Big views and rare plants in Zion


Big views of Zion Canyon from Observation Point Lookout

It’s been a gradifying couple of months interning in Zion. When I arrived the weather was pleasant but soon turned hot.  I’m talking over a month of above 110 degrees in the Canyon.  No biggy here in Zion, I escaped the heat by taking several dips a day in the Virgin River.  My field time collecting new specimens to be placed in the herbarium moved from the canyon bottom to the higher elevation mixed conifer forests atop the canyon walls.  Here I found an abundance of moisture loving species.  My days have been filled with searching for some of the parks most rare and endemic species for collection.  Alas, I found them…Astragalas concordus, Heterotheca jonesii, and Erigeron religosus. Even on my hiking adventures outside of work I stumbled upon them, one in particular, Cymopterus minimus (Cedar Breaks biscuitroot), an endemic only to Garfield, Iron, and Kane counties in Utah. 

Cymopterus minimus a rare and endemic species found in Ashdown Gorge Wilderness on the "Twisted Forest Trail"

I found it while hiking in a remnant Bristlecone pine forest in Ashdown George Wilderness.  This species has only been found to occur on Claron limestone soils from 8,000 to 10,400 ft elevation in July-August.  Needless to say, during my time here in Zion I have looked at more rare species then I have in my whole career thus far. 

Reindeer Handling

July 8th

Today, this morning, we finished handling the Davis herd.  The process is one not easily put to words but I will try to recount as best I can most of what it involves.  It started weeks ago when we fixed the corral.  I thought some of the repairs to be over kill but some proved insufficient.  We then went out searching for deer to start pushing towards the corral.  Just getting the animals into the corral takes a weeks work, little rest, and mile after mile of rough and wet tundra.  But eventually and not without trouble we filled the corral.

It’s amazing to see these animals up close. A few of the boasted large fingered racks, still covered in velvet.  Large shovels grew out from one or both sides to form a plate between the eyes.  Being so close you could hear grunts and heavy breaths.  They are just loosing their winter hair.  Large clumps lay on the ground and hung off their side.  The deer circled, not stopping, moving like water in a whirlpool.  Antlers clicked and clanked together with a light rain-stick sound.

It was now 8:00 pm.  I had changed out my wet boots and socks, eaten some sandwiches and sausage and cheese, the sun was high and I was eager to work.  The process of getting just one deer through the corral processed is not easy.  The herd but first be split, a large group going into the “barge”, and then three smaller pockets funnel down to two squeeze chutes with a team at each.  At 8:30 we moved the first group through the barge and loaded the pockets and the first deer began to move through the chutes.  Here’s how it goes:

There’s a door at the end of the chute that connects it to the last pocket where there are maybe 12-15 deer waiting.  And the deer don’t wait calmly.  They churn and swirl, jump 10 feet high and smash the walls of the pockets.  Any loose wood comes off, deer try to squeeze through the slot between the doors, people are calling for deer, hair is flying, deer and coming-its a rodeo.  One deer at a time is pushed through the door and enters the first part of the chute.  There’s a small floor to walk on with diagonal walls coming up.  Deer don’t walk one foot in front of the other so having little room to walk on slows them down.  At the end of this there is a squeeze chute and a small mass of people.  As the deer are ushered down the ramp to the awaiting party they moved slowly and tentatively.  Then, usually just as they get to the end they bolt and someone, typically three people, have to be there to wrestle them and hold them down and close the chute.  The chute doesn’t hold them, it still take two to prevent an escape.  After a few dozen you get a groove.  I learned that If I grab the near antler and hook the nose with my forearm and pull the deer’s head towards me and then back holding it by the lower jaw it’ll arrest it quickly.  Once controlled the deer, in our case, is sexed, notched in the ears, tagged with an ID number, weighted, vaccinated, dewormed, bled, occasionally dehorned and collared.  The whole process goes very quickly when orchestrated well, though not when the animal is kicking and jumping about.  We would castrate a few of the mavericks, which involves releasing the deer from the chute while one person, me, holds the antlers and head and as soon as it’s clear, throwing it to the ground and holding it there as someone, Greg, makes two slits and removes the testicles.  Then the trick is to get up before the deer does, not always easy.  This went on all night, holding deer, fixing collars, calling out “maverick female” meaning a female that hasn’t been processed before, or “Davis bull,” a bull that already has a tag and notched ears.  Everyone’s got a job, clipping antlers and rubber banding the stumps to stop the bleeding, writing notes and data recording, counting the deer released.  The rodeo continued, two chutes working quickly to get the deer in and out.  The whole Davis family was there, more excited than usual as the herd hadn’t been handled in five years.  It was a homecoming of sorts, high spirits and laughter, jokes always at someone’s expense.  The sun rolled across the sky moving west to north and slowly stepping down.  It was still warm but not hot when we reached our grove, people tired, less laughter, work became a chore and then labor, but the sun kept us awake and working, not to mention the hundreds of deer to go.  At sun set, at 1:15 am, it wasn’t near the halfway mark.

Animals continued to come, hair flew everywhere, blood and grit and grime covered every hand and face and shirt, pain increased or just continued.  Energy reduced talk to just what’s necessary, the night continued.  Every deer that comes through and more so with the ones that fight hard or have to be taken to the ground tolls you body what feels like years.  Fingers, knees, feet, hands take a beating hour after hour.  Fawns were moved with the rest of the deer until the last pocket and then moved into a separate processing area.  I don’t know what went on in there, other than now and then one would mistakenly come through the chute and I’d pick it up and carry in into the pen and have one of the kids straddle it until someone could tag and weight it.  Everyone did his or her part.  The sun rose and still we worked, taking blood and vaccinating and collaring.  Pausing only to dry our hands of saliva and blood before the next deer came through.  Now and then, maybe four times through the night we would take short breaks while the pockets were refilled.  Some would get food or go to the bathroom or fall asleep.  It didn’t do much to help exhaustion.  Then the last of the deer were loaded into the pockets.  One more big push and that might be it.  On we went.  The same for every deer but not every deer was the same.  As the morning gained a footing the deer got more anxious to join the rest in freedom and would move more quickly down the chute and hit my body harder as they came to a stop. The largest ones came last as they had been able to avoid the first loadings. The last fifty or so took tremendous effort to restrain and process. At last it was the last deer.  Same as the rest, no easier.  And it was off, 452 deer, it was 8:30 am.

I fell asleep on the truck ride home.  Every joint and muscle had been beaten.  I had been kicked and bucked and now bruised and in so much aching pain.  I was limping and holding my arms in each other.  My hands had been pummeled by antlers and teeth, they were bloody, covered in saliva and grime.  My clothes destroyed.  I washed myself, surveyed cuts and bruises and assessed each limb.  Finally I slept, just enough to recharge for my softball game and regain a normal schedule.  It’ll take at least a few days to undo last night’s destruction, though it’s likely I’ll handle again within a week.  But that was done and the gargantuan effort was well worth it.  Each scar meant the job had been done and the Davis herd was once again in business.


Sure enough a week and a half later I was off to another handling.  This one was done a bit different and with a whole lot more deer.  Briefly:  there was only one chute, the corral was in terrible condition, and instead of 450 deer there were about 1500.  It’s hard to say exactly because the wind and rain picked up so much in the middle of the night we went to take a break and part of the corral blew down and after only 500 deer the rest of the herd escaped.  Instead of sending one deer down the cute and having it arrive at a squeeze chute they sent three at once and three guys would each grab one and half ride half wrestle it to the ground.  It went more quickly but was much more tiring.  We didn’t have to process them the same way either, just tag and cut the antlers and let them up.  It made for faster work but it was a miserable night.


Found some bats, but no Batman

CLM Blog Update #2

August 9th, 2010

Hello again from the BLM office in Needles, CA.  I am surprised to find myself getting used to the ridiculous heat.  Light clothing, sun block, shades and plenty of water have kept me going.  It’s going to be very interesting to return to Chicago and be raking leaves during a chilly November.

The internship has been a great experience thus far.  I had the pleasure to assist some coworkers with a birding presentation at the local library in mid-July.  Despite a young audience, most of the kids were very engaged in the discussion and excited to answer quiz questions.  Perhaps they will take time in the near future to visit our parks and identify wildlife.  It is always nice to get involved with the community and work outside the office.

I also had the fortune to help with bat surveys in the San Bernadino County.  On July 19th I helped some graduate students and volunteers to catch bats with mist nets in a wildlife refuge near Lake Havasu.  We identified species, gender, forearm length and general health for each bat. This was the first time I held bats.  I finally felt like one of the scientists seen on Discovery Channel or Animal Planet television programs.

On the note of bat biology, I also spent two days helping a bat scientist, Pat, and her mine-exploration partner, Eric, to locate abandoned mine shafts and assess future courses of action.  Do not fret – I did not enter the mine shafts.  The other Eric did that risky work.  Though many of these mine shafts are scheduled to be sealed, some serve as homes for bats and owls.  Eric even found some gopher and racer snakes at the bottom of one mine shaft.  Later in the evening, I used night vision goggles to do an in & out flight survey for California leaf-nosed bats.  Before departing to go home late that night, Pat was daring enough to walk past two rattlesnakes at the cave entrance to examine the inside, only to declare, “There’s three more rattlesnakes in here and they’re huge!”  I declined the offer to get a closer look.

Monsoon season is expected to hit soon, meaning that some populations of late-flowering plants will produce seed for additional collection.  This is good news because the majority of plants in the region have already shed their seeds.  I am also assisting an effort with my mentor to disperse seed on a stretch of land near Horsethief Spring that used to serve as an allotment for cattle.  The patch of land currently contains dense populations of red brome and there is a serious lack of native grasses and forbs.

It’s hard to believe that two months have already passed.  To my fellow interns I wish you the best in your future endeavors.  The Grand Canyon workshop was one of the best times in my life and it was a pleasure to meet so many of you.  I speak highly of the internship opportunities and the workshop.


– Eric Clifton

Life in the High Desert

After my previous post, Molly (another intern) and I finished monitoring and began seed collection. Despite new responsibilities our daily schedule has remained nearly the same. We arrive at work, meet with our mentor, sign out and drive the two hours between our work site – Beatty’s Butte – and the Lakeview BLM office. While spending four hours in the car everyday sometimes gets tiresome, we often meet excitement along the open road. On one occasion a dust devil ran in to the side of our vehicle. It snuck up on us from the other side of a cattle guard. By the time we saw it, we only had time to take a big breath and hold it before a whirling wall of dust smashed into our faces. Another day a cattle drive down the highway blocked our path as about two hundred head of cattle surrounded us. I have added both of these events to my list of “things that don’t happen in the Midwest.”

This never happens in Iowa.

When we arrive at our work sites we usually spend about a half an hour scouting for an appropriate place to collect seed. When we choose our site, we collect herbarium vouchers and then begin collecting the actual seeds. After only a few weeks of seed collection, Molly and I appreciate the potential of seed collection to lead us deep into thought (borderline insanity?). The other day we realized that we had begun thinking of large, seed-filled, plants as treasures. When I found myself imagining that I was pillaging plants for their seeds, I knew that it was time to take a break, look around, and reconnect with the real world for a moment. None-the-less we enjoy our jobs and love being outside!

Often we camp near our sites to avoid the drive. Camping also allows us to experience the desert in the cool light of the morning and the warm light of sunset. The desert seems like a completely different place out of the heat of the day. In the hours surrounding sunset and sunrise we’ve flushed a number of sage grouse and heard the yips of coyote pups near our tent. The other night we also saw the sun reflect off the sides of the surrounding mountains, creating a ball of light and giving the illusion of a floating lantern. We are currently trying to spread a ghost story surrounding this incident. So far no one believes us but we’re having fun.

Amy Hadow

Lakeview, OR


This is where we work!

Seed Collecting in the Great Basin Desert

I grew up on the far eastern region of the Great Basin Desert. I didn’t realize what a biodiverse treasure this area was, probably due to the fact that 3/5’s of Utah’s population lives in this area which is a continuous stretch of cities over 100 miles long. I never really ventured too far out into the desert west of my home. I only saw the vast and desolate pure white stretch of the Salt Flats once before beginning this internship. I had originally thought that the minimum of 5 seed collections per month would be nearly unobtainable, but i was wrong. There are so many plant populations in the Great Basin Desert, with each species beautifully adapted to the environmental conditions which seem so harsh and overpowering. From these plants I’ve been chasing, with the three others on my team from the Provo Shrub Science Lab, we’ve made over 200 collections in the past 8 weeks! The only downside to making so many collections is that there is little time to reflect on the beauty that surrounds me in the desert. We are down to about 10 collections per week, now that all the lowland species have born seed and died back for the summer. I think I might have a little more time to enjoy the desert. Check out the picts of our collections and the beauties we’ve been chasing!

Jason Stettler

Provo Shrub Science Lab

Alaska- You can see Russia from here!

It has been 2 months now that I have been living in Anchorage, Ak. I have had so many encounters with Alaskan wildlife. We have seen bears, moose, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and the salmon running. Our most exciting encounter was in Valdez, Ak. We had the chance to see a sow and her 3 cubs fishing for salmon in the ocean and river. It was so interesting to watch these animals in their natural habitat. We have also been startled by a few bears while scouting and collecting seeds. I did not do the right thing, and went with my instinct to run from the bear. Thankfully, the bear was more afraid of us and didn’t feel the need to chase me down. Ever since that incident, I have been calm in my bear encounters.

Besides our exciting animal incidents, we have been doing our job! We have already made a total of 30 seed collections. This is very exciting for us, since Alaska is very hit or miss with it’s seeding schedule. We have a trip to Nome coming up very soon and we are all very excited to collect up north! Our adviser, Mike Duffy, has already scouted areas in Nome for us and we already have a game plan for when we arrive.

We have been able to see so much of Alaska due to this amazing internship and I can’t wait to see more of it! Here are some pictures of our adventures. Until Next time. Chrissy

What is Utah?, for four hundred Alex.

The talk and rumors of this land that blow over the Rockies toward my native home are scarce. Usually they are not enough to pry the average Midwesterner contently secure next to the river and bring up their roots into hot dry sun waiting for them in the rain shadow of the Sierras.
So, when I decided to take this position many of my friends and relatives had one thing to say, “Utah”?
This I had to find out for myself for several reasons layered beyond the scope of this blog. It turns out that there were good reasons to come here, many of them more valuable than the promise of a paycheck.
If you like plants, it turns out this is good place to start. The paucity of water had quickly diverged many species into various niches that cling in the cracks of hot sandstone, or lay open in the meadows of the cool mountains.
Being in this atmosphere it as if your essence also starts to gather its unique characteristics and pushes them to the surface, either out of necessity or nature I am still deciding.
The work presents itself as it needs to be done. My main task is in the seeds of success program. This gives me the perfect opportunity to learn the language of the land that I am traveling. You start to gather the geology, water, sun and time paint the desert with hues remarkable and beyond descriptors.
It is unique but often treated as if not so. The landscape  is sustained by extremes, hot and cold, fire and ice, day and night. Our activity threatens to toss aside the reality of this nature for the sustenance of golf courses and neon decor; artifacts of bygone era. The lessons of sustainable living and equity will be a central focus that may blossom here first and catch wind to other areas that are desperate need for real change.
Some things the desert as taught me.

Camping, Inspections, and the First Collections

This past week was my twelve week of adventures in the south to central, western portion of New Mexico. That’s right, the borders of our SOS collection region are rather loosely defined, but with good reason. Our explorations have taken us to many BLM-managed bordering areas of the Colorado Plateau in this state. The reason for this being that populations transitioning from one ecoregion to another often possess survival-enhancing genetic qualities that increase the chance for success when using their germplasm in restoration efforts. Nifty little tidbit of info, especially given an uncertain climate future, one that may entail widespread changes in ecosystem conditions currently and historically equilibriated to make habitats tolerable for native plants. Pretty important.

Speaking of climate, the weather in this part of New Mexico has been changeable enough for me to actually consider writing this blog as a lyrical poem entitled “Ode to Climate Dynamics.” Given the dramatic swing from cool spring nights to 105 degree heat, the arrival of flash flood advisories, knock-your-socks-off winds, and torrential downpours (otherwise known as the North American Monsoon) has actually been a blessing in disguise, bringing cooler temperatures and cloudy skies. Besides, life is not about waiting for the storm to pass…ah, you known the rest. Just try not to get hit by a bolt of lightening while you’re dancing in the rain.

So far, we’ve ventured to just about enough blocks of accessible BLM land to represent our entire region. The trick to finding both high diversity and abundance appears to be finding locations that are not as accessible to grazing and that have received adequate rainfall within the past several months. Some of the most promising areas include those along the Quebradas Byway (just east of Socorro), several near Pinos Altos and Gila, NM, and a few in Walnut Creek (southwest of Socorro).  Most weeks, we go out into the field for four days and camp to save travel time. I’ve seen and experienced an amazing array of landscapes the likes of which I have never encountered in the twelve years I have lived here, ranging from the Chihuahuan Desert with its wildlife and associated nighttime hisses, hoots, and screeches to the Gila Wilderness with nights so quiet that your ears buzz.  And still, no matter where I am, the concept of seeing stars not obscured by city lights is a dim thought in the background when faced with the actual sight itself.

This is the first twelve weeks of the first year of the SOS team out of Los Lunas, NM and this is my second post. These two have one thing in common, aside from the initially hilarious and newbish attempts at coordination of efforts toward a meaningful output on my part.

Growth. That’s what they have in common.  This internship has contributed not only to a constantly pooling reservoir of experience-based knowledge of botany and, more specifically, botany in this area, but also to an immeasurable amount of character growth.  It almost sounds cliche, but it must be said. So far, much of our work has involved building a strategy from the ground up, and it has proven confusing and often frustrating at points, but we are met with much success.  Luckily we have had an incredible amount of assistance from several highly-skilled individuals at the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentors involved in SOS teams in different parts of the state. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. Much thanks, we are in your debt.

And how is growth related to this blog? Well, I guess…I have more to say than last time…

But, back to the point, since we’ve begun, we have developed a database of hundreds of identified species of plants we’ve observed at over forty sites and have collected vouchers from. Having this information has allowed us to narrow our focus to the most accessible sites with the highest likelihood of multiple, large collections. The herbarium at the University of New Mexico, with their enormous collection of specimens, has been exceptionally helpful toward this goal. A grip of what is out there and where it is was something we lacked initially. And now that we have it, monitoring these populations and returning at the right times has been much more straightforward.  Thus far, we have made three collections (Hesperostipa neomexicana, Phacelia integrifolia, and the ever-abundant Chaetopappa ericoides.) We have our eye on some other species that align with a priority list we’ve compiled based on the intel of several of the area’s leading botanists (again, thank you.) So far, we haven’t observed any populations of these species that are ready for collection. It almost seems as though this year, seed production has been a bit delayed or lengthened. I suspect this has something to do with the heat wave that occurred during the months of May, June, and July this year and perhaps also with a slightly-delayed monsoon season.

However, this past week we visited several sites west of Quemado, NM just outside the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest on some surprisingly un-cow-burnt BLM land, and several of the populations we observed there are very close.  The seed is still a little soft and we will return soon.

We have also been fortunate to obtain a permit to collect in the Santa Fe National Forest, so next week we will head up to forest service-managed land near Cuba, NM to see how things are progressing there and, hopefully, find some germplasm that is ready to be collected.

Tessia Robbins
Los Lunas PMC, NM

Spring time done the Wyoming way, Rock Springs

                 Greetings from Rock Springs, WY! I’ve been here now for a few months and as I reflect on what I’ve accomplished I’ve realized that it’s a new season for me and I’m glad that I’ve spent it doing the Seeds of Success program.

We saw this little guy with his twin playing in the aspens right next to our collection site.

 Spring time is always a time of new beginnings and growth. I feel like my life has been paralleling this wonderful time of year. This internship has allowed me to grow and start off in the best direction possible. It really is a job that will help to shape you and send you on your way. I can see how the experiences I’ve gained here will help me in the future. These internships will help you to become more confident in yourself and will help you get an up close look at what you would like to do with your life.

They call this the birthing rock. They think the hand prints are from years of Native American women coming to this rock and placing thier hands on it while giving birth.

 So far I’ve been here for over two months and I’m having a really great time. My job consists of driving to areas of large plant populations and collecting seeds. While out and about on these dirt roads you never know what you will come across. (I’ve seen so much wildlife, not to mention the wildflowers! I also had to change a blown tire one day and pull out a man who had gotten himself stuck.) The BLM employees have also been a big help. I’m not an expert (yet) so sometimes it’s frustrating coming up with big enough plant populations and finding areas. Several of the staff here have come up to my partner and me and pointed out spots to us that they have found. It has been a huge help and has kept us really busy.

A pronghorn and her calf

 If you are thinking about this internship, but are having some doubts. My advice is to just apply, just do it! My experience so far is that I have great roommates and a great place to stay, the people  you work with are nice and will help you out. You will never have a better opportunity to experience the outdoors, improve/ test yourself, and learn skills that will help you in your future. Everyone you will work with wants you to succeed and you have it within yourself to make this an amazing opportunity. I’ve come to love this area and I know that I will miss it when I leave. Here’s to many more spring times in my life,

 Deanna Fouts

Glasgow, not Scotland

I have been in Glasgow, MT for two months now, and they have just flown by. My co-workers are a great group of people, which is good since we spend hours driving out to field sites and working side by side. So far our main projects have been mountain plover surveys, grassland bird surveys, and habitat assessments. Although I have prior birding experience, plants have never been on my radar. I was very surprised how quickly I was able to learn the different plants, and how I have already latched on to a few favorites (pussytoes and scarlet globemallow, anyone?) It has been so amazing to be out on the endless prairie, sighting antelope, deer, badgers, snakes, foxes, coyotes, and many different birds, including the beautiful golden eagle. Although I grew up in Edmonton and so have a soft spot for the prairies already, I’ve never been so immersed in it.
Aside from the field work, I’ve loved experiencing the cowboy culture here. I’ve been to my first rodeo, my first mud bog, my first barn dance, met my first real life cowboys, and listened to hours and hours of country music. I’ve loved being able to travel around a bit and see more of the vast state of Montana. I want to take everything I can from this experience of living and working in a different country (even though Canada is only about an hour from me).

Lauren Wiebe
BLM Field Office, Glasgow, MT