From a CLMIP intern in Klamath Falls, Oregon

Klamath Falls Resource Area

Klamath Falls Resource Area

Since June I have been working at the Klamath Falls Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. My main role has been to manage the native plant seed collection program. This is the first year Klamath Falls has been part of the Seeds of Success Program, so I’ve been scouting for plant populations that will be suitable for seed collection. As timing has allowed, I have also been able to collect seeds of target species from 20+ locations.

One of the things I’ve most appreciated about this internship experience is the opportunity to be involved with multiple aspects of on-the-ground land management. Klamath Falls is a ranching community, and much of the public lands are grazing allotments. I was able to spend a lot of time this summer with the Range Conservationist, monitoring the allotments for impact of cattle on local vegetation. This work involved doing nested frequency vegetation plots and surveying riparian areas that are important for the spawning of endangered sucker fish. Other land management field work I’ve gotten to do include: noxious weed treatment monitoring, weed assessment on juniper units, wetland monitoring and shoreline vegetation aquatic measurements, and rare plant inventories.

This past Saturday was our National Public Lands Day event, and ~40 people from the BLM and community came out to work on projects at a local wetland. Projects included bird box repair and installation, mile post marker installation, weeding, and re-vegetation. All aspects of this event were great, from the planning to the advertising to the working at the event.

Rocky terrain- basalt lava rocks in the Gerber area

Rocky terrain- basalt lava rocks in the Gerber area

Land management; Juniper cutting

Land management; Juniper cutting

Hauling timber across BLM roads

Hauling timber across BLM roads

Creeks- important for sucker spawning

Creeks- important for sucker spawning

Workers at National Public Lands Day

Workers at National Public Lands Day

Getting ready to plant at NPLD

Getting ready to plant at NPLD

Another worker getting the ground ready for planting, NPLD

Another worker getting the ground ready for planting, NPLD

Laurel Goode, Klamath Falls Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

Chicago Botanic Gardens Adventure

I am stationed at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Northeast Indiana.  It is part of the National Park Service but lake-side style.  We are right on Lake Michigan and even though I know it is a freshwater lake, it tricks me as an ocean every time I step on the beach.  It is truly a beautiful area that is only an hour by train outside Chicago that I probably would never know about unless placed here.  I’m participating in Wetland Restoration work in old property sites but I’ll go more into the details when my scheduled blogging time approaches.

Michael Pollen signing copies of his booksToday I wanted to add a special entry  because last week I got the amazing opportunity to travel up to the Chicago Botanic Garden for a lecture by Michael Pollen and the Plant Conservation Science Center grand opening.  I am certainly one of the lucky ones to be close to our headquarters and got to see first hand how amazing the gardens are.  Our awesome directors of CLM internshipsAdditionally, finally being able to meet Krissa and Marian put this experience into a new perspective because unfortunately I missed the orientation week back in June.  The science center is now equipped with labs that the public can watch in on and a fantastic green roof and other LED certifications.       The new amazing science center entrance The science center's green roof

The gardens themselves are gorgeous and I had a lot of fun taking photos of the flower arrangements all around this 300+ acres of land.  I recommend anyone to stop by if you ever get a chance to come to Chicago.  Also, if any of you do not know about Michael Pollen, he writes about how our food production is causing both health and environmental issues.  All his books are enjoyable and informative and if you are interested in these issues you should check them out.  His famous ones are called “The Omnivores Dilemma” and “In Defense of food”.    It was great hearing him speak after reading so much about what he is trying to do.  There were about 750 people attending too!!

In the roses section of the gardensa lovely rose

I’m glad this internship has allowed me to experience all aspects of the environmental field and so far has been a great learning experience at the park as well as through cool events such as these.

Christy Goff

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Chesterton, Indiana

Adventures in Yellowstone Country!!!

As a CLM Intern, I have had the pleasure of venturing beyond my home-base of Vernal, Utah to some magnificent places to work (and, of course, play). This past August I had the extreme pleasure of working in Yellowstone National Park for a couple weeks. To switch agencies, going from the BLM to the NPS, offers quite a different work experience that most people never get to see. For that alone, I consider myself quite fortunate.

Working in the Old Faithful area was quite exciting...especially when a gyser erupted. My favorite in all of the park is seen here: The Beehive Gyser.

Working in the Old Faithful area was quite exciting...especially when a gyser erupted. My favorite in all of the park is seen here: The Beehive Gyser.

While in Yellowstone, I worked with several amazing botanists studying rare plants and their habitats in areas where heavy visitor use is a major concern. I got to take part in the efforts to inventory and monitor these plants which is probably one of the coolest things anyone can do. Spending a few days working in the Old Faithful area, walking off the boardwalks that visitors must stay on gives quite a bizarre power trip. It also means visitors will ask to take your picture (though some take it without asking). As many of you know, the Yellowstone supervolcano  has achieved quite a bit of fame in the past few decades.  Naturally, the visitors ask whether or not I was checking to see if it was ready to erupt since I was obviously some type of a scientist wearing my bright orange vest and walking around the bacteria mats. After I told them what I was doing and mentioned a few plant names unfamiliar to them, they seemed a little bit less interested in what I was doing. I, however, got even more excited thinking about the fact that here I am in one of the most historically significant and picturesque landscapes in all of American surveying for little bitty plants. “This is my dream job,” I tell myself.

I also did quite a bit exploring during my hours off, climbing several of Yellowstone’s famous peaks, doing some amazing backcountry hiking and venturing into wolf, bison and even grizzly country. I saw quite a few bison up close. Fortunately, it was from the comfort of my car. The same went for the one grizzly I saw while in the park. However, no wolves.

For most of my time in Yellowstone, I lived in the Lake area where I grew quite fond of one of Yellowstone’s most treasured assets: Lake Yellowstone, one of the world’s largest high-altitude lakes above 7000 feet. Sunset at the lake is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s quite humbling.

The Yellowstone Sand Verbena is one of Yellowstone's rarest plants. I got the unique chance to survey for this beauty along the shores of Lake Yellowstone.

The Yellowstone Sand Verbena is one of Yellowstone's rarest plants. I got the unique chance to survey for this beauty along the shores of Lake Yellowstone.

I did indeed find quite a few of the rare plants I was surveying for and learned quite a bit about documenting habitat characteristics. My new favorite being soil sampling and classification. It’s fun to play in the dirt! All of the information I helped gather will go towards the park’s ten year plan to protect the rare plants located in high density visitor-use areas. I also got the chance to participate in Yellowstone’s first ever BioBlitz which was also incredibly amazing. Being surrounded by scientists from all over the country and searching for rare or historically significant plants is a pretty sweet gig.  Definitely a CLM experience I’ll never forget!


Daniel Winkler, CLM Intern

Adventures of Sage-Grouse Habitat Monitoring

The beginning of my internship in Cedar City, UT with the BLM entailed monitoring greater sage-grouse habitat. These birds are not listed as endangered by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to loss of habitat.

OUR MISSION: Habitat Assessment … and saving the world

Crossing a creek with some field equipment to get to one of our sites

Crossing a creek with some field equipment to get to one of our sites

We took our truck (a very large, white, Silverado named “The Queen Mary” due to its boat like ride) into the field. The adventures began here. My fellow intern, Nelson, and I did not have much experience operating large trucks or 4WD prior to this summer, but we made it in and out of every situation relatively unscathed. We became accustom to 4WD and asking for someone to spot us as we traversed a dry wash or nine, some days. A wet meadow may have caused mud to be thrown onto the truck’s roof, sides and passengers (the windows were down) one time. In the end, Nelson and I have not damaged The Queen, and we have not been stuck -I intend to keep it that way too.

A sample of the pictures taken at each site. Please also note Nelson's aweseome field worker tan line.

A sample of the pictures taken at each site. Please also note Nelson's aweseome field worker tan line.

After we parked The Queen as close to the sage grouse site as possible (which varied from 50 feet to 2 miles up hill, both ways), we would equip ourselves with the necessary field gadgets and navigate to the site using our Trimble (named Hank, after Henry the Navigator). Upon arrival, we set up a vegetation transect. Constructing the transect consisted of hammering two pieces of rebar into the desert ground and stretching a measuring tape between the rebar posts. Sounds straight forward and painless, but I usually hit four to eight rocks before finding ground that would support the post. Stretching the tape measurer, piece of cake right? Now always, some sites were comprised of dense sagebrush, bitterbrush and our thorned Rosaceae friends. Pictures and a GPS point were taken at each site. Then we began to assess

Measuring the height of the sagebrush while Nelson records the data.

Measuring the height of the sagebrush while Nelson records the data.

the sage-grouse habitat using line-intercept and vegetation height, which measure important factors such as vegetation percent cover and percent composition. These monitoring techniques allowed us to determine if the site was suitable sage-grouse habitat and if not what was needed to improve its habitat quality. Sage-grouse need some cover in order to nest and avoid predators, but too much cover is not optimal. Also the type and abundance of forbs was taken into consideration when assessing a site because forbs attract insects, which sage-grouse feed on.

The next step in the assessment was a pellet count. A pellet count is a fancy term for counting poop. Yes, I said it-poop. We got paid to count poop or scat if you prefer. We scanned a 50 foot radius around the southern positioned rebar pole. As we scanned the circle, we yelled out the number of pellet piles we found while another person recorded it. This usually resulted in dialog such as “eight rabbit, five cow, one canine”. Occasionally, we were able to shout “two sage-grouse”! I never thought I would be so excited to find sage-grouse pellets. When I did make this remarkable discovery, I honestly felt like I had just come across a hidden treasure I had been searching weeks for. We even found over 40 pellet piles at one site, an obvious sign of sage-grouse presence. Finally, we packed up our belonging and data sheets, hiked back to the truck and moved to the next site. We visited 60 sites in the course of a month and half. These sites were chosen by our mentor and all were within 3 miles of a lek. I loved monitoring sage-grouse habitat and it is rewarding to know that the data we collect will aid in future land management decisions.

Measuring the very tall sagebrush. An example of a site that causes some work when extending the measuring tape from one post to the next.

Measuring the very tall sagebrush. An example of a site that causes some work when extending the measuring tape from one post to the next.

Overall, my experience in the west has been nothing short of absolutely amazing. I have learned more than I ever thought I would about wildlife surveys, western vegetation, government policy and the BLM’s mission, “multiple use”. Besides learning things that will definitely be applicable to my career, I have met some wonderful people here in Cedar City. Nelson and I have worked over 570 hours together this summer and during those hours he has shared an ample amount of information with me. He has educated me about topics such as bacteria growth, video games and now he has me seriously questioning time travel. I know the next month of my internship will fly by and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Aspen in the Fall

Aspen in the Fall

Michelle Downey, BLM, Cedar City, UT

P.S. Check out the Aspen Fall colors. Being from Connecticut and all I was worried I would miss leaves changing, but I feel content now.

Fungi Encounters in the Pacific Northwest

Trillium sp.

Trillium sp.

It has been a little over a year now since I started interning in this stunning NW corner of Oregon. On any given day I find myself harvesting native seeds at a BLM seed orchard, attending meetings to coordinate the restoration of a decommissioned dam site, searching mistletoe for butterfly larvae, or adding data to a never-ending pile of spreadsheets. I’ve been fortunate enough to get two extended internships, within 60 miles of each other, which complement each other incredibly well. The first was based out of the BLM’s field office in Salem, and the majority of my work there focused on riparian restoration and native plant materials projects. I traipsed around the Willamette Valley looking for blue elderberry, cascara and nine-bark seeds one day and participated in a design charette for a new recreation day-use facility the next.

Hard at Work: Johnson's Hairstreak Surveys

Hard at Work: Johnson's Hairstreak Surveys

Now that I’m in the Portland, OR, office, I work with the Forest Service on an interagency team of rare and threatened species specialists. My daily environment still varies wildly, from my lavender-hued cubicle in the heart of downtown Portland to moss-laden conifer forests and wind-whipped coastlines. Some of my favorite projects were surveying for endangered tiger beetles and Johnson’s hairstreak butterflies, the latter of which I got to do with a fellow CLM intern, Camille Duncan.

Over the last few months I have been working with crews to conduct surveys for a rare polypore fungus, Bridgeoporus nobilissimus. These fungi are associated with true firs, which grow at higher altitudes. The fruiting bodies can be quite large (some up to 5 feet across!) but they are often very inconspicuous, hidden under litter and duff at the base of the trees, and don’t seem to fruit very often. This brings up questions as to how rare the species truly is. Could it be that people often overlook it? Or is it much more prevalent in an ecosystem, but not in fruiting form? To tackle these questions, we designed a protocol to set up random sampling plots around known occurrences and take tree core samples of a variable number of true firs within these plots. The core samples are then sent out to a contractor and tested for B. nobilissimus DNA. The results of this will let us know how to survey for the species in the future, and how to manage our forests for it. Hopefully we can also glean more information about the range of this species, and better insight into its life history.

Our final survey of the season is tomorrow, and then I’ll be tying everything up in the next few weeks before I head off on new adventures. I’ll join the chorus and say that this job has been incredibly rewarding and inspiring. Everyone I have worked with has imparted some little note of wisdom or a new perspective, and my field work has reinforced a personal desire to always work with our wild areas and do what I can to protect them. Next step: grad school!

Candace Fallon, Forest Service Regional Office & BLM State Office, Portland, OR

Slow burn

I'm giving a ridiculous thumb up because my heart swells at the sight of deciduous trees.

I'm giving a ridiculous thumb up because my heart swells at the sight of deciduous trees.

The Cedar City Field Office handles 2.2 million acres of land.  Although much of that is desert, we have a few areas with real, proper trees — none of this juniper nonsense.  The problem is that these trees are often ailing on account of changes in burn patterns, usually less frequent burns than the region historically saw.  Unsurprisingly, human beings are largely responsible for the changes through fire suppression. You can hardly blame their logic though; fear of being burned to death isn’t entirely unreasonable.

The resulting shifts in vegetation are noticeable, however.  Our stands, groves, and the occasional forest tend to be too dense for their own good and the ground is choked with decades of debris just waiting to burn all too eagerly.  Not only that, but the lack of fire has permitted the spread of the dreaded Juniperus osteosperma into lands where we don’t think it belongs. Our office has a fuels management team which is responsible for try to clear up this whole mess and for which we sometimes survey.

The favored method of control isn’t to go and carefully remove by hand all the downed trees and flammable debris from the ground. Budget and manpower issues aside, no one really wants to do that. Instead the BLM tends to burn things which, to be honest, sounds like way more fun anyway. A controlled burn, unlike a presentation in a 100-level college class, is not something that you can just wing; our office recently executed a burn that had been 10 years in the making.

Up in the mountains where we inventoried sage-grouse breeding habitat, there are a few aspen stands. They’re struggling thanks to over-grazing by cows and wildlife and are being choked by an explosion of juniper. The aspen are growing in the middle of sagebrush which is itself threatened by the same juniper. Our office’s proposed solution is to burn around the groves and clear out the non-aspen by hand within the groves. We hope that the sagebrush will rebound quickly and that exclosures around the aspen should keep the saplings from falling prey to the ravages of elk and cows. The one catch is that we’ve seen plenty of sage-grouse in the aspen and surrounding sage which means that the burn will need to be very carefully controlled and timed to avoid driving off or outright killing them.

Michelle slipped on the loose groundcover while doggedly searching for a raptor nest.

Michelle slipped on the loose groundcover while doggedly searching for a raptor nest.

We’ve also been searching for Accipter gentilis, the northern goshawk in areas with struggling ponderosa which could benefit from a proper fire. Raptors are protected under federal law and so we get to make sure that any potential burns don’t interfere with nesting and breeding. When pressed to explain our methodology, I usually resort to Gwen Stefani: we’re wandering around with a boom box looking for ‘holla back girls’. In a show of inter-agency cooperation, the Forest Service has lent us a ‘kek box’ which can blast several different goshawk calls (including their characteristic ‘keks’) that the birds will normally respond to. Our job has been to hike slopes so steep and treacherous that we fear for our extremities — a fellow seasonal broke her ankle trying to fight through unreasonably thick curl-leaf mountain mahogany — while playing back the calls and listening/looking for responses. We’ve only found one pair and they had a seriously ramshackle nest on a tiny scrap of private land which means that burns will likely be approved.

With any luck, we’ll be able to sort some of these problems out. Humans broke the system and now we’re responsible for keeping it running and eventually repairing it. I’m still hopeful.

Nelson Stauffer, BLM Cedar City Field Office, Utah

“Up to the Land of the Midnight Sun…”

Rafting the Copper River and searching for invasives at campsites along the way

Rafting the Copper River and keeping an eye out for invasive plants and amazing sights along the way.

For the past 3 months, my CLM internship has placed me in Alaska, specifically Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, our largest national park and a land of superlatives within this gigantic land.  As a member of the Exotic Plants Management Team (EPMT) for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, it has been my duty, along with the 4 other EPMT workers in the park, to identify, prioritize and weed populations of invasive plants throughout this 13.2 million acre park (about 2.6 million acres per person!).  Luckily, Alaska is somewhat ahead of the invasive species curve, compared to the majority of places in the lower 48, and the immensity of this park lends a few perks to my job.  For example, it is unreasonable to survey large swaths of the park from headquarters on foot, so this summer I have had the opportunity to tag along on a 5 day raft trip, multiple day hiking trips, and multiple flights into the backcountry, all while inventorying for invasive plant species and learning the native plants and animals throughout this park’s many ecosystems.  When we find a population of invasive plants, we use Trimble GPS units to take GPS coordinates, describe the population, and, when manpower allows, weed it.  The most common invasive plants encountered this summer have been oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), narrowleaf hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum), white sweetclover (Melilotus alba), lambsquarters (Chenopodium album), foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum), and the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).  Not all of these species are actively weeded by the park’s EMPT program, particularly the common dandelion, but it is still important to monitor all invasive species populations to determine their potential to negatively affect these nearly pristine Alaskan ecosystems.

inventory for invasives

Inventorying for invasive plants on the Jumbo Mine Trail among the blooming fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

The immensity of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park makes it inaccessible to most visitors, and because invasive species usually arrive in new areas with the help of humans, we have focused on inventorying and weeding more highly visited areas, including backcountry destinations, airplane landing strips, campsites, trails into the park, and town centers.  Wrangell-St. Elias National Park differs from many other parks in the US because there are private inholders within the park.  In fact, there’s an entire town located in the center of the park—McCarthy, Alaska—which is where I have been stationed this summer.  Before arriving, I was told that the ‘nearest’ grocery store to McCarthy is a 7-8 hour drive away, comparable to the drive from my home in Ohio to Chicago—and just for some groceries!  The reality has been a bit easier (a general store in town does stock a limited and expensive selection of food), but the people of McCarthy definitely live a different way of life from the majority of Americans.  For the past three and a half months I have lived in McCarthy and traveled around the park, but during the remaining month and a half of my internship, I will be stationed at Copper Center, on the western edge of the park, since McCarthy is shutting down now that tourist season is over.


Porphry mountain in fall, bordering McCarthy

Thus, my internship has challenged me not only in learning the plants, animals and processes of new ecosystems (boreal forest, alpine tundra, glaciers, and temperate rainforest!), hiking for days to inventory invasive species populations, and honing my GPS/GIS and report writing skills, but it has also challenged my way of life.  In McCarthy, many people live out life from a different time: when homes were heated by wood stove, water was hauled from nearby creeks, and people lived off the land.  Cell phones and television hardly exist here, internet is slower than dialup, and mail comes only twice a week.  Yet it has been extremely rewarding to see this way of life, experience some of it, learn about these Alaskan ecosystems, and realize that real wilderness still does exist in this world, an exciting thought for someone who grew up in the Midwest.

Overlooking the Root Glacier moraine

Kennecott, an abandoned mining town four miles from McCarthy, overlooking the Root Glacier moraine and bordering mountains

-Joe Donohue, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The (actually very) exciting world of data reorganization

One of the best things about having a GIS-based internship is that it’s such a widely used program nowadays that I’ve been at least minimally exposed to what every department does here in the BLM Rock Springs Field Office. Officially I’m here to work on updating and restructuring the GIS database, which I often liken to cleaning out and elderly relative’s attic: there’s tons of stuff, you’re often not quite sure what it is, and you’re constantly uncovering fascinating tidbits of information. There’s no such thing as a “typical” day in this process–the majority of my time is spent asking questions, rearranging and renaming data, hunting down layers from other agencies, and updating, editing, and creating new data where we have gaps. So far I would say the take home message for me has been to always write metadata (records of what information is, who made it, when, how, etc.) for any GIS data I produce in the future. Here’s a great website if you want to know why it’s just about the greatest invention since sliced bread:

A few days a week I get to go out into the field to get my hands dirty, literally:


This was on a (very sappy) White Bark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) pine cone collecting trip with Victor Biasotti–a former two-time CLM intern for the Seeds of Success program who’s currently working directly for the BLM.

Using a GPS in the Adobtown Wilderness Study Area on a field trip with the Minerals and Lands Department:Tetons,_White_Mtn,_Adobetown_022

Discovering Wild Blue Rye (Elymus glaucus) on a scouting expedition in the Bridger National Forest:



Unfortunately the seeds weren’t ripe and we got frosted on, but the scenery was spectacular on the 8-mile hike in—we saw two moose, sand hill cranes, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and at 9,200 feet above sea level, breath-taking views, especially at our campsite (below):


This internship has been an amazing experience to date and I look forward to seeing what adventures my last month and a half has in store!

Aiko Weverka, BLM, Rock Springs, WY

Red Rock Country

Example of a "monocline" at Capitol Reef NP:  This is why I love Utah

Example of a "monocline" at Capitol Reef NP

While I’ve only spent a little over 3 months of my post-graduation life in Utah, I think I can safely say that I’ve seen more of this absolutely stunning state than most native Utahns could lay claim to in their whole lives. From our base of operations near the center of the state in the town of Richfield, my two fellow interns and myself have explored the canyons, mesas, buttes, mountains, meadows, arroyos, pinyon-juniper hillsides, ponderosa and aspen forests, grassland steppes, slickrock desert wildernesses, and all sorts of other swell places that I’m not quite sure how to name. The diversity of landscapes and natural features in Utah is staggering and not at all what I—a mere midwesterner—had expected when I heeded the call of the ever-growing wanderlust in my heart and headed west from Iowa City, Iowa for my position with the BLM in Richfield. Quite the contrary, my limited knowledge of the American Southwest had me worried that I was consigning the next 5 months of my life to be spent in a desolate and lifeless-gray wasteland. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth, and I have thoroughly fallen in love with the unique beauty of this land.

Prickly Pear in Flower:  Beautiful now, but collecting seeds from the well-protected capsules is a painful experience

Prickly Pear in Flower: Beautiful now, but collecting seeds from the well-protected capsules is a painful experience

As an intern with the BLM, I’ve been working on the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, collecting the seeds of native plants from the Colorado Plateau ecoregion for long-term seed banking (in case of the apocalypse), restoration (plenty of former oil pads need a makeover), and research. While I sometimes feel like a glorified lawnmower as I systematically work my way through a population of natural grasses, cutting seeds off into my collection bag, I recognize the value of the work that I and numerous others are carrying out. Since modern settlers first arrived in the West, bringing such “wildlife” as sheep and cows with them and the multitude of “improvements” that modern life seems to necessitate, this land has been radically altered and the ecology simplified. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see how many of these changes are detrimental to our future. Restoring native plants to their natural range and banking seeds to preserve genetic diversity is an essential component of successful conservation practices.

A Natural Bridge Found Up A Tributary of the Colorado River, East Of Moab, UT On One Of Our Plant Scouting Expeditions

Natural Bridge: Found up a tributary of the Colorado River, east of Moab, on one of our plant scouting expeditions

While collecting seeds in some of the most gorgeous vistas I’ve ever seen is pretty neat, it can occasionally get a tad tiresome. Luckily, we’ve had several diversions to keep us entertained and energized. In late July we attended the Botany and Mycology 2009 conference held at Snowbird, Utah. Just east of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains, Snowbird is one of the premier ski resorts of Utah in the winter, and an alpine wonderland in summer. Lectures, hiking, and of course the free coffee and cookies are a surefire recipe for fun bombs. This past weekend we also had a real stupendous time on the Green River in northeastern Utah for a weed-pulling, threatened-plant-finding, rafting, “BioBlitz” extravaganza. As everyone knows, spending time on or around water is simply too much fun to be work, so when I found out I was getting paid for my recreation, I positively squealed with delight! Well, maybe not quite, but it sure was a rollickin’ good time.

Doing a little Tai Chi on top of Angle's Landing in Zion NP.  Good for the heart, good for the soul.

Doing a little Tai Chi on top of Angle's Landing in Zion NP. Good for the heart, good for the soul.

While there’s plenty more to share about my life here in Utah, I think I’ve already communicated the gist of what’s made my internship experience thus far so fantastic. While not every aspect of it has been as rosy as the red rock sandstone I see on a daily basis (see: office politics), I’m still stoked that I chose to come out here. And since I’ll be out here until the beginning of November, I still have plenty of time to see even more great places before I head home. My goal is to get to all 5 national parks in Utah. Having been to Zion, Bryce Canyon and Captiol Reef so far, I only have Arches and Canyonlands left, which should make for some wonderful trips as the weather cools into October.

In parting, I want to leave with some words about the red rock country of eastern Utah that I’ve come to love from a more poetic and authoritative source than myself:

“…it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. 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

Utah Beauty:  The Water Pocket Fold of Capitol Reef National Park is visible in the background

Utah Beauty: The Water Pocket Fold of Capitol Reef NP is visible in the background

Alexander Howe, BLM, Richfield, Utah

Two miles north of Hell…and totally worth it

Clark Mountain - one of my favorite collecting spots

Clark Mountain - one of my favorite collecting spots

Since June, I have been working for the BLM in Needles, California, in the Mojave Desert. With the government’s recent push for renewable energy development, the Needles Field Office has been busier than it ever has been before. Thousands of acres of public land are beginning to be developed for solar and wind power plants, and the Mojave is an ideal location. My primary task has been to collect seeds from native plants in these areas for future restoration, which has been both rewarding and exhausting. It’s exhilarating to know the seeds I’m collecting will be used to restore and rehabilitate a habitat that will be going through lots of changes in the near future. However, collecting seeds from widely dispersed, very prickly plants in 125 degree heat is about as difficult as you can imagine! The locals like to say Needles is two miles north of Hell…and on hot days, I know exactly what they mean.

These seeds look like maces - they're so prickly you just have to stick your hand in the shrub to collect them!

Krameria erecta seeds on my glove. They look like medieval maces - they're so prickly you just have to stick your hand in the shrub to collect them!

My other responsibilities include mapping and surveying sand dunes south of Needles for the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, which is currently being reviewed for listing as an endangered species; surveying the lower Colorado River for bats, using mist nets and high frequency recording devices to identify different species calls; hiking miles upon miles hunting down sensitive native plant species to input into the state database, monitoring water sources that are located in wilderness areas for invasive weeds, and learning to identify dozens of new plant and animal species I’ve never seen before.

A pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) - this little guy was one of 80 individuals we caught in one night

A pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) - this little guy was one of 80 individuals we caught in one night

Before accepting this internship, I had never been to the Mojave Desert, and it was someplace I never thought I would go. Moving to the desert from Colorado was a shock to the mind and body, especially since I’d only ever worked in old-growth pine forests in the Rockies. Over the last three months, however, I’ve learned to value and enjoy one of the most desolate, extreme places I’ve ever been. The term wilderness has really taken on a new meaning for me; it would be nearly impossible to survive in the desert even for a few hours without water or shelter. A place that inhospitable and intense deserves respect and reverence, as do all the plants and wildlife that manage to thrive here. The Mojave is an ecologically sensitive, awe-inspiring place that not many people get the opportunity to know or enjoy. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve gotten a chance to explore an environment I’d never considered before, helping me grow personally and professionally.

Liz Thompson, BLM, Needles, CA