All the Sonoran Shapes

Ragged Top Mountain

Coming from nine months of restoration work in the Sonoran Desert handling illegal-immigrant trash and restoring illegal smuggling roads, the chance to effectively survey every recreation site on the Ironwood Forest National Monument was a welcome change of pace. Fulfilling the duties of surveyor for the Recreation Site Survey was a strange dream to have….but one that came true nonetheless. The monument is relatively new in being established (2001 by Bill Clinton) and in need of a final management plan, so I was honored to take part in helping the process along. The IFNM is 26 miles northwest of Tucson, AZ and a prime example of Sonoran desert vegetation; within the monument are the iconic Saguaro (sa-war-o) Cactuses, Palo Verde, Ironwood, Hedgehog Cactus, jojoba and much more.

The IFNM Recreation Site Survey is a project that can be considered one of the first steps towards an overall recreation site management system.  The goal of the project was to map and quantify significant recreation sites on the IFNM. For the purpose of this post,  Recreation sites can typically be understood as an area distrubed by humans for enjoyment, amusement or pleasure. This has been manifested through acts of hunting, camping, hiking, shooting and four-wheel driving. The recreation site survey has resulted in roughly 149 individual recreation sites being identified. This information is now available to BLM management for ease and clarity in better understanding past, present and future land use practices.

Crested Saguaro

The project began with data collection using geo-spatial technology and photography throughout the saguaro studded landscape. Throughout this period I travelled down every identifiable road on the monument searching for any signs of recreation. When a site was found GPS data would be collected identifying the perimeter and any other useful information that might pertain to the recreational use of a certain location.

Many disturbances I found I later discovered were the results of Illegal smuggling. The IFNM is located in what is called the “borderlands.” This simply means that there is illegal traffic coming through any particular area roughly 100 miles from U.S.-Mexican border. This was a fascinating, sad, emotionally/politically charged issue to deal with, but ultimately those who work in this area understand their job and  how they fit in this environment. With proper safety procedures and hightened communication work can be done safely and efficiently. When travelling out on the monument it can be very obvious that illegal smuggling and human trafficking is going on, remnants of bottles, clothes, food, tires and many more surprising objects are common sight in washes and rough roads.

BLM Ranger and smuggling vehicle

While on my way to the next worksite of the day, I rolled up with my volunteer in shotgun to the site of 2 BLM rangers who had just pulled over a vehicle. The trunk was popped open full of a dozen bundles of Marijuana. Now this is a rare occasion for BLM workers to come upon besides the BLM Rangers (who search it out), but it drives home new realities that exist on public land and the importance that safety plays in proper protocol for all governement/intern workers. While this incident put a face to the drug and immigration issues in America it more simply brought frustration to me because I couldn’t do the work I needed to at that location.

Once the field work mostly ended It was time to hit the computer and hit it hard I did.  Data management was the second part of this job. In this period the data was organized, labelled and amended. This was accomplished using programs: ArcView, ArcMap, DNR Garmin and Google Earth. Each site was given an individual folder which could then be filled with a digital map of the area, photos of the site and any additional information. This was the area I was hoping to learn and excel in. As much as I don’t enjoy sitting in front of a computer all day, when it’s dealing with maps and locations and orientation I excel.


Ultimately the experience was a great one, I feel I was a integral part of the recreation management team and was fortunate enough to have a Recreation Planner who was patient and knowledgeable from on the ground practices to ArcGPS programming. Through my time I feel like I really learned the monument inside-out and yet there is so much more to see. I have been fortunate to participate in this opportunity and through my growth in GPS/GIS technology and other interests I feel a step ahead for entering graduate school in Landscape Architecture. Internships are really a great way to go, an uncertain way but one that will hardly disappoint.

Many forms of knowledge

I expected to become an expert on Sage Grouse during by internship… and I was not let down. I am a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Sage Grouse, Sage Brush habitats, and the issues surrounding the race to create and implement a conservation strategy to preclude listing of the bird on the Endangered Species List.

I did not expect, however, to learn as much as I did about myself. To me, growing as a person, and knowing how to react in certain situations, means more to me than the ability to quickly spit out scientific facts. I learned a few key lessons that will stay with me as I build my career.

First, if you make a mistake (as everyone does), own up to it. Realize what you did wrong, and do what you need to do to make it right. There will always be bad days, days where you dont want to get up and go to work. These are the days that you must pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and decide that you will make an opportunity out of a difficult situation.

Second, when you work within a particular resource (in my case, wildlife), you can begin to think that your particular resource is more important than other resources. When you stop considering other resources, and stop listening to what the people representing those resources have to say, you lose respect from your co workers. This makes it much more difficult to accomplish anything. Always listen, consider, and respect what other people have to say. They are just as passionate about their resource as you are about yours.

I have worked with wonderful, brilliant people here in the Wyoming State Office for almost 6 months. I thank everyone for allowing me to participate in their programs, and hope that our paths cross again in the future.

Life vs. Un-life

The first detailed description of the Mojave Desert before I encounter on the CLM Internship:

“… over the pass and into the Mojave Desert, a burned and burning desert even this late in the year, its hills like piles of black cinders in the distance, and the rutted floor sucked dry by the hungry sun. … The Mojave is a bit desert and a frightening one. it’s as through nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California. The shimmering dry heat made visions of water on the flat plain. And even when you drive at high speed, the hills that mark the boundaries recede before you.”

Thank you Steinbeck for that bleak description of the Mojave Desert. But then he goes on about the mysterious aspects of the desert:

” The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself adn in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour. If the most versatile of living forms, the human, now fights for survival as it always has, it can eliminate not only itself but all other life. And if that should transpire, unwanted places like the desert might be the harsh mother of repopulation. For the inhabitants of the desert are well trained and well armed against desolation. Even our own misguided species might re-emerge from the desert. The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and uncoveted place might, with their brothers in arms- the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects- these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.”

For the whole chapter he writes about the desert in Travels with Charley. It was this northern girl’s first introduction to the desert. Sure, I have heard about deserts before on nature shows and in old west movies, but to know I will be there for the next five months, working in the desert… I have heard about the curious beauty of the desert, and those who inhabit it. Now I get to see it first hand for myself, and decide what I think of it. I have been told that every biologist should see the desert sometime in their lives to witness flora and fauna living in an extreme environment, and for me it is one of the first things I am doing on my way to becoming a biologist. Check that off the to do list. And as for the desolate absence of water and the searing heat I say… bring it on.

Final Thoughts

Wind Farms along the PCT Trail

Having spent a full year working for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program in southern California, there are so many things I could write about in my final blog posting. However, I feel that the following four paragraphs, and their four corresponding points, are what I most want to pass on to successive CLM interns, along with best wishes for their internships and the future.

This internship year has been one of personal growth and many new experiences. Moving to California (from Connecticut) for a new job was a big step for me. The first few months were rough. Beyond my personal adjustments, I was part of the first SOS team to be stationed at RSABG (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) and we were learning the ropes as we worked. It was stressful but, with practice and creativity, we created a smooth

Preparing for a Field Stop

seed-collecting process and, looking back on how we adapted and grew as a team, I feel proud of our work and what we were able to accomplish. With the arrival of a new set of SOS interns, I believe that the groundwork we established will promote a more coherent field season including more area covered and a greater number of species collected. Plus, our strengthened connection to the RSABG and its ever helpful and knowledgeable staff will continue to be a greatly appreciated and utilized tool for future improvement.

At a personal level, RSABG facilities and staff helped me gain valuable seed processing and herbarium skills to accompany what I was learning through SOS. Using seed material, I cleaned and prepped seed for storage and learned about some of the basics of germination trials. Using voucher material, I learned to create labels, mount and then file plant vouchers within our herbarium system. Experiencing what happens to plant material after it is brought in from the field created a positive feedback loop between my field work and my office work. What I did and learned in one area would impact and improve what I did in the other, allowing me to make better decisions in both areas and produce higher quality work.

However, the fact that I gained these skills and more informed viewpoint was serendipitous. In southern California, fieldwork begins in late March/ early April and can continue until early January. With a full, field-focused work schedule, I didn’t begin to

Barrel Cactus

look for other skill-acquisition opportunities until January. That was when I really gained a grasp on herbarium and seed storage work and it was at a point when my internship should have already been over for some months. Thinking back on this, I sincerely recommend that each CLM intern spend some time at the start of their internship really thinking about they want to gain out of their five months and then see how their unique job situation can support these goals. The flexibility of this internship is a perfect opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill set but you have to seek out the opportunities and make the time to take advantage of them.

Finally, as a parting note, I really want to thank Krissa Skogen and Marian Hofherr for all their hard work. They were a continuous source of help and support. Try to get to know them if you can; they are really wonderful women.

A great year in Nevada

My 2010 CLM Internship at the Carson City BLM District Office was an invaluable first step in my career in plant conservation. I learned so much from my mentor, Dean, and had the opportunity to work in one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the country. Also, working on a team of eight other interns was very enjoyable as it kept the work environment fresh and varied. I really struggled with my decision to leave Nevada because I enjoyed my time there so much and really want to make it back West at some point to continue my work on native plant conservation. Northern Nevada is an amazing place and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in doing field work in a new area. The landscape is incredible.

“Hindsight is 20/20”

My dad quoted a saying to me once that hindsight is 20/20.  Now that my internship has come to an end, I can take a step back and look at my 10 months of work with the Forest Service RMRS lab from a different perspective.  I’m back home in TX almost a year later and with new experiences and new adventures to share with my family.  I look now to the oak tree that’s been growing in the front lawn and it looks the same but a little taller and wider.  I look at my parents and my sister and they look the same, but just a little bit older.  I wonder if they think the same when they look at me.  After all is said and done, I am REALLY glad I went.  I was apprehensive to be away from home for such a long time but now I’m really glad I did.  Whether my family can see it in me or not, I feel like I grew confidence as a person and as a biologist.  Being out of my comfort zone (a brand new environment and new job) really forced me to be come out of my shell, I think.  For the longest time during the internship I was quiet and didn’t really say much, but now looking back I feel like I was able to open up a little more towards the end of my stay.  And during work, whether I was doing a good job or not, I always felt like I could have done better.  I always felt like I was always messing up and constantly doubting my abilities.  Looking back now, I think I did the best I could give and that I was probably being too hard on myself.  I think now when I go to my next job or adventure I will be able to feel like I know that I am doing a good job and not stress so much about it.  I think for that, I am grateful for the internship experience.  I think the internship gave me a place to stumble and grow as a biologist and now I will be able to go into my next job with ease and confidence.  Another reason why I am grateful for the internship is that with the help of my boss, I was able to speak to her and her colleagues about graduate school and other opportunities to consider.  I have been considering grad school but was scared of the idea of all it would entail.  I was able to express my concerns about school and they helped me to see that it is not as scary as I was making it out to be.  I now have a few more people, my mentor included, to turn to for advice or for suggestions in my professional career, people I wouldn’t have known or have met if it weren’t for the internship.  I’d like to say thanks from the bottom of my heart to Krissa and Marian for the internship opportunity.  I would definitely do it all again and do recommend other recent graduates to consider an opportunity through the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program.

Merry Marshall
Boise, ID

Farewell from LA

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here in Claremont, California for almost a full year. With our seed collecting season completed and my time here winding down, I’m enjoying the sunny weather and February warmth while I still can. Next week’s arrival in Michigan will be kind of a reality check for me, but I’m also excited to go home. After a full year of field experience, GIS training, a workshop in the Grand Canyon, a conference in Missouri, and hundreds of trips out to Southern California’s deserts and mountains, I’m excited to see what my current job search brings me. My experience with the CLM internship has been an unbelievable opportunity for me to get out and experience new ecosystems, plants, people, and cities. This pasts year’s experiences have allowed me to refine my biological interests while living independently more than 2,000 miles away from any family or friends. The people with whom I’ve worked and the friends that I’ve made here in California won’t soon be forgotten, nor will the promise of a sunny wintertime refuge in the southwest.

As I make my way out into the world a year after accepting my CLM position, I can’t help but realize that while I was an intern, the US economy hasn’t really gotten any better, and the unemployment rate has gotten worse. Considering how bad the economy was when I started the position, the financial security gained through my work experience is extremely valuable. More importantly, I feel that with another year of field experience to fill out my resume, my prospects for a next job in 2011 are good. It’s the dead truth that it takes more than just a degree to get work in this economy, and the CLM internship program has provided me with the experience I need to give me an edge on the job market. This internship has also gotten me connected to fellow botanists and conservation biologist in Southern California and otherwise. These connections are now coming in handy as I call around and explore the job market. The CLM internship program is a great resource for young people in conservation fields and provides a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal job market for recent college graduates. My experience here will be remembered as I bring my California experiences with me back to the Midwest.


Drew Monks

CLM Intern- Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Claremont, CA

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) Removal on Fort Ord BLM

In the 1920s a local rancher crossed the European wild boar with a domestic pig and got what we now call the wild boar, Sus scrofa. These robust individuals have since spread from Monterey County, CA to 56 of the lower 58 states. Despite their local origin, these pigs did not find a home at the Fort Ord BLM until 2004. Their presence was soon apparent as the destructive nature of the animal is to upturn the soil in moist soils and wetlands looking for bulbs, tubers and other yummy(?) edibles. This is a problem considering the number of rare and threatened species we have coexisting in these habitats. The program to remove the remaining invasive wild Boar has been underway for around five years. The pigs are lured into traps with fermented corn (this is my job) and then shot (this is not my job). The meat is then donated to one of many organizations on a waiting list to clean and process the meat, and then eat it. The program has been very successful and only a handful of individuals that remain (I think there are around three). Still it is not uncommon to discover sensitive areas roto-tilled overnight by the strong snouts of these pigs. The program to remove the remaining hogs will continue to operate in order to ensure that the population does not rebound. But until then it is a slow process.

Begin Again When It Ends!

Snowy Crooks Mountain summit, Fremont County, WY

Only 7 days remain. It’s -4F at 6:15 this morning in Lander, WY—balmy compared to what Lander, much of Wyoming, and, for that matter, what many parts of the United States have seen in the past few weeks. The flooding Lander streets of June, the heat of July and August and an unforgettable week at the Grand Canyon to begin my internship feel like ages ago. The mornings of racing the sunrise into the field to inventory aquatic organism passage at road crossings, what?, that was part of this internship?

Sagebrush in January

It has been a busy eight months, full of smiles & laughter, loads of new knowledge, exploration, minor frustrations, and several new friends. To have spent my office days crouched at the base of the east edge of the Wind River Mountains was a thrill to a guy that has been itching to get back to the Rockies. And nearly every field day provided views of the Winds, too. And even as beautiful as these mountains are with the bright greens of summer, little I have seen in my life can compare to the absolute stillness of the wind-blown sagebrush backed by the snowy ribbon of peaks that I have admired over the past two wintery months. This puts a smile on my face. Pronghorn antelope, sage-grouse, elk, moose, bald eagles, golden eagles, ferruginous hawks (and at least half a dozen other hawks and falcons), mountain bluebirds and loggerhead shrikes (and dozens of other small birds), jack rabbits, cottontails, deer, coyotes, badgers, rattlesnakes, bull snakes, and trout: they all make me smile, too!

Periodically over the summer months, I would target a stream crossing on the map, chart my course, and head out to tackle the goal. Miles of some of the roughest roads I have driven in my life later, I would come to a fallen tree blocking the road or the road would completely fade into never-ending sagebrush or the turnoff I had planned to take on the map no longer actually existed. Or worst of all, I would get to the stream and find it was dry (a cow’s gotta drink, right?)! But, that’s data, that’s learning, and I certainly improved my wild terrain driving skills. Plus, these instances were few. Perhaps my most memorable stream crossing I reached (no pun intended) after a stretch of frustratingly-dense greasewood that encroached upon an already very narrow road, scratching the truck more than I would have liked. As I neared the crossing, I hopped out of the truck, walked the final few hundred meters, and found a beautiful, rushing creek no more than two feet wide.

Summer storm approaches near Cyclone Rim

It had not been disrupted by the presence of cattle, and as far as I could tell, very little by humans, either. Fish swam about upstream and downstream of the crossing (capable of passing the crossing, a good thing). Best of all, the downstream side of the crossing was loaded with wild currant bushes, and they were fruiting. That stream would have made an entire summer of bad luck and frustration worth it (but luckily it didn’t have to)!

Another bluebird day along the water!

A series of streams from another week toward the end of the inventory sticks with me vividly, too. I had to hike a couple miles overland and then into a canyon and over a few small cliff bands to a pair of crossings. The gully’s north side was loaded with pines, standing and fallen, and some unusually dense understory vegetation (for Wyoming). A bushwhack. I could tell early on that if road crossings had in fact existed in the area at some point, it was highly unlikely that they would still be present, and certainly not in use. But, it was a wonderful spot for a hike, and I wanted (and was supposed to) get to the crossing locations to be sure. After not finding any crossing to speak of at the first site, I hiked upstream for a rocky, heavily-vegetated half-mile or so to another couple of crossings. As I neared the next spot, and as I stepped over a large tree root, it clicked in my brain that my foot was about to come down on a rattlesnake, stretched out in the weak sunlight. Adrenaline helped me take a very long stride and luck showed the snake unconcerned with my presence. From a reasonable distance, I caught my breath and admired the snake for several minutes before continuing with the remainder of the day. Two days later, after hiking a loop of six or eight streams and nearly as many miles, working my way back up a long hill to the truck, I nearly stepped on a sunning bull snake. Lesson learned: I ought to tell my brain to keep an eye out for snakes in the sunning position, too, not just curled up!

If there were some need to “wrap up” my stories, it would happen right here. But, why stop now? On to new places, let the adventures go on!

Tyler Stuart

Lander, WY


Exploring the Great Basin

Stationed out of Provo, UT we sat at the base of the Rocky Mountains and the beginning of the Great Basin Desert. A huge transition of two drastic environments. During the week for work we camped out in the desert, during the weekend I spent my time hiking in the mountains. Truely a great way to spend a summer. While out in the desert we spent our time looking for and collecting seeds of desert forbs like Ipomopsis sp. and Balsamorhiza sp. As the summer went on, we spent more of our time focussing on shrubs and sagebrush mainly since all the forbs were waining pretty quickly. The Provo group was made up of four CLM interns and we split up into two different “teams”. One taking a north rout, and one taking a south rout. I was a part of the north rout travaling along I-80 along western Utah and Northern Nevada ocasionaly travaling into Oregon and Idaho. Overall the 4 of us split up throughout the desert we managed to gather over 400 seed collections.