First week at the Hollister BLM

I just completed my first week with the Hollister BLM working as a Botany Technician. This BLM offices administers a very large area mainly on the west side of the I-5 corridor. It contains some of the largest areas of exposed serpentine rock in the state. These serpentine areas support a number of rare, endangered and also some endemic species. During this time of year we are monitoring populations Camissonia benitensis (San Benito Evening Primrose) while it is blooming. This primrose is listed as threatened and was once believed to grow only on serpentine rocks. It has recently been shown to grow in other areas, but its range is quite limited. There is a great Wikipedia page (that I suspect my mentor wrote) all about this plant if you are interested in more info. Monitoring for this plant will be our main focus for the next few weeks as it is much easier to spot when it is blooming ( it is usually less than 10cm tall!). In addition to this plant, I have also gotten to learn about other serpentine plants that I have never seen before, as well as visiting some very out of the way places in California that I have never been before.


Again and again, I was told “Don’t go to Bakersfield.” It’s hot, hotter than the desert, where a stagnant wind whips the dust into a meringue that sits in the air for days at a time. This is oil country, with many acres dedicated to extraction, for instance in McKitrick, where you can actually see the “bubbling crude” pour out of, and merge with, the ground. My mentor, Denis, tentatively admitted: “getting around in Bakersfield may be difficult without a car.” We will occasionally be working with dust masks. There is a cool local disease called “San Joaquin valley fever” caused by a fungus in the soil that gets kicked into the air during sporadic rainfall.

Since I am a contrarian to the core, and a “different kind of drummer” (says Rachel,) I wanted to see just what made this place so difficult. Have you ever had that carrot juice? The expensive one on sale at Safeway? That’s made by Bolthouse Farms, located here in the southern San Joaquin valley. The valley, which receives relatively little precipitation, grows 3% of America’s produce and extracts a little less than 1% of the world’s oil, which is a lot. So the urban explosion of Southern California is synonymous with water scarcity.

the tremendous input of this form of drilling is offset by a steam turbine

from SJV geology: steam drilling

It is easy to fall into the trap of forgetfulness, to forget that everything is connected with everything else.  How could drinking a carton of carrot juice impact a population of burrowing owls or the kind of water that flows through the taps of the Buck Owens Crystal Palace? If you’re coming this way, come to Bakersfield. I want you to see, breathe, smell it and feel it for yourself. I want to take you to the orange groves. We made this place difficult to live in, and a life of ease is a life of ignorance.

One of the BLM’s great projects out here is an attempt at restoring wetlands near the original site of Tulare, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The fight still rages for every last drop of water, and our acquisition of Atwell Island is, when put into perspective, quite impressive.

Wait, what lake?


This lake. (source: Delta national

Tulare Lake used to capture all of the meltwater from the Sierra mountains, an important stop for  waterbirds on their inland migration. Today it looks quite different, as nearly all of that mountain snow gets intercepted by the farmers who live upstream. On the site itself, the soil has become too alkaline, too enriched with selenium and salt, to prove profitable. Gradually, farmers are selling their unprofitable cropland to the BLM, where a massive wetland restoration is taking place. So far, Atwell Island consists of land and water along an old sandbar. You wouldn’t believe what you’ll see if you head to Atwell Island or to the national wildlife refuge nearby. Birds sighted  on a count in 2007  included

“…sandhill cranes, barn and horned owls, kites and harriers galore, red tails a-courting, several sparrows, marsh wrens, black phoebes, redwing and Brewer’s blackbirds, shrikes, whimbrels, long-billed curlews, killdeer, black bellied plovers, avocets, stilts, cinnamon, green-winged and blue-winged teal, mallards, ruddy ducks with bright cheeks, cormorants and ring-billed gulls. Several sightings were records for the project.”

Although recovery for birds seems dire in a salt-drenched and blazing hot landscape like this, there’s a glimmer of hope for wildlife.  Somehow the birds keep finding their way back. We are actively introducing them as well; one of our first activities as a team was the release of four burrowing owls from L.A into artificial dens originally intended for another nocturnal predator, the San Joaquin Kit Fox. You can watch a video of my mentor, Denis, releasing a burrowing owl here.

A Little Bit of Everything

Hello!! My name is Rachel Snyder and this is my first post as a CLM intern! I’m working as a botanist in Bakersfield, California for the Bureau of Land Management. I started just about a month ago and am already digging into the new plants here! I am used to the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest (Oregon), so being in a much drier ecosystem has been a new and very helpful experience in spreading the expanse of my floral knowledge.  So far, my favorite new flower that I’m obsessed with here is the thistle sage, Salvia carduacea. The petals are so dainty and the seeds are tucked away under what seem like a tuft of cotton. I love it 🙂

Salvia carcuacea

Our field office is located in the San Joaquin Valley, nestled between the Coast Range Mountains and the Tehachapi’s. The range of our field office extends from the Pacific Coast all the way east into the foothills of the Sierras. So far, I’ve done monitoring for re-seeded native species at the Carrizo Plains National Monument; released burrowing owls at Atwell Island; came along on a Standard & Guideline (S&G) at a beautiful grazing site of ours just NW of Paso Robles. An S&G is like an assessment of land that we permit out to private entities for grazing use. This assessment makes sure that no degradation is occurring on our lands as a result of grazing. We visually inspect for the status of plants, wildlife, cultural or archaeological artifacts (if they occur) and an overall rangeland health assessment.  Like I said this was a beautiful property that was not noticeably impacted by the grazing occurring upon it; it is wonderful to see multi-use happening on our lands by private and public entities!


Monitoring for re-seeded native bunch grasses

Me, with a burrowing owl before I release it at Atwell

Vista from atop a rolling hill at a BLM site near Paso Robles

Perhaps the most exciting endeavor I’ve had in my internship thus far, happened just this week. The other CLM intern in my office and I got to go to Nevada this week for training in the national Seeds of Success Program. We drove to Nevada and got to meet lots of other interns and employees from public and private entities throughout the west. It was so great to meet fellow interns from the CBG as well as some awesome ones from the Great Basin Institute! (Shout out to Sam, Elise, Andy, Lara and Krista!) It was so nice to meet everyone and talk about where we were all from and what we were working on.  We spent some time in the classroom and then got to go out in the field, to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon, just west of Las Vegas to do a mock seed collecting.  It was a really great experience for which I am very grateful – thank you Chicago Botanic Garden!!

The visitor's center where we had our indoor training

An amazing view from our classroom

Out in the field, Oenothera caespitosa (Tufted Evening-Primrose)

– Rachel S
CLM/CBG Intern
Bakersfield, CA


A Wild Time

I was hired as a Recreation Technician, to provide field and GIS support in the Needles, CA BLM field office. Here the recreation branch also manages 1.4 million acres of wilderness. For this past month a more accurate title for my job would be ‘Wilderness Monitor’. Long story short: I have been making sure the wilderness is still wild.

The Wilderness Act (1964) defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The wilderness areas in the Needles field office share histories of varied uses including mining, military training, Native American habitation, wood harvesting, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. For the most part these activities stopped after wilderness designation. Unfortunately some unauthorized use (mainly OHV intrusion) continues in the wilderness areas, which undermines the unique opportunities for unaltered ecosystem function and human solitude. So, I have been visiting areas that have high biological/historical interest, or have experienced the most frequent intrusions. At these sites I check if people are respecting the most recently erected.

My excursions into the wildernesses have aligned with the purposes of the other CLM interns here. I have been helping the Seeds of Success intern (Lara) with plant scouting and seed collecting. Even in this unusually dry year (in the words of a seasoned local, “drier than a skeleton fart”) there have been plenty of wildflowers to appease my eyes. Also, I have been accompanying our wildlife biology intern (Alicia) who has been assessing wildlife use and human safety of abandoned mine sites.

In the near future I will be investigating current non-wilderness sites to assess potentiality for either: a) energy development projects or b) designation as areas with wilderness characteristics. I like my job.

The Modoc Plateau

Just over two weeks ago I began work at the Alturas BLM field office, which is located on the Modoc Plateau in the extreme North East of California. The Alturas region is North of the Sierra Nevada, East of the Cascades, and West of the Warner mountains which form a border with the Great Basin Desert. It is an incredibly remote and rugged landscape that is a world apart from the coastal California that I know.

At over 4,000 feet, Winter has lingered longer here. Most trees are still leafless, and during my first week here it was raining and snowing off and on. This made it hard to get in the field at all, but I was able to orient myself to the office and get a better idea of what I will be doing out here. My main project so far has been updating the office herbarium. There were recently many changes in the names of plants listed in The Jepson Manual (a flora of California), and I have been going through the old specimens and updating families, genuses, and species names. This has been good for me to get an idea of what plants grow out here, which is more than just junipers and sagebrush, believe it or not.

Yesterday I got a picture of how diverse the area truly is. The Alturas office also administers an area about a 90 minute drive to the West. This area is much greener and ringed by high mountains, including the impressive Mount Shasta. I accompanied the “weed crew” because my mentor Mike is gone for the week. We went to a BLM managed camping area on the Pit river and I learned how to use the Trimble unit to inventory noxious weeds. Majestic white oaks, black oaks, oregon ash, ponderosa pines, redbuds, and characteristic chapparal plants line the Pit River canyon. The landscape is entirely comprised of black volcanic rock which starkly contrasts the vegetation and river. We drove up above the river canyon to an area where I will be collecting voucher specimens and seed. A pair of Canadian geese and sandhill cranes waded near vernal pools at this stunning site, and I am excited to go back when more plants are in bloom. We also searched for a rare species of mint, but were unable to find any at this time.

Joe Broberg

Alturas BLM field office

Open to Success

I have had many odd jobs, and overall a very interesting (often times challenging) life. I feel that I have always been wise for my age and …hard to suprise. As much as I would like to think so–I could not have prepared myself for my time in Nevada. This is the strangest/most challenging position I’ve ever had, this is the strangest place Ive ever been, and these are the most foreign habitats and the least I’ve ever known about one. This is not to say the experience is either good or bad–on the contrary, I like not knowing yet. I love challenges and hard tasks, but mostly when others are forcing me into taking the leap. Now, it feels as if it is up to me to decide how deep i can go. How much can I learn? What risks am I willing to take? My mentor is quite a mystery to me. A fellow staffer told me this agency would be more challenged, but much better for it in the end, if more people like my mentor existed. I have to say…I agree. As lost and actually dumb as I sometimes feel at this job, I somehow know that there is meaningful and insightful  lessons that I am supposed to take from this, from him, from Nevada–and not all of them are scientific. I’ve always said that college taught me how to think like a scientist: its more like I was told what an ideal scientist would do in any one cookbook lab scenario. Now–it is real.

Springs and Seeps

Riparian habitats are hot spots for biological diversity, especially in the arid environment of Southern Arizona. I have been spending my time with the CLM finding Springs in the DOS Cabezas Wilderness area. We spend a lot of time route finding and reading topographical maps, as well as looking at Google Earth. Although the hiking can be hot, visiting the springs and seeing the obligate vegetation such as Cottonwood, Willow, Yerba Mansa, and Blue Eyed grass is worth it. I”ve learned that Yerba Mansa has been of great importance in the southwest for centuries as a medicinal plant. The name means “Calming herb” and it has been used for many ailments such as sinus infections. The wildflowers are in full bloom and paint the desert floor with a beautiful array of colors and species. The Dos-Cabezas are part of the Sky Islands, and can be as high as 7,500 feet at the top of Government Peak. At the springs we are cataloging plant species, taking water quality measurements, documenting flow rates and sun exposure, and even looking at stem water isotope signatures. We’re hoping to visit most of the springs in the Dos- Cabezas Wilderness and plan on moving to the Los-Pelencillos, St David Cienega and also work on the Gila River.

Nicolas Umstattd

The Unusual in Nevada

Lately, the internship with the BLM in Carson City has enabled me to experience the unusual.  Among these new activities:

~Managing and analyzing the only data in existence on a picky little buckwheat that grows in diatomaceous soils in western Nevada.  Currently on the USFWS candidate list, the determination to list the plant as threatened or endangered is based partially on the data we present.

The crew out among the sagebrush, checking out our favorite little buckwheat.


~Wandering among abandoned, graffiti-ed buildings once used for processing ore that now need to be monitoring and treated for noxious weeds.

Rabbitbrush and intern Kevin peering into a tagged cement building.

~Being among the first to traverse a new highway bridge still in construction.  The construction managers are now restoring the slopes leading to a creek below the bridge that were filled in and re-excavated, and our job is to ensure the vegetation seeding and regrowth is occurring satisfactorily.

Excavators re-contour the land below a new large highway bridge.

The geometrically pleasing new highway bridge.

~On the same trip, being among the last to pass through a cement tunnel built over the aforementioned creek to protect it during construction.  Half-dead willow trees still stand on shore and pigeons still fly among them.  It felt like a strange take on Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World.”

The tunnel is directly under the bridge and still has trees growing inside.

Chopped off willows still inhabit the cement tunnel below the new highway bridge. The tunnel will be demolished within the year.



I am eager to get out in the field even more and explore the secret lands of Nevada.  It is rewarding to monitor and help restore these beautiful places to healthy ecosystems.


Three of us interns on a beautiful hike to a fire recovery site.


Spring transitions

Several months after I began to study the native pollinators of Colorado rare plants, I have completed the “thesis I never wrote.” Last week I submitted my final draft to my mentor, the Colorado State Botanist. Upon her approval, it was sent along to the Fish and Wildlife Service Botanist, as well as to several botanists at various BLM field offices. The ultimate purpose of my research was to make recommendations about the best way to conserve native pollinators (generally bees) when protecting rare plants. At this point, I am confident that I made a very reasonable recommendation, and am very hopeful that it will be implemented statewide. It’s exciting to have worked on something that is potentially so far reaching, and I’m very happy that my mentor trusted me with this project. In the process I’ve really learned a lot about what goes into applied conservation.

Of course, sending off my lengthy persuasive document is only the first step, albeit a large one. I am looking forward to the feedback it receives, and to defending various parts of my argument if need be. At first glance, some of my recommendations appear to offer less protection than recommendations that FWS has already presented. While I know that my suggestions are backed up by a good deal of research, and I am hopeful that this research is summarized succinctly enough to convince anyone reading my paper of its truthfulness, I recognize that inherently the FWS wishes to err on the side of more protection (as they are mandated). On the other hand, some of the field offices may feel that my recommendations are too stringent, and will create more work for the diverse interests that lease our land than is warranted. While I recognized these competing interests during the creation of my recommendations and worked to maintain a balance between the two, my main purpose was to remain objective and simply report what was warranted by the available research. Thus, I feel ready to defend my recommendations from either side.

This document represents the culmination of my winter project, and the reason that my internship was originally extended. The timing seems perfect, as our first field work of the 2012 season is scheduled for next week. I couldn’t be more excited to get out of the office and get my hands dirty again! Desk work is fine, and obviously important, but simply can’t compare to the field season when we get to spend nearly every day outside. Next week we will be collecting data to continue long-term monitoring of Astragalus debequaeuson the western slope of the Rockies. I’m particularly excited because this is a new species for me, since last year I arrived after my mentors had already done this monitoring.

A. debequaeus. Picture by P. Gordon


So there we have it: finishing up my winter work, starting the summer work, and always grateful that my mentor has seen fit to extend my internship through this field season.


Sama Winder
BLM CO State Office

Outreach Events in the Carson City District

In celebration of Earth Day, our Carson City crew headed up to Reno on Sunday for the annual event at Idlewild Park. We set up our booth in preparation for the crowds that were there from 9 am to 5 pm. Representing the entire BLM, the information we provided covered many realms. Our team made brochures on local geological features, key habitats of Nevada, and activities on public lands. In addition, we put together a pamphlet on local wildflowers, the effects fire has on the region, and noxious weeds and integrated pest management. We had many coloring and activity booklets for children, crossword puzzles and scrambles for older youth and adults, all relating to the information being discussed in our various handouts. We had several interactive activities for the public to engage in, including a “Tread Lightly” Pledge for people to sign and magnets with the pledge on it for them to take home. Another hit was a Trash Trivia game that I put together, allowing people to match up various litter items (aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, banana peels, etc.) with the amount of time that item would take to decompose in the environment. People definitely got the message of the importance of not dumping trash because so many of the items take a surprisingly long time to biodegrade! Despite it being rather hot out, the event was a huge success and many people went away much more informed about their public lands and what we do as the BLM.

The following day, we had an environmental education outreach day planned at McCarran Ranch, the 300 acre site of The Nature Conservancy’s first restoration project on the lower Truckee River. Third and Fourth graders were bused out to the site for a few hours to learn about the restoration efforts for the Truckee River, including what healthy habitats are and the importance of conservation. There were five different stations- our team did the Plant Diversity station and a few of us helped with the Water Quality station. There was a Wetlands station with touch pools, an Ecosystem and Invasive Species station, and a River Meanders station. The kids seemed to be really engaged in the activities and most of them were very excited about what they were learning. The outreach day was such a fun event to be a part of, and I am definitely looking forward to our other public outreach events!!