Final thoughts

The time will come when winter will ask what you were doing all summer” –Henry Clay

Although Clay was referring to a long forgotten era when surviving the winter was a direct correlation to how much food a farm produced in the summer, taken broadly it is an appropriate aphorism of my time as a CLM intern. Just as early agrarians invested in the summer to prepare them for the future, through the CLM program I have garnered a hoard of skills and experiences towards that end. I either learned or enhanced my skills in:

*GIS processing, changing tires, patience
*Cruising timber, FORVIS stand inventory, getting sap out of clothes
*Range monitoring, fire rehab monitoring, staying hydrated
*Salt desert scrub plant id, sagebrush steppe plant id, subalpine conifer id, walking
*Remote sensing, DOQ interpretation, patience
*Class III cultural survey, NHPA of 1966, SHPOs and NRHP, celebrating the little things
*Right-of-way compliance, invasive plant id, appreciation of the Grateful Dead
*Wild horse trapping, public inquiry, diplomatic response
*RMP planning, AMS vegetation description, patience

What I will miss most about the job are the professional relationships I’ve developed with coworkers.
What I will miss most about Carson City is being a stone’s throw from the mountains and my favorite lunch spot on the Carson River. Given these positives, I will indubitably recall my desert and mountain solitaire with nostalgia.

Sharing the Love

Saying goodbye is never easy.  Despite developing a healthy, loving relationship with the chaparral over the last seven months, we’re currently taking a break.  For the past month I’ve left behind my beloved field work behind for long hours inside the office.  Saying that sitting leaves me antsy is an understatement.  I long to frolic in the chaparral once more!

Although cubicle days can be tough and data entry an undeniably necessary evil, it does have its perks.   Working on a multitude of education and outreach projects for Pine Hill Preserve is a great outlet for sharing my enthusiasm.  Throughout the field season we had a handful of regular student volunteers, but our current efforts aim at getting many more excited about rare plants, conservation, and BLM.  A large part of which has been tabling at local career fairs.  This week’s event alone had over 1,400 students!  I love hearing students whose initial questions were “The BL-who? Chapara-what?! ” leave enthusiastic about conservation.  Hopefully we’ve inspired a new botanist or two!

 We’ve also been working hard to develop new education and outreach materials for the Preserve.  Most recently this has included brainstorming for our booth at the upcoming Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebration.  Ten thousand girl scouts are expected!  My days are filled with color book pages, display boards, and bright photos– not to mention the immeasurable challenging of distilling down chaparral, the preserve, and rare plants to an appropriate level. How do you explain gabbro soil intrusion endemic chaparral plants to first graders!?

The crayons are calling! over and out.

Sophia Weinmann

CLM Intern: El Dorado Hills, CA

Bees, Bees, Bees

It’s been a couple months since my last post (I got my last alert while I was on Christmas vacation) and work is progressing smoothly in the state office. I am still absorbed in my native pollinator project, though the exact project goals and findings are starting to solidify. For those of you who haven’t been keeping track, I’ve been conducting an in-depth literature review trying to determine what is known about pollinators in Colorado, specifically how far they can fly and how far they are likely to fly between their nests and the plants they forage at. The reason I’m doing this relates back to rare and endangered plants. When protecting a plant population, it is imperative that you take this plant’s pollinators into account. If you only protect the plants themselves, and bulldoze everything around them, it’s unlikely that enough bees will survive to keep pollinating the plants and maintaining the population. This is pretty intuitive. What’s not so obvious is how much habitat you should protect around the plant population, which is where my research fits in.

When it comes down to it, these “buffer” distances are also affected by politics. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission is to “conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats,” (mission statement on their website) which means that they are in charge of listing species under the ESA and then protecting them as well as they can. In turn, it is in their best interest to leave lots and lots of space around plant populations for pollinator habitat. Their estimates are based on science, but when there is not very much information available, it is best for the FWS to err on the side of more protection, and thus bigger buffer distances. The BLM, on the other hand, has a multi-use mandate. While it is important to (and required of) the Bureau to adequately protect endangered and threatened species, it is also part of our job to lease land to energy development and grazing interests. When large buffers are placed around plant populations, it significantly increases the amount of work that these interests must do in the form of surveys and protective measures, a fact that they’re not always happy about. So, it comes back to balance. We need to protect these species, but we don’t want to regulate these development companies out of business. Not only do they provide domestic energy and jobs, they also pay the government a lot of money for this privilege, helping to make the BLM a profitable government agency year after year.

My job in all this is to ferret out the data that matters. Rather than reading the key reviews and drawing conclusions from them, erring on the side of protection when the data doesn’t apply directly, I’m digging in deep to try to really figure out what kind of protection is needed and warranted by the literature. Throughout this process it’s important to remember that I’m not trying to necessarily do what’s best for the development interests, but rather really just trying to find the facts. The project is interesting, and with hundreds of papers available that don’t ask my questions directly but rather offer glancing insights, I have my work cut out for me. I’ll keep you all updated as I draw closer to a conclusion.

Astragalus osterhoutii (endangered) with one of its pollinators

Sama Winder
BLM Colorado State Office

My time as an intern here at the BLM Missoula field office is coming to an end. As I reflect back on the last eight months that I have spent here, I feel like I have come a long way. I never expected to learn so many new things or love Montana so much to want to stay here. I don’t think I really knew what to expect. All I know is that my expectations have been exceeded. Time had definitely flown by. I find myself wanting to slow time down so I can fully appreciate the last few days that I have left here. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.  It is not only one of the most beautiful places I have lived and worked but the people here are amazing. The people make all the difference in the world. They are some of the nicest, most passionate, friendly, funny and caring people I have ever worked with. They really care about the work they are doing and work together as a team. They have been very helpful and patient with me.  I am especially grateful for my mentor John Hill and his sense of humor. John works as the Natural Resources Specialist, but he really is a “jack of all trades”. He was always willing to help someone out on a project or let my coworker and I have a cool experience (like going on a raptor survey,  helping save an injured pelican or counting cows). Not only did I have the chance to work with him surveying sensitive and threatened plants, but I also had the opportunity to work with the foresters, wildlife biologist, archeologist, hydrologist, range specialist and GIS specialist. I really feel like I have had a very well rounded internship. I have learned so much from each individual that I worked with and have made some great friendships. I have had a great experience as a CLM intern, I would recommend it to anyone who is seeking to gain more professional experience! This experience has inspired me to stay in Montana for now, my plan is to return for my second year as a CLM intern. I can’t wait to see how the future unfolds!

Lea Tuttle, CLM Intern

BLM Missoula, MT Field Office

Society of Beautiful-landscapes-Where-Cows-Roam Management

As I get ready to head to the SRM (Society of Range Management) Annual meeting in Spokane, WA this weekend, I’m starting to get really excited about meeting other people as nerdy as I am about this kind of stuff.

I’m a little obsessed with public land management and agriculture, especially after working with the BLM in cowboy country for 8 months. My family doesn’t get it, my friends from home in NYC don’t get it. Why would you want to spend your time in the middle of nowhere… and think about cows??

I’m not sure. But I love it. And I admit, I’m not in love with just cows. I’m also in love with the awesome grass species they eat and the awesome volcanic geological history they walk on, and the awesome wildlife they share the wide open spaces with. And, they’re also just delicious.

When I was growing up in New York, I used to think that cattle ranching in the West was a bad thing, that it was taking something irreplaceable from the ecosystems and produces a net negative effect on the landscape. But, it turns out that no one in NY knows anything about cattle, or ranching, or ecosystems in the Great Basin! Whoops. I’ve been so impressed by the ambitious goals of sustainability, both environmental and economic, that the BLM is committed to, and I quickly learned that (much to my disbelief as a life-long horse-lover) the beautiful wild horses romanticized in my childhood and Mid-Atlantic U.S. culture, actually cause dramatically larger ecological problems than cows. Cows are well-managed and the management is dynamic and informed by ecological theory and monitoring. The active management of horses on the other hand, because of little high school NY activists like me 10 years ago (!), is incredibly restricted due to public disapproval. Because they’re cute.

Anyway, I am ridiculously excited to begin my career in this field and to stay in Oregon and to eat lots of cows and to love these amazing landscapes.  I will start working with the Agricultural Research Service as a Technician for plant community ecology research this summer, and the SRM meeting will sort of confirm for me that this is actually happening.  

From the tallest town in Oregon,

Lisa at the Lakeview BLM

Cody’s Corner

With the moisture that we received in December, the Sonoran desert has bloomed! It is amazing to see how much growth has come up in such a short time. In the picture above you can see some wild horses that we came across which were taking advantage of all the wonderful green up. The desert holds so many secrets, while we have been out doing wildlife habitat monitoring, we came across a really unique box canyon that was nestled in a small mountain range. What is so unique is the vegetation that is able to survive in this canyon due to the shade from the canyon walls. It is a true oasis (without much or any standing water) within the desert. As seen from the pictures above, it is quite a unique place. Well,  more to come next month!

The End

Hoffmannseggia glauco, my favorite plant that we collected seed from for SOS.

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name…

…and that horse was a primer grey Toyota Tundra with 160,000 miles on it.

This internship has been beyond incredible.  I’ve learned more in the past ten months than my freshman year of college.  Spending the majority of my time out in the field has allowed me to experience so many unique things – amazing animals, picturesque sunsets, gorgeous scenery, and even a wild looking local or two.  How many 24 year-old girls can say they have changed a flat tire on a dirt road in Death Valley in 116° heat?

What I love most about science is that there is always more to learn.  The more we learn about the world around us, the better we are able to understand how all of the components of the environment connect.  A more complete understanding of these systems enables scientists to make intelligent decisions to manage our natural resources.  I want future generations to be able to experience the environment in the same way I have been so fortunate to.  Through my course, work, and life experiences, I have developed a diverse background in soil science, watershed management, sustainable agriculture, and wildlife biology.  This botany internship has given me a better understanding of how ecosystems are connected.  I want to work in environmental restoration and leave a positive impact on the world.  This job has brought me one step closer to achieving this dream.  Many thanks to all of the wonderful people at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and the CLM program!

–Christi Gabriel

Experts tire changers, pretty good at collecting seeds too.

Dear Snow,

Dear Snow,

We all miss you in the Intermountain West. Although winter weather remains a distant memory here in Carson City, my duties have shifted more to management.

Our district began work on a new Resource Management Plan to guide our direction over the next 15-20 years. The challenge is really to create a plan flexible enough to promote project-level implementation and strong enough to defend these practices in court. It is exciting to see all eager to contribute to the success of the RMP.

However, this also exposes the reality of the management side of conservation. We have meetings, about meetings, about meetings. In other news, I am applying for field crews next season.


January update

Its been quite a month but alas no snow yet. However due to the lack of snow its been easier to go out into the field, and tackle some projects. Two of the projects are areas that have been overgrazed, and are in need of restoration. So we scuffed the ground, mindful that it was partially frozen, and spread seeds of native plants in hopes they’d grow. There hasn’t been much research into restoration, so we are using what knowledge of the area we have in hopes it works. Its difficult to wrap my mind around the fact that the seeds I planted, due to biotic and abiotic factors (out of my control- like most of nature) might not germinate  for years or ever.

The third site was a neglected wild onion habitat, an endangered plant endemic to Boise. It needs removal of cheatgrass and sage brush and basically the whole top layer of organic matter. The plant grows in very coarse large grain sand, with little/no clay and little/none organic matter. Its one of the few plants that can grow in this constantly shifting substrate. This is one of the best sites in the state for this species, yet its less than the size of a football field.

In the past month, I’ve mostly been databasing, working through the Florida collection of lichens. The office was quiet, and I was able to accomplish about half of the project. There’s a lot of data to manage, but I’m breaking it into many smaller projects, and moving forward. It seems like more little projects related to managing a database are showing up, but I think of it as good practice for when I start my own herbarium.

Boise is a very friendly city, and I am enjoying meeting new people. This past holiday season was the first one that I spent away from my family (it didn’t make sense to fly home after only 3 weeks of starting my job). But I was invited to multiple holiday celebrations, and experienced how friendly the people in Boise are. Coming from Miami, the pace of life is much slower and friendlier- people are more willing to help you (ie a short ride to the bus stop, with work problems). I am grateful for this friendlier attitude towards people.

Germination Fun

One of the projects I get to work on involves germination studies. Germination can be defined differently in an experiment. Some scientists define it as the emergence of the radical (the first root), but for the seed bank here at the safari park it is defined as the emergence of the radical and the emergence of at least one cotyledon (first leaf). This is because some seeds may have enough energy to produce the tip of a root but then lack the ability to develop further.

When seeds are placed into a long term cold storage facility they can remain viable for decades, but when they go dormant for that length of time it can be a very difficult to get them to “wake up” again. In nature seed germination is triggered by a variety of factors; fire, water, and temperature changes are some of the main contributors to germination. To test the germination ability of seeds that have been placed into storage we have to try different triggers on them. In order to determine which triggers are effective, scientists look at a things like the natural habitat of the species and what triggers have worked on closely related species. Coming up with the correct combinations can be a time consuming, yet fascinating puzzle. The process is further complicated by the fact that species require different combinations depending on how long they have been in storage. For example, a trigger that works for seeds that have been stored for ten years may not work for seeds that have been stored for fifty years. Another complicating variable is that even within the same species different populations may be reproductively isolated enough that their seeds have different requirements, and just to add insult to injury, the same population of individuals may differ slightly year to year due to environmental conditions. Despite all these frustrating details that have to be taken into account, germination testing is an extremely important area of study, because whats the point of seed banks if we are unable to use the seeds?

At the Safari Park, seeds that are to be tested are chosen based on the length of time the have been in cold storage. Twenty or so seed lots that have been placed into storage around the same time period are removed and soaked in water over night before different triggers are tested on them. For some seed lots this initial soaking is the only stimulus they need. Some of the other tests we perform include:

Smoke Water:
In nature, one environmental condition that triggers germination is fire. Either heat, the chemicals released by burned plant matter, or a combination of the two causes seeds to come out of dormancy. To mimic the chemicals released by burned plants we collect samples of different chaparral species and turn them into charcoal, which is then mixed in water to give us “smoke water”. In some cases, when this water is absorbed through the seed coat it triggers the seed to grow.

Running Water:
For some species, especially those that live in very dry areas like the desert, being triggered by only water can be a bad thing. For example, if rain fell for too short of a time period and triggered the germination and growth of a species, that species would not have enough resources to reach maturity. One way that seeds measure the amount of rainfall is by the amount of small abrasions they receive. When there is enough water to tumble them over rocks and sand (which cuts up their seed coats and causes small abrasions), seeds “know” that there is enough of the resource to sustain them through their life cycle so that they can reproduce. The small abrasions allow the water to penetrate the seed coat. To replicate this process we run water over seeds and gravel so that they rub together in a similar way.

Cold Stratification:
One of the other tests we do is expose the seeds to different temperatures. Seeds “know” when it is time to grow by measuring the changes in the seasons. The passage of time is determined by the changes in temperature. Winter exposes the seeds to a long cold period and plants will germinate in expectation of the Spring that is to follow. The length and degree of the gold snap varies buy the theory behind it remains the same.
The whole process of germination testing is really interesting and really annoying, but I’m glad I got to learn about it in my internship.