Know your chaparral

If you’ve never ventured into a chaparral forest – as I hadn’t just a few weeks ago – it might be hard to get a good mental picture. The name is derived from chapparo, a Spanish scrub-oak resembling some of the shrubs that thrive on California’s mountains and foothills. It’s the same word from which “chaps” derives – in the past few weeks I’ve often thought a pair could be useful in navigating the dense and thorny vegetation.

A trail through the chaparral at Pine Hill Preserve

A trail through the chaparral at Pine Hill Preserve

Three plants are considered characteristic of California’s chaparral, and are very common in the Pine Hill Preserve where I’ve been working – Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.), and Ceanothus (Ceanothus spp.). These plants are all characterized by extensive root systems that travel far and wide in search of water. These root systems hold the soil in place on steep hillsides. The species are well-adapted to fire, readily producing new shoots after a fire destroys their above-ground portions. In a stand of chaparral, most shrubs will be roughly the same height and age, dating back to the last fire. In the first few years after a burn, herbaceous plants take advantage of the abundant sunlight and emerge in great numbers. Some of these plants even have seeds that are activated by fire. This is of special interest at the Pine Hill Preserve – herbaceous rare plants have been noted to flourish after burns, both prescribed and accidental.

Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a rare aster found in Pine Hill Preserve

Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a rare aster found in Pine Hill Preserve

In my first few weeks of exploration, I found two plants to be particularly exciting. The leaves of Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum), as my mentor Graciela explained, are medicinal and can be brewed into a tea or chewed raw. When chewed, the initial taste is bitter, but slowly begins to have a cooling and sweet taste and a thirst-quenching effect. This has earned it the nickname of “mountain gum”, and after a few chews I was sold.

Eriodictyon californicum

Eriodictyon californicum

The second great discovery was a small, deep purple plant roughly shaped like a Christmas-tree – a native broomrape (Orobanche bulbosa). Its otherworldly appearance results from an aggressive survival strategy. It’s a parasite that doesn’t produce chlorophyll, instead relying on nutrients and water siphoned from the roots of neighboring plants.

Orbohanche bulbosa

Orbohanche bulbosa

First post from the Mother Lode Field Office!

On Tuesday, my second day with the Mother Lode field office in El Dorado Hills, CA, I was very excited to head to the field for the first time. Our first stop at a small plot known as “vernal pools” was a little anticlimactic. We weren’t surprised to not find any pools – even outside of conservation circles, the four-year drought has been a hot topic, with water restriction measures getting more and more stringent. Without the vernal pools, my mentor Graciela informed me, much of the native flora we might’ve found at this plot was absent.

Our second venture was more exciting. Graciela and I accompanied the staff’s botanist to Cronan Ranch to check out the progress of a grazing project there. The rolling hills in Cronan are currently dominated by invasive non-natives – mostly yellow star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae). The grazing project aims to give natives a chance to get a foothold by allowing sheep to chew down the existing vegetation and reduce the amount of viable seeds produced by invasives.

Yellow star-thistle

Yellow star-thistle

The 500 sheep had made quite alot of progress when we arrived. The hill they’d been grazing on looked dramatically different from the others – almost everything green had been eaten. Sure enough, most of the star-thistle had been chewed nearly to the ground, in time to keep it from producing seeds in a few weeks. The sheep had done less damage on the medusahead – perhaps because, as our botanist pointed out, the plant is so high in silica during parts of its life cycle. This makes it unpalatable and undigestible to grazers.

Yellow star-thistle thrives just outside of the enclosure, while inside only short stalks remain

Yellow star-thistle thrives just outside of the enclosure, while inside only short stalks remain

A clear line between grazed and ungrazed turf

A clear line between grazed and ungrazed turf

Panoche Hills, California

Hey Everyone,

I’m a first year Master’s student in Entomology at the University of Hawaii, and will spend the next few months working at the BLM office in Hollister, California. I have taken on several projects with my mentors. I will be studying native dune beetles in the Monvero Dunes, addressing concerns with malathion use to control spread of the Curly Top Virus and the Beet Leafhopper, and completing a genetic/statistical survey to address genetic diversity/primary productivity in grasshopper and leopard lizard populations. Our team is passionate, driven, and resourceful. I’m looking forward to collaborating and working with my mentors on awesome projects at various field sites this summer.

Good luck to all the other interns who are starting out.

Here are two pictures from my first day. I traveled to Buttonwillow, CA to look for leopard lizards. No such luck in finding any… but we found plenty of whiptails, and I noosed one on my first try! Looking forward to geeking out over science for the summer.


Jennifer Michalski
BLM, Hollister Field Office

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Whiptail Lizard

Whiptail Lizard

Forestry and More…

Hello CLMers,

My first month of working for the Arcata CLM has been an absolute blast! I have learned so much and I can’t wait to learn even more. What has been especially great about my internship so far is that while I am learning tons about forestry- a subject I had zero training or experience in before this appointment- I have also been able to work with many of the other resource specialists in the office. From taking out invasive scotch broom to working on archeological surveys with the Redding, CA BLM interns it has been great getting to know and learning about other topics besides just forestry!

One amazing experience I have had recently- while working with Kate the botany, range, and weeds CLM intern- was to hike the southern portion of The Lost Coast! I had never been backpacking before and I was definitely nervous about slowing our mapping project down, but in the end not only did I have an amazing time, but I was also able to keep up just fine! I always tell my friends and family that every time I leave the house I see something amazing in Cali, well The Lost Coast was no exception! From the sheer cliffs along the coast to the ocean itself, the trail was stunning! While it was a little stressful having to mind the tides- which make portions of the trail inaccessible at high tide- being completely locked in and totally isolated at our campsite was strangely calming. I don’t think I have every had a camping experience like the backpacking trip I took with Kate, and I honestly can’t wait to hike it again with my friends here!

Time and again I am reminded by how lucky I am to have chosen a field of work that gives me the opportunity not only to constantly be learning but also to be outside and see some of the amazing things this world has to offer! It is easy to be happy when you are doing something you love!

Keep Learning,


Sea Otter tracks along The Lost Coast

Sea Otter tracks along The Lost Coast


The Lost Coast

The Lost Coast

CLMer Kate McGrath the Botany, Range, and Weeds intern for Arcata, CA BLM

CLMer Kate McGrath the Botany, Range, and Weeds intern for Arcata, CA BLM

Look at me I'm backpacking!!

Look at me I’m backpacking!!


Hanging out with Redding, BLM interns after an Arch survey

Hanging out with Redding, BLM interns after an Arch survey

Finally collecting!

It’s my second month working in Vale and I finally feel like I am getting to know the plants around here! In the last few weeks, my co and I have been busy visiting SOS sites and sensitive plant sites, checking on potential collections and monitoring a few sensitive species. Last week we started collecting Nothocalais troximoides seed, our first collection of the season! Unfortunately, it has been pretty windy and wet (very unusual here this time of year), making seed collection a little difficult. In the upcoming weeks, we are hoping to start collections of some Allium spp.Phlox longifolia, and orange globemallow. It’s exciting to finally be collecting seeds, and it’s fun to see how much each site changes with every visit.

Nothocalais troximoides seeds

Nothocalais troximoides seeds

The site where we’re collecting N. troximoides is one of my favorites because it is flat, and the volcanic rock doesn’t allow for much grass growth (walking through fields of cheat grass can be a pain). The site is also covered in one of my favorite flowers, Lewisia rediviva! We first visited this site at the end of April, when the flowers were in full bloom. I’ve wanted to see Lewisia in real life for a long time. It has been on my plant bucket list for a few years now (I’m not realizing just how nerdy it is that I have a “plant bucket list”). I spent probably 20 minutes trying to get the perfect picture on our field camera.



A couple of weeks ago, we started monitoring several sensitive species including Hackelia cronquistii, Mentzelia mollis, and Stanleya confertiflora. Some of our surveys have been more successful than others. We have visited a few sites where the population has declined in recent years, or become potentially extirpated. Around here, population decline is usually due to fire, competition from invasive grasses, or grazing, and often a combination of these factors. We have also found a couple populations that have flourished since their last survey. One population of Mentzelia mollis in particular has grown drastically, increasing almost 30-fold in the last two decades! Seeing sensitive populations thrive is one of the many rewards of land management.

With the field season picking up, I am really looking forward to more collections and monitoring!

Farewell Cedarville

I spent 1 year as a CLM intern working for the BLM Surprise Field Office in Cedarville, CA. My experience was unforgettable and extremely beneficial. I gained such a wide variety of experience and new skills which as made me into a stronger, more confident individual ready to take on new challenges. Here is a short list of some of the projects I worked on:

-Native Seed Collection for Seeds of Success

-Assessment Inventory and Monitoring (Vegetation monitoring on SageSteppe habitat restoration sites)

-Developing seed mixes and implementing seedings as a part of Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (post-fire rehabilitation)

-Training with NRCS soils scientists on how to dig soil pits and identify soils

-Lots and lots of GIS work

-NEPA writing

-Sage-grouse trapping and collaring, and Sage-grouse lek surveys

This is not even a complete list. I learned so much from this experience and I highly recommend anyone thinking about applying to do so. You will make many connections and gain valuable skills. Not to mention meeting many great people at the CBG training in Chicago. It’s awesome.

These are my last words of advice as a CLM intern-

-Don’t limit yourself to location. I can’t stress this enough.  I was so nervous to move to Cedarville, fearing that I would feel isolated and bored out of my mind on the weekends. However, after a few weeks, I was enjoying my work so much that the location didn’t bother me one bit. I actually really enjoyed a break from civilization as most of us know it.

-Communicate with you mentor and be open about what skill you want to gain. Yes, your mentor will have an agenda for you but there is usually room for opportunities to learn. Let them know what skills you would like to develop.

-Be involved. A lot goes on at the BLM and other federal agencies. We are employed by Chicago Botanic Gardens but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the loop as to what’s going on at your local field office. Talk with the experts at your office and soak up as much knowledge as possible!

Thanks to everyone at Chicago Botanic Gardens for making this program happen. Krissa and Rebecca you have been especially great! You are so good about being available and getting back to us with any questions or concerns and being flexible to meet our needs.

Thanks so much CBG and good luck to all the current and future CLM interns!


Amy Thorson

CLM Intern

BLM- Surprise Field Office



Wandering the desert scapes of the GSENM in search of the target plant populations allows for long hours of careful contemplation. Hours upon hours of my internship are spent driving dirt roads passing RVs and horse trailers, tourists and cowboys, and endless acres of rabbitbrush and countless herds of cattle. All this is in search of the elusive plants divined for collection by the powers that be. Meanwhile my mind journeys over hills and mesas, down canyons and washes, independent of my driving body. I believe that Edward Abbey would have understood my mind’s inclination to wander freely when surveying the American West. And I like to think that Ed paved the way for the rest of us restless desert wanderers, justifying my reflections upon everything and nothing in my dutiful roving. I believe that another man (having no connection to the American West whatsoever) also understood my mind’s need to roam unfettered and wrote many stories of meticulously and whimicically crafted characters to share his thoughts on what it means to wander. Ed had his Desert Solitaire, but Mr Tolkien had Roverandom.


Mr Tolkien famously wrote many stories, but he unfamously wrote many, many more. Roverandom, like The Hobbit, was meant for a much younger audience than the typical CLM intern, but it is nonetheless valuable. The story brims with the simple morality and fantasy that a father attempted to pass onto his bereaved child and distract him from the loss of a beloved toy. The themes, albeit simple and clearly intended to mollify an equally simple child from a fleeting time of grief, are universal and are therefore applicable to my tenure as an SOS intern in Escalante.

If you are not a Tolkien nerd like I am, then you have probably never heard of Roverandom and you probably don’t care about the simplistic novella, but, please, humor me for a moment. It’s a story about a mischievous dog named Rover who is first turned into a tiny, toy dog by a grumpy wizard, then turned into a tiny, real dog by a kinder (but still kind of grumpy) sand wizard, and eventually (after first being given wings to travel about the moon with his moon-dog friend, and then gills to travel around the ocean floor with his sea-dog friend) is turned back into a life-size, real dog. In his journey from real dog to toy dog to tiny dog to legitimate dog again, Rover (later renamed Roverandom to reduce confusion because both the moon-dog and sea-dog are named Rover…Tolkien, you scamp!) wanders the wide world and has many adventures. The main themes that I take from this story are: 1. Adventure and novel experiences will never be found in a stagnant location: one must put forth at least a little effort in creating their own adventure, 2. Wandering is good for the soul because wandering is freeing, and 3. One doesn’t need a definite end destination to arrive at an incredible one. These themes are easily applicable to my time in Escalante, and I owe a great deal to Mr Tolkien for writing such an affirming story.

This train of thought leads me in two different directions: on one hand, I think that stories by the curmudgeony, Western wanderer Edward Abbey and the inventive, fantastical dreamer Mr Tolkien both inspire and encourage roving, especially through landscapes as (relatively) untrammeled as the monument. This thought comforts me on my long drives and my mind’s contemplative walks, and largely justifies both. On the other hand, I think that both writers would encourage me to break free from the expected SOS duties every once in a while and have a scientific adventure exploring a different kingdom.

Clouds are the great muses of daydreams.

Clouds are the great muses of daydreams.

In addition to my SOS responsibilities, I also have the great pleasure of working on my interim mentor’s wildlife biology projects. Last week I was inducted into the cohort of hummingbird surveyors on the monument, and I had the delightful task of recording data, capturing the birds at the trap feeders, bagging them for processing, and feeding them prior to their release. I have been eagerly awaiting spring in the desert so I could add hummingbird work to my growing list of life and job experiences, and this work surely did not disappoint. There are many great joys in life, and holding a fat-depleted, desperately hungry male black chinned hummingbird, in his undiminished iridescent plumage, is certainly one of those joys for me. Friends, if you ever get the chance to work with hummingbirds – to hold such a small life in your hands, to feel a miniscule heart urgently beat so close to your own dutifully persistent pulse, to accidentally steal the hard earned heat from the little body of the bird and to feel awe that there is so much energy being exchanged between your two beings – then I highly recommend it. It is so choice.

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Processing one of the first black chinned hummingbirds of the season.

Plants are wonderful organisms for study, and they are undeniably important – especially given the unprecedented changes in local, regional, and global climate – but it is my firm belief that every conservationist, regardless of specialty and focus, must occasionally take the time to appreciate organisms beyond their study and the life within them. Merely working with hummingbirds for four hours reinvigorated me and has encouraged me to appreciate my botany work because of its role within the larger ecosystem.

I think that both Ed and Mr Tolkien would have understood the importance of my sojourn and my mind’s consistent tramps through the desert alone. Ed in particular had a distinct respect for and grasp of the big picture within such an enormous landscape. So I leave you now, friends, with an Edward Abbey blessing from Desert Solitaire:

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.

In the Spirit of Adventure,


Escalante Field Office, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, BLM

Greetings from Montrose, CO


Hello All,

After arriving in Colorado, less than a week ago, I was welcomed by my mentor Ken Holsinger, Biologist at the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office. After general orientation, Ken introduced me to the endangered Eriogonum pelinophilum, (clay-loving buckwheat).

Eriogonum pelinophilum Photo:

Eriogonum pelinophilum

E. pelinophilum is endemic to the adobe hills in the salt-desert shrub ecosystem of the Uncompahgre Basin, within Montrose and Delta counties. The vegetation is sparse in these delicate soils, which are highly erodible and saline. The rolling hills and flats create unique scenic formations, with vegetation unlike any I have seen before.

Salt-Desert Shrub Ecosystem ACEC
Salt-Desert Shrub Ecosystem ACEC











On Tuesday we began training and data collection for the Gunnison Sage-grouse habitat assessment, Crawford population, Black Ridge, Delta County.

Data collection with Ken and Julie

Data collection with Ken and Julie

We collected data using protocol as outlined in the Sage-grouse Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF). More specifically we used several different vegetation sampling methods along 50m transects including: 1) Point-intercept sampling method to collect vegetation type and height data for all graminoid, forb and shrub species; 2) Line-intercept sampling method to collect canopy cover data for sage-brush species; 3) Belt transect method to collect relative abundance data for preferred forbs.


Overall, I have to say, this CLM/BLM internship is off to a fantastic start. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, the wealth of knowledge which surrounds me is impressive, and the diverse array of new floral species to learn is more than intriguing.


Hope you all are enjoying your many adventures,




Getting my feet wet in Northeast Oregon


Over three weeks ago I packed up my bags and headed for Northeastern Oregon to the little town of Baker City. While I left the coast behind for the first time ever, I was welcomed by the awe-inspiring mountain ranges of the Wallowas and Elkhorns. The wilderness that surrounds this area beckons any outdoorsy folk to strap on the boots and explore! I am already planning my adventure on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. As it is also my first time in lovely Oregon, I plan to pack in as many ventures across the state. Ideas are welcomed!


view of the Elkhorns from our lab

I came to work at the Baker BLM field office with the hydrology tech, monitoring the water quality streams and rivers as well as conducting riparian surveys. My first few days were full of the general orientation: defensive driving, computer access training, rig maintenance, calibration of equipment and of course a soldering lesson. One of the skills I am excited to gain from this job is MacGyver-like problem solving, be it fixing a malfunctioning probe in the field or soldering on wires to ensure proper connection for a flow meter.  As any field scientist knows, you got be prepared for the unexpected from missing sample bottles to finicky Trimbles that just don’t feel like working today, thank you very much.

We kicked off our field season on day two. Our main focus for now is measuring physical parameters, nutrient levels and flow at sites throughout the Powder River Basin. This is part of an ongoing project examining the nutrient export quantities from tributaries in the watershed, looking at long-term trends from 2003 to 2016. We often work in the lower elevations amongst the familiar (I hail from the coastal scrub of San Diego) sagebrush, which is currently bristling with lupine, arrow leaf balsamroot and an ever growing plethora of other wildflowers I’m only beginning to learn. Plant geeks, I’m a novice with the species so bear with me. At some of our sites, we enjoy the shade of cottonwood groves and the sweet smell of wild mint with the lovely sound of our (hopefully) burbling brook. In these idyllic settings, I’m learning how to examine stream systems such as appropriate sites to measure flow to identifying potential concerns such as elevated temperature, abnormal algal growth, or channel shifts. I am excited to gain a better understanding of the geomorphology of river systems.

I’m looking forward to our riparian surveys where we shall identify the surrounding plant community, as well as look more in depth at changes in the environment. I hope to learn not only the techniques and protocols of stream monitoring, but also riparian plant species as well as different stream classifications. I plan to learn more about the rest of the river community with our fish and wildlife biologists. With my college days behind me, I find myself itching for the chance to learn. Here’s to geeking out!

The pictures below are from my favorite site that is in the higher elevations where the greenery shocks my dry California eyes from the coniferous forest to aspens alight with vibrant new leaves. Currently our resource area also faces drought conditions, but as my mentor points out, the season can always change. Working on my rain dance!

Sisley Creek

Sisley Creek

Sisley Creek


Lara Jansen

BLM, Baker Field Office

will have more field pictures to come.

Idaho, land of lava fields, cows, and magic!

Hello, everyone!

I just moved from Gainesville, Florida 2 weeks ago to Twin Falls, Idaho to work at the BLM Shoshone field office. I studied political science and natural resource conservation with a minor in sustainability at the University of Florida. Moving away from my family and friends was bittersweet. I spent my entire life in Florida (save for a few pretty forgettable years in Alaska from ages 0-3). But since my first day of work with the BLM I felt very welcomed by the staff and excited to learn everything I can about this mysterious state.

During my first weekend in Twin, my roommate and fellow CBG-er Carla and I visited Shoshone Falls, Snake River, and Dierke Lake. I was surrounded by beaches, lakes, and even the world’s highest concentration of springs in Gainesville, but we definitely don’t have the jaw-dropping cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls we found here. I was deeply impressed by the geological and aquatic beauty of these areas just 15 minutes away from our apartment.

Snake River & Canyon

Shoshone Falls


On our first day of work,  our mentor Joanna introduced us to everyone in the office and then we headed out to do a training session for HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring. It was a great way to get to know everyone and get an idea of the ecology of the area. I learned a few plants and we even spotted a moose on the other side of the valley. My first impressions of the area were of how blue the sky was, the smell of sagebrush, how dry the air was, and… wait where’s the water? The allotment was called Poison Creek but I soon found out Idaho is in the midst of a 4-year drought. However, Magic Valley (the name of our region) was named after the ‘magic’ that is the construction of the series of dams and canals that profoundly improved irrigation and agriculture in the early 1900s in a previously desolate and uninhabitable area. The creation of giant reservoirs of water in a desert in the early 20th century would seem magical to me, too.

HAF Monitoring Training

I heard about more unique and unexpected landmarks in Idaho such as Craters of the Moon National Preserve and Monument, which the BLM co-manages with the NPS. President Coolidge himself described the area as “unusual and weird” and the Apollo 14 astronauts trained there to prepare for the moon landing. And, I was excited about the prospect of getting some training in raptor and bat monitoring. That will have to wait until the bulk of our range land monitoring is done and bat season starts, but! we did get to visit and do some caving at Craters of the Moon and it was pretty awesome:

Dwarf Buckwheat

And of course, plant identification! Dendrology was one of my favorite (and one of the most difficult) classes I took as an undergrad. We had to learn 130 species of plants, lots of different varieties of pines and oaks, which made transitioning to sagebrush grasslands a little difficult. I knew a handful of southeastern grasses and switching over from identifying mostly trees and large shrubs to shriveled up remnants of forbs the size of a pinhead and a variety of grasses took some getting use to. Luckily we got plenty of practice in the field and jumped right into long-term trend monitoring using photo plots and line transects. Just two weeks in and we’ve learned to identify ~30 species. What was most surprising about the fieldwork was how much driving was spent getting to different BLM allotments. The prospect of getting very lost is daunting but the trade off for the scope of ecological diversity we get to experience is more than worth it. Also, the weather has been great so far. Highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 40s, that’s fall weather for Florida (or winter if you’re in south Florida)! It won’t last, but I could definitely get use to it. Also I have seen more cows here than I have ever seen in my life. It’s great.

Racing a thunderstorm to finish our trend plots

Clasping pepperweed, my new favorite ‘introduced’ plant! Lepidium perfoliatum


Elk skull

Your friendly neighborhood Shoshone horses


22-degree rainbow halo (it’s a thing)

Thanks for reading! Shorter and more botanically inclined posts to come.

Diana Gu

BLM, Shoshone Field Office.