. Based on observations in the field those plots treated with herbicide first seemed to have a greater number of seedlings popping up. Still, many plots remained relatively barren. Some plots had the seed cookies still intact with (viable?) native seeds visible. It will be interesting to see what the data says so far and how the project will progress over its 10-year lifetime.



Sam Somerville

USGS Las Vegas Field Station, Henderson, NV

Alternative Orientation

Hi everybody –

Last week I was able to take advantage of the option to participate in an alternative to the CLM orientation in Chicago. Since my internship with the USGS in Henderson, NV started in February the CLM program offered a stipend for me to enroll on a workshop, symposium, etc. of my choosing in my field of study. I was able to work out two alternatives to the CLM orientation–one the Smithsonian Botanical Symposium in Washington, DC which I went to last week, and the other a Jepson Herbarium workshop through UC Berkeley I will travel to next weekend.

The theme of the Smithsonian Botanical Symposium was “Location, Location, Location: Recent Breakthroughs in Biogeography.” The event kicked off Thursday night with a poster session where I mingled with the presenters and other folks. Most were Master’s and PhD students presenting their research–some were describing new plant species, others creating phylogenies to recreate plant family lineages. The symposium continued all day Friday where the invited speakers presented their research. The talks ranged from biogeographical patterns of tropical reef fishes, how to calibrate a molecular clock to create a phylogeny using newly discovered fossils, and the fate of Andean frailejones–some with an entire range of only 4 square-kilometers–under different climate change models. Overall the talks were very stimulating and the symposium was a great experience for me. I even had time to enjoy the museums, art galleries, monuments, and memorials on the National Mall.

I look forward next weekend to touring botanic gardens in the San Francisco Bay area with folks from the Jepson Herbarium. The weather’s heating up here in Las Vegas so after a long week of field work we’re all looking forward to a few days of rest in the A/C.



Sam Somerville

USGS Las Vegas Field Station, Henderson NV

Field Trips and Plantin’ Plants

The first month-and-a-bit of my CLM internship has gone smooth as ever. Still living with great roommates and working with great co-workers. Recently, I’ve used comp time to take a few Fridays off–and one was particularly interesting. I used the long weekend to go with a group of USGS scientists to Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona as a volunteer on a rare plant survey. We were searching for a small species of cactus, censusing plots that have been monitored for 25 years.

So the Vermilion Cliffs themselves are beautiful and a sight to see. We found the first rare plant plot right along the edge of Badger Canyon at the base of the cliffs. After orienting ourselfs in the plot, we quickly noticed three huge birds perched on an overhanging rock in the canyon wall. Turns out there are re-introduction sites for California condors nearby the Vermilion Cliffs–and we were looking at three of the re-introductees. Two juveniles (still huge) and an adult. Some folks on the trip had seen the birds before, but needless to say, we dropped what we were doing and just watched. The condors were perched totally still on the overhang until they all at once spread their wings out wide to soak up the sun. It was a truly amazing spectacle. We were less than 100m away from the birds and they were really putting on a show for us. Everyone snapped pictures and watched for a good 30 minutes. Then, back to work for the rest of the day. We looked and looked for the remainder of the weekend but didn’t see the birds again–not surprising since they can cover 250 miles in a single day.

Work the past few weeks has been great. Energized by seeing the condors, us interns have been planting native species gardens across the Mojave. We got all the plants in the ground, watered, and now we wait a few weeks to begin monitoring. Next week we’re off to the Eureka Dunes, CA to install weather stations and collect seeds of some endemic plants–another new site and a new adventure in the field awaits.



Sam Somerville

USGS, Las Vegas Field Station

Henderson, NV



USGS Las Vegas Field Station

Hello CLM Blog. Last week I started my internship working with the USGS Desert Restoration team here in Henderson, NV. I have the pleasure of working alongside three other CLM interns–it is nice to start off this new adventure with some other folks. For the most of us this is our first time working in the desert. We’ve quickly realized the desert is quite an unforgiving place, yet so alive with flora and fauna.

One thing that drew me to this particular internship placement was the diversity of projects I’ll get to help out on during my 5 months in the Southwest. For the past week us interns have been working on a common garden experiment–outplanting native plant seedlings in sites spanning the temperature/precipitation extremes in the Mojave Desert. I’ve been here two weeks and I’ve already slept in three states–Utah, Nevada, and California–contributing to this project. In the next few months our focus will shift to another project, collecting seeds from two endemic plants from the Eureka Dunes in northern Death Valley National Park. Still to come is a trip to the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument to monitor restoration efforts after a severe burn. What ties these three projects together is a plan for long-term landscape restoration–something I’m very happy to be a part of.

So far, so good. There’s a great team of leaders at the USGS Las Vegas office that have been very helpful, kind, and eager to show us around. I’m looking forward to the next few months!



A Joshua Tree local gave this sunset a 2/10. A sign of good things to come.

A local in Joshua Tree, CA gave this sunset a 2/10. A sign of good things to come.


USGS Las Vegas Field Station, Henderson, NV