The Adventures of Shocking and Bull Trout

Mid-June marked the beginning of field camping for our crew in Klamath Falls, enabling us to complete surveys at more distant sites. After a week in northern California continuing our assessment of endangered Modoc sucker populations (see Good Night, and Good Suckers or A sucker kind of night), we returned from the Chicago workshop to focus on a new project aimed at improving habitat conditions for threatened bull trout.  The species generally prefers the calm water of stream pools, but years of timber removal have caused the amount of large, pool-forming woody debris to decline, potentially aiding more flexible non-native brown trout in competition for resources. As such, we have been collecting baseline data for an upcoming effort to add new logs to sections of the streams.

Bull trout, medium-large for what we catch (notice the adipose fin has been clipped)

Electrofishing among woody debris, with netter ready to scoop up stunned fish

We accomplish this through mark-recapture and remote detection of PIT tags (similar to methods for adult suckers), but instead of nets, we use backpack-mounted electrofishing units. Current traveling through the water between the anode (ring at the end of a wand) and the cathode (wire that trails behind) briefly stuns any fish within a few feet, just enough time to allow retrieval by dip net.

Processing set-up

Scanning for tags with mobile antenna

Processing is performed as a three-bucket system, with each fish receiving a small dose of anesthetic prior to measurement, tag injection and clipping of their adipose fin (a means of quantifying tag loss, hopefully without significantly impacting swimming ability). On later visits, a stream section can be shocked again or a mobile antenna device can be used to scan for the tags without capture (an easier and less invasive technique, but with a lower detection rate based on tests where we temporarily block-netted the top and bottom of a section).

Electrofishing backpack unit, with power button conveniently located too far back for the wearer to reach

I’m pleased to report no serious incidents despite playing with electricity in not-quite-waterproof waders, thanks to a safety-conscious crew. The shocking units also contain a number of fail-safes, including sensors that will cut off power in the event of water contact or even a low tilt, adding some peace of mind. Actually, the biggest danger has been running into branches and slipping on rocks in the stream channels, which certainly boost one’s appreciation for unobstructed walking. Still, it keeps us reasonably cool and out of the sun, so I can’t complain too much considering the unrelenting heat of some of the locations other interns have to deal with. In fact, at such high elevation, we actually woke up to snow covering our campsite one morning in late June!

In between bull trout surveys, we’ve also completed some wetland vegetation mapping in the delta of the major tributary to Upper Klamath Lake, which was re-flooded within the last few years after having been drained and used as farmland for decades. We hope to quantify the amount of edge habitat suitable for juvenile suckers, and identify how that availability will change at different lake levels. This has involved my introduction to Trimble GPS units, which although somewhat finicky and counterintuitive, produce amazing results coming after years of accepting a 10-meter error as a given. It also gave me a chance to check out the beginnings of the annual “algal” bloom (actually AFA cyanobacteria), which grows unchecked due to its ability to fix nitrogen and the volcanic region’s abundant supply of phosphorus. When it crashes, its decomposition reduces dissolved oxygen in the lake, potentially contributing to juvenile mortality in shortnose and Lost River suckers. On top of that, the blooms are often highly toxic. Needless to say, Klamath Lake is not known for its swimming.

Delta vegetation with Mt. McLoughlin and eagle in background (foreground, poor water quality)

Aerial view showing section of re-flooded delta area

Beyond these, I’ve made use of our limited time out of the field chugging through more sucker specimen photos, compiling spatial data with ArcGIS (it’s surprising how much you forget, being away from it for a year), and preparing for upcoming grass and sucker surveys. Outside of work, I’ve been hiking most weekends, including the snow-capped Mt. McLoughlin just west of the lake and the spectacular, obsidian-laden Glass Mountain on the edge of the Medicine Lake Volcano in northern CA. Keeping busy.

I enjoyed meeting everyone at the workshop last month – hope everybody’s field seasons continue to go well!

– Tommy Esson (USFWS, Klamath Falls, OR)

I’m reporting from the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) for the second time since my internship began. This post is a little late, although Marian and Krissa would be the only ones to notice, because I said goodbye to my tonsils in mid-June and spent the following two weeks in bed eating ice cream while on pain killers. It wasn’t as cool as it sounds, although I do adore ice cream, so needless to say I am quite relieved to be back in the field enjoying the beautiful summer in Big Bear.

The most intriguing project of last week was conducting a floristic inventory of a proposed overburden dump site for a limestone mine. Apparently, mining law on National Forest property has not been revised since 1872 when Grant was president. You should be thinking “yikes!” because if you stop to think about it, the world has definitely changed since then. Anyway, the SBNF includes one of the largest, highest-grade limestone deposit west of the Mississippi and there are three mining giants who have mining claims here.  The issue is, however, that the limestone deposits are often underneath very sensitive, non-restorable carbonate habitats like the pebble plains I explained in my first blog where a multitude of threatened and endangered plant species are found.

In case you’re wondering, overburden is more or less the material from a mining site that must be removed to get to the desirable material being mined.  Oftentimes, it’s a huge amount of dirt and rocks as the pictures below show, and it has to go somewhere. The area we surveyed will be clear cut and leveled and then covered with the mining refuse. So what was the point of our survey if they are just going to do it anyway? As I understand it, the mining company has to abide by the guidelines the Forest Service recommends; so our work cannot prevent the overburden from being deposited rather just where it’s deposited.

It’s a frustrating situation because once these places are destroyed there is no chance in the habitats recovering because they are so delicate. At the same time, we live in a society completely dependent on limestone; it’s in all of the following products: toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, house paint, cement, agricultural amendments (to neutralize soil pH), latex, cosmetics, paper, and plastic just to name a few. I know you all have supported the limestone industry today because it would be gross if you didn’t ever brush your teeth! Needless to say, there is no easy fix to the situation but at the same time it’s been fascinating to be closely involved in such a big, real-world issue. 

I think that’s enough for now. The experience continues to be great and I keep meeting past CLM interns all over the place! It’s a great network to be part of so a big thanks again to all those who make it possible!

-Lizzy Eichorn


Already-existing overburden site that will be connected to the one we surveyed.


Another view, I wanted to scamper to the top of the volcano-looking thing in the background but alas we had real work to do!


6 Weeks Inside the Beltway

My work continues on the seed use survey. Since my last blog I have worked on improving the survey for subsequent years and gathering missing data for the current analysis. The end result will be a more complete picture of what seed is being bought and used for management projects, and will result in better policy for seed use  throughout the agency.

I have also been prepping for the Annual Conservation Seed Workshop. I helped put together the presentation for the Division Chief that will cover the BLM coordination with the seed industry. In conjunction with other topics that will be discussed at the workshop I performed a literature review on the topic of “novel ecosystems” and the concept’s implications for plant conservation.

My special forest products project has continued and I am now performing “database drilling” where I expand three-dimensional spreadsheets to uncover information about the permits being issued for native seed collection on BLM land. This information will be used to guide the efforts of a newly formed committee that will be working on reforming permitting processes and policies for natives.

I also attended the Plant Conservation Alliance Federal Committee meeting where there was discussion between agency partners on the new memorandum of understanding to continue the partnership and increase the number of members committed to native plant conservation.



Colorado’s burning, and with good reason.  As we begin to really get into SOS scouting, it’s becoming abundantly apparent that the 35% of normal snowpack that we received this past winter was simply not enough. Areas we visited last year that had promising populations are fried. Flowers are shriveling up on the plants brave enough to attempt reproduction this year, often before there is even a hint of a fruit forming. Yesterday Darnisha and I (the interns) saw 3 deer – two adults and a fawn. We startled them, and they moved slowly away, clearly more concerned about conserving energy than they were about us. Dad stayed a little longer, watching us to make sure we didn’t go after his family, and I was able to see each of his ribs. It’s looking like it’ll be a tough season for everyone, though luckily fewer happy plant populations isn’t the life or death matter for us that it may be for the deer. We’re counting on the local shrubs to provide us with good collections, and after that we’ll be heading into the higher elevations where it hasn’t been quite so hot.

I’m astounded by the number of wildfires that Colorado has already had this year, especially since it’s not even July yet. We started in March, with the Lower North Fork Fire, which burned 25 homes and killed three people. Even coming from Idaho, where I’m used to wildfires, I was completely unprepared for a serious wildfire so early in the season. Now we have somewhere around 9 fires burning across the states, some of them quite serious. The High Park Fire by Fort Collins has burned 257 homes, 87,000 acres, and is now at 65% containment. This past weekend a new fire started just outside of Colorado Springs, and has forced the evacuation of 32,000 people. While the fires themselves have not affected our field work yet, they’ve begun to affect my weekend plans – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a location to go backpacking that is comfortably far from all the wildfires currently burning, not to mention any patches of forest that may burst into flame from a lightning strike or a hot bullet that falls into some dry grass in the next few days.

Fires burning in Colorado as of 6/27. Doesn't include a fire near Boulder that started last night. Image from


It’s interesting for me to imagine what Colorado will look like 20 years from now. The high frequency, high intensity fires that the state is experiencing are a combination of a number of factors. Primarily, as is true throughout the West, fires have been unnaturally suppressed for the last hundred years or so. Only recently has fire been accepted as a natural and necessary part of many ecosystems. However, due to this suppression, fuels have been building up for the last hundred years, and now forests tend to burn hotter than they did traditionally. Secondly, pine bark beetles are decimating the pine populations throughout the state. Large swaths of forest are dead. These areas might as well be a forest made of matchsticks, their flammability index is so high. Thirdly, weather patterns are completely out of whack. Thirty-five percent snowpack (35! The year before was a record high snow year), combined with warm temperatures beginning in March, has led to a particularly dry state. The strange weather patterns and pine bark infestations can be blamed pretty neatly on climate change. As it looks unlikely that climate change will be reversing itself any time soon, I suspect that Colorado will be experiencing a lot of these bad fire years in the future.

The biologist in me is thrilled to see the succession that takes place after the burns go through (I’m predicting lots of aspen), but the naturalist is sad to think of so many beautiful forests gone. Whatever happens, the landscape will survive, and Colorado will continue to be beautiful in its own way. For this year, we’ll keep looking for those lucky plant populations that are hardy enough to reproduce, and hope for some good collections!

Sama Winder
BLM CO State Office

The Willamette Daisy

Coming back from the CLM Workshop in Chicago, it was as if I’d never left the office. Eugene    decided to welcome me back to the Pacific Northwest with a lovely rainstorm, and I jumped right into monitoring the Erigeron decumbens var. decumbens, also called the Willamette Daisy.


Of the three endangered plant species I’ve monitored so far this year, the Willamette Daisy is definitely my favorite. It tends to be a small plant, with thin, spindly leaves; the flower heads usually look like they’ve seen better days. And even though it can look a bit weathered, it just keeps surviving–it’s a scrappy plant! It’s got personality!

I also got the opportunity to see some of Eugene’s rare plant species, Cusick’s Checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii) and Narrow-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). I think the Sidalcea may be another plant to add to my favorites list; I really love its vivid color.

Since everyone has been posting these awesome pictures of the landscape out in the wildnerness, I’d thought I’d post one of my own. This prairie is in Eugene city limits and is a habitat for two of our endangered plant species.


The Modern Day Mountain Man

Hiking long days and under the sun so bright,
I return to my pick-up by the start of night.
Stomach aches at the thought of warm brie,
So I sit down to enjoy my MRE.
The wind picks up, the dust clouds zig and zag,
I find a nice spot to put out my sleeping bag.
The stars lit up and the satellites moving with grace,
I lay down with my hat to cover my face.
The morning starts with a well thought plan,
For I am the modern day mountain man.

A Tale of Two Grasses: The Importance of Failure

At the Plant Materials Center we often recieve contracts from various BLM offices or other land management agencies to grow out a particular plant for seed. This could be for habitat restoration, fire prevention, erosion control, or myriad other purposes. We work similarly to the Bend seed cleaning facility in that collectors send us the seed they want and we clean it and do some preliminary germination and viability testing before we put it out in the field.

However, recently we recieved some western needlegrass (Achnatherum occidentale) seed from a certain half-domed National Park that had us a bit concerned. The seeds were the right size and general shape, but were dark and the awns had zero cilia– the quintessential charcteristic of A. occidentale is completely pilose awns. I, along with our other CLM Intern, was tasked in taking the seeds to the UC Davis herbarium to compare them to specimens from the same area, and after some exhaustive keying, was able to definitively state that our received seed had been misidentified.  (We have a tentative guess as to the true ID of our mystery grass, but we’ll reserve judgement until we can get a full specimen).

Although all that tedious work resulted in a simple rejection, it was incredibly satisfying to help prevent a costly and potentially detrimental mistake. It’s easy to forget how important the work that we, as interns, do. We’re not just collecting seeds and running in circles (although sometimes it feels like it); the decisions we make and the actions we take pan out to make a real impact down the line.

You might think that the satisfaction of a job well-done would be the big take-home lesson from this whole graminoidal ordeal, but for me, the memorable moment came in witnessing the misidentification by Yosemite collectors.  Thus far in my internship, three of my seed collections have turned out to be non-target, non-native, completely unusable species. I had spent hours in the field and it seemed like it was all for naught. I was getting frustrated by my fruitless endeavors (pun intended), but in seeing veteran collectors commit the same errors, I was somewhat comforted. I’m sure that you’ve all been told how “the CLM internship is a learning experience”, but until recently I forgot that a huge part of learning is failure. As long as you learn from mistakes, correcting and adapting, progress is being made. The whole purpose of an internship is to try new things and get your hands dirty, and in that respect I’m doing just fine. I’m never going to forget those species that I accidentally collected, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to succeed and fail, alike.

Marc Bliss – California Plant Materials Center, Lockeford, CA

Wrapping things up.

Just 3 weeks away from the conclusion of my internship, I am finding myself writing and rewriting lists of everything I have left to do.  Everyone warned me that five months would fly by, but can my time here really be almost over?  This season we were able to make 16 seed collections and have high hopes for a few more.  Between working just two days a week on scouting and collecting seed and the very dry season, my partner and I initially set a low goal of ten seed collections.  We have long since passed that mark and did a little happy dance last week when we made three collections in one day.  The higher elevation plants, especially those near streams, have held on this year and have provided us with abundant seed collection opportunities.  It has been wonderful to get out of the Las Vegas Valley where temperatures have exceeded 113 degrees and I will never complain about having to tip-toe along a stream to make a collection.

Though I was initially timid about taking a job in Las Vegas, I am so thankful that I did.  This job and landscape have not always been easy, but the challenge was very much welcomed.  I adjusted to the heat better than I imagined I could have and am proud of myself for moving to such an unfamiliar landscape.  This was my first field work experience and I have had a blast.  My advice to future applicants and other interns is to just dive in!  A fellow peer once said, “It’s okay to be terrified,” and that is so very true.  I was terrified to move to a city where I knew no one, to take my first job out of college and prove myself as a botanist, to drive a 4WD truck, even to drive an electric cart!  I had so many fears along the way but every day found myself saying yes and moving forward.  I have accomplished so much in my time here and feel prepared to venture forward as a more informed, trained, and confident botanist.  I will always be thankful for my time in Las Vegas and am excited to see what the future holds!

Allison Clark

Springs Preserve, Las Vegas

First Impressions of Susanville

My first month in Susanville, California has truly been an eye-opening experience.  Originally from northwest Indiana, the vast, open spaces and beautiful landscapes of the west are awe-inspiring.  I never thought of the desert as an attractive place, but I’ve developed an appreciation for it in the short time I’ve been here and can’t believe how much life there is in the harsh environment.  Even though most of the plants that I am working with are extremely unfamiliar to me since this is my first time out west, I have learned many of the plants already and am slowly acquainting myself with the intimidating Jepson manual.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the project that another Susanville CLM intern, Andrew, and I were given to work on throughout the duration of our internship.  We are ground truthing special status plant species in the 1.3 million acre Eagle Lake field office.  I was extremely overwhelmed with the incredible size of the task at first, convinced that we wouldn’t even be able to make a dent in the data and get things organized.  Since then, I’ve finally managed to become familiar with our field office and wrap my head around the project, making it a fun challenge rather than a daunting chore. 

The first few weeks of the internship were primarily spent indoors as Andrew and I attempted to compile all the data available to us from previous botanists in our field office.  It was a rather frustrating experience because we kept finding new data each day which altered our organization scheme.  We definitely learned a valuable lesson about metadata and good record keeping.  Making sure that the data we collect this summer is clear and easy for future interns and botanists to find and comprehend is one of our main goals.

Although the office work was tedious and frustrating at times, it was very necessary and worth it in the end.  Not only are we saving time finding and monitoring plants in the field, but I was also able to learn the basics of ArcMap and the handheld GPS unit.  The number of things that the program can do is mind boggling and I’m looking forward to becoming more proficient with ArcMap in order to manipulate the data and accomplish things more efficiently.

After a many long hours in the office sifting through file cabinets and computer files, we were extremely antsy to get outside.  We finally felt confident with the data collection and were ready to give this monitoring thing a shot, so we headed out in the field.  The area in Nevada in which we were working was a few hours away from our field offices, so we decided to camp there in order to save time as well as gasoline.  This was one of the most remote places I’ve ever been in my life and probably the smallest I’ve ever felt.  I was surrounded by sage brush country and lava rock for as far as I could see in every direction.  It was refreshing to get outside and explore the field office, and the week was extremely successful.  We were searching for a few rare plant species in particular, including Pentstemon sudans (Susanville penstemon), Illamna bakeri (Baker’s globe mallow), and Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii (Suksdorf’s Milk-Vetch) and found several populations.  I’m looking forward to all the treasure hunts this summer holds!

Failed attempt at a jumping picture by Eagle Lake
Pilgrim Lake- near base camp in NV

Work, Eat, Sleep, Travel… Repeat

Since arriving in Susanville, California at the end of May, my time here has been a whirlwind of excitement.  Our team’s work on the ground truthing of Special Status Plants (SSP) for the BLM has proved to be both exciting and rewarding.  Essentially, our job is to update the sometimes decades old data pertaining to SSP population size and location. In order to do this, our work requires a mix of GIS, plant identification and old fashion field skills, to locate the often extraordinarily remote SSP populations.

The most challenging aspect of the project however, has definitely been from the data management aspect.  We have risen up to the task of combining all of the previously scattered SSP datasets, some of which date back all the way to mylar overlays from the 60’s and 70’s. However, the majority is made up of hand drawn and digitized, points and polygons from topographic maps. While more recent, yet still quite outdated, shapefile data from Arc 5.0 constitutes a reasonable amount of the data as well. Although, the work of merging and documenting datasets has been tedious, I can happily say that the reward of completing a succinct and comprehensive dataset is outstanding.

Our office work has allowed us to confidently go into the field, knowing that we are not missing any potential SSP sites and that our final dataset will be complete.

Working in the hills and mountains of North Eastern California has opened my eyes to the beauty and serenity of the seemingly sparse scrub landscape.  At times, it has been necessary to camp in remote areas in order to better access SSP populations in a timely fashion. I must say this is a perk of the job. Not many people are able to roll out of their sleeping bags, jump in their car and drive past a herd of wild horses on their way to work, only to later fall asleep gazing at the galaxies.

Every day I feel lucky to have been provided this opportunity with the Chicago Botanic Garden.  However, it is when I am traveling on the weekends, taking advantage of Susanville’s prime location, that I know the opportunities provided by this internship far surpass workplace experience alone. Whether it is hiking and swimming near Lake Tahoe, scrambling up to alpine lakes of the Trinity Alps Wilderness or waking up on a beach overlooking the Pacific, the opportunity for new adventures appears never ending.

Enjoy this random assortment of sights from my time thus far.