A Revelation and Other News

I think Bob Dylan got it right when he suggested that “he that is not busy being born, is busy dying.” If you’re idle in body and mind you are just sitting “watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round”, not making any impact (much less a beneficial one) upon the environment.  I ventured in this internship to constantly challenge myself to continue learning and to provide a positive influence on range matters here in Arizona.  While I hope this monsoon season will suffice in replenishing the flora of the many ecological sites that have suffered from an extended drought, I am repeatedly reminded by the resilience of arid species to thrive in the harshest of weather conditions.  Hailing from the south (Texas that is), I am quickly familiarizing myself with the arid plants of the west and am constantly amazed by how much growth is the result of such minute quantities of water during the sweltering heat of midsummer (e.g. Fouquieria splendens, Ocotillo).  My only concession of late is extended A/C use when indoors and an extra military-grade (which basically translates into super-insulation) 3.5 liter Camelbak.


I am thankful for the extra SD-Cards I brought for my digital camera due to the many minerals (Black Tourmaline) and wildlife (Arizona Caltrop – Kallstroemia grandiflora, and the Greater Road Runner to name a few) that I have come across trekking key areas while monitoring grazing allotments.  On weekends, I have also had the opportunity to collect bird banding data as an Audubon Society volunteer at the Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg, AZ.  The excitement lay in frequent surveys of the mist net (every 20 minutes).  The catch of the day since I began volunteering has been a male Vermillion flycatcher.  There is great skill involved in removing the animal from the net with grace and dexterity so as little harm as possible may come to the bird (one can easily induce shock by length of removal and strain of the handling, which can lead to death in some cases – some birds are more anxious than others). The Audubon Society hopes to expand protecting breeding/nesting/stop-over resource procurement areas through deriving migration patterns displayed by recapture data.  Also there is a great amount of public outreach involved in their banding work; the more minds one can instill the value of this process, and how the materials in the capture and release procedure are not inflicting harm upon the birds, the less often one has to expend limited energy placating the unknowing or ignorant passerby.


How often can someone say they’ve been outdoors these days, when so often the occasional stroll down the hall to the printer is the farthest one ever travels from their desk?  It’s refreshing to not be surrounded by so many gratuitous (and often electronic) luxuries. So far, I am proud to exclaim, there have not been any injuries in the field among our crew to lack of preparation or contact with the wilderness.  With the lack of humidity, that I have been so acclimated to for most of my life, I often feel like a dried prune wrinkling away under the rays until we get back to the vehicle, blast the AC and gulp frigid water till we get a “brain freeze”.  Recently, our crew attended the  State Range Meeting in  Young, AZ where we enjoyed the southern comfort food from a chuck wagon, camping, and countless presentations on new methods of monitoring/evaluating grazing allotments and research findings of current range management techniques.


While driving countless hours every day to and from a consortium of allotments to find key areas, my field partner and I experienced an unwelcome surprise of a tire blowout upon trying to meander through the wilderness in search of the “main” dirt road (a cumbersome and often unrewarding trial due to the many ATV trails and wildlife/cattle tracks traversing the road; often a ubiquitous feature of multiple-use terrain in the Sonoran Desert) while unknowingly passing over a creosote bush (one shrub most vehicle tires are wary to near due to the brittle nature of its branches and tendency to shed sharp debris puncturable of even the thickest rubber tire). Luckily, we were able to change the tire with the spare included among the safety gear within our field rig and call it a day before the shadow of another unfortunate event cast its gloom over us. Thankfully we were able to find all of the RIP locations and complete the inspection reports once monitoring the sites for compliance to BLM land-use regulations.


However, the fun was just beginning for the week, and with the weather mutating into a gusty torrent of hellish rain clouds devising flash floods of doom for the near future, it was not hard for anyone to predict the next predicament our team was thrust into.  One can imagine the amount of moisture the soils of the valleys and tanks retain after such a storm.  It was practically a mystery that the trouble did not ensue until the late afternoon of a full day of field work was almost completed.  Yet, it was our destiny to ensure that our team was able to think quickly and prudently in cooperative measure once our truck’s tires ceased rotation from lack of grip on the sticky silt rich terrain near an earthen reservoir.  We were almost in the clear traveling down a seemingly safe path to check for compliance on an earthen reservoir when we got stuck in the icky bug-filled muck.  I am proud to declare we were not filled with trepidation, but following a secure step-by-step procedure to be on our way.  Yes, unfortunately we did get filthy with dirt and sweat from digging out the muck from beneath our tread, but we were out of the nasty situation within an hour’s time.


For now, we are almost done monitoring the range included in the work load we were dealt at the beginning of the five months (which included over 10 allotments with about 12 key areas and about double that many range improvements per allotment) and it feels amazing (albeit some part physically) to have – almost – completed the lot in a most thorough, efficient manner.


More to come!… Alyson F.


What a Great Time

I’m all wrapped up and finished with my internship. I spent my last month preparing documents and GIS databases for the Visual Resources Inventory report for Newcastle, WY. So, I’ve been in the office a lot. It was really satisfying to see the culmination of my work over the summer in the form that it would appear in an official government report.

Our intern/seasonal house is empty. My desk is cleaned out. It’s a strange and sad feeling after my longest stint away from the city of Chicago. I’ve come home to a bit of culture shock that is more jarring than my move to Wyoming. I find myself pinned in by walls of construction and cars. I was extremely lucky to be placed in Buffalo, WY with many other seasonals/interns. Over the course of six months, our house provided a home to seven different people. We worked hard and played hard. My boss made sure that I was prepared to do the GIS work that would be required of me, despite my lack of familiarity on the software. Yet she always made sure I got to go out and did other things. Mapping sensitive species, possible seed collections, surveying possible sites of cultural value, and recreation site access and maintenance were all part of my internship experience. Definitely something I could never get in Chicago. Thanks for everything Buffalo! And thank you CBG for the opportunity.

Fall Planting

November has been a surprisingly busy month so far!  I thought things would slow down after we finished our SOS collections for the year and the last plants at the PMC were harvested.  However, I have quickly learned that fall means fall planting, which is no small undertaking.  With limited staff and seemingly limitless tasks to complete before it gets too wet out, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind.

Across our 100+ acres, we have been putting in many different field trials, research plots, and demonstrations while planting cover crops in the bare spots.  Additionally, we are planting seeds to grow out for the BLM and other agencies.  This includes many rows of seed that came from SOS collections.  After doing many seed collections this summer, it’s interesting to see the other half of the process where collected seeds are planted and grown out.  No one has experience working with many of the native species we are asked to grow, so a lot of work goes into figuring out our approach.  We compare a plant to similar species, test out different treatments, and ultimately try to determine the feasibility of producing more seed.

When we have moved to the actual planting stage, the process is more complicated than simply putting seed in the ground.  We have to determine where we can plant a collection while maintaining a large enough separation distance from other plantings of the same species.  We have to determine when to plant and what equipment to use.  We look at what percentage of seeds actually germinate to help determine our desired seeding rate.  We then calibrate our seeding equipment to match our seeding rate.  After all of those steps, we are finally able to plant the seed.  In some cases the actual planting is the easiest and quickest step in the process.

My tractor driving skills are still rudimentary at best, so I used a device called a Planet Junior for my plantings.  A Planet Junior is a walk-behind seeder.  As the seeder gets pushed forward and its wheel spins, seed is fed through a hole and drops to the ground.  It’s a small and straightforward device that has proven to be quite useful for us.  After planting some clovers, a few grasses, and many, many cover crops with this device, I now consider myself an expert seeder.

I finished planting the last item on my list today, so now all I can do is wait and hope everything grows!

A Good Couple of Months!

When most people think of Nevada they think of Las Vegas. Coming from the Midwest I had a similar impression. However over the last six months my thoughts on Nevada have certainly changed. Throughout the course of my internship I have seen a diverse amount of plants and ecosystems. From the ancient Bristlecone pines of the White Mountains to the surreal colonies of Joshua Trees scattered throughout the desert to the south. I’ve been places where the earth is blackened by seasonal fires and hot springs lush with wild sunflowers. In addition to working in such unique environments, I have received a decent amount of training and gained valuable work experience. I was fortunate to attend the annual Rare Plant conference in Las Vegas and learned a great deal about how plants become listed as threatened or endangered. My taxonomic skills as well as mastery of GIS have also greatly increased. I am extremely thankful to have been a part of the CLM program. While I will soon be returning to farm fields of the heartland, I know what I have seen and learned here will stay with me as a botanist for the rest of my days.

Thanks, CLM

Through this internship, I have come to love the town of Lakeview and will truly miss it. However, it is becoming clear that it is time to depart and move on to my next adventure. As one of the last hangers-on after the fire crews, the high school and college seasonals, and most of the other seven CLM interns have filtered out of town, the smell of wood smoke and forecasts well below freezing are signaling the end of the season. I have seen more territory, learned more about land management, and gotten to know more interesting people than I ever thought possible.

Although I could go on and on about driving four-wheelers in the winter rain, watching helicopters drop flame retardant a mile away from town, and sneaking suspiciously away from Disney Princess balloons, I mostly want to use this final blog to express my extreme gratitude to the Chicago Botanic Garden for establishing this program. These days, it is next to impossible to find a paid professional job right out of college. Like countless other students, I was incredibly frustrated to discover that my tens of thousands of dollars and four years of nose-to-the-grindstone hard work meant nothing to employers scanning solely for “real” experience. The Chicago Botanic Garden stands among very few institutions that think out of the box and use a different method in their hiring practices. Thank you, CBG, for understanding our plight and establishing a program to smooth the transition from school to work. You are leaders in making the professional world accessible to recent graduates.

The CLM program offered me the most valuable thing one could ask for: that elusive professional experience. My work leaders were incredible about sending us out in the field with different crews and making sure we understood every aspect of our work. They explained what we did not know and sought our opinions on what we did know. We took pride in our data and felt that we became an indispensable part of the interdisciplinary team for evaluating rangeland health and writing Environmental Assessments. My resume seems to grow on a daily basis, filled with new skills and bragging rights.

Beyond experience and payment, everything else should have just been icing on the cake. Yet this internship came to mean so much more to me than just a job. I had an incredible time bonding with my partners in the field and my trailer-mates in our living quarters. I learned so much from this huge variety of people with such different backgrounds and knowledge to share. In the BLM office, just about everyone was incredibly nice and helpful. My first time living in a small town in the middle of nowhere was an extraordinary success. I will never forget the roaming animals, the gigantic stars, the stereotypical cowboys and the exceptional small town gossip. I only hope that my future employment experiences will be as fulfilling as this one.

Snow flurries in the Modoc

November has arrived. I am now the only seasonal left in Modoc county… or at least that is how it feels, but I do not mind. Watching the snow begin to cover the tablelands and Warner Mountains is well worth the isolation. I must admit I began to panic when I realized I would not be enjoying the outdoors as often when the cold weather began, but I have still been able to have some field time. I travelled to nearby Cedarville to help the Surprise BLM fuels crew with a sage brush planting project and ended up helping lead the project. My partner Joe and I gave instructions for planting Purshia tridentata and Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana. We recommended planting them in clumps of 7 to 10 down from the ridgeline. The area we were planting in was located in western Nevada in the Lost Fire, which was ignited by lightning in August. The fire burned more than 61,000 acres including habitat for sage-grouse, mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn.  Restoration planting will continue into December and I hope to be a part.

Here is a picture of the Lost Fire:

Lost Fire

My partner Joe and I enjoyed sending a huge collection of seeds in as well as labeling numerous herbarium vouchers for the Smithsonian and Berkley. Joe left at the beginning of the month and I am now the only seasonal left in the field office. Collecting seeds takes longer with only one pair of hands, but I was still able to make a couple more collections before the weather set in. I was able to make a fairly large collection of Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis. Artemisia arbuscula proved to be a harder collection presumably because of the drought this season. The total number of collections we were able to make this season was 37! Now that field work is mostly through, I have a couple of projects to work on in the office and look forward to getting better acquainted with ArcGIS. (:



… and then one day it started rainin. The rainy season has begun here in the California central valley. The fields have turned back to a familiar green color. The weather has still been very mild. Rainy days mixed with 60-70 degree sunny days. Being the intern here I have been assisting with all of the random odds and ends. There is never a shortage of work for me. My projects have included things like fencing closed sections of the preserve, seeding restoration areas, and guiding tours, among other things. Most recently I had the opportunity to work with school kids on a native shrub planting. The kids were a blast to work with, and hopefully these volunteer opportunities might spark an interest in conservation for one or more of them. Tomorrow morning we have staff meeting, followed by a presentation by a rattlesnake biologist, and in the afternoon I will be planting more native shrubs. I love this job.

Interning it up

With field season over, I am getting to join in with other members of the office in their field work and experience what a federal employee does. I got to see a wild horse round-up which was very interesting, and quite a procedure – helicopters and all! There is also lots of data organization and computer stuff to do, but that’s all part of working in a digital world. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


The past few months have been quite hectic here at the Eagle Lake Field Office in Susanville, CA. In August, a wildfire ignited over 300,000 acres of our field office. As soon as the fire was declared contained, our office began working on the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan for the fire. I put my CLM internship on hold and was hired by the BLM for two months to help work on this plan. There was an immediate need for detailed maps of the fire area so that the resource advisors could check out the aftermath and do their jobs more efficiently. I was thrown into ArcMap with only a little knowledge of the program and was forced to learn how to use it. This is a very effective way to learn a program quickly, and with the help of the other intern, I am now able to swiftly create good-lookin’ maps and run analyses on data in ArcMap.

Coming from the Midwest, I have no experience with wildfires at all. Susanville was blanketed in smoke for a month or two while the 300,000 acre Rush Fire as well as 2-3 other significant sized fires surrounded the town. Wildfires are definitely a humbling event and it was interesting to see everyone’s different reactions to them. Some of my co-workers were in tears over the damage that it was doing to the land, while others were rooting for it to burn more. Having experience using prescribed fires to manage resources in Indiana, my initial reaction was that the fire was a good thing and that the plants would bounce back quickly and with great vigor. I soon learned that there is a key issue that must be considered when a wildfire rages through the West: cheat grass.

I became familiar with cheat grass very quickly when I moved to California back in May. It’s everywhere; and where it’s a little more sparse, it’s always threatening to encroach on and crowd out the native bunch grasses and other native plant species. There is great fear that the burned areas that were once dense sagebrush habitat will turn completely to cheat grass, and will stay cheat grass. The invasive grass species has completely changed the fire regime for the sagebrush habitat so that fires occur more frequently. The native brush does not have a chance to establish itself before the next fire rolls through the cheat grass fields. You can easily pick out where past fires have occurred from the large patches of yellow in the landscape where nothing but cheat grass is growing. It is startling to look at the fire history data and see that the field of grass is the exact fire perimeter of a past wildfire.

This fire has opened my eyes to the severe need for native seed to be used for fire rehabilitation and the importance of the SOS program. Most of fire area did not burn that hot, so the roots of native grasses are still intact and have high potential to bounce back and successfully outcompete cheat grass. However, some areas got completely cooked and are more susceptible to cheat grass invasion because of the loss of the native seed bank. In these areas, seeding with native plant species is very beneficial to help keep out cheat grass. The SOS program is an excellent way to ensure that there is enough seed available for fire rehab (which was definitely an issue this year with all the wildfires that occurred) and that the seed used is native.

My BLM position ended recently so I have resumed my CLM internship. The BLM position was an excellent opportunity and I am very thankful that the CLM internship is so flexible and helped facilitate it. I am now looking forward to the challenge of finding and collecting viable sagebrush seed to help out with the Rush Fire rehab.

Dust devil after the fire