A Season In the Wilderness

Here I am, the end of August, the last lull of heat in the desert before the autumn breaks this stagnancy.  It has been quite dead around the office due to the heat and not going into the field.  And who would want to?  Even though it has been a “cool” summer in the Mojave Desert (average daily temperature around 112° F instead of 122° F, still hot if you ask me) there is still no motivation to do field work.

My internship is drawing to an end and there is so much I want to express.  It has taught me so much- both about myself and about life.  I would do another one in a heartbeat, and highly considering applying again.  Not so much that I don’t know what else to do with my life- I want to be a botanist, conservation scientist, and balanced.  It is more of what I gained from this that draws me back to participate again.  I plan to return to wilderness areas (such as I did working in the desert) many more times in my life.  It is a place where I can face myself and my fears, and come out stronger in the end.

my favorite mountain range in the Needles FIeld Office- Kingston Mountains

Here are the personal highlights of what I gained from this internship:

  • Be inspired by someone, famous or not, allow their inspiration to lift you to do your best.  I have found inspiration in the desert:  Edward Abby and his books, my 90 year old Great Aunt Crystal, along with my amazing mentor- Hanem Abouelezz.
  • Life is what YOU make of it.  Experience can be good or bad depending on your perception of the events.  Do not react to life, act in it, participate in it in a positive manner to ensure you are making the best of whatever comes at you.
  • Is the glass half empty or half full?  YOU DECIDE.  Step back and think about how you are reacting and perceiving and decide if this way of acting is serving you or not.  A positive attitude, immersing yourself in a positive energy of life, whatever you wish to call it, has amazing effects on quality of life.  You do not need to be comfortable to have an amazing quality of life- you only need to have confidence that life is an experience to fully imbibe .  Soak it in my friends.
  • Everyone in my internship has been nothing but willing to help me out when I needed it.  At first I resisted, carrying with me a sort of rugged individualism perspective that I did not need anyone’s help and could figure it out on my own.  However, one day out in the field a co-worker explained to me this philosophy: “I know you are in a tight place in your life financially, and I will cover lunch for today.  Just as those who covered lunch for me when I was your age and in your spot.  These sorts of things are not to be paid back to me, but paid forward to someone else later in your life when you have the ability to do it.”  It is impossible for me at this time to pay back the kindness and assistance people gave to me right now, but I do know one thing-  I plan to pay forward everything I have received.

Yellow Bat (Lasuiris spp.)

I have also grown professionally from this internship in my path to becoming a botanist/conservation scientist.  I have done ArcGIS work, tons of independent plant taxonomy and field work, and understand of what it  is like to work for the federal government.  This internship has only reinforced the passion I have for plants and conservation.  I gained other awesome biology experiences as well doing bat mist netting and abandon mine bat out flight surveys.  If I were to study mammals, bats would be a likely choice for me after this experience with them.  Up close, they are ADORABLE.  As the only true flying mammals, they are fascinating.  From an ecological standpoint they are quite important.


From my long summer reading list here is an excerpt from my newest favorite book:

“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.  We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands.  Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly.” p 130 The Alchemist

Do not let down your heart and not pursue your most important dreams.  Life that society dictates we should live can come later, and those who say you are unfit for what you aspire to only give you more of a reason to reach it.  Reaching a dream is not an easy task.  It will take a lot of hard work and persistence, but it is those with persistence that will outlast us all and reach their goals and dreams.

This internship has had its ups and downs, but all for the better.  I have a great admiration for the Chicago Botanic Garden and those who made and are still making this internship possible.  Keep up the good work.


CBG Intern BLM Needles Field Office


Happy Halfway

Howdy from Carson City!

I am about halfway through my internship and have yet to be bored. After the initial learning curve, my project has really picked up steam. I am creating a forest inventory in GIS for Carson City District. The BLM has many spatial data layers for our district (streams, fires, grazing allotments), however we do not has a layer for the forest, which is where I come in, the thought being ‘how can we manage our forest if we don’t know what’s there?’

I’ve also had time to travel to the area’s scenic destinations: Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Devil’s Postpile, Mono Lake, San Fran Redwoods, just to name a few. For me this was a significant draw to the internship, with weekends as full of outdoor enjoyment and learning as the work week. I hope you’ve had half as good a summer as I have – Justin.


I’m just about halfway through my internship, and I’m so happy that this runs for 5 months, rather than 12 weeks like many of the other internships I was considering did. I can imagine how stressed I would be as I struggled to find my next job or adventure, and am happy to delay the worry for a little bit longer. In the meantime, it’s hard to believe that I’ve actually been here for two and a half months, and that the summer is winding down. Today on my way to work I passed elementary students walking with their parents to their first day of school. Despite the slight nostalgia I feel as many friends prepare to begin another school year, I’m still enjoying living and working out of Denver. This is a great city, bordered by more mountains than I could hope to explore in the next 10 years, and the work continues to be varied and interesting.

My internship is allowing me to catch glimpses of many areas around the state, and I’m grateful for these monitoring trips that allow us to meet and work with many different field offices. We’ve also been ramping up our seed collecting. Up until now we went on a lot of scouting trips to nearby parks and open spaces, but found lots of flowers and very few fruits. Suddenly everything seems to be ripening, and each field day before leaving the office we need to decide which collection would be the best use of our time.

Last week we spent three days collecting Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens). It was a difficult collection because the plants are scattered all over the park we were at, but many were fruitless (ah, the original meaning). The others had between 1 and 50 berries/plant, with the majority seeming to be closer to 1. After hiking for more than an hour up the same hill three days in a row, I was glad to see the end of this collection!

Monarda, plus someone helping to make our seed collection a success!

The next day we went to a different site and were rewarded with an absurdly easy collection of Monarda fistulosa. We had found this pretty purple flower a few weeks before, completely covering an open meadow. Sure enough, it was still there when we came back and many of the seed heads were ready. Within two hours the two of us had collected over 1,000 seed heads, each of which contains between 50 and 150 seeds. As an added bonus, it even smells good!

I’m excited to see how the flora continues to change as we move more fully into the fall, and look forward to seeing new areas and meeting new seed collecting and monitoring challenges.

Sama Winder, BLM CO State Office

The Summer is Moving On

This past week has been exciting and hectic here at the Cedarville BLM. Our office had its first large scale, multi-day fire. Many crews came from all over the northeastern portion of the state and the BLM office served as the central meeting point for fire activities. The fire fighters were excited; because of the wet season there has been almost no fire to fight. This week marks the end of the seed rush here in the Surprise Resource Area. For the past few weeks I have been collecting seeds at an extraordinary pace, almost a complete collection a day. The days are still hot but the nights are cooling off quickly and seeds are dispersing. Many species have already dropped their seed and others are quickly following suit. The growing season is short here and the beginning signs of fall are setting in. Although seed collection has been dominating most of my time I have still had the ability to venture off on different projects. I was given another opportunity to work at our neighboring wildlife refuge and go “birding.” Birding takes place once night falls. An airboat is used to cruise around the refuge chasing and netting birds. Our most recent birding adventure was fruitful, we caught and banded a crane.
I am sad to see the summer pass on, August is coming to a close but unlike most seasonal positions it is not time for me to move on just yet. However with the passing of the summer months also comes the passing of the hot weather. I am excited to witness the fall in this wonderful place, the idea of fall in the high desert sounds peaceful and mild. The fall is also the time for me to collect many species that have needed the entirety of the growing season to mature. Many of the different shrub-like species are ready for collection later in the season. This will be the first fall in 18 years that I will not be attending school. I am already anticipating the nostalgia for going back to school season. Once this fall sets in and students fully return to classes I will feel as though I have transitioned into the adult world and this internship is serving as a great stepping stone for this huge life transition.


Our seed collection, processing, and shipping has come to an end for all our spring collections, so now we wait. Fall collection will come quickly enough, I’m sure, but it feels like forever since we were out collecting last. And being an outdoors-loving person, doing office tasks day after day is tough. I have however found many positives, and because of these, I am thankful for some inside time. First, I am finally getting to know the others at the workplace that I never really got to work with when out in the field day after day. Second, while taking a break from monitoring and seed collecting for SOS, I have gotten to help on some rare plant monitoring and seed collection for conservation projects in the area. Third, I have been taking the extra time to learn other skills, taking advantage of the different departments at the botanic garden. I get to work in the plant nursery, helping with pruning, planting, weeding, and other regular upkeep tasks. I have recently been learning different seed cleaning techniques, on a small scale, through our seed conservation program. I have helped our herbarium manager with sorting incoming and outgoing plant collections. Lastly, I have been taking advantage of the GIS courses through the BLM. I like having all the different projects to work on, to keep things interesting, learn many different things, and get to know co-workers a bit better.

In order to balance all of my inside work time, and to expel some energy, during my off time I have been taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities that living in Southern California offer. My first adventure was summitting Cucamonga Peak, which gave a spectacular view of LA County and the Catalinas far off in the distance. I have also had a couple visitors come out in the past couple weeks, giving me the opportunity to be a crazy tourist. We spent some time in San Diego, in LA and in Las Vegas. Too much fun was had, and it tired me out way more than working days at a time in the desert.

Top of Cucamonga Peak!

Made it to the top of Cucamonga Peak!

Getting Work Done

I have always loved to be outside and working with the great wonders of the west,  but recently I have been put to work in the office… Now don’t get me wrong, its not very fun sitting in a cubicle, but I recently received quite a treasure to balance out this hardship. ArcGIS Training! While in school I always tried to enroll in the GIS mapping courses because I knew that it was a growing part of the job market these days and to be able to use this program is a highly valued skill. Through the BLM I was able to work my way through a 24hr course on GIS for Free! and I have plenty more training (off the clock) at my fingertips. Since the completion of my  first training I have worked on a few projects and feel confident enough to flaunt my new skills in my resume.

Since my endless hours sitting in an office cubicle staring at a computer screen we have gone back into the field. Since the beginning of our internship, back in February, we have re-visited the Red Rock Fire area north of Reno many times. Each time there seems to be a new task to accomplish; We’ve hand seeded grass seeds, mapped weeds, pulled Scotch Thistle, collected seed vouchers, collected seed, planted Willow cuttings, and Hand planted 20,000 Bitterbrush seedlings in the hills… all of this in the name of post-fire restoration. This time we are reading some short term vegetation plots, at which, we are getting a “snapshot” of the plant community and soil characteristics. The work is tedious but the data will hold true and strong.

Enough talk, here are some photographs.


In some ways it feels that summer is ending – the high school football teams are already on the fields practicing, a local track team can be seen every morning running in a pack in anticipation of the return to school, and my softball team’s season is at an end.  My internship feels like it is already over, even though I’m only half-way through.  The dawn is breaking later and later, making it harder to get up in the morning.

And yet, despite all of the evidence that summer is ending, it feels like it will go on forever.  New flowers are blooming.  It feels like the summer rush is just beginning.  There are more seeds than ever to collect, and on top of that, there is trend-plot monitoring  from the rangelands to do.  It is time outside that feels like will never end.

In time, I suppose that summer will end for me, but until then, I plan to enjoy my extended time in the sun!

Achnatherum hymenoides

Indian rice grass

Far From Home

My time spent in Nevada has been divided by many different activities. Each week doing field work includes new adventures and learning experiences. I’ve spent a lot of time collecting native seed, monitoring field sites, engaging in fire rehabilitation projects, enjoying time working with the other interns in my group, and learning invaluable lessons from my mentor.

When monitoring a field site we are usually looking for species of concern or special status species as well as documenting all the species found at the site. We collect data that helps us determine the density and frequency that a plant species can be found occupying the area. We also test the soil in the area to get an idea of its properties and stability. Lately we’ve been monitoring sites that have suffered from fires and have been either seeded with natives or have been left to regenerate plant life on their own according to natural processes of dispersal and the fight against competition for resources.

When we’re not busy collecting seed or data, or after a long day of work it’s always rewarding to take a minute and break away from the routine and take a look around and absorb the natural beauty of the lands I’ve had the opportunity to work in. It becomes hard to be overwhelmed with the stresses of life, work, missing home and loved ones, or whatever the case my be when you stop and chew on the idea that I’m extremely lucky to be getting paid to do work I truly enjoy in an area most people will never get to visit.


A great escape

While the majority of my work days in my internship with the NPS-Fort Collins entails computer research, I have had the great opportunity to link up with the Rocky Mountain Network. This branch functions as a research-based division that monitors three parks in Montana and three in Colorado. I have spent five days in the field thus far, and each has lent me a new experience. The first four of these were spent monitoring pika along the slopes of Rocky Mountain NP. Essentially I spent the day tracking down predetermined locations with a gps unit and examining the habitat to decide whether it was suitable for the highly monitored pika. An additional associated project was to search for prime samples of pika scat for a conservation genetics project. Much of this terrain was very steep a high forecast for rock slides. The sites were spread to various reaches of the park and allowed me to drive and hike through some incredible territory in the northern Colorado Rockies. Along with a handful of pika sightings I had my first encounters with marmots, elk, and innumerable alpine wildflowers.

This past week I had a chance to freshen up on aquatic sampling techniques. I accompanied several crew members from the RMN to the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River, not but a mere stream where we were sampling. We spent a long day on the west side of the park sampling everything from bank dimensions, vegetative composition, macroinvertebrates, in stream minerals, and chemical properties of the lotic habitat. This was probably my best day in the field yet. I’m looking forward to doing alpine wetland sampling next week with the last of my field days.

My Great Lakes invasives project is coming along faster than expected. I’ve established much of my database and am now most of the way through profiling all the established species. From here I’ll move on to designing the website, creating a webinar, and enhancing the database in any way possible. Still four months to go for me here, so there remains ample time to explore the Rockies and hopefully more of the surrounding west.

Travels And Experiences

In the past few months I’ve been busy visiting several places and taking part in plenty of different activities. Recently we had the Conservation and Land Management Workshop at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Chicago, IL. I had a great time meeting other interns and CBG Staff (my bosses), and exploring the gardens as well as the City on some of my own spare time.

During the workshop we had a few crash courses in plant identification, population genetics, and approaches to monitoring. There was a lot of valuable information I took back to Nevada with me as well as great memories. I learned about different approaches to monitoring and how to build a work plan where the most efficient monitoring methods could be applied to answer the questions you are setting out to uncover.  I was also impressed by the diversity of the entire intern group the CBG had recruited to take part in the CLM internship program. There were people from mostly scientific backgrounds but everyone was very unique and had different qualities to offer.

I was particularly interested when my mentor gave an Ethno botany talk about the many uses of plants as food, medicine, fiber, and regular products used in everyday life. As someone deeply interested in plants I found this talk inspirational and will share with you something Dean Tonenna shared with the group that night. He explained that all of the information passed on through the generations of native people about the natural world can sometimes seem lost but is really still out there sleeping, waiting for someone to take the initiative and look closely at the natural world around us and awaken that deeper knowledge. I liked this and not just in a cultural sense where one could delve into nature to find their roots but as a lesson to everyone that there are a lot of secrets we still have yet to uncover about the natural world. I feel like the talk instilled a sense of adventure and wonder that I try to take out into the field with me when I’m at work.