Wild Things

Our second round of seed collecting is going full-force right now. Its been really cool revisiting sites we collected from in the spring, and seeing a whole new group of plants in flower. Fall colors are something I looked forward to every year in the Midwest, but the Mojave offers something special in a whole other way.

We’ve also been able to see more wildlife out and about, doing their pre-winter preparations. While collecting seeds all day, the aspiring naturalist in me gets distracted easily by any movements other than my own. Its exciting to see new wildlife every week, like the kit foxes and coyotes in the dunes, the multitude of insects and spiders (and my first tarantula!), and the migrating birds flying overhead, making their way south.  I have definitely had my share of mini-photoshoots out in the field. Here’s a little taste of autumn in the Mojave:

The Desert Becomes Alive!

As the work progresses and the desert begins to cool down, what seems like a desolate land springs to life.  In the Lower Sonoran Desert we have continued
to work on our tortoise study.  We are using ground data and literature to refine spatial modeling to help better predict tortoise locations.  We are also helping through field work to make sure that valuable wildlife resources like
water drinkers are being maintained and not in need of repairs.  Having the opportunity to hike in bighorn sheep country is astounding.  The country in which they inhabit is truly challenging and show just how amazing they are.  That is all for now but more to come soon…

From Oregon to California

Who knew that beautiful mountains and forest existed immediately north of the L.A. suburbs? Probably lots of people know that; I was not one of them. Driving from the north into L.A., I was flabbergasted by the dramatic beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains. The dramatic peaks and valleys stretch out on either side of the highway. Seen from a distance the chaparral ecosystem that covers them has unique shapes and colors, very distinct from other mountains. The overall effect is breathtaking.

Before coming down to L.A., my original CLM internship position was located in southern Oregon in a small town at a BLM office. I went from that to a suburb of Los Angeles working for the Forest Service. The change was extreme, but I have enjoyed learning a whole new set of skills and the inner workings of another government agency. The hectic pace of a city put me off at first, but once I became accustomed to the sheer amount of humanity I began to like it. Plus, you can’t beat the convenience of living in an urban area.

I am working on the weed crew, doing invasive weed removal in the area of the Angeles Forest that was burned by the Station Fire two years ago. The work consists of hiking into canyons, following drainages and pulling invasive plant species by hand. Although the job is physically demanding, it is extremely rewarding.

Winter Projects

Since the field season ended a few weeks ago I have been in the office working on various winter projects. One of my main tasks is to set up our new herbarium. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the herbarium at the University of Montana to get a better idea how to process and catalog different plant specimens.  The collections manager at the herbarium was nice enough to show me how to process and catalog different types of plant specimens. Altough our herbarium here at the BLM is much smaller it will be a great resource to have. I am also working on a sensitive and rare plant field guide for next field season,  which will help everyone out in the field to identify and document any sensitive plant species on BLM land. Although I have been working in the office I did get a chance to go out in the field last week. I got to tag along with a few of the foresters to go check on a thinning project that just started. I was really surprised to see how great the project looked, they were taking mostly dead lodgepole pine out of an old growth stand of douglas fir. I also got to see how they fell and buck the trees with big pieces of equipment called feller bunchers. Overall it was a really great experience to see how the process of thinning works and how it can be done in a sustainable way.  I learn something new everyday, this experience has been so awesome and I am grateful to be here for the next two months!

Making the Big Trip Across the USA

My internship with the CLM program is beginning to come to an end. I have had great experiences out in Nevada that will help prepare me for the next step in my career. I have met some amazing people who have turned out to be good friends and I plan on keeping in touch with them even after we’re separated by time and distance.

My original interest in the CLM program was sparked by many of the benefits listed on their web site and I can confidently say that I did receive the benefits that I was so enticed by in the beginning of this journey. I have learned about working at a federal agency, my resume has expanded, I was able to explore new habitats and landscapes more intimately then I first even imagined, and I felt proud to be working in the environmental sector soon after graduation. My 7 months with the CLM has been quite the adventure.

So now it’s time to start packing up my things and saying my goodbyes. I’m excited to go back home and be close to friends and family for the holidays but I have a feeling I’ll always feel a pang of nostalgia when I think of my time spent out west.

Adios! Farewell! Ciao! I bid you all adieu!

Intervarietal Promiscuity At El Capitan

Erigonum fasciculatum at El Capitan Open Space preserve

This internship has provided a lot of new experiences and opportunities for learning. Specifically, events during the collection of Eriogonum fasciculatum seeds at El Capitan open space preserve compelled me to review some basic biological concepts regarding speciation.
The whole exercise began when Lauren (my internship colleague) and I went on a seemingly routine mission to collect Eriogonum seeds. By the time we each filled a quarter of a bucket with seeds and associated material, Lauren pointed out extensive variation in the leaf morphology of the plants we were collecting. Some plants had linear light green leaves while others had much wider, blue green, tomentose leaves. To make matters more confusing, some plants had shoots exhibiting both leaf types. This made us think there was hybridization of some sort going on so we decided to do some further research before packaging this collection in order to ensure we had taxonomically uniform specimens.
Upon consulting the natural history museum’s plant atlas, we learned that there are three varieties of Eriogonum fasciculatum in the area we were sampling. These are var. fasciculatum, var. foliolosum, and var. polifolium. According to the Jepson manual, var. polifolium has the wider, oblanceolate, tomentose leaves while var. foliolosum has the linear leaves which aren’t nearly as wooly on their upper surface. While var. faciculatum also occurs in the area, I didn’t find clear examples like I did the other varieties. Consequently, we inferred that the individuals we encountered were vars. foliolosum, polifolium, and mixes thereof.
Although we determined the collection was not useful to us because we needed seeds whose varietal lineage was free of co-mingling, this left me with some fundamental questions. How come these morphologically distinct populations are not classified as different species ? What is the difference between a species and a variety ?
Lauren Riesberg, in her extensive writings addressing speciation and hybridization, cited Mayr’s definition of a species as a “groups of interbreeding natural populations reproductively isolated from other such groups”. However, species that are not geographically isolated have been known to interbreed and produce hybrid offspring. Wikipedia defines a variety as a genetically, and in turn, morphologically distinct subset of a species that is geographically isolated from other populations within that species. However, when the geographic barrier is removed, this subset will interbreed with the rest of the species, resulting in an influx of genes which will erode the variety’s distinct features, thus reintegrating it into the greater species group. With this in mind, I distinguish species and varieties based on the fact that a hybrid of two species will produce offspring with reduced fertility, such as malformed pollen grains, while a hybrid of two subspecific varieties will produce offspring that show no such deformities and will reflect the traits of the original species. This concept reflects the methodology Michael Mesler uses in his assessment of hybridity.
In light of these considerations, I came to the conclusion that El Capitan open space preserve is a very special place in the origins and family history of Eriogonum fasciculatum . According to Flora of North America, Eriogonum fasciculatum var. folilosum came about from an ancient hybridization event between vars. fasciculatum and polifolium. This event likely happened at a place much like El Capitan open space reserve, where these populations intermingle. Eventually, isolated populations of these varieties might inbreed to the point that they become reproductively isolated from the parent varieties, giving rise to new species through divergent evolution. El Capitan offers a living snapshot into the evolutionary history that drives speciation. In conclusion, this experience reminds me that speciation is a dynamic process taking place in our backyards, in present times, while we go about our daily lives.

-Miguel K., Escondido, CA

Desert Trip

Pretty much from day one at the institute I’ve heard people talk about how beautiful Anza-Borrego Desert is. This year’s Seeds of Success collections focused more on the areas surrounding Ramona. While the properties we scouted in the Ramona area were very diverse and interesting, they were all composed of the same types of plant communities. This was the first week we’ve been able to make it out to the desert transition areas leading into Anza-Borrego. When planning to explore a new property, the first step is to find one that has access. For our internship, we are only allowed to make collections on BLM land, which doesn’t always have roads. We look at layers of BLM land on GIS and then choose one that looks reasonable. To do this we mostly use images from Google Earth. The only problem with this is that it can be difficult to determine if something is a dry creek or a road… but we were fairly sure that we could get within walking distance of the site. Another part of scouting that is always fun is navigating back roads. The first dirt road we turned off on was well kept, the second one was less so, and on the third road I felt the tires sink a few inches into soft ground. We managed not to get the truck stuck, which was a very good thing since we didn’t have cell reception. The site itself was a combination of hills and dry wash ravines with an amazing number of different plant species. After exploring for a couple of hours we determined that we could make three collections starting next week, which was really exciting!

The End to My Five Month Internship

Today is my last day for my CLM internship with the Bureau of Land Management at their Colorado State Office. My time here has been short, but great. I have met some wonderful people at this office who I will miss conversing with, including my two mentors, Carol Dawson and Peter Gordon. It is tough to wrap-up my five months here, but will do my best to supply snippets of my time and experiences in Colorado.

The pace of this job started off in a sprint and rarely slowed down to a run during my internship. We focused on monitoring rare plants while squeezing in Seeds of Success where ever possible so as to prepare for when projects grayed together towards shifting to the later second project. What made my time at this job fly by so fast was the variety of work. I collected data out in the field, I entered the data onto Excel and manipulated some of the data in the office, hiked outside identifying plants, determining which ones had a large enough population, and enough viable seed to collect, made 30 collections of seed, many of them requiring multiple trips in order to get enough seed, filling out the datasheets for the collections, packing the seed, and shipping all of it from the office out to Bend, Oregon to be cleaned and stored.

During all of this, my mentors also provided other opportunities to help further our experiences such as visiting the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, CO, attending the 8th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium in Carbondale, CO, as well as attending a presentation on how to apply on USAjobs website.

Our trip to the NCGRP was very interesting and informative. Part of the purpose was so that my co-worker and I could see a similar facility to where we had been shipping our seed collections to, what they do with the seed after cleaning, how the seed is stored, and how ways they check viability over the years. It was also educational in what exactly this facilities goals and purpose is. The NCGRP’s main task is to collect genetic DNA diversity of our agricultural food, such as crops and livestock (mostly crops) because the large agriculture industries across the United States are all using the same crops/hybrids/varieties, cattle breeds, etc. that produce the highest yields and profits. The consequence of this is that we are currently in the same position as pre-potato famine Ireland. For example, one individual Holstein bull is the father of thousands of offspring because his genetics produce better yields, but if a disease develops that he was more susceptible to, all of his offspring would have a higher likelihood of dying as well. The same applies to all our livestock and crops. So this department of our Federal Government’s goal is to try and obtain as much agricultural genetic diversity as possible before all or most of it is lost over time in case a scenario similar to the one I described occurs. Many varieties of corn have already gone extinct due to no one using them anymore, so our government is doing its best to protect our future since our “private industries” do not have our interest and future stability in mind.

Penstemon debilis

Penstemon debilis

Cool habitat for P. debilis, our monitoring plot, and an awesome view

Cool habitat for P. debilis, our monitoring plot, and an awesome view

Well, to wrap-up, here is one highlight of my experiences I’ve had working for CLM in Denver, Colorado. My fondest memory of rare plant monitoring was working just outside of Silt, CO within the Roan Plateau working with Penstemon debilis that had been discovered just 25 years ago. The scenery was beautiful hiking up the mountain on an old oil shale mining road, and seeing such an interesting and rare habitat in an area no one else was allowed to visit.

Looking out from P. debilis monitoring plot

Looking out from P. debilis monitoring plot

Close-up view of monitoring plot location for P. debilis

Close-up view of monitoring plot location for P. debilis

Far view of monitoring plot location for P. debilis: We were way up there and it was awesome!!

Far view of monitoring plot location for P. debilis: We were way up there and it was awesome!!

This is Jeffrey, signing out on the CLM blog for my last time with the Colorado BLM State Office. Goodbye and good luck to all you future CLM interns on your new adventures.

Sierras at Last

Although the central valley’s chaparral is an ecological wonderland, something about the coniferous forests and mountains has always called to me.  From the moment I got my job offer here in El Dorado Hills, all I thought was YOSEMITE.

Ahhh Yosemite, a mecca of towering granite, incomparable waterfalls, beautiful vistas, and lush alpine meadows.

I’d read John Muir and drooled over enough Ansel Adams photographs to know the central valley by heart. Finally, at long last, it was my turn.

Despite my enthusiasm, the weeks ticked slowly by, and I hadn’t made it yet. What stood in my way? Flashbacks of my trip to Yellowstone in July quickly come to mind—in all its crowded, hot, and sticky glory.

However, the season’s  first snow– while backpacking at Lake Tahoe no less—gave me just the kick in the butt I needed.  With uncontrollable excitement (and veiled uncertainty), I packed the car and embarked on my maiden voyage.

For all my anticipation and high expectations, Yosemite did not disappoint. It’s a place whose beauty I cannot articulate.

The days flew by, but moments lingered with a satisfying deliciousness. I visited the giant sequoias, snapped hundreds of photos, patiently explained that being from Ohio doesn’t make me a buckeye fan, and looked for bears around every bend.

Rarely have I had the opportunity to travel to such a beautiful place alone and enjoy its splendor on my own schedule.  I reveled in it all.

I’ll admit that sometimes I question my judgment– just a little bit. When did hiking for miles straight uphill with a fifty pound pack alone become my idea of fun?

Don’t you get lonely and sore and bored?


Aren’t you worried about the bears?


What happens if you get hurt?


Wouldn’t you much rather sleep in a bed, drink beer, and eat fresh eggs for breakfast?


These thoughts drifted through my mind as I hiked–challenging the very core of my being that brought me here. Yet somewhere between the moon shadows, breathtaking vistas, and thundering waterfalls, they fell silent– leaving only a feeling of utter peace in their wake.

Over and out.

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA


Autumn in New Mexico is continuing to amaze me as the cottonwoods begin to change color. This November has been one of the most eventful months during this internship. I explored White Sands, a huge desert with stark white sand and found that I’m a big fan of anywhere that I can hike barefoot. A big activity here is to “sled” on the sand dunes, which I didn’t do this time but I will have to go back and give it a try. My co-intern/roommate took a new position in Arizona at the beginning of the month.  I’m headed to Roswell, New Mexico for the week to assist with Culp Sand Bluestem planting trials, and for Thanksgiving I am vacating to Denver, Colorado to spend the holiday with some friends. It’s hard to imagine that I only have one month left but I’m sure to keep busy.

All that I have left to do for SOS is to ship off vouchers and check over data that was entered into the BG-base. Although having completed more collections would have been great, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I was able to evolve my education into experience. I’ve been able to assist in wildlife project checks, burn restoration, field monitoring and rare plant surveying.


Barefoot hiking at White Sands