Notes from Vale: Chapter 1 – Introductions

I thought it would be appropriate to begin my first blog entry by introducing myself and giving a brief account of how I ended up in Vale, Oregon for the summer. My name is Ryan Godfrey: I am 22 years old, from just outside of Toronto, Canada, and I’m currently between my undergraduate degree and grad school. I got my Bachelor of Science at the University of British Columbia (in Vancouver) majoring in Ecology. I’m spending this “in-between” year trying to get my hands on some real world experience in biology. Most of my experience in biology has been from an academic, research-oriented point of view: I wanted to spend this year playing the field and trying my hand at some of the other avenues available in biology. And that’s what led me to CLM. The internships offered through the Chicago Botanic Garden sounded like a great way to test the waters on the management side of biology, and it seemed like a great adventure for the summer to boot. When I was offered a position with Seeds of Success in Vale, my first thought was: “Treasure hunt on the sagebrush steppes? I’m down.” Then I looked up Vale on Google Earth: the population is under 2000, so it’s smaller than my high school, and surrounded on all sides by farmland and BLM lands for miles and miles. Now my thoughts were… “Treasure hunting in the desert and living in the boonies? Totally down!” I’ve lived my whole life in large cities or suburbs on massive bodies of water, so this really was going to be an adventure.

I’ve been here for nearly two months now and I’ve had quite a few introductions of my own. First came the usual, predicted intros: meeting my boss and colleagues/co-plant hunters. But I also experiences introduction that were, to me, more exotic: I met small town people and small town life, I’ve driven a tractor, fed horses, learned about ranching. I’ve also become acquainted with the geography and landscape of the vast Malheur county. One of the most interesting and eye-opening introductions so far has been to the BLM as a whole. I have found it fascinating to discover what the BLM is: what it does; how it works; what it’s priorities are. Equally rewarding have been my encounters with the employees of the BLM: stream specialists, wild horse experts, geologists, wildlife managers etc. and learning what they do and how it all fits into the “big picture.” And of course I can’t forget my introduction to the countless plant species of Eastern Oregon. Learning the scientific names of these has often recalled sections from the Harry Potter books  and of the memorizing of various spells and incantations (it’s “er-i-O-go-num” not “er-i-o-GO-num!”) And not least of all has been a very important first encounter with my new weighty, wordy friend: the prodigious Intermountain Flora, into whose pages I delve daily for the answer to that continually confounding conundrum: “what the heck plant is that!?”

To sum up: we’re having a blast over here in Vale. We’re about 20 seed collections deep and we’ve got well over a hundred pressed voucher specimens. I’ll be keeping you all posted with my “Notes from Vale” and I look forward to meeting the rest of the CLM team in Chicago later this month. Until the next, keep this in mind:

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice: in practice, there is.”





Speaking in Acronyms

I have only been inhabiting the small community of Kemmerer, WY, for a short two weeks thus far. However, I have learned much in this time. One of the first things I’ve learned is how to fit in with the locals. People knew I was from out of town when I said “Kemmer-er-er-er,” stuttering like I was driving over speed bumps. “No, it’s KEMMer,” a local was kind enough to correct my Midwestern translation.

In fact, I’ve learned many new short-cuts in the English language. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) loves to use acronyms to describe most anything that would take more than two syllables to state. I’ve been lost in conversations that are spoken nearly completely in letters rather than words. Like learning any new language, I’ve asked many questions and gradually retained the information I’ve received. Everyone has been very pleasant, understanding that I don’t naturally speak in code.

My mission thus far has been to map Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) habitat using Trimble units. Another intern and I bounce down gravel roads, stopping occasionally to explore prairie dog towns, raptor nests, and potential plover habitat. The plover remains elusive to me, though we have seen many Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) which we have often excitedly mistaken for plovers upon first sighting. We have also seen a badger, ground squirrels, mule deer, prairie dogs, various raptors, and antelope/pronghorn–which my fellow intern and I have come to call prontelopes. At the end of the day, we download our GPS information onto a computer and use it to create polygon features using ArcMap to highlight potential plover habitat areas on a map. Our data will hopefully aid in the responsible planning of future projects such as well pads.

It takes some time to get used to the vast landscape that is the High Desert District of Wyoming. Coming from northern Wisconsin, rich with trees and other vegetation, I’m still trying to get my bearings. I am generally accustomed–and comfortable with–only seeing a couple miles ahead of me before my line of sight is cut off by a copse of trees. When I asked a BLM employee the distance to the Uinta mountains range sitting on the horizon in the distance, he replied, “50-60 miles.” It’s going to take some time before I’m able to judge distance and distinguish between one rolling sage brush hill and another, but I have plenty of people to help me and I am eager to learn.

I’ve learned a lot about the BLM already in these two short weeks and have met many interesting and knowledgeable individuals who have made long car rides and days in the field all the more exciting. I’m anticipating that I will gain many valuable experiences working with such a large, integrated government organization.

Searching the High Desert for Sage-grouse

My first week in Nevada has been full of excitement and challenges. Working with two other C.L.M. interns, we have driven rocky roads, hiked drainages, and camped in tents every night. We did all of this for the GREAT Greater-sage grouse! The sage-grouse has been in decline in Nevada, and may be listed as threatened or endangered soon. We’ve been working with U.S. Geological Survey and the Great Basin Bird Observatory, who have been tracking these birds for the past few months. The crew members have been living in trailers in the middle of nowhere for months! And I thought I was tough. They’ve been using telemetry to locate eleven collared birds, night and day. Our three WOMAN crew came to help them survey the vegetation at each location in which grouse were found.
At each Sage grouse location, we surveyed the vegetation to quantify habitat suitability. I had never seen such rough terrain or performed this type of vegetation survey before. We laid tape for transects, estimating cover with a Daubenmire frame and cover board. I am excited to learn new scientific methods and grow into a better botanist. Our crew leader is also great at pointing out new species so that I can learn the plants of Nevada. After learning so much in one week, I can’t wait to see what else I can discover over the next months.
The past few days were full of intense and exciting work, so the three of us were very happy to relax around the campfire in the evenings. After a long day of hiking several kilometers, we talked about some of the beautiful things we saw – a new plant species, a wild horse, an antelope. We also learned more about one another, and I think we’ll have a great time working together. I have seen a lot in my first week, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this amazing landscape.

New Job New Home

Let me preface my first blog with some background information about myself.  I was born and raised in the suburbs of New Jersey and moved to western North Carolina for college.  The Wyoming landscape is very different than anything I have ever experienced in this country.  I am in awe of how the United States could contain such different landscapes and cultures, like New Jersey and Wyoming!

At the foot of the Big Horn mountain range is the Buffalo, Wyoming Bureau of Land Management Field Office.  This office has a spectacular view, is decorated with migratory bird and native plant posters, offers BLM recreation information, and is speckled with friendly faces. The first day my mentor showed my co-intern and I around the office and introduced us to our BLM family.  The people I met were warm and welcoming.  I felt at ease by their hospitality and was excited to glean knowledge from the veteran biologists and ecologists with whom I was going to be working so closely.

My internship began on June 13th, and the first week of work included training and a general introduction to my role at the BLM Buffalo Field Office.  I was informed that my experience will include, and not be limited to: sheep fence inventory, monitoring the Greater Sage Grouse, plant identification and plant community assessment, and collecting seeds for the  Seeds of Success program.

I look forward to exploring the high plains desert and understanding the role of conservation within the BLM. I have started flipping though field guides and identifying the new flora and fauna I am observing at work, on hikes, and in my own backyard.   Observing the relationships of the BLM and those who lease the land is another component of the BLM I would like to investigate.

I am honored to have gotten the chance to participate in this internship that will aid in my growth as an ecologist and a person.  In the next six months I plan to work hard, ask questions, and be appreciative that I have a chance pursue my passion though ecological work at the BLM.

-Cheryl Geiger

Me in Crazy Woman Canyon Buffalo, Wyoming

Desert Spring

As a CLM intern at the USGS in Henderson, NV, I have had the opportunity to explore the unique desert habitat of Nevada and California.  My three fellow CLM interns and I worked for several months on a project near Ft. Irwin in California, identifying the annual and perennial plants, taking biomass samples, and gathering general information about the plant community.  We ran into all sorts of reptiles, like the desert tortoise and horned lizard, as well as bees and other insects. 

We also saw a wide variety of flowering annuals and perennials, like the tiny, bright purple Nama demissum, the butter-yellow Malacothrix glabrata, the pink, spotted Eremalche rotundifolia, the speckled pods of Astragalus lentiginosis, and the orange Sphaeralcea ambigua.

In addition, we found interesting volcanic rocks and even fossils during our hikes around the area


Last month we worked on the Nevada National Security Site, formerly the Nevada Test Site, to continue monitoring the perennial plots set up in 1962 by Dr. Janice Beatley, of the University of California, Laboratory of Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Biology.  Dr. Beatley originally set up the plots to assess the effects of radiation on plant communities, and when the NTS stopped above ground testing, the plots continued to be monitored and now provide a look at the change in Mojave plant communities over many years.  It was fascinating to work in a place very few people have ever seen, as well as to be a part of such a long-running project.  I am looking forward to the rest of the summer!

Alturas, CA: Where Ecosystems Collide

We pulled out of the field station and headed west. As we drove, various peaks distinguished themselves. Mt Shasta looked menacing even from our distance, and Lassen’s snowy peak seemed to be begging me to come explore. We passed a sign that informed us that the small path through the grass was in fact the Pacific Crest Trail. Soon after that, we pulled onto a narrow dirt road which led us to a large meadow. Our tour guide, my boss Mike, informed us that this meadow was covered with a collection of shallow vernal pools which were just beginning to dry up after the wet winter months. We stopped when the road ended in a pool that had not yet dried up, and got out to take a closer look. What had appeared to be a field of grass was actually filled with tiny flowers. They were white, purple, yellow and pink and most were smaller than a pencil eraser.

Since the water blocked the road to our original destination, we turned around and got back on the highway. We drove for a couple of minutes and then turned onto a road with a primitive wooden sign that read “Cinder Cone Road.” We traveled through some Ponderosa pine, then some juniper, and then through another meadow. After the meadow, the scenery began to change. The road became rockier, and the plants became shrubbier and less colorful. We had entered an old lava bed. There were rocky outcroppings and flatter areas, all covered in plant life. I couldn’t believe how many plants were able to survive in such a demanding environment. We visited a large opening in the ground with smaller lava tube caves heading deeper underground, then hiked up a rocky hill to look at some flowers on a rare plants list. We drove along cliffs of crumbling rock and then entered a pine forest once again, before hitting the highway and heading back toward the office.

On the drive back, Mike explained why this was such an interesting place to work. The BLM Field Office in Alturas manages a wide variety of ecosystems from barren flat lands to sage-steppe habitat to pine-fir forests. We are located at the edge of the Great Basin to the East, and are bordered by the southern edge of the Cascade Range to the West. This means that plants from both ecosystems may be found growing right next to each other. Each day spent in the field showed me another type of terrain and plant life. It is comforting to know that I will not get bored of the surroundings of my new home, because if I am ready for a change, an entirely different ecosystem is never more than 20 miles away. I look forward to more exploration and I know that each day in the field will bring new discoveries and unique experiences.

They Don’t Call it Big Sky Country for Nothing

Wow! So here I am, living and working in Montana. There have been several times now that I have been standing on the crest of a hill looking out on endless prairies and distant mountains, or watching Sage Grouse through binoculars as the sun rose and wondered when it would all start feeling real. I asked one of my co-workers what he thought while we were driving in the truck, and he told me it wouldn’t sink in until it was time to leave. Go figure.
Having grown up and lived on the East Coast my whole life, this CLM internship has provided the opportunity to experience a part of the country I have always dreamed of visiting- Montana. The rugged beauty of this state is awe-inspiring and humbling, and in the presence of such forces you are at all times reminded of how small and fragile people really are. Having come from a place where civilization is never more than a holler away, these huge expanses of unsettled land are both liberating and exhilarating; unlike back East you have to stay on your toes out here or you could land in a heap of trouble!
Like many other early spring interns, the first few weeks of my internship were spent on Sage Grouse surveys in the morning and training in the afternoons. Getting up before dawn was never something I got used to, but seeing those birds strut their stuff, bright yellow chest sacks jiggling, never failed to make me laugh. During this time I also received many hours in 4WD driving instruction, and I would have never even imagined back in Maryland the road conditions they overcome in central Montana! During this wet spring I have driven on washed-out and lumpy two-tracks that were scarcely more than a few ruts carved into the dirt, fishtailed across miles of muddy and potholed roads and escaped the infamous Missouri Break’s “gumbo” which has succeeded in getting me stuck once already. (After a half hour of trying to dig myself out I wasn’t too proud to radio for help- an employee was in the area and kindly pulled me out- see pic above).
Since my initial few weeks of training I have been given several of my own projects to take charge of. I jumped on the opportunity to do some Mountain Plover surveys, for which I mapped out points and called landowners about those on private land, (I have met a bunch so far, and most are very friendly). With an interest in PR I also took the opportunity to try to convince locals to keep their cats inside as part of a bird-friendly initiative. From that effort I have a newspaper article in the review pipeline and a pamphlet we are going to try and get printed. I have been trying to get involved in every other project I can in the office including habitat restoration, bug collection and herp surveys, and recently attended the MT State Biologist’s Meeting where I was able to meet a bunch of other BLMers.
My mentor is a Wildlife biologist at the Lewistown field office. He is patient and receptive to my comments, and always asking what I am interested in pursuing. The town itself is idyllic and peaceful- big enough to have all of the supplies you need but small enough that you bump into folks you know everywhere, and I love it. Having come from a huge city like DC, it feels good to belong to a small community and not have to worry about crime. The low rent and huge apartment I can afford is a big plus as well. So far I have been getting a great taste of Western culture through going to some rodeos, attending a co-worker’s ranch wedding and going out drinking and dancing at the local bars on Friday nights. I have even gotten myself some cowgirl boots and hat.
I have already been to Yellowstone a few times and can’t wait to get to Glacier and Teton once things start to melt. I am defiantly having a great time, but this summer is about getting great professional experience, getting a better understanding of how BLM works and figuring out what I enjoy doing most. I am about 1/3 of the way through and so far it has been very successful! I am excited to see what I get done come September.

Field forms, field forms, and more field forms!

My job in the internship program is to enter the Seeds of Success data forms that are sent to Megan Haidet at the BLM National Office into BGBase, a software program that organizes the data so that it can be more easily transferee among parties (BLM and the Royal Botanic Gardens Millennium Seed Bank).  I work out of the Portland, OR area from either my desk at home or a local coffee shop- although it isn’t as exciting as going out into the field and collecting seed, I can live vicariously through reading the blog posts that other seed collectors post!  It is nice to be able to see photos of you collecting seeds in the field on the blog- thanks for keeping me motivated!

Raptors in Cody, Wyoming

I can’t believe I’ve never been to this state before. The scenery is spectacular– it’s staggering to even imagine how long geology has been at work in this place. I love being able to see mountains everywhere I go, even though most of my work is in sagebrush steppe country.

I arrived in Cody on May 11, 2011, and began my internship on May 12th. I confess to one or two days of homesickness at first, but thanks to a nice temporary home and a great work environment I am now quite comfortable here in Cody, and at the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). So far my work activities have included monitoring golden eagle nests, mending and respacing wire on fences, vegetation surveys, monitoring sage grouse leks, assisting in a hike with the public for National Trails Day, and planting native shrubs in an area previously cleared of an invasive species. Soon I will also be collecting seed for the Seeds of Success program, monitoring other raptor (birds of prey) nests, and surveying other wildlife species such as rabbits and amphibians. For now, my primary responsibility is to monitor golden eagle nests. The chicks are currently around 5 weeks old, and it’s amazing how fast they grow and change. I wouldn’t have guessed they would start out as little fluffy white fellers, but they do. At this age, they are starting to get black markings on their wings and bodies, which will eventually fill in until they are pretty much all dark brown.

Overall, I’ve had a great experience so far, and learned more than I can say or remember. It’s a very refreshing change after graduating from college to be learning in such a hands-on, practical way. There really is no replacement for an education in the field. That being said, field work does have its drawbacks and setbacks. It has been unusually rainy in Cody this year, which delayed many field activities. Most of the roads we take to get to our field sites are dirt roads or two-tracks, which have been largely inaccessible due to the rain. It’s unfortunate since this is a very important time of year for things like bird surveys and monitoring, but the rain also has some benefits. An unprecedented number of mushrooms have been popping up, and (in theory) it should be a good time to look for amphibians. In the end, you do the best you can under whatever conditions arise.


I have been in Arizona for almost a month now. Coming here with a background in botany, I was way off in the diversity of the plant species here, and their size. Being an SOS intern I have already had some amazing opportunities see some amazing wildlife and plants.

Because I started so early I did my training for the internship for SOS collecting in Colorado, and our field day was really neat too. And the training was really helpful in my professional growth because I know now what to expect in a formal seed collection.

Our focus for the SOS is native grass seed, but with the doubt and wildfires that our going we will do the best we can.