Mustangs in the morning sun
Male sage grouse trying to pick up chicks
Chainsaw training is a stylish undertaking in bright orange chaps and a hardhat
After spending a month away from Wyoming, I am glad to finally be back and busy at the BLM. Work activities resumed immediately, as the full-time field season is rapidly approaching. For now, I spend my early mornings getting out to sage grouse leks (strutting grounds for mating displays) before light hits the horizon to count the number of grouse present at each lek. Once the sun has been up for an hour or two, the sage grouse tend to disperse and go about their business while I go about mine. My other activities include checking eagle nests for signs of activity, prowling around for plant populations to collect seed from later in the season, planting sagebrush seed collected last year, fence type inventories, and a variety of office work.
Nowadays the weather is mostly conducive to outdoor work, which makes staying in the office a bit restless for a field worker like me. Still, I realize the value of the indoor stuff too, and it’s cool to see how all the field-collected data comes together to benefit wildlife. Sage grouse counts, for instance, are used to determine the response of grouse to vegetation treatments like mowing and prescribed burns, or to disturbance like human development and mining. As a Candidate Species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, this could be valuable policy-making information to prevent the listing of sage grouse by protecting it before its numbers decline further. Fence type inventory involves driving around and recording what type of fences are where so that the BLM can prioritize projects for replacing netwire and installing smooth wire to facilitate pronghorn migration, or installing let-downs to lower the fence height during elk migration. The field collected data comes back to the office to be input into our GIS mapping system, or to be analyzed in Excel, and decisions are made based on the results that go back out to the field to create on-the-ground benefits to wildlife. Remembering this makes it easier to keep my butt glued to the office chair when I start to hanker for the outdoors. Field season will be here soon enough, so it’s important to get this work done before it gets neglected while I roam the field office in the late spring and summer.
A bit of wisdom from my supervisor on how be a great vs. good biologist: “Follow through on all data collected. Be sure that data is downloaded and summarized appropriately, organized and timely. This will make all your work worthwhile.” Good advice to keep handy on one’s path towards a permanent career.
Hi, I am Krista Butler and I am finishing up my third week working at the Ridgecrest, CA office of the Bureau of Land Management. I graduated from Northern Arizona University with my degree in Environmental Science and I will be attending graduate school at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas to study Biology in the fall. Not only am I thrilled to have an opportunity to use my field skills and establish new abilities before pursuing my MS, I am also so excited to be working for the BLM and be in sunny southern California. I have been busy with so many great projects here and I am very happy to report that all is well!
So far, my most significant project is monitoring the effectiveness of past restoration efforts on BLM land. While there are plenty of legal Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) routes here, many illegal routes are made through improper use of the area. These paths damage habitat through the direct destruction of vegetation, but also increase the potential for problems such as erosion. Crews have been restoring these routes using techniques such as vertical mulching, check dams, fencing, and signage for over 10 years in this area. My job has been to inspect these restored route locations to see how the treatments have impacted the land, ie: how the restored vegetation compares to the surrounding natural plant communities, if the treatments such as vertical mulch are still intact, and if any new illegal routes have been created in those areas. It’s great to be a part of the monitoring process to ensure successful restoration!
Another project I work on is the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program, aka SEEP. SEEP focuses on teaching local elementary school students about the important roles that water plays in a desert environment. I have participated in instructing students, using hands-on activities, about riparian and desert plants and ecosystems, birds, and aquatic invertebrates and their relationship to water quality. I think this is a highly valuable program that really connects the youth to their environment and helps them to understand why where they live is so special and needs to be conserved.
I am the only intern at this office, but I was lucky enough to find myself a great place to live that is so close to the office, I get to walk to work! I’m looking forward to the rest of my 5 months here and am thankful to have this opportunity through the CLM internship program and the BLM.
I have just completed my first month working for the Springs Preserve here in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I am happy to report that it has been a wonderful month. The desert remains dormant due to a lack of rain, so our SOS work has been put on hold. Luckily I have been able to keep busy with work in the plant propagation facility and have been up to my ears in plants preparing for the Springs Preserve’s biannual native plant sale.
A part of the work that I do at the Springs Preserve is managing native Mojave plants in the plant propagation facility. Over the years the Springs Preserve has collected seed from native plants and, through experimenting with different propagation techniques, has determined which native plants can be grown in a nursery setting to be used for restoration projects. Their plant trials have been successful and thus the Springs Preserve has grown thousands of plants from native seed. As a fundraiser, these plants are sold every Spring and Fall to members of the community.
Preparing for the plant sale was a bit exhausting since most of the work entailed moving plants and metal signs, but the sale itself was an absolute blast. It was great to chat with the locals and I loved seeing the plants that I cared for find a good home. We were able to offer plants that are not only beautiful, but also drought-tolerant and adapted to Mojave Desert conditions.
Now that the plants sale is over, I am looking forward to spending more time scouting for plants for SOS. So far I have found the desert to be breathtakingly beautiful and am excited to explore more. Here is a photo of a desert favorite, the Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata).
Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
CLM Intern: Springs Preserve, Las Vegas, Nevada
The saying “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb” has held true this year. The month of March started out with the last snow storm, and cold weather. As the month progressed, signs of spring emerged. Flowers began to bloom. Since this is my first winter and spring in a region that has seasons (ie not Florida), it’s truly wonderful to see all the colors emerging and have the ability to wear shorts on the weekend!
At work, I have spent most of the past month continuing work on the Florida lichen database. All the corrections have been made, and now I am in the process of shipping off more than 800 specimens to herbaria across the world. It has been great to see the fruits of my labor. I know that this work will significantly enhance the lichen collections of many Florida herbaria. As I continue to ship off more collections, I also intend to rewrite a few dichotomous keys of Florida lichens, and publish a few short papers on my findings.
In late March, the Northwest Scientific Association and the Northwest Lichenologists held their yearly conference in Boise. It was great to meet other lichenologists and to network and learn about current research. It was personally satisfying, since I helped organize many aspects of the NWL meeting and presented my first academic paper!
Idaho State Office
What is in a name? Well apparently the name you give a plant, sensitive, endangered, threatened, means quite a bit! In light of a pressing evaluation of BLM sensitive species listings by the USFWS, we’ve been rushing to enter data and use Access to analyze information about a BLM sensitive plant that previous interns have been collecting data on for years. Later in the week, after a monotonous period of data entry, lightened up by an exchange of funny faces with my fellow cubicle-sharing intern, we finally got a chance to see the plant we’ve worked so hard on.
Eriogonum diatomaceum is its name. It’s a type of buckwheat (polygonaceae) that grows only on diatomaceous soils in Nevada. Diatomaceous soils are neat. They are soils created by the evaporation of water from the ancient lake lahontan and the settled layers of diatoms (microscopic algae) whose only known habitat is in Churchill Narrows, a large parcel of BLM land containing interesting rock outcrops, randomly placed train tracks, a bizarre company called “Hodges” that gets paid to use vehicles and other equipment until they break down to test their durability, paleontological sites, and of course our favorite little plant.
We filled in the blanks on the datasheets from previous interns and got to know this little plant as a random hodges tank drove back and forth in the distance on an adjacent dirt road, leaving the occasional cloud of dust in its wake. The site was gorgeous, wide-open expanses of sagebrush and greasewood with the rolling hills and mountains in the background. We also saw a couple of nifty non-botanical artifacts at the sites including fossilized bones from a large mammal and a chert flaking site created by Native Americans. So now we know what the plant looks at and got a glimpse of its habitat. It will be interesting to see if its listing changes due to the research of past and current intern teams.
Now four weeks into my internship with the BLM down in the heart of the Mojave Desert in Needles, CA, it’s starting to get HOT! And you know what that means . . . the lizards are out!
I am working on a occupancy study of the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard, Uma scoparia, within the Needles Field Office. First off, a little bit of the MFTL’s natural history: The MFTL is an eolian sand specialist, living only on windblown dune complexes throughout the Mojave desert, and is a California Dept. of Fish & Game species of special concern, and a BLM sensitive species. These dune systems are separated from each other, causing the species to be fragmented within it’s range, with virtually no chance of dispersal between systems. A close relative, U. inornata, the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard, is currently listed as threatened by US Fish & Wildlife, and endangered by CA Fish & Game. Federal listing could be the fate of the MFTL if appropriate management actions are not taken!
More to come as the project progresses and the desert heats up!
I’ve been working over the past few weeks on a USGS project monitoring the survival and spawning movements of shortnose and Lost River suckers in the upper Klamath Basin of southern Oregon. Named for their distinctive bottom foraging mouths, the two endemic fishes are endangered due to a mixture of factors mainly affecting water quality (an issue that seems surprising judging by our proximity to super-clean Crater Lake just to the north). In an effort to track population behavior throughout the season and from year to year, hundreds of fish have been injected with PIT tags (centimeter-long radio-frequency microchips) that identify each individual by number when scanned or picked up by remote antenna.
Along with another intern, my job has been to assist in the capture/recapture and tagging of suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries, as well as the maintenance of detection stations. Sampling is performed by boat using trammel nets, and was described to me fairly accurately as “mist netting underwater” (although thankfully fish have fewer pointy bits to get tangled up by than birds). After carefully cutting the fish out, they’re placed in a tub on board and then transferred to a crew on shore for processing and release.
This all takes place by headlamp at night (when net success is highest), under often stormy conditions, and on a virtually undeveloped and untraveled lake, making for quite the exhilarating and surreal environment. It’s beautiful on calm nights, though, with spectacular sunsets over the foothills of the Cascades.
While I’m still in the early stages of the internship, the experience has been very enjoyable and productive so far, and it is helping to clarify for me how working under a federal agency compares to university research. For one thing, it carries with it a greater sense of responsibility since we’re operating on public dollars, and since conservation efforts on the lake have been at the center of much controversy over water rights, involving a diverse group of stakeholders.
I’m looking forward to the variety of projects and learning opportunities ahead, and assuming that my waders and dry suit hold up, it should be a memorable summer!
Chicago Botanic Garden-USFWS & USGS
Klamath Falls, OR