Post-Fire Restoration

Hi –

For the past two weeks the other interns and I have been working long hours in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. We’re monitoring six large plots in an area of the Hidden Valley that have been burned repeatedly. I learned early in the internship that desert landscapes, once degraded, take a long time to regenerate the diversity and habitat structure once present. In an area that has been repeatedly burned, with a particularly harsh wildfire sweeping through the area in 2011, the native species on the landscape have had little luck regenerating. And in the meantime, of course, invasive species like Bromis grass have taken over the landscape, making it doubly difficult for natives to regenerate.

Needless to say, this area of the Arizona Strip could use a hand in recovering. Two years ago people at the USGS, partnered with the BLM, seeded the area with native species in an attempt to enrich the soil seed bank and test several methods of deploying the seeds. Some study plots were hand seeded, others received seed cookies–a way to hold the native seed together with a cement-like mix in hopes of better germination rates, and still others were sprayed with herbicide, then seeded. In all there are 28 combinations of treatment and seeding methods out there on the landscape. Our job in year two was to identify and count the perennial seedlings coming up in each plot.

After two weeks of working sun up to sun down we finished surveying the plots and are left with a mountain of data. Us interns are eager to get into the analysis to reveal if, at this early point in the project, there are differences between treatments. Based on observations in the field those plots treated with herbicide first seemed to have a greater number of seedlings popping up. Still, many plots remained relatively barren. Some plots had the seed cookies still intact with (viable?) native seeds visible. It will be interesting to see what the data says so far and how the project will progress over its 10-year lifetime.



Sam Somerville

USGS Las Vegas Field Station, Henderson, NV

Seeds of Success and the East Mohave BLM Office

A long drive from Detroit, Michigan to Needles, California was made short with stops visiting friends in some beautiful places in Colorado. I camped out the first night in my truck outside town with a friend who happened to be near while travelling through. The morning revealed an amazing contrast of the blue waters of the Colorado river splitting the tan and brown desert mountains of the surrounding Mohave. With the thermometer reaching 100 degrees by 10:30 a.m., we immediately headed down to the river and lounged out in the shade of a cottonwood tree.



The first week of work consisted of meeting everyone in the office, learning about the field office area, learning the plant vegetation, and getting trained in off-road driving. The first day out in the field with our supervisor we saw what we believed to have been a Mohave green rattlesnake, potentially one of the most venomous snakes in North America. As we continued the walk up into the wash, getting acquainted with identifying the local vegetation, a white barn owl flew right over us. An exciting first day.



We spent the past few days driving out to different spring sites to monitor the water levels, check for invasives, document the surrounding flora and fauna, and begin looking for potential candidates to collect for the Seeds of Success Program.  A quick glance at what looks like a desolate wasteland void of life has been drastically changing in our perspective, as we learn more and begin to see the diversity and life that is hidden to most passing by in cars along the famous route 66. While beautiful and intriguing, the extreme heat and lack of people in the Mojave desert will make for a challenging time, but one that is sure to build character.




Welcome to the Desert

Hello from Needles, California!

My name is Steve, and for the rest of this year I will be bringing you tales, facts, and pictures from the Mojave Desert while I work as a Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Intern. I will be working for the Needles Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Needles sits right on the Colorado River, along the California-Arizona border, so I’ll be working in the eastern portion of southern California. That means desert country, and my field area includes portions of both the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts.

You want a typical picture of the area around Needles? This might be it.

You want a typical picture of the area around Needles? This is it.

Now, I’m a Midwesterner from Illinois, so the southwestern desert is a dramatically different and unknown place to me. I’m looking forward to learning about this part of the country, and discovering how the ecology of the place functions. I have already begun to encounter lots of new things. New landscape. New vegetation and wildlife. New culture. New climate. (Ah yes, the desert climate. Get ready for some fun temperature updates. Here’s a teaser: the highest temperature so far, on May 27th, was 109 degrees Farenheit. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum.)

My co-intern and I have been working in our new office for a week, so we are starting to figure out exactly what kind of work we’ll be performing this year. We will likely spend the most time making native seed collections for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, but we’ve been told to expect a variety of other projects to come our way as the season moves along. Variety sounds great to me, so I’ll keep you posted about the different and interesting projects that we get to work on this year.


If you decide to read any of my blog posts this year, hopefully I’ll reward you by giving you an idea of what the ecology and plant life of this place are like (as I figure it out myself). That’s my plan anyway. And I’m sure that I’ll have good stories to tell along the way. And on that note, I’ll leave you with a classic desert plant that I’ve seen plenty of during my first week:

This is the desert after all, so I might as well show you a cactus. This is a barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp).

This is the desert after all, so I might as well show you a cactus. This is a barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp). This particular plant reached up to my hip, and this week we’ve seen some that were up over 4 feet tall.


I’ve seen lots of them around, and I continue to be impressed by how striking their red spines are.


Also, in case you didn’t know, cactus flowers can be absolutely beautiful. And they are much loved by the local pollinators. We usually find them being visited by bees.

They happen to be flowering at the moment, so we have been treated to plenty of color from these plants. Notice that they produce a ring of flowers at the top of the plant. Very cool.

They happen to be flowering at the moment, so we have been treated to plenty of color from these plants. Notice the ring of flowers they produce at the top of the plant. Very cool.

That’s all for now! Until next time!

– Steve

Needles Field Office, BLM


Welcome to Missoula



I have just completed my first two weeks in the Missoula field office. Since moving here from Jackson, WY, I’ve found the vegetation, topography, and community comforting. Both areas are part of the Rocky Mountain West, a strikingly beautiful region I’ve called home for several years and plan to for many to come. Though cliched, “Big Sky Country” resonates with my first impressions of Missoula. The city sits at the convergence of five mountain ranges, all of which are visible from some part of town. This time of year, early wildflowers dot the vibrant green hillsides. It’s easy to see how many people fall in love with this place.

The Missoula field office is wonderful. All teams collaborate on projects throughout the summer. While I am focusing on natural resource management and sensitive plant species, I will also be helping the foresters monitor five-needle pines and working with range crews to establish a wild horse sanctuary. I am excited about the potential to gain a breadth of skills to help further my career, whatever path I choose.


While my first two weeks have been a mix of training and field work, I feel I have already begun to comprehend the diversity of Missoula’s BLM land. I spent my first day at close to 8,000 ft searching for white bark pines along a heavily forested hillside. On my second day we monitored a population of the sensitive plant species bladderpod located on a rocky exposed hillside in a drainage. This past week I’ve gone out into the field with the range crew to identify and weigh grasses at potential grazing sites to help determine the areas’ carrying capacity.


The weather is perfect and the season is off to a fantastic start. A few more weeks of plant ID memorization and maybe you’d think I was a real Missoulian.

Sage Grouse, Seeds, and Seventh Graders

Oh how quickly the first month has gone by, and already how many engaging field hours I have got to spend. Yes of course, my first week was filled with training videos, but lucky for me I was able to space them out just enough to persevere. Now I can safely drive the 4×4 the trucks wherever the seed collection takes me.

Unlike my last monotonous field season (not with the CLM program) of vegetation transects, all day every day, this season is already filled with variety. However, I have realized the importance of the progression from that job to this one. Thus far, I have used radio telemetry to find sage grouse, educated seventh graders in the basics of water quality testing, and collected seed from grass, forbs, and shrubs.

The Bishop field office is wide spread; I have worked in locations over 150 miles apart and many in between, all with the convenience of riding my bike from home to the office in under 20 minutes. Along the way my wildlife sightings have been just as diverse: male and female grouse, pygmy rabbits, horny toads, prong horn, chuckwallas, bull frogs, dragonfly larvae, and many more, all with the stunning Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. I am so fortunate to love what I do in this amazing place!


Bishop Feild Office, BLM

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Laying the Groundwork

Problem solving continues at the Fish and Wildlife offices here in Klamath Falls, Oregon. After describing my work to a friend at home she summed it up perfectly by saying “Your job sounds so adventurous and MacGyver-like”. She was one-hundred percent right. As of yet, we still don’t have any shortnose suckers to put in our dock-suspended propagation cages. Nor do we have any propagation cages completely set up to put our fish in, but we sure have been working our hardest, adventuring, and MacGyvering our way to that end.

It may seem like we haven’t progressed very far since my last blog post detailing our lack of fish and complete cages, but this project requires a lot of groundwork to get moving and in the last three weeks, we have come a very long way. For example, we completely abandoned our original plan to collect eggs from adult suckers. The prime spawning window has come and gone with disappointing and worrisome results. Smaller numbers of spawning fish than previous years were caught migrating upriver, and the fish that were caught didn’t have good eggs. Several factors may have caused this year’s unusual spawning including lingering cold weather (something neither the fish nor I seem to be happy about) and a drought year resulting in lower than usual water levels. In any case, the hunt for adult fish has come to an end.

The new plan is to suspend drift nets in the river this coming week. The newly hatched sucker larvae swim up from the safety of the rocky bottom during the night and are swept downstream toward the marshland and lake where they will spend most of their lives. It is going to be a long week, involving several late nights and will yield a grab-bag of indistinguishable larvae species. However, a grab bag of fish is better than no fish at all! If all goes according to plan, we should have plenty of juvenile fish by the end of the week.

I should also mention that part of the hunt for adult suckers involved a day of snorkeling down the Williamson River to see if we could find any large groups of them spawning. And by snorkeling, I mean drifting face first down the snow-fed, shallow river in a waterproof, bulky suit while holding my hands in front of my face to stop it from colliding with rocks. All while trying to spot skittish fish in water I couldn’t see further than three feet in. Needless to say it wasn’t very useful and we didn’t find any shortnose suckers. But it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Spawning Lost River suckers. Similar to the shortnose sucker but slightly bigger.

The Williamson River, a far cry from tropical snorkeling.

So, that was the adventure part, now for the MacGyver part.

The best news of the last three weeks is that we got all of our docks out on the water! We have yet to attach the cages but getting the five docks assembled, out of the yard, and anchored in the two lakes is a huge step. The Jetdocks come in three by four individual floating blocks. Each block weighs fourteen pounds so you can imagine how difficult it was to move them when they were all attached together. We spent the last several weeks reorganizing them into giant “U” shapes from which we plan to suspend our fish nets. The instructional video on YouTube shows a teenage boy and an older man easily attaching and rearranging these dock with no trouble at all. What a lie. In the final stages on the water, we needed the help of an intricate system of ratchet straps, liberal use of a mallet, and two burly men from the Bureau of Reclamation. It took a total of five people about an hour per dock, but they are done! The best part of this week has been waving goodbye to the docks as we drove the boat back to shore.

Mentor Josh wrestling the docks together.

The most beautiful thing- an assembled dock.

So where are we now? We may have no fish but we have a plan and have made all the arrangements to collect larvae this coming week. We may not have complete cages, but all of our supplies have come in and we are ready to attach the nets. Hopefully by the end of next week, and with minimal MacGyvering and maybe a little adventure, the groundwork will be completed and the project will be officially underway.

Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve, Alaska

With Alaska being a 67 hour drive from South West Michigan and only 4 days available after I graduated, I opted to fly into Anchorage. Upon arrival on that Friday I bought a car and got everything sorted to arrive all spic and span for training at 8am on Monday. My first week was dedicated to the various training sessions that are required for NPS staff, things like information sessions about the park, how to talk to guests, and defensive driving. (My favorite line in the online driving course was…”Physics does not know who you and your family are so wear a seat-belt.” Thank you driving course, it is true physics does not know who you are because it is not a living thing. But seriously guys wear your seat-belt, you don’t need a bad line to know that).Flat Top Mountain

My second week was dedicated to training for the Alaska Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT) that I will be a part of. Alaska is a unique state for so many reasons, including the scale of invasive weeds. For one, the amount and variety are relatively low compared to the lower 48.  This allows for the National Parks in the state to keep, document, monitor, and control infestations. This past week I journeyed to Anchorage for training on the GPS devices we will be using and the proper protocols for the project. I am pretty excited to get to work monitoring and killing some weeds.

Engaging an Attention Span of 12 Minutes

This month, I have been researching outdoor education opportunities to do after my CLM internship.  I decided that I should first get my feet wet in the field by assisting Park Ranger Julie on a trip to Headwaters Forest Reserve for students from a local elementary school.  The two major goals of the outdoor education program that I had recently applied for echoed in my head as the school bus arrived:  first, help the kids relate to each other and, second, help the kids respect their environment.  The bus parked and out poured forty excited, talking, running, climbing kids.  One girl came up to me and told me that a person’s attention span is their age, plus two.  At the age of 10, her attention span was 12 minutes.  She asked my age.  23 years old.  My attention span is 25 minutes, she told me.  Several kids told me that I look like I am 16.  Maybe my attention is really 18 minutes. Accomplishing the goals might be easier said than done considering those stats.

Amid all the chaos, Ranger Julie managed to corral the kids together and focus their attention as she told them about Headwaters.  She has 12 minutes, I thought.  Our lessons along the trail lasted this amount of time or less, as well.  Underneath the canopy of old growth redwood trees, I would pick up a feathery needle cast and explain that it was a clue that redwoods were near.  I showed them the hilt shape of the base of a fern leaflet, a clue that it was a sword fern.  I would pluck a redwood sorrel leaf, hand it to the kids, and then instruct them to rip it in a half, hand it to their neighbor, thank nature for the gift, and then eat it.  Savor the sour taste.  Despite my attempts, though, I struggled to maintain their focus for even 2 minutes, let alone 12.  By the end of the day, the constant complaints from the kids made the three mile hike seem more like a forced death march.  My lessons were drowned out by endless, scattered, children chatter.

Were the goals of the hike met?  Perhaps not to the extent that I expected, and the experience taught me how little I know about teaching kids about the outdoors.  However, I did eavesdrop on a conversation between two students, Shawna and Cole, and noticed how much they related to each other as the conversation passed back and forth easily between them. Their 12 minute attention spans were fully engaged.  At the end of the hike, Shawna approached me and, in her hand, was a piece of redwood feather.  “This is from a redwood tree, right?” She respectfully returned it to the forest floor.  On a small scale, perhaps, the goals were met after all.


Coyote Springs

Hello Everyone!

May has been our busiest month yet! We’ve been out in the field every week, working across four different states (Nevada, Utah, California, and Arizona)! Even though I’m stationed in Henderson, NV, I have spent the least amount of time working in the field actually in the state of Nevada. This month I did get to help out with a project here in southern Nevada, at a location we call “Coyote Springs”. Every month we’ve been going out doing vegetation surveys at Coyote Springs at locations that are in both burned and unburned areas. A team of researchers from our office has been working on translocating desert tortoises to Coyote Springs this season, and our vegetation surveys are useful in seeing how much forage material is available for tortoises at different areas of the site.

On one particular day I had a very exciting encounter at Coyote Springs – we were driving along one of the dirt roads to get to a survey point when we spotted a desert tortoise in the road! This desert tortoise was “wild”, not one of the ones that were translocated to the site. Since she was in the road and we had to continue driving down the road, I had the opportunity to put on some gloves and move her gently off the road. This was my first desert tortoise siting! It’s pretty funny that I hadn’t seen one yet because there are so many researchers at our office that study and track desert tortoises, and they get to see them every day.

I finally got to see a desert tortoise!!

I finally got to see a desert tortoise!!

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Gopherus agassizii

Next week I’ll be heading back to Coyote Springs for another week of surveying – temperatures are continuing to rise (this week it was over 100 degrees for a few days in a row!) but we’ll keep up with field work for another few weeks.

Until next time! Thanks for reading!

— Meaghan

Las Vegas Field Office, USGS




Alturas, CA

My third month in Alturas, California is coming to a close and it seems like so long ago when the mornings were 19° and snow covered the roads.  Rising at 3 in the morning, dressing in three to four layers, meeting my partner at the office and heading out to the field by 4 was a way of life.  Early this month things changed pretty abruptly.  The Sage Grouse season ended sooner than we expected, we had already planned out our survey schedule for the next week when we were told to wrap it up.

My partner for the first couple months is a botany tech funded through the Great Basin Institute, and has since been tasked with other projects while my work has become increasingly independent.  I have begun learning about raptors in preparation to monitor nesting sites and search for new nests in and around both known Sage Grouse leks/brooding habitat and areas that will be experiencing disturbance.  I have compiled a list of proposed and accept projects within our field office such as juniper removal and other construction related activities.

As far as botany, I have worked on an ID team for the Eagle Lake field office.  The ID team is a small group that surveys large pasture areas to determine the overall health of the site in order to determine if it can handle more, less, or the same amount of cattle or sheep and what, if any, rehabilitation needs to be done.  The group includes a wildlife biologist, a soil scientist, and a range con working together to complete transects and other monitoring practices.

I have also surveyed for rare and special interest plants.  We have found Eriogonum prociduum, prostate buckwheat, several species of Penstemon, beardtongues, and some lupines.  Recently, we found a new population of lupine within an area scheduled for juniper removal.  We had to mark and flag this area to restrict the timber cutters from driving in and around the site.

I am having a great time here in Northern California.  Alturas is a tiny town, not for people that like a city vibe or the night life, but it has a certain charm and I enjoy waving at other drivers as we pass one another.  I feel comfortable with my work and the area and look forward to getting up in the morning (not that is something new, but we have all had a job or two where we did not want to get up).

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