Changes on the Land



  Field Season here on the Modoc is definitely on its way out. Walking out of the Alturas field office one can feel the crisp cold bite of winter on its way. Hiking up Patterson Lake in the South Warner Mountains last weekend was incredibly beautiful. Amidst the dark pines and grasslands groves of Aspens were beginning to turn a golden delicious yellow.  One by one other seasonals from all departments are falling away like leaves, returning to school or their next adventures. My partner Joe and I have made so many seed collections this season we have lost count. Among the last ones aquired were Yellow Rabbit Brush, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, California Rudbush, Cercis occidentalis var. orbiculata and Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus. The latter of which is aptly nicknamed “hell feathers” by cowboys. The Seed hairs can attach to eyes and skin, and CAN cause considerable discomfort.   If I ever find myself collecting this unique seed again I will be wearing a hazmat suit!  Another collection we made was in a range allotment named Cold Springs. This allotment is in Lassen County, right off of highway 395, in Termo. This particular collection site was at Dodge Springs, a riparian area in the midst of sagebrush habitat which had burned two years ago.    

Dodge Springs when we collected seed in early July.

   Later on this season Joe and I went back to check up on a couple other plants this is what we found…

Major change!


 …Once we arrived back at Dodge Springs it was quite obvious we would not be making any more collections at this site. The vegetation use was vigorous and soil erosion was apparent. There were at least 17 head of cattle “hanging out” in the spring area. We also observed 4 wild horses in the area.  When going back to the field office the range supervisor informed us the cows should have been taken out of this area at least three weeks prior. When we went back two weeks later, to check the survival rates of some sagebrush we had planted, the cows were still in the exact same place. One cow had even died — we theorize from getting stuck in the mud. What a drastic impact one season of overgrazing can cause.  Once again here is what it looked like two months ago…

Dodge Springs when we collected seed in early July.

According to the BLM Northeastern California Standards for Rangeland Health and Guidelines for Livestock Grazing Management, “Adequate stubble will be present on all stream-side areas at the end of the growing season, or at the end of the grazing season if grazing occurs after fall dormancy. The residual or regrowth should provide sufficient herbaceous forage biomass to meet the requirement of plant vigor maintenance, bank protection, and sediment entrapment” (June 1999). I also read that a 4-6 inch minimum stubble height must remain at the end of the growing season in most riparian areas.  

It is clear this is not the case in this riparian area. Possibly this type of heavy use could be improved, with changes in season of use, timing, duration, rotational grazing, herding, fencing, herding and or changes in number of stock. Unfortunately, however, although Dodge spring is surrounded by BLM lands the spring itself is privately owned. As of now the state of California has no rural private landownership standards or guidelines for riparian areas currently in effect.

Thanks to my extension I still get to spend two more months in Alturas and I am looking forward to seeing the first flurries of snow fly on the tablelands.



A moment of reflection

Over the past month, I have continued working primarily in the office on data entry and writing academic papers. The most exciting moment of the last month was when I realized that a species of lichen, Polychidium dendriscum, was listed as found in Florida. This seemed unlikely because it is known from Alaska and the Pacific northwest. I requested loans from other herbaria in the United States  to evaluate the species. It was incredible to handle specimens collected over 50 years ago. There is something magical about preserving specimens for future study, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. In addition, it was awesome to see who collected the specimens. One collector wrote a large book on Florida lichens. Hopefully, a specimen from the Smithsonian will arrive next week. The collector at the Smithsonian, Mason Hale, taught my supervisor Roger Rosentreter. I’m very excited to see that sample, and publish this paper very soon.

My time here is winding down, and this will be one of my last posts. One of the joys of working at the BLM State Office in Idaho has been the people here in the office. I learn something new from everyone. One of my coworkers, Pamela Hess, is a geologist. She can look at a geologic view and say, “that rock outcrop looks different.” When we approach it, and look around, there are unique ecosystems. Coming from Florida, I never appreciated how much geology defines a landscape and limits what grows in that area. From my coworker, Susan Filkins, I’ve learned to have a good attitude and how to better take care of myself (especially in the winter!) and not sweat the small stuff.  From Dan Simpson and Brett van Paepeghem, I’ve learned more about horticulture and that gardens need love and caring and constant maintenance. From Roger Rosentreter, I’ve learned how to use my energy efficiently towards science and academia, as well as more than I ever imagined about lichens and life.

It all goes to show, if you love your work it will continue to grow and take you in ways and places you never imagined.


BLM Idaho State Office

Monsoon Rains and New Opportunities

In the last month the eastern Californian Mojave has experienced record rainfall. Because of the regular patterns and consistent showers, seed collections have been picking up again and species like Pectis papposa, Bouteloua barbata, and Kallstroemia parviflora have been carpeting large parts of my field area. It’s an exciting time to be a field botanist! I recently collected from Rattlesnake Canyon, just north of Pioneertown, a village that has been chosen by filmmakers as the setting for many westerns and frequented by actor Roy Rogers.

-Rattlesnake Canyon-

Most recently, the Sawtooth Complex Fire came through the surrounding area, destroying stands of Joshua tree and scarring the landscape. The Joshua trees are now resprouting in some locations, but the damage is widespread and it will take many decades for the stands to recover. Because of the recent disturbance at the site, it seemed fitting to spend some time scouting for plants that are fire and grazing tolerant. There are several grazing permits in the area and I ran into a couple of local cowboys — the first people that I have encountered in the field in 7 months — that were looking for their cattle as I descended further down into the canyon. I was searching for Brickellia californica and Chysothamnus nauseosus, two fire-adapted species that also seem to respond well to grazing pressure. We managed to locate populations of both species that were fruiting and it felt great to make seed collections that I knew were great candidates for restoration on highly disturbed lands.

Last weekend I attended the Southern California Botanist Symposium at the Huntington Botanical Gardens inSan Marino,California. There were many talks given on restoration and threats to our native flora. One of the most interesting talks entitled, “The Current Role and Future of Biological Soil Crusts in the Face of Climate Change” by Jayne Belnap, Ph.D. For those unfamiliar with soil crusts, they are a layer of soil that is a living community of algae, fungi, and cyanobacteria. They exist in many arid environments, including the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. She explained how undisturbed soil crusts act as an impenetrable barrier to invasive plant seed; the appendages on many non-native seeds cause them to be trapped atop the soil crust, never allowing them to penetrate and germinate.

After hearing this talk, I’m convinced that one of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of exotic plant species is to prevent future damage to these soil crusts by reducing impact from development and vehicular soil disturbance. Manual and chemical methods of removal will only go so far if the continued degradation of these communities goes unhindered. I’m very grateful to my mentor for inviting me the symposium. I got to hear all of these interesting and poignant talks and meet many botanists that research plants that I see every day!

Rabbitbrush – Chrysothamnus nauseosus

I’m also taking two refresher courses in GIS that will give me more experience mapping populations and will expand my knowledge of the program. A big thank you to Dean Tonenna and everyone at the BLM who helped make these courses available to CLM interns. They will broaden our skill sets and help prepare us to manage our public lands as we look towards the future.

Aaron Sedgwick

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Office

Summer Time in Central California

Over the past month the weather has begun to clear up and become more like summer here on Fort Ord. Also in the past month I have crossed paths with a mountain lion, learned more and more about GIS dealing with creation of data, and organization of many volunteers.
About a week ago I was walking on in some oak woodlands looking for possible new oak sites where we could bring volunteers to help us plant new oaks. We then saw a deer run by and really thought nothing of it until we saw a mountain lion leap from an oak tree and run to another. My guess was that the mountain lion was not interested in us — it just wanted to watch the deer.  Still, it was a great shock to see a mountain lion.
Over the past month I have received computer access and have begun to get back in the flow of using ArcGIS. We are now creating polygons and are able to transform the data as needed.
The past week we have had many volunteers coming out to Fort Ord and there are many more to come, from Capital One employees to the Sierra Club. We have been trying to get prepared for all of their arrival.
Public Lands Day is almost here and should be a great day to get everyone outside!

A Field Season Haiku

I feel as though this field season is best sumerized in a Haiku.

The damp fish shivers
Vibrating river beats…
A LEAP into the light.

I just took my first trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons.  The fall colors there are so amazing and different from anything I expected.  Instead of trees changing, the ground is awash with the colors of changing grasses and shrubs.  This is not to downplay the beautiful aspens, but it all comes so exciting to me, as I wasn’t expecting to get my autumn colors this year.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the aspens are going to last much longer.  Fall here in Buffalo, WY, seems to come and go quite quickly.  Many of the aspens have already dropped all their leaves, and our amazing garden was picked clean yesterday in anticipation of the three days of snow forecasted.  Goodbye Fall, hello Wyoming Winter!