Finishing up in Susanville

Today is my last day of work as a CLM intern at the Eagle Lake Field Office.  I will be returning in February as an official BLM employee to do some GIS work for the Range department. I have to thank the CLM internship program for helping me land this job.

My time as a CLM intern was filled with many great experiences.  I gained experience in several fields, such as botany, hydrology, range management, seed collecting, and GIS.  I learned what is like to work for a federal agency.  Along the way I made several great friends and saw some amazing sights.

One of my favorite experiences was when I got the opportunity to catch sage grouse with the USGS.  Protecting sage grouse has become a priority for the BLM, so it was nice to get the chance to directly help by attaching radio collars to sage grouse in order to monitor the populations.

Another great project I worked on involved searching the field office for unknown water sources.  Water is a valuable commodity here in the high desert, so it is important to know where it is.  I was able to explore the far reaches of the field office searching for springs.  I was looking in areas where aerial imagery showed dense, green vegetation.  Many of these areas did not have above ground water, but it was always exciting when I found one that did.

A rewarding project I worked on was to build a trail to a favorite climbing spot of mine.  Pigeon cliffs is located right outside of Susanville on BLM land, and is little-known climbing wall.  I climbed there many times this year, but every time it was a hassle to get to the spot because the trail was in bad shape.  I spent a day improving the trail, and it felt good to give back to a place that meant a lot to me.  I hope that with the improved trail more people will get to enjoy climbing at Pigeon Cliffs.

I am glad that I am returning to the Eagle Lake Field Office.  It is a great place to work.  In the meantime, I will be heading back east to visit friends and family.  I am really excited to see everyone, as I haven’t been home in eight months.


Thanks again CLM! It has been great!



Susanville, CA

Winter Northeastern California

Greetings from Northeastern California!

It’s finally starting to feel like winter here, as I am writing this in the middle of “The Worst Storm California has had in Years”, according to  While it is only raining here in the valley, the nearby mountains should be getting a foot or two of snow!

I’ve been working on a few projects lately.  I am working with the ELFO hydrologist to install some stream monitoring equipment in all the streams in our field office.  The equipment we are installing measures the water temperature and the flow of the streams.  It is nice to still be out doing field-work, and I am learning a lot about hydrology from working with the hydrologist.  I did not expect to learn about hydrology when I signed up for a botany internship, but this is one of the great things about CLM: you gain experience in a lot of different areas.

Installing the equipment only takes about an hour, but getting to the locations takes some time.  Yesterday I was hiking in some dense clay mud that stuck to my boots in giant clumps.  It made hiking difficult, especially hiking over rocks, as the muddied-up boots had no grip on the rocks.  This, with a 60 pound pack full of tools and steel pipes, can make climbing into a rocky canyon quite difficult.  Nonetheless, we have successfully installed equipment at 6 streams so far.

IMG_0625 IMG_0624 IMG_0623I am also working on a project known as FIAT. (We have yet to be sued by the european car company). FIAT stands for Fire and Invasives Assessment Team.  It is an effort to improve habitat for sage grouse.  The biggest threats to sage grouse are conifer encroachment, fire, and invasive annual grasses.  This project aims at pinpointing where these threats are most prevalent, and coming up with strategies to limit their impacts.  I am helping with the GIS side of things.  I have been attending meetings at several BLM offices and helping the ELFO GIS specialist create project area polygons.  It has been interesting going to the different offices and seeing how much everyone knows about the land in their field office.

In other news, I broke my finger playing football on Thanksgiving.  It hasn’t impacted my work at all, but it has made typing this entry a bit frustrating.  The good news is, I have a doctors appointment in Reno tomorrow morning, and Reno is only 30 minutes from Mt. Rose Ski Resort, so… IM SKIING 2 FEET OF FRESH POWDER TOMORROW!!!!


-Sam Gersie


Susanville, CA


Extending the Good Times

Things have been winding down a bit here in Susanville.  The field work has slowed down and my extension has begun.  I have been working on several different projects recently, helping out different employees at the Eagle Lake Field Office.  I helped install a soil monitoring data tower with the hydrologist/soil scientist and folks from the NRCS.  This tower uses solar energy to power several instruments that measure air temperature, soil temperature, wind speed, soil moisture, and air pressure.  The tower then sends the data back by bouncing signals off the tails of meteors!  I had no idea that meteor tails could be used in place of satellites, but this technology is great for gathering data in remote areas where satellite signals aren’t reliable.

I also finished up packaging and shipping out all of the SOS collections I made this year.  It was bittersweet to send out the final box, knowing I won’t be collecting seed anymore.  Some of the best days of the internship were spent collecting seed; it can be relaxing and productive at the same time.  However, I now have a lot more space in my office cubicle with all the boxes of seed gone.

With field work slowing down, I have been spending a lot of time using ArcMap to complete various projects and make maps for other employees in the office.  It isn’t as exciting as field work, but my skills in ArcGIS have greatly improved over the course of this internship.

In my spare time I have gone on a lot of cool adventures recently.  I hiked to the top of Sonora Peak in the Sierras, went to Santa Cruz to see Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit Concert, and took a trip up to Enterprise, Oregon.  Every weekend has been a new adventure with great friends.  I thought coming to a small cow town in the middle of nowhere would be pretty boring, but I met a great group of people and have traveled to some awesome places.  I am truly grateful for the friends I have made and the times we have shared.

I will leave off with some pictures from the last few weeks.


Bighorn Sheep on the way to Enterprise


Sunset over the Pacific in Santa Cruz


Spelunking in some caves near Eagle Lake


Old ranch building


View from the top of Sonora Peak


Sam Gersie

BLM Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA

The Pine Dunes: A Tree-lover’s Oasis in the Desert

I will start off this post by saying how happy I am to be working for the BLM and the Chicago Botanic Garden.  However, when I first applied to this internship, it was with the hope that I would be offered a position with the U.S. Forest Service.  I studied forestry in school, and it is a passion of mine.  Being from the Northeast, I am used to being surrounded by hardwood forests filled with trees of several different species.  I was a little disappointed when I first came to Susanville and discovered that the field office was pretty barren of trees, except for the occasional grove of Western Junipers.  Nonetheless, I have made the most of my opportunity here and have come to appreciate the High Desert ecosystem and the plants that reside here.  But still, it would be nice to see some trees…


The East Grove of the Pine Dunes

Enter the Pine Dunes Research Natural Area.  I first saw the pine dunes in July, when I drove past them on the way to another project.  “Wow, those pine trees seem out of place,” I stated.  A co-worker explained that the pines are growing on sand dunes that are the result of an old lake bed in the area.  After the lake dried up, the sand from the bottom blew across the valley and piled up at the base of some hills.  The resulting dunes are a perfect, yet unusual, site for ponderosa pines to grow.  The nearest pine tree is 15 miles north of the site, and is at an elevation 1000 feet higher.  The nearest pine forest is 20 miles to the north, in the south Warner Mountains.  It is not fully understood how the pine groves came to be, but it is estimated that they are at least 300 years old.

The pine dunes was designated as a Research Natural Area in 1987 by the BLM.  The area on BLM land was fenced off from livestock and motor vehicle use, and signs were posted to inform visitors of the uniqueness of the site.  Some of the pines are growing on private land, right outside the BLM fence.  The hope was that the site would be monitored every year, and that each tree would be monitored every five years.  After digging through documents dating back to the 1970’s, I could not find any evidence that the site had been monitored in the past 20 years.  Monitoring the site is important because the trees have not been reproducing in the past 40 years, and it is important to understand why.

I, along with the other CLM intern at the Eagle Lake Field Office, Natalie, were tasked with monitoring the site.  I was excited to finally do some work involving forestry.  Our job the past two weeks has been to measure the DBH (diameter at breast height) using DBH tape, and height, using a clinometer, of every tree in the grove.  There are about 90 trees at the site, so this is no small task.  We also fill out a data sheet for each tree that involves measuring an ovulate (female), and staminate (male) cone from each tree, measuring the length of the seed and of the needles, and indicating the health of the tree based on its bark and evidence of insect infestation.


Monitoring one of the pines

We have currently monitored 61 of the trees at the site.  So far the thickest tree has a DBH of 148 cm, and the tallest tree is almost 32 meters tall.  These are impressive numbers, but the largest ponderosa pines in the U.S. can grow to a DBH of 263 cm, and height of 70.7 meters!  Most of the trees seem to be healthy and producing plenty of seeds.  However, we have not found any evidence of seedlings at the site, indicating that the trees are still not reproducing.  This may be a natural occurrence, as the site is sort of an anomaly and was not meant to last long.  It could also be that rodents or insects are getting to the seeds before they have the chance to germinate. We did discover some ponderosa pine cone beetles in some of the cones. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks may be eating the seeds and seedlings as well.   My theory is that since the site is restricted from fire, too much duff and debris has built up under the trees and the seeds are not able to reach the soil to germinate.

Whatever the cause for the lack of reproduction, I hope that the trees are able to overcome it.  The pine dunes is such a great spot in the Eagle Lake Field Office, and a very rare and unique site for ponderosa pines in general.  Even if the trees are unable to reproduce, the trees there now may be able to survive for another 300 years, as ponderosa pines have been known to grow that old.  No matter how long they survive, I am grateful that they are there now, and that I have been given the opportunity to monitor them.  After spending all summer in the desert, it has been a relief to be working in the shade of a forest.


My favorite tree in the grove, this tree was once hit by lightning, and was once home to a nest of golden eagles. (These events occurred at separate times, thankfully).

-Sam, BLM

Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA

Where’s the water?

With the plant field season coming to an end, it has been time to change gears.  I’ve been tasked with the impossible: Find water in the desert.  The hydrologist at the field office has a set of GPS points of possible water sources.  He used aerial imagery to search for areas of green vegetation, hoping that plants are growing there because water is present.  My new job is to go to these locations and ground truth them.  Although my success rate for finding water is pretty low, the job is actually quite fun and interesting.  Even though there isn’t much water to be found, I have gotten the chance to explore remote areas of the field office and I’ve seen a lot of cool things along the way.  In one week I saw wild horses, wild burros, a coyote, sage grouse, burrowing owls, and countless antelope.  I’ve also gotten the chance to summit a lot of the peaks in the field office and enjoy the views they offer.  One of the best was Hot Springs Peak, part of the Skedaddle Mountains.  It did not have any springs, let alone hot ones, but the view was still great.


View of the field office from the top of Hot Springs Peak


Wild burros near Lone Willow Spring




Wild Horses grazing

I just found out this week that I am getting an extension added on to the end of my internship.  I will be staying in Susanville through January.  I am really excited to explore more of the field office, and to work on more interesting projects like this one.


BLM Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA

Walking Blues

I got the walking blues.  After six years, my favorite pair of hiking boots took their last steps.  These boots have carried me across the street, across the country, and across the world.  I have hiked with them in New Jersey, Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, North Carolina, Utah, Nevada, California, Germany, France, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Australia and Tasmania.  They supported me when I worked for four summers as a janitor, giving me my footing as I hauled heavy desks and office furniture up and down flights of stairs.  They took me up and over mountains when I worked in the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont.  Last summer we hiked ten 4,000 footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Together we hiked the Long Trail, and they stayed strong even when my knees could not.  These boots were made for walking.

Sadly, my boots met their match in the lava rock desert of the Eagle Lake Field Office.  Stumbling over loose rocks and sage brush, the soul of my boots was ripped apart.  I did the best I could, buying a tube of Gorilla Glue and trying desperately to keep them in one piece.  But when your soul is broken, there is no going back.  The soul of my boot ripped apart once again the next day.  I looked down at my dusty boots and decided that this was really the end.

Today, my new boots arrived in the mail.  They feel stiff and clunky on my feet, but I know that in time we will get along.  I hope that they carry me just as far as my old boots did.  As for my trusty old pair, I have a plan.  There is a tree on the side of Highway 395 near Reno that is home to hundreds of old pairs of shoes.  Different colors, styles, sizes, all strung up in the tree by their laces.  Next time I pass that tree, I will hoist my boots up into it.  There they can finally rest and reflect on where they’ve been.

Whatever you do, take care of your shoes.

Buggin’ Out

I may sound bitter in this post, but something has really been bugging me lately.  What’s bugging me, you ask? The whole collection of bitterbrush seed I’ve harvested is infested with bugs!  Or maybe I should be upset that my bug collection is infested with bitterbrush seed, it’s hard to tell.  I spent several days this week, along with fellow CLM intern, Natalie, harvesting bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) seed at different locations of the BLM Eagle Lake Field Office.  We have been monitoring these populations for over a month, waiting for the seeds to mature from a soft red seed into a dry black seed.  With the wait finally over, we went to work harvesting the seed.  Harvesting bitterbrush seed has been different than any of the other Seeds of Success collections we have done.  Instead of harvesting the seed by hand, it is more efficient to collect bitterbrush seed by placing a hopper (handmade by my mentor, Valda) under the bush, and smack the bush with a stick.  The seed then falls into the hopper along with some other plant matter, and to our dismay, thousands of large, black bugs.

Bitterbrush Collecting

Collecting bitterbrush seed

Most of the bugs that fell into the hopper were Say’s stink bugs (Chlorochroa sayi), although there were several different species of stink bugs being accidentally collected.  These bugs are pests, and feed on the bitterbrush seed by using their sucking mouth parts to extract the nutrients out of the seed.  The bugs were hard to notice when they were on the bitterbrush plants, but several fell into the hoppers every time we smacked the bushes.  Although the bugs could fly, most did not attempt to fly from the hoppers. There were so many bugs in the hoppers that it looked like the whole contents was moving.

Say's stink bug

Say’s stink bug

Knowing that we could not send the seed collection in to be cleaned in this state, we needed a way to get the bugs out of the seed.  We shoveled the seed into several paper shopping bags, and allowed them to sit overnight outside the BLM office building.  We returned in the morning to find bugs crawling all over the bags, the walls, and the sidewalk, as well as some disgusted coworkers.  We decided to move the bags to “The Yard”, the area where BLM keeps many of its vehicles and heavy machinery.  We left the bags there over the weekend, and returned on Monday to find most of the bugs gone.

Today we boxed up the seed (insect traps included, of course) and shipped it to the cleaning facility.  Hopefully enough of the seed is still healthy despite the infestation, and the Eagle Lake Field Office will get some bitterbrush seed back to use in fire rehabilitation.

Remember, fellow CLM interns: Just Say No to Bugs.



Eagle Lake Field Office