The last one

This CLM internship has been my 4th seasonal position in the natural sciences and has afforded me many new experiences. To start, I was in a hotel on every trip rather than a tent (verdict is still out on my preference), and I was working with professionals and not only other young adults. I have come to find that this difference means a lot in terms of how you engage in your work and the people around you.

Carol is also one of the first mentors and this internship is one of the first that was not strictly structured from the moment I started to the moment I ended. I was allow to create my own projects, look at the data with my own interests in mind and actually create something that would be helpful to the program as a whole. Although daunting, I think that it created some productive struggles for me as a person, namely the confidence to follow my own path. There are so many different ways that each data set could be viewed, so many different emphasis that could be placed on work done with a land management agency and so many projects out there waiting to be created.

The next step is up in the air, as is always the case after the field season, and I look forward to seeing where the wind takes me. As of now I will be assisting the family business, learning the ins and outs of Stanton hats and getting a healthy dose of the Sonoran desert.

Stanton hat and me

So here is to raising my glass to another season of field work, to the good, the bad (it ends) and the future.



So many beautiful spread sheets

In the last few weeks I have added 4 new rare plant photos to the walls of my cubicle, quality control checked at least 500 plant entries and just wrapped up a summary of the herbivory on our Sclerocactus plots!

Here is a photo of how my mind works in the office:

Like this

and this

and this

Working here in the Colorado State Office, I realized something pretty early on, there is a lot of data… a ton of data, many, much, mucho data. On top of it, it is often data that no one else has and it is therefore coveted. In order to ensure that this coveted data is accurate I had an idea that quality checking all of it would be a good way to get to understand and find interesting things to do with it. It is in fact, true, that you can find out a lot about data when you comb through it plant by plant, which has lead me to add transects to a plot that we had previously surveyed using a consensus method and has more recently allowed me to analyse the amount of herbivory on each Sclerocactus glaucus plots.

On one hand, looking over all that data is a little tedious, but on the other hand it is exciting to see all the work that has been done here and how it changed over time.I also enjoy seeing how people’s minds work, how the monitoring was first attempted and refined over time. Simple things like creating datasheets with the tags that were present on each site decreased the number of errors exponentially.

The best part of this internship for me (and a potential negative for our data) is that every year new people come to help out in the monitoring efforts. Not only does that provide our team with a much needed extra sets of hands but it also introduces different people to the work that we do. It excites me to think about the ways we can guide people’s minds to get the best results for us. Meaning that if we can figure out a way to encourage people in the direction of collecting accurate data, we could make scientists out of everyone! This is where social science and plant science mix! We, at this point in history, need people to collect information on plants, animals, insects etc. but not everyone knows that it is important to observe. For us, for example, it is important to know whether a plant died due to herbivory by a rodent, or say a human stepping on it (oops…). Hopefully we will continue to help people open their eyes to the interesting details of nature.

In breaks from all the data I also had the chance to bring in my microscope for some grass identification. Even though this was Brooke, the other intern’s job, I was also able to put in my two cents. Although only a few spikelets shot from under my dissecting tweezers, it still took us a minute to figure out this pretty common Trisetum spicatum. But no time is ever lost on the quest for understanding grasses, so I had a fun time doing it.

The year is, as of now, coming to an end and things are wrapping up. I am excited with the species summaries that Carol and Phil are working on this winter and will be interested in hearing the updates on what is happening in the rare plant world of Colorado.

Ouuu lemma and palea and glumes

Until next time,




What will winter bring

When I last left off I had traveled to Nebraska to see the Eclipse after which I asked myself, what could top experiencing the moon moving in front of the sun and turning the world dark for 2 minutes as humans all over the States stared in disbelief?

The obvious answer is collecting more data on Sclerocactus glaucus, of course!!

What finally brought us full circle for the field season here at the BLM Colorado State Office was the return of our crew to Montrose to gather data on both Eriogonum pelinophilum and S.glaucus. As we drove over the Southern Rockies on the 70 musing about our return to the cactus that we started this year off monitoring, we looked out of our windows at the changing of the Aspen leaves and felt a little bit of closure to the field season. What a way to go out.

The changing of the leaves

But what lead us back for more data collected after all these months? Basically the years and years of data collected on the Sclerocactus have come to a climax. Carol, my mentor, has spent much of her time at the BLM working towards de-listing this species, and now is the time. Our return to the cactus was brought on by a need for targeted data to make the reporting more sound and complete.

To be honest, when I type those words, de-listing, as an ecologist, I feel a little guilty. Why would we want to de-list a species when the Environmental Species Act (ESA), that it is protected under, is meant to, well, protect it?

I think this is one of the areas that has been the most enlightening to me throughout this internship. The more that I learn about topics that I had thought I understood, the more I realize that one can feel informed and still not actually fully grasp the subtle nuances of the complex field of threatened and endangered plants.

Let me explain, the ESA was was ratified in 1973, passed by a democratic-majority congress and signed by President Richard Nixon only a year before he resigned his office. This act was created in order to preserve not only the plants and animals that were under threat from human and environmental factors but also to protect the environment they existed in. That is a tall order for an agency like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (and NOAA fisheries) that is tasked with its implementation. In the beginning, listing was used to protect anything thought of as needing protection under a myriad of potential threats including industrial growth (think reservoirs, mining, and human expansion) and recreational use (including our own species of interest Astragalus osterhoutii and potentially Corispermum navicula due to the Wolford Dam and off-road vehicle use, respectively). Also, in the beginning of the Act many plants were listed with good intention but with less than adequate data.

Here is where the problem lies. In Colorado alone there are 16 listed plant species of the around 900 plant species listed for the entire United States. Now, that may not sound like a very large proportion, but under the current funding level for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and given the amount of constant monitoring required for the responsible management of the populations across the states, it is a lot of work. That is where we come in and why Carol has worked so hard to monitor these species. This work is also done at the District Office level within the BLM CO, who would normally completely shoulder the load, but in this case they are treated with two levels of attention.

All of that sounds grand, but the issue becomes particularly thorny when, in the case of S. glaucus, we come to find that the species is more abundant than originally thought (recall the plants listed in the 70s with little data). Given the limited resources available for monitoring, it quickly becomes untenable to funnel precious resources toward monitoring and managing species that may never have warranted protection in the first place.

Here comes the reality of de-listing. Resources currently allocated to species that are more abundant that previously thought could be used to help a species that are actually in peril or to identify species that might not be known to be in peril. Just think that in the lifetime of the Act there have only been 31 de-listings of listed plant species. When you consider that the intention of the ESA is to recover imperiled species, that is not a large success rate.

Additionally, the use of the Act has changed over time. Remember how I said it was used to protect plants once they are listed? Well, an ESA listing triggers a series of mandatory regulations placed on the species, and the land that it inhabits. There are even critical habitats that are protected regardless of where the plant is found (public or private). Which, as you can imagine, is not something that landowners or entities that could make money off the land, appreciate. So instead agencies have been working to use the Act as a last resort, instead of looking to list immediately they instead promote conservation agreements which are agreed to by a range of stakeholders to protect the plant in question. This happens when involved parties recognize that it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid a listing and decide  to come to the table to proactively agree to terms to protect the plant to avoid listing in the future.

I am rather impressed by this idea because it means, ranchers, land managers, mining companies, energy companies, states, and other interested parties come together to resolve differences toward a common purpose. What a concept, but like I have mentioned with P. grahamii, conservation groups don’t always see these agreements as a win. Instead, these groups can be stuck in the old mindset that the ESA is the best way to protect any species. Unfortunately, if conservation groups get their way, that means that many individuals will be subject to regulations and restrictions forced upon them by the ESA, without much recourse save open rebellion against the US Government, which doesn’t typically end well as we’ve seen in the case of the Malheur NWR takeover of 2015. With a listing comes bitterness from industry and a lot more work for regulating agencies (cough cough BLM). It’s a delicate balance. On top of all this, often the protections that come through a collaborative stakeholder based approach can be better tailored to a particular plant and region.

So all in all it is a muddled up, bureaucratic quagmire that can be challenging for different parties to see from the other side’s perspective. But, fear not, that is why we have competent hard working people like Carol and Phil working on it!

Our last outing of the year was actually an overnight trip to Walden where we looked at Corispermum navicula, which, to be honest, was one of the more fun monitoring sites. This plant is an annual (the only one we monitor) and thus we monitor for frequency. This meant walking around the North Sand Hill Dunes for hours with the Esri Collector app on an iPad trying to place ourselves on 300 randomly selected points in search of the plant. What an adventure, with only a few cups of sand found in each one of my shoes by the end.

Brooke an I on the quest for C. navicula

Thanks goodness for winter! I always love the field season and love being outdoors for a while, but I can feel my hands itching to crochet and my sewing machine getting lonely (I know, I am a 1950’s house mom) and I am excited to experience Colorado winter (or any winter at all really)!!

oh, also I ran a marathon, which was painful

A bag of 1,000 Cercocarpus montanus seeds

Until next time when I write about mostly data management and Excel!


Colorado State Office

Continued from page 3:

After the Eutrema penlandii monitoring effort we headed out to a short trip near Walden, CO to look for Phacelia formosula. This plant is our first biennial and, therefore, species that we surveyed for frequencies rather than density. Basically, this means that instead of a permanent plot with a permanent set of transects we have a permanent plot with transects that move each year. This way we can follow the trends of the plant population and their movement in an area. Unfortunately, this species saw a rather large decline in 2016 and we were hoping for some recovery this year. Although the species did not have a boom this year, we did see some promising trends that the plant will come back, but only time, more data collection and some more data collection will tell.

The interesting part of this story is that a Pandora’s box of complications is opened when you start to ask questions about why this plant is in decline, because so little is known about it. Are the flowering plants creating adequate amount of seed? Is that seed germinating? What are the conditions needed for germination? Have those conditions been met in the last few years? What additional information do we need to know about the plant in order to answer these questions?

A former intern here at BLM Colorado attempted to answer a few of these questions. Going so far as collecting soil samples, looking for seed in them and trying to grow those samples out. Continued investigation in this area is still needed.

In the intervening time between my rare and threatened plants data collection I have started to help my fellow intern with seed collection. I was excited to take part in this process, having learned about it at the CLM training. It is a pretty straight forward process, but we learned first hand that illegal seed collection on BLM land is somewhat of a problem when  we had a BLM ranger come visit us on site. Apparently some concerned observers in the area had witnessed illegal sagebrush seed collection in that area in the past. I did not know that was a problem and that the BLM would respond to such a call.

I also found while attempting to look at some demography data that we collected on Astragalus osterhoutii, that someone had sorted the data so that the tag numbers of a couple hundred plants and the information about those plants was jumbled into an incoherent mass of numbers and letters. After spending a week sorting this data out, the demographic data was a lot more coherent and insightful. I am hoping to continue looking into some of the demography data we have collected, sometimes for more than 10 years, in order to answer some of the questions that are still looming, such as the ones mentioned for P. formosula.

This last week we headed over to Fairplay, near Mt. Sherman, to set up and read a Modified Whittaker plot near our E. penlandii monitoring plot. Conducting the plot in this way allows us to look at the overall trends of plant populations in the area to understand what might be affecting E. penlandii. For this plot we were blessed with the presence of a handful of botanists from the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Although I have seen it time and time again, I am always happily surprised by the fact that there are so many women in botany. One of the reasons I was so excited by the idea of Carol as a mentor, besides the fact that she is extremely fun to be around, is the fact that she is a woman with a PhD in botany, getting stuff done.

The four other women amazing women from CNHP that we met up with have all been working in Colorado for many years and all of them were very well versed in alpine and riparian plants. Having them as a resource was a huge help when it came to the 50+ plants that we needed to identify – not a simple task when this includes a variety of Carex, Juncus and Potentilla with few distinguishing features. I love when my dreams of working in this field are justified by meeting amazing people. Let’s all take a moment to raise our glasses to the dedicated plant people of the world.

After finishing the plot, I made my way up a scree field to the top of Mt. Sherman-14,036 ft above sea level. Mt. Sherman is not the highest peak in Colorado, nor is it the most impressive peak that I have summited  (that distinction goes to Mt Whitney, which I bagged at sunrise while collecting Forest Health data for the Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada). BUT the gratification felt similar. Let me wax poetic a second to be grateful for legs and lungs that can carry me, eyes that can take in the experience, and knees that only slightly complain when I run down the trail to catch up with my fellow crew mates.

Salida was our most recent stop and one of the most amazing small towns that I have seen in Colorado. During this visit we all wanted to partake in the local scene and so after work we stopped at a local bar where we walked in on a circle of 12 people playing harmonic folk music. Each person had a different folk instrument, and they must have communicated through the language of music because I never saw them speak to each other. Not a bad place to call home or pass through in the quest for more plant knowledge.

One would think we would slow down in September as the summer winds down but we still have a few more trips, a few more hikes and a lot more data to collect this season. As Jack Torrance demonstrated, though, work must be balanced with play and this summer’s intensive fieldwork was broken up by many new experiences. The most memorable had to be the solar eclipse viewing trip that we took a few weeks back. And it turned out that the 2 minutes of darkness, stars coming out and a lot of end of the world talk was well worth the trek up to Nebraska and back.

Never thought I would make it to Nebraska but #eclipse


Till next time,


Colorado State Office

I’ve been everywhere man

To continue the saga I will pick up where I left off, on my way to the Contento family stomping grounds, Chicago.

Walking into the Chicago Botanical Garden for the first time, every memory and picture of what Chicago was that I had in my mind was wiped clean. The cold winters where I was introduced to long wool coats, wind burn and tall buildings, paled in comparison to the abundance of exotic flowers and islands in the web of lakes that is the garden. (I should probably just admit I am not a city girl). This garden is 385 acres, home to prairie lands, a butterfly garden, a pinyon pine bonsai that is 300 years old, tropical greenhouses with a giant gummy bear looking plant sculpture, more ponds than people, red winged black birds, miniature tree gardens and a whole bunch of plant nerds.

If you were thinking that I just described paradise, you would be correct. Besides the amazing line up of researchers, presentations and plant ID, this was like summer camp for plant lovers. I couldn’t have ask for a better time.

Gummy Bear Plant – Better known by it’s gelatin name: Gummius osois

Day at the beach

Mother and daughter time

After getting back from back east we headed west to Meeker for some Physaria congesta and obcordata. Lucky for us this meant some quality time counting over 2,000 P. obcordata with another CLM intern out of the Meeker field office whom I had met the week prior in Chicago. After hours on our knees with our faces 20 cm from the ground, made better with the good humor and constant positive outlook of Anna Wilson,  we wandered around to find other Physaria plots to create a better picture of the plant populations on a landscape level.


Cirsium scopulorum

Brooke and I enjoying the rocky roads in the Mosquito Range

Part of the fun of being in the BLM State Office is that we get to work with different district offices on rare plant projects. Some of the fun of working with Carol Dawson is getting to work with a variety of great people. For this project we had to pleasure of meeting up with Mit McGlaughlin and his summer field botany class from the University of Northern Colorado. Looking for Astragalus osterhoutii and Penstemon penlandii with a group full of mostly pre-med majors presented its hurdles, but luckily their enthusiasm and Mit’s sense of humor made the week another enjoyable gathering of plant people.

Class from UNC

The Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests area where this T&E monitoring was located was an interesting place. Our camp site ran alongside a conveyor belt that was holding the bounty of molybdenum from the Henderson mine about a tenth of a mile from our camp site. The area where we were monitoring was near the Wolford Mountain reservoir that, when created, flooded much of the existing population of these two plant species. In addition, when considering the plant for listing it was predicted that the reservoir would get so much use that the plant would be in danger. On the bright side, in the three days that we were out there we only saw 2 boats and 1 person fishing. All of these factors were then exacerbated by the fact that, in order to create more fodder for cattle in the area, in the 1950’s, 4 lbs per acre of Crested Wheat grass was planted near the reservoir.  This grass is potentially out competing the Penstemon and Astragalus for resources.

Working with so many different organizations has been such a highlight for me in this internship and we were not disappointed when again, last week we met up with a group of people from the Forest Service, BLM and Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative. Counting the large number of very small Eutrema penlandii would never have been possible without the 17 people who joined us in the alpine habitat in the Mosquito Range. This little guy, found only in Park county loves fen areas, where Pikas chirped at the churning of the clouds and the rumble of the impending storms and where the peaks of 14’ers loom in the distance. It was such a pleasure to experience new areas, new people and new insight into how Fish and Wildlife, BLM, Forest Service and non profits work together for the good of a species.

Plot in Mosquito Range


At some point in all of this Denver had a little visit from a man named Ryan Zinke. It was an awesome opportunity to not just read a news article about the Secretary of the Interior but see him in person. There was a few hard hitting questions regarding climate change and National Parks preservation which made the talk worth while and was also a nice day to sit in the grass outside.  Starting up here in August we have our last few field outings. I am excited to delve into some data, collect some seeds, and learn a little bit more about some endangered plant species.

Until then,


Colorado State Office BLM


Colorado exploration

Before I arrived to my first day at the Colorado State Office I created goals for the CLM internship that I hoped to accomplish before the end of my 6 months. The first, and by far the easiest, was seeing all I could of Colorado. So far I have gained more than just a collection of places, but a knowledge of the people I work with as well.  After hours, amounting to days, of driving in a car with my crew this season, I have a new appreciation for reggae music, the lifetimes worth of unbelievable stories Carol (my mentor) has lived, and how much knowledge can be gleaned while flying down the I-70 through the Southern Rockies in a government issued Ford Explorer.

I will chronicle my past month adventures and gained knowledge by time since I last posted, so I can attempt to keep everything straight.

One of our many drives. Near Pagosa Springs

After monitoring for Astragalus debequaeus in May, mostly near the Roan Plateau, we went back slightly south to the little known town of Delta (pop. 8,720). Here, is where we got the pleasure of working with the fine folks at the Uncompahgre Field Office. Here, is also where we were finally able to work with Sclerocactus glaucus and see it in bloom! (not pictured here).

This scavenger hunt under, between, and around any bush or blade of Pleuraphis jamesii was a test of your yoga forward fold pose and ability to maintain a keen eye. This plant, however, somehow managed to steal my heart: much like me it exists in arid environments and is, more so than myself, fighting the long and hard fight of existing in such a place.

After our stints heading west from The BLM Colorado Office in Lakewood we took a turn south to the 4-corners region of the state.

Our first stop was Pagosa Springs to look at Ipomopsis polyantha to assist with a project that the Tres Rios BLM District Office is working on with the plant. To shorten the story, we ended up spending a short period of time with an interdisciplinary group including a BLM ecologist, a US Fish and Wildlife botanist, a Forest Service employee, a private rancher and two people from an energy company that oversees pipelines that passed through the area. I realized while listening to the ways which these these entities interact it is easy to oversimplify the management of lands- which involves the juggling of species habitat, land use, and the multiple-scales of the various activities across a landscape. Needless to say, it was a very insightful day learning about how agencies, private citizens, and companies work together towards the protection of plants.

I was also very excited to be introduced to Pagosa Springs. Here you can walk next to the San Juan River and see geothermic sulfur water running from streams dotting the sides of the river and pooling under bridges. More amazing was that all this was two blocks from a line of hotels with dozens of additional natural baths looking onto the river. I hope to return to this riverside oasis on my time off so that I can spend a few days soaking and lounging around the town.

Just a little side trip to see Mesa Verde. Don’t mind if I do.

After checking out Oreocarya revealii on a plot a stone throws away from some petroglyphs (also not pictured), we then moved on to search for Lupinus crassus with some of our newly acquired friends from Montrose. We had a fine time walking in what seemed like a portal back into my old stomping grounds in Nevada, through lands characterized by Pinyon and Juniper trees.

On to Penstemon grahamii! The week after we left the 4-corners area, we thought we would try and hit every county in Colorado that bordered Utah, in a month, so we headed to the north western corner of Colorado near the Uinta Basin. Near Rangley we, indeed found some P. grahamii along with P. scariosus var. albifluvis.

I think this was the most enlightening trip so far. These two species, I learned, are at the center of a legal battle that dates back to 2011, with advocacy groups seeking to list the species for protection while the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on a means of protecting the species in a Conservation Agreement between private citizens, the state of Utah, BLM district Offices, and Counties in Utah. It is an interesting case study because of the nuances of the situation, and is another case in which land management ought not be oversimplified. Both species have a large proportion of their population on private land, meaning that protecting the plant solely on public lands will not address the whole issue. However, listing species has, in the past, been the best way of providing the greatest protection to species that are seen as at risk. There had been an attempt to list this species before, but ultimately USFWS opted not to list it. Now, however, after a lawsuit in 2015, advocacy groups would like it to be considered again. This step, although seemingly helpful, would be opposed to the Conservation Agreement, in which, the entities involved are trying to avoid listing the species. In observing the current situation I understand the perspectives of the many groups involved and find it stimulating to learn the ways in which these groups work together, how the system has functioned historically, and how it is changing in a modern context. I am eager to see how the situation evolves in coming years.

You can read more of the agreement here:

You can read more about the lawsuit here:

Hello beautiful. P. scariosus var. albifluvis

On our trek up to find a new plot of P. scariosus

The next part of my journey takes me to The Chicago Botanical Gardens in the town where my family has its roots. I am excited to be able to visit family and, at the same time, engage with like-minded people on the program that allows me to visit such special places…and with an opportunity to see my parents and a good friend while there, there is a lot to look forward to!



Colorado State Office, BLM

Lakewood, CO

Snow in April


The thousand mile trek from Reno, Nevada to Denver, Colorado felt like the blink of an eye, but passing through the White River National Forest made the time stand still by its beauty, also probably because driving a 15′ truck while pulling a car up 10,000′ passes almost literally brought us to a standstill. Aspens on the left and right and snow still on the ground, it was like a right of passage into the beautiful capital of Denver.

Looking out into our new home

The first week of my first CLM internship was filled with the elusive potential for computer access and many informative scientific papers. One that stood out was called “Evaluating approaches to the Conservation of Rare and Endangered Plants” which started off with a quote from Nirvana:

“Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don’t be late”

and then proceeded to discuss the general currently accepted process behind setting up a rare and endangered plant evaluation, which I see echoed in the past and present work of my mentor, Carol Dawson.

I also spent the week being brought up to date on the plants that Carol and past interns have worked on. Including 9 threatened and 3 candidate species, one of which we monitored my second week.

Now on to the fun stuff!

Since 2011 Astragalus debequaeus has been listed as a threatened species, is found near the Roan Plateau, and is the first species that we surveyed for.

I can already tell that I am going to like field work here in Colorado. Not only was I able to see hundreds of million year old formations, but also I met up with the Ecologists that worked out of the Silt and Grand Junction field offices as well as the director of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

We spent our field days scrambling along the lose shale foothills of the Roan plateau surveying for Astragalus debequaeus. At one point we were looking for more plots when we also stumbled upon Sclerocactus glaucus and Astragalus naturitensis as well. Although these were not our intended targets per say (I am learning that this geologic area is as Dr. Dawson would say “chock a block full” of rare species) it was nice to see what we would be looking for in the future.

Sclerocactus was blooming its dainty pink flowers and so was Echinocereus triglochidiatus:

Echinocereus triglochidiatus

After a full day it was nice to come back to Silt and peer down at the tame but powerful Colorado River. I have grown up in a state (Arizona) where the Colorado River not only plays a part in our everyday life as a source of drinking water and is the border of our western edge, but is also a part of history, something I learned and heard about as a kid. I realized I have actually not spent too much time observing it and I felt an odd connection to home as I watched the sun set and the swallows catch their pray and return to their mud nests.

The Colorado River from our hotel in Silt

Next week we survey again!

Tell then,



Colorado State Office

Lakewood Colorado