Can’t Wait for Spring!

Although the winter storms have subsided in Big Bear, spring has not quite yet sprung in the mountains. Most of the deciduous trees and shrubs around are managing some buds but green leaves and flowers are few and far between (aka non-existent). I know it’s just around the corner, however, because lower down in elevation the “line of spring” is steadily creeping upwards in shades of purple, orange, and white; the welcome colors of blossoming lupines, California poppies, and ceanothus.

As is common at this time of year, I feel giddy with the onset of spring. But this time, in addition to being thrilled at the inevitable blossoms and increased daylight, I am so excited to see the early stages of flower development of the plants I have come to love while working here for the past year. Yes, I know this is nerdy, but it’s the truth. I started my rare plant monitoring work mid-summer last year, so I completely missed the spring-blooming wildflowers and much of the flowering season for the ones that bloom in early summer. I will no longer have to do crispy plant botanizing! It’s really quite a treat to have been able to experience this amazing place for all four changes in season.

At work lately, I’ve continued to plug away at entering the data collected during last field season. All I can say is thank gosh for the altitude because it’s buying me a couple of weeks to get everything entered! In addition to data entry, my coworkers and I have been revising our Restoration program geodatabase by ground-truthing all of our restoration sites out in the field (we have over 800 on the Forest). We have almost completed this task which will then allow us to train and coordinate our OHV volunteers to do all of the restoration site monitoring which is required for grant reporting. This, in turn, will free up the restoration staff to focus on other projects.

That’s about it for now! Hopefully next time I post I’ll have some really beautiful pictures of rare, mutant-looking violets, buckwheats, and mustards galore!

Lizzy Eichorn, San Bernardino National Forest


I love it when my office isn’t an office

Monday morning isn’t something one often looks forward to, but yesterday was perhaps one of the best Mondays I’ve ever experienced.

My fellow interns and I spent the first half of the day planting Jeffrey Pine seedlings in a fire rehab area at Indian Creek in California.  In the afternoon, we split up into teams to do some weed surveys near by.  My team went to the Indian Creek Campground Reservoir where we, unfortunately, found its entire perimeter full of mullein, a species that is on our noxious weed list.  We also found a few noxious thistle species, but there were nowhere near as many of those in the area.

Although noxious weeds were abundant, the experience of planting and surveying in that landscape was a lot of fun.  Rarely in my life have I had the opportunity to spend time among mountains, conifers, and the types of wild animals we encountered there.

It was definitely a good Monday.

Indian Creek Campground Reservoir

Surveying for noxious weeds

A Grateful Jeffrey Pine

To be so tenderly dibbled into this soft scorched earth,

My young seedling heart sings in triumph!

To lie in a 12 x 12 grid with my dear brothers and sisters,

Planted with such care upon this California hillside!

My youthful xylem, so newly differentiated into secondary tissues,

Transports with pride this precious water

From the fire-torn landscape to my quivering needles!

New Life!

New life in a forest ravaged by flames!

New life in a forest desecrated by the unflinching hand of natural disasters!

New life in a forest with a greatly altered C:N ratio!

My meristem aches with the mournful memories of my forefathers and foremothers,

Burned in their pursuit of the sky and sun overhead!

Burned through their very heartwood!

Pain! Agony! Death! Destruction! Misery!

And yet…

Rebirth through dibbler! Resurrection through hoedad!

May the slow-release fertilizer packets be kind to us, fellow seedlings!

May our capillary action make us vigorous!

May our fitness be higher than the clouds above!

May we have at least an 80% success rate!

This lil Jeffrey’s found himself a home!


Give-and-take (n): 1. mutual concessions, shared benefits, and cooperation; 2. a smoothly flowing exchange of ideas and talk.

Ah… compromise.  The give-and-take from separate sides of every discussion, issue, or concern is what allows us as an agency (the BLM) to move towards a solution, regardless of how fluid the end-game may be.  At the BLM, it is our role to manage the lands and natural resources, so current generations may enjoy what is available to us, without depriving future generations of these resources, benefits, and natural landscapes.

The balance isn’t always easy to reach, especially when working with T&E species and their respective habitat(s).  I’ve been involved in discussions and meetings pertaining to more proactive management and pre-development mitigation on behalf of project proponents in an attempt to enhance the survival and habitats of these species on the front end, rather than attempting to correct what has been done after the fact through (at times lengthy and expensive) restoration and reclamation.   These efforts can sometimes be done through off-site and off-set mitigation depending on habitat type and quality as well as easements to protect other valuable areas.

These type of efforts are also being exercised in partnership with the USFWS in the development of conservation agreements called Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA) which allow private land owners to enroll in agreements that provide them with protections if a candidate species is listed as threatened or endangered by the USFWS, that no further stipulations will be put in place as long as they agree to conservation measures prior to the listing decision to ‘enhance the survival’ of the species in question.  These are being developed in states across the west with varied participation.

I’ve had the benefit of participating in discussions for these mitigations,  CCAAs, and CCAs, as well as reviewing proposals that indicate stipulations related to these plans.  There is an attempt to be consistent to some degree, which can be difficult given the varying factors across the state of Wyoming as well as the species and their needs across the same areas.

This type of land management is a ‘give-and-take’ method to multi-use lands.  Like other types of restoration, reclamation, and mitigation used in the past, only time will tell and judge the success of these efforts…  but the cooperation between agency and industry, between public and private, will continue to strive towards the optimal balance and benefit all parties involved.

Off to the Next Big Adventure

My time as a CLM intern has truly been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. The learning opportunities were never ending and the experience gained will prove invaluable. I simply cannot count the number of times I thought to myself or just yelled out loud, “I have the greatest job EVER!” Most of all, the people I have worked with inspired me daily.

I think my favorite aspect was being able to work so closely with the Emergency Stabilization and Restoration process following the 2012 Rush Fire.  Experiencing the desolation of a post-fire moonscape first hand was not only difficult for me but everyone I worked with. It made me truly understand just how much my coworkers care about the land they managed. The craziness of the restoration has just started to wane after the final aerial seeding hopper full of hundreds of pounds of sagebrush and grass seed had been dropped. This, a moment of relief and growing anticipation, leaves everyone stuck waiting to see if our efforts were successful or not. Either way, I have enjoyed witnessing the scientific approach to restoring a landscape so heavily threatened by invasive species.

In arid climates, the success of a seeding appears to be strictly dependent on climactic variables. Too little snow fall means there is not enough moisture, too rapid snow melt means there will not be enough sustained moisture for seeds to survive past germination. Likely, the greatest realization I have come to, occurred during the Sage-grouse Symposium held at our office in March. The symposium brought together brilliant minds focusing on the proliferation of sage-grouse in the Great Basin region. It became apparent that due to the Great Basin’s warming, drying, climate, the subsequent scarcity and unreliability of precipitation coupled with the strict financial and temporal constraints imposed on restoration projects, that our current system lacks the flexibility to fully take advantage of environmental variables in real time. This may appear quite grim, but I think that if more carefully examined and combined with site-specific research, we could develop forecasting models to improve the timing of seed dispersal and possibly even predict success rates. In the meantime however, it is only another faint cry for the mitigation of climate change.

I will close with a few pieces of advice for incoming interns.

  1. Always have fun. If you cannot enjoy your work, maybe you should try something else, but usually you just need to change your mindset.
  2. Do not think of yourself as a specialist in one discipline, why not master them all? Once you start looking at yourself as just a biologist you lose your ability to understand everyone else’s point of view.
  3. Never turn down an opportunity to work on a different project in a different discipline, even if it is not exactly convenient.
  4. Master the technology, GPS’s and GIS are your friends and best tools. Take time to teach yourself on your own. Do not expect this time to always be allotted for you.


Thanks to everyone who has guided me along the way, I am exceptionally grateful.


Sagebrush Sunrise

Rock Chucks

This March, I took a position with the Bureau of Land Management in Southern Idaho. An important aspect of my move to Twin Falls has been, well, Craigslist.  A faux antique dining room table (for a desk), an aged vinyl chair (1960’s diner style), and free pallets to support my thrift store mattress (always one of the more risky purchases). As a seasonal worker, I’m looking for inexpensive functionality and craigslist delivers. Recently I came across this ad offering “free rockchuck removal”.

free rockchuck removal (hagerman & surrounding)

Im looking for a good place to go rockchuck hunting close by if you have a lot and want them gone please let me know i will be respectful of property

There aren’t rockchucks (also called the Yellow-bellied marmot) in the Siskiyou Mountains where I grew up and my first encounter with Marmota flaviventris had been the previous day at the BLM office. A lone male has taken up residence under the building’s back porch, and he comes out regularly to nibble on the lawn and or lay in the shade of the picnic table. His appearance is what you’d expect of a burrowing, high elevation rodent. Flecked gray coat with deep orange belly. Small ears, tight to a squirrel-like head. He is about the size of a chubby house cat. Under more natural circumstances, he would have probably had a small harem of females and a series of burrows amid a rock outcrop or cliff. But he seems happy and who am I to judge. He’s definitely safer.

Skeletal remains of a rock chuck, caught-up on a bush half-way up the cliff above Vineyard Lake.

It is apparently great entertainment to shoot these chubby rodents in mass, from the organized “chuck derby” to the leisurely afternoon of “yard-work” with your favorite high powered rifle. The internet is filled with photos of these marksmen shooting and posing with their vanquished and often disemboweled quarry. As Mrchuckhunter eloquently puts it in a youtube comment below, his Chuck Hunt video “Passing a 27 caliber bullet through a chuck, is a little hard on the skin holding the whole package together. Where did he go? ‘Chunks and vapor.’” According to the same man, Southern Idaho is the hotbed of rock chuck killing potential. I saw this first-hand just last weekend.

A fish biologist friend had recommended that I explore Vineyard Lake, which lays in a small box-canyon just North, off the Snake River Canyon. I started out in the early morning, parking my car at a dead-end, I crossed an irrigated pasture and followed the rim overlooking the Snake River. It was cold and the wind blew through my clothes while I trudged east. As I descended into the box canyon, a Red-tailed hawk seemed to hover in the headwind just before me (redtails cannot hover in place like the Northern Harrier) and a rock chuck gave a severe alarm whistle from somewhere within the rock scree.

Down next to the lake the wind was almost imperceptible. There was a small creek that fed into the lake and I followed it to a spring that seeped from the canyon’s walls on three sides. I ate breakfast here and read a book for several hours. Later, when I came out into the open, back at the lake, something moved on the rim across the water to my right. It was one of three men, silhouetted dark against the sky some 350 yards away. I didn’t need my binoculars to see his scoped high-powered rifle, but as I brought them to my eyes I saw him croutch and fire down into the canyon. The other men were looking down at where he’d shot, and I scrambled back into the cover of a protruding canyon wall. My heartbeat churned in a panicked rhythm. I listened and waited, unwilling to venture back into the open to alert the gunmen of my presence. Eventually they left and I climbed out of the now silenced canyon.

I am a hunter and find a fierce joy in the seasonal pursuit of Black-tailed deer through the valleys and mountains of Southern Oregon. I love hiking in at dark and trying to reach a point which, from topo lines consulted the previous evening, I believe will have a thick riparian area and just maybe, a buck. If my job were to last until hunting season here, I’m sure I would find as much joy in hunting the Pronghorn and Mule deer of Southern Idaho. However I am unable to reconcile rock chuck shooting with hunting. It lacks the mental and physical challenge of hunting. It also lacks the humanity.

As I drove home that afternoon, the radio prattled on about the gun control legislation stalled in congress. Someone came on to say that no hunter would use such tactical military arms as they where attempting to control. I thought of the gunman silhouetted on the rim above me. No real hunter perhaps, but that is not to say those guns are not used.

– Jakob Shockey

First time in the desert SW

I am doing my internship (along with 3 other interns) with the Henderson, NV-based USGS monitoring burned Desert Tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert.  We will also be working on a few other projects, but this is the one we’re starting with.  I had never been to this part of the country before, let alone the desert, so this was a huge change for me coming from Michigan!  The first thing I noticed about the desert SW was that the speed limit on the highways is 75!  Not important, I know, but it was exciting for me!  I’ve never lived in a city this big, but so far Henderson has been fun, although I’m not a fan of the traffic or the crazy drivers out here…

We spent 3 days this week in the desert just inside Arizona.  It was weird not having any trees around, but I LOVED the stars at night!  It’s amazing how much sky you can see here!  The work wasn’t bad, we hiked around on the foothills and identified and collected little tiny plants.  My neck and back are a little sore, but overall it was pretty cool to be out in the desert.

After one week on the job I’ve decided that I love mountains and I do not miss the snow that they still have back home, but I do miss trees (Joshua trees and the palm trees in the city do not count).

Spring Forward on the Road Ahead!

Without a doubt, this has been a time of transition with plenty to learn as change galloped past and scooped me up to come along for the ride!  Some aspects of transition during my internship have been publicly obvious, while others have been much more quiet and personal.

Perhaps the most immediately obvious change that came with my CLM internship was that of my work environment – an abrupt shift from the fast-paced interpersonal environment of customer service to the intensely detail-oriented and independent work I found in my internship.  This winter and spring I have had the pleasure of working with a number of fine folk from the Idaho BLM State Office and the Snake River Plains Herbarium at Boise State University.

The view from my window at the Snake River Plains Herbarium located on the Boise State University campus.

Whether at the State Office or the herbarium, I think it is safe to say that my position could be best defined by the simple phrase “data management.”  My main responsibilities revolved around preparing vouchers for the Snake River Plains Herbarium and managing information about these specimens using an Access database and collection notebook documentation.  Whether my day involved data entry, creating herbarium voucher labels, or mounting vascular plant specimens and feeling like a kid again with my hands covered in glue – one way or another I was the caretaker of information.  If accuracy was the fruit of my labor, then consistency was my desired code of operation, and “Focus!” my mantra.

At the herbarium we store our lichen specimens in envelopes which are then filed into boxes and cabinets. This specimen was collected in 1898.  Seeing how old some of our specimens are reminds me of the impact that my accuracy has not only the work I do now, but also on the work others may complete far in the future.

Another change that has taken place during the course of my internship has been a shift toward working with lichens rather than vascular plants.  This has been a great opportunity to learn all kinds of new things about a type of organism that I have hardly worked with in the past!

This is a lichen specimen I collected while snowshoeing. After keying it out at the herbarium I determined that it was a lichen common to the area called Hypogymnia imshaugii.

Spending hours of time working quietly alone has also given me the unique opportunity to learn how to be more at rest with myself – to be at ease in long silence, to focus, and to control the wanderings of my mind which inevitably wants to bound from one thought to the next.

As I wait to hear news on whether or not I have funding for the remainder of my internship, I do not know what the next week will bring.  Even as I am galloping across the landscape, I still can’t quite make out where the road heads as it leaps past the horizon – And that is ok.  If I pretended to know exactly where this adventure is heading then I suspect I would be ignoring many of the opportunities I will encounter along The Way!   As for me, wherever this adventure leads, I plan on riding forward with all the gumption I’ve got!

First month out West

Over a month has passed since I began working as a CLM intern in Carson City. I moved out here on less than a month’s notice not knowing what to expect or even if I would like it. I must say beginning botany work in an area I am completely unfamiliar with, in the desert, during winter, was a daunting task. With the help of the other interns and our mentor I have learned so much already. Multiple herbarium trips and weed surveys have helped increase my plant ID skills and familiarity of local flora.

Working in the field has definitely been my favorite part or the internship (especially those days spent in the mountains). I’ve helped establish fire transects in areas that have experienced wildfire which will be used in following years to help monitor how different plant communities respond to fire. Throughout school I’ve learned a lot about the ecological role fire plays in the landscape, but lacked some basic first hand experience. It’s been interesting working in the burn sites and trying to imagine how the community looked before and what it might look like in 50 years.

Burn site at Preacher Fire

Springtime is approaching fast and I am looking forward to an interesting year out here in Nevada.




End of Internship in Lockeford

My internship wraps up today after ten great months with the California Plant Materials Center.  When I drove out here last June, from Illinois, I had never been out West before and as I got closer to Lockeford I started feeling like I had made the wrong choice in coming here.  It certainly didn’t help that everything was so brown and dry for the summer.  However, this internship has been such a great opportunity for me and I couldn’t be happier with my experience.   I’m especially lucky that I was able to spend almost an entire year here to experience all of the seasons and a full cycle of work at the PMC.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve been able to contribute quite a bit to the work going on here.  I’ve collected seed for Seeds of Success, propagated plants in a greenhouse, pulled more weeds than I thought possible, learned to drive a tractor and forklift, written technical documents and guides, assembled irrigation systems, planted in a field for seed production, collected data for several studies, and worked on a year-long riparian restoration project with a group of high school students.

The PMC had an open house this week and I was given the opportunity to discuss a soil health study during our tours.  I’ve been in charge of organizing parts of the study implementation and collecting data, so this served as a nice culmination to my internship.

I’ve grateful for all of the support and wisdom from my mentor, Margaret, my coworkers, the other interns I’ve worked with, as well as Christina from the BLM and everyone from the Chicago Botanic Garden who made my internship possible.  I’m moving on to work for the Forest Service to survey for rare plants this summer, a few hours away in the Sierras, but I’m sure I’ll be back to visit.  I’m sad to move on, but I’m excited for what the future holds.