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?