About Lauren

Growing up in the Southwest I've been incredibly lucky to spend a lot of my time outdoors enjoying nature. I always loved watching nature shows and dreamed of being a zoologist. Although I am not a zoologist I think I am on my way to achieving an even better dream, becoming a botanist!

Leveling Up

As my internship starts to really wind down (only four more weeks left, where did the time go!?), I have been reflecting on how far I’ve come over the years. This isn’t my first rodeo, as some would say. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree back in 2012 I really didn’t have much of an idea about what I wanted to do. I was too focused on finishing school to plan much further. I didn’t even know field biology was an option until an ecology instructor mentioned her work as a contractor surveying endangered and threatened species in the bay area. I remember thinking, “wait, I can find a job working outside? Cool!” I really had no idea what I was getting into.

And so I have worked many seasonal field positions over the years. I started out wanting to work with wildlife and soon realized plants are way cooler (and they don’t move, hence surveys at ungodly hours are not required!). It took a year or two to be able to secure work during the off season (other winters I did restaurant work and worked at my local ski area or traveled with whatever savings I had accumulated, volunteering while traveling makes this much more feasible). Each year the position lasted a little longer and paid a little better. Each year I learned more and made some great contacts. This accumulation of experience and contacts eventually led me to graduate school (Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern and our favorite place the Chicago Botanic Gardens) and then to this internship, which is part of my graduate program requirements.

This internship has been an excellent experience to apply my past experience in the field and the knowledge I gained in school. While most of my previous experience has been in vegetation surveying, this position helped me to learn a lot about rare plant monitoring. On top of the expected duties of interns in the rare plant monitoring program I also worked on independent projects.

One project, which will also be part of my graduation requirements for my master’s degree, has been species distribution modeling, a skill I acquired during my graduate course work. Using MaxEnt, I modeled current and future predicted ranges for Sclerocactus glaucus, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This species is up for re-evaluation of status, so my mentor is working on supplying the US Fish & Wildlife Services with information related to the species. It’s been really fulfilling to be able to utilize the skills I acquired in grad school to this project, like researching peer-reviewed articles, running models (with the help of Arcmap) and technical writing. I’m excited that my report will be included in the official report provided to USFWS.

I’ve also been working on habitat assessments for Sclerocactus glaucus using data from the BLM AIM (Assessment Inventory Monitoring) program. As much of my field experience has been with this program, is was really cool to be able to use the data.

As I finish up here I am happy to report that I will be working again shortly. I have been offered a permanent (well long term contract anyways) full time job here in the Denver area. I’m excited to have finally gained more permanent employment, though I will miss being in the field a lot! While this job is mostly office work, it is within the realm of field biology and I know I will learn a lot. This really is a big transition for me! I haven’t lived anywhere longer than 1 year since 2012. It will be really nice but also a little weird for me to not be moving around constantly. But I think it is time for me to settle down and pass the torch along.

For all you out there just starting out, have patience and enjoy this time. Every position offers you the opportunity to learn and gain experience and make new friends and great contacts. To be honest, I haven’t had to interview for a job in years. Once you establish yourself as a hardworking, helpful, intelligent individual people will look out for you. They will offer you jobs or recommend you to other people. Be open to positions that you might not think are that great. My first paid field position wasn’t something I thought would be cool. I figured I would stick it out and get the experience. It turned out to be a great experience where I made great friends and started making good contacts. On the contrary, the positions I was most excited for turned out to be less than ideal.

I know I will miss the excitement of figuring out what my next adventure will be. I will miss the adventure of moving somewhere new, remote and wild. I will miss the adventure of making new friends in desolate places. I will miss living in crazy, middle of no-where places where you can see the milky way from your backyard. I will miss camping in the middle of nowhere with my crew, just finding a decent enough spot off a dirt road to park the truck and pitch your tent. I will miss the long, hot, dusty days in the field finding cool rocks and getting real intimate with all those plants out there. Long story short there is a lot I will miss!

But I’m excited for my next adventure, one that delves into realms I have yet to experience. I am ready to “level up.” I am excited for all of you too! Happy Adventures and Good LUCK!

Where did the time go?

It’s almost fall and the field season is winding down. Yesterday it hailed here in Denver (technically Lakewood) and some of it has stuck to the ground, looking like snow. The air is crisp and the leaves are starting to turn. And I am clinging to summer while I watch it slip through my fingers having gone much too quickly.

It’s been a great field season. My coworkers are wonderful and I will miss them so, especially Sam Andres, my co-star in this adventure. She will be moving on soon and I wish her the best of luck. She has been awesome to work with and I know she is going to do some awesome things!

Sam setting up a monitoring plot in western Colorado

This summer we often ventured to the western slope, to the drought plagued lands past the Rocky Mountains. While the drought is pretty depressing to witness, I must admit I like the heat and enjoyed baking out in the sun. We worked with a lot of cool plants. Unfortunately conditions were rough and many either didn’t flower or I missed the flowering. What was really cool was learning the different monitoring methods. Some plants we did demography monitoring, where data is collected for tagged individuals over many years. Other plants were tallied by the numbers of vegetative and reproductive individuals. Yet others we did frequency monitoring. Each method is applied depending on the life history of the plant, some of which aren’t completely known. Methods are taken from the Measuring and Monitoring handbook. This handbook goes really in depth into the statistical methods necessary for sampling sufficiency and for appropriate analysis. Math isn’t my strong suite so learning these formulas is super helpful for me!

Checking precipitation monitoring devices at a Sclerocactus glaucus monitoring site

While my coworkers weren’t thrilled about this species, as it is so small you have to kneel on the ground to get appropriate data, I think this may have been one of my favorite species (Physaria congesta). It’s so cute!

Though many of our rare species occur on the western slope, we had other fun destinations as well. We traveled to northern central Colorado a few times, surveying plants in the Kremmling Field Office. One trip we collaborated with a botany class from a Colorado University. We always had a solid crew of individuals always ready to help us whenever we worked in Kremmling.

Phacelia formosula

Our Kremmling friends helped us to monitor Phacelia formosula, here pictured at a newly established demography monitoring plot (this species has been historically monitored using frequency)

One fun adventure was near Canon City where we helped local BLM specialists identify a possible rare species to monitor.

Hiking to a possible population of Penstemon degeneri

Nope, it wasn’t Penstemon degeneri

One species that we monitored was in a vastly different ecosystem than what we normally worked in. This was Eutrema penlandii, a small alpine plant. This trip was a challenge because we were working in cold, wet climate with a lot of people from different agencies. We needed to ensure that monitoring efforts were done consistently across the various groups of people, many who had a lot of experience and weren’t about to be ordered around by interns. Though past years there had been some monitoring inconsistencies, we managed to keep it all together and collect some good data!

Sam et al monitoring Eutrema penlandii, a plant so small you had to get down real close and part all the vegetation to identify it

This guy was trying to steal our food while we worked

Pretty alpine plant

Pretty pretty

While we completed a lot of monitoring and I am very proud of our work, we also had some fun adventures along the way.

Full moon over Meeker, CO. Staying in Meeker was nice. Few food options, but a very nice park near the hotel where we gazed upon the full moon:)

My mentor Carol and Phil while we tour a seed farm that grows out native seed for research and restoration purposes

Stick works in Vail. Even though I was a very grumpy girl that day, Carol had us stop in Vail on our way back from Meeker to see this stick art. This really cheered me up!

Our adventures have been great! Though I will be sad to move on in ~6 weeks time, I will always remember this experience fondly:)


Western Regression

I almost cried when I saw the mountains again, I was so happy. Driving west from Chicago I wondered what my internship would be like at the BLM Colorado State Office in Denver, CO. Although I have spent a lot of time doing field work between undergrad and my graduate degrees, I had little experience with Rare Plant Monitoring, which is the focus of my internship.

The team searching for Oreocarya reveallii

Monday morning I met the team I will be working with and I remembered how amazing everyone is in this field. By Tuesday we were headed out to the four corners regions to monitor Oreocarya revealii, a fairly recently described species. It was exciting to read about all the research that informed our monitoring efforts, from genetic studies to research concerning edaphic habits. The methods used to understand this species were ones that I learned about in my graduate coursework, so I was quite pleased that the knowledge I gained in school was carrying over to work. While O. revealii is considered BLM Sensitive, it is still being determined whether it should be listed as threatened or perhaps even endangered. This is where our team’s efforts come in. By studying the demographics of the species over time, we can help inform the US Fish and Wildlife Service about how this plant is doing. Is the population increasing? Or decreasing? Or is it remaining stable? What threats might endanger the species and can these be abated?

My CLM Internship mentor Carol Dawson.

After spending a couple days with my mentor Carol, and the rest of the team, Phil and Sam, I know this will be an awesome summer. I am so happy to be able to work with such amazing people doing amazing work!

Walking back to the truck after completing a monitoring plot.