Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 6: Danger

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! When working on public lands, it’s important to be on guard; one can never fully anticipate the plethora of dangers that could be lurking in the grass, underneath a shrub, behind a tree, or ANYwhere!

RATTLESNAKE. A few months ago, I encountered my first rattlesnake in the wild! I was so excited (especially because I wasn’t under immediate danger as it was about 10 feet away)! Another intern and I heard it rattling behind us then turned to see it’s rattle-tipped tail slithering from the dirt path into the golden-brown grasses and forbs. I really wanted to get an awesome photo…but I also did not want to end up in a hospital that day so I kept my distance and took the best shots I could get using the zoom.

Can you see the rattle?!

Rattlesnake in its liar under that rock outcropping

DEVIL’S CLAW. Now what kind of plant is this!? I came across it on the border of public land and someone’s backyard. Lovely flowers but oofta! It’s odor is definitely not one to market as a perfume fragrance. The big green pod-like fruits are coated with a stinky wet substance…and the dry skeleton of these fruits–vicious-looking! These are some serious hitchhikers–watch out. But, on a lighter note, they make for a great jack-o-lantern moustache. 🙂

Devilish fruit with semi-slimy, odorous fleshy coat surrounding a sharp-pointed wood-like capsule

As good as they are at hitchhiking, Devil's claws make pretty good moustaches.

THE CHAPARRAL CRAWL. Many of the plant species composing the chaparral plant community are intriguing, eye-catching, hardy, rare, or any combination of these. Throughout the changing colors of the seasons, the beautiful vegetation attacks nature-observers, photographers, and hikers. And it is lovely to hike through the chaparral…as long as there is a wide path. The dense shrub layer of the chaparral adds an interesting challenge to botanical work; it’s nothing like walking through grassland or under the canopy of a forest. To get through the seemingly impenetrable sea of whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) and chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), one has to either do some bushwhacking (but with care to minimize damage, especially near rare plant populations) or learn how to do the chaparral crawl (described so eloquently by my partner in crime in a previous blog post “Chaparral”). I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much one has performed the Chaparral Crawl obstacle course, it will always be awkward and lacking grace. Not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia, lack of sleep, or a bad day as performing this task has the tendency to exacerbate irritation and frustration levels. For those brave enough to ever attempt the chaparral crawl (I’m pretty sure this would only include individuals whose job requires it, volunteers who think participating in a plant survey sounds exciting, adventurers who just have to try it for the experience, and extreme geocachers), be sure to wear thick pants (else they’ll tear), a long-sleeve shirt (even thick flannel has been  torn by the woody weaponry of the chaparral shrubbery), a cap or hat (prevent the entanglement of hair on branches…also a reason to tuck shoelaces into your shoes), and eye protection (yes, branches do snap back). And, of course, always be on your guard for poison oak among the shrub ranks and don’t forget to check for ticks after crossing the finish line.

Can you see the Chaparral Crawl participant in this photo?

On this particular day, my pants did not survive the chaparral unscathed

DEFENSIVE DRIVING. Assuming the average CLM intern has been driving for at least a few years by the time they begin their internship position, it may be that some, maybe many, don’t pay that close attention to the defensive driving training. The key is to remember it is just as much about awareness of other drivers in other vehicles as it is about you in a government vehicle. Here’s an example: this “truck” appears to have been put together by students in a high school shop class using pieces of various vehicles left in a junkyard. Besides lacking doors, the body of the “truck” was not centered on the axles, on which it appeared to be resting or tied together with a few pieces of wire rather than bolted together; thus, whenever this so-called truck took a curve, we slowed down (defensive driving!), bracing for it to tip on its side. Because it eventually turned onto a side road, we can only assume this vehicle succeeded in transporting the driver and passenger safely to their destination.

Appears to be dangerous...are vehicles like this even legal?

I would not trust that truck to not tip over!


I’ve become a  shade seeker in the past month, contorting my body in the shape required to escape the direct rays of the sun.  There aren’t too many trees out here, so shade is hard to come by, but the shadow of a shrub or Saguaro will do in a pinch.  Never would I have thought that I could experience an excess of summer… specifically the relentless 100+ degree heat produced by that desert sun.  Despite the aforementioned, (and somewhat overstated) heat, I have relished the opportunity to begin learning a new suite of plants, and catch glimpses of elusive desert critters.  A recent encounter with a desert tortoise made me feel very blessed and grateful to be exactly where I am at this moment in my life.



Greetings from Buffalo!

After a roundabout trip back from Chicago we have all made it back home safe and resumed work. It’s amazing what can change after just a week being gone.  Before we left everything was still green and growing.  On our first day back in the field we quickly discovered that almost all the grasses have gone dormant, most of the forbs have stopped flowering, and everything is now yellow.

In the meantime, we have escaped to greener pastures by backpacking up to a glacier lake in the bighorns.  Up there are still flowers aplenty and being above the smoke haze was certainly a nice change.  However, it should be noted for future trips that marmots like to eat water bottles. Watch out.

The 4th of July was great.  There was still one fireworks show going on despite the fires, and it was probably the longest show I’ve ever seen…and I like fireworks.  This weekend is the Bighorn Mountain Festival, so we’re looking forward to a ton of awesome bluegrass music and a great time.

Monsoon season is here!

I can’t believe it has almost been two months since I arrived in Farmington, we have been so busy looking for seeds, keying out plants, and learning the flora of this area time is flying. Upon our return from the Chicago Botanic Garden we were greeted with the beginning of the summer monsoon. It is impressive how fast the plants have responded to moisture this past month. The perennial bunch grasses are re-sprouting and the once crispy looking forbs are starting to flower up! Hopefully this is the start of a new precipitation trend because with a couple more weeks of wet weather we should have lots seeds ripe for collection.

With few seeds to collect we have been focusing on learning the local flora, last weekend was spent at a tree and shrub workshop discovering the wide verity of local woody plants in San Juan County. One of the teachers, Arnold Clifford, is an avid geologist, botanist, and ethno botanist working on the Navajo Reservation and surrounding four corners region. It was exciting to not only learn new plants but also the Navajo uses for the plants as well as the geologic formations each plant prefers. Our other teachers Ken Hyle and Bob Savinski had a wealth of knowledge on the woody plants of the Farmington area and led us all over the county so we could look at the dominant plants of many ecosystems.

We have also been able to branch out of the botanical world a bit. Last night we went out to mist net bats and trap rodents with the threaded and endangered species biologist. Though the catch wasn’t too bountiful, we only caught one bat, one moth, and a bird, it was interesting to learn about bat ecology and netting. Bat echolocation is amazing as far as predator prey dynamics are involved. Bat sound wave frequencies very widely from species to species mostly because of the specific hearing ranges of the moths and bugs the bats are feeding on. So a bat that likes to eat moths will hunt at a frequency below what the moths can hear, take that Christian Bale!

Deidre on the hunt for some seeds


Our only bat, Myotis spp.

The Sphynx moth we caught was larger than the bat.


A means to escape.

The outdoors.
A place I have competed to work in since I was a child.
A place that when I enter makes me sigh in relief ever since my job started to develope into being behind a desk more and more with each passing year.
A place where I am happy to be free of phone service.
A place where the internet is forgoten and viral videos go unwatched.
A place where blogs go unread.
A place I dream of.
A place I wish to stay.

My Last Month

Well, I have just finished my last month with the Bureau of Land Management in Bakersfield, CA.  I feel like it went by both very slow and very fast.  I learned so much, met amazing people and did things I had never experienced before.  I got to study an ecosystem I had never before witnessed – the desert.  I saw what it was like to be in a region with very little water, and how the plants have come to survive and even thrive here.  I’ve learned amazing things about the native serpentine soils and how they support endemic plants, such an awesome relationship in my opinion and I recommend you read more about it here.  I saw breath-taking stretches of the wild upper Kern River and lower sections where it sadly has been captured and turned into a lazy lake or a or a docile creek or.. nothing – just a dry bed where water used to flow in plenty.
I learned so much about genera and species of California, and how to identify so many plant families based on their characteristics. I fell in love with flowers I never even knew existed, like Salvia carduacea and Cirsium occidentale.  I managed to successfully utilize the mother of all keys, The Jepson Manual, for which I am very proud.  🙂
Through this whole summer though, I am most happy about my contribution to the Seeds of Success Program.  Before I started this job, I had no idea what it even was.  It was in the job description though, and when Krissa described it I was all for it.  Upon arriving to Bakersfield, there had been no accessions collected from CA160 (our collection team number).  It was an exceptionally dry year, and my mentor said I shouldn’t expect much.  A mere three months later though, my co-intern and I had collected 20 different accessions of seed for the Program!!  I am so proud to have made such a great contribution to such a meaningful endeavor, and I plan to utilize my training in the future.
I am beyond grateful to the Chicago Botanic Garden for providing the Conservation and Land Management Program as a great learning tool and stepping stone for myself and others.  Krissa and Marian have been of the upmost help, and I am thankful for the passion, vigor and patience that they bring to this program.  I am beyond grateful to have been selected to participate in such a prestigious program.  I hope you all continue to have wonderful experiences throughout your journey, within this internship and beyond.

Time is flying by!

Well it’s hard to believe that two months have already passed since I first set foot in Lakeview, OR. The last month has been full of activities such as the CLM Workshop, Safety Week, and the holiday week where most interns left the area for adventures elsewhere. My crew has now almost finished our rare plant monitoring and we are beginning to move on to seed collection and fire monitoring. I’ve really enjoyed the variety of work and skills that I have gained during my internship so far.

I am looking forward to putting the Seeds of Success workshop knowledge to good use. So far it seems as if it is going to be a more difficult year for seed collection than the last year. We have begun a few seed collections but are going to need to do more scouting for sufficient sites.

Fire monitoring has been really interesting at the Poker Jim Fire site in the Lakeview Resource Area. I have had the opportunity to get experience with some of the same monitoring done by the range crew. We even have used nested frequency, which I first learned at the CLM Workshop. We are examining the impacts of the difference management practices used by the FWS and the BLM. The data should be interesting!


FWS land on the left and BLM on the right


Monitoring using a nested frequency frame


Good luck to all that are or will be collecting seed!

Chasin’ Aliens


Hello from Roswell, NM! This is my first post to the blog, and I feel like I have a lot to cover!


This is now my 4th week on the job, and just about a month since I’ve been out here in New Mexico.  I am originally from the Pittsburgh area, so moving to the desert has been quite the adjustment.  Before I came here, I personally thought I had a pretty good understanding of botany.  As I was packing up my things for the move, I noticed all of my botany field guides didn’t apply for this area! And now I’m out here, I completely understand.  But nonetheless, I have been quickly learning all about plants that can survive (and thrive!) out here in this hot, dry place!

I am thoroughly enjoying my time out here working for the BLM – I feel like a real scientist! Some of the projects/methods I’ve been introduced to are:

-Mesquite monitoring.  We went out to a study site that has been previously sprayed to control mesquite, which is a native plant (with some nasty thorns) that has been out-competing other important plants.  At the study sites, we did a qualitative assessment of the growth by looking to see what stage of growth the mesquite was in.  As one of the range scientists put it, we don’t want the mesquite to be gone completely, but it would be great if 70% of it was gone.

-Rangeland Health Assessment. Or more commonly, RHA’s.  These are also qualitative and take some getting used to, mostly because you rate the land based on what it is supposed to look like, and I don’t have much to compare it to!

-Traditional monitoring. This includes some different things (that I’m still trying to wrap my head around) like a one-line and production.  These are both quantitative, and provide some real data that can be analyzed later.

-Compliance checks. Although these are a little tedious, they are equally important.  Occasionally we will drive around the rancher’s property to basically check and double check that everything is running smoothly.  This includes counting cows (sometimes the most exciting part) and generally having a look around the property.


As I said earlier, I am just starting out at the BLM, and still trying to wrap my head around everything.  My apologies to whoever reading this already knows all about the daily life of a range scientist, but it actually helps me to organize all of it like that.


Besides all this monitoring stuff, the Workshop a few weeks ago was an awesome time! Not only did I learn  A LOT about working for the federal government and field work in general, but I have a new sense of pride for my job.  Every piece of data counts and is extremely important to get the most accurate measurements.

To summarize things thus far: the BLM “speaks for the trees” and I  need to learn my grasses! But as any botanist knows… grasses are hard. I’ve included some pictures of pretty scenery, cows, and aliens. -Jaci


The past few weeks have mostly been consumed by making collections for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Collected species include woolly plantain, scarlet globemallow, purple threeawn, kingspike fescue, tanseyleaf tansyaster, caespitose four-nerve daisy, alkali bluegrass, field chickweed, stemless mock goldenweed, and bluebunch wheatgrass. Some of these species may be used in garden trials for restoration or seed increase evaluations, whereas others that are not bound for long term storage may be used in reseeding disturbed areas in the Cody Field Office.

Now that frantic spring seed collecting is over (other other collections will be made later in the summer), I have finally been able to venture out into the wild horse management area to search reservoirs for the rare plant Rorippa calycina. The oil company working in the area will not be releasing their produced water into Dry Creek anymore, which the wild horses had depended on for water for a long time. Since Dry Creek will in fact be dry, they must now depend on the reservoirs spaced throughout the herd area, many or most of which are silted in or somehow in need of repair or maintenance. So the situation with Rorippa calycina is a catch-22: they need the reservoirs to grow, so we must maintain the reservoirs. But to do that, many of them will need to be dug out, so this repair process may destroy the rare plant populations around existing reservoirs. It’s a touchy subject, and I will be interested to see how it all pans out. Most likely there will have to be some compromises and careful planning, but for now all I need to worry about is completing a baseline survey of which reservoirs have this plant.

Adult golden eagle scanning the nest area cautiously before paying a visit to the chick

The golden eagle chicks are growing up fast, and are probably only a few weeks from fledging (leaving the nest to be on the ground for a while as they learn to fly). They are no longer white because most of their dark brown feathers have grown in, although their bellies and heads are still mostly white and down covered. They are between 50 and 60 days old at this point, and mostly feed themselves from what their parents bring them. I hope they survive their fledging, and it would be even better if I am able to witness it!


Wrapping it Up!

Laurie and me after collecting Ceanothus seeds, we had a lot more then what is seen in the photo.

I have coined Laurie the Seed Queen because of her extensive experience with seed collecting, and she has coined me as the Lupinator because of my skills collecting Lupine seeds. These nicknames we’ve given each other are evidence to how great the CLM Internship was. After about five months of seed collecting I have learned a lot and have made some great friendships! Not just with the Seed Queen Laurie, but with several other colleagues!

Before I started at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research I had had some field experience, but it was different compared to what I’ve done over these last few months. It has been amazing foraging for San Diego native wildflowers, perennial shrubs, subshrubs, etc. When we do find a plant of interest we make herbarium vouchers of the flowers, which is another great experience I have gained through the internship. I learned how to make proper plant clippings for the plant press so that vouchers can be made for the herbarium. I was very happy to learn this, although I would have been even happier had I the chance to help mount the specimen in the formal way, but that is done at a later time when I wont be around. Anyhow, once we’ve made a voucher specimen we monitor the target population to keep track of when the seeds will be ready for gathering. I have enjoyed collecting seeds, so long as they weren’t plants from the Asteraceae family because those usually tend to be very small annuals that require lots of bending down to collect the seeds and that can be hard on the back. I prefer collecting seeds from shrubs because they usually don’t require too much crouching down. Even so, I liked getting experience collecting seeds from a variety of different plants, as well as a variety of different sites. San Diego County is believed to have the most diverse plant flora in the country! Meaning very diverse regions, which means exciting new things to see majority of the time.

I greatly enjoyed taking pictures of the flora we vouchered, as well as ones we didn’t. It reminded me of my love for photography and I have now taking up photography as a hobby of mine. I plan to submit some of my pictures to some science magazines, and will carry-on doing this when I travel for graduate school.

Calycoseris parryi with two flowers buds

Calycoseris parryi flower

Calycoseris parryi - I love the patterns on the sepals

  This internship exposed me to a new world of science and I loved it!

Penstemon centranthifolius flowers

Salvia mellifera - Black Sage with a bee feeding on the nectar

At the top of El Cajon Mtn. admiring the view

In the beginning of Spring we started to monitor our field sites more frequently just in case new flowers would pop up. These were the days I found most exciting because there’s no telling what Mother Nature will surprise us with. For example, a couple of months ago when we first started collected seeds from our San Vicente View site we were aware of what plants were and weren’t there, but one day I spotted a blue flower Laurie and I hadn’t seen before and neither of us knew what it was. Naturally we looked in our San Diego County Native Plants book to determine what it was, and it turned out to be a Delphinium! Either D. hesperium ssp. cuyamacae or D. parishii ssp. subglobosum, they are both on the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants.

Delphinium sp. at San Vicente View site

Field days, although they usually were very long days, they were my favorite part of the internship! I also enjoyed the germination tests. Laurie would pick which seeds would be pulled out of storage for germination tests and which germ test would be used. Then the seeds would be put in the germinator for four weeks, and every Friday I would have to check on the seeds’ progress. There were data sheets that needed to be filled out that showed how the seeds progressed over the four weeks depending on if they germinated or not. I liked checking the seeds every Friday because I was able to see their progression.

Throughout my internship I have also been able to see cool things aside from the beautiful native flora, as well as help out with other projects related to wildlife restoration and conservation. I have learned how much hard work and people effort it takes into helping endangered species, be it animal or plant. I plan to continue to participate in conservation and rehabilitation projects when I move to Ohio for graduate school at Miami University. Thanks so much CLM, Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Applied Plant Ecology Division at the Institute for Conservation Research!

A moth of some sort.

This is a non-Native butterfly that was at the San Diego Zoo - Safari Park Butterfly Exhibit