In the Archives

Settling down to more office days here at the Uncompahgre Field Office. Been working on an exciting project with the Gunnison Sage Grouse, (GSG) Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF) data from 2004-present. Things are finally coming to a head with all this work; it’s a great time to be here and watch the numbers unfold.

Recent weeks, (minus the workshop in Chicago) have been spent in GSG breeding grounds on the north rim of the black canyon, where all the vegetation data has been collected since ’04. My partner and I spent 3 days driving around, scouting out transects, throwing down lines. We decided to camp a night to save time, we slept right next to the transect we’d do in the morning. We’d first run a line-point intercept for 100 points on a 50 meter transect, then a forb belt, and finally a line intercept to determine shrub cover. We did 15 of these at around an hour each.  Most transects were miles apart by driving and/or by foot.

The pain in the neck from data entry is compensated for by the work that comes after: comparing the data to last years, last decades, and comparing one to the other.  I wasn’t aware while in the field that we were specifically located in randomly selected plots within a polygon of high-use for GSG.  High-use areas were determined by a group of USGS scientists that tagged 12 grouse and tracked their location from 2010-2015.

My mentor had an abundance of data from 2004-06 (collected by his predecessor), and his personal work from 2013-present.  Now we had large enough sample size within these high-use areas to make statistically significant comparisons to high and low use areas in terms of, (most importantly) sage cover.  My job was to mine the habitat inventory data from 2004-2006 in Microsoft Access so that we could begin comparing the data sets.  We soon realized that there was no category for sage cover in this old data, (which is weird because it’s the most important thing).  We found ourselves in a bind that has turned into a sort of scientific historical detective story.

The only way to determine sage cover from 2004-2006 was to find the hard copies and hope for the best.  The archives at the BLM are full of research, books, manuals, newspaper clippings, unfinished projects and very significant work over the last 50 years or so.  Among these, for example were stacks of peregrine falcon research; information on habitat, monitoring, and de-listing.  It was daunting to believe we would find the hard copies, but we did.  I was a kid in a candy store.  I even found a flora by Arthur Holmgren from 1948 of the Northern Wasatch, my home.

The data sheets were complex and used a sampling method unfamiliar to both my mentor and I.  The method to determine cover was called the Bitterlich method, which uses laws of proportionality as a shortcut to extrapolate cover, (often used for tree cover).  After researching this method, I realized that it was unlikely that these researchers actually used this method for sage cover, because they reported a range of values, (1-5%; 6-25%, etc.) whereas Bitterlich yields a specific percentage.  I was stumped.

Curiosity, however got the best of me.  I found the midpoints of each range for sage cover and compared the means with those of the 2012-2015 HAF transects within 75 meters of each other in ArcMap.  There was a trend of decreasing sage cover from then to now.  At this point we had to know if we could compare the two data sets in any way.

I ran across a name in the data sheets that looked familiar.  We could find this woman and ask her exactly how they determined those ranges for sage cover.  I went down a rabbit hole…

And this is where I stopped writing this blog, months ago.  Now it is my last day as a CLM intern as I read this reflectively.  It is so important to write this stuff down!  There are many details I had forgotten about this project.  This is how it ended:

Missy R., (the familiar lady on the data sheets) talked to me for nearly 30 minutes about her work all those years ago.  She confirmed that there was nothing resembling the tools used for Bitterlich in their monitoring.  Rather, cover was determined by a sort of rough visual estimation.  She recommended I have coffee with the retired BLM biologist, Jim Fergusson.  I was ready and willing to do that but at this point we had more important things to do.  If I come back in the spring hopefully I’ll have another shot at this.

I absolutely love this aspect of the work I’m doing.  It’s so rewarding to see how all the components of these multi-faceted projects come together: the characters involved, the old data sheets, outdated techniques, archives, etc.

The end…?

Misty Sanone

Uncompahgre Field Office

Montrose, CO



“0 Hours Remaining”

It’s surreal to see “0 hours remaining” in my time sheet submission box.  I have been reading old blogs and reflecting on my experience, noting that the reader is a different person than the author was.  I scrutinize my writing as a better scientist now and ask questions that I didn’t know to ask before.  Granted I’m just now approaching the learning curve here in my final weeks as an intern, (I guess that’s normal for seasonal work).  So much to learn!

I started out so ambitious and motivated.  I was keying out a plant a day in my spare time, researching on my time off.  By the end of June, it dawned on my that most BLM offices are below 7500 ft. in the western deserts of the country, things I knew but didn’t really consider.  It’s hot out there!  I learned the importance of taking personal time seriously, cooling off, chilling out.  Four, ten-hour shifts are enough time spent practicing your trade.

I feel very lucky in the sense that my work here has been so varied.  I have touched every aspect of the scientific process including data collection, data entry, and data analysis.  I’ve accomplished this using various tools: maps, gps, ArcMap, excel, access, and Avenza, to name a few.  We have performed at least half a dozen different types of monitoring techniques on a regular basis. I’ve learned very applicable skills and also very practical things, like how to dress and prepare properly while working in the field, how much water to bring to work, and the beauty of large brimmed goofy hats.

My favorite part of this work is watching all the components come together.  Lately, we have been working on the big cactus project with Sclerocactus glaucus, the Colorado Hookless Cactus.  In short, there is hopes to de-list this species.  My job was to compile the geospatial data from 3 field offices and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program in ArcMap.  The GIS specialist and I spent nearly a month fine tuning this data so we could get it down to one workable layer.  Through this experience, (by which an entire blog could be written) I went from having no knowledge base in ArcMap to being semi-competent with it.

When we were finally able to pull a random sample, we got to actually go out in the field and put it to work.  Last week we went out to do point-in-time monitoring with Carol Dawson and her crew from the state office, and the ladies from the Grand Junction Field Office.  I spend my time in the office looking at the old data, finding the best numbers and dates to determine which point we will visit next.  It is incredible.  I am being challenged and having so much fun.

One recommendation that I will abide by next season is to JOURNAL EVERY DAY!!! I have done so many  things this season that I have forgotten.  Especially these big projects need to be documented on a daily basis.  I will be religious about this in the future.

I already can’t wait for next season.  I have so much to build on the knowledge base I’ve acquired here at the Uncompahgre Field Office.  I’m leaving with a fresh feeling of just getting started, which is more than I could’ve asked for.  My experience with CLM has been PRICELESS.  THANK YOU!


Sclerocactus glaucus, “the most expensive easter egg hunt in the world”

Sunset over Crawford, Gunnison Sage Grouse habitat

Carol Dawson, Phil Krenning, Robyn Oster, and My Finger, easter-egg (cactus) hunting in a rocky patch of opuntia


Misty Sanone

Uncompahgre Field Office

Montrose, CO





The gift that keeps giving

Montrose, Colorado is a perfectly sized town of about 20K people.  It sits as a central location to everything a lover of the West covets.  The San Juans tower in the south, the Cimmarons to the east, and Black Canyon to the northeast.  The northern horizon holds the Gunnison Gorge and the Grand Mesa.  To the west, Paradox Valley, Escalante/Dominguez Canyon, and the Manti La Sals just before you get to Moab.  I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed.

The high deserts and red rocks in Escalante/Dominquez canyon are reminiscent of the Grand Staircase in Utah, one of my favorite places back home.  We spend a lot of time here, returning to monitoring sites of the Hookless Cactus, Sclerocactus glaucus and hunting for new populations.  I have developed a keen eye for cacti, to say the least.

Escalante canyon is riddled with seeps of perennial water flows that feed through cracks in the sandstone, creating habitat for several rare, “hanging garden” species such as Eastwood’s Monkeyflower, Mimulus eastwoodiae and the Giant Hellborine orchid, Epipactus gigantea.  The misty seeps are protected from the sun year-round and will undoubtedly bring my dog and I relief in the foreboding hot months ahead.

I was lucky enough to be invited down the Dolores River for a 3-day trip with the Rangers here in Montrose as the team botanist.  I was equipped with a map through the application Avenza on my phone, by which I was able to find various populations of rare and narrowly endemic species that occur along this unique river.  Among the species included the Naturita Milkvetch, Astragalus naturitensis, and 3 hanging garden species (including the aforementioned) in addition to the one and only Kachina Daisy, Erigeron kachinensis.  It was kind of dreamy to see all three of these in the same square meter.

Most of my time has been spent in sage grouse country above Crawford, on the north rim of the Black Canyon.  The Gunnison Sage Grouse, Centrocercus minimus is a federally protected species.  I have camped out on two lek counts and have had the pleasure of observing the birds dancing and popping on the ridge at dawn.  Soon we will be running transects in this habitat to monitor the vegetation.  Most of our work has been done in saltbush/greasewood shrublands, so this will be a change of pace.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in Crawford on corvid surveys.  They consist of walking or mountain biking along the 7 mile stretch of road that overlooks the West Elk mountain range.  I stop every 400 meters for 10 minutes, walk around with binoculars, and try to flush some scrub or pinyon jays out of the canopies so I can count them.  Last week I counted over 100 ravens.  The biologists at the BLM suspect that these intelligent birds may have a detrimental effect on the sensitive sage grouse population.

There is some curiosity about the Peregrine Falcon in the Uncompahgre Field Office, and I’ve had the opportunity to take part in a one-night raptor survey in Paradox Valley.  I woke up at 5 am with a scope and walked around Pinyon/Juniper forests, scanning the massive cliff walls.  It’s a good thing that I marked my camp on the GPS because it is SO easy to get lost out there.

While in Paradox, we surveyed an extremely isolated population of the Sandstone Milkvetch, Astragalus sesquiflorus.  You’ve never seen something so cute in your life.  My partner and I were able to find the boundaries of the population after a long days work, and later mapped it out in ArcMap.  It is so rewarding and interesting to see exactly where it is on a map after being there all day.  I’m really excited to learn more about GIS.  Now that I’ve received my access card, here in my SIXTH week, I can start working with our wonderful GIS wizard at the BLM.

I spend my spare time reading about Colorado’s flora, learning about birds, keying out and drawing plants, learning to love grasses (begrudgingly), and hiking my dog to a new beautiful place every weekend.  I left my undergrad with a good base in botany, but with a thirst for field experience, mostly a wanting to see how plants interact with their environment.  Here I am! I have a lot to learn, but this is the kind of work that just keeps giving, and I remember why I chose a major in biology.

See you in Chicago!