The end is only a new beginning

Coming out of July, I spent three days backpacking the Lost Coast in the King Range with two other BLM employees, Paul, a wilderness ranger and Aaron, a fish biologist. Access to the King Range is generally restricted to hiking; not just because of the wilderness designation but also the shear wicked topography limits wheeled vehicles. This black sands coastline has massive cliffs dropping straight down with intermittent rolling prairies, nothing like I had seen in Oregon.

Along the trail Paul was greeting fellow backpackers and answering questions, mostly about bears and suitable camp areas, while Aaron, placed temperature probes in streams. My purpose here was to map selected noxious weeds with the Juno unit and then pulling the exotics.

The last field night out some black bears raided camp, going straight for the bear cans and avoiding our tents that we were sleeping in altogether. The bears shook and rattled the cans, eventually waking everyone up as we shouted, “Hey Bear! Hey Bear!” until they wandered off into the night. Following the tracks next morning we assumed the bears probably checked out other adjacent backpacking camps for a meal.

Fast forward a week or two and Ive spent my time collecting seed for natives such as Curly Wallflower (Erysimum menzseii ssp. concinnum), which seemed to grow exclusively within patches of poison oak which definitely was not the most enjoyable seed collection. Yellowtinge Larkspur (Delphinium decorum) and Large-leaf Sandwort (Moehringia macropyhylla) both had their challenges but perseverance prevailed and we eventually had enough for SOS.

Now its August and I’m saying goodbye to the Arcata Field Office. I have never worked with a group of such supportive and passionate individuals who not only care deeply about our natural resources but about maintaining positive public relations. I have learned a tremendous amount of field methodology and techniques, as well as acquiring a stronger understanding of the botanical realm. I feel lucky to have experienced Northern California in ways most people have never seen.  Because I started in March I can still get some summer road trips in before the real world takes over my life again. Thanks to the Arcata Field Office, my terrific boss Jennifer and of course, thank you Krissa and Marian!

From East to West

With less than a month to go and a variety of enlightening experiences, it can still be hard to put the thoughts to ink, so…In lieu of the week long CLM training workshop for many interns, I participated in a grassland monitoring techniques workshop sponsored by the California Native Plants Society in Grass Valley, California. The class was taught by the charismatic John Willoughby, former BLM botanist for over 20 years. The workshop was helpful because he gave real-world monitoring research examples of success and failures from BLM, Fish and Wildlife, as well as, across the agency board. He continued emphasizing how critical establishing a practical and cheap monitoring technique would be to save headaches and still give valid results. Simple is often better! After John’s class, the most general but important take home message would be; most real world vegetative monitoring is qualitative, NOT quantitative. This is because many qualitative methods are extremely time and labor intensive, accounting for a sometimes a giant range of variables. When working for a federal agency, many vegetative related projects will involve installing an enclosure, sign or taking a pictures annually in order to monitor the overall status of the plant population.

King Range

Monitoring grazing allotments

The next endeavor was field work in the King Range Conservation Area conducting coastal grassland surveys, which I found fitting since I had just been to a monitoring techniques workshop. The goal of this project was to acquire baseline grasses population data before a controlled burn, using the releve plot method. Releves measure density for all vascular and non-vascular species within a 10mx10m plot and then estimating each species’ total percent coverage from a birds-eye view. Identifying and estimating percent coverage is a tricky task when some grasses are a mere 1 inch greenish stem with no inflorescence and little else to work with, however, keying a mystery grass is always an enjoyable challenge. While needless to say, this time consuming process is not without its benefits. Grazing allotments and surrounding grasslands alike have been heavily encroached in the last 30 years by Douglas-fir, eliminating grassland productivity by altering grasslands into forests, to the point where controlled burning needs to be re-established. This area had been burned in the past by native coastal tribes at times to increase grassland productivity. While the benefits of a burn are numerous, determining what plant species are present pre and post-burn could help future restoration efforts for establishing native perennial grasses.


For the following month after my grasslands monitoring, I have been working intensely with C.C.C. crews on removing a plethora of species of invasive plants on various BLM lands. I have spent many field days surveying for invasive plant populations in remote or inaccessible BLM land holdings, the latest being over 60 miles along the California Eel River. This trip took over four days, from East to West, with more wildlife sightings than human. This was a unique experience as the only access to these BLM holdings was; you guessed it, floating down the river! This was my first back country, white water rafting experience, with class 3 and some class 4 runs. I not only gained an immense amount of knowledge about the importance of planning for such an excursion, but also being able to go with the flow, I mean, we were on a river and all, so take in the scenery while you can.

The Eel River gave me a real opportunity to work with other BLM specialists outside of the botanical realm, an archeologist, forest ecologist, law enforcement and engineer, each with a different objective for exploring these newly seen lands. While surveying on this trip I was fortunate to see California’s third largest watershed in all its glory, including bobcat, deer, and bald eagles galore. The opal blue waters of the Eel have exposed me to a river with very few roads and therefore, very few noxious plants!

With this position, I continue to appreciate the beauty of our natural resources more each and every day. I imagine tomorrow will be no different.

Northern California knows how to party

“It’s not your typical BLM field office,” was a common phrase upon first arriving to Arcata Field Office on the Northern California coast and I soon found out why. Natural resource issues here are vastly different than that of an average BLM field office and it took very little time before I could see priorities were more restorative focused for ecological preservation and conservation while much less focused on battling the usual issues with timber, grazing or mining. This is one of many reasons why this field office may be one of the most unique BLM offices I have encountered.

For those unfamiliar; Northern California is fortunate to host a variety of eco types, from the mystifying and distinctive beach dunes, to the BLM managed Redwood old growth Headwaters Preserve, from rolling, grazing hills of the Lost Coast and to the southeast, Red Mountain, the only high desert ecotype with a view of the ocean I’ve encountered. There is more than enough environmental variation for everybody and I continue to be surprised every new field outing.

The first leg of my field work was to measure the relative frequencies (as presence or absence) of native, non-native and endangered dune plants in some of the most unique and rare coastal dunes in the world. This field monitoring technique of relative frequency is very effective due to the short stature and low densities of dune flora. The methodology for data collection uses permanent 100 foot line transects, with 20 randomly selected points on the transect line. Each randomly selected point of the transect has a 2’x2’ line running perpendicular to the transect in which frequencies and canopy cover classes are measured within that boundary. While this technique can be very time consuming and I often only completed one line transect per day, I had no complaints about smelling the salty breeze air and enjoying the ambient sounds from the ocean all day.

The goals of this on-going study are to determine the effectiveness of restoration efforts and measure native dune plant recruitment. Restoring dune habitat with the goal of preserving biodiversity is also critical for a beautiful Brassica, the endangered Humboldt Bay Wallflower (Erysimum menziesii ssp. eurekense) and endangered Beach Layia (Layia carnosa). The Wallflower is endemic exclusively to the Humboldt Bay area of Northern California and while populations remain relatively stable with human intervention by way of European Beachgrass and Iceplant removal, natural threats from climate change, dune blowouts, plant rust and seed herbivory are all significant factors that threaten the Wallflowers existence. As one might assume, measuring an effective “change” can be challenging when dealing with a naturally disturbed and constantly transforming ecosystem.

European Beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) and Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) were introduced in the early 20th century for controlling sand movement, which has done exactly that and in turn, has prevented native species from establishing without the natural sand disturbance. In addition, European Beachgrass and Iceplant create a vegetative matting effect which can reach up to 100% canopy cover and easily outcompetes native dune plants.

Another slice of the restoration equation is socioeconomic factors; being that residents who live adjacent to some dune restoration areas with removed European Beachgrass are worried that property will be lost due to much more unrestricted sand encroachment. Addressing this issue with the public, land owners, recreationalists, shipping industry and the many special interest groups is another part of this internship that has given me a realistic dose of how important it really is to include all parties in restoration projects.

Thus far, I am absolutely thrilled to be working and living in Arcata and the greater Northern California region. I have already hiked and seen so many amazing places and look forward to everyday of my internship because I am gaining practical experience and working with an array of natural resource specialists who are truly excited to fill my head with knowledge. I realized that “work” feels like play and Im definitely fine with that.