Seasonal Reflection

Well, I’m back in New York after 5 incredible, enlightening, challenging months in Vernal, UT. I definitely feel as though I learned a lot about plants of the intermountain west and about the Bureau of Land Management and how it is run. Never in my life have I seen this much open space. And while it was vast and majestic and beautiful it was also deeply saddening. Nearly every inch of the land in the Vernal Field Office was blanketed in cheat grass and tumble mustard. The riverbeds were crowded with tamarisk and Russian olive trees. Million year old biotic crust was scraped away in favor of flat dusty drill pads as far as the eye could see.


At the same time, I was in some ways pleasantly surprised. The desert that I thought would be a barren, sandy landscape was dappled with tiny gems. Place out of reach of drills, trucks and bull dozers, held incredible diversity. Even places within reach of such disturbance were managing to hold on to some incredible plant species. I saw beauty such as I’d never seen on the east coast.


I think mixed-use management of land is extremely difficult to accomplish. This land is public, but what does that really mean. You can’t do whatever you want on that land. Who matters more, the people who see and use the land everyday? The whole population of the United States? Or maybe the following generations who will be left with this land after we’re all gone. As of right now, it almost seems to me like no one is happy with the use of this land. Grazers want lower fees and more freedom, oil companies want less bureaucracy, environmentalists want both those groups to do their work responsibly or get lost. Obviously, that is a very over-simplified version of the situation, but that’s the gist. And there are far more players than those 3 groups.


I learned a lot during this internship and I’m glad I did it. I feel now that I know more about my planet and my country and my government than I did 5 months ago. There are a lot of good, smart, hard working people that I’ve met in our government and in this internship program and I hope that in the future I continue to work alongside them towards the goal of a healthy, vibrant, just planet.



Floating the River


Floating the River

The sky still dark and stormy

We set off late, damp


Floating the river

Water thick with sediment

Red as the canyon


Floating the river

We treat teasel and thistle

Avoid the milkweed


Floating the river

Searching the grassy shoreline

Perfect habitat


Floating the river

Anticipation building

An orchid, hiding


Floating the river

Found our tiny friend in bloom

Ute Ladies Tresses


Floating the river

Rain drops fall on our dinner

The clouds have come  back


Floating the river

Bald eagle dives and catches fish

Shares it with a friend


Floating the river

Wind is blowing at our backs

Mission accomplished

I’ll Take the Duckie

There has been a lot going on in Vernal over the past month. I cannot believe it’s already August! We’ve had the chance to be involved in a lot of different projects, which has been refreshing after several months of seed collection. We found a killer Sclerocactus wetlandicus habitat near some drill pads and we were able to collect some seeds for grow out for a local restoration project. I personally really enjoy collecting for local projects because it feels more productive. Being physically close to the action is motivating. While we were collecting we found a crazy mutant cactus:


We’ve also been looking for SOS populations in some really beautiful places. To escape the midsummer heat we’ve been venturing into the Uintas. We collected some Eriogonum umbellatum up near Flaming Gorge and while we were up there we took a pit stop to eat lunch and skip some stones on the resevoir. It’s impossible not to stop for a moment and appreciate our breathtaking surroundings and how incredible this opportunity really is.


We also just finished my favorite collection to date: Asclepias labriformis. It was particularly fun for several reasons. We missed the last Asclepias we tried to collect so this time we took serious precautions. We rubber-banded as many pods as we could so if they matured without us, all the seeds would be prevented from dispersing, sneaky, I know. It’s also really fun because there are about 30-50 seeds per pod so it is efficient and the pods are super fun to pop off the plants. And of course milkweeds are an important pollinator species and this particular species does well in disturbed areas, so it is a great plant for restoration purposes. Overall, it was a great collection and I’m excited to ship those babies to Bend.


And this past week, we went back on the river, this time the Green River. I spent the three days in my favorite yellow duckie. Rafting is fun, but there’s nothing like paddling through a canyon in that little duckie, letting the water take you in whatever direction it wants. Our mission was once again, invasive species control. This time we focused on teasel, musk thistle, canada thistle and white top. We used clippers, loppers and herbicide sprayers. Personally, I’m not incredibly comfortable with herbicide, though looking at how many invasives there were along the riverbed, I can understand why it is considered necessary. We burned our weed clipping in the campfire in the evenings and watched the amazing Perdeid comets streak through the sky. Another successful river trip.


For the next few weeks Levi and I are turning our attention to finding fall species. We’re going to try to collect as many Artemisias as possible, as well as some Chrysothamnus and a few more Eriogonums and maybe even go out on the Green River again.

Hope everyone is having a great summer! Talk to you soon!


Rivers and Roads

Hello again,

Vernal in July, like most places in this part of the country, has been very hot and very dry. Fortunately, we got to spend this past week rafting on the white river! But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to rewind back to 4th of July weekend when I met up with some of my fellow CLM interns in Lander, WY. It was so nice to be able to take advantage of our awesome network. We camped and went to a rodeo and had a killer BBQ. Lander, WY, great place for the 4th of July! Below is a picture of our epic BBQ grocery shopping spree:


We also spent a lot of time last week collecting Oenothera species for Krissa’s research! We were able to find Oenothera acutissima, cespitosa, howardii and pallida. Our search brought us up into the mountains to see some big and beautiful Ponderosa Pines. IMG_6017IMG_6016

Last week we scouted more populations and did some more seed collecting. Up on Blue Mountain we found Lomatium triternatum and Lupinus argeneus. When we’re not in the mountains, we spend most of our days at work near drill pads and evaporation ponds, but in the evening we get to escape and explore the beautiful hidden gems of northeast Utah. One evening last week we hiked up to Moonshine Arch . You can’t find this stuff on the East Coast.


But now back to our latest excursion. We spent this week on the White River doing some invasive species monitoring, specifically Russian Olive and Tamarisk, which are both huge problems here in Vernal and all over this part of the country. I wish we had a machete with us, cause this bush is nuts! The BLM has already done some weed removal work along the White River, but it has barely made a dent and it has already cost millions of dollars. Even the areas that have been treated have a significant number of resprouts and new seedlings. Invasive species removal is no easy task. It is costly and requires a lot of attention. The field office here does not have enough time, money, or staff to come back year after year to treat and retreat these invasives, but if nothing is done we will lose our cottonwoods and our native understory completely. Though, this trip was a bit of a depressing reality check we had a lot of fun, rafting, kayaking and camping and of course eating. This is a picture of us trying to fit all of our gear, but mostly our food, on our raft:


More exciting Vernal, UT adventures next time. Thanks for tuning in.


Vernal to Chicago and Back

It has been an eventful few weeks in Vernal, Utah. June brought sweltering heat and lots and lots of ripening fruits and seeds. We took a break from our seed collecting to monitor some rare, endemic cactus, Sclerocactus wetlandicus. This was our first big monitoring project of the season and though we learned a lot, it was a bit of a bummer. Many of last year’s healthy cactus were trampled, munched on, or just GONE! These are the sacrifices that are made when land is multi-use. Many of our plots were adjacent to drill pads, split by tire tracks, speckled with hoof prints and littered with invasives like cheat grass and Lapula.

Sclerocactus wetlandicus

Sclerocactus wetlandicus

When we weren’t monitoring empty quadrats, we were diving into seed collection. Levi and I are becoming more and more independent every day, scouting out populations, keeping an eye on phenology and collecting bags and bags of seeds. So far we’ve made 6 collections. We’ve collected Cymopterus bulbosus, Allium textile, Artemisia spinecens, Graiya spinosa, Cymopterus terebinthus and Lupinus pussilus. Timing is difficult, we’ve missed some opportunities and collected some too early. We are using a big white board to track all of our populations. June is a very busy time, everything seems to be ready all at the same time.

Allium textile umbels

Allium textile umbels

This last week was the CLM Workshop at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and it was a stellar week. CLM interns are pretty rad people, if I do say so myself.We got to hear from inspiring professionals in the field like, Peggy Olwell, Plant Conservation Program Manager at the BLM, Krissa Skogen, Conservation Scientist and our very own CLM program manager, and Carol Dawson, Colorado’s State Botanist for the BLM. The botany of the West review was extremely helpful! We were able to explore the beautiful botanic gardens and get to know our peers and share our experiences thus far.

monitoring methods

monitoring methods

Getting to know that dichotmous key

Getting to know that dichotmous key

We networked and networked and networked some more. It was wonderful to see some real-life trees and chat with some like-minded people. Now we’re back in Vernal and we’re right back to work. This week will bring temperatures in the high 90s and lots more seeds. We’re going to check out some Erysimum capitatum, Asclepias cryptoceras and check on some Oenotheras for Krissa. Hope all my fellow interns are back safe at their various stations. Can’t wait to hear how everyone’s seasons unfold!



Into the Desert


Hi, from Vernal, Utah atop the Colorado plateau! To my east coast eyes, this place looks like Mars. These first two weeks of my internship have have been a little rocky (pun intended). Bumping along unpaved roads over plateaus and down rocky washes towards our field sites has provided a good chunk of time to get to know the botanists at the Vernal BLM field office and familiarize myself with this majestic, foreign landscape.

Already, I’ve had the opportunity to see some new wildlife, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, pronghorn, osprey, and a golden eagle. Here the relationship between geology, soil, and plant species is very clear. Proof of this area’s history is all around, from formidable geological formations to dinosaur bones to petroglyphs, this landscape is the product of millions of years of gradual change punctuated by rapid development and harsh disturbance.


Chamaechaenactis scaposa

We’ve been fortunate to get quite a bit of rain this May, so the desert wild flowers are aplenty, flying their vivid colors. Some of my favorites so far are Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlett globemallow), Lupinus pusillus (dwarf lupine), Chamaechaenactis scaposa, and Sophora stenophylla (silky sophora). I had not expected the desert to be so full of life, variation, and color.


Sophora stenophylla

But the botanic variation that so pleased and surprised me, is seriously threatened.  Because of human development, mostly due to the oil and gas industry and heavy grazing, introduced species have been proliferating. Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) covers a great deal of the landscape, filling spaces that were once occupied by biological crust and outcompeting other grasses and forbs. Tamarisk and Russian Olive trees are taking over riparian zones stealing huge amounts of the precious groundwater from Cottonwoods and their herbaceous neighbors.


So, there is a lot of work to be done. Already I feel the rush of coming upon a promising population of one of our Seeds of Success priority species or one of our BLM sensitive plants like Sclerocactus wetlandicus. There is definitely a steep learning curve. It’s very satisfying to recognize common species that only a few weeks ago were completely unknown to me.  This is a landscape that should not be underestimated or looked over. These plants are champions of adaptation. They may be small, but they’re mighty and I look forward to getting to know them better.

Hannah Heyman

Vernal, UT BLM