Maps, Letters, and Herbicides

Well, I am still here. It’s been snowing from time to time, and field work for me is scarce. Mostly I spend my days on GIS mapping projects and summarizing sage grouse count data, but occasionally I get to help out with a field project controlling invasive Russian olive and salt cedar with herbicides. There’s just nothing like good old fashioned manual labor in zero degree temperatures! Then again, although it’s hard work carrying around a backpack sprayer that’s almost half my body weight and made to be carried by broader shoulders over uneven terrain in the winter, after about 20 minutes of walking around that way we’re all toasty warm. Sore shoulders aside, it’s good to earn your supper once in a while.

Another work activity has been sending out letters to past volunteers for the Mid-Winter Eagle Survey to see who is game for participating in the survey next month. Responses keep rolling in, and soon it will be time to send out route maps and information and contact the people who haven’t responded yet. The survey will be on the last day of the first part of my internship, and I can’t believe it’s coming up so fast.

Volunteer activities with the Greater Yellowstone Raptor Experience program and the local animal shelter continue, which make me all the more excited to come back next year after my 2 month break in January. I anxiously await the arrival in the mail of my very own raptor glove for working with the birds at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center here in town. That has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I have the CLM program to thank for placing me here for this internship where I get to do all these cool things! (at work and beyond) It’s been a completely satisfying, valuable, and irreplaceable experience.

Winter in the Desert

Now that most of the seed collecting is coming to an end and most of the plants around here have gone to “bed” for the winter,  I have been inside for most of the time. There are still a couple of seed collections that we would like to complete, but now it is a race to see who will get to them first – us or mother nature. We will see who comes out ahead. We even got snow here in Safford, AZ.  I was surprised by that, granted it didn’t last very long. But moisture is moisture, and we could use it. And maybe we will get enough winter rains to get some spring flowers and other annual plants up this coming spring. We can only hope. But for now things are calming down, but there is still work to be done.

Dropping Like Flies

The intern team is shrinking rapidly. Our 9 person crew has now dropped to 3. Though I still have two months left, I’m constantly aware that the end is rapidly approaching and that I need to figure out what’s happening next. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will require a move. And while there’s always some excitement about getting to see a new place, I really hate moving and would like to find a good place to settle down for awhile. In the meantime, the ski season at Tahoe has begun, and I can now get to work on becoming a less awful skier.

Here is a random batch of semi-recent internship-related photos:

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) seed pod

A section of the recent Burbank Fire. Pine Nut Mountains, NV.

Offset of depositional layers exposed in a diatomaceous earth mining pit.

A pretty big juniper and a pretty small intern. Peavine Mountain, above Reno.


Transformation in the desert: sagebrush sheds its seed, as I do the last seed collections of the year in the biting dry wind of the southeast Oregon winter. No significant snow yet, perfect for my final excursions around the resource area spent searching and reflecting. Passing along all of the places I visited for the first time this field season and trying to remember how it used to be warm and even hot. It’s pretty quiet now, and most plants are pretty much hibernating. I’m sure I’ll feel like hibernating too once it starts to snow and gets below zero. But for now I’ll just coast along the empty highways with plant press handy and watch the sun reach all of the beautiful places.


Lakeview BLM


As the days keep getting shorter (where did my evening sun go?) I’m beginning to accept that the transition from the field into the office is real. We’ve been managing to sneak in a few late season seed collections (prickly pear, rabbit brush, a few sages), after each one saying “this is our last collection.” But the weather, in its seemingly typical bipolar fashion, has been swinging back and forth between windy, cold, snowy days and beautiful, sunny, 60 degree respites. On these days we’ve grabbed our plant press and dashed into the field, for “one last collection.” We’ve made it to 34 collections, and all I wanted to do was get one more, for a nice round 35. On Wednesday we attempted what would have truly been our last collection. After a beautiful drive into the mountains we discovered that sadly, the sages we’d come to collect had already dropped their seed for the winter. The trip was still useful though, because we discovered a great new site for potential collections next year! I’m sad to see the end of the field season, but happy with the collections we did make, and happy to have participated in SOS this year.

In the office, my winter project is to conduct a literature review of native pollinators. I’m looking at it as the thesis I never wrote, and am glad for the opportunity to conduct a lot of research and prepare a document that reflects that. My mentor’s ultimate goal is to use my recommendations in writing a state-wide policy regarding the width of the buffers that need to be placed around rare and endangered Colorado endemics, so I’m also excited that my work could be part of something so far-reaching. To date, the results of my research are a 15 page bibliography-style document of references that I think will be worthwhile to read, and a large spreadsheet where I am compiling information about all documented pollinators of the 15 rare, endangered, or threatened plant species that I am focusing on. I’ve recently found a new program that I think will be extremely helpful to me as I read and take notes on all of these sources, so I’m in the process of learning how to use Scrivener, a powerful note-taking, organization, and writing program. There’s an incredible amount of data and research to sift through, so the project seems overwhelming at times, but I’m confident that I will be able to come out of it with a meaningful understanding of the issues that play into buffer distances and hopefully be able to make realistic and knowledgeable recommendations for future policies.

One of our late-season collection sites (Photo by Jeffrey Flory)

One of the little guys I'm studying...

Smallest bee on the eye of the biggest bee (found this pic on the internet)

Sama Winder
BLM State Office, CO

Days go by

What up Nevada

As the field season winds down, the dwindling number of employees leaves our office a ghost town. The good news is that those of us remaining are banding together to stave off Lonely Office Syndrome (LOS). This reminds me how similar humans are to some of animals we manage in terms of behavior and sociology. Generalizing- we exhibit scattered distribution in the plentiful summertime while concentrating into groups in the winter.

I wonder if this simple observation is just skimming the surface and if much more of what we do is unconsciously engrained. As you may have guessed, I am a proponent of sociobiology and all things EO Wilson.

Consider the field of ecology. Current teachings describe a complex relationship between all parts of the environment resulting in a healthy ecosystem. Under the guise of scientific objectivity, we have labeled ecosystems suitable to ourselves as “healthy” and written off less-complex systems.

And as a result we are often surprised to find that the world is not as we projected. Consider how genetics has upstaged our understanding of evolution. Phylogeny shows that osprey have little genetically in common with eagles, despite their physical and functional resemblance (Hackett et al. 2008). It was in becoming apex raptors that ospreys and eagles took similar form, because common qualities made them fit. In other words, good ideas, if they really are good ideas, will arise independently throughout history. Say whaaat?

I guess the point of this tirade is that I am rediscovering the unconscious decision-making of the human brain which we often ignore. And although sobering, this whole new world, and the possibility to better understand myself, has me asking more and more questions.

Thanks science!