October Blog Post from the Sonoran Desert, Arizona

I began my CLM internship with the Phoenix BLM this October. My co-workers and I have been working on the development of a Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassazii) project. Our goal is to use data from current monitoring efforts to evaluate tortoise presence and absence in  known suitable habitat.  We will also work to  develop a GIS model that will potentially indicate critical areas for future conservation based on available GIS layers (variables).

Our 18 survey locations are structured in one hectare plots, which we be monitored again in the future by other employees. The data being collected will also serve as a baseline to monitor future tortoise populations and assist in making better management decisions in our sensitive Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

We specifically collect data on tortoise sightings, scat, burrows, tracks, and carcasses. In the last two weeks, we have found 5 live tortoises, 2 carcasses, and several burrows indicated by scat evidence. Burrows are present in varieties of soils, both in washes and on steep slopes of granite mountains. Today, we found our first rattlesnake. This is rather surprising considering the large area and type of habitat we have covered, not to mention the warm days we have had while surveying where temperatures have consistently exceeded 100 degrees.

We plan to start our GIS modeling next month, followed by a technical report explaining our study methods, results and discussion. Thanks for reading, more to come next month!

Monitoring the Uplands

It is that time of year again when several of us in the Tucson Field Office go out and monitor the uplands. In order to evaluate rangeland health,  each fall we monitor several transects that are laid out in specific pastures. We call on other field offices, people from other government agencies, non-profits and volunteers to come help us. Under the Tucson sun we take 1,000 data points in each pasture in different configurations of transects to measure basal grass cover. Not only do we measure grass cover but also how many species are present in each area. Some pastures have pieces of land fenced off from the cattle so that we can compare areas that are grazed by cattle to those with cattle excluded from them.

Collecting all of this data allows us to evaluate the health of each pasture. This helps us decide if there are certain pastures that need to be rested and not grazed in order to let the perennial grass recover. Once we have collected all of the data, we will meet in November to discuss the data with the rancher, other BLM members, non-profits and other agencies. This is a way in which everyone can help understand and have a say in how we manage the land; as we practice collaborative adaptive management.

Cactus Wren Surveys

For the last three weeks we have been doing avian point counts in the preserve around the Safari Park. We listen and look for two bird species in particular, the California Cactus Wren and the California Gnatcatcher. The wren is a subspecies that is found only in a limited area within California and because of habitat loss it has become endangered. The gnatcatcher is believed to be in decline as well. When identifying these two birds we use a combination of visual and audio techniques. All birds have a unique call and/or song, and we use these sounds to identify them and estimate the distance they are from the point we’re at. The wren can be difficult to figure out because the mocking birds in the area tend to mimic its song.
The point counts start at six in the morning and has to end before 10am so that all of the surveys are as standardized as possible. It has been a great opportunity to observe these birds in their natural habitat and learn different bird call in San Diego county.

Websiting and databasing

Since my last entry I have been working steadily on the website design process for the Great Lakes Invasives project. Much of it is now put together, though there is a constant stream of updates as I submit it to various higher-ups and associates in the office. I am creating both an internal site for Intra-NPS use (staff members at parks and resource offices) as well as a public internet site. The two versions are similar though offer somewhat different information. Concise writing is critical on both pages so I am honing my skills at getting meaning out of every word while avoiding being verbose and overly scientific.

I’m still adjusting to the Colorado weather. The front range is starting to cool off, though it is a gradual process and we have had more than a few setbacks to mid-summer weather. I’m all ready for Autumn, so I survive these relapses by looking to the mountains as they endure minor snow dustings.

The leaves are changing as well, but the difference in flora around these parts is more obvious than ever (coming from a lifelong resident of New England).

I still have plenty of time to get things accomplished with my invasives project and I’m running ahead of schedule. In a couple weeks I will be attending a Natural Areas annual meeting in Tallahassee, FL and presenting a poster for my project on Great Lakes National Parks. One of the major themes at the conference is mitigating invasives in natural areas, so I’m looking forward to learning about this for various ecosystems. It should also be a great opportunity to meet other individuals working in conservation and ecology disciplines to learn a bit about possible career paths.

I’m looking ahead to enjoying the last couple months here. Four months in and I have certainly learned a lot about the behind the scenes work for natural resource offices. It is nice to see much of my work that started out so broad over the summer be funneled into a final, visual end with definite value to the five parks involved.

Andy Maguire
NPS, Fort Collins, CO

October in Southern California

The first Pacific storm finally arrived here last week. While wetter than I expected, it was still warmer than what I’m usually exposed to in Humboldt county. Harvesting Malosma laurina seeds in the rain while climbing on the rocks was very refreshing. After the storm, the climate changed back to summer without missing a beat. Things are still blooming and seeds are still being collected. The botany party just don’t stop down here, ever. I can now see why this is the most botanically diverse county in the nation.

This internship has, for the first time, exposed me to work involving organisms that move around. This makes it interesting to identify them. I’ve been helping with Cactus Wren surveys in the reserve adjacent to the San Diego Zoo safari park. I’m still having a great time experiencing life in this interesting place far from home.

Para bailar la bamba

Extraordinary… just about five months have passed now and my whole life has changed. Cliché? Perhaps, but true none the less. I flew from Guatemala expecting a structured job consisting of plant collections and completing the working herbarium. Now memories flood my mind as I recapitulate the actual occurrences of these months. Learning database management, re-using html I learned in tenth grade, organizing hundreds of vouchers, monitoring fire plots, figuring out GPS units, getting excited for finding new or beautiful plants, learning GIS, learning traditional climbing, canyoneering, hiking more than 15 miles in a day (with a heavy pack), archaeology, diving deep into the curling stamen of cacti flowers, cooling down in waterfalls, walking for hours in a river (The Narrows), getting caught on slick rock in the dark because of watching the moonrise, using telemetry to find desert tortoise (found 7!), seeing condors, big horned sheep, owls, rattle snakes, a mountain lion, peregrines, and crazy tourists… yet still being more excited about finding a rare fern or gentian in bloom than any of the animals I have seen, hence reminding me that plant science was the right career choice… all these moments sum up a fraction of what this season has been. When work feels more like play, and all these 150 days feel like the most brilliant time of my life, I know I am in the right place.

The right place is more than just a physical point in time and space. It’s a state of being. And I see now how open-mindedness, expansive personalities, and general excitement to be alive is really what makes any physical place the right place to be. I came to Zion a novice in life and love, and now I finish the internship knowing that I am capable of so much. We are all capable of infinite knowledge, of independence, or countless opportunities, all as long as we believe in ourselves and give those around us a chance to confer all their learned lessons, thus enriching our lives and expanding our horizons. For now, Zion is really the physically right place to be, and I am lucky enough to be volunteering here for another two months after the internship ends. This way, I will finish the projects I have developed. Staying also gives me the opportunity to further expand my repertoire of techniques and get me ready for the next great adventure. I thank CLM masterminds for making this internship a possibility, my mentor for giving me so much freedom yet still expecting the best of me and in this way keeping me constantly striving for excellence on every dimension. I thank all the wonderful people I have had the honor and pleasure to meet, those who have taught me to love the world more deeply…

The Mountains are Alive

Autumn in the deserts and mountains of New Mexico is a strong contrast to the Midwest falls that I am accustomed to. Although I do miss the deciduous forests and the breathtaking array of colors, I am much more content with the weather here. The dark mornings and evenings are cool reminders that winter is coming soon, even if the days are still reaching the high 80’s. The gusty canyon winds up in the Organ Mountains where I reside haven’t blown us away yet and the cooler weather is making animal appearances more frequent. Just last week while driving to work we saw our first coyote in the area.

Seed collection is winding down and, with the exception of one more possible collection, we are in the final stages of the year. Shipping vouchers, updating the herbarium and data entry into the B-G Base are the only steps left to be completed. However we have been working in collaboration with CBG to collect samples of a clonal endangered species, Lepidospartum burgessi, so that the DNA can be compared across a large area near the Texas border. The plants are not producing seed so the purpose is to determine if they are all clones or if the DNA has some variation that may be further studied.

The Las Cruces area is in its festival season apparently, because every other weekend is some great community gathering. Some of the ones that were missed out on were Wine Fests, Oktoberfest, and the Hatch Green Chile Fest but we made to Salsa Fest and Enchilada Fest (where they construct an 8-foot enchilada!). It’s hard to believe October, month 4 for me, is already in full swing. November will undoubtedly fly by, and December will be a harsh change when I leave the desert haven for the coldest part of a Midwest winter. I’ll try not to think that far ahead…

Organ Mountain Moonrise

Burglar's Den near Guadalupe Mountains

Working Solo (Together)

Having a project to call one’s own is the most important part of an experience such as this Conservation and Land Management Internship. Courtney, my fellow CLM intern, and I were given the task of presenting to our field office on artificial water sources and wildlife escape structures. Artificial water sources are man-made troughs, reservoirs, guzzlers, etc. that have been introduced to arid environments to offset anthropogenic losses of natural waters. Wildlife escape structures allow animals to deal with poor water source designs. Bird ladders are common now due to the difficulty birds face in escaping from a water trough after falling in.

After reading up on the basic premise behind the water sources and escape structures, we made a list of features that we would take a note of as we started hunting down water sources within our field office boundaries (e.g. height of the sidewalls, length of the source, amount of water inside, whether or not a bird ladder was present and its condition, and any obstructions over or around the water). We got a record of the locations of 37 known artificial water sources and took off.

We found that only about one-third of those water sources (mostly round metal troughs or empty engine cases) had an adequate bird ladder. These are vital as escape routes for birds that fall in the water, giving them a chance to climb out before they tire and drown. We also saw that over half of the troughs that we visited had some sort of obstruction, whether wooden fencing, barbed wire, or thick vegetative growth in the water. Obstructions can be deadly barriers to birds and bats that drink while flying and require larger expanses of open water. Finally, troughs are supposed to be full to within 6 inches of the top, yet only one-third of those that we saw had adequate water content, and most were simply empty.


An unfortunate casualty of a trough with too little water and no bird ladder to aid in its escape

With these results, we gave a presentation to the BLM office that hopefully got people thinking about how we approach water development, maintain the developments, and keep these water sources from causing more harm than good. We still plan on visiting water sources among our other tasks, but as we both finish within a month of now, it’s likely that we won’t get a chance go much more in depth. I do, however, appreciate that we had the chance to investigate the issue freely and uncover the issues on our own!


The presentation!

This Mountain Plover seemed to enjoy the thick vegetation sitting in this large water trough

Some Utah Prairie Dogs stood at attention as we recorded data on a series of troughs near their colony

Another…interesting…thing that we came across during our work

The start of a longer end

I am very excited that my internship has officially been extended for an extra 2 months! To “pay for” the extension, I have been working on seed collections of 6 species for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. So far they include winterfat, showy milkweed, rabbitbrush, wild licorice, and shadscale saltbrush. The sixth species is to be a sagebrush, which the Cody Field Office will probably use for reseeding projects on prescribed burn areas.

Other work activities have included documenting aspen regeneration progress in a riparian project area, building buck and rail  fence around a historical structure to protect it from livestock, and painting wood stain on fences around open mine shafts to prevent rotting. It’s always nice to have a break in routine to try something different, and hopefully I will be able to assist more people around the office to get a taste of what they do.

Other than that, it’s the marvelous business of field work as usual and this intern is quite happy to keep on keeping on.

Goodbye, Sun… Hello, Rain!

As everyone else is wrapping up their internships, mine is just beginning.  I’m working with the Bureau of Land Management in Portland, happy to be employed, and excited about the potential for new experiences.  First on the list: WINTER!  I’m a Floridian so I’m used to the wet.  The cold AND wet is a challenge that I welcome with open arms (and waterproof gloves, a jacket, and rain pants).

Douglas firs and other conifers - Near Elk Lake, Oregon

Yesterday was my first day in the wilds of Oregon.  We were checking up on some contractors who have been sampling for the fungus Bridgeoporus nobilissimus within Willamette National Forest.  Tagging along behind a BLM botanist, I was finally able to get someone to answer my unrelenting stream of questions (thanks, Kelli!) and was properly introduced to the numerous conifers of the Pacific northwest.  The forests were rather drippy as expected, but with the moisture comes thick blankets of mosses and lichens.

Hypogymnia, Platismatia, and other fungi

Cladonia spp. - Near Dunlap Lake, Oregon


One site we visited was located next to a small lake and partially overlapped a rock talus.  The talus has prevented conifers from taking over the area and has allowed deciduous species to proliferate instead.  We were there just in time to see the vine maples (Acer circinatum) with their fall foliage in full effect.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

The talus also provided a home for so many newts (Taricha granulosa)! I’m told that they’re extremely common -too common to warrant a photograph- but I’ve yet to find evidence of that.  As an amateur photographer, I’ve always hated birds for two reasons.  First, they’re usually perched high in the trees behind leaves/branches/obstruction of some sort, and second, they always fly away before I’m able to focus on them.  Newts are the exact opposite… easily accessed, slow moving, and their bright orange bellies are ridiculously adorable to boot!

Rough-Skinned Newt - Near Dunlap Lake, Oregon

It’s unlikely that I’ll be offered very many opportunities to go out in the field during my time in this internship but I’m enjoying the everyday life here in Portland as well. I find it kind of hilarious that I have a job in which I commute to downtown everyday to work in an office building from 8-5:00 five days a week. It’s so normal and stress-free compared to my former schedule as a graduate student. The people that I am working with have been wonderful so far and incredibly welcoming and I look forward to the coming months. We’ll see how I feel about winter come December/January!

Lara Drizd, Forest Service Regional Office & BLM State Office, Portland, OR