More surprises in Boise!

Hello again! Well, what can I say. It’s been about 2 and a half months and I absolutely love Boise, Idaho and don’t want to go back home to Washington D.C.  The experience so far has been challenging yet thrilling at the same time.

Let’s rewind to my first month here. It’s a bright Monday morning at the office and Susan (my mentor) sits Denise (the other CLM intern) and myself down and says that we will be going camping on Wednesday night and returning on Thursday. I was so excited and they didn’t understand my enthusiasm until I told them both that I had NEVER been camping. Upon hearing this, Susan was extra excited about my trip and she and Pam made this first time experience extremely memorable for me.  Susan got me a tent from the fire crew that assembled in just seconds. It was wonderful!!!

We got to the camp site around 6 on Wednesday evening, and I was wondering where we were exactly. We stood on the pier and were waiting, until I realized that we were waiting for a boat to come pick us up and take us to the camping site. Pam’s husband arrived in the boat and took us for a crazy fast ride across the lake and within minutes we arrived at our home for the night. Once we got there, we started assembling our tents and because I had the fancy one, I was done within seconds. A few hours later we sat down for dinner, and guess what we had – fresh caught trout, along with corn, bread with kalamata olives and penne pesto pasta. Amazing or what??!! And for dessert, what else but the classic – Smores. Again, I never had smores before so I definitely indulged in the chocolate and marshmallows until I couldn’t breathe.

I slept like a baby that night. Perhaps it was the fresh clean air or the fact that I ate way too much, but regardless, I woke up well rested. I thought we would eat something quickly for breakfast such as oatmeal, but no way, we had French toast, eggs and Italian sausages. What a way to start the day! Well, all in all it was a memorable experience, one that I will never forget.

Now that was my first camping trip experience, my second camping trip experience was just as exciting yet quite different. Pam and myself (The PK team) headed off to Bruneau to collect some Penstemon accuminatus and Munro globemallow. As the site was quite a ways from Boise, we decided to camp over. The food this time was just as extravagant; we had Mahi mahi and wild rice with Portobello mushrooms. Now, another first for me was that I had never seen stars before. I know I know, you must all think that I live in some odd place, but to tell you the truth, Washington DC isn’t a great place to look up and see the stars. Idaho, however is just the opposite. I got to see the Milky Way, some constellations and get this, even a meteor shower that night.

Now while we were seed collecting at the Bruneau river, I was able to get a firsthand experience about the detrimental effects of a wildfire. I had always heard about the wildfires here in Idaho due to the extreme heat, yet I had never seen the aftermath of one, until this trip. The fire had destroyed the habitat of so many species, including some Native Indian petroglyphs on the river canyon walls. It was devastating!

I never realized the impact of fires till this point and then it clicked, the Firewise Garden (an instrumental work by Roger Rosentreter with the BLM) was exactly the answer to these fires. The firewise garden shows you how to landscape different fire resistant plants around your house as a response to wildfires. Quiet an ingenious idea!!!

Well, last but not least, I would like to tell you about my fantastic white water rafting trip with Roger Rosentreter and the seed collecting crew from Vale, Oregon. It was quite a wonderful trip. I had never been rafting before, so when the idea was suggested, I got right on board. After getting the basic training from Roger (an expert kayaker) we got into our boats and began the thrilling ride down the Payette River. Surprisingly, we got some seed collecting in as well. We rafted and pulled over to different areas and climbed up on shore and collected seeds from Philiadelphus lewisii as well as learned to identify various plants growing near riparian zones. That would be some job – rafting and collecting seeds at the same time. Who knows, maybe I could be the first to do something like that in the future! A dream job incorporating both work and play…

Karen Dante

Boise, Idaho

Bureau of Land Management (State Office)

Its Getting Seedy Around Here

Contemplating the last 5 months working at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park

Five months of collecting seeds is coming to a close.  As I think back through the months working at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, I’m amazed at how much I’ve experience and learned.  Not only have I had the opportunity to learn about the plants native to Southern California’s deserts, chaparral, and coastal sage scrub ecosystems, but I’ve gotten to see how research is conducted at a location other than a university, and even more uniquely at a non-profit organization.  The Applied Plant Ecology Division at the Institute has collected seeds for the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank the  for several years.  With a system already established, it was easy to learn the process of locating target populations, monitoring, collecting, short-term storage, and shipping.  We completed our required 50 collections, plus several more, giving us a feeling of accomplishment.  The long hours working in the hot blazing sun pay off when you come back with two complete collections of 10,000 seeds, one for SOS and the other for the Zoo’s seedbank.  There have been many great adventures from the past few months that will be told over and over, making this an experience I will never forget.

Sarah Brewster

San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research

The San Diego Zoo's sign board describing their commitment to the conservation of native plants

The field truck with a flat tire

The seed drying room full of seeds

Greetings from the East Coast

Hey everybody!  It is crazy to think that the summer is almost over.  It seems like it has just started.  For me, it will be even crazier not going back to school in the fall.  I just graduated in May, and with summer winding down I have that “back-to-school” feeling in my gut.  I have never had a full time job that lasted this long either, so it feels like I should be starting something new.  But no, I’m only half done with my internship!  And fall is the busiest time for a seed collector.  Late July was a lull, but things have been gradually picking up speed and September through November will be hectic, but fun! 

The summer has been hot and humid with very little rain. The temperatures have been well into the 90s and there was even a week were it was in the 100s for a few days.  I’m sure all of you out west have to deal with similar or even hotter temperatures, but I wasn’t expecting this on the east coast!  The high humidity has added to the discomfort.  The high heat and little rain have been hard on fruit production, mostly on fleshy fruits.  Ridge top habitats are the worst- everything is dried up and dead.  However, the Prunus serotina or black cherry is doing exceptionally well this year.  We have also made good collections of Sambucus canadensis, Gaylussacia frondosa, andVaccinium corymbosum, or dangle-berry and high-bush blueberry respectively.  Some other collections includePolygonatum pubescens, Morella pensylvanica, Deschampsia flexuosa, Gaylussacia baccata, and Carex comosa, to name a few.        

Since I am stationed at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, an actual nursery, I get to experience the process of preparing seeds for storage in the seed bank.  The nursery cleans its own collections and has short-term seed storage facilities as well.  I have been cleaning a lot of fleshy fruit lately.  We collect fleshy fruit into plastic bags and then store the collections in a refrigerator for a couple weeks to “after-ripen” which softens the fruit and makes the cleaning process easier.  The tool of the trade for cleaning fleshy fruit is…a blender!  We tape the blades of the blender so the fruit is mashed, which inhibits the possibility of seeds getting cut.  We simply blend up the fruit with some water until the seeds are loosened from the flesh.  Then we pour the mush into a large bowl, and add more water.  After gently stirring the mixture, the good heavy seeds sink to the bottom, while everything else floats or is suspended in the water.  The bowl is tipped and the fruit particles are slowly poured off, leaving the good seeds settled at the bottom.  These seeds are then spread out in trays to dry in the “Seed Lab” and then stored until winter, when they are put through another cleaning. 

I am one of the few interns not headquartered at a BLM office.  Like I said, I am stationed at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island, but the US Botanic Gardens and Botanic Gardens Conservation International play the crucial role of funding which makes this internship possible.   

Martin Schoofs

Greenbelt Native Plant Center

Staten Island, New York

A Berry Good Internship

our minivan

This baby hauls five people and our plant presses--with room to spare

Working as a Seeds of Success intern out of Anchorage, Alaska has many perks. The beautiful Chugach Mountains rise up just at the edge of the city. Our travels take us to the gorgeous locales around Valdez, Glennallen, Fairbanks, and Nome. And we drive a kick-a$$ mini-van.

However, the real highlight comes during the actual seed collections. Perhaps it’s a hot and sunny day. Perhaps the collection is large and tedious. Perhaps we’re feeling a little tired.

Nagoon berry

The elusive, yet delectable, nagoon berry

Invariably, at this point, we stumble upon a batch of juicy and delicious wild berries. The lowbush blueberries are often tart, yet a handful can easily perk up my mood. Serviceberries (my favorite) are like blueberries, but bigger, mealier, and sweeter. Wild raspberries are great, but they can’t beat their smaller cousin: the nagoon berry.

Being in berry country means being in bear country, too. As winter slowly approaches, Alaska’s most dangerous mammals stock up on the ripe berries that remain. Although our single encounter with a bear while working was fleeting and safe, we always try to remain vigilant and make lots of noise while berry picking.

We do have to be careful to avoid some rather distasteful and aptly named berries, like soap berry (or worse, the deathly poisonous bane berry), but our berry discoveries usually end the same way. Five people, crouched over some bushes, devouring as many berries as possible– but, of course, never more than 20% of the total population.

low bush blueberry

Blueberries waiting to be eaten

Hello all!

I am writing with some bitter sweet news.  I was recently offered an emergency hire biological tech. positionwith NPS at Carlsbad Caverns.  I have been volunteering in the park on the cave swallow mist netting/banding program and met some of the park staff, including the seasonal bee surveyor.  We share a love of all things insect, so when his co-worker unexpectedly left he brought my name up as a possible replacement.   After much debate I have decided that the NPS job is a better opportunity for me.  I will be collecting and identifying hymenoptera and the corresponding flowers they are visiting as part of a three part project with NPS, U.S. Department of  Agriculture,  and Utah State University.  It is hard to find entomology-only jobs and the chance to learn how to identify bees down to genera and even species is going to a valuable skill set.  Long story short I am leaving the Carlsbad BLM and CBG intern program early. 

In no way is my job transfer a bad reflection on my previous position.  The time I spend as wildlife intern has been jammed back with useful information and monitoring techniques.  My experience with the Chinuaiuan desert at the BLM was one of the reasons they decided to hire me here at the park service.   While sad to leave the BLM, I have always wanted the opportunity to work for the Park Service and catching bees all day is going to be a dream job!!

Thanks again CBG!

Rachel Krauss

Carlsbad, NM

Update from Alaska

Ben Copp

Nome, AK

July 28th

The helicopter we’re flying in is a Bell 206 Long Ranger.  It seats 7, in the same way a VW bug seats 5.  There have only been three of us so it’s perfectly comfortable.  As the day goes: we pick an area and a few sites to visit, somewhere between 8 and 10 and head out to the furthest one and work our way back.  Fuel and weight are our limiting factors.  We’ve only got about 3.5 hours of fuel and as frequently as we power up in might be less.  When we arrive at a site we look for a suitable place to set down and begin our survey.  The surveys are simple and painfully unscientific.  Laurie (my mentor) and I stand side by side and envision a semi circle.  Within that area we consider the amount of cover of preferred lichen and the percent use of that lichen.  We record these percents within classes, take two large steps and do it again.  What we’re looking for are signs that the lichen has been grazed on or steps in the lichen.  When it’s hot and dry the lichens crumble under foot and hold big prints, and when reindeer or caribou eat they pull out clumps of lichen but only eat the very tops and drop the rest.

I’ve been in a helicopter once before but here I am spending loads of time flying around rural Alaska, where there are no roads or people, only the occasional sign of human use, a cabin or a two-track, for a week.  It’s awesome.  I have a flight suit and a helmet and gloves, which make it bad-ass and get to see bears and reindeer and musk ox and hopefully some moose from the air.  It’s a seriously good adventure.

Yesterday we got into a bit of a mess.  We flew early, getting out to Tom Gray’s Range about 100 miles east of Nome.  There were clouds around, some of them low to the ground but easy to fly around and avoid.  We got to our sites, 10 of them.  Ate lunch on the top of a hill, picked blueberries after surveying, generally having a great time despite a constant mists and chilling wind.  It wasn’t comfortable working but always fun.  I found a big moose antler at one of our sites but it was last year’s and had been gnawed on by some critters and torn apart so I left it to the tundra.  Even in the rain it’s great to be out on the tundra, better in the sun of course but the rain seems to accentuate the colors of the white and green lichens, red and blue berries, green mosses and grasses.  The complexity is hidden in just a few centimeters above the ground – it demands a close look.  Every site is a little different.  Some and boggy and wet, with high tussocks and lots of lichens and blueberry bushes, while other are in saddles or on hilltops that have been cleaned of lichens and turned mostly to rock.  The blueberry bushes are in a fully ripened state.  I’ve found that the little ones that are close to the ground and in a harsher place have the most berries.  When it’s boggy and wet, when the bushes are big and green, you have to pick one by one.  It’s the hardy little bushes that carry the most berries.  But back to the mess.  We were at site 10-05, our 10th site of the day and destined to be our last.  We wanted to make it a shorter day because the previous two had been long and it had been raining all day but we had made good time and I had a softball game to make.  We were up in a saddle working with the wind and mist to our back and finished quickly because we were getting cold and wet.  It was only about 45 deg.  We finished our assessment, took some measurements, and got back in the helicopter.  There were no blueberry bushes to keep us there any longer.  As we power up a thick cloud came and knocked down our visibility so we can only see the ground below us and nothing ahead.  We set back down and wait a second before trying again only to have the same result.  This time we powered down and waited for a good opening.  We sat and watched the cloud move past, rain thickening and thinning, the peaks to either side coming and going.   We got glances of trees below, the valley, maybe the river, but none long enough to make a run for it.  Calls went out to dispatch, still on the ground weathered in, 50 miles straight line from Nome, middle of no where.  I napped, ate, got cold, peed, ate, thought I see an opening, no.  On and on. We started to make plans.  We only had enough fuel to make a straight line back to Nome, which with this weather was unlikely.  If we did get off we might be able to make it back or at least follow the Council road back.  That’s the best option.  The second option was to fly to Council, only a few miles away and have the mechanic drive out and meet us.  The pilot could only work so many hours in a day and as that time approached option three, which was spend the night in the helicopter seemed more and more likely.  We relayed our options to dispatch and sat tight for more hours.  There was no making the softball game now.  It was 9:00pm – just about of 5 hour mark.  As we made the second to last call into dispatch, giving them our options, setting a time to talk in the morning, and all but giving up we get a little clearing.  Nate, the pilot, powered up and Laurie and I put things away and prepped for take off.  The clouds cleared out of the valley and we lifted off and flew down below the soup that had stranded us.  We found the road to Council and began to follow it towards Nome.  The going was slow, still clouds everywhere and a low ceiling.  As the road climbed a hill and we followed it we reentered the mess of clouds and rain.  Now flying 20 feet above the road, going 20-30 miles an hour we couldn’t make it back to town.  I could read mile marker 56 as we passed by- 56 miles to Nome, no chance.  It was now 10:30, just 10 minutes from the pilots shut down time, so we set down at the side of the road powered down, put a call into the mechanic to drive out and pick us up, and sat tight.  The wind was up again and so was the rain.  I could see my breath inside the aircraft.  It took an hour and a half for the truck to get to us, and eventually we were home.  A warm shower, some proper dinner, and bed.  I didn’t get to bed until 2am, but that didn’t matter.  I wasn’t in a helicopter on a hillside or still on the road to Council.  I was back and able to sleep in.

Tomorrow we’ll do it all again.

Photos of it all are here:

Late Summer in the High Desert

During the last few weeks of seed collecting the quantities have begun to dwindle. However, there have been species that are just beginning to flower like the Cleome and Helianthus, or spiderflower and sunflower. I am still amazed about the beauty that the late summer has brought. A few weeks ago all of the plants were beginning to dry out and die off for the year, but a new flush of blooms have come to life. It is a beauty to behold. I hope that I will have enough time to enjoy them before the season ends.

Jason Stettler

Provo Shrub Science Lab

Monitor Monitor Monitor

It’s pretty hard to believe that I’ve been in Buffalo for 11 weeks. In some respects, it seems as though it’s flying by. I still have lots to learn, there are some exciting wildlife projects on the horizon, and days almost never drag. In other respects, though, it feels like I’ve been here forever. I was out in Montana a few weekends ago, and a friendly cashier asked me where I was from. “Buffalo, Wyoming,” I said, with only a little hesitation. And that was that. Certainly weird, but exciting, too – this place is becoming my home.

My time as a range intern is wrapping up as the range plants are curing into a prickly and impossible-to-identify caramel/taupe/tan/gold mass. It looks more like a sea of fun-shaped pasta than the lush fields of June and July, so we’re beginning to focus more specifically on wildlife projects, such as prioritizing areas for fence marking, standardizing a sage-grouse pellet count methodology, and using the Anabat to identify local resident bat populations.

Our main transitional project was the development of a riparian monitoring procedure for a section of the Tongue River (read Anya’s post too: “Land Management and the Act of Monitoring”). It will be a useful tool for the range specialists because the area is leased to ranchers for cow grazing, and it’s important to the wildlife biologists because the land immediately bordering the Tongue is a thruway for migratory birds. I hope (and think) that we’ve been comprehensive enough that we’re leaving a Welch monitoring legacy for generations of CBG interns to come… Here’s what it looks like:

Taking pictures of cover boards is a useful way to monitor changes in vertical structure. Please note the board's most impressive feature: a built-in, data-holding arm.

Greenline monitoring includes determining streambank alteration, woody species regeneration, dominant and co-dominant species, and streambank stability.

Vegetation along permanent transects is monitored with a Daubenmire frame

A spider we found on one of the transects.

Over and out!

Miriam Johnston
Buffalo, Wyoming

From the desert to the river

Vernal has proven itself to be a unique place with the opportunity to work in both the sagebrush/oilfield habitat to the south where the work is primarily cactus monitoring (Sclerocactus wetlandicus/Sclereocactus brevispinus) to a whole different habitat working in the riparian areas of the upper Green River to the north.

The cactus monitoring provides a look into the life of the office botanists whose job is to make sure that well pads and right of ways are not constructed in areas that could potentially be harmful to the threatened species of the area. The work I have been able to do so far has provided the data for my co-workers to make informed decisions about permitting.

The work on the Green River provides a whole new life. The main work on the river is invasive removal which has been predominately common teasel thus far. The next stage of this work is just beginning this week with the surveying of some lower sections of the river for Russian Olive. The surveying that began earlier this week will provide the data to determine both the amount of work in store as well as the amount of seed that will be needed for the restoration effort that will go hand in hand with the removal.

I am enjoying being able to work in varying ecosystems in order to provide myself with a more diverse background. Thanks CLM!

Josh Merkel
BLM Vernal

Land Management and the Act of Monitoring: Ideals and Realities

Anya Tyson
Range and Wildlife Biology BLM Intern

August in Buffalo, Wyoming: the weather has heated up as my duties as a range intern are winding down. The once uncharacteristically green range has finally cured into shades of yellow and toast. I am now “on wildlife time” here at the office, and I will soon see what the biologists have in store for me.

As an appropriate transition between range and wildlife work, my fellow intern and I spent a fair amount of time designing and implementing a riparian vegetation monitoring effort on BLM land on the Tongue River. Currently, much of length of the river in the parcel is leased for grazing and calving in winter months, but the area is also a BLM recreation site and home to a decent density of breeding birds. In the future, grazing practices will likely change in hopes that riparian vegetation will respond favorably (reduction of non-natives, increased recruitment of woody species, increased vertical structure) and wildlife habitat will be improved. In the planning phases of our monitoring efforts, Miriam, my fellow intern, even had a phone conversation with John Willoughby from the Grand Canyon. Monitoring does seem to be somewhat of an experiment; it is difficult to know just how appropriate and representative the data you choose to collect will be. (John Willoughby recommended at least two years of pilot data, which unfortunately, in this case, is just not that useful for pertinent management objectives).

This project was trying at times (i.e. try driving ~50 t-posts into the ground as both sweat and mosquitoes saturate the air closest to your body!), but extremely worthwhile. In my office, a Scarlet Tanager and a Vermillion Flycatcher, both seriously pretty birds, are centered on a poster that proclaims “Riparian Areas: Nature’s Lifelines.” Though the backdrop of the poster is the San Pedro river in southeastern Arizona in this case, I know that the Tongue River, even states away to the north, must look remarkably similar from a bird’s eye view: a ribbon of green, a crucial highway to the mountains. Earlier this summer, before my internship began, I rafted Desolation and Gray canyons on the Green River in Utah. I had just taken Ornithology as my last course at college, and I was ecstatic to see Lazuli Buntings, Bullock’s Orioles, Western Tanagers and many other birds both nesting and cruising up the waterway. It turns out I desperately love rivers and birds; I truly hope that this monitoring program and its effects on management play even a small part in increasing the numbers of neotropical migrants and breeding birds that utilize habitat on the Tongue River.