Like many of us, my workdays are spent collecting seed for Seeds of Success.  I enjoy working with my fellow intern, Andrew, and we’re learning a lot about the local flora.  However, on the weekends it’s another story altogether: our focus shifts from the Plant Kingdom to the Mineral Kingdom.  Utah is a rockhounding paradise!  There are about a dozen sedimentary layers exposed at different elevations as well as scattered igneous dikes/sills.  We’ve got mudstone, sandstone, conglomerates, breccia, you name it from aeolian, marine, and freshwater deposits (both lacustrine and fluvial).

A lot of what we pick up is chert on the surface, weathered out of the sedimentary deposits, but we’ve also found a few veins of chert in situ.  Beyond crystals and minerals, there are also plenty of opportunities for invertebrate fossils, if that’s your thing.

We’ve been getting a lot of use out of a geology pick as well as a set of cold chisels and a sledgehammer.  Last weekend we spent a day doing hard labor, breaking rocks hoping to find amethyst/bixbyite in vugs in rhyolite boulders.  Found a few tiny specimens worth keeping, but most of the fun is in the attempt rather than the result!

Out with the Old, In with the Green! And Other Short Stories.

A month has passed here in Las Cruces, NM and it’s made a world of difference. The sizzling, dry, fry-an-egg-on-the-asphalt heat has ended and the monsoon season has swept in in all its humid, thundering glory. While most of the country languished under a heat spell I laughed evilly at our good fortune of days in the high 80s! (Sorry, rest of country). Grasses and wildflowers are pushing themselves out of the soil and the ocotillos have leafed out. Green! Praise Gaia! Eli and I had been feeling somewhat pathetic about our two seed collections, but realized that the record number of collections for Las Cruces teams in July WERE only two. Onto brighter, greener things in August!
Besides the collections, we’ve had a few other interesting endeavors. Mike, our mentor, has been our guide on a grand tour of New Mexico! Using our GIS greenness index coupled with continuously updated precipitation data we’ve been to the Bootheel, Otero Mesa, Socorro, the plains of Augustine, Carlsbad, and Lordsburg (and everywhere in between) to monitor possible collections and look for green spots. I’ve learned that there is quite a formula to finding seeds: knowing what species are where, utilizing records of past collection locations and dates, monitoring rainfall and greenness, and scoping out locations while indulging in the finest gas station junk food.

In addition to getting a lay of the land, I’ve learned quite a bit about the multi-faceted nature of the BLM. Ranching on public lands is widespread throughout New Mexico and range management specialists appear to make up the majority of the BLM staff. If not managed properly, cattle can graze an allotment down to the dirt and the land suffers from erosion and invasion from unpleasant, inedible plant species. Especially in years of drought, like the last three in New Mexico, many ranchers let their stressed cattle overgraze public lands to the chagrin of many BLMers and the public. It’s annoying and depressing to drive through a dust storm and realize “there goes the topsoil” of the nearby field.

Another large stakeholder in public lands is the oil and gas industry. We just drove through a huge oil and gas field in Carlsbad first developed about seventy years ago. It’s a dramatically altered landscape, with wells and grasshopper-like pumps chugging away as far as the eye can see. Of course it’s not a beautiful sight, and one could easily say “This is horrible! Oil and gas development is horrible for the ecosystem!”. But I recognize the BLM’s efforts to keep the drilling concentrated when in theory, there could be wells spread out all over public lands. And as long as consumers demand petroleum and gas, someone has to provide them.

Also, we recently went to a meeting at the Santa Fe State Office where a private company (or mash of a few companies) was pitching its skills and resources in performing habitat restoration with native plant materials. It was incredibly interesting to hear the about their network of professionals (biologists, archeologists, landscape architects, etc.) and access to dozens of small nurseries focused on growing native, to-order plants for restoration. There were talks of restoring a farm in northern New Mexico as a demonstration garden focusing on restoration techniques and possibilities that the public and private sector could visit and reference. All in all, quite a few exciting things could be happening in terms of restoration in the near future.

One other thing from our trip to Santa Fe stuck out- I overheard a manager say, “If they aren’t mad at us-we obviously haven’t done our job!” He was jokingly referencing the difficulty in managing various stakeholders and their desires for the use of public lands. The interests of ranchers, energy companies, and recreation enthusiasts (and more) seem to rarely coincide (obviously). The BLM’s role in crafting use plans for its millions of acres of lands never completely pleases any stakeholder. But I can attest to the fact that BLMers are reasonable human beings who have to make tough calls when caught between various powerful interest groups.

On a more personal note, the last month has brought some difficulties as well. It’s hard to shift from college and being surrounded daily by friends to a completely new place and atmosphere. And other things are difficult too, like why won’t mom and dad pay my rent anymore?! (Haha, just kidding mother) My and Eli’s little isolated casita at the base of the Organ Mountains is gorgeous, but offers little possibility for human interaction. I’m starting to practice my harmonica, making epic desserts, planning cheese and bread-making, writing letters (oh my goodness people still do that?!), and enjoying every million-dollar sunset. It’s quite a change, but a good one and I’m sure it will only get better.
PS- Coolest place ever- the Very Large Array in the Plains of Augustine- makes me wish I was an astronomer!

The eensy weensy VLA (from far away)

Till August,

Windy Bugs – new intern and birding!

The future of our wind farm sites looks like this.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!  First, a new CLM intern has joined the Windy Bugs crew – Laura Super.  We have been introducing her to our field sites and Laramie.

Laura Super (L) and I near our camping site.

It is really drying up around here.  While we’ve had some rain and hail in Laramie, our Choke Cherry site was so dry that our floral surveys were VERY easy this trip.  We did collect lots of bees and other insects, and saw one beautiful milkweed.

Aaron equipped with cyanide tubes and a funnel

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a short birding trip with WYNDD ornithologist Michael Wickens.  We went into the Snowy range near Medicine Bow peak.  It was absolutely gorgeous and a great chance to see some different Wyoming landscapes, insects, and birds.  Since my bird ID skills are pretty much non-existant, it was great to be with an expert and see how bird point counts are done while trying to learn some songs and calls.

Michael Wickens listens for birds in a meadow

I was fortunate enough to see a number of interesting birds, including three-toed woodpeckers, mountain chickadees, a ruby-crowned kinglet, and grosbeaks.  Since the mountains are much wetter than the sagebrush-dominated areas I work in, there were many more visible arthropods out and about.

A wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis)

A Syrphid fly

Cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae)

A female wolf spider (Lycosidae) with an egg sac

The wildlife on this trip was certainly exciting, but the plant life was amazing as well!  I got to see two native orchids, a beautiful bright pink Castilleja, Columbines, and some lovely alpine plants.

Parasitic orchid Corallorhiza maculata

Platanthera dilatata, another native orchid

Castilleja rhexifolia

I had such a wonderful time in the Snowies, despite the mosquitoes, that I plan to go camping and hiking there next weekend.  Before that, we’re headed back to our Sierra Madre site tomorrow morning!


Starting a New Project…..

After a well deserved vacation involving a trip back home to Chicago, an ArcGIS course and a wedding (not mine); I find my self getting ready to return to work. Having just finished that ArcGIS online course I have been spending my free time trying to get my hand on any and all books that could enlighten me on even more creative uses of this program for biologists. With all this new found knowledge I have gained I am ready and anticipating a new project.  Upon returning to the office, my project is set before me! The next question is, can I do it?

At first my heart plummets as the project is explained to me. The sudden drop my heart does is not due to disappointment with being assigned a boring project, or even one that doesn’t related to my interest, the plummet my heart takes is caused by the intensity of the project. The project is exactly what I wanted, an outlet to try my newfound knowledge in ArcGIS and continue expanding my repertoire of R commands, but now sitting in front of my mentors, the task seems overly daunting. The explanation is peppered with statistical and technical terms I have never heard of and requests to “write an application” figure out the best algorithm”, and “obviously make sure to statistical analyze your models using an AIC”. As the mentors leave with promises of getting me a few papers and the data sets, I sit there in shell shock. The world is spinning around me.  Doubt slowly creeps in, the fear of failure blinds me. I take a deep breath. Focus. I’ve got this.

This brings me to a small tangent. BIOLOGISTS NEED MORE MATH in their training. I know that oftentimes students get to choose some of the courses and one could specialize in math, but what about the core courses? I do not particularly like math, but as I am working on different projects as an ecologist I have been reminded how essential truly understanding statistics is to experimental design. Statistician and GIS professionals are good at what they do, but oftentimes don’t seem to be able to grasp the underlying biological concepts to be to too much use to biologist. So, in essence, I think that this is just my little wake-up call to each and everyone of you to become a stronger biologist by solidifying an intimate knowledge of statistics, modeling and programming. I did not think I would be going back to school (I just finished my Masters), but it seems that this intership might have gotten me super stoked about ecological modeling. Any good programs you guys can recommend?

Anyway, my mentor soon returns with a thumb drive loaded with all sorts of goodies. Welcome back!, The equivletant of 3 to4″ inch manila folders filled with reading and data sets gets thrown on my desk.

The key, and hardest parts to succeeding at this project is starting. With that in mind, I start out with determining what exactly AIC actually stands for and how do I use it to analyze my models.

With the help of The R coding Hand book and Wikipedia (oh, how students I TA’d would love to yell at me for this as I once did to them) I compiled a little fact sheet about AIC curves

I do not expect this to be very useful to you guys but since I wrote it out for myself I figured I would not be selfish and share it.

 AIC Definition, History and R coding

The Akaike information criterion also known as AIC is a measure of the relative quality of a statistic model for a certain set of data. It is, more officially a “statistic trade as a penalized log-likelihood”. It looks at the complexity and goodness of fit allowing a means for model selection. It is important to remember that this criterion can not test a hypothesis or provide an absolute test telling us how good the models fit the data; it just tells you which ones fit better. It was published in 1974 by Hirotuga Akaike; this was in Japanese and was not widely known. Only in 2002 was it published in English by Burhams & Anderson.

The AIC is:

K=#of parameters in model

L=max value of likeligood function for the models

 *Best models is the one with the lowest AIC, and simple is better ( too many parameters in an equation is penalized while goodness of fit is sought after)

**Only used with large sample sizes (number of models) there is a correction if you want to correct for a finite sample size(AICc)

In practice once you have calculated the AIC criterion for your models then you have to decide which ones minimize the amount of data you lose. This is done by looking at the relative probability of the model in question minimizing information loss, aka ((AICmin-AIC)/2).


#Getting AIC

Data<-read.table(“—–”, header=T)

attach( data)

name(data) # the names are growth and tannin, lets pretend

model<-lm(growth~tannin) #this is to work out the linear regression model for this data in R

#now to define all the variable in the equation

N<-length (growth)

sse<- sum((growth-fitted(model))^2)

s2<- sse/(n-2)


            #computing log likelihood


#not to calculate the AIC, -2* loglikelihood+ 2(p+1)

-2 *(insert your loglik number)+ 2(number of parameters+1)

# Once you have this the AIC you want to compare them to each other

model.1<- lm(Fruit~Grazing*Root)


AIC(model.1, model.2)

#if you have more than two models you do this:

models<-list(model1, model2, model3, model4)

aic<- unlist (lapply (models,AIC) #this extracts the aic, aic will be a vector in which you can search for the minimum.

More on this project to come. See you next time! That is, if the monsoons do not wash me and my computer away.



Hello again from Dillon, MT. I cannot believe that it has already been a month since I last posted. Time is really flying, and I am grateful for the time spent here. My mentor and I have been kicking butt and establishing tons of upland and riparian trend monitoring within the Medicine Lodge watershed on our district. The monitoring is recommended based on the results of an environmental assessment completed on the watershed. Most monitoring is riparian related and based on the outcome of the Proper Functioning Condition stream assessments (or PFC). If a stream is rated as lower than PFC, (Nonfunctioning or functioning at risk) management changes are put into place in an attempt at restoring the riparian and spring areas. Some management changes I have seen involve the construction of a fence or spring exclosure, which usually keeps cattle, and not wildlife out of the area. Sometimes if the manager sees fit, a spring will be developed to support a water trough which directs cattle away from the riparian areas, but also provides a steady supply of drinking water. Pasture rest rotation or shorter grazing cycles can be another management change that gives the area time to heal over the growing season. Trend monitoring is another way to monitor grazing allotments and see change over time before having the need to implement more strict management changes. When deciding these management changes, the resource managers must work with grazing permitees.

I am really happy to be working for this district, because they put a huge emphasis on the importance of watershed management and the proper care of riparian areas. My next task will be completing Montana Riparian and Wetland Assesments (MRWA) which also relates to updating rangeland EAs. A lot of camping and stream walking is involved in completing MRWAs. Other than that, I am really enjoying the scenery and looking forward to starting graduate school at Oregon State University in the Fall. Until next time,


Dillon, MT 

Goodbye, D.C. beltway (I don’t miss your traffic one bit), hello Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway!

Going from one of the muggier parts of the country to one of the driest has been one of the more dramatic transitions that I’ve experienced since starting my internship here at the Bishop BLM—not that I’ve had much time to process it. It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been here for three weeks…or is it hard to believe that it’s only been three weeks? Coming in at the height of field season has made for a hectic—and exciting—first month on the job, and I’ve been having a blast.

As someone who has spent most of her life within ten hours of the East Coast, shrub diversity was never something I paid much attention to (not with so many interesting trees overshadowing their diminutive counterparts). Here in the scrublands, however, shrubs rule supreme, and I have spent a lot of time these past few weeks learning to distinguish between bitterbrush and sagebrush, wax currants (Ribes cereum) and desert gooseberry (Ribes velutinum), horsebrushes and rabbitbrushes (not to mention rabbitbrushes and rabbitbrushes). Especially interesting is spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), a medium-sized shrub that is found throughout Eastern California. The showiest parts of the plant are not its flowers, but rather the seed-bearing bracts—small, colorful structures that look like a cross between a petal and a leaf. In the spring, the bracts are bright pink; as they dry, they turn yellow and crispy. And as the first plant that I collected seeds from for SOS, hopsage is definitely one of my favorite plants to run across in the field.

The most challenging shrub identification task we have to tackle on a regular basis is teasing apart the different sagebrushes. Distinguishing between low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula) and smaller big sagebrush individuals (Artemisia tridentata) can be tricky, but it gets especially complicated when you try to separate out the three subspecies of big sagebrush: big basin sagebrush, Wyoming big sagebrush, and mountain big sagebrush. And did I mention that they hybridize? But it turns out that these distinctions matter, and not just to someone interested in taxonomy. These subspecies are chemically distinct, and it makes a difference to the nesting sage grouse that use these shrubs as both shelter for their nests and a critical food source during nesting season. This is one of the coolest parts of my job—getting to work on a variety of projects, most of which depend on each other in some way and really get at the interactions between animal species of interest and the plant communities that they depend on.

Sage grouse nest in a hopsage bush

Until next time!

Rain? In the Desert?

The past month has been full of new adventures, including our first time working under Jeff, on the plant component of our internship. We have had two visits from a group of contract fishers out of Tempe, AZ [and I apologize for not knowing the name of that company]. They come into Bonita Creek and act as a high-effort and high-impact fish removal squad. On a typical overnight set of our nets, Heidi, Rosalee and I typically set out a maximum of 120 nets per trip. These contractors set 500+ nets each night and camp in the area in order to set for 2-3 nights in a row. This allows them to remove fish from a greater area, and in greater numbers, than our BLM staff is capable of doing.

Bonita Creek had begun drying up in a lot of places. Some of the drying pools contained native fish that Heidi wanted us to move to pools that were more likely to stick around until the monsoons came in to raise the water levels. On the day we were out in Bonita Creek cleaning out some drying pools I was stung in the finger by a bee of some kind. I am not allergic (luckily), but I have since learned that you are not supposed to just grab the stinger and pull it out (like I did). This squeezes extra venom into the wound and will greatly increase your body’s reaction to the sting. Needless to say I was surprised when I woke up the next morning to a finger that was so swollen that I could not bend it at all!! I was on Benedryl, elevating my hand and keeping ice on it for 2.5 days before I was able to bend my finger normally again! It wasn’t how I intended to spend the better part of my 4th of July time off, but what can you do?

The Monday after the 4th of July weekend, we traveled for almost two hours to a site along the Gila River called York Canyon. Here we performed electro-fishing monitoring of fish populations. We then turned our sights to preparing for our upcoming weekend “camping” trip. We participated in a restoration planting weekend alongside members of the Sky Island Alliance and the Nature Conservancy in Turkey Creek and Cobra Ranch (in/near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness). We spent the preceding week testing and coiling over 600 feet of garden hose and loading trucks full of plants and a product called DriWater. So much cool stuff happened over the course of that weekend and I took so many pictures that I plan to have another post just about that trip (coming soon, I promise).

We have also participated in a Spring Snail survey with Arizona Game and Fish staff on BLM lands. I also spent a couple days calibrating and constructing a Rain/Temperature Gauge that will eventually be deployed at a site called Sands Draw in order for our supervisors to get a more accurate representation of local precipitation levels received by restoration plantings in the area. The most recent project that we have started is a re-organization of our office’s Herbarium. Over the years, specimens have gotten out of order, mis-numbered and mis-entered in our database. It will be a fairly long term project that we will complete before we leave to get everything updated and organized. I know it might be strange, but I enjoy semi-grueling organizational tasks, so I am excited to be working on this during our office time! We are also using this herbarium collection to learn to identify our Seeds of Success Target Species for this year. Once we are able to identify these species (and the rains slow down) we will begin SOS scouting, and further down the line, collection of native seed materials.

And now for something COMPLETELY different: Who knew that the desert could be this HUMID? Well, this California girl certainly didn’t!! June 28th, monsoon season was off to a bang with a huge thunder and lightning storm that passed right by our house. We went to take the dogs for a walk before it started raining too hard and at one point we had lightning strikes on all four sides of our complex. For the next two weeks straight, we had storms roll through nearly every evening. It was pretty incredible to lie down in bed and have the room lit up sporadically by lightning strikes. I have seen lightning in every hue, from white, to blue to orange, and in so many fascinating patterns.

Storm clouds near Cobra Ranch at Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE thunder and lightning, but I highly don’t approve of the humidity that comes with them. Give me dry heat over 105 any day rather than being in the mid-90s and 50% humidity. It just makes you sweat like crazy!! [Or as my boss Heidi says, “Women don’t sweat, we glow”, so GLOW like crazy.] The toughest part of the humidity is that it stops our evaporative swamp cooler in our trailer from cooling down the air. It will still move the air, but it’s not cold by any stretch of the imagination. I actually look forward to driving into town/home from work because my car has actual AC and I can feel cold air!!

It’s hard to believe that with the timesheet I turned in last week, I have completed over half of my hours for this internship. With weekend plans filling up between now and the end of September, I somehow feel like the rest of this experience is just going to blow by! I am still enjoying everything I am learning and doing and I hope to absorb all I can in the last two months I have here!

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ

Photos of adventures in Wyoming

We sampled insect traps to assess the diversity  of insect pollinators. Above shows Aaron and Sadie checking the traps.

Nearby the insect traps, our team searched in quadrats for open flowers. Often, however, the sampled quadrats did not have many flowers in bloom at this dry time of year.

After collecting in the field, we spent time in the lab processing insect samples and pinning. Shown under the microscope, here is an Agapostemon sp. that I pinned.

Before pinning, insect samples from the field were sorted, dried, and cleaned. For each sample, insects were carefully removed from filter paper onto a white sheet of paper (for constrast). Forceps, a paintbrush, and a hand lens were useful tools for processing.

Here are some pinned insects with the sample tags. The pinned insects are beautiful to look at, and important for science — but, for many reasons, I definitely prefer living insects over pinned ones.




The past few weeks have been super productive here in the Buffalo Field Office. My SOS coworker Nick and I have so far completed 18 collections and in doing so have honed our GPS abilities, rancher communications, and knowledge of Wyoming grasses and seed ripeness. I’ve gotten completely lost, but thankfully found my way back, and have been working so hard I’m exhausted everyday I return to the office. But it’s the best kind of internship I could ask for.

Besides seed collections, I got the amazing opportunity to hike with some BLMers and people from the University of Wyoming into the Gardner Wilderness Study area near Barnum. The first day we did limber pine monitoring in the area looking for rust, adelgids, and overall health. The second day, the recreation planner and I embarked on the most epic hike of my life. Literally nothing could prepare me for the hike it was. Imagine looking at a cliff face and thinking “there’s no way anyone could ascend that” and then realize that you will have to, and you must find a way. We hiked for 10.5 hours (only 8.3 miles) mapping the route and looking for any public activity. We hiked down a dry creek, alongside bear trap creek, up a steep drainage (with some skilled rock climbing) of a canyon and back down, alongside more of bear trap creek and back up the other side of the canyon through prickly bushes to our camp. We came across breathtaking views and a couple mountain lion dens where I found an awesome elk skull with a five point rack. I returned to the office today scraped up (my legs look like the product of Freddy Kruger) and extremely sore, but also very proud of myself and gained another awesome experience with my coworkers and the BLM.

-Kelly Thomas


We have changed gears and focused our efforts towards beautifying our office. The landscapers hired to plant flowers and grasses around the office didn’t exactly put their best foot forward, to put it nicely. As a result, most of the plants died leaving the office with barren, dry, dusty soil. So Sheila had the idea to create native flowers and pollinator garden beds. These last 2 weeks have been dedicated to building said beds. This project was a nice reprieve from collecting seeds. I got a chance to get back to the activity I love to do: garden. I had forgotten how much I loved it actually. Jacob, Sheila, and I didn’t do all of the work. We have to give many thanks to the Youth Conservation Corps guys for their tireless efforts in helping us lay rock around the beds and build trails around the office.

Putting the finishing touches:

Fourteen tons of rock from Arizona, 2.5 truck beds of mulch, and over 170 native plants later here is the finish product: