Where did this rain come from?

It’s that time in the season where things are winding down and we are doing a bunch of different projects. It is raining a lot lately. Last night there was a massive storm that came through and dumped a lot of rain and hail. That means we can’t go out in the field as much. The roads are often not navigable when it has rained, last week we went out two days after the rain and we were mudding. So right after the rain means we are rolling the dice about getting stuck. Dealing with data and files can be frustrating, but data management can be weirdly rewarding. I like finishing the project all the way, not just stopping at the field work.

What I’ve been up to lately:

  1. RIPS- A lot of what we have been doing lately involves Range Improvement Projects. These are things like reservoirs, troughs, and pipelines. We are finding them and assessing them sometimes adding them to the GIS database. It’s a lot of driving and looking for things that haven’t been monitored in a long time. It’s been a lot of both field work and office work. In the office we are pulling files trying to figure out exactly what we are looking for. We are also looking at maps in the project book and on Google Earth to try and figure out where projects are. Often times the GPS point or map point is wrong and by cross referencing various sources it prevents us from just wandering around until we find something. We have found some interesting things out on the range. We found a desk chair that had been buried in the center of a reservoir and a bath tub that had been cemented into a rock formation.img_20161013_134134603_hdr
  2. Sagebrush Monitoring- We have also spent a good amount of time looking at potential sites for Sagebrush monitoring. Some of the sites had to be adjusted because the species were mixed or because they were difficult to access. We have been checking these sites for a few weeks so we can collect sagebrush from them. There are a couple of sites that we won’t be able to collect from this year because the flowers were pretty eaten up by bugs. But we still have  plenty of sagebrush to collect from.
  3. Willow Cuttings- Today we spent time cutting willows for a willow planting day with a a group of 7th and 8th graders. We cut willow branches to plant in a restoration area along a stream bed. This is an awesome yearly project that allows them to connect with the public lands, which is super important.
  4. Agriculture Resources Service Laboratory- We got the opportunity to visit the ARS  laboratory in Logan, Utah. This was a really awesome experience.  They gave us a tour of the whole compound and explained the process of developing plant materials. It was a great overview of how cultivars come about and how native plant and native plant seeds go into that process. We got to talk about careers and the backgrounds of people working for ARS. It was a great day. They gave us some papers and they are putting on a Native Plant Summit in Boise this year. We are going the first couple of days in November and are really excited about it!
  5. TREND Data- I have spent the last couple of weeks gathering the TREND data and putting it into a database. TREND data is collected about every 10 years, the data goes back to 1950s and there is an Access database that collects it all and runs the analysis. It was fun and a little frustrating to mess around with the database. It was satisfying to complete the project fully.


As September rolls in the field season is starting to roll out. We still have some work to do in the field, mostly range tasks. This includes checking on range improvement projects and utilization. Range improvement projects are things like troughs, cattle guards, and exclosures. We drive out to them and evaluate how successful they are. For example we check to make sure the cattle guard hasn’t filled in with dirt, which would allow the cattle to cross it. This has involved a lot of driving through a lot of new country. This can be challenging because a lot of the BLM roads are either not marked or not in great condition.  Some days were more successful than others. Utilization involves looking at the height of grazed and ungrazed grasses to see how much of the forage has been consumed. The University of Idaho has developed a tool to estimate the percent of weight consumed by looking at the height. We did several of these transects, then visually estimated the percent utilization across the pasture.

One of the more fun things we got to do was go out with a group from the office to do a proper functioning condition (PFC) evaluation on a stream in Muldoon Canyon. This area is a beautiful part of the field office, where there are stands of both Douglas fir and aspens. Getting to see how a PFC works was really interesting. A PFC evaluation is more of a qualitative evaluation than a quantitative one. A plant list is made and then various aspects of stream condition is looked at. The group goes through a list of conditions that should be met for a healthy system and then discusses if they are met or not. It was really interesting to see how this process works.

We also got to go out and do a tour of a fire area that burned a couple of weeks ago. There was a large fire in the field office that burnt part of the field office near Crater’s of the Moon National Monument. We went out with people from Idaho Fish and Game and the Agriculture Research Service. There are some state sections inside the fire and Idaho Fish and Game came out to coordinate their rehabilitation with what the BLM was planning to do. The ARS came out because they are going to set up some test plots inside the fire to look at what types of grasses do best. It is extremely important for the BLM to be able to get perennial grasses out after a fire to prevent cheatgrass from taking over, the ARS is looking at different cultivars, natives and near native cultivars to see how they do competing against the cheatgrass. It was really interesting to hear about the fire rehabilitation plan and to hear about the planned experiments.

In exciting news we found a new occurrence of a special status plant and didn’t even know it! We did a plant clearance for a project along a spring near the Snake River. We were doing the survey  for the Chatterbox Orchid, in addition to finding the orchid we found a new occurrence of Sand Verbena. The Sand Verbena is a new addition to Idaho’s rare plant list. We are now going back and adding it to the plant clearance next years interns will have to do a full survey for it.


So Many Things

The past month has been a hodgepodge of tasks. Its been kind of fun to do a bunch of different stuff. We finished TREND up and my co workers starting working on Ultization, which is looking at what areas of the range get the most use during grazing. Abby and I, however, went looking for some rare plants. Red wool plantain (Plantago eripoda) is a rare plantain that was found in the field office in the 1940s. It was fun to look for since its grows in wet areas, it was a nice change from the sage brush steppe grass. We were in a lot of areas dominated by Aspens and Willows. Unfortunately we could not find the plantain.

I also got to help Abby out with a Seeds of Success project. Yampa (Perideridia gairdneri) is a fairly common plant that is a staple crop of Western Native American Tribes. The roots were consumed and are similar to water chestnuts and the seeds were used as seasoning. Yampa was requested for collection because of its cultural importance. It grows in steam beds so we got out a map and the herbarium vouches and went looking. We were prepared for a hike and prepared to find dried up plants that were hard to ID. It turns out Yampa was still flowering and is in abundance in our field office. There was a large population about 20 feet from the road. We were not planning on collecting it this year because we thought it was done flowering, but now it has been added to the list!

Collecting Yampa vouches

Collecting Yampa vouchers


Mother load of Yampa!!

Mother load of Yampa!!

After the Yampa adventure we spent a day looking for the Chatterbox Orchid (Epipatis gigantea) at a project site at Briggs Creek. Briggs Creek is an area where BLM land meets land owned by Idaho Power. The BLM in conjuncture with Idaho Power and US Fish and Wildlife Service is constructing an enclosure to protect two species of threatened and endangered snails. The Chatterbox orchid is a special status plant for the BLM. These plants are not threatened or endangered but can be rare or sensitive, sometimes endemic. The BLM has special protocol when projects occur in areas with special status plants. We were tasked with searching for the plant and doing a habitat assessment to determine how the project would affect the orchid. This was a really fun assignment. It was a little difficult since we haven’t done much riparian work, there were a lot of new plants, some that stumped the office. We got to work with the GIS specialist, who is a former CLM intern. She wanted to get out in the field. It was really great to hear how she got where she is and some of her experiences. I got the chance to do the write up, which was really great experience.

In addition to all these new projects we got to go caving! There are two interns from Geocorps of America which are sponsored by the Geological Society of America. There are a ton of caves in the field office because of the volcanic history of the area. We went into Chris’s Crystal Castle, Will’s Cave, and Teakettle. Teakettle is the most interesting because there is a skylight in the cave where a bunch of ferns are growing.

There are more interesting things to come! We are tagging monarch butterflies for Idaho Fish and Game and trying to find all the Range Improvement Projects in the allotments we did our earlier monitoring in. So stay tuned! Shout out to my awesome mentor Joannna!

Nicki Gustafson

Shoshone ID

New Protocols!!!!


Fire Re-entry Data Photo

One of our fire re-entry plots

Last week we officially wrapped up our Habitat Assessment Framework monitoring for sage grouse habitat. We spent the next week working on Fire Re-entry! It was a nice change of pace to see other parts of the field office. We worked in the Timmerman Hills looking at areas that were seeded after the fire. This involved doing a point intercept to look at cover, looking at whether plants had seed heads or not, and pulling the grasses to see how well they were rooted. It was really interesting to see how the BLM makes decisions about how to manage after fires. We also got to see the fire plan, which details what was done to help the area recover after the fire. We got to get a look at the seed mixes the BLM plants after the fire. Most of the sites we looked at had non-native seed mixes, but two of them had native seeds planted. It was a really good look at the importance of establishing perennial grasses in these previously burned areas. We also did some fire re-entry in Beaver Creek, which was part of a massive fire in 2012 that burned in the northern part of our field office.

After the fire re-entry was done we moved on to Trend data collection. Trend is a long term data collection on grazing allotments. Trend sites are returned to every ten years to help look at how land management decisions are changing the landscape. For most of these sites we are returning to the Clover Creek allotment, but we are also doing one in the more northern parts of the field office, near the Sawtooth National Forest. This was a really fun site to do, because it is so different landscape wise from the area we have spent most of our time in.

The Clover Creek and Davis Mountain Allotments are in areas that have been shaped by volcanic activity. Craters of the Moon National Monument is in our field office. The Monument is lava fields, cinder cones, and lava tubes that were created millions of years ago by the same hot spot that is now underneath Yellowstone National Park. This means that a lot of the field office near it have lava rock and caves formed by the eruptions. While this makes for a really interesting geological area (that is really tricky to drive in), it was really nice to see some different landscape. The Elkhorn allotment was gorgeous. The forbs were still in flower and there were some beautiful flowers and some sage grouse preferred forbs! The area was also lacking the invasive plants, like cheat grass, in the lower part of the field office.

View from the trend plot in the northern part of the field office

View from the trend plot in the northern part of the field office


Trend is a completely different protocol than HAF, instead of line point intercept we were doing nested frequencies across four different transects. There is also a photo plot were you estimate cover of all the species present. Then you get to color! There is data sheet were you mark in all the species you see in a 3 by 3 frame.

Data sheet for 3 by 3 photo plot

Data sheet for 3 by 3 photo plot

While I was expecting to do HAF all summer I am really excited to get to do some other protocols. It is really interesting to see how the office makes management decisions and how all of these different monitoring activities come together to make decisions about land use.


Hello From Shoshone

I have been in the Shoshone, Idaho BLM field office for the past three weeks. This summer we are going to be conducting vegetation surveys for greater sage-grouse habitat in the Bennett Hills.


View From the Bennett Hills

View from the Bennett Hills

We are using Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF) Protocol to conduct our monitoring this summer. Earlier this week a group came down from the state office in Boise, ID to help train our office and the Jarbidge office on this protocol. The protocol focuses on sagebrush and forbes. Sagebrush provides important cover for the sage-grouse. They use different species overwintering and for nesting, so knowing which species dominate the site is very important. Forbs are an important food source for sage-grouse. They prefer forbes with milky-sap, so being able to identify the forb species present is important to understanding the quality of the habitat.

Sage-brush steppe

Sage-brush steppe

These past several weeks have been about preparing for field work. The first two weeks mostly involved training, including first aid and CPR training. We’ve also been spending the week getting to know the roads and plants in the area. Learning to get around the country on the BLM roads in very important. Some of the roads go through really rocky areas, and clearance underneath the truck can become a problem. The other day one of the range specialist in the office went through maps of the area and highlighted which roads are in good condition and pointed out areas to avoid.

We have gone out to a few of our survey sites with range specialists. Sites are generated randomly so they have to be checked to make sure they will work. Several of the sites have been underwater or in the middle of roads. The sites are then monumented so they can be returned to. Next week more members of our crew are coming and we will start monitoring our HAF sites! Stay tuned!

Nicki Gustafson

BLM Shoshone Field Office

So Long For Now Oregon

This is my last blog post, my last day was yesterday. My experience in Klamath Falls and with the CLM internship has been great. I loved living in Oregon and being so close to nature. Klamath Falls is within an hour from two national parks and within five from a lot of cool places like the Oregon coast and the redwoods. I will definitely miss it here.

This internship has helped me develop a lot of new skills. I got a much larger variety of experiences than I thought I would. I got to help conduct plant surveys with private contractors, help with outplanting surveys on Milkvetch, and do a ton of fish work. I got a lot of different fish trapping experience. The boating experience I got was fun and really rewarding. Passing the training to operate the motor boat was more rewarding than I thought it would be.

The best part of my internship was the project down at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. I worked independently most of the summer. I did the data collection, management, and analysis.

Taking on a project like that was really rewarding because it gave me a sense of ownership over the process and this internship. I wasn’t expecting that when I started and it has been the best part. I never felt like a lackey, I felt like my input was wanted and valid. Working on my own made me feel more confident in my abilities and I learned to trust my own judgement. I have a tendency to defer to what the others on my team think is the best course of action, and while this can be good, it was really important for me to realize that I do know what I am doing. I think that lesson will be the most valuable one I will take with me, though trailer backing is a close second.

This internship has made me really excited about a future career in conservation. It has also reinforced my desire to go to graduate school. I am returning to Ohio for a winter seasonal job and hope that by next fall I will be in a master program moving toward an awesome career. I am saying see you soon to Oregon, I hope I will be back here soon. But no matter where I end up, I am excited to see where my career takes me.

Already October

I am finishing up my internship here is Klamath Falls. This was my last full week! That means that my project at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was pretty much complete. We spent the last couple of weeks checking out some of the other projects that are going on in the office.

Last week we got to see a pretty cool project happening in the Freemont- Winema National Forest. There is a creek that has both endangered Bull Trout and invasive Brooke Trout. Over the past several years it has been the site of a massive Brooke Trout removal process. It successfully eliminated Brooke Trout from several miles of the stream.

In addition to the removal, there is a joint restoration project occurring with the Forest Service and the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust. One of the biggest components was adding large woody debris to aid in creating riffle and pool habitat, which is really important for fish populations. The wood also helps the conductivity of the stream and helps retain smaller gravel, all really important for maintaining fish habitat. We went electrofishing to make sure there were no Brooke Trout or any other fish that could be endangered by the dropping of large woody debris. We found no fish, which was exactly what we were hoping for!

We also got to spend the day with a restoration biologist in the office. She works for the Partners Program in US Fish and Wildlife, which is a program that works directly with land owners to implement conservation projects on private land. We saw several channel reconstruction, where straight channels are reconstructed to streams with natural curves and winds, and got to help plant sedges along the banks of one of the project. Every one of her projects helps ranchers better utilize their resources in ways that also benefit the environment. It was really great to see another program in US Fish and Wildlife and get a feel for other career paths in conservation biology.

We also got to do some more sucker work! We got to see the monitoring effort US Geological Survey is undertaking in another population of suckers. Most of the work we were doing this summer was with the population in Upper Klamath Lake.  This week we got to see the effort to recapture tagged adults in Clear Lake. It was really good to see some adult fish again! USGS also explained their work with understanding how suckers are moving through both the lake and the river systems.  It was an informative day. We also got to help collect genetic samples from another population of suckers. To do this, we went electrofishing again and took fin clips. All the fish we captured were from Klamath Large Scale suckers, a non-listed species of sucker that is hybridizing with the endangered Short Nosed Sucker. It was really great to be out in the field again after report writing! My internship is finishing up next week, so you guys will get to hear from me again soon to wrap up my experience.

Wrapping Up and Return to Fish Evaluation Station

This past month has seen a variety of efforts here at the office, field season is still in full swing and we have been busy! We have been trapping fish in Tule Lake just across the border from California. We have had a little bit of success, but we were largely catching small fish and have not found suckers in the lake. We moved our traps to the deepest part of the lake, which was more successful. We managed to catch larger fish, mostly chub species. We also caught the largest sucker we have caught all season, most likely a short nosed sucker. Unfortunately we are having problems with our boat, so we may be unable to set traps for the rest of the season.

Short nose Sucker from Tule Lake

Short nose Sucker caught in Tule Lake

We have also been trapping at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. We have caught three suckers so far in the largest pond, the only pond where we are supposed to have fish. We were able to get a pit tag ID on the last two suckers. They were placed in the pond last year and have doubled in size over the winter. This is really good data to have because it suggests that we can take salvage fish to be reared to a more hearty size in a relatively quick manner.

Sucker of unknown species caught at Lower Klamath National Wildlife National Refuge

Sucker of unknown species caught at Lower Klamath National Wildlife National Refuge

This past week the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) needed help conducting sampling at the Fish Evaluation Station (FES). FES is a way of estimating how many fish, with an emphasis on suckers, get entrained in irrigation canals throughout the season. In the past the BOR has sampled for 24 hours, they found that fish rates were higher at night, so they began sampling from 8pm to 2am for intervals in 30 minutes, pulling the trap net every half hour on the hour. Suckers are measured and weighed and evaluated for physical abnormalities. The number of other species caught is also estimated.

This year we wanted to figure out if 1) the fish we are catching are all unique individuals or if the same individuals are getting recycled 2) if we can keep suckers and rear them to a more hearty size and then rerelease them. To figure out if the same fish were getting captured in the trap net we VIE tagged sculpin and chub. These species were chosen because they are showing up in a manageable number; the sculpin was also chosen because its life history is similar to the suckers. We conducted the experiment through August, when we stopped because of low fish numbers. We are still analyzing the data from this experiment, but we think it will give us really valuable data that will help us better determine the number of fish that are being entrained in the irrigation canals each year.

We also held half the suckers from each pull to help determine if we can rear suckers caught in the FES trapping effort. We held suckers in tanks for the week and took the survivors to net pens in Upper Klamath Lake. We were unsure how well this experiment would work because the suckers coming through were believed to already be in bad health. While the data is still being analyzed from observation, it appears that as the sampling went on we were able to hold less suckers because less were coming through the traps. However, it looks like a greater percentage survived. It will be interesting to see if this holds to be true after the data is analyzed statistically. We conducted this experiment through August as well and stopped because of low sucker capture.

This past week I helped BOR conduct the sampling because they were short staffed. While we did not continue the recirculation study, we did try and hold suckers. However there was a low fish catch which included suckers. We caught just seven suckers all week and were only able to hold one. We are unsure why the fish capture is so low this year, though there are several theories including bad water quality and that it was a low spawning year.

Trap net at the Fish Evaluation Station

Trap net at the Fish Evaluation Station

Sucker holding tanks at Fish Evaluation Station

Sucker holding tanks at Fish Evaluation Station

My internship is wrapping up, as I have about a month left. That means that it is final report time! I am analyzing the data for the monitoring at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. I am really excited to see what the data can tell me. I am especially excited to do some analysis with Geographic Information Systems. I have a lot of GPS points for predator evidence and I am interested to see if it there is a pattern to where predator activity is occurring. I am also getting to write a field note for the project, which will be a great chance to work on public outreach. The last month should be busy but rewarding.

Fish Evaluation Station!

This past month has been a busy one. Last week we attended the Compassionate Conservation Conference in Vancouver Canada. We were unable to attend the training at the Botanical Garden in Chicago, so this was our alternate. The conference was focused on how animal welfare and conservation interact. It was an eye opening experience, we got to hear from a lot of really interesting people, including someone from the Jane Goodall Institute in Canada. When we got back to Oregon fire season had started in full force. We had to circle above Medford for an hour before we could land because of smoke from a nearby forest fire.

The week after the conference we began work at the Fish Evaluation Station. This is a sampling effort of the irrigation canal, which is conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation. This year Fish and Wildlife are conducting a couple of studies, so we came out to help with that effort. The first objective is to determine if the same fish are being recycled over and over in the sampling process. To do this we did VIE tagging, which is where you insert a colored tag just underneath the scales of the fish. We also held suckers that will be introduced into net pens in the lake. The hope is that they can be raised for a few years and then released back into the system. This will help Fish and Wildlife meet the requirements for recovery set out in the biological opinion for suckers.

We are still monitoring the ponds as a potential place to rear suckers salvaged from irrigation canals (although fish from the FES will not end up here). It had been pretty quiet at the ponds, last month we began catching Sacramento perch, but we were only capturing a few at a time. This week we caught around 100 hundred Sacramento perch, 87 of them were caught on Tuesday. Then today we caught a sucker in the ponds! We are hoping to get some bigger traps soon and get some more suckers. Our boss is really interested in the growth rate of the suckers in the ponds.  There were 93 suckers put in the ponds last winter.  Over the next month we will be introducing more suckers into the pond from other projects in the Klamath Basin.  Hopefully we will be able to add to the population!

Klamath Falls

The past month has been busy in Klamath Falls. Last week one of the damns from the Klamath Irrigation Project was shut down, so we went out with the Bureau of Reclamation to try and salvage some fish! To do this, we set tramp nets in the pool beneath the damn and we also electroshocked for fish in some of the smaller rocky pools beneath the damn. This was necessary because as the summer continues, the pools will either dry up or the oxygen levels will plummet, causing fish die off events. Both species of endangered suckers are found in the reservoir, so US Fish and Wildlife wanted to make sure as many individuals as possible were saved. We only found five suckers in the pools, but a lot of other fish including catfish and perch. The suckers that were caught were pit tagged to determine how well the fish are surviving in the reservoir after they are moved and how well they are moving through the river system. We also took general condition data on the suckers and took genetic samples.

Pit tagging fish!

Pit tagging fish!

Juvenile sucker

Juvenile sucker

I’ve also been working down at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve been taking water quality measurements as well as trapping the ponds to see if fish are able to move through the water supply channels. I still haven’t caught any fish in the smaller ponds, which is good. The largest pond should have fish in it, but I hadn’t caught any until last Friday. I caught four small Sacramento Perch.   This is a little concerning because Perch eat suckers. They also grow much faster than suckers, making them easy prey. We still have not caught any suckers in the large pond, but we are getting larger traps, so hopefully we will be able to find them.

Sacramento Perch

Sacramento Perch

Earlier in the month we worked more with Applegate’s Milk-vetch. As part of the mitigation plan for reducing the impact of runway construction on the endangered Milk-vetch, seeds were to be collected from the plants along the runway. The seeds would then be taken to a nursery to be planted and grown to a certain size and then planted out at a Nature Conservancy preserve. This method was chosen because typically transplanting Milk-vetch has been unsuccessful, due to both a deep tap root and a close symbiotic relationship with mycorrhiza.  There has been some success taking seeds and planting then with soil taken from sites where Applegate’s Milk-vetch already occurs.

Unfortunately this was not a good year for Milk-vetch. A lot of the plants at the airport had aborted the seeds in their fruits. In addition, Milk-vetch is a plant that annually dries out and goes underground. A lot of the largest plants, and the easiest ones to collect seeds from, had already begun to dry out. This meant that we will not be able to collect many seeds from the airport. Luckily some of the other populations were in better condition so we were able to bag plants at other locations. It was surprising to see how different the condition was of Milk-vetch in different populations.

I also helped a professor from the Oregon Institute of Technology. As part of the recovery effort for Milk-vetch, plants were grown up from seed and then planted at a preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. This preserve was bought and is managed specifically for Milk-vetch. There is currently a demographic study on the out-planted Milk-vetch plants that is looking at survival and reproduction, a project looking at the wild plants just received funding from USFW. In addition, there is a study looking at the plants that grow around Milk-vetch to see if there is a correlation between survival and the plant community around Milk-vetch. This was a super fun survey to do because it meant that I got to learn a lot of new plants, including some common grasses. Can’t wait to see what the next month brings!