Fire and Flood in Kern County

Over my first eight weeks at the Ridgecrest office, I’ve slowly grown accustomed to the procedures of making SOS collections. And thankfully, with some help from Sarah De Groot (a field botanist from The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden), my fellow intern and I have gained some competency in local field botany. But, happily, just as I’d begun to settle into the process of scouting and seed collection, new tasks and challenges appeared, maintaining the pace of learning and adaptation that was set by the first few weeks of work here.

Two weeks ago, I felt as though I was just first coming to grips with the process of making Seeds of Success collections, when Sarah De Groot took me and two other interns along on a collection trip in the Amargosa Range, near Death Valley. However, while she instructed us on exactly how to make a collection of either seed or tissue, Sarah didn’t necessarily stress the importance of always being prepared to make an SOS collection. As I’ve now experienced on multiple occasions, upon setting out to scout for populations, I won’t necessarily find the plants that I need. However, I may find a large, healthy population on a day which was initially set aside for range land health assessments, or for monitoring a listed species. While herbarium and database consulting was useful in the first weeks here, overall, the most productive strategy has been to simply keep my eyes open and be prepared to make voucher collections while going about other business.

Our camp for the night, near Twelvemile Spring, at sunset.





The most recent work that has come my way is the task of monitoring a few State listed plant populations in our field office. In particular, my fellow Ridgecrest intern and I were met by another working botanist from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Naomi Fraga. She did her Master’s work on the Kelso valley region of Kern County, near Weldon, California. As such, she was interested in joining us for a quick estimate of the Mimulus shevockii population in the area, which was subjected to a burn during last year’s Erskine Fire.
Luckily, the fire appeared to burn relatively cool in the area. Although the area covered by the burn was large, it didn’t appear to affect the seed bed of M. shevockii, which bounced back in even higher numbers than were found last year just before the fire. We estimated that the region supports around 1,220 individuals total, with about 55% of them in the fire-affected area. Since the Erskine fire was widely hailed as one of the most destructive in Kern County’s history, it is nice to see that some of the local plant life has managed to pull through. And, on another positive note, it would appear that like the local plant life, nearby communities affected by the Erskine fire have also begun to reclaim areas lost to the blaze.

The Kelso Creek area, one year after the Erskine fire.

A rather large example of Mimulus shevockii Heckard & Bacig.

Ironically enough, many other areas of the Ridgecrest field office have been subjected to flooding this year, due to uncharacteristically heavy rainfall. That rainfall ended the five-year drought which contributed to the intensity of the Erskine fire, but it has also been responsible for flooding throughout the state. We need to make significant policy changes to combat the effects and causes of this volatile weather, in order to protect both ourselves and the environment around us. As we saw many times this year, we cannot always insulate ourselves from the effects that severe weather has on the landscape. Human lives are also tied up in the balance.


Back in the desert again

Hi, I’m Jonathon. I just began my internship at the Bureau of Land Management’s Ridgecrest field office a few weeks ago. The first few weeks have been a whirlwind of trainings, conference calls, and herbarium research, but also a fair amount of time spent out in the field, the Mojave Desert.

The first week at work, I was enlisted to help install a Common Garden research project that is being led by the US Geological Survey. The installation involved planting hundreds of labeled propagants of a perennial bunchgrass, Oryzopsis hymenoides, which is an important pioneer species in the Mojave. This project is intended to measure the relative suitability of several ecotypes of the species to different regions across the Mojave Desert. Hopefully, this research will help future restorations workers to identify the most appropriate population to take plant material from when planning an installation in a given area. This could improve the viability of the plants that are introduced for restoration, and reduce the losses that are often associated with using plant material in an area to which they are not as well-adapted. And, as the common gardens become established, similar work will be done with various other important plants for restoration projects. I really felt as though I got brought on board with the rest of the team responsible for the project, and I’m excited to have a part in doing this important work.
Not to mention I get to drive a really cool watering truck.

On top of that project, I’ve also been happy to get outside to survey riparian areas that may shelter populations of the federally listed Inyo Towhee, conduct grazing evaluation reports, scout for plants that we’ll be taking seed from for the SOS project in the coming weeks, and just to take in the beauty that the desert has to offer. I grew up near this area, but I’m still amazed with the stunning vistas that the Mojave has to offer every day I spend in the field.
Until next time,

Ridgecrest Field Office, Bureau of Land Management