California Daydreamin’

What is it that makes our lands valuable and worth managing and protecting? There are many reasons to list, but this week I want to focus on Paleontological resources.

I used to think the drive to visit my sister in Southern California was quite boring.  I didn’t think there was much to look at in terms of scenery and Interstate 5 isn’t very curvy.  Curves are fun, right?  I did what most people do to prepare for a long boring drive: make a mix-tape/playlist of  driving music, borrow some books on tape from the library (I say “books on tape” and “mix-tape” even though we all know I’m talking about CDs because “books on CD” and “mix-CD’s” just doesn’t have the same ring to it), charge your phone so you can call a friend on the way, and of course stock up on snacks.  I will go a long way to distract myself from the monotony of a long haul.

My time spent out in the field has certainly changed my view of the stretch of land between the Bay-Area and Southern California.  Now when I look out the window I’ll have something else on the brain.  To see part of the reason why, let’s take a look back in time.  65 million years ago California’s coastline looked quite different than it does today.  I like Richard P. Hilton’s description in Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California: “By the Late Cretaceous, the western edge of the Sierra Nevada had been eroded back and the sea was flooding into the areas of what are now the low Sierran foothills… Numerous fossils were deposited offshore from the ancestral Sierra Nevada in a marine environment between 80 and 65 million years ago”.

Parts of the lands I’ve been helping to manage happen to be in the Moreno formation of the Panoche Hills (west side of the San Joaquin Valley). The formation contains the highest diversity of organisms from the late Cretaceous period in the western United States.  During the course of my internship I had the opportunity to explore the Moreno shale formation and discover some of the fossilized treasures it yields.  Among other things, these fossils provide us with a wealth of information to better understand evolution and the make-up of past ecosystems.


Click on the pictures below to learn more.

I’ll still do all those things previously mentioned to prepare for the drive, but now I feel I have a deeper appreciation for the land around me.  Now I can share what I have learned about California Paleontology with my passengers whilst annoying them with my taste in music. So next time you’re passing through you should stop by and take advantage of your public lands or at least think about it.

-Aaron Thom (Hollister BLM Office)

If you would like to learn more about BLM paleo-resources check out the following link:



Crawling like a baby on sticks, through sticks, and with sticks in my hair.  Branches grab my shoelaces and refuse to let go, trapping me in a maze of manzanita, chamise, and coyote brush so thick it’s difficult to see my friend just six feet away.  But today we’re on a mission, and even the new rips in my pants can’t stop me.  Finally, the extreme bushwhacking pays off, and I find my prize: a small patch of Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a small and unassuming Federally threatened plant found predominantly in western El Dorado County.

For the past 5 months I’ve been lucky enough to intern with the Pine Hill Preserve (PHP). Eight rare and endangered chaparral plants–including five which are Federally listed!!–rely on the unique mildly acidic red soils created by the underlying gabbro rock.  In the face of encroaching suburban sprawl, PHP is a refuge, protecting these special chaparral plants and the unique soil formation on which they rely. 

An urban girl by birth and forest lover by experience, I’ll admit to being disappointed on my first visit to PHP.  When they said “shrubland” I’d pictured the open sagebrush of central Idaho and was completely unprepared for the dense 7 ft. tall stand before me. It was over 105°F, and the plants were anything but friendly. I spent the first afternoon wishing myself away.

Quickly, however, PHP won me over.  The chaparral doesn’t have jaw-dropping mountain vistas or the grand splendor of coastal redwoods, but it does offer a quiet, more dignified beauty to those willing to look beyond it’s rough and often spiney exterior.  Hidden among shopping centers and private homes lies a biological wonderland.  Over 740 distinct plant species grow here–that’s 10% of California’s total native plant biodiversity in a tiny fraction of the state! Visiting PHP may include a leisurely hike along the interpretative trail, attending a naturalist-led bird & botany tour, or simply enjoying a moment alone along the S. Fork American River.

Although an ecological hotspot and a recreational area regularly utilized by mountain bikers and birders alike, development threatens El Dorado County’s chaparral.  Private homes encompass PHP lands, limiting the BLM’s fuels management options, and neighboring unprotected natural areas are being bulldozed at an alarming rate.  While PHP rare plants may thrive on nearby undeveloped privately-owned parcels, without protection like that afforded through purchases with LWCF funds their days may be numbered.  Entire species may suffer if more land isn’t protected.  For a species like Pine Hill Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum ssp. decumbens) with only ~100 plants worldwide, losing even a handful of individuals to private development may dramatically reduce the entire species’ genetic diversity with detrimental effects.

Growing up in urban Ohio, nature was the occasional trip to the “wilds” of a regional forest for fishing or hiking. Although my definition has since expanded to include the mountains of Denali and redwood forests, nothing can compete with the chaparral’s hidden gems. Despite PHP’s navigation challenges and my co-worker’s bold statement, I proudly admit that I LOVE the chaparral, most days anyway.

Over and out. Sophia Weinmann

CLM Intern: El Dorado Hills, CA


Wrapping up 2011

It’s been a long year this past year, but in a good way. I’ve had a lot of time for learning, working, improving, and growing up, and I’m extremely pleased to be able to look back on the past 365 days with satisfaction.

It’s hard to say what precisely has been going on since my last blog. Having just returned from a Christmas vacation at home, the previous weeks seem to have slipped from my memory. Next week I look forward to some archaeological survey work in the Little Mountain area of the Bighorns. It seems strange to me that we would be able to do this in the middle of January, when theoretically the mountains should be covered with snow, but it’s been so warm lately that perhaps as much of the snow has melted up there as it has here in the Basin. Nice though the weather has been, it is still a depressing reminder of climate change, and I worry about the effects, both here and at home. Every place seems to be having a very weird winter this year. What’s one little intern to do? It seems this is a prime opportunity to re-educate myself on conservation practices to reduce my impact on the environment. What could be more fitting for the end of the first chapter of my Conservation and Land Management internship?

The End Is Near

Less than a month left. I expected to be doing constant office work at this point, but the weather has remained nice! A very dry autumn. There was even a wildfire in Carson last week. So instead of being shackled to our computers, the three of us have actually been able to get out in the field a fair amount. We’ve surveyed for rare plants, assessed burns, characterized uncommonly huge and dense populations of Eriogonum elatum, and made some late December seed collections.

We’ll be going to the CNPS 2012 annual conference in San Diego next week, and then it will be a lot of getting ready to pass off the reins to the next interns.



Cold and wonderful

As the days now get longer (happy!), the temperature only gets colder (sad). But the work at the Lakeview BLM is still fulfilling and wonderful, For the next month and a half I will be working on mapping datasets from the ongoing invasive species management, and organizing the information for all of the Special Status Species (plants). I also decided to go to the Society for Range Management annual meeting in Spokane, WA which is pretty exciting. Even though it’s a hike to get up there, I’m really looking forward to learning in more detail about the research going on in the Great Basin and beyond in the field. I never knew that I could love living and working in the desert as much as I do (which is a lot!) and I’m excited to hopefully be working in this area in the future.

A highlight from the last week of fieldwork: For most of the field season, my internship partner and I were like a curse to everyone we worked with who told us they normally see wildlife every time they go out in the field. We rarely saw any. Maybe it’s that wildlife tend to stay away when they see crazy New Yorkers happy and awestruck at every single thing (AKA, but it was strange. SO, on the very last day of fieldwork for 2011, a huge herd of Bighorn Sheep crossed the road right in front of me, but instead of climbing up the hill, they just hung out right next to my truck for the next 20 minutes. The animals finally decided they liked me.

Bighorns on Abert Rim

The New Year

I cannot believe how fast time is going! As the New Year approaches I have been reflecting on the past year and how much has changed since then. A year ago I was living in Ohio and working at a Metropolitan park as an operations worker, I never thought that I would be living in Montana working as a CLM intern for the BLM. My experience so far has been wonderful, I couldn’t ask for a better place to be work and live.  This is my last month of my internship at the Missoula Field Office, I cannot believe I have been here for almost eight months. This last month has gone by especially fast with all the holidays. I still managed to accomplish quite a bit during that time. I have been taking online GIS training and managed to make a few maps with the help of my mentor John. I had the opportunity to do a winter bird survey with the Wildlife Biologist and my mentor,which was great especially to spend a day in the field. Other than that I am still working on setting up the herbarium and inventory list of all the specimens that we have. I am also finishing up data entry for all the habitat typing that we did over the summer and some range improvement data entry. It’s nice to have a variety of projects that I can work on and help out where I am needed. I hope I get to learn and experience as much as I can in the next month I am just grateful that I have more time here. Who knows where I will be a year from now, I am excited to see what will unfold in the next year. I just want to have fun doing it!

As my internship comes to an end, I am compelled to recognize those that ultimately made it possible for me to collect native plant seed for the last six months : pollinators. Some are opportunistically promiscuous while others are extremely specialized in the plants they pollinate. Through natural selection, plants evolve morphological traits that attract the most efficient pollinators. Similarly, pollinators may evolve morphological traits that allow them to harvest floral resources more efficiently from their favored plants. This relationship is referred to as coevolution.
My internship has exposed me to interesting examples of these relationships. Hesperoyucca whipplei is pollinated exclusively by the yucca moth, Tegeticula maculata, in San Diego county. In addition to pollinating this plant, the female moths deposit eggs into the ovaries of the female yucca flowers. The larvae then feed on the developing seeds and hatch to start the cycle over again. Since only a fraction of the total seeds are consumed, this is a self-perpetuating system. These two species are completely dependent on each other for survival and propagation.
Another interesting tale of pollination in San Diego county is that of Mimulus aurantiacus. This species has yellow phenotype predominant inland and a red one predominant towards the coast. The yellow one is pollinated by hawkmoths while the red one is pollinated by hummingbirds. This shows how different phenoytpes of a single species might have been selected for in areas dominated by different viable pollinators. Interestingly, as these two pollinators broaden their geographic range, so do their respective favorite Mimulus phenotypes.
The preceding was another biological lesson I was fortunate enough to encounter on this internship. While I didn’t actually get to see Mimulus getting pollinated, I got to see some yucca moth larvae emerging from yucca seed. Don’t worry, most of the seed was still viable for shipping. I want to take this opportunity to also thank all the humans that made this awesome internship possible. I had a great time. Now it’s time for me to head back to the redwoods.
-Miguel K.

Busy in the Desert!

We continue to work away in the Lower Sonoran Desert.  Opportunities have been amazing as we continue to work on a number of projects.  It is amazing to be able to expand my knowledge of the area as well as learn new skills.  In just the short time since my last post I have had the ability to assist in installing a solar well for the endangered Sonoran pronghorn this will allow the agency to save money because of the expensive maintenance of the older wind mills.  I also was able to assist in the relocation of some Sonoran pronghorn to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge which was an amazing experience to just be a part of .  With only a few hundred of these pronghorn left it was a once in  a lifetime opportunity to be able to be so close to them.  I hope to have more exciting news next month!

Winter, and a new beginning

I moved to Boise, Idaho two weeks ago. Coming from Miami, the scenery seems barren due to the lack of green. It is also significantly colder, about 30 degrees compared to 70 degrees. Once I bought a winter jacket (there were none in Miami stores), I felt comfortable. Now I’m used to biking in the cold weather, and commuting to work in below freezing weather. I can see why layers are so important.

During the winter I will mostly be working on databasing projects. There is a large collection of lichens, at the BLM herbarium that needs to be reorganized and updated. It’s amazing how many nuances there are to maintaining a herbarium. Some of the details that need to be considered are nomenclature changes, GPS, and making sure all the details on the collection label match the database record. It is time consuming but rewarding to know that I am putting together a collection that future researchers can utilize.

At the moment, I am working on a Florida lichen database, checking all 1,000 records and tying up all the loose ends. My boss collected lichens in Florida for many years, and would like to donate the lichens to Florida institutions. Many universities in Florida do not have large collections of Florida lichens, and this is a way to disseminate knowledge and put the lichens in a place where they will be useful and accessible. For my undergraduate studies, I studied Florida lichens, so the opportunity to continue working with them is exciting. There is so much to study, and the information from this database will be important for ecological research.

I hope to go out in the field next week. There might be sagebrush seeds to collect. If there is precipitation or snow, it might be possible to lay some seeds on a restoration site. I’m very curious to see what this desert looks like. From afar it looks lifeless, but I’m sure many plants are growing, camouflaged into the scenery.

Seed Banking

When I tell people I collect seeds for seed banking, the first question I’m asked is if the collections are stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. While it’s awesome that so many people know about that bank, it is used primarily for agricultural species. Native plant species, especially those that are not threatened or endangered, receive much less attention. There are very few native seed banks around the world, and San Diego County happens to have one.

The seed bank here at the Safari Park houses more than five hundred different
plant populations. It is a straw bale, solar-powered structure that has all sorts of interesting contraptions used for seed processing. The seed bank is located at the back of the park and is the first permitted straw bale building in San Diego County. Cleaning and storing seeds is time consuming and often tricky, but it can also be very rewarding. Our goal is to collect multiple populations of the same species because each population may have adaptations unique to its
location. San Diego County is home to over 1,500 different plant species, so that adds up to a lot of seed collections!

When we first find a population that we want to collect we take clippings of the plant and press them to preserve the specimens (herbarium vouchers). It is best to take a sample that has both flowers and leaves so that the species can be verified by a specialist. Our herbarium vouchers are sent to the San Diego Natural History Museum for verification. Data on the location, soil color, slope, habitat, and associated species are also collected. After theses initial steps are taken we monitor the population until enough of the seeds ripen for a collection. We often have to compete with herbivores and rough weather to collect the seed before it is lost.

Once the collection is made, it is taken back to the seed bank and processed. The steps involved in processing the seed lots are generally dependent on each particular species. The seed and plant material is often rubbed over screens of various sizes until the seed is separated from its various shells, pods, leaves, pappi, and stems. Once separated, it is run through air separators so that lighter material is blown off and/or the seeds are lifted away from the heavier debris.
Even after all of these techniques are used, we are often left with seed that is still mixed with extra plant material. When this happens, our only option left is to clean the seed lot by hand.  With larger seeds this can be fairly easy, but with the small seeds it often involves a microscope, tweezers, and a lot of patience.

Clean seed lots are placed in the drying room in order to lower their moisture level. Once the seeds reach a moisture content between 5 and 9 percent, they can be placed in long-term storage. Five hundred of the seeds are counted out into groups of one hundred and then weighed. The entire seed lot is then weighed and we estimate the total number of seeds. At least ten thousand seeds are placed in storage at a time. If there are extra they are set aside for future
restoration and research. The seed is sealed in double-layered foil bags and frozen. It has been proven through germination testing that frozen seeds remain viable for decades.

Amaranthus fimbriatus