Memoirs of a CLM Intern–Part 9: Beauty

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! One of the greatest perks of a career in conservation and land management is having an office in the great outdoors. Not only is this work environment essentially void of stress, it often contributes to relieving any stress that one may have. And how can one end a day’s work in the field without some sense of awe and inspiration garnered from natural aesthetics? From the grand landscapes to the minute details of creation, there is much beauty for the eye to behold.

PHOTOGRAPHY. Not only is photography beneficial for qualitative monitoring (photo points), there are countless landscapes, habitats, and wildlife (animal and plant) subjects to photograph when working in the field. Sometimes the photos we take are used to produce education and outreach materials. All my other blog posts (as well as the blog posts of other CLM interns) show a plethora of photos that attest to this. As someone who enjoys photography as a hobby, some days I have to practice restraint!

A volunteer assisting with photo point monitoring of the response of vegetation after fuels treatment

FLOWERING PLANTS. Intriguing. Stunning. Charming. Lovely. Sometimes the best response to nature’s beauty is a silent pause of deep awe and genuine appreciation.

White fairy-lantern (Calochortus albus)

Creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis)…pleasant scents add to the pleasure of field work

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon sp.)

Purple lupines and yellow asters in the spring

Yellow star tulip (Calochortus monophyllus)

Blue flax (Linum lewisii)

Common soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.)

Penstemon (Penstemon sp.)

Monkeyflower (Mimulus sp.)

Western blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)

Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans)

Sierra fawn lily (Erythronium multiscapideum) dancing in a meadow under the sun

LANDSCAPES & HABITATS. Grandeur. Breath-taking. Magnificent. The big picture. Sometimes nature is appreciated more from a distant standpoint than amidst it.

Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of Folsom Lake from atop Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains from the top of Morning-glory Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

View of snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains from atop Pine Hill in the Pine Hill Preserve

Fog in the foothills, view from Pine Hill looking toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Red Hills (left foreground) and storm clouds building over the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Stream flowing in spring through the Red Hills ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern)

South Fork American River along the Dave Moore Nature Area

South Fork American River running through the Pine Hill Preserve; gray oaks & chaparral shrubs cover the canyon slopes

Golden grasslands and rust-colored chaparral covering the foothill slopes (try to ignore the yellow star thistle in the foreground)

Golden foothills: lovely from a distance but terribly disconcerting to see the nonnative annuals when walking through them

Spring colors of the chaparral in Pine Hill Preserve

The end is in sight

Well, like so many other interns, my time as a CLM intern is about to come to a close. Including today, I only have 4 more days of work.  It seems like I just moved to Miles City, MT, and now I have to worry about getting everything back into my car to move away. These last five months have been filled with so many great adventures. I was able to see some great country here in eastern Montana, although it often involved a lot of driving. I loved having the freedom to look at the map of the eastern Montana district, pick a piece of BLM land that I hadn’t been to yet, and just go explore it. A few of our collection sites were found because we were able to just go explore somewhere new.

Because of this internship, I was able to learn a whole new set of plants that I had never really encountered before. Although having to learn all of these new plants was daunting at the beginning, I love the feeling of just being able to look around and know what plants are around me. This internship has also given me a sense of independence/responsibility. With all the internships I have done before, the day began with a group meeting where the supervisor would tell me/us what we were supposed to get done that day. With this CLM internship, I and my fellow intern had a lot more freedom to decide what we wanted to do. We knew what needed to get done and by when, but the day to day decisions were up to us. It was really nice to be able to make those calls for ourselves.

I had a great time here in Miles City, and part of me is really sad that I have to go. However, the other part of me is really excited to see what life has in store for me next.

Kimberly Stocks

Miles City, Montana

Thank You, Utah

Each day is getting increasingly colder in Richfield, Utah.  The major seed left for collecting is sagebrush. While packaging the seed today, I surprised myself in being able to differentiate subspecies solely by seeing the seed.  As my internship is wrapping up, I stay grounded by reflecting on all that I have learned.

I have learned an incredible amount on Utah geology, the different colors/ textures signifying different time periods and events. Collecting seed has significantly polished my skills in plant identification. I have learned a fortune about BLM’s mission of multiuse and managing rangeland inhabited by threatened and endangered species. I was able to be a part of a long-term monitoring study with endangered Sclerocactus wrightiae, the experience is invaluable.  And I have learned that chili cook-offs are taken very seriously here! My adventures and experiences with the CLM internship have shown me a lot and for that I am grateful! I’m looking forward to my next adventure in conservation!

Why Wyoming?

Besides the fact that I live at  the base of the Wind River Mountains, am two hours from the Tetons, three hours from Yellowstone, and have had more wildlife encounters than all my years of living combined, Why would anyone want to work/live in Wyoming?

Black bear encounter in the Tetons

When I first told my friends back home (Richmond, VA) that I was moving to Wyoming for an internship many asked “Why Wyoming?!” They had the idea that there is nothing out here and that no one lives here.  That is one way to look at it.  Yes, the state is at least twice the size of VA and has about the same population as the county I am from. And yes, the land scape is so vast and open that it does seem like you are the only living thing at that moment; but think about it, how beautiful is that?! To stand on top of a butte with a 360 degree view of open, uninhabited land is an experience that allows you to see/hear the gods.

Searching for white bark pine in Whiskey Mountain wilderness area

To balance my direction, the summers here are cruel. It was a long, hot, dry, and SMOKEY field season. Once June hit, I did not have a clear view of the mountains until September because of the wildfires that were in and surrounding the Lander field office. This was an experience in itself. I got to see first hand how our country responds to massive forest fires that are potentially detrimental to local towns. The fire crew seemed to triple throughout the summer as there was plenty of work to be done.

Now the air is clear, the mountains are snow capped once again, and the town is preparing for winter. It is beautiful. I am sad to leave this amazing and sometimes magical place. I cannot imagine how it will feel to be in overcrowded civilization once again. However, I will be bringing this new experience and attitude with me.

Physaria saximontana, one of the sensitive species of Wyoming and my favorite plant from this summer.

The land of this state shapes the people. They respect it and what it provides (wildlife, recreation, solitude). What one person may consider respecting the land, to another may seem dis- respecting, but if I am ever in a conversation with either, they will only talk with the utmost admiration for the mountains, plains, and canyons of Wyoming. As Nate said in his final blog, the people here are as tough as the land. It takes an extra layer of skin to live here and I have become stronger because of it.

Now this does not go without saying that it is not perfect out here. The country here offers many resources such as cattle grazing, oil drilling, natural gas, uranium mines, and excellent hunting. With these high commodity resources, there must be land management. This is the job of the Bureau of Land Management. How it all gets managed is not easy or pleasing to all parties. However, it must be done because without the management of the land, it will be abused. I had my opinions of the BLM before starting my internship here at the Lander field office, and now I have an understanding. The BLM has a huge responsibility to protect the public land’s critical habitat, archeology sites, etc., while still allowing the public to use  it and private companies to draw natural resources from it. Our country draws its energy from these lands! I can not emphasize anymore the importance of and the responsibility on the BLM. It has been really cool working here during this election year. Oil and gas are a big topic of debate and I have gotten to experience first hand how the business and politics work. No further comment.

To wrap things up, this summer has been incredible. Along with all of the learning experiences and fun adventures, it has been hard work as well. Rose and I have busted out more than 45 seed collections in spite of a very dry year. We also made an herbarium cabinet for the office, filled with over 200 specimens including all of the special status species except one. We are going to present it to the office, local botanists, and others in similar fields of work as there are no herbariums in Lander. We have also compiled and organized all of our data collected over the summer into maps on ArcMap 10.0 and in documents on the server for the office’s use and for future interns. WOOF, I’m tired.

Finished herbarium specimen

So in closing, if you are still reading, this summer has been a great success!  Thank you CLM and Lander BLM for the opportunity. I am off to my next adventure of pushing my way into a graduate program. I know I will be back here to visit, to be engulfed by the dramatic landscapes of Wyoming, and visit friends made over the summer. PEACE.

I’m out,

Rebecca Stern

And now for a short break

Hello! I cannot believe I have already finished 5 months in Lakeview. Luckily, I will have a two week extension starting next week. I decided to take a bit of a break for a backpacking trip in Yosemite. I had a great time (minus the snow and rain). Not much to report on the job front here, although I will be sad to finally move on. You will be hearing from me soon with my final blog about my experience. Talk to you then!

Season’s Over!

It’s not easy to sum up the past 5 months here at the BLM office in Missoula, MT. I have had a wonderful experience learning all about vegetative, wildlife and stream monitoring, bird identification, rangeland health, special status plants, seed collection, forestry, GIS and so much more. But what has truly made my experience here so wonderful is the people I have had the pleasure and honor to work with. My mentor and my two field partners,  John H., Lea and John F. have made my experience here unforgettable. They have all taught me so much and we have had so much fun this season.  This experience would not have been the same without them. But alas, it had to end sometime, as the snow has been slowly pushing us out of the field and into the office. So on to the next adventure!

View while collecting Sage Brush seeds on the last field day of the year 🙁

First snow!

The Hunt for Rue: October

As my CLM time here in Carlsbad winds down and I finish other tasks, one project still looms large. This deadly search for African rue, a noxious weed, is the story of this month. Inevitably I call it the Hunt for Rue: October.
Along with Malta star-thistle, African rue is the most hated weed in the Carlsbad Field Office. Even its scientific name, Peganum harmala, contains within it both “harm” and “mala,” Spanish for “bad.” Around Carlsbad, rue is found on oil pads, brought in as seeds stuck in truck tires. Though rue is toxic to people and livestock, the containment strategy is based mostly on concerns over rangeland health. Should this plant escape the oil pads and invade the open range, little could stop it. Rue’s massive, branching roots can reach 20 feet in depth, and the plant makes allelopathic chemicals to suppress competitors.
“WANTED-Dead, not Alive” flyers around the office advise staffers to report this weed, which I did as soon as I saw it. The herbicide period for rue runs for just a few weeks in the spring and the fall, so spraying had to wait. In the meantime, I returned and discovered rue on other pads in the neighborhood. I recorded them until I’d checked every pad on my aerial photo, returning over the next few weeks until eventually I had checked over 600 pads spread across over 100 square miles. I created a layer in GIS showing the pads I had checked and estimates of the rue present. There always seems to be even more rue lurking just over the edge of the map.
Finally, I’ve had a chance to strike back. This week was the start of open season on African rue, when several groups of BLM staffers and contractors drove out into the oilfields toting two ton tank trailers full of blue herbicide cocktail. I was among them.
A schism exists between two camps favoring two different delivery methods. One camp favors the wand, basically a giant manual squirt gun connected by a hose to the tank, and the other favors the booms, remote herbicide blasters appended on the back of the tank trailer controlled from the cab. The wand camp charges that the boomers waste expensive herbicide by shooting a band of spray twenty feet wide to hit one plant, in the process potentially killing other plants in the area, and that boomers waste hours returning to town so they can reload. The boom camp claims the wand folks waste hours by trying to cover acres – one plant at a time. Coverage from booms is spotty due to wind, say the wand folks. Well coverage from wands is spotty due to the users’ eyesight, say the boomers. It can get heated, reflecting two different worldviews more than anything. Neither may be superior, the best method varying from pad to pad depending on weed number and density, other plants, weather, labor, funding and many other factors. In the end, everybody agrees we want African rue dead, not alive.

Leaving Nevada

As my time as a CLM intern in the Carson City, NV BLM office comes to a close, I am reflecting on how much I have learned during this experience. After completing my second CLM internship (my first was last year in Miles City, MT), I feel like I have a more well-rounded background, which will help me in my career. I have gained a lot of knowledge from my mentor, and am very appreciative of how much training I now have which I can take with me as I search for my next field position. We attended the USDA Nevada Pesticide Applicator Certification in Salt Lake City, a grass identification course in Reno, Ecologically-based Invasive Plant Management training in Reno, and NNPS Rare Plant Meeting in Las Vegas, just to name a few. I was also able to attend Riparian and Wetland Plant identification training, from which I came away with a better understanding of those habitat types and a stronger botanical background.

In addition to trainings, I have gained a wide variety of field experiences. Our team has spent time fire monitoring, rare plant monitoring, noxious weed surveying, seed collecting, and a lot more. I have really enjoyed the crew of nine interns that I have been a part of. We each bring different backgrounds to this internship and all of our skills mesh very well to form a team. I have really enjoyed getting to know each of them and it’s sad to see my time with this team come to an end. It will be interesting to see where each of us goes in 2013!

So busy!

Hello! and Greetings from Miles City, MT!

Wow, have we been busy the past few weeks. We’ve been driving out to the Special K Ranch (see Becky’s post below cleverly, and aptly, titled “Croptober”) once a week for the past three weeks to help out in any way possible and to pick up sagebrush seedling for the Miles City field office which will hopefully be planted soon.

Look at how full we packed this truck!! All sagebrush!

Additionally, we’ve been busy collecting Winterfat (still working on it!), Greasewood, Green Ash (an adventure to be sure!), and as much Prairie Cordgrass seed as we can find for the Billings Office. Hopefully, we’ll be adding an aster to this list as well, we just need the weather to hold out for just a bit longer!

Winterfat! Really cool plant, taking a while to collect because of weather..

Green ash draw where we collected seed. Those trees are tall! We had to use a 18 ft pruner! (Which we borrowed from the Billings Office – thank you!!!!)

I know most internships are wrapping up, but I feel like mine is just getting started, soon we’ll be focusing on sagebrush seed collections and I know I’ll be just crazy busy then.

Miles City, MT

As a matter of fact…

As a CLM intern I have learned so much about the desert that I’d like to briefly list some of the more interesting factoids –

-The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) recieved its common name from Mormon immigrants, thinking its branches resembed Joshua raising his hands to the sky. Its fruits were once consumed by the extinct Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastense); the branches descending presumably to allow the sloths easy access to its fruits. It’s theorized that the sloths were the primary seed distributor of the Joshua Tree.

-Picking up a desert tortoise will cause it to defensively urinate, causing it to become dangerously dehydrated.

-Coyotes need no source of standing water. They can get all the water they need from their food.

-The desert is most beautiful at dawn and dusk. This is irrefutable.

-The ghost town of Rice, California was an old stopping point for steam engines to replenish their water supplies. Now it is the site of the states most famous fence; decorated with old shoes donated by passersby.

-The Salton Sea supports around 30 percent of the North American pelican population.

After learning all this, the famous line from Lawrence of Arabia, “There is nothing in the desert, and no man needs nothing” sounds so hollow! Over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on getting as many seed collections as possible before the conclusion of my internship next month.

Aaron Sedgwick

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden