All seasons come to an end…


After a two week extension, I have come to my last day at the Dillon Field Office.

It’s been quite a season. One of my favorite things about this job has been the variety. In the past five and a half months, I have collected for Seeds of Success, learned and practiced Assessment Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) protocol, and participated in a variety of typical rangeland technician duties including assessments of watersheds, rangeland, riparian areas, and lentic streams and a variety of other historic monitoring methods for the Dillon Field Office, some of which were established as much as 60 years ago.

I’ve also gotten to take a walk on the wildlife side by jumping in on habitat improvement projects (i.e. rolling up barbed wire fence), conducting spring eagles nest surveys, scouting for new sage grouse leks (i.e. looking for large amounts of bird poop that resembles white cheeto puffs) and observing the flamboyant birds strut their stuff before dawn.

One of my most satisfying and rewarding side projects this season has been reorganizing and updating the office herbarium.

From this…

…to this!

This was something I got to dig into toward the beginning of the season, after I’d collected all of my vouchers for Seeds of Success and was waiting for them to go to seed — but before I jumped in with the rangeland techs. It ended up being a solid week and a half of work just to reorganize the collections, make an inventory/reference list, key out the unlabeled specimens, correct identifications and update taxonomy to follow what is currently accepted by NRCS.

I attempted to organize the herbarium so that it would be useful and accessible to anyone who may need to use it. I also made blank herbarium cards so that more people can contribute interesting and useful specimens that they encounter in the field. My hope is that this revamped herbarium will become a more practical and useful tool for reference and documentation in future years.

As various people brought me plants to identify, I made a habit of recording collection information and throwing them in my plant press. Between my SOS vouchers and all of the other plants I pressed throughout this field season, I was able to submit quite a few specimens to the field office herbarium.

Taking over the conference room to mount vouchers and other collections.

In a fitting end to my fieldwork on Friday, I got caught in a minor snow storm while doing a riparian vegetation inventory at Bull Creek. The smoky summer ended quite suddenly in mid-September with sudden and prolonged snowfall, but the season since has evened out into the beautiful, cold, and sunny autumn everyone promised me when I first moved here. Especially after doing data entry and inside work, it is a treat to work outside again.

Impending snow storm at Bull Creek

Life in Dillon hasn’t always been easy. I feel really lucky to have been placed a mere five hours away from friends who proved to be excellent adventure buddies on many a three-day weekend. Even so, I’ve frequently felt lonesome and isolated living in Dillon, especially after the excitement of living in a new place wore off a few months into the summer.

All in all, this internship has provided me with excellent experience in the year after graduating from college. I’m happy to have gotten to work with some amazing people in a jaw-droppingly beautiful place! I hope in the future this will lead to employment closer to home.

Signing out,


Ranger Things

After working a full field season in Dillon, I can safely say I am no longer a fairweather botanist. Something I’ve had to work at is identifying plants by vegetative characteristics alone in the early season and in their senesced, dried out, most crispy state later in the season — important skills for rangeland work.

Although not much is still blooming out in the open montane sagebrush steppe, I’ve been finding refuge from the smoke and heat in riparian vegetation assessments. Under the shade and thickets of cottonwood, quaking aspen and sometimes-encroaching conifers, I have been delighting in the relative abundance of non-vascular plants, fungi and lichen.

A small piece of a large mat of Peltigera venosa

Marchantia polymorpha, a complex thalloid liverwort. Check out the gemmae cups on this cutie!

Stropharia aeruginosa or Russula parvovirescens? Who can really say. I did not get a look under the cap, unfortunately.

Some robust eyelash cup fungi, named so for the remarkable eyelash-like hairs around the rim of the cup. Maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s Scutellinia scutellata!

While I don’t have any new flower pictures to share, I finally made it over to the Bannock ghost town this weekend where I was thrilled to behold some botanically accurate-ish wallpaper from long ago.

Much of July, August and September has been very hot and smokey in Montana. All that changed quite suddenly last week: on Wednesday it was 95 degrees, on Thursday it was 55 degrees and slightly breezy, and on Friday it snowed in Dillon for nearly 24 hours straight.

This was fun to wake up to the morning of September 16th

At last! Gone is the eery red sun and thick smoke in the air. The fresh air and breathtaking snow-capped mountain views that typically surround Dillon are back.

This shift in the seasons could not be better timed. AIM monitoring is done, as is most of the outside work with rangeland techs. Now all that is left to do is mounting herbarium specimens for Seeds of Success and, of course, data entry.

Signing out for now,


Dillon, Montana

Stranger in a Rangeland

Now over halfway through my internship here in Dillon, Montana, I’ve officially made the switch from full-time Seeds of Success work to rangeland monitoring.

Wyethia helianthoides, a Seeds of Success collection

Platanthera dilatata, a potential SOS collection

Arnica fulgens, a Seeds of Success collection

The transition is both bittersweet and well-timed. I’ve enjoyed the Seeds of Success work much more than I initially expected: the thrill of roaming around the mountains of Beaverhead and Madison Counties, searching for large populations of native wildflowers; the unadulterated delight of locating a robust population of plants and identifying its associates; the satisfaction of pressing well-composed voucher specimens and collecting complete field data; the sense of relief at returning to these populations at the perfect time for seed collection; the serenity of collecting seed high up in the mountains among the flowers and butterflies and magnificent views.

The critters really love Gaillardia aristata!

There are so many amazing plants around here it was hard to narrow our Seeds of Success collections down to just fifteen species! I’ve already started a document of potential seed collections for next year’s intern.

Hopefully a future intern will enjoy collecting from this huge population of lovely Calochortus

All that said, I’m already enjoying the transition to rangeland monitoring. One of the best things about this job is the variety! It’s nice to work with other people more frequently, and in the week since I switched over I’ve gotten to pick up some useful monitoring skills and visit parts of the field office I hadn’t yet explored.

Such as this surprise abandoned cabin we stumbled upon during a stream reach assessment – pictured here, smack-dab in the middle of the dry creekbed

Did I already mention that it’s beautiful and amazing here? In addition to all of the places I get to go for work, there are countless incredible places to explore for backpacking, hiking, swimming, driving, flowers and views within 1.5-5 hours drive from Dillon. Five months is hardly enough time to see and do everything that I want to do here, but I’m loving these three day weekends as much as my four day workweeks.

Marvelous Mimulus lewisii at Yellowstone, just a 2.5 hour drive east

Gentianopsis in Yellowstone

Pink lupine in the Gravelly Mountains just 1.5 hours east

Until next time,

Stellatrix LeRange

Dillon, Montana Field Office

Greetings from Beaverhead County, Montana

Since moving to Montana from western Washington state, my whole sense of scale has shifted. The trucks are bigger, the gas is cheaper, and, yes, even the skies seem bigger. The Dillon Field Office encompasses both Beaverhead and Madison counties, an area totaling ~9,175 square miles, and is comprised of ~13 different mountain ranges and ~15 different watersheds. This region of southwest Montana is known for its unique and diverse geological features in addition to its flora and excellent fishing.
With a population of ~4200 people (depending on fishing tourism and whether school is in session), I’m happy that there is so much to explore around Dillon.

My truck in between two trucks that are considered “small” at the Beaverhead County Auction

At four weeks into my internship, I’ve gone a lot of different places — and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see in the area.

Lunchtime on the Big Hole River

My first week on the job, I got to assist the wildlife tech in conducting bird surveys all around Beaverhead County. Not only did she help to acquaint me with the local geography, she also taught me a lot about birds. As we drove around we stopped to check on eagle fledgelings in their nests, curlews cohabiting with cattle, and sage grouse strutting their stuff at the crack of dawn. We were able to observe abundant antelope, bunnies, prairie dogs, coyotes and pelicans (?!!) in the process.

She also humored me quite a bit and stopped the truck whenever I spotted a little somethin’ special on the side of the road.

Mesmerized by glitter rock lichens

Captivated by Oenothera caespitosa

Enchanted by Allium textile

Coming primarily from a botany background, my knowledge has already been quite stretched by the interesting flora of this new-to-me-place, in addition to learning more about southwest Montana wildlife, geology, biological soil crusts, ecology, land use, and the various monitoring methods that help to inform land management decisions.

Positively fritillated by Fritillaria atropurpurea

…and Fritillaria pudica.

Leucocrinum montanum, the beautiful mountain star lily. Its ovaries are underground!

This week, I’ve been going through orientation and safety training with all of the other seasonal field technicians. I’ve picked up and refreshed a number of practical skills in the process, including a first aid certification, defensive driving training, emergency field procedures, bear spray training, tire changing, and…

…you betcha, a UTV driver’s certification.

My priority while I’m out here is to make collections for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. After that, I will be assisting my mentor with sensitive plants monitoring and the range technicians with meeting their monitoring goals.

Astragalus scaphoides, a species of concern in Beaverhead County

Phlox hoodii, a potential SOS plant

Mertensia oblongifolia, another potential SOS plant

After this week’s safety orientation and training, I will be fully equipped to go out to the field and start meeting my objectives.

Until next time,