About Samantha Andres

I would consider myself an ecosystem ecologist interested in how anthropogenic changes influence ecological communities. The world we live in is a complex and dynamic system, and I wish to use science as a tool to better understand the implications and costs of some of the rapid changes that are upon us. With a greater understanding of how our world is changing, we can more effectively pinpoint areas of emphasis in management and conservation strategies in order to more efficiently protect ecosystem processes and biodiversity. This is a facet of research for which both my mental and moral compasses align, leading me to believe it is a path worth striving towards.

Turning over a new leaf…

When you change your focus from limitations to boundless possibilities, from doubt and fear, to love and confidence, you open your world in entirely new ways. However, change is not something that necessarily comes easy….Albert Einstein once wrote, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” To truly change…change one’s ideas, habits, perspective, etc. means that one has to have the courage to leap into the unknown. The unknown can be scary, the unknown can often pose an effort of resistance to change. However, it is this resistance that is the only painful aspect of change.

Things are changing rapidly, for all of us. A new job, a new life, maybe a vacation, perhaps back to school. A shift in gears and a turning of leaves (literally). Fall is on its way, and although today is 80 degrees and bluebird skies in Denver, the crisp mornings and evenings lend homage to the onset of Autumn.

Sunset on some cottonwoods behind my house

My experience here at the state office for the Colorado BLM has been one for the books. A big step in my overall career building experience, as I have had the opportunity to spend weeks in the field conducting rare plant surveys, and also working behind the scenes with the data, writing technical reports, and even establishing a new demographic monitoring protocol. To be able to use my skills in and out of the field here has been one of the things I have been the most thankful for in this job, as a lot of my past experiences with field work have led me to submerge myself in only a few aspects of the scientific method, whereas here I have been given the opportunity to do much more.

Exploring Canyons of the Aincients National Monument 
on our way back home from the field

My time here in Colorado has also truly solidified my interest and ambition to continue to pursue education, and with the way things are looking that very well might be possible in the coming months. I have been speaking with a potential adviser about a scholarship opportunity that seems very promising, working on a project well-aligned with my interests in conservation biology, and forest pathology, in a place that would be very, very far away, but would be a great experience and practice in leaping into the unknown…I have been waiting to go back to school for a while, as it is expensive, funding is limited, and to be honest…I have been very picky in choosing an adviser, a project theme, and a place to commit myself to living for an extended period of time. It is a frustrating process, especially when many of the advisers that I would like to work with seemingly have endlessly full labs, limited funding, or don’t even respond to my emails…The frustration makes it hard to keep trying, but with a little patience, “the right wave will come, and when it does, grab your board, jump on, and ride it for all its worth” (Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart). We will see how things shake out in these next few months…

Driving towards Independence Pass on the way to the 
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

While I will not miss the Denver metro area, or the hot muggy summer days…I will miss a lot of things about my time here. My garden, my house, my awesome crew and co-worker Lauren, the nooks and crannies of the Colorado Rockies, full strength beer. Up next, I am headed to Moab in a week to start a new job with the USGS. The desert has always been a place that has excited pieces of my soul in strange ways, though I have never thought I would be capable of living in the conditions. A summer in Colorado has been rough for me, as I am acclimatized to temperate, cool, rain and fog. From what I hear, the fall in Moab is great though, and I sure am excited to get some red dust all over my bike again.

My backyard featuring way too many peaches

Cheers to a great season of growth, pursuit, and experience! It has been a pleasure meeting you all, and I look forward to keeping in touch as everyone moves into their next adventures. And also…if anyone wants to come visit Moab, or plans to pass through on their way to wherever they may be headed next…give me a shout!

All the best,


Morning Mate with a view (Somewhere in Utah)

Colorado Highs and Lows

Whelp, its been a while…but I guess the blog is back up and it is about time we all get in touch and see what everyone has been up to this summer.

Things here in Colorado have been pretty swell. With my internship is coming down to the final few weeks, which is crazy to think how fast it has gone. Field work is slowing down, and that fall feeling is starting to get in the air.

View from the top of Mt. Sherman after a day of sampling

Some hi-lights over the past few weeks have included:

A week spent in Fairplay, CO (the town that the inspiration for the TV show South Park was formed from) sampling for a tiny plant in the mustard family called Eutrema penlandii. This tiny guy is an ice age relict, more commonly found at high latitudes, and closely related to Eutrema japonica (wasabi). All in all it was a good week, with a lot of folks crammed in a small cabin, a few ptarmigans, a less than wet wetland (due to the pretty serious drought Colorado has been experiencing), and a fox that seemed to want to be a part of the field work too!

Photo of E.penlandii with a penny for scale. 

Gentiana algida (arctic gentian)at the field site

A big 'ol bugger (thumb for scale)

Some folks taking a summit hike after work

Our friend the fox

35% fox

Some additional highlights the last few weeks have been a backpacking trip in the maroon bells, a week sampling for North Park Phacelia (P.formosula) and establishing a demographic monitoring protocol in order to get more information on the species life history, and a really cool t-shirt find at a thrift store.

North Park Phacelia (P.formosula)


Me sporting quite possibly what might be the coolest t-shirt ever made
Lots of Castilleja in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

More Castilleja

Now for some low lights of the last few weeks:


Currently, Colorado is experiencing an extreme drought, with some of the driest conditions recorded since 2002. This in addition to Colorado’s naturally dry climate is very apparent. The drought has significantly effected some of our monitoring plans this year, causing us to skip our species diversity assessment (Modified Whittaker) plots up in the high country, since nothing was blooming. We have also had a rough trip out to Montrose sampling Eriogonum pellinopholim, with most of our plants looking barely alive, and perhaps dormant (unable to put out vegetative or reproductive growth given the severe environmental conditions).


If you’r ever in Rangeley, CO…don’t do it.

Can’t wait to hear more about what everyone else has been up to this summer and where their paths may take them next! My next stop once work is finished up here for CLM is Moab to work with the USGS studying the effects of drought and climate change in dry land ecosystems. If anyone is passing through Utah on their way to their next adventure come say hi!



When gnats attack

The last few weeks here in the Colorado State Office have been a whirlwind of change. It is 90 degrees today, and I look back to last month when it was snowing and hailing, and wonder: what happened to spring?

Orobancheae fassiculata found while scouting White River sites.

Though the flowers in their full abundance, and the sweet smells in the air throughout the front range do resemble the shift in seasons I know so well, the desert is quite a different story. The last few drought years here in Colorado have really taken a blow to some of its Western landscape.

This last week we have spent searching for two oil-shale loving penstemons. Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis (White River Penstemon), and Penstemon grahamii.

Photo of Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis

P. grahamii was listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 when it appeared that extensive petroleum exploration could endanger the plant. The greatest potential threat to White River penstemon is also oil and gas development. Habitat disturbance from off road vehicle (ORV) use and trampling from cattle and sheep may be a factor influencing these plants, but these effects have not been sufficiently monitored (USDI-FWS, 2010).

This week we were lucky enough to scout, seek, and sample another population of White River Penstemon, however our search for Graham’s Penstemon was a lot more bleak. The drought appears to have effected the plats a lot more this year than in the past.

Additionally, the cedar gnats seem to have done a lot better with the drier years leading to a flesh feeding frenzy as soon as the females are ready to mate and lay eggs. In two of our days of field work, I was absolutely drenched in gnats so thick it was hard to even read my data sheet as I was writing. I made a mask out of a shopping bag, it was glorious.

Despite the gnat attack, it has been a pretty great week in Rangeley, CO. With some half-decent tacos consumed, a baby antelope and mule deer antler found, and a lot of desert botanizing, I now look forward to the weekend in preparation for the CLM training workshop next week.

Me and my fellow crew comrades doing field work, and a mule deer shed.

Hope to meet a few of you there.




Me loving life.



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010. Species assessment and listing priority assignment for White River penstemon (Penstemon scariosusvar. albifluvis. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Denver, Colorado. 17p.

From Sea to Snow to Sand

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

“The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

My drive out to Colorado began on the foggy North Coast of California. I packed up my car, took a few final moments in the company of the Ocean, cracked open Desert Solitare and headed east.

Having been to the deserts of Southern California only once, the opportunity to spend some time in the deserts of Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado seemed like the perfect opportunity to kill a bit of time on the drive out. I’ve always been fascinated by the desert- the dramatic contrast of the landscape, the strategic adaptations, and resilience of the life forms that exist among it, the hidden gems that exist within it. The sense of calm one can reach in the absence of noise at night, under a spectacular portrait of the nights’ sky.

A few bike rides, and slot canyons later I arrived in Denver, only to find that I would be heading back to the high deserts of Colorado in my first few weeks of my internship. For the next few months, I will be working out of the Colorado BLM State office under State botanist Carol Dawson doing rare plant demography and monitoring throughout the State.


A bit about the work:

The threatened and endangered species monitoring program out of the Colorado State office began in 2004 with nine plant species Federally listed under the Endangered Species act, and four candidate species that primarily occur on BLM land. The monitoring program is unique in that for each species, the State Office has employed a demographic monitoring approach to develop a greater understanding of the landscape, and population-level dynamics of each species.

The monitoring of such species is important towards determining the status of imperiled species, at the population and range-wide level, and their potential future condition given different management actions, and environmental stochasticites. Additionally, this monitoring program is important in developing adequate and efficient recovery measures using the best available scientific information possible.

Week 1: Astragalus debequaeus

Astragalus is member of the bean family (Fabaceae). It is considered to be imperiled at the global and state level. A. debequaeus is known only from the Colorado River Valley in Delta, Garfield and Mesa Colorado.

Astragalus is the largest genus of plants in the world, with over 3,000 described species. Rarity and Endemism are common in Astragalus given that the species has a tendency to speciate by the means of edaphic specialization (colonizing a specific soil substrate often confined to a narrow geographic range).

Astragalus debequaeus is a prime example of edaphic specificity, known only from the Atwell Gulch member of the Wasatch formation. A. debequaeus also seems to really enjoy colonizing the steepest, rockiest slopes, making for fun and mildly dangerous sampling sites.

Overall, it was a good first week, with two new macroplot sites scouted, and sampled, and a few tumbles taken.

Week Two: Sclerocactus glaucus

Week two began with a trip back out to Western, Colorado to sample the Colorado Hookless Cactus: Sclerocactus glaucus. S. glaucus populations occur primarily on alluvial benches along the Colorado and Gunnison rivers and their various tributaries. Since 2007, Denver Botanic Gardens and BLM have established over ten monitoring plots to gain a deeper biological understanding of S. glaucus.

A grand majority of known occurrences of S. glaucus occur on BLM managed lands, while a number of other occurrences occur on private lands. Potential threats to this species include: oil and gas development, grazing, and ORV use. Other potential threats include: Climate change (specifically drought-induced effects), predation, and parasitism by the cactus-boarer beetle (Moneilema semipunctuatum).

Unlike A. debequaeus, from the S. glaucus sites we visited, I noticed a much different composition of habitat-types at each site location. One interesting thing we found at one of the sites we sampled was an interesting composition of crypto-biotic soil crusts (a living layer of lichen, moss, microfungi and cyanobacteria that colonize the top layer of soil in many desert landscapes).

Sclerocactus glaucus


For more on cryptobiotic soils: https://www.nps.gov/articles/seug-soil-crust.htm

Overall, it was a good second week with a few sites showing promise of new recruitment, and a few showing signs of potential decline. For the rest of the week, I will tend to the tasks of data entry, and the further examination of soil crust samples from Sclerocactus sites. For the weekend, I look forward to finishing up some things in my garden, mushroom hunting, and getting some more dirt on my bike.

Until next time,