Final Reflections from Southern New Mexico…

Alas, it seems that Jeanne and I’s tenure as CLM interns is finally coming to an end.  Overall, it has been a wonderful experience.  We have had the chance to see places in our expansive district that very few have set eyes upon.  Our fearless leader, Patrick, has proven himself a reluctant but well suited mentor.  We got to see petroglyphs, ruins, and a wide variety of plants.  In botany, my experience has been that there is no end to the learning.  There are always more plants to know, love, identify, and dissect.  Sometimes we’d stumble upon a rare or locally rare plant that I’d never encountered before to which I would react with glee, which I would then enthusiastically photograph.  And of course, since Patrick is among the best botanists west of the Mississippi, there were always opportunities to learn and identify unknown species.  A few new species (well, new to me) included Wright’s Dutchman’s Pipe, Echinomastus intertextus, Erioneuron spp.,  Thymophylla aurea, Haplophyton crooksii, Evolvulus alsinioides, and many others.  We got to see an abundance of wildlife; coyotes, two species of rattlesnakes, tarantulas, kangaroo rats, packrats, coyotes, pronghorn sheep, roadrunners, sandhill cranes, oryx, a plethora of insects, arachnids, and cows, and cows, and more cows.


~Co-intern Jeanne and I standing at the edge of Kilbourned Hole….


~Evolvulus alsinioides, just a cute plant I hadn’t seen before in the Florida Mts….DSCF4539

~Haplophyton crooksii, a rare plant in New Mexico.  Also hadn’t seen it before.  Also Floridas….


~Aristolochia wrightii, Wright’s Dutchmans Pipe. A cool rare plant in its own right being feasted upon by some exotic caterpillary things….


We spent many hours hunting down the elusive and rare Nightblooming Cereus.  We were able to form a conclusion based on our observations and past observations that the cactus behaves a lot like many other desert species (although it’s a bit unusual for cacti) in that it periodically dies back to the tuberous root, and then periodically resurrects.  As such, even though it continues to be a rare species, it doesn’t seem to be quite as rare in our district as previously thought.  It’s also just plain hard to spot.  It grows inside nurse shrubs and spends most of the time just looking like a dead stick.  Although the flowers are spectacular I hear.  You would be lucky to see them as they only flower for one or two nights a year.  I haven’t.  Yet.

DSCF3516 PEGRG 2 dpm

~Peniocereus greggii var. greggii.  Night Blooming cereus.  A big concern for the BLM in our district….

One highlight of the internship was two trips we took out to Lower Gila Box.  Trust me when I say that a visit to a riparian area on BLM land in Southern New Mexico is a thing to be cherished!  Aside from the very cool Native American archaeology we encountered, there is a hopeful reclamation story as well. Since riparian species of trees and shrubs tend to be short lived (cottonwoods and willows) the establishment of seedlings is important to maintain the overstory.  Until the early 90’s, cattle were allowed to graze along the Gila River in this area.  The cows ate the sapplings so the overstory was decimated.  But then the Lower Gila Box was excluded from grazing and the cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores have come back happy and healthy.  The LCDO office has been taking periodic photo points since the exclusion and it is quite a thing to see the resilience of Mother Nature.


~Lower Gila Box, lush, recovered, and happy…


~Some petroglyphs from Lower Gila Box..


~A granary from Lower Gila Box.  It’s in a cliff face looking down into a steep crevice.  Could be a thousand years old, but I wouldn’t know….

We spent a lot of time and brainpower locating, monitoring, and assessing phenology of target collection species.  We were forced to think differently.  In other natural sciences such as geology, phenology doesn’t matter so much.  A rock is the same rock whether it’s January or June.  Not so with plants.  We had to keep regular tabs on a variety of potential collection sites to catch them at just the right moment when they had produced adequate mature seed but before a gust or a storm dispersed them into oblivion.  Sometimes it’s a delicate gambit.  Furthermore, we found that among grasses, just because a species produces inflorescences, there is no guarantee that actual viable seed was set.  We found multiple populations of Setaria leucopila (plains bristle grass) but only at the last site did we find that it had actually producing viable see.  Even then, it was only producing seed at a rate of about 1 per 8 florets.  Nonetheless, our population was dense enough to complete a collection.  We were wanting to make collections of blue grama and black grama, but neither of them seemed to want to produce viable fruit at all this year in our district.  Down here in the deep Chihuahuan desert, we are very much at the mercy of precipitation patterns.  It was a strange year in that regard.  We had a lot of rain early in the summer but not a lot of great rain when we normally have monsoon season in early August.  And of course, our district is large enough where some regions got way above average rain while others remained deep in drought.


~Emory globemallow.  One of our collections…


~Baielya multiradiata; A happy field of Desert Marigold.  We made multiple collections of it.

As you might expect, we had the most success in regions of our district that had been blessed by good precipitation this year.  We tried to stick to our initial target list, but we had to adjust according to what we were finding, and what we simply happened to stumble upon.  We made a lot of good collections that weren’t on the initial target list but that still make good candidates given the stated goals of the SOS program.  There was one site in particular that turned out to be an exceptionally good collection site.  At Goat Mountain Allotment we collected Machaeranthera tanacetifolia, Panicum obtusum, Verbesina encelioides, Chloris virgata, Bahia dissecta, Bahia absinthifolia, Baileya multiradiata, and Sanvitalia abertii.  Not bad for a single location!  In any case, we were able to surpass our goal of 35 collections with 38 collections for the season.  And, there is a decent chance we will make one final collection on our last day.


~One of many cute and irritable rattlers we stumbled upon….


Furthermore, we were lucky to get the opportunity to improve our GIS skills.  For my Masters project I got to be somewhat familiar with QGIS but at the BLM office we got some good experience with ArcGIS.  We also got a taste of relevant policy commonly used around the office.  The work culture at the office was a pleasant surprise.  I immediately noticed a distinct lack of tension or drama in the office.  This was a sharp contrast to my experiences in graduate school, where there is a universal and palpable sense of quiet panic and pressure.  Academia is for workaholics.  I loved the feeling that I was actually done when I left work without some guilty pang somewhere in my psyche telling me I should be grading papers or working on a manuscript until 2 am.  And my God, comp time is such a wonderful, wonderful thing.  We would often put in very long days but we were also able to take a fair number of 3 day weekends.

We got to sit in on a number of NEPA meetings, a process that is both complicated and necessary for any biologist interested in a job that interacts with the government or in contracting with entities that need to comply with government environmental and reclamation policy.  Although my cublicle at the office didn’t have windows, I had the best views in the house most days because we spent a majority of our time outside anyway.

Jeanne and I gave a presentation to our office about the Seeds of Success program and why it is important.  I think it was well received overall because we got compliments from people in the office that I know can be harsh critics.  This is good because we worked very hard at putting it together.  After it was over, I was sad to realize that our time at the office is coming to an end very quickly.

Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me but there are, at least, opportunities out there.  It makes me anxious sometimes to not know what is next, but I’m getting used to uncertainty and I realize that sooner or later some sort of stability will happen if I can just keep my head down and do a job as well as I can wherever I find myself.  But working as a CLM intern has been an unforgettable and priceless learning experience.  Much thanks to Krissa, I hope for nothing but the best for my CLM compatriots out there and I hope you never lose the passion that got you into this game from the beginning.  Nature is awesome.

Best wishes to you all,

David Morin

Las Cruces District Office of the BLM


~Pectis papposa, Lemoncillo.  We made a collection of this plant.  Perhaps the most lovely smelling of any plant I know.  Definitely top 5.  It smells like a mixture of lemon, anise, and bubble gum.  It sounds weird, but it’s actually quite pleasant….