Mission Accomplished!

Hey everyone,

It has been about 2 weeks since my internship officially ended. The last month was a whirlwind of data management.

Labeling bags of seed after a very successful day of collecting towards the end of the season

First we had data sheets to complete and enter onto Seinet, a regional herbarium database. We also had some remaining seed collections to send off for cleaning and storage.

Sorting seeds by collection before sending them off to Oregon to be cleaned

Then we had to mount all the plant samples associated with our seed collections, which was my favorite part. I loved trimming the plants, positioning them on the paper, and gluing them down to make a beautiful herbarium sheet.

Fallugia paradoxa herbarium sheet

Heterotheca villosa herbarium sheet

Once the herbarium sheets were done, we sent some off to the herbaria at the University of New Mexico and the Smithsonian. The remaining third, we kept for our own office. This process included a large chunk of time spent trying to track down FedEx boxes large enough to fit them, before realizing that we could use non FedEx boxes.

In addition we had to write up an end of the year report for the field season, summarizing our collections, challenges, and accomplishments.

We went above and beyond and even left several helpful guides for next year’s crew, including a guide to future collection sites, general tips for internship duties, and a phenology chart to show when seeds mature on different plant species in the Taos area.

After we had finished all our Seeds of Success duties, we undertook the big project of organizing the office herbarium, which was in complete disarray. We made folders for each family, and alphabetized them. The herbarium cabinets looked great after we finished!

The herbarium cabinet looked infinitely better after we organized the collection by plant family.

Overall, I’m glad that I did this internship. It was a good way to experience field work, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was my first exposure to identifying herbaceous plants, since previously I had only taken a class on woody plant identification. I feel more confident about my ability to key plants and I’m definitely lot more familiar with the plants in the Taos area.

It was fun to be able to explore a new part of the country, and I enjoyed seeing various beautiful places. I really enjoyed the sub-culture of lifestyle medicine and healthy living in Taos.

Hiking up Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico, was one of my favorite things that I did while in Taos.

William’s Lake was one of my favorite places that I visited during my internship.

I was proud to have been part of such an important mission as an SOS intern. I take pride in the fact that what I did during the last five months will help make a tangible difference in the world. I’d like to thank my mentor Lillis Urban for her guidance and positivity. I’d especially like to thank my co-worker, who prefers to remain nameless, for her enthusiasm, vast amounts of plant knowledge, and patience with my occasional bouts of grumpiness. Without her, I would have been lost without someone to consult with and bounce ideas off. I was very fortunate to be paired with someone who complimented my weaknesses and benefited from my strengths.

Me with my mentor, Lillis Urban

As time passes, I will definitely miss things from my time in Taos. Lillis. The health food store, Cid’s, which I fell in love with. The farmer’s market. The mountains. The beautiful aspens. Taos left it’s mark on my heart, and I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

A Race to the Finish with Winter on its Way

Hi all!

So good news! We made our target collection number!

We were definitely feeling a bit downhearted when at the end of the second to last weekend of September, we hadn’t managed to make a single collection all week. We spent a cold night at 10,500 feet, in a tent with a broken zipper. We searched and searched, dropping 60 scouting points on the tablet in a matter of days, but couldn’t manage to find a population large enough or mature enough to collect.

We didn’t find seeds this day, but we did find some great scenery.

Then finally, in the 11th hour, we decided to check a Hymenoxys richardsonii population that we had scouted out earlier in the season, and by some grand gesture of grace by the universe, it was ready in force. We collected it eagerly, and finished up just as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Perfect timing! Just as we finished up with the collection, the sun went down.

Our campsite was very picturesque. Little did I know the freezing cold that awaited us come nightfall….

Unfortunately, my tent zipper broke, so in desperation I ventured forth from my somewhat warm sleeping bag, found some duct tape in the truck, and taped us in. Full disclosure: duct tape does not stick well when the temperature is near freezing.

The following week, our last chance to make our target number, we had considerably good luck. We decided to stop to check on a population of Rudbekia laciniata on our way back from an unsuccessful scouting trip, and found it ready to collect. We managed to make two more collections that week and ended it very proud.

In the first week of October, we made three collection, which had a positive effect on group moral. The week was not without problems however. We lost a lovely Fallugia paradoxa population when a construction crew smashed it, and another when the sides of a road were scraped flat.

One of the crispy looking sunflowers that we collected in early October

Then this week, we got off to a slow start due to forecasts calling for heavy rains and possibly snow. Tonight the temperature is supposed to dip to 20 degrees, not something that bodes well for people who are still hoping to work outside for another couple weeks. So instead, we sorted through some herbarium specimens in preparation for sending them off to the Smithsonian and the University of New Mexico down in Albuquerque.

We took advantage of the empty office on Columbus Day to sort through all our SOS collections and lay them in numerical order on the floor.

Our Southwest Seed Partnership collections, extra herbarium sheets, and some seeds labeled and ready to send out.

Looking ahead, we hope to keep collecting for a couple more weeks, but it looks like the weather might have other plans. I guess we’ll see! As it stands now though, the goal is to make as many collections as possible before lack of seeds and cold shut us down.

See you soon!


Seeds of Success Intern

BLM Field Office, Taos, NM


Hard Work Meets Good Luck, Eerie Aspens, and the Alpaca that Stole my Heart

Hey everyone!

Things are looking up for us meeting our target number of collections. We’ve made 10 collections in the last three weeks, 8 of those in the month of September! These last several weeks have been our best yet as far as making collections and covering a lot of ground while scouting goes.

Our situation wasn’t looking too good a week ago with regards to meeting our target collection goal. We had only 16 of the 35 collections that we needed. Our saving grace came in the form of the 10 collections we were able to claim that the SOS crew made last October (technically in the current fiscal year) and the 6 that we were able to make this last week in the Carson National Forest northwest of San Antonio Mountain.

We made a collection of Heterotheca villosa on this hillside. The valley was so beautiful that it didn’t look real. This picture doesn’t do it the justice that it deserves.

We drove through a beautiful aspen forest in the Carson National Forest near San Antonio Mt. I didn’t realize that New Mexico had aspen forests, so I was very pleasantly surprised!

I thought the aspen forests were gorgeous, but I must admit that they gave me a bit of an eerie unsettled feeling with their silent uniformity.

Cryptic messages like this one didn’t do much to settle my uneasiness as we were scouting.

One of the big things that has helped us out is that some of the populations that we’ve been finding are finally mature and ready to collect. We’ve been having a bit of a problem with only being able to find populations that are either past seed or not yet mature. Luck was definitely on our side this last week. In addition, employing some of Ella’s techniques that we picked up on last month has helped us as well. We’ve been covering more ground with scouting, and have even done a couple of camping trips. Spending one day a week in the office has helped us keep up with data sheets and make organized weekly plans.

On the first night of our camping trip, we stayed by a small lake and were treated to this lovely view just after sunrise.

Our tent bathed in ascetically pleasing early morning light

In the last month, we’ve found some sizable populations of species on our target list that will make good collections when their seeds mature in October. Specifically, we have found tons of Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama), Krascheninnikovia (Winterfat), and some Atriplex canescens (Four-wing saltbush). I’m also excited that 4 of the 6 collections that we made last week were Heterotheca villosa, a priority species for the Southwestern Seed Partnership.

The lovely Heterotheca villosa with its puffballs of seeds that are so satisfying to pluck off the stem

Me collecting Heterotheca villosa

This weekend, I spent a couple of days at the New Mexico Native Plant Society conference. There were some interesting speakers, including Thor Hanson, the author of The Triumph of Seeds, who spoke passionately about the way that even though many people are more removed from nature than ever, seeds are still integrated into all parts of our lives if we only know where to look. It was also very interesting to see Lillis Urban, my supervisor, give a presentation on the Seeds of Success programs in Santa Fe and New Mexico. It was neat to hear about some of the programs that the seeds that we are collecting will go towards in the future. For example, there is a program just starting to try to get going in New Mexico where inmates in prisons will use our seeds to grow native plants in order to increase the amount of native seed available for use in restoration projects.

During one of the field trips for the conference, I fell in love with this alpaca. He was so fluffy and adorable!

As for the rest of the month, I’m looking forward to making the three collections needed to meet our target number, and hopefully many more! I really think we can finish out the collecting season strong!

Until next time,


Seeds of Success Intern

Taos, NM BLM Field Office

Escape from Ute Mountain, Catching Skippers, and other Tales and Challenges from the Life of an SOS Intern


The bulk of July and August have just flown by. I can’t believe that August is already nearly over!

A beautiful sunset at the Wild Rivers Recreation Area

Over the past couple of months, I have found that being an SOS intern comes with a serious learning curve. I think nostalgically back on the days when I naively assumed that a population of plants would all go to seed at the same time. Instead what we’ve found is that often populations will consist of a mix of plants with either mature and immature seeds, or a mixture of both. The most notable population that presents this problem in my experience is Heterotheca villosa, a small yellow aster. In many of the populations that we have found, many of the individuals will have mature and immature seeds, buds, and flowers all at the same time! This can make timing collections a little confusing sometimes.

Me pressing some herbarium specimens in the field

It can also be a little rough estimating how much seed you can expect to get from a population. In order to do so, we look at plants throughout the population, and estimate the average number of seeds per fruit as well as the average number of fruits per plant. From these numbers, we can calculate about how many plants we’ll need to collect from in order to reach the SOS goal of 10,000 seeds. We underestimate a bit in our calculations to account for seed loss due to factors like insect damage or unfertilized ovules.

A collection of Elymus elymoides sitting out to dry

Up until a couple weeks ago, my co-worker and I had been having a rough time finding plant populations that were ready for collecting. Instead we ended up with a list of future collections, and very little to actually collect. By the beginning of August, we had accumulated a list of about 20 populations that we were focused on monitoring. We were having some trouble estimating when populations would be ready to collect, which resulted in us really fixating on the 20 plant communities on our list, checking them more often that was probably necessary for fear of losing the seeds in the population.

The meadow that we affectionately named The Meadow of Dreams is one of my favorite places that we have scouted out for plant populations. There are about 5 populations that we are monitoring there, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous!

We spent quite a bit of July out at Ute Mountain, where we really felt the effects of the monsoon season rains that this area experiences. Nearly every afternoon that we went to Ute Mountain, we were rained out. It sometimes became a race against time where we tried to hurry to get off of the dirt roads surrounding Ute Mountain before they became too sloppy to escape. Once as we were trying to leave in a hurry, we were stopped short where a chunk of road had collapsed due to rain runoff. One half had crumbled into itself, and the other half was covered by a large puddle. Luckily there was another road out, but it definitely added a bit of excitement to our escape.

One of the infamous Ute Mountain afternoon storms rolling in

So all in all, there was a bit of metaphorical floundering in the beginning of the collecting season, but we started to get the hang of things and stayed pretty organized as time went on. During the month of July, we made about 3 or 4 collections. Unfortunately, this isn’t anywhere near our target number of 35 collections by the end of September. Clearly our techniques needed some refining.

Help came to us in the form of Ella, one of the SOS interns from Santa Fe. This is Ella’s second year of being an intern, so she is super organized and has some pretty good strategies. She came and worked with us for several days, and during that time, we made 4 collections. She recommended several useful strategies, including dedicating one day each week to office work and planning, and trying to plan scouting trips that cover the most amount of ground possible. The idea of having a really well thought out and organized plan set in place each week really appeals to me, and my co-worker and I plan on implementing the one day in the office per week technique. It was also nice to hear that in most cases, it’s alright to collect off the side of the road, something that my co-worker and I had thought was a big no no in all circumstances except for gravel back roads. Additionally Ella gave us some good advice on prioritizing, and how sometimes you have to let less important collections go for the sake of having time to make more important ones. It was a little embarrassing at first to admit that we needed some help and tips, but I’m  glad that I was able to overcome those feelings and be receptive to Ella’s teaching. I’m very grateful to Ella, because she definitely changed the way that we are going to focus our efforts in the future. I’m excited to try out some of her techniques, and try to get as close to our target collection goal as possible by the end of next month.

A breathtaking view of the Rio Grande Gorge from the area surrounding Ute Mountain

One of the most interesting things we did last month was help out with a butterfly study in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area. The study aimed to look at whether female Anasazi Skippers were making it back into the Rio Grande Gorge to lay their eggs after feeding on nectar from the campground loop on the plateau above. We helped capture the skippers, and mark them with paint along the campground loop. Then we tried to resight skippers down in the canyon and determine if they had been marked up on the loop.

I was super proud of my tent positioning here on the edge of the gorge at Wild Rivers. It was very picturesque.

A view from the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge

A top view of the Rio Grande Gorge. We hiked down to look for marked Anasazi Skippers.

The reeds in the gorge where the Skippers lay their eggs

A skipper that I marked with paint. The patterns and colors indicated the area where the skipper was marked and the individual’s ID number.

All in all, it has been an incredibly busy month filled with much learning and beautiful scenery. I’m excited to try out some new strategies and try my best to meet our collection goal by the end of September!

Until then!


BLM Field Office

Taos, NM


Welcome to Taos

Wow! It’s hard to believe that already a month has gone by since I embarked on this journey to begin work as a Seeds of Success (SOS) intern in Taos, New Mexico. It all started with a road trip from eastern Oregon to Taos, which my mom and I completed in 2 and a half days, leaving me just enough time to drop my stuff at my newly acquired apartment and drive to Albuquerque. There my mom and I snagged a couple hours of sleep before I hopped on a plane to Chicago, and she hopped on one back to Oregon.

One of the places my mom and I stopped on our trip down was Arches National Park. Here’s a view of Delicate Arch.

The training in Chicago took place at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and covered a myriad of topics including Seeds of Success (SOS) protocol, common plant families in the western United States, and field sampling techniques. The garden was honestly one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been, and I highly recommend it to anyone that happens to find themselves in the Chicago area. In addition, the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower is a pretty awesome sight if you enjoy heights and great views!

On the observation floor of Willis Tower, they had clear boxes sticking off the side of the building. They made for great pictures, and spectacular (if a touch unnerving) views from 103 stories up. I personally loved being in them!

A view of one of the islands in the Japanese Garden section of the Chicago Botanic Garden

I went to the butterfly garden and was able to get this picture of one of the beautiful butterflies!


A huge statue of Carl Linnaeus on one of his botanizing adventure at the Chicago Botanic Garden

I fell in love with the bonsai exhibit in the courtyard of the building where we had our training classes.


A tiny white house in the miniature train garden

After returning to Taos, I had the chance to get a little more settled in my apartment before heading off to another training in Santa Fe. We learned about safety in the field, and were introduced to key people in the New Mexico SOS program. We also were told about the origins of the SOS program, the formation of which was prompted by a particularly bad wildfire season around the year 2000 that placed attention on the lack of native adapted seeds for use in restoration work. I was able to meet my mentor and supervisor Lillis Urban, and learn how to use the office tablet to document our seed collections. After the classroom portion of the training, our group of interns, BLM, and Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) employees headed down to Red Canyon Preserve in southern New Mexico to do some camping. We made our first SOS seed collection there, and got some practice filling out the data sheet that we use for all our collections. We also practiced determining soil type and color, and pressing plant specimens for use in herbarium sheets.

During the Santa Fe portion of the training, we took a short hike to see some petroglyphs. I had never seen petroglyphs before, so it was a really nice treat!

It took me forever to find a place for my tent where I didn’t think the wind would blow it over, but when I did pick a spot, it ended up being on a bunch of rocks. Not my best thought out plan, but it sure was an ascetically pleasing spot!

A gorgeous sunrise that I saw while sleeping in the truck bed during our training at Red Canyon Preserve

Our tiny tent village before a brief downpour. The wind here meant business!

During training, we ventured into the mountains, where, much to my delight, we saw some trees!

On our way back to Taos, we stopped by the University of New Mexico herbarium, and were able to see beautiful herbarium sheets like this one.

After that training, my fellow SOS intern and I spent a week in the Taos BLM office orienting to the resources available to us, finishing the data sheet from our Red Canyon Preserve collection, taking a 5 hour long defensive driving course online, and learning how to change the tire on our work truck. It was a good thing we practiced, because it took us nearly an hour and a half, and now we know at exactly which point to place the jack.

This last week that I just finished up was the first one where me and my partner got a hands on taste for what our job will be like for the bulk of the season. Basically what we will do is go into areas managed by the BLM or Forest Service, scout out populations of native plants, and collect seeds from populations that meet certain requirements. The seeds then are sent to a special seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon so that they can be cleaned and stored. A portion of those seed can then be used in research and the development of growing protocols, so that one day farmers can grow these native plants, resulting in a greater number of native seeds being available for use in restoration work. For a population to qualify for an SOS collection, there must be more than 50 individuals and you must collect at least 10,000 seeds. However, you can’t collect more than 20% of the ripe seeds in the population within a single day.  To this end, my partner and I spent Monday scouting out a few populations to see if they were large enough for a collection, and Wednesday making our first official solo seed collection. The lucky plant was Elymus elmoides, a grass otherwise known as Bottlebrush Squirreltail. The collection was fairly simple, although it was made a bit harder by the heat and the sun. Being out in the field was exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. It made me realize all the things that I don’t know or am unsure of. It was hard not knowing the names of most of the plants that I was seeing and trying to estimate if a population would yield enough seeds for a collection. I have so much to learn, but I know that with practice and dedication, I will eventually hit my stride.

This area at the base of Ute Mountain is where I spent the bulk of my field time during this past week.

Off in the distance, you can see the light colored band of plants that made up our first collection.

Afternoon storms showing up over the not so distant mountain range have been the norm during our few days of field work there.

After spending a couple days in the field, we attended a training on how to tell the difference between wasps, bees and flies (harder than you might think!) on Thursday, as well as a training on soil sampling techniques on Friday. It was interesting to learn more about bees, since that has never been something that I’ve known much about. I learned that in the United States, there are about 4,000 species of bees! I had no idea that there were so many, or that a quarter of those species can be found in New Mexico.

The location of our bee training

Moving down to New Mexico was a big step for me. I’m one of 5 children, and am very close to my family. Additionally I just graduated with my undergraduate degree last year. So this is my first time truly living on my own, outside of the sheltered safety of my family’s house or a college campus. Missing my family makes it even more difficult. To distract myself, and because I love adventures, I’ve done some exploring in my downtime. I made a journey to the Gorge Bridge, with its beautiful high up views, and the local Earthship community. The Earthship community fascinated me, and I honestly think that I might consider living that way some day. Earthships are an amazing type of self sustaining housing. Their walls are made from dirt filled used tires rescued from landfills. They produce their own power from solar and wind energy, and get all their water from precipitation. The water goes on to be used 4 times with filtering in between, and the houses include greenhouse space for growing food, even in the dead of winter!

Here are some basic Earthship models.

The greenhouse portion of the visitor center Earthship

I’ve quickly discovered a natural health culture here in Taos, which I love. The farmer’s market is spectacular, and there is a grocery store within a mile of my apartment that sells all sorts of organic, non-GMO, and gluten free foods, as well as a whole array of vitamins and natural health and body care products. It is probably the most wonderful and fascinating store that I have ever been in.

Since I have been here in Taos, I have learned so much, both in my internship and in my extracurricular adventures. I am so excited to continue exploring and voraciously perusing new knowledge wherever I go!

Until next time!

Sierra                                                                                                                             Seeds of Success Intern                                                                                               BLM Taos, NM