Until We Meet Again

The past 5 months working at the San Bernardino National Forest have been filled with so many amazing new experiences. While I didn’t move states away (or relocate at all really) for this internship, this summer has allowed me to meet these familiar mountains in a whole new way.

On the very first week working here, I realized that the team I was becoming a part of was filled with so many knowledgeable people ready and eager to share their knowledge with us. From botanical and wildlife knowledge to some of the forest’s best views and swim holes, everyone we worked with opened up to us and made us part of the team. It’s hard to encapsulate all of the things we learned this season and it would be impossible to mention all of the great moments we’ve had. So here are some parts that stand out to me:

Rare Plants!

Early on in the season, we got to do a lot of T&E plant surveys! While a lot of the plants that we worked didn’t have the big showy flowers that many people think of when they’re talking about cool flowers (except maybe Lillium paryi), the plants we worked with had a subtle beauty and unique characteristics you might miss if you aren’t looking for them.

The small black dots on the inside of the petals on Linanthus killipii were so important to us for telling these guys apart from the other small white flowers nearby.
The translucent windows on the petals of Phacelia exilis were always awe-inspiring
Here’s Castilleja lasioryncha and her unique pillowy flowers

These are just a few examples of the rare plants we surveyed this year. I don’t know if I’ve ever unknowingly walked past these plants during my past visits to the SBNF, but I’m glad to say I won’t in the future. A huge thank you to Joseph and Katie for sharing so much knowledge with us out in the field, and to Scott Eliason and Drew Farr for being great resources to us whenever we brought back common plants to key out.


Another great part of our season was getting to work at the Green Thumbs restoration events. It’s been so great getting to meet so many people with a passion for working with plants. Our biggest event this year was National Public Land’s Day and it was extra special because of all the prep work. Some of my favorite moments on this forest were actually on the days I spent shoveling mulch with the team! Thanks Koby and Diego for taking us under your wings and always being such a blast to work with :’-)

2023 Mulch Fest!
It was also SO special because some of my favorite people were there. Thanks to my wonderful partner and family for coming out to help with our event and getting to see the work I’m so proud to be doing. Even Smokey the Bear made it out !


And of course, the seed collecting. The whole reason we’re here folks! When I learned about the work we’d be doing during our training in Idaho early this year, I was so excited to get out here and be around plants all day. The seed collecting we’ve done this year definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s been so fun being out with Ana Karina and our team collecting seed and working with people who are just as happy to be out there as we are. When I look back at all of the collections we’ve made this year, it makes me think about how quickly the time flew. One minute you’re collecting some of the first seeds of the season (like those of Ericameria linerifolia) and the next you’re on to some of the last of the year!

Ana Karina in a beautiful field of flowering and seeding Ericameria nauseosa

Beauty all around us

But, overall, some of the most memorable things I’ve done have been to sit in awe at the amazing views our forest has to offer. I didn’t get to capture every moment, but here are some pictures of a few of the best views and places I’ve visited this year.

That’s a wrap on this season! Endings are always so bitter sweet. But, I’m hoping this isn’t a goodbye to the SBNF and more of a “see you next time”. Thanks so much CBG for the great opportunity and for all of the doors it’s opened for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of this experience <3

To the monarchs, with love <3

This month, I wanted to make a quick post to honor monarch butterflies! While conversations about monarch butterflies have been relevant for years now and I’ve always admired their beauty, it wasn’t until working more closely with them that I started noticing them all around me. At the San Bernardino National forest, we work on several projects to help conserve and preserve the monarchs. We’ve participated in monarch surveys, milkweed mapping, milkweed seed collection, and cultivating and outplanting our various native milkweeds to restoration sites.

These are projects we’ve worked on sporadically throughout the last few months, but this month all of these projects have been much more closely intertwined! That’s because recently, many of our milkweed plants (a monarch caterpillar’s only food source) have set seed. This has led us to spend several days in the field, immersed in prime monarch habitat, to fill bags of milkweed seeds.

On our forest, we work with 3 species of milkweed. Like in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, they’re each particular about the conditions they like. One species is adapted to a climate that is moist and shady, Asclepias fascicularis, one is adapted to dry soils and full sun, Asclepias californica, and the one pictured above, Asclepias eriocarpa, is adapted to a habitat closer to the middle. While many of our milkweed populations are easily accessible and visible from the road, others require a bit more of a trek to find. We’ve been lucky to have access to a milkweed map on our forest that displays all of the milkweed populations mapped by the botanists that have come before us. This has made it easier for us to route to various populations ripe for collection.

All of this to say that these hours spent around monarch caterpillar food have blessed us with many surprise monarch caterpillar encounters!

These sightings are then photographed and recorded on Survey123 to keep track of the monarch population making use of the milkweed plants in our forest. And the seeds we collect go on to be used to cultivate milkweed plants to outplant in our various restoration projects. That means more food for monarch caterpillars!

With our changing climate and recent decrease to milkweed plant populations (and hence a decreased monarch butterfly population), it’s great to be a part of conserving and restoring monarch butterfly habitat!

August Adventure with Fish & Wildlife

This month Ana Karina and I had the opportunity to join the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and members of U.S. Fish & Wildlife in surveying for the Unarmored Three Spine Stickleback fish (UTS). These little fish, about the length of your pinky finger when mature, are a federally listed endangered species and a State of California Fully Protected Species.

The average size of an adult Unarmored Three Spine Stickleback fish

For some background, these UTS have a very limited distribution in California so the presence/absence survey we worked on was part of a bigger project for the future relocation of these fish. CDFW’s plan for the future translocation project was to first re-survey the locations in Big Bear where UTS presence had been recorded in the past. Then, once they had a better idea of the quantities of fish in each of these locations, they would plan how many fish they would relocate from each place.

On the day of our survey, we got to the pond and noticed we were in for quite the challenge! The surface of the pond shimmered a beautiful Shrek green… While the blanket of duckweed covering the pond had a sort of swampy beauty to it, we quickly realized it would be working against us in surveying for the UTS. So, we got in our waders and began working with our dip nets to try and clear some of the duckweed from the pond.

Dip netting served to both clear the surface of the pond to make our surveying easier, and as our first method of searching for the fish. As our second method, we tried seine netting the pond several times in different locations.

Whenever we scooped any debris out with our nets, we carefully combed through the contents in search of the elusive fish. We also made notes of other pond dwelling critters that we found, like various insects and toads!

One of the biggest and most precious fellas we were able to find that day :’-)

After several hours of scooping duckweed out of the pond, we moved on to our next survey method. For this method, we baited some traps with blue cheese and set them out on the west side of the pond. We let the traps sit for about 90 minutes while we began our final survey method, electrofishing, on the east side of the pond.

Getting ready to do some electrofishing, for science!

This project is on-going and, as it turns out, the results of the survey are actually pretty sensitive information. But, as someone who has never been in waders before and never conducted a wildlife survey, I wanted to share my experience with this incredible opportunity! With this being a federally listed endangered species, the reality is, not many people have had the pleasure of ever seeing these fish. I had a blast learning about the work that the CDFW and U.S. Fish & Wildlife do and am excited to see where the translocation project goes in the coming weeks!

Reclaiming the Wild and Sewing Seeds of Purpose

In July, our San Bernardino National Forest CLM team has continued to make more seed collections, but when I look back on the month, what really sticks out to me is all of the great restoration efforts we’ve been a part of! From monitoring and watering past restoration sites to preparing for the restoration of future sites, this month has really put into perspective the purpose of the work that we’re doing.

At the SBNF, the majority of our restoration crew is funded through our OHV restoration grant and it’s no wonder! A lot of the destruction caused to this forest is related to the popularity of OHVs and their misuse of our trails and FS roads. OHV riders often ride and stage in unauthorized areas and eventually these previously wild areas are reduced to compact dirt trails or patches. When this happens, it becomes difficult for some riders to differentiate between an authorized area and an illegal one. This in turn perpetuates the misuse of our forest.

The SBNF restoration team is constantly monitoring, fencing, and slashing new areas to prevent them from getting this bad. But, it can be difficult to keep up with the work that’s needed all over our mountain and sometimes these OHV damage sites require more than just fencing and slashing. That’s when our amazing volunteers come in and help us reclaim these wild areas.

Big Pine Flats Green Thumbs Volunteer Event

Big Pine Flats, the site of our most recent Green Thumbs volunteer event, is a beautiful area within our forest with a family campground and a relatively new OHV staging area. Before the designation of this staging area, the popularity of OHV riding in Big Pine Flats led to unauthorized staging and the destruction of some previously wild areas. The SBNF team has been working to regulate the use of this area now that we have a designated staging area and this month our volunteers were able to help us finish our Big Pine Flats restoration project!

The plan for this volunteer event was to outplant 158 of our greenhouse plants, and do some weeding, watering, and seed collection/dispersal. In the days leading up to the volunteer event, we visited the site and prepared the compact dirt for the incoming plant heroes: Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus and Penstemon grinnellii.

After digging 158 holes that week and loading up a couple of trucks with everything our volunteers might need for our planting day, we were ready for the big day! Our volunteers helped us plant the Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus and Penstemon grinnellii plants we’ve been growing in our nursery (from seeds collected by the SBNF restoration team!!) to speed up the restoration of the area and aid in species diversity. While working hard to restore this area, I was able to meet many of the lovely people volunteering that day. They each had their own individual experiences with volunteering and what the work means to them, but the running theme seemed to be a love for the outdoors and the satisfaction they get from helping us keep these areas beautiful and wild.

They helped us get all 158 plants into the ground and watered, then we moved on to weeding and seed collection. We collected native seeds from the plants in the surrounding area and walked around the restoration side scattering the seeds onto the ground. As we dispersed the seeds and our volunteer event came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel so happy about the work we do. We are helping to preserve the native species diversity of the area while creating events for like minded people to connect and be a part of meaningful work for the future of our forest. I’m so grateful for all of the help we had that day and can’t wait for our next volunteer event!

Prickly Predicaments

My first month working at the San Bernardino National Forest has been so much fun! After participating in a lot of amazing projects, we were finally able to start making some seed collections at the end of the month.

Our first collection site

Don’t Hug A Yucca

Interior goldenbush (Ericameria linearfolia) was one of our first contenders for seed collection. Big Bear has had an especially wet year, so even though these guys were among the first on our list for collection, they actually went to seed a bit later in the season than usual.

Ericameria linearifolia

On the day we showed up for collection, there were seeding Ericameria linearifolia as far as the eye could see. It was any new seed collector’s dream! I set out with my labeled bag and started collecting. After about half an hour of collecting from various smaller plants, I saw the perfect goldenbush. It was huge and every flower was seeding with very little seed dispersed! I knew I was going to be at this one for a while, so I crouched down beside it and then…

Not the yucca in question, but a close friend of his I’m sure

I literally sat on a yucca! It hurt so bad and started bleeding a bit immediately, but luckily the pain went away pretty quickly and I continued seed collecting. Regardless, contrary to what the sticker at our Regional Botanist’s desk might say, fellow seed collectors, don’t “Hug a Yucca”!

Thistle Be Interesting

At the same site, I helped Koby, a Biological Restoration Technician, with the collection of some native cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale). This plant species isn’t on our CLM seed collection list, but it’s on the general SBNF seed collection list and its elusive nature intrigued me.

See this thistle has what I’d refer to as a close evil invasive twin… Cirsium vulgare. Even the name sounds like bad news! Seeing them side by side in the pictures above, the differences are pretty clear. But in the field, when you’re worried about accidentally collecting from an invasive and looking at just one of the species on their own, the differences seem less apparent. During my first week on the job, I learned that several forestry techs at our office were wary of collecting from our native cobweb thistle and reluctant to pull bull thistle for fear of choosing the wrong Cirsium.

Since then, I took a special interest in telling these twins apart. I learned that bull thistle tends to look meaner, greener, and the leaf tips extend in a way that looks like it’s giving you the finger for just looking at it. Vulgare indeed… I also learned that bull thistle tends to like moister soils near water while cobweb thistle prefers well drained soils. Our native cobweb thistle also has dark seeds and the leaves are generally more narrow, sage green, and overall just look like they’re adapted to a drier climate. Having conversations about the differences between these two thistle has given a lot of us at the office more confidence around telling these two apart. I was so pleased to hear one of my coworkers come up to me the other day with a HUGE bag of thistle seed and proudly say “I’m not afraid of thistle anymore!”. Ana Karina and I are hoping to collect vouchers of these two thistles so they can be displayed side by side and help future SBNF employees and interns!

The Ants Beat Us To It!

The ants beat us to it! (Stipa speciosa)

Finally, we also collected Stipa speciosa (Desert needle grass). We learned that the tail on Stipa seeds bend to a right angle when the seeds are fully matured. What I was truly fascinated by, though, was finding this grass bunch where ants were harvesting seed! They were slowly pulling the seeds out and we saw a trail of ants hauling seeds back to the ant hill. I recently learned that some plants have a special relationship with ants in which ants will take the seeds with them underground effectively planting the seeds and allowing the plants to grow. Who knew ants were seed collectors and gardeners too!

I’m so excited to continue learning about our California natives and being a part of some great projects in the month of July. Also, we will finally be getting our own tablets!! I hope everyone is having as much fun as I’ve been having and I’m so glad to be a part of such a great program!