A brief summary of my internship experience

In the spring of 2015, I graduated from CSU San Bernardino with a degree in biology. A few years prior to that, I had only a budding interest in ecology and evolution, along with a desire to conserve species and their habitat. I did not have a solid idea of what I would do with my degree, if anything, and when questioned I often joked (kind of) that I would be a janitor that talked a lot about biology, as was already the case. Lacking an end goal or specific area of interest, I took a wide variety of courses, a broad look at biological processes ranging from the ecosystem level down to the molecular. For the most part courses occurred inside lecture halls and labs. I most enjoyed those few exceptions in ecology and botany in which we left the classroom for fieldwork. That is why I became an intern at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden after graduating, and why I then sought a CLM Internship. Through the course of the CLM Internship I have learned far more of the flora of California than I previously knew. I have learned more about the chaparral ecosystem; the plant and animal species, fire ecology and associated management challenges. I have learned more about edaphic influences on vegetation composition, and I would love to visit and work in more examples of this beyond the gabbro soil of Pine Hill Preserve. Through this experience I see how much more there is to learn and have deepened my interest to do so. I have acquired new interests. I worked with another intern, who has been documenting pollinators of plant species around Pine Hill Preserve, and his interest in pollinators has rubbed off onto me. I also assisted with bird surveys and California red-legged frog habitat construction and monitoring. I hope to continue to gain experience with wildlife and plants in one place, understanding an ecosystem more completely. My interest in biology really started with wonder and curiosity about ecology and how species have evolved with one another, and now I really hope to someday apply an understanding of ecology to conservation and land management. I am now back at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, because it’s a great place, working in the nursery, seed bank, and on the Angeles National Forest for a restoration project. The planting is a restoration project, but also an attempt to address questions about methods which affect the cost and maybe success of projects, comparing results of weed treatments with and without subsequent native planting, along with planting success with different size/age plants. I would gladly go back to the BLM Mother Lode Field Office in the future, because it is also a great place. Thank you to all the staff at the BLM that welcomed me there, and especially my mentor, Graciela, and fellow interns for working with me.

Come on frogs!

At the end of September, month six of my CLM Internship, I am still loving the diversity of the work I get to do. I have been working on some of the same projects for a while now and have mentioned them in previous blog posts: raptor surveys, maintaining insect traps, picking up trash, finding and pulling weeds, and of course seed collections. The last raptor survey of the year at Cosumnes River Preserve is completed, but waterfowl surveys are just beginning. As for some projects, the work might be the same, but the people and places can change. I recently led a large group of enthusiastic, hardworking, geocaching volunteers to clean up a large dump site on a newly acquired parcel of Pine Hill Preserve. They were trying to persuade me to start geocaching with them, and I told them I get out in the field plenty hunting for plants. Speaking of…I have completed a couple more seed collections in the last month: one not so common Navarretia filicaulis and one very common Epilobium brachycarpum.

A project which I had looked forward to through September happened last week. There are now two ephemeral ponds on BLM lands near Michigan Bluff, CA, constructed by a small but strong group of people from our BLM field office and the US Forest Service, led by a wetland designer and the wildlife biologist at our office. Yeah, the excavator did a lot of the heaving lifting, but it was tough work for us too. The ponds might not look like much now, but with the rains coming, soon they’ll hold a couple feet of water and hopefully some endangered California red-legged frogs! The ponds were constructed to increase the habit of red-legged frogs, which live on private land about a mile from these new ponds and are otherwise scarce in the Sierra Nevada. Being that the ponds are ephemeral, they will provide habitat for the endangered species while excluding bullfrogs and fish that decrease populations. A PVC liner will be responsible for holding the water because adequate clay was not present there and could not be economically sourced from nearby to create an impermeable wetland. I may have the opportunity to help collect seeds from local wetlands to plant along the margins of the constructed ponds, providing nice places to hide, mate, and lay eggs. Come on frogs!

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

My last blog post:( :oh wait, nevermind!)

My internship began in April, so I was nearing the end of it this month, but I am excited to say I accepted a three-month extension. I am looking forward to staying in the Sacramento area in the foothills here for the fall. This month I traveled to and camped in Lee Vining to attend a California Native Plant Society workshop for collecting and reporting rare plant species, then I participated in CNPS staff-lead Rare Plant Treasure Hunt. We searched for and found Salix nivalis, snow willow, in the Eastern Sierras of Mono County. I hope to join other Rare Plant Treasure Hunts in the future, and maybe volunteer to lead sometime.


Looking east toward Virginia Lakes and Red Lake in Mono County.


Salix nivalis, snow willow, east of Red Lake in Mono County.


Aquilegia pubescens, Sierra columbine, east of Red Lake in Mono County.


Botanists and enthusiasts doing their thing on the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt in Mono County.

I was able to join in on another raptor survey at the Cosumnes River Preserve, and the sighting of the day for us was a Peregrine Falcon first observed by a fellow intern. It perched near us for a while before flying and diving above us, and we thought we saw it in the distance hunting doves some time later. We also had a nice view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I have assisted with the checking and maintenance of insect traps, Malaise traps, and pan traps painted to attract pollinators. I have continued removing invasive species around Pine Hill Preserve. Upon returning to one location to remove those stubborn yellow star thistles that sprung up since the last visit, we learned that a very recent small fire had beat us to it. The roadside area of mostly invasive species is adjacent to rare plant habitat and has been treated for a number of years but had not recently experienced fire. Hopefully some rare plants will now germinate and have less competition due to the years of treatment. Relatively larger fires on the Preserve have apparently been more easily managed due to the presence of fire breaks, giving us some positive feedback for the fuels reduction work that has been implemented in recent years.


A small fire burned at the roadside on Pine Hill Preserve, leaving no yellow star thistle for us to pull.

The Pine Hill Preserve partners recently had a meeting to discuss the renewal of the Cooperative Management Agreement between parties, ongoing land acquisitions, research projects, etc. During the meetings it can be difficult for me to follow everything as a lot of unfamiliar terminology is used, and as I am on vacation now visiting family, I am trying to devote some time to study related topics. I’ll leave it at that so not outright announce my ignorance. I hope everyone is having a fun, productive summer and looking forward to fall.

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

Weeds, wildfires, hawks & Häagen-Dazs

Hello from the BLM Mother Lode Field Office in El Dorado Hills, CA!

Much of my time in the last month has been devoted to pulling weeds and taking care of odds-and-ends in the office. The invasive species we have been hand pulling are yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens). Though there are huge populations nearby that would take considerable management and effort to eradicate, hand removal of small populations is doable to prevent further establishment into rare plant communities.

There have been relatively small fires on or near BLM land within our field office recently. Rare plant populations do not appear to have been affected, and hopefully there is a seed bank of some rare plant species in the soil that will germinate in the burned area. In some of the areas of the Pine Hill Preserve that I frequently visit, there is such a stark contrast to be seen between adjacent plant communities that have differing fire histories. That has been one of my favorite things to observe during my internship.

Some other unique opportunities have arisen in the last month. I helped with a small construction project, using a soil auger for the first time and pouring concrete for a retaining wall. I recently had the opportunity to tag along with the botanist and wildlife biologist at my office for a raptor survey at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Though we only saw a handful of species on our route, I had fun and just spotting anything is good practice for an amateur like myself.

I visited the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, a garden that supports bee populations and provides education about bees. It was great to see the garden promoting native plants to support bees and that many of the plant species we collected seeds from this year were represented at the garden. One coworker from my field office has been documenting and collecting pollinators found on species corresponding to seed collections. We must be a curiosity to many passersby, me collecting plants into bags and him wielding his net. I had the opportunity to help with the placing of Malaise insect traps, which when monitored over a sufficient period of time should provide a more complete list of the species present in an area and the relative abundance of each. Traps are being placed on gabbro soils associated with the rare plants within the Pine Hill Preserve, with other traps nearby but outside gabbro soils. Hopefully the results will lead to a better understanding of the endemic plant species and their associated pollinators.

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

Part 3

I am close to two-thirds through my internship. I feel like getting to know the area and scouting populations was a distinct part of my internship. Making seed collections was a sudden chaotic second part of my internship. Since my last post to the blog, we at the Mother Lode Field Office have doubled our SOS collections, from 9 to 18. As I have revisited sites to increase the size and diversity of collections, I have been able to start collections of other species. Targeting multiple populations in one area has been an efficient way of making collections. Since arriving back from the training at the Chicago Botanic Garden, a Youth Conservation Corps team has been working at our office. The training helped prepare me for speaking with this crew about Seeds of Success as they have joined me in the field for collections. I have also spent considerable time processing the collections, i.e. organizing photos, scanning data forms, shipping seeds, and confirming species identifications at the UC Davis Herbarium. As for the remaining two months of my internship, I hope to make a few more SOS collections and then wrap up the post-collection tasks. Beyond that is a bit of a mystery. I will likely be working at a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Center. I am keen to learn more about where and how some of the working collections from this year could be utilized for restoration. Some collections were too small to incorporate into SOS, so finding a use for those is important to us. Thistle eradication, in part through rotational grazing, has been ongoing on some grass lands at our field office. The needle grass that I collected may be utilized there. As we have collected multiple species from particular locations, it would be great to see those species utilized together for restoration. For instance, larkspur, checkerbloom, and iris collected from one oak woodland could be established at an adjacent woodland. The chaparral near Mokelumne Hill that burned last year has been a prolific collection site, including Zigadenus exaltatus, Calochortus monophyllus, Camissonia hirtella, Scrophularia californica, and hopefully a couple more species soon. Maybe that suite of plants will be critical to future fire restoration in the Sierra Nevada foothills someday. Then again, maybe they will be incorporated into someone’s research of fire ecology. Either way, I hope to hear about it. Check out some of my favorite seeds of the season below, and enjoy your internships!

Phacelia cicutaria

Phacelia cicutaria

Delphinium hansenii

Delphinium hansenii

Sidalcea hartwegii

Sidalcea hartwegii

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office, CA

Something to remember that bloom

I am a bit astonished by how much the landscape has changed since my last blog post, less than a month ago. Some seed collections have been successful, while some populations which I had targeted have disappeared. Nonetheless, as species go to seed, some to never be seen again, at least until next year when some other intern attempts to capture a portion of their progeny, a different cast of later blooming species has taken the stage. I am pleased to have this new cast of characters to see and learn, and some of these relatively late bloomers may be prospects for future collections. As for those species to whose release party I showed up late, I wish a future intern luck and hopefully we will learn from these mistakes. When there was not a seed left to collect at a location, I was able to remove some invasive species before they released their seeds. That feels good, as I am removing native seeds from a location for conservation, to also remove some non-native competition.

Those seed collections that have been successful have been rewarding. The Delphinium and Sidalcea blooming in concert was one of my favorite sights this last month, and today I have seed collections to remember them by.

Delphinium and Sidalcea at Kanaka Valley

Delphinium and Sidalcea at Kanaka Valley

I revisited the Butte Fire burn area in time to collect seeds of Calochortus monophyllus and Toxicoscordion exaltatum, before camping along the Merced River for more collections. As I collected Lupinus microcarpus along the Merced River, I could hear the legumes splitting a few steps ahead of me, sending seeds flying but not into my bag. It gave me a sense of urgency. There were weekend visitors all around, quite curious about my apparently peculiar activity, so I was able to explain the nature of my work to lots of curious, friendly folks, many of whom want to know the common names of whichever species they have recently enjoyed seeing. I know from experience, they’re much more interested in a common name than the Latin. I heard from them a lot about “what a terrible job I have!” remarked sarcastically. I agree, sarcastically!

John Woodruff from the BLM Mother Lode Field Office in California

Calochortus monophyllus seeds at the Butte Fire burn area near Mokeluemne Hill, CA.

Calochortus monophyllus seeds at the Butte Fire burn area near Mokeluemne Hill, CA.

Calochortus monophyllus seeds released before my arrival to the Butte Fire burn area.

Calochortus monophyllus seeds released before my arrival to the Butte Fire burn area.

Mother Lode mule ears and miner’s lettuce

I left Southern California in March, passing snow laden Joshua Trees in the high desert, heading north to Gold Country to work at the BLM Mother Lode Field Office. I camped along the American River for a couple of days before meeting some nice folks from whom I am now renting a lovely trailer.

S. American River

The south fork of the American River and Salmon Falls Rd.


Before my internship began, I was exploring many nearby woodlands, shrublands, and grasslands. As I encountered unfamiliar plants, I wondered about their names, occurrences, and origins. I have since enjoyed learning about and re-encountering these species, though some of the beautiful flowers I had photographed I later discovered to be invasive. After three weeks of working here, I continue exploring locations which are new to me. Working as a field botanist is a sure way to get to know a new region to which you’ve just moved. Most of the fieldwork has involved scouting for Seeds of Success collection targets. Some of the work is nearly in my backyard, and almost always near others’ yards, while other work can take place three hours away as far south as Yosemite. We are scouting targets along the Merced River, where the wildflower bloom could convert many wildlife folks to botanists.


Delphinium along the Merced River near Briceburg, CA

There are also plans to collect seeds at the northern burn area of the Butte Fire that occurred last fall.


Butte Fire burn area around Jesus Maria – the Calochortus monophyllus is numerous

Calochortus monophyllus_1

Calochortus monophyllus


Butte Fire burn area near Jesus Maria – Toxicoscordion exaltatum is in the distance


Toxicoscordion exaltatum

A bird's eye

A bird’s eye – Gilia tricolor

Many collections will take place close to home on the Pine Hill Preserve lands. I have already made collections of two species. One of which was the common and abundant Claytonia perfoliata. The other was the much less common California endemic Wyethia bolanderi. No offense miner’s lettuce.

A bird's eye view

A bird’s eye view of the American River – collecting Gilia tricolor

Calochortus albus_2

Calochortus albus a stone’s throw from highway 50 on Pine Hill Preserve lands

Work has also involved meetings and tours of preserve lands, which are learning opportunities as well as opportunities to meet a wide range of professionals within the agency, from other agencies, in the private and non-profit sectors, along with students and fellow interns. A few days recently I have set up plots at locations in which vegetation was cleared, piled, and burned, where future monitoring will occur, which I am excited about.

Until next time,

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office