The Beginning

My mentor Terry holds out a dried-out piece of elk scat. “We’re only looking for freshly deposited droppings,” he says. “The trick to telling if it’s fresh is to see if it has a nice ripe taste. Just try it a few times and you’ll get to know the taste.” I look up at him. Is he joking? Yes he’s joking.

Bear poop!

I’m finishing up the second week of my internship with the BLM in Grand Junction, Colorado, and in spite of my mentor trying to get me to put elk poop in my mouth (he swears he wouldn’t have actually let me do it), it’s already turning out to be an amazing experience. I’m working in some of the most remote and beautiful places I’ve ever been. I’ve seen desert bighorn sheep up close. I’m learning the names of Colorado flora, and by the end of the summer I will have greatly improved my plant identification skills. After spending so much of my life learning things in a classroom, I can’t believe that I finally get to spend every day outside, learning by doing.

Fieldwork can be a bit of a challenge, what with temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s, gnats, and lack of restrooms. On top of that I’m still adjusting to the high altitude, having come from sea level, and later in the season I’ll have thunderstorms to look forward to. However, it’s turning out to be an amazing learning experience. I get to go to work every day and be surrounded by incredible landscapes. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer has to offer.

A collared lizard

A Change of Scenery

While road tripping out to New Mexico from Michigan, I realized there would be a lot of changes in my life. Going from The Great Lakes State filled with forests, agriculture, and well, lots of water, to the Land of Enchantment filled with mesas, canyons, ranges, and not so much water. The landscapes, the plant species, the people, all would be different. Moving from my Forestry background into the realm of Botany through the Seeds of Success Program was also a major change. I was used to looking up and taking notice of the different trees around me, but I now had to be trained to look down and observe the vegetation growing at my feet.

In spite of all the differences, however, there are an astonishing amount of similarities. Learning a new species, whether it is a tree, shrub, forb, or flower, requires the same skills. First you have to be able to identify all of the different features of the target species and then be able to classify what you are seeing. Botany has its own set of terminology just like any other specialty, you just have to be patient and take the time to learn the language. At first the new vocabulary was daunting, but I soon started to grasp an understanding of the field, which has grown into an appreciation for these smaller plants.

The Four Corners Region is a beautiful area full of history and adventure. I am very excited to be working for my mentor in the Bureau of Land Management and cannot wait to see where these next 5 months of my CLM Internship take me

Largo Canyon in New Mexico

Welcome to the desert!!

I have been in Safford, AZ for almost a month! I am originally from Ohio and was dreading coming to this dry hot climate. Now that I am here I absolutely love this place! I once thought that the desert was barren and dead. When I got out here and started exploring I found that I was completely wrong! There is a ton of life and there is always something new in bloom. Almost everyday I am told of a new place to go exploring where I find new plants!

Currently there are not a lot of plants on our collection list that are flowering. Arizona had poor winter rains and is experiencing large wildfires. This has made things a bit challenging. However, I have still learned a lot in the short month I have been here. Working with the Bureau of Land Management I have been exposed to public land and current management practices. We have seen the negative effects that grazing has on the environment. During field days we have learned about erosion pedestals, increasing plants due to degraded landscapes, and how people view the desert ecosystem. Through conservation efforts of many agencies the public is starting to become aware of the value the desert has to offer but there is still a lot of work to be done. I am amazed at the species diversity in the southeast corner of Arizona and will work hard to try and protect this beautiful ecosystem during my internship.

Pray for good summer rains so we can have an awesome collecting season! 🙂

Argemone pleiacantha



Greetings From Pinedale, WY.

Well I never pictured myself being in Wyoming… ever. Here I am though and wow what a good decision I made! I moved to Pinedale in the beginning of May. I was shocked to find a place with a harsher winter/spring climate than where I live in New York but those times did not last long. I spent the first few weeks taking a lot of training courses and exploring the outskirts of town (the few that weren’t buried under snow) and just trying to ready myself to explore an environment about as foreign to me as the moon. Species like robins and red winged blackbirds along with cottonwoods and aspen are familiar sites but they are only a minute sample of the flora and fauna that make up Wyoming’s high desert and mountain habitats. Once I was all trained and the weather started looking up it was time to start scouting plant populations. Our goal here in Pinedale is to collect seed from various regions of Sublette County in order to obtain a varied genetic sample of the plants that will be useful in restoration. I am pleased to see that our field office is working hard to make sure we collect from specific regions of the county where oil and gas drilling are taking place. Once the oil and gas companies are done, the state mandates that they restore the land back to previous use which, in this case, is viable wildlife habitat. It is rewarding to know that our efforts are going above and beyond seed banking and that what we do here will help restore habitat for such species like sage grouse and pronghorn. My weekends are spent with newly made friends in and around Pinedale, hiking, camping, fishing, etc.. It has been an interesting experience so far especially coming from a job in the private sector. I am excited to see what the rest of the summer holds and soon they tell me the mountains will finally unthaw and some serious hiking can begin!

Nevada: not a flat wasteland


My internship is in Carson City, NV. A common misconception of Nevada seems to be that it is a flat, endless, dull, hot wasteland. However, it is actually a very diverse state, the most mountainous of the contiguous U.S. Already, we have worked in a variety of habitats including pinyon-juniper forest, salt desert, ephemeral lakes, a 400-foot high sand dune, and sagebrush steppe. Still to come are places like the tufa formations of Pyramid Lake and the meadows and forests of the Sierra Nevada.

Carson City is located at the base of the Carson Range–a spur of the Sierra Nevada–and is pretty close to a lot of great places. Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake (22 x 11 miles) and second-deepest lake (1,600+ feet) of any kind in North America, where I have already skied, snowshoed, and hiked, is 20 minutes away. The high country of Yosemite is 2.5 hours away (once Tioga Pass finally opens). The tufa towers and volcanic craters of Mono Lake are ~2 hours away. The 35-mile-long playa of the Black Rock Desert is 2-3 hours away. If you want a larger city, Reno is 45 minutes north.

It’s difficult to sum up the four months I have already spent here, but I have really enjoyed learning a new flora and experiencing the different ecosystems. I am also fortunate to work with some excellent co-interns. They even baked me a surprise birthday cake recently.

Tomorrow, we leave for the almost coast of California for a rapid vegetation assessment training. I’m really looking forward to learning the skills, and I know they will be valuable in my near and far future. More blogging to come.

Adventure and Uncertainty are synonymous

Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah; 1500 hours. 24th of May.

Maybe the only thing one can be certain of is that one can’t be certain. Here I am, having traveled Guatemala-Fort Lauderdale-Los Angeles-Zion, and yet my place in Zion is still uncertain (due to unexpected spinning of hamster wheels). But can I be bothered? By being surrounded with sandstone cathedrals, piercing blue skies, and, well, (as all things appears to be) a very uncertain weather pattern? Hardly a bother. “The vegetation is bound to be complex” I think to myself, “ever changing and infinitely enticing.” On the short but splendid trip up Zion Canyon, Columbines (Aquilegia spp.) reached out of the moist canyon walls to greet the passersby. Shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum var. zionense) decorated the slick, sky-reflecting sandstone. Rain droplets began to fall then… Soft at first, hanging in the air along with cottonwood seeds making everything even more magical. The wind got stronger as the Bernoulli Effect forced the fluid air and water between the canyon walls the Virgin River has carved. Cold and wet, everyone began to scanter about, trying to find shelter. It always rains on the important days of my life. Then again, what day is less than important? The day after the present is only possible thanks to the day prior. Life is quite peculiar. One either is or isn’t, and being only makes sense if we are in movement and continuity. Any single moment without the sustenance of past experience and future dreams and aspirations ceases to make sense. Half of life is just perceptions in our minds, and my mind is only experiences woven together. Zion, place of refuge. What will I perceive? For now, gratitude. Gratitude for being alive and surrounded by millions of flying cotton bits and red towers.

Now, three weeks after this journal entry, I look back on how many successes I have enjoyed. Working for the Resource Management Department is beyond an honor. Working with the herbarium is exactly what I have wanted. I am learning everything from systematic botany to computer management and databases. I have mostly dedicated the first three weeks to office work and data entry in order to know exactly which plants are missing. Touching every sample (770 and counting) and getting to know each collectors relationship with the specimen has helped get a good handle of the species in Zion. My education prior had, in part, been in the Mojave Desert. This has given me somewhat of an advantage since some Mojave species are here in Zion as well. Many species are new, but I feel wonderful every time I see a species and can at least know its family, sometimes genus. Memories of Natural History Field Quarter at UC Santa Cruz rush back as I stroke the softly pubescent and aromatic leaves of an Artemisia tridentata, or stumble upon a magnificent array of Opunitia spp in bloom. Here and there, a more mysterious Asclepias asperula var. asperula (spider milkweed) can be found, enchanting with its absolute symmetry in 5’s. Working in an air-conditioned room in front of a computer could be perceived as a negative aspect to database work, but one can always find the awesomeness if one is willing to look for it. Access has become somewhat of a game now. The database is quite user-friendly if one is patient and probing. I have found that the Plant Ecologist that works for Zion is a master at making splendid labels for the herbarium specimens. They are so complete, that I have been able to use them to pinpoint locations of plants that are still missing in the herbarium. I have done this by seeing what he labeled as the associate species of the specimen. Some of those will be new entries to the herbarium. Small but exciting details such as these make even a potentially dull exercise quite the opposite. I am looking forward to learn GIS, GPS navigation, Plot reading, traditional rock climbing, cacti pressing, and just about any opportunity I can find. Live Love and Learn, for uncertainty is everywhere, synonymous to adventure and change.

The end of the Rainbow

Ranunculus lobii might be the most elusive plant on Fort Ord. R. lobii, alias buttercup, aka RALO, has had me on a wild goose chase for the second summer in a row. I prefer to use the name RALO when referring to this plant, buttercup being too sweet of a name for RALO’s real character: deceptive, secretive, and terse.
It all started last summer. It was a sea of gold; a veritable ocean of RALO. All who passed would stand in awe at the display. I had the perfect plan; I would wait until the color faded, and collect. It would be a golden bounty of seed! I would pass the field daily, but the color did not fade. Then one day, without notice, the meadow was dark green, no gold in sight. I ran from my truck, bags in hand ready for the most lucrative collection of all. I walked into the meadow, high stepping the tall Carex sp, but all I saw were sharp blades of the sedges. I swam through the thick grass on hands and knees looking for any sign of RALO- nothing! Unsettled by the enigma of the vanishing sea of gold, I returned again and again, but my bags remained empty and my dreams unfulfilled. I held on to my measly collection determined to solve the mystery in the following season.
This year, I was prepared. I monitored all known RALO populations; I watched, recorded, measured, photographed, and waited. Then, one day, RALO was gone. I searched mountaintops and savannas, looking for the remnants of what once were. I scrutinized fields once full of RALO, only to add another measly hundred seeds to my bag. Despondent and forlorn, I abandoned my dreams of collecting 20,000 RALO seeds.
Having moved on to other seeds, my spirits started to rise. I visited Butterfly Valley- a lovely place! Here species are abundant. I filled my bags with seeds from not one, but three species! Happy with my success, I packed my bags and headed for the truck. Just then, something caught my eye. There at my feet, hanging on a delicate perch, a head of brown, little, hooked fruits. On my hands and knees, I recognized this plant as none other than RALO. As I looked around, I realized that it was not just this one individual, but a field of mature RALO seed heads! I had come to the end of the rainbow. I collected until I could collect no more.
Dreams fulfilled, mystery solved, I feel better about RALO as a species. However, I will warn those of you who intend on collecting this species. You never know what might happen when you turn your back on characters like Ranunclus lobii.

Carson City, NV

So far working for the Bureau of Land Management in Carson City, Nevada has been an enlightening experience.  I moved out to Nevada from Illinois 2 months ago and I had never realized how mountainous Nevada was. I found out that Nevada is the single most mountainous state in the whole U.S. and prior to this experience I thought that it was all desert.  Another thing I never realized is how windy the desert is. The winds can get so bad here that they have to shut down highways for trucks and trailers because of fear of tipping over due to the forceful winds. I have started to learn the desert vegetation and I’m perfecting my monitoring skills. I think this internship is really interesting because I not only get to work with plants but have many encounters with animals as well. I have seen numerous wild horses, a rattlesnake, scorpion, bald eagles and the list goes on! I also think that this internship is such an interesting experience because all of my fellow interns that I’m working with this summer are from all over the country.

A skill that I have gained is how to determine when seeds are ready to be taken from a plant, and then collected for Seeds of Success.  I really think that the Seeds of Success program is a great program because it’s taking native plants seeds, and re-seeding them in other parts in the state. I think its unfortunate that there are so many non-native plants in the U.S. and I’m happy to be part of a program that is restoring lands here back to the native species.

I’m also in the process of taking a 24 hour GIS course that will hopefully perfect my skills with mapping. I’m really excited to start to do this because I feel these skills will make me more desirable when I look for a job in a few months.

One skill that I am perfecting while being out here is driving the 4WD vehicles. Before coming here, I have never even driven a pickup truck let alone drove in 4 wheel drive over rocks and rough terrain. I now feel confident in my abilities to drive in these desolate areas in the work trucks.

I hope by the next post I will have a lot of seeds collected!

Spring in the Central Valley, CA

Hello to all the other CLM interns around the country. My name is Melissa, and I have been working as an SOS intern at the California Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, CA (near Lodi, about 40 minutes south of Sacramento) for a few months now. I am from New York originally, so living here in the central valley is quite a change from what I am used to — but in a good way!

So far my co-intern Cathy and I have been keeping busy with a lot of things here at the PMC.  Since our interenship is a bit different than other SOS interns based at BLM offices – I thought I would share some photos/info about what goes on at a plant materials center.

This is one of the diagrams they showed us at the SOS training in Denver a few weeks ago. Working here at the PMC we are getting exposure not only to seed collecting, but also to steps 2 and 3 in the process.

Just like the picture from the diagram, we do a lot “evaluation and development” here at the CAPMC.  We develop propagation protocals for different plant species — trying out different methods of stratifcation and scarification and planting seeds in different soil types until we find a strategy that works well and we have a high germination rate. 

We when aren’t out seed collecting, we spend a lot of time in the CAPMC greenhouses –>

Planting seeds, transferring seedlings into bigger pots and keeping our plants happy!

The next step in the NPMDP program is “field establisment”

We have a lot of specialized machinery here at the CAPMC, for example this transplater which is being used to transfer these grass plugs into the field.

After a few years, the fields look like this (Southern California Brome –>)

Each of the fields is a different “release” species.

The seeds from our releases are then collected and sent off to commercial seed growers — where they can be grown out in large quantities for restoration and conservation projects.

Good luck to everyone with their seed collecting!

Combating invasive species

I just started working out here at the Angeles National Forest about three weeks ago.  California is a much different environment compared to the prairie filled Midwest I’m used to.  There are so many different biomes here its just awesome.  The Angeles National Forest is very unique when compared to other national forests due to the fact that it is constantly being reborn due to disturbances.  A disturbance, ecologically speaking, is when an ecosystem gets wiped out practically and most of  the living material dies.  The Angeles forest is constantly being disturbed by both natural and human influences.  There are many different ways disturbances happen here at the Angeles the largest and most observable cause of a disturbance are wildfires.  The dry arid climate combined with the Santa Ana winds make wildfires a real problem for the forest.  When a wildfire sweeps through an area it can leave very little behind.  Another form of disturbance that we have encountered is not always recognized by people, and that is gas pipeline construction.  Gas companies actually have many pipelines that run right through the forest and the construction and burial of these line also disturb the ecosystem.  So to be clear disturbances are not always bad.  Nature has been coping with some of these natural disturbances for millions of years and the ecosystem becomes healthier and more diverse because of these disturbances.  The problem with these disturbances comes when new invasive species start to move in and take over the disturbed areas.  They are not native and therefore the normal flora and fauna cannot adapt to the changing environment and then struggle to survive.  This is where I come in with a super hero entrance and a utility belt full of all my weed extraction tools.  The Angeles National Forest weed crew consists of me and ten other workers whose job it is to go into these disturbed area and extract all of the invasive species we can get.  Now when I first started the job it felt very lack-luster.  I felt like an overworked gardener, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that what I was doing was making a difference to the ecosystem in a very positive way.  When you go into a burned area that is now just covered with an invasive mustard you can see how these non-native plants can choke out all of the native flora.  It is a hard, long and dirty job but I know that the forest will be a much better place because of it.  It is our responsibility to maintain these ecosystems in order to protect all of the plants and animals that depend on it.  Also we need to preserve these beautiful landscapes so that future generations can enjoy them and learn from them as well.