Always an Adventure

Only three months left of my internship and I cannot believe how quickly time is moving. Right now there is a lull in seeding plants, so I have been able to help out other groups in the office with their projects.

Over the past few weeks I have been involved in several riparian assessments. It is important to monitor riparian areas to make sure they are functioning properly, due to their high ecological value. These areas help filter the water of sediments and other pollutants, reduce soil erosion, dissipate energy from the stream, and support unique plant and animal communities.

Currently I am packing for the Annual Native Plant Society of New Mexico Meeting in Santa Fe. There I will learn about the society and meet other people who are passionate about native plant species. Along with lectures and workshops, there are many field trips organized to go out and explore the surrounding natural areas.

Below I have included my favorite picture of the month. This was taken at the De-Na-Zin Wilderness area. I have been enjoying my time in Farmington, NM and look forward to the coming months.

Back in the Great Basin

This is my second CLM internship, and also my second time living in Carson  City, NV.  This year I am participating in a different project with the BLM – monitoring and surveying the nearly threatened sage grouse habitat. This has meant much more hiking than last year, often far from a road of any kind, over rough terrain and in sweltering heat. All this off-trail trekking means that I’ve been able to see much more of the landscape than ever before, not to mention more of the wildlife. In one day last week we saw a heard of antelope, 3 goshawks and a red tail, several types of lizards, a rattlesnake, and lastly a scorpion (which incidentally decided to take up residence under my sleeping bag)! We have yet to see any bighorn sheep, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get to see some again this year before the internship is up.

I’ve heard a few people scoff at the fact that Nevada is the most mountainous state in the lower 48 (“Nevada has 172 mountain summits with 2,000 feet (610 m) of prominence. Nevada ranks second in the US, behind Alaska, and ahead of California, Montana, and Washington. This makes Nevada the “Most Mountainous” state in the country, at least by this measure.” I invite these people to try hiking a few miles off trail and see what they think of Nevada’s mountains, and no, that does not mean taking your ATV! That means using your legs and lungs and sweat glands = HIKING. Many people in Nevada have an aversion to walking for some reason. And whenever I go hiking in the Sierras,despite being on the state line, the majority of what I encounter are people from California and their dogs. I think this lack of “walking about” may contribute to Nevada’s lack of public interest in Public Lands. The land seems to be used more for free dumping than anything else. Perhaps if Nevadans could trouble themselves to leave their cars for long enough to appreciate what they have all around them, they would come to the same conclusion that I have. Namely, that their state is incredibly diverse and beautiful, and that it deserves better treatment and care.

Many things can be deemed nice and even beautiful from behind a pane of glass, rolling down the highway. But, some things have to be experienced in a physical way. You have to have the sun on your neck, grit in your teeth and the dust of a place in your nose before you can truly appreciate that summer storm and the way the rain makes the smell of sage hang in the air.

Lamoille Canyon, Elko, NV

Summer in the Desert

My summer here in Arizona has been amazing, and will continue although the rains have finally come.  While we have not been able to collect any seeds yet, it seems promising in the next couple of weeks.

No words or pictures can do justice to the places that I have seen. The plants out here are amazing now that they are starting to bloom. My plant list has almost doubled in the past couple of weeks, and the habitat range around the state is truly remarkable.  I’m so lucky and fortunate to have gotten this internship, and the opportunity to learn so much more. The desert storms are fun to watch, just watch out for lightning. 🙂

Racing to finish the 2010 seed year!

The end of the 2010 seed year is finally within reach here at the Bend Seed Extractory, and it’s bringing a mixture of excitement and relief.  2010 was the biggest seed year on record at the BSE, more than doubling the previous record in 2009.  It’s been a daunting task and seeing the remaining seed lots dwindle down to a manageable number is a welcome sight indeed.  Everyone here keeps looking at the latest figures and trying to figure when we’ll be done for good.  This is especially true because the deliveries for the 2011 seed year are starting to pour in at a pretty good clip and we’d all like to get 2010 out of the way and start focusing on the new arrivals.

I can’t believe that I’ve been here over a year and my time as a CLM intern is almost up.  The internship has squeaked open some doors for me that could prove very rewarding if everything works out.  Not the least of these is possible future employment with the Forest Service here in Bend, which would be awesome!

This brings up an important point:  Bend is hands down the most fun place I’ve been yet.  From the beautiful surroundings, to the people, to the lifestyle, climbing, biking, hiking, lakes, rivers, mountains, desert, forests and on and on and on…   I’m in the best shape of my life and it’s all because there’s so much fun stuff to do around here.  This is THE LIFE, and I hope I can figure out a way to stick around here for a while!

Adventures in the Colorado Rain Forest

My apologies to everyone east of the Rockies suffering through droughts and heat waves, because apparently every drop of moisture in the country is being funneled directly into western Colorado. I’m supposedly in the desert, yet hardly a day has gone by that we haven’t seen rain in the last month. We even got caught in a hailstorm last week, which decided not to set in until we were good and far from the truck.

In between dodging hailstones, I’ve been spending the last month working on rangeland health assessment in and around Unaweep Canyon, near the town of Gateway by the Colorado-Utah border. Life has changed quite a bit since I’ve started working down here, since we’re now camped out in trailers four days a week for the next two months. It’s a really, really cool place, especially for geology geeks, because the canyon cuts down into Precambrian rock. It’s also highly unique because there’s a divide that causes water to flow out of opposite ends. This is by far the coolest place that I have worked in so far. The last two weeks we’ve worked our way out of the canyon bottom and gotten up on top of the surrounding mesas, which have offered some really incredible views. They’re also, shall I say, exciting places to work during a thunderstorm.

See you all next month, if I haven’t been struck by lightning!

Disagreement between body and mind

Internal conflict resolution has been my new focus at work. It’s frustrating, and I would much rather not be dealing with it, but in a way I think it’s an important thing for me to work on.

When I came out here it was with the goal of exploring as much as possible. I took that to heart, both at work and outside of work. At work, we were performing a diversity of activities in the field, ranging from vegetation surveys of sage grouse habitat to nighttime Mexican spotted owl surveys. My brother had even sent me an Australian-style oilskin cowboy hat, saying that it was the only thing missing from the photos of me out here.

Outside of work I was trying hard to experience the landscape intimately. I was approaching mountain biking with the notion that I could go as far as I wanted so that I could see everything the Cedar City area had to offer. If I saw a trail, I’d go until I lost it, then turn around. Running was the same; I always looked at trail running as the most efficient way for me to connect to a new area. I found trails and disregarded time limits, exhausting myself on mountains as I climbed thousands of feet in heat or, in one case, rain and hail! It was fantastic.

Then the conflict arose. I started getting pain in a familiar place, where I’d hurt myself before, and it was painful just getting up in the morning. I found myself stiff and struggling to work in the field, finally raising the white flag and resigning myself to dreaded office work. Desperate to make myself useful, I powered through the mountain of data that had accumulated while we were having fun out in the field and even tying up loose ends from previous years’ data. This didn’t take as long as I thought, so I started to turn to my mentor for extra tasks, and she in turn sought work for me among other colleagues in the office. I got a 3-day assignment to survey the cattle on allotments toward the Nevada border (via 4×4, of course…walking was still painful). When I finished that, I gained the mission of engraving BLM property (this was harder to organize than I thought, and it’s ongoing…I occasionally find a rusty shovel, piece of rebar, or permanent marker that people jokingly leave on my desk).

I’ve been dealing with this setback and my physical antsy-ness by trying to get as much as possible from the situation and prepare myself for when I get back in the field. I’ve been poring over every piece of literature on sage grouse, their habitat, and their restoration. When I finished with that, I read about wilderness ethics, different methods for monitoring terrestrial birds, wildlife management techniques, and other miscellaneous literature (like the wilderness ranger handbook, which must be really old judging by the advice it gives). While it’s hard to hear from my co-workers about the day’s trials and tribulations in the field, I find comfort in my familiarity with the background info that, I hope, will only make me more effective when I finally get back outdoors. This is one of those things that I just need to learn to deal with, and the difficulty of it makes it that much better for me. And, of course, I get by with a little help from my friends!


The desert is green!

The summer rains have brought a welcomed green color to the desert! We have been monitoring several BLM sites in the hopes to find grasses in flower and we have finally had some success! 🙂 Finding flowering grasses also means trying to identify species! We are beginning to get a lot of practice using ligule keys! I wish I would have paid more attention during those grass labs in taxonomy! With in the next few weeks we are planning on making some of our first collections for the summer! In May and June all we saw was last years growth. The rains in early July caused some new growth to start and now in early August we are seeing flowers. I’m super excited to finally see the whole cycle of life in the desert.
With the grasses we have also found a variety of beautiful forbs! The diversity of species is simply amazing in the desert!

Aristolochia watsonii (Dutchmens pipe)

Proboscidea althaeifolia

SOS! – No, not the call for help… Seeds of Success!

Is it August already? Time is flying by before my eyes in that almost two months have already whizzed by out of my five month internship in Denver, Colorado and I feel like I’ve still only just begun. Our tasks have now altered from performing monitoring or seed collecting in blocks of a week, to being more intermixed together throughout a week. This variety doesn’t help slow down time, but makes this job very enjoyable and fun.

After seed scouting six sites for six days over a four week period (the two middle weeks vacant of Seeds of Success), we finally found a site with enough individuals and sufficient amount of fruits with plenty of seeds to reach at least our 10,000 seed quota from only 20% of the population and waited just the right amount of time for the fruits to ripen for healthy seeds, but not too late that they would all be dispersed and gone. Our first collection of this season was from Scutellaria brittonii, a skullcap group within the mint family, which was not an easy task, especially for mine and Sama’s first seed collection extravaganza!

Fruits of Britton's Skullcap

Harvesting the fruit of Scutellaria Brittonii

This mint is only about 3 to 6 inches tall, grows in small scattered clumps on talus slopes of mountain sides in open pockets, and without their little lavender skull-looking flowers, they are very easy to miss. We did a lot of scrambling across steep slopes looking and harvesting Britton’s Skullcap fruits just off the path, or sometimes a ways down or up from the path. Another issue was that not all the fruits ripen at the same time. So, because of their spread-out distribution and many of the fruits not being ripe, it took us more than one day to collect an ample amount of seed for this program. Our first day, many of the fruits were not ripe enough, and a small fraction of the seeds were ready to be collected. Our second trip was quite the opposite with most of the fruits already gone and their tiny brown seeds dispersed. Our third try was to top off our collection to guarantee that we collected enough.


Seeds of Britton's Skullcap

Besides collecting seeds, we also have to collect data about the plant and the site we are collecting from. This includes the date(s) of this species’ collection, the eco-region, location, land formation, habitat, associated plants, estimated area of the collection, the population, and the number of plants sampled, average number of fruits per individual, and average seeds per fruit, slope, aspect, soil texture, soil color (from a chart), etc. After the collection is made and the data collected, the data is typed and printed onto a form and packaged with the seeds, and then shipped off to Bends, Oregon to be cleaned, analyzed, and determined if there are enough viable seeds for research and storage.

Clematis hirsutissima

Fruit of Clematis hirsutissima

Thankfully, our second collection was on Clematis hirsutissima, a buttercup species that only took one day to collect, then shipped off the next day. Our third is currently in progress, collecting fleshy fruits of Rhus trilobata, Skunkbush Sumac, that will take at least one to two more trips to get more than 10,000 seeds. Each bush, when fruiting, has between 50 to 1,000 fruits, but each fruit only has one seed, which is why it will take us a while. Our first attempt barely gave us 5,000 seeds, but not all are viable and ripe, so we are planning on two more trips to guarantee our “Success” since not every year is so bountiful with this shrub. This fruit is also fun to collect because the fruits are very sticky, so we wear latex gloves to keep our hands clean, but also because it is in the same family as poison ivy and has been known to cause skin irritation for some people.


Hairstreak sp.

Saw a Hairstreak butterfly species while seed scouting one day 🙂

This is Jeffrey Flory from the Colorado State Office, signing off of the CLM blog.