Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 2: Rare Plants

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Each internship position is unique–different types of ecosystem, varied tasks, particular emphases; I have had the great pleasure of serving at Pine Hill Preserve, a plant preserve established in western El Dorado County, California, to protect eight rare plant species and their habitat.

MONITORING. The Pine Hill Preserve manager (my mentor) has multiple monitoring projects set up; each one is intended to gather basic scientific data to help identify management activities that benefit a particular rare plant species or the suite of rare plants in any given area of the Preserve. In addition to partaking in the counting, measuring, and recording of data in the field, I have also entered data into spreadsheets and created graphs to aid in analyzing the data.

Monitoring response of Stebbin's morning-glory (Calystegia stebbinsii) after a fire several years ago

Point and line transect data to monitor the federally endangered Pine Hill ceanothus in a fuel break

Monitoring percent cover of Pine Hill ceanothus

Counting stems of El Dorado bedstraw (federally endangered) and unsuccessfully trying to avoid contact with poison oak

Counting stems and flowers of the rare El Dorado mule-ears

SURVEYING. Throughout California, proactive measures to protect human life and private property from the potentially devastating effects of wildfires is critical, especially when the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) borders highly flammable vegetative communities like the chaparral. The Pine Hill Preserve is composed of 5 primary discontiguous units; accompanying the fragmentation of the Preserve is a lot of WUI. One of the main units is essentially surrounded by dense development; thus, fuels reduction of this unit is a number one priority. Before any cutting or removal of the woody vegetation can commence, the proposed fuel break must be surveyed for rare plants. Surveying in thick chaparral is not a simple task (read “Chaparral” blog post); it’s not a walk in the park, through a grassland, or under a forest canopy. We are currently about halfway done surveying a 10-acre plot which is due for a fuels reduction make-over; this took over 28 person hours. If we were not finding any rare plants, I might become convinced that my time and effort awkwardly crawling through the chaparral was in vain. BUT…such is not the case, and we have been finding many small, young Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae) on this 10-acre parcel! How rewarding!


Flags mark the federally threatened Layne's butterweed in the Pine Hill Preserve

Flagging of rare plants accomplished while doing the Chaparral Crawl (elaborated upon in a future blog entitled "Danger")

Pink flags (upper left side) signaling El Dorado bedstraw plants

Rare plants flagged to indicate where NOT to pile and burn brush

DISCOVERY: As much as I’d like to claim I’ve discovered a new plant species OR an unnamed relative of an identified species OR even just find an undocumented population of a rare species, it is still quite amazing and very cool to be able to simply observe an unnamed species or subspecies or variety, even if I didn’t discover it. Anatomical features initially pointed to a possible close relationship with one of the rare plant species at our Preserve. Over the past year, a former CLM intern has been conducting molecular studies on this species and several related species as part of her graduate work; her findings currently do not support a close evolutionary relationship between the newly discovered specimen and the federally listed species at Pine Hill Preserve.

How marvelous! Looking at an unnamed plant species


I have been working on a large seed/plant document for the last few weeks, it has been a fun challenge. I have about 213 species on the list to be complete. The information included is description, distribution, habitat, soils, problems and benefits, along with seed per pound. I hope to get out in the field soon with some of this rain we have gotton in the past few months I look forward to seeing some spring plants.

Allium aaseae (wild onion) restoration

Earlier today myself and 5 coworkers, went back to the wild onion site, I mentioned in my last post. We spent another half day clearing out sage brush and cheatgrass under an overcast sky. The site is transfixing, and beautiful. It is on the side of a steep hill, full of sage brush and bitterbrush, as well as lots of other forbs. In the distance there is a tiny spring, and the chattering of quail is a common sound. Amidst this site, there is a spot that is devoid of sage  brush, extending up the hill. Its about the size of a two full length basketball court. There is no organic matter or soil, the substrate is small pebbles and gravel, that constantly shift.  It holds little to no water. It is a harsh environment, where very few plants grow well. The onion, Allium aaseae, thrives in these conditions.

Allium aaseae is a rare endemic plant, found in only a few locations in Idaho. It is just starting to sprout. At the moment it looks like little blades of grass, but in a few months the entirety of the site will be covered in pink flowers. Perhaps because I know its a rare plant and I’m working to maintain a site for it, I am biased towards liking this site. However, the harshness of the site, and just how small of a range this plant has (it can grow in only a small fraction of this hill), fascinate me.

In another sense, it is also the feeling of accomplishment of cleaning up the site. There are a few aspects of cleaning up that we are working on. Basically we are trying to create a buffer around the site to prevent encroachment of unwelcome species. We are removing cheatgrass, and trimming the sagebrush and bitterbrush, so that they catch less seeds and provide less protection to those unwelcome seeds that germinate. Its great to see the difference on our monthly visits, and it could serve as a model for restoration. However, it will take more work and manpower to fully recover the site, more than our crew can handle at the moment.

On my Florida lichen database project, I am making good progress. I finished checking the data. All I have left to do is check the identification of a handful of specimens, fill in the substrate in the database of a couple hundred lichens, and then they can be shipped out to various herbaria around the world.  By this time next month, I assume I will be working on another databasing project but working more in the field. Spring is coming. However, below is proof it snowed in Boise- my first and probably last snow angel of the season.

Barry Kaminsky

BLM State Office, Boise, ID

Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 1: Seeds of Success

In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Check it out–this is a brief overview of an exciting program which engages CLM interns in a significant nationwide conservation effort. More information can be found at the following website:

PARTICIPATION IN THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS (SOS) PROGRAM. This conservation effort primarly involves collecting seeds of native plants to develop native plant material for restoration purposes. Collecting the seeds of some chaparral species–coffeeberry, toyon, fairy-lantern, and redbud–in the Sierra foothills of central California have been enjoyable, but I can’t say that for all of them like tarweed/rosinweed and hollyleaf redberry, which leave your hands sticky or slimy and scratched, respectively. Another part of the SOS program has been collecting voucher specimens.

Collecting coffeeberry fruits (Frangula californica)

Drying fruits of toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Fruits and seeds of white fairy's lantern (Calochortus albus)

Sun revealing seeds inside the fruit of western redbud (Cercis orbiculata)

Sticky rosinweed (Calycadenia multiglandulosa)...yes, it is sticky!

Fruits and seeds of hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia)

Counting seeds to determine an estimate of the total number collected

Pressing voucher specimens of creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis)


The endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat

One of the studies that I have been lucky enough to participate in at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is the Stephens’ kangaroo rat project. The Stephens’ kangaroo rat (SKR) is one of 19 species of kangaroo rat in the genus Dipodomys in the family Heteromyidae. It as listed as endangered by both the federal and state governments. The main threat to the species is loss of habitat due to urban development in its native range. Of the available habitat that remains to the SKR, much of it is unsuitable due to invasive grass species. These exotic grasses form a thick mat on the ground that restricts the movement of the nocturnal rodent and doesn’t allow them to sand-bathe, which is a behavior they need for healthy pelts and social interaction. This project was the first to establish a viable population of SKR via trans location.
Six circular experimental plots were set up on the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve. Each plot was divided into six slices, two slices per treatment. Two slices from each plot were mowed, grazed by sheep, and burned to see which treatment was most effective in removing the thick layer of exotic grasses. Of the two slices per treatment, one was left as an control and the other was planted with native bunch grasses to see which method prevented the establishment of the exotic grasses best. The arrangement of the different treatment slices within each circular plots were randomly chosen. Ten thousand grasses were planted in 2011, and again in 2012 for a total of 20,000 grass seedlings. Each seedling was planted in a shallow basin to maximize the benefits of rainfall and supplemental watering. For the first year that the seedlings were planted they were protected by a blue plastic tube that minimized the effects of detrimental weather and offered extra protection. The seedlings were also given extra water once a month during the dry parts of the year.
On the animal side of the project, 200 SKR were caught and trans-located to the experimental plots. They were divided into four groups, with 50 individuals per treatment (mowed, burned, grazed and control). Trans-locations are fairly complicated, they tend to be more successful when there are social bonds between the individuals that are moved, and there must already be artificial burrows in place before they are released.
I had never participated in a restoration project prior to this internship and I had no idea how much time and energy would be required. It took us almost three full weeks to plant all of the seedlings, and that was with volunteers and the extra help of prison work crews. Because we were in the second year of the project we were able to see how successful the first year had been, and it was really encouraging! The plots where the native grasses had been planted were much more open, with hardly any invasive species present. Many of the slices were also dotted with SKR burrows and there were patches of cleared soil where sand-bathing could occur. Next month I will be going out with a team from the Applied Animal Ecology Department to trap the SKRs. I’ll get to see them up close! Its really interesting to connect the science behind both the plant and animal sides of big studies like the SKR project, and I feel very lucky to have had this unique experience.


New Place, New Experiences

Thus far during my internship, I have found myself pondering about what’s to come. I arrived around three weeks ago, and feel like I am finally getting settled. I’ve never been west of Houston, Texas, so being out here in Nevada has been a total shock to my system. It’s a good shock though, because I always look forward to new experiences and opportunities.

As for the internship itself, I have realized that arriving during the winter for a botany internship is a little lackluster. I have learned some new plants but all of them are just dead, dried versions of what they were just a few months ago. I know that they will be drastically different soon, so that keeps me hopeful, because the best way I learn a new ecosystem and flora is by walking around a landscape and conversing about the plants at hand. This has happened little, but I am looking forward to the spring and summer, where I can see the local flora with all that it has to offer. I am focusing my current days and the next month or so on training, and handling tasks that can be completed during this time of year, such as fire rehabilitation monitoring, making willow tree cuttings for future plantings, and becoming familiar with my new surroundings.

Fresh experiences

Although it’s been two years since I graduated from college, I suddenly feel like a “fresher” again.  I have moved to unfamiliar Carson City and am the new person in the BLM office, learning how to navigate the maze of cubicles, finding the restroom and light switches, and, more importantly, meeting people who have been here for years before me and have much knowledge to pass on.  Even simply hearing the chat around the office gives insight into what it is like to make a career of natural resource management.

My mentor, Dean, passed on helpful guidance about what it means to work for the government: the public puts their trust in us to do a good job.  Taxpayer money funds the BLM, and we have the mandate of spending that money – our time – well.  I don’t believe most public servants have any intention of wasting time or money, but the statement is a useful reminder of the greater meaning of one’s daily duties.

Winter at Washoe Lake

The most impactful experiences of the internship so far have been sensory: the fragrance of big sagebrush and the sharp smell of a burned forest, the red-brown-yellow palette of the wintered Great Basin, and the crunch of secret ice under the dry grass on a walk across the field.  As I learn new plant names and become familiar with the local geography, I appreciate the landscape that is my new home more and more.

I have also enjoyed getting to know the people I will be spending the majority of my waking time with over the next ten months.  Throughout recent travels I have found it is the friendships I made that I recall most dearly, and I look forward to fostering those here.

The first two weeks…

I’m not sure where to begin writing about all that I have experienced so far in just the two weeks that I’ve been a part of the CLM Internship at San Diego Zoo Global, so I’ll just start from the beginning. It was not the usual first day, in that I was lucky enough to be able to go out in the field with my co-workers and assist with a current restoration project that was started two years ago. We went out to Lake Skinner County Reserve east of Temecula in Riverside County to water bunchgrass seedlings (10,000 of them!) that were planted one month ago. This season has been a dry one, so we needed to water the plants by hand. The bunchgrass, with its more open form, has been planted because invasive grasses have taken over the area. This has been problematic for Stephen’s Kangaroo Rat since the thick cover of invasive annual grass makes it difficult for the Stephen’s kangaroo rats to get around. After we successfully watered all the plots we were done with the field-work, for that week.

Then, back at the Institute of Applied Plant Ecology I began learning about the  processing of seeds, which is fabulous once you complete a whole seed lot! The process varies, depending on the species and the seeds. The overall take on processing the seeds is to first make a separation based on differences in size. This is done by rubbing the seeds through several different screens in order to divide out the debris from the seeds. Once this is done the seeds are put into an air separator, which further divides out the seeds from the debris, based on differences in weight. The air separator can be a tricky thing because you want to make sure you are getting rid of debris, not seeds. So one must be sure to check the debris canister under the microscope to make sure there aren’t any seeds. If there are seeds, then you have to check the seeds to see if they are full or empty. Sometimes the seeds in the debris canister can be full, that is why it is important to check by cutting them open under the microscope. Once the seed lot has been passed through the air separator, it is ready to be hand-cleaned. The air separator does a good job getting rid of small twigs, branches, etc, but it can’t get everything so that is why hand-cleaning is necessary for seedlots that will be stored for gene conservation. (Seedlots used for restoration generally are not hand-cleaned.  I’ve been hand-cleaning a seed lot for a few days now, and it is very rewarding seeing the clean seed lot increase in size!) After hand-cleaning the seeds are placed into a drying room where their moisture content is greatly reduced. We have to dry the seeds properly so they can be frozen for proper long-term storage. After the seeds have been in the freezer for a month, germination trials are done on the seeds, because what is the point of storing seeds if we don’t know how to “wake” them up, overcoming their dormancy mechanisms? I’ve also had an introduction to the theory behind the germination trials and the different techniques, but next week I will actually get to do one! I’m really looking forward to “waking up” seeds that have been in storage!

This last week I also did my first voucher on a couple Ceanothus species! It wasn’t as hard as I thought, but I’ve been told that Ceanothus’ are easier to voucher, compared to vouchering wildflowers. Afterwards, another intern and myself keyed out the plants to make sure what we vouchered was what we thought it was, Ceanothus tomentosus and C. crassifolius.

Humble Bees

“Time is honey”
Bernd Heinrich (1996)

Amazing how quickly the time passes, even while doing office work. Since my last entry I’ve been really focusing in on bumblebees (once known as humble bees), learning as much as I can about their foraging patterns and habits. The overarching conclusion I’ve come to is that they can fly really far! For such a small animal, it is incredible to learn that some individuals will fly upwards of a kilometer each time they leave the nest in order to reach some really delicious nectar.

I read a cool study that quantified bumblebee foraging patterns by attaching tiny radio transponders to their backs. Check out the pictures! Osborne et al. (1999) set up a giant satellite dish in the middle of a field, and used harmonic radar to see where the bumblebees went. They ran into a few problems though, because the signal was only strong enough if the bees stayed within 700 m and were in sight of the satellite dish. This is only one way that researchers have tried to determine how far bumblebees fly between their nests and their forage, though it may be the most interesting and innovative!


If you are interested in learning more about bumblebees, I would highly recommend Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation by Dave Goulson.

Sama Winder, BLM CO State Office

Last days in Lakeview

Now that it’s March, just about the time I’m used to winter being completely over, the snow and cold have finally arrived to southeast Oregon. Although my warm-weather-loving sensibilites might not be happy about this right now, all those poor little thirsty plants definitely will be. Last season was a great one for seed collection because of the awesome precipitation levels last winter/spring. And as I write, my mentor is finishing the process of hiring the upcoming season’s interns, and I hope for them that we get a little more of this snowwy stuff so they can experience the brief but amazing emerald color of the desert in May.

I have only two weeks left here, and as much as I’m ready to move forward to a new position and learn some new skills (that involve tractors, chainsaws, blowtorches, and academic research!), I love it here (!), even while I sit on the computer all day and work with data, and will miss it.

Thank you, Lakeview! for being my first home in my new life in Oregon. You’re awesome.

From the tallest town in Oregon,