Ocotillo: Bizzare and Beautiful. And Sharp.

Hello Everyone,

I confess that it has been awhile since my last post, so you will have to forgive my absence. Part of my excuse is that in December I was able to take a three week break from my CLM position and go back home to northern Illinois for Christmas. I expected that the trip home would give me just a taste of a real winter with snow and ice. Well, it was fairly cold in Illinois, but for those three weeks in December it snowed more here in Needles than it did in Chicago! I did not see a single snowflake up north, and I missed the first snowstorm to hit Needles in more than 50 years! Now that I’m back in Needles I might be tempted to complain that I miss seeing at least a little bit of snow, but then I walk outside and realize that it’s 70 degrees in January, and I feel pretty good about life.

Is that fog? In the desert? Why yes it is. It's winter here, and it's been raining.

Is that fog? In the desert? Why yes it is. It’s winter here, and it’s been raining.

My CLM internship has been extended again, so that means that I’ll get to stay here in Needles until May, which will give me a full year in the Mojave Desert. That is great for me, and I am especially looking forward to being here for the spring and the possibility of some spectacular spring-blooming plants (but we need to get enough rain this winter – so I’m crossing my fingers). So far in January I’ve spent most of my time here at the office working on research and planning to establish long-term vegetation monitoring plots in our field office in the spring.

Since I haven’t been out in the field much since early December, I don’t have any new pictures or discoveries to share with you. So instead I’ll pull out some old pictures from the fall and we can look at one of the most distinctive desert plants here: ocotillo.

This is Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo). You can see that this one doesn't have any leaves at the moment, and that is how these plants spend much of their year.

This is Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo). You can see that this one doesn’t have any leaves at the moment, and that is how these plants spend much of their year.

Fouquieria splendens, the ocotillo or coachwhip, is a bizarre plant. It is a woody shrub, with dozens of long, slender stems that branch at the base of the plant and then extend vertically straight up into the air or in a spreading arch. The plants can be up to 20 feet tall, and dominate the landscape in the broad valleys where they grow south of Needles. The stems are grayish-green with fissured bark, and are densely covered with long spines up to 4 cm long. Ocotillos are leafless for much of the year, a behavior that conserves water during dry periods.

Here's a close up of one of those leafless branches. Those are some very sturdy, serious spines. Good luck climbing this plant.

Here’s a close up of one of those leafless branches. Those are some very sturdy, serious spines. Good luck climbing this plant.

When I first arrived in May, the large fields of these bare, thorny plants gave a particularly harsh and intimidating face to the desert. But their character changed dramatically after we were hit by the first summer rainstorm. Just three days after it rained, the ocotillos had produced a dense covering of lush green leaves. These plants, which had previously appeared gray and inescapably dry, transformed almost overnight into vibrant green spots of life against the bleak desert landscape. After a couple months and a dry spell the ocotillos dropped their leaves, and have returned to their formidable dry season appearance.

Add a little rain, wait 2 or 3 days, a flick of my magic wand and...Poof! Now we have leaves.

Add a little rain, wait 2 or 3 days, a flick of my magic wand and…Poof! Now we have leaves.

When rain does show up, ocotillo produces a high density of leaves in a hurry. They need to take advantage of their chance to photosynthesize while they have the water resources to do it.

When rain does show up, ocotillo produces a high density of leaves in a hurry. They need to take advantage of their chance to photosynthesize while they have the water resources to do it.

Here's a little perspective for you. I'm 6'3''. So we're talking about a pretty substantial plant here. And they are especially striking because most of the other plants that grow around them are low-growing species.

Here’s a little perspective for you. I’m 6’3”. So we’re talking about a pretty substantial plant here. They can grow up to 20 feet tall. And they are especially striking because most of the other plants that grow around them are low-growing species.

I have yet to see the ocotillos blooming, but when the time comes this spring their flowers will add another splash of color to these plants. They produce dense spikes of bright red flowers high up on their stems. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a good look at some in a couple months, and I’ll share pictures with you (but they would also be worth looking up on your own right now). Ocotillo nectar is an especially important food source for hummingbirds as the birds migrate north in the spring. Of the desert flowers that hummingbirds use for food on their migration routes, ocotillos may be the only one that will produce nectar reliably even in very dry years. The birds require this dependable food source to give them the energy to make their long migrations.

I have not seen flowers or seeds from ocotillo, but you can still see some of the leftover structures. In the spring, those stalks will be full of brilliantly red flowers.

I have not yet seen flowers or seeds from ocotillo, but you can still see some of the leftover structures. In the spring, those stalks will be full of brilliantly red flowers.

I haven't seen very many of these, but here is a little baby ocotillo. Is it cute? Sure. Charming? Absolutely. Huggable? Not so much.

I haven’t seen very many of these, but here is a little baby ocotillo. Is it cute? Sure. Charming? Absolutely. Huggable? Not so much.

Ocotillos are a Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert species, so we have them here in the southern part of the Needles Field Office where the Mojave Desert meets the north edge of the Sonoran. Their range extends to the east all the way to Texas. Ocotillo is in the Fouquieriaceae Family, and one of its cousins is the equally bizarre boojum (Fouquieria columnaris) of Baja California, a similar species that can grow more than 60 feet tall. If you’re looking for pictures of strange desert plants (which I recommend), this family is a good place to start.

In fact, I think I’ll leave you with even more plants to go look up. I learned about these from a book put out by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson (a good place to visit I’m told). There is a plant family called Didiereaceae that appears only in Madagascar. Do a search for “Didiereaceae” pictures. First, you can probably tell that they are totally wild and strange plants. Now compare the ocotillo pictures I’ve posted to some of the Didiereaceae plants, especially the genus Alluaudia (maybe do a separate search for this one). They look pretty similar right? Probably related? Well, it turns out that these two families are not closely related at all. Didiereaceae are somewhat related to cacti, and have succulent leaves that are different from ocotillos. And yet they have evolved with a strikingly similar appearance and growth habit. This is called convergent evolution, a process by which organisms that are not closely related are shaped by similar environmental conditions so that they evolve to have similar traits that have developed independently of one another.

How amazing is that!? Guys, plants are so cool.

Until Next Time,


Needles Field Office, BLM


Help, I’m stuck in the office

Still holding it down in Surprise Valley. Things are going well and I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of interesting projects. Most recently, I spent some time in Susanville helping out with a FIAT assignment (Fire and Invasive Annuals Treatment). For an added bonus, I got to go to a BBQ and meet some awesome CLM alumni! The goal of this assignment was to identify sites within focal sage grouse habitat and prioritize them for treatment and protection. I spent time writing up these plans for the Surprise Field office which required a lot of research and background investigation. I then helped compile all the write ups from the Western Great Basin to send off to FWS. It was a great learning experience.

Currenlty, I have been focused on developing a monitoring schedule for the upcoming field season, which couldn’t come any sooner! This has included designing a plan for post fire treatment and natural recovery monitoring, identifying seeds of success sites and scheduling habitat restoration monitoring. In regards to monitoring, there has been a lot of discussion revolved around the AIM protocol. This is the primary terrestrial monitoring protocol adopted by the BLM. I have been attending meetings with other field offices to discuss what answers we can get from this protocol, what answers we still need, and in the latter case, additional monitoring we can use to get them. It has been rewarding to meet a lot of new folks and gain exposure to different methods of monitoring and land management.

I have also been doing a little NEPA writing. We are proposing habitat restoration/juniper reduction treatments on a number of sites throughout the field office. A programmatic EA was completed in 2013. The next step is to write the DNAs for the 2015/2016 projects which I have been great at putting off until now.

Thanks for reading!





Final Blog (until round 2)

I started in June.

I am naturally critical being from New York. Then spending 10 years in Vermont, I’ve been a flat-lander, an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong. I expected the same experience in Wyoming.

Instead I was greeted with smiles and care. I was offered bedding materials, pots and pans, and food from co-workers. My room mates and I had created this friendly dynamic of sisterhood. The town turned out to be extraordinarily safe due to a large police force. The house we lived in was fun-a hot tub, large living quarters, and plenty of parking.  I enjoyed the small town atmosphere and immediate access to the mountains.  I became a member at the YMCA, library, yoga studio, and an occasional volunteer at the food pantry. I liked small town living! Enjoyed it so much I will be coming back for a second term (April-August 2015)! THANKS CLM!

Highlights at the BLM include gaining new skills-plant ID, bird ID, methods and observations. I better understand government structure. I got to attend a wildlife conference. Learned not to eat ground plums even though your co-worker says it’s safe. Taught a co-worker how to identify a plant for the first time, using a dichotomous key. Roamed my first historic fire in search of young sagebrush revival. Organized my own project.

My expectations were met and they exceeded what I envisioned the CLM experience would be like. What is happening in the West was of utter surprise to me. Culture and how we’ve chosen to use the landscape.

Important a-ha moments were GPS and GIS troubleshooting.  Mainly getting in the field and realizing my GPS has everything I need and more for field work.

At 27, living in small town USA, and working for the BLM-I finally realized who I am as a person. I never had time enough to breathe and realize what I really wanted from life. I do now.




Wrapping up an internship

Greetings fellow interns,

I hope everyone had a relaxing holiday season filled with friends, family and all things pleasant.  Being a California transplant, I joined my family in Iowa remotely via Skype, which was definitely a first for me, and was able to participate in their festivities.  It was wonderful to be able to connect with them despite the distance.  Technology is great when it works.  I have been here in California for a few years now as a CLM intern in what was originally a 5 month internship.  What a great experience it has been!  Although I might like to stay here forever, the position I was hired to fill was only temporary, and I have always known that eventually it would be time for me to leave.  Well, it seems the California vacation is finally coming to an end.  I have recently accepted a full time position back in Iowa and will be leaving the Preserve on February 27, 2015 (please hold you coat, hat and glove donations- I will eventually re-acclimate).

When I first came to the Cosumnes River Preserve in May of 2012, I was living at a facility on site known as the farm center.  If you are not familiar with this facility, it is an old farm house nestled in the rice fields of the Preserve.  It is not a fancy place by any means, but for me it was perfect.  I was living and working on the Preserve, which might burn some people out, but I couldn’t get enough.  I would do land management tasks and various repairs all day, and then at night I would watch the wildlife and enjoy the evening tranquility.  One morning I sat on the front steps and watched a bald eagle dive-bombing a flock of terrified coots for 30 minutes as I drank coffee before work.  Where else can you do that?   I was quite surprised to find a nature preserve teaming with wildlife in such close proximity to the capital city of California.  That has been one of my favorite aspects of the Preserve that I am going to miss when I am gone.  Visitors can drive twenty minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city and find themselves lost in the serenity (amplified serenity when the geese are present in numbers) of nature.

I have greatly enjoyed meeting and working with other CLM interns occasionally throughout my time here.  It would have been nice to have another CLM intern here at my field station (Cosumnes River Preserve) full time.  I hope to be able to visit the Preserve again as a non-employee after I leave.  If you are ever near Sacramento, CA, I highly recommend you make it a point to swing by and check it out.  Winter season (October-May) is the best time to visit; the Preserve is wintering habitat for 50,000+ birds.  I know everything will keep on functioning just fine here without me, but I sure will miss this place.

Four Weeks

I am back for a little four week extension of my internship!

This past week was my first week back and the purpose of this extension is to create a checklist of all the lichen species found in the National Forests of Region 5 of the Forest Service. Region 5 is essentially the state of California. So far it has been a lot of time spent in the Consortium of Lichen Herbaria for North America and Excel. I should add that I am working remotely from my home in coastal Northern California so my very old MacBook is being put to the test and is functioning well thus far.

A list of lichen data sources for the various forests might be added to my list of duties along with taking a closer look at the data that has recently come back from the lab from the lichen air quality project I did in the San Bernardino mountains of the San Bernardino NF.

Wintertime on Colorado’s Front Range

The past couple months I have been completing a couple documents to aid in the management of two species of plants, one that is endangered and one that could be.  Both of these species happen to inhabit parts of the North Park Region of Colorado, one inhabiting the Coalmont barrens that spot the sagebrush steppe of North Park and the other inhabiting the unique dune system near the Colorado-Wyoming border.  The two species I have been working with are the Coalmont formation inhabitant, Phacelia formosula and the sand loving Corispermum navicula.

Recently the Denver Botanic Garden completed their genetic research for Phacelia formosula and Corispermum navicula that shed additional light on the two species population dynamics in their respective habitats.  For the Phacelia species the research was about two additional Phacelia species in the area and their relationship to each other as well as Phacelia formosula.  The results of the research state that the Phacelia found in Jackson County, CO are all Phacelia formosula and that there might be distinct subpopulation throughout Jackson County but a more intensive DNA collection needs to be done to get the refinement needed to determine the boundaries of the potential subpopulations.  The other research Denver Botanic Gardens just completed was on the Corispermum species that inhabit the sand dunes in North Park.  The question was if there were two distinct species of Corispermum or a single population of only Corispermum navicula present.  From the results the question was answered as a single population of Corispermum navicula with a very plastic morphology throughout the dune system which accounted for the questioning of if there were two species present within the Dune system.

So in an effort to aid in the persistence of these two species of plants a different approach was taken for each of the species.  Since Phacelia formosula is an endangered species a Recovery Plan was written when the plant was listed, but it is outdated and needs to be updated, so to aid in that I wrote up a status report for the species to be a reference in created a newly updated Recovery Plan for the species.  For all intents and purposes the document is done, aside from a few conference calls to discuss certain aspects of the reports.  The second species of concern is Corispermum navicula and since it is not listed and has not been monitored due to the unknowns surrounding the status of the population, but since genetic research has shown that the population is all the same species a monitoring plan can be constructed to gain a better understanding of the species.  The monitoring plan is the second project that I completed in the past couple months, which was based loosely on the pilot study that was ran in fall of 2014.

With two major reports completed I now start to turn my focus to field season only a few months away and start to make plans about new plot locations for certain species, new monitoring for certain species and of course seed collection goals for the 2015 field season.




The Militarization of Public Lands

The Militarization of Public Lands

Recently, I’ve been going down the proverbial NEPA rabbit hole, trying to track down adequate documentation for an RMP/EA I’m working on for a seed grow out facility. It’s taught me a lot about being organized, which EVERYONE should make an effort to be, but also the BLM’s policy of multiple use, the concept of public lands, the Department of Defense/Homeland Security, and how they are tied together. I’ve been ruminating on these somewhat unrelated topics because the particular project I’m working on is located adjacent to BLM lands which are used for military training purposes. Ironically enough, the area is a designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern.  Learning this, I thought a fissure would open up in the earth, and the apocalypse would commence! But, militarization of public lands, outside of mere training use, regardless of any special designation is not a new concept.

Over the last nearly 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has been in direct conflict with both the Department of Interior and Agriculture, and there has been an overwhelming lack of communication between all three (Bruno 2012). Between 1996 and 2006, there have been several efforts to open communication lines, but also to undermine the foundational missions of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to protect, enhance and repair lands under their jurisdiction while balancing for multiple use and economic opportunity.  This has ultimately been accomplished via legislation and a gross imbalance of power between the Departments and waiver of environmental policy for the sake of national security. These policies are in addition to sequester under which the BLM specifically, will undergo 5% budget cuts over the next three years (2013-2016). Activities related to species protection, fuels treatments, etc are directly jeopardized from lack of funds, only to be further degraded or endangered by military or customs activity.

In 2012, HR 1505 – the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act was passed to give U.S. Customs and Border Patrol greater control over activities pertaining to national security. What this ultimately means, is they are exempt from rules and regulations set forth by various environmental acts (i.e. Endangered Species Act) and the policies of the Departments of Interior/Agriculture for preservation and enjoyment of our public lands. This particular policy is to remove the “hindrance” of environmental legislation which would otherwise prevent enforcement of border security. In reality, with the exception of a few circumstances, the Government Accountability Office could find no direct correlation between environmental law and prevention of border security (Clifford 2012).

HR 1505 is tiered to HR 6061 and HR 5124 – the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008. The 2006 act provides for the construction of the border fence and greater infrastructure to support Customs and Border Patrol activity. The 2008 act called for an additional 700 miles of fence to be constructed. To date, there are 670 miles of fence, which cost $2.4 billion, with another 700 slated for the next few years and augmentations to the current fence effectively “doubling” it (NBC News 2013). Furthermore, these acts extend the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Patrol 100 miles inland. Keep in mind, the US border with Mexico is 1989 miles (U.S. Customs and Border Protection 2013)…

Similar legislation, includes the acquisition of public lands for military use. Occasionally, various military installations claim eminent domain, and acquire vast tracks of land. One such example includes Pinion Canyon Maneuver Site near Trinidad, Colorado which was expanded to 285,000 acres in 1983 which forced dozens of landowners out. There have been additional movements to expand the site to be larger than the state of Maryland in recent years. The area borders the Comanche National Grasslands and the Historic Santa Fe Trail, in addition to harboring innumerable petroglyphs, homesteads and economically important big game. More recently, there has been a push by the installation to acquire an additional 418,000 acres (Garrison 2008), again to the detriment of local ranchers, but there was a much stronger more unified resistance. Legislation was passed which prohibited the expansion of the site into the future.

This narrative is obviously only one side of the story, and I’m sure that I’ve missed things. I think the take away is that we need to repair our relationship with the land and the stewards of it, whether that is the Department of Defense, the BLM or ranchers. Furthermore, start locally and juxtapose how those actions will ripple globally. We’ve lost sight of the big picture in exchange for panicked, immediate action. These desert systems are especially delicate, which we generally neglect. The sheer number of military installations in the desert and the weapons testing that occurs (i.e. the Nevada Test Site, Los Alamos, White Sands Missile Range), in my mind, demonstrates that we as a society hold the ecosystem in poor regard. We believe that they are “inhospitable to human life (and therefore) we have treated them as if they had no life of their own (Clifford 2012).” With that, I’ll leave you all with a thought from Luna Leopold, Aldo Leopold’s son; “things wild and free are being destroyed by the impersonality of our attitude toward the land (1966).”

Please excuse the lack of a proper bibliography – but feel free to peruse sources via the links.







Emil B. McCain and Jack L. Childs (2008) Evidence of Resident Jaguars (Panthera onca) in the Southwestern United States and the Implications for Conservation. Journal of Mammalogy: February 2008, Vol. 89, No. 1, pp. 1-10.

Sand County Almanac





Where I’ve been this year

Greetings, all,

A brief post this month. As we begin a new year, I decided to create a map of where I’ve been in the last one. Well, OK, I also included a few places I’ve visited so far this year; close enough. So, here it is:

I’ve highlighted the counties of the Las Cruces District Office in red. Each of those blue dots is a place where I’ve taken a picture and recorded what plants were there. About half of those dots are places I visited as part of my CLM internship, the other half are mostly recreational botanizing with a few trips that were part of my old job, before I started my internship, thrown in. I am steadily moving towards my goal of having been just about everywhere in southwestern New Mexico, but it’s a big place and I don’t think I’m going to run out of destinations any time soon. I’ve been here a decade and have still only visited 174 of the LCDO’s 608 grazing allotments, for instance. One of the things I’m really enjoying about working with the BLM is that it gives me a good excuse to go to a lot of places most botanists would never bother with. For instance, wandering around in mesquite shrubland for a few weeks is not very high on the priority list for most botanists, but I enjoy it and now I have more reason to do it. Looking at this map, I’m also remembering that I need to put more labels and legends on maps. Perhaps some people don’t immediately recognize, say, the outline of Otero County. Oh well.

In the coming year, I think I’ll start posting about plant communities and interpretation of aerial imagery. Examining aerial imagery and trying to figure out what you’re looking at is one of the most enjoyable mental puzzles out there, in my opinion, and also on my list of “fun things I get to do more often with the BLM”. Admittedly, I already spent what most would probably consider an unfathomable amount of time staring at maps!

Finishing up in Susanville

Today is my last day of work as a CLM intern at the Eagle Lake Field Office.  I will be returning in February as an official BLM employee to do some GIS work for the Range department. I have to thank the CLM internship program for helping me land this job.

My time as a CLM intern was filled with many great experiences.  I gained experience in several fields, such as botany, hydrology, range management, seed collecting, and GIS.  I learned what is like to work for a federal agency.  Along the way I made several great friends and saw some amazing sights.

One of my favorite experiences was when I got the opportunity to catch sage grouse with the USGS.  Protecting sage grouse has become a priority for the BLM, so it was nice to get the chance to directly help by attaching radio collars to sage grouse in order to monitor the populations.

Another great project I worked on involved searching the field office for unknown water sources.  Water is a valuable commodity here in the high desert, so it is important to know where it is.  I was able to explore the far reaches of the field office searching for springs.  I was looking in areas where aerial imagery showed dense, green vegetation.  Many of these areas did not have above ground water, but it was always exciting when I found one that did.

A rewarding project I worked on was to build a trail to a favorite climbing spot of mine.  Pigeon cliffs is located right outside of Susanville on BLM land, and is little-known climbing wall.  I climbed there many times this year, but every time it was a hassle to get to the spot because the trail was in bad shape.  I spent a day improving the trail, and it felt good to give back to a place that meant a lot to me.  I hope that with the improved trail more people will get to enjoy climbing at Pigeon Cliffs.

I am glad that I am returning to the Eagle Lake Field Office.  It is a great place to work.  In the meantime, I will be heading back east to visit friends and family.  I am really excited to see everyone, as I haven’t been home in eight months.


Thanks again CLM! It has been great!



Susanville, CA

It’s almost over but I’LL BE BACK!

Hello friends,

I was granted an extension that ends January 23rd.  I will be back at my field office in Buffalo, Wyoming, on April 1st for a second term. Some of you may be chanting, “serial CLMer” but hear me out.

I was given a habitat restoration project upon my arrival at the BFO.  I have completed vegetation surveys for 5 out of 30 historic fires. They would hand this responsibility off to the next intern, but I would like to continue this.

Possibly turn the project into a masters degree, starting in September 2015, and this would be the internship component. My options are either University of Wyoming (BLM already partners with them) or Northwestern (connection with CBG). I already have support from my mentors.  This could be really great! Email me at hbromberg09@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Thanks for listening & caring!