Hello all! I am writing from a town of roughly 3,000 people in Kemmerer, WY. Kemmerer is settled in south western Wyoming about 7,000 ft above sea level and less than a half hour from the borders of Utah and Idaho. It is known as the “Fossil Fish Capitol of the World.” I have only been here for about a week and a half and I have been through a decent amount of culture shock due to the different environment (this is coming from someone from outside of Philadelphia, PA and had never been past Cleveland, OH). I came during an “unusual” wet period which included an inch of snow in June and 4-5 storms that produced decent sized hail! Luckily, it seems to have moved on from this unusual weather and gone back to the normal dry, 70 degree temperatures.

My first week at the BLM started out on Monday meeting everyone, filling out paperwork, and important safety information. Tuesday included a full day of CPR and First Aid training. I finally got my first taste of the field on Wednesday. It was a long day filled with riparian studies in a small portion of the allotments for the ranchers. A rather large crew had gotten together to start to tackle some of the many streams located in the Kemmerer field office range. These streams had not been assessed since 1997. The riparian studies had included taking multiple GPS points, recording green line inventories, many pictures for future references, and finally, proper functioning conditions (rating the overall health of the streams). I really didn’t know why all of this information was important until the last stream of the day. This stream was in the worst condition. It had been affected by rail road tracks, a new bridge, and the highway that was down stream. It had horrible formation and no riparian vegetation growing on the banks. This was a perfect example of a poorly functioning stream. Thursday was supposed to be a continuation of Wednesday. This was not the case due to rain followed by an inch of snow on the ground in the morning. Instead, I had gone to a seminar and learned about the GPS unit I will be using throughout my internship. Once the seminar was over, my mentor handed me 3 maps, names of certain landmarks and towns, and told me to find them. When I found them on the map, he handed me the keys to his truck and told me, “Now, use the maps and go find them in person.” This gave me a chance to use my map reading skills and to get used to the area covered by the field office. After a day of the trails drying out, I was on my way back out in the field on Friday to locate some of the green line areas. I was aiding one of the range management specialists with the GPS unit to take points so we could come back at a future day. It was almost like finding a needle in a haystack due to massive growth of vegetation around the posts. Eventually, we had found all but two of the green line posts-which is pretty good considering they hadn’t been checked in 13 years!

This is one of the streams we assessed.

This is one of the streams we assessed.

Wheat Creek Meadows, BLM Land-One of the places I was sent out to find.

Wheat Creek Meadows, BLM Land-One of the places I was sent out to find.

Me at the top of Fossil Butte National Monument, the Fossil Fish Capitol of the world.

Me at the top of Fossil Butte National Monument, the Fossil Fish Capitol of the world.

Although I have only been working for one week, I have a feeling I will be enjoying my 5 month stay with the BLM. Once I adjust to the high altitude and the time change, I might not want to go back! For now though, I will take it day by day.

Larry Ashton
Kemmerer, WY

I’ve been doing this in WY for 5 weeks now and having fun! I get to hike around beautiful country looking for plants. It’s nice to use the training I received in school in a professional forum and it’s fun to learn about new plants. The SOS program is somewhat unorganized and I was left to handle a lot of logistics and details that would have taken less time if they had been done before my arrival. For instance I had to formulate the target plant list myself, and not being from Wyoming, I am not familiar with the plants yet. I had to do all the research on the plants, i.e. species description, phenology, location and range, including finding resources with this information. I also had to come up with a list of supplies and coordinate the purchasing of them. As a result we likely missed some of the earlier seedling plants. But the internship as a whole is very fun and everyone I met has been incredibly nice.

Singing Sands and awesome plants!

We’ve been focusing on willow plantings and scouting for plant populations for the seeds of success program for the past few weeks. We’ve also been preparing for outreach events on Memorial Day weekend at Sand Mountain.
We planted a large amount of willow cuttings from previous interns at the site of the Red Rock Fire. This site has been part of a large rehabilitation effort for the past couple of years. We are trying to control erosion along a stream bank by planting these willows to stop the sediment from washing away. Since we finished this site in super speedy, due to the efficiency of our intern team, we ended up heading back towards Carson City to plant willows in a site known as Winter’s Ranch in Washoe Valley.
After this planting, we spent some time scouting for wildflower populations and different potential collections sites for the seeds of success program. This gave us an exciting time to independently explore and identify the plants growing in the Winter’s Ranch site. We found some interesting species including a healthy population of the native Penstemon rybergii, Ranunculus aquatilis, and a few types of paintbrushes. The botanist in me was itching to ID some of the beautiful plants we’ve seen blooming all over our sites. Although I spend a lot of my free town in the mountains and hills with keys or field guides, I was incredibly happy for a chance to key out plants on the job.
Right now we are preparing for an outreach event at the popular ATV and dirt bike riding spot known as Sand Mountain. This mountain has a fascinating geologic history. It is a giant, isolated, inland dune in Nevada. Sand Mountain is unique because it is one of seven dunes in the world that can “sing.” This singing dune produces a booming, whirring, or squeaking noise often compared to the noise of a propeller plane. This occurs when a large amount of sand sloughs off from an angle of repose. Sadly, this unique feature is hard to notice due to the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) that have deteriorated this crucial angle of repose as well as the noise of the engines overpowering the song of the mountain. Sand Mountain is also home of the endemic sand mountain blue butterfly (Euphilotes pallescens arenamontana) which is specialized to a species of buckwheat that occurs in the area. The debate about listing this species as threatened was a very hot topic just a few years ago and still, there is much controversy surrounding Sand Mountain. Until now, most of the outreach we have done has been with environmentally friendly crowds at earth day events or with easily fascinated kids. It will be interesting to try to connect with a new audience and listen, first hand, to the thoughts of the public, even if they may oppose the actions of BLM. Plus, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, in the darkness of night when I’m curled up in my sleeping bag and all the OHV riders have worn themselves out and turned off their engines, I’ll be lucky enough to hear sand cascading off of the mountain and listen to the lullaby of the shifting earth.
P.S. I’ve included a link to an audio recording of Sand Mountain. Just scroll down and the first “Sound Recording” link on this page is of Sand Mountain.

Change of Seasons; Change of Pace

We are nearing the end of our field season here in Buffalo, Wyoming and will soon be back in the office working on filing and entering our range data into a new online database. After finishing monitoring grazing allotments a few weeks back, we have been able to work on several exciting field projects, such as carrying out riparian monitoring at a newly acquired recreation site along the Tongue River. This project allowed us to learn some new monitoring protocols and to brush up on our riparian plants. We were also lucky enough to help a fellow SOS intern with a Limber Pine project up in the Big Horn Mountains. For this project, we scouted out mature, healthy Limber Pine individuals that showed low infection levels of white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle. The individuals we recorded and marked will be used for field inventory and cone collections next year, which we hope will help conserve the genetic diversity of these unique populations.

With a noticeable fall chill in the air I have become all too aware of how quickly this internship is passing by, however it has been nice to reflect on all the new skills, experiences, and friendships I have developed over the summer. I am excited to continue building on all have learned over the coming fall months of this internship!

Using photo boards to assess woody species regeneration

Riparian monitoring along the Tongue River



Learning Learning Learning

There has been a lot to absorb this past month and a half working at the BLM District in Eastern Oregon. The whole comprehensive view on what the BLM does and is trying to accomplish is extremely interesting to learn about. My mentor has given the other intern and me an opportunity to explore the different sectors of BLM. Going out into the field and talking with the other workers who comprise the Vale BLM district has given me a great perspective on government work and the ins and outs of what needs to be done to get projects accomplished. So far I have learned getting anything done is a big balancing act of budget, meeting environmental standards, and pleasing the public. So far, from my point of view (only just getting my foot in the door), it appears that the district is understaffed for the amount of land and work that needs to be managed…I just don’t know how anything will get done properly, thoroughly, or efficiently with the amount of money and employees present.

Aside from the overall view of what has been happening, I have been learning a lot here. My plant identification skills have improved drastically, I have been able to work with GIS and improve upon that, and finally hiking just about everywhere has been great. Most of the days are spent doing sensitive plant monitoring. The other intern and I have been on our own to navigate, identify species, assess the habitat, and learn how to monitor the different sites. Learning how to properly assess land and determine the quality of it has been the most interesting so far. What plants species need to be present? Are there many invasives? What about the state of erosion? … There are so many different variables involved and so much to learn. On other days, we are able to go out and search for possible collection sites for SOS. Also, we have been able to work with a private contractor and set up long term climate monitoring plots on a few of the Resource natural Areas here on BLM land. We just started with this and will be going out next week to learn how they monitor the sites.

Overall, this past month and a half has been a lot to take in, but I have enjoyed every minute of it learning.

Bitterroot Flower

I have a new favorite plant, the Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva). What I have learned about this plant is that the roots were consumed by Native American tribes such as the Shoshone and the Flathead Indians. Since I am stationed at the Shoshone ID field office I was interested to learn that the Shoshone Indians believed the small red core of the taproot had the power to be able to stop a bear attack. So, since I am out traipsing around in the mountains of Idaho, I am going to eat a little of the bitterroot plant to protect me. Couldn’t hurt right!

Leaving to Come Home

It’s been a full year since I moved to Patagonia, Arizona – a full cycle of flowering plants and migrating creatures of all sizes. Over this past year, I’ve become more in touch with the natural cycles and flows than ever before. I tally passing time by what’s in flower and which winged creature is hanging out in my back yard.

Two weeks ago, I left my home in Patagonia for the Seeds of Success training up in Boise, Idaho. I left early in the morning with three other trainees for a two day trek up the Rockies to the Snake River Plain. Along the way we passed through many ecozones: juniper woodlands, high desert plains, salt flats, pine forests, and sagebrush steppe. It was a teaser to be able to drive through these unique ecosystems without having the ability to dedicate the time these areas deserved to explore.

Once arriving in Bosie, I was refreshed to encounter enthusiastic young conservationists, restorationists, ecologists and land managers from all over the west coast. I was lucky enough to connect with naturalists from Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana and discuss the ecosystems we all hailed from.

While in Idaho, I was able to become familiar with the natural world – the native plants and animals that call the Snake River Plain home. I was impressed to find many flora and fauna that were familiar to me, the exact species that I have been working with in Patagonia.

Patagonia rests in a riparian corridor within the Madrean Archipelago – a convergence zone of 5 ecozones. I noticed which species seep down the Rockies from Canada to my home: Aquilegia spp (columbines), Ribes aureum (golden currant), Fallugia paradoxa (apache-plume), Penstemon spp (penstemon), Prunus virginiana (chokecherry), Bouteloua spp (grama grasses), Glandularia spp (verbena), and many others. I feel more connected with my home now that I know the path of many of my neighbors.

Adventures on the High Desert!

This week had been very short, but it was full of adventure!

Both Dan (other intern) and I went out into the field to establish a new site for monitoring. We went to an area that had a recent fire and had been treated with a special type of herbicide. The site did have Bromus tectorum (cheat grass), but there was an amazing amount of plant diversity. There was a large amount of Poa secunda (sandberg bluegrass), Lupinus caudatus (tailcup lupine), Astragalus filipes (basalt milkvetch), Phlox longifolia (long leaf phlox), Artemisia arbscula (low sagebrush), and Lonactis alpina (lava aster). There were many other species as well. We were doing a survey of the area and established the plot. During this time, it was raining and hailing, with periods of sunshine (typical Steens weather <_< ) . We were getting hammered, but we were able to complete the forms and make observations. On our way down the large hill, the soil was very loamy. It was clinging to our boots, so it seemed like we were gliding (slipping with style) down the hill. Unfortunately, I wore tennis shoes (WHICH YOU SHOULD NEVER WEAR IN THE FIELD) and my feet were completely drenched…and muddy. Anyways!!! We made it and recorded the necessary information!

This was our first area where we established a plot to monitor plants.

The next day we went out into the field to look for three sensitive plant species (plants of concern). Don’t worry! We did not hurt their feelings…well maybe one of them. We were assigned to look for Stanleya confertiflora (Biennial stanleya), Trifolium leibergii (Leiberg’s clover), and Eriogonum cusickii (Cusick’s buckwheat). The first plant was the biennial stanleya. This plant was “supposed” to be located on the northwest slope on gravely loam soil. We found a large amount of Taeniatherum caput-medusae (Medusahead rye), but no biennial stanleya… There were cool Castilleja, Atriplex, and Astragalus species present. When we were heading back to our vehicle we heard a bull cow moo for 15 seconds. He was challenging another bull. They both had a moo war and then went their own ways.

The biennial Stanleya was nowhere to be found…we went in search of the next plant, Trifolium leibergii (Leiberg’s clover). We followed the map to the site. We were shocked! O_O These clover species were located all over the place! We filled out the appropriate forms and took many pictures. This clover species was very well adapted to the surroundings! They had thorny leaves and were very tough. They had an elongated root system, which made it tough to gather a herbarium specimen. (Side note: The pronghorn in the distance looked at us surveying before returning to their Poa and Artemisia diet.) The second plant had a healthy population, unfortunately they were only found in a limited area.

This was the clover species we were monitoring! Trifolium leibergii

We moved onto the next plant, Eriogonum cusickii (Cusick’s buckwheat). This plant was found near the BLM office and found in a small area. We stopped along the road. When we exited the vehicle, the plant was right there! There were many specimens, but they were only limited to this area. We also caught a horny toad (Common name known…still don’t know the latin name…) We saw a bigger population of Cusick’s buckwheat on the other side of the barb wire fence on BLM land. I did the limbo underneath the barb wire fence and made it to the other side. We took pictures and filled out another survey form. We also practiced our botany by identifying unknown species in the field. This day was very productive! We found two of the three plants! The last day we spent our time in the BLM office to catch up on our paperwork and get established with the GIS metadata and software.

This was the third plant we were monitoring. Eriogonum cusickii

This was a horny toad we captured and released.

Beyond the work for the BLM, I decided to go rock-hounding in three places. Two places were located near Burns, Oregon and the other place was located near Plush, Oregon. The first two places had special green obsidian, petrified wood, and agates. I got a shovel full of green, black, and striped obsidian. The obsidian place was located twelve miles northwest of town. A large amount of land was covered with black obsidian. I took note of the Artemisia (sagebrush) species that were being defoliated by the aroga moth. I took some obsidian specimens and went to the Narrows where I could find petrified wood.  I did get lost in the Narrows, but I eventually made it to the area. The area had many specimens of agate and petrified wood!

The third area I went rock-hounding was a place near a town called Plush, Oregon, which was located near Lakeview, Oregon. This area was known for sunstones, which was a special kind of plagioclase feldspar that could be used for jewelry.  I collected fifty specimens that were the size of a thumbnail or smaller. During my collecting time I heard three massive explosions that made my ears ring! I had to lay on the ground and look to where the sound was coming from. I was in the middle of nowhere and I did not see what was causing the explosive noise. My theory was that there were military jets breaking the sound barrier overhead, thus causing the very loud noise.

After my collection of sunstones, I talked with some miners that were in the area and got an interesting view on the politics of the area. They were all once in the military and are now mining at different claims in Oregon and Alaska. They were super nice and talked about the BLM and how helpful they were. Eventually, I left the sunstone area to get some gas and I managed to get a flat tire on the way to Plush, Oregon. I finally made it to the gas station as my tire went flat. I got help from a local cowboy and managed to get the spare tire on. The spare tire was deflated, so I was directed to go to the fire station to get the tire pumped up. The fire fighter who was present with his wife helped with the tire. I was thankful that I got the help from the cowboy and the couple. I had to avoid the rocky obsidian roads and go the long way back home. I went to Lakeview, Oregon and traveled north by the alkali lakes present in the region. The American Avocet must love this part of the state. (They love to eat the shrimp and insects found within the alkali lakes) The sun was setting and I finally made it back home.

This was the obsidian I found!!!!

These are sunstones!!!! (The clear looking rock…and no… they are not quartz or calcite.)

This week was full of adventure! The other intern and I established our first plot, we monitored three (well two) sensitive plant species and I found many different rock samples for my collection. It was an interesting week, but now I am tired. OH! I have to prepare for tomorrow! We will be using GIS software to create maps for our future monitoring sites! O_O

Summer in Fairbanks

Non-native Invasive White sweetclover (Photo courtesy of J. McMillan, BLM)

Summer got a slow start this year. It was snowing and below freezing until 2 weeks ago…and last week it was 80 F and our leaves popped out overnight. So, needless to say, the invasive weeds that are the focus of my fieldwork have yet to grow. In the office, I have been busy filling the various training requirements of the federal government: first aid, cpr, aviation safety, ATV safety, Arc Map/Pad, Bear safety, defensive driving….to name a few!

My past experience with working for the federal government was with the National Park Service. The BLM has a much different feel. I like that it is a multiple use agency because resource managers are not as tightly constrained by parks and wilderness protections; such as with my project, which is managing invasive weeds along the Dalton Highway.

The Dalton Hwy is a rough, industrial road that begins 84 miles north of Fairbanks and ends 414 miles later in Deadhorse, the industrial camp at Prudhoe Bay. It provides a rare opportunity to traverse a remote, unpopulated part of Alaska. It has been estimated that invasive weeds such as bird vetch and white sweetclover have been advancing northward into previously uninfested habitats, most abundantly along the roadside. These plants are also finding their way into other areas by way of burned (disturbed) areas adjacent to the roadside and by river transport. Additional vectors include maintenance activities, commercial transport and tourist/resident populations. This summer I will be conducting inventories of all white sweetclover and monitoring known infestations of the other HIGH PRIORITY invasive weeds (priority is based on their invasiveness).

I am looking forward to getting out in the field and bringing back stories from the arctic far north of Alaska. Until then, I wish you all the best of experiences in your internships.