July Review

During the month of July, I participated in a graduate student organized isotope study, desert pupfish surveys in conjunction with US Fish and Wildlife Service, a Seeds of Success collection with a group from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, monument setting with the state of California cadastral team, seed collecting with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and spent a weekend at Otay Mountain.

The isotope study is part of a master’s thesis for a CSUSB student. The aim of the study is to determine the source of the groundwater at Dos Palmas Preserve. Since the lining of the canal, the water table has decreased dramatically, assuming that canal seepage was feeding the surrounding oases. Samples were taken from 12 locations and water quality tests were conducted, then samples were sent off to the lab for further analysis.

image[3]Writing down water quality results as Kevin, the CSUSB grad student, is sealing samples for isotope analysis.

Surveys of the desert pupfish, Cyprinodon macularius, were conducted in two different locations, S-ponds and Upper Salt Creek. These surveys are part of the mitigation process for the Coachella Canal lining project at Dos Palmas Preserve. We set minnow traps filled with bags of cat food for a 2 hour time period and conducted water quality analyses. Then fish were counted, both native and non-native species, and returned to the habitat. Counts were high in the S-ponds but dismal in Salt Creek. There is a possibility of more surveys in the near future.

image[6]Releasing a minnow trap into the S-ponds.

pupfishReporting water quality of the pupfish habitats with Sharon, from US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I was invited to help Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in SOS collecting of Eriodictyon trichocalyx var. trichocalyx and Eriastrum sapphirinum subsp. dasyanthum in Whitewater Canyon and Senegalia greggii (Acacia greggi) in Bear Creek. We were successful in finding a big enough population and enough number of seeds per plant to make a complete collection.

image[7]Cheryl from RSABG collecting Eriodictyon trichocalyx seeds in Whitewater Canyon.

On a Friday, I was planning on working in the office all day but was convinced to help out the state cadastral surveyors that are located at our field office. The surveyors work as part of the Public Land Survey System, which has been around since the beginning of the United States. We drove out to Johnson Valley to set monuments for the upcoming change-over in land ownership from BLM to US Military. I got to pound the specific marks into the brass monument, thus leaving my mark in history.

image[10]Setting a monument in Johnson Valley with the cadastral crew.

I took a day trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to assist the Institute of Conservation Research in seed collecting at Lake Hodges and the safari park for an upcoming restoration project. We were successful in collecting Encelia californica but there were not enough seeds for complete collections of Sambucus nigra, Brickellia californica nor Saliva apiana. While these collections were not specifically for Seeds of Success, there were similar protocols and standards used.

sdzspExamining Salvia apiana to see if the seeds are viable for collection.

I spent a weekend at the US Fish and Wildlife ranch house in the Otay Mountains. My realty specialist co-worker has some compliance inspections to complete in the area and I tagged along with a local BLM wildlife biologist as we searched for populations of Baccharis varnesse, which we were unsuccessful in finding. San Diego county has a large amount of unique endemic species. Otay Mountain has the Tecate Cypress, Hesperocyparis forbesii; Del Mar is home to the Torrey Pine, Pinus torreyana; and countless others examples. I was also fortunate to visit the botany department at the San Diego Natural History Museum, which is responsible for the Plant Atlas project. The Plant Atlas consists of dividing the county of San Diego into grid squares, then volunteers were assigned a square and collected specimens of the local plants they encountered. These specimens were logged in the herbarium at the SDNHM and are now part of an extensive online database for species found all around San Diego county. I also learned about the local species present at Mt. Gower Open Space Preserve, El Capitan Open Space Preserve, Torrey Pines State Preserve, San Diego Botanic Garden and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There is opportunity for me to return to Otay Mountain and assist in monitoring another rare species in the upcoming weeks.

imageView of Mexico from Otay Mountain.

image[1]View of the Pacific Ocean from Torrey Pines State Preserve, with the namesake pine in the foreground.

Sonoran Desert wrap-up for June

During the month of June, I was fortunate to experience a diverse set of opportunities within the Palm Springs – South Coast field office.

One week of the month was spent at the Chicago Botanic Gardens for CLM training, which was fantastic. We had sessions on Botany of the West, Protocols for Monitoring and Measuring, and Seeds of Success training. The last day of the week all interns attended a symposium. I also had some free time to explore the Chicago area.

beanThe Bean in Downtown Chicago

When I returned to the desert, my co-worker and I started on our biggest task for the season, vegetation monitoring of 118 permanently marked transects and quadrats throughout the ACEC (Area of Critical of Environmental Concern). This project lasted into July and we both learned a lot about monitoring protocols and the local fauna. Some plots were in the dry upland habitat and others were located in the middle of a marsh. During this project, I collected GPS points to compare to the random points of our GIS-generated map. Data entry and analysis followed the completion of the outdoor work and we are working on presenting our findings at the quarterly Biological Working Group Meeting in September. I have updated the GIS map, created GPS coordinate logs and compared different habitat types of riparian species found along the transects. Also, we discovered a species that was not previously recorded in the quadrats and spent a day in the field with the Jepsen manual and a Trimble attempting to identify and log the species of rush.

11USA01_30_4Reference photo of transect 11 USA 01 from the 30m marker to the 4m marker, with my coworker Joel and I recording species percent cover along the transect.

image[1]Typical upland habitat: most common plants seen were 4 different species of Atriplex and Allenrolfea occidentalis, Pickleweed.


Joel fighting through the Phragmites to get to the next plots, typical marsh habitat.

I also got a chance to help out a team from the USGS Las Vegas office look for Hiliria ridgia at Big Morongo Preserve. USGS is working on a seed transfer zone project for new native plant nurseries. The GPS coordinate for Big Morongo Preserve was based on a herbarium voucher and thus we were not successful in finding a viable population.


Picture taken from Big Morongo Preserve of the smoke from the Lake Fire that burned 31,359 acres of the San Bernandino National Forest.


A busy and dry July in Lander, WY

July in the Lander Field Office has been the busiest month so far, but also the most fun. Our time has been split between two very time consuming projects, production clipping and seed collection. Production clipping involves us going out to an ex-closure (a fenced off area that cows can’t get into) in the field and clipping plants from both inside and outside the ex-closure to compare them. This helps us see the effect that grazing has on the production levels of different plants. At each site we set up two transects, one inside and one outside the ex-closure. We then throw hoops to randomly select 20 plots along the transect. Whatever is inside the hoop becomes our sampling plot, we cut down everything inside the plot and bag them by species. We weigh each bag at the site to get a green weight, then at the office we put the bags in plant dryers and get a dry weight in 24 hours. This process takes a couple days for each ex-closure and we have 10 sites to visit.


One of the production ex-closures we did production clipping at. This ex-closure was covered in tumbleweeds!


Here is an example of the hoops we use. Whatever is inside the hoop after we throw it gets clipped and weighed.

While not doing production clipping, we have been working on seed collections. We have four collections that we’ve done in July. We have collected Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), Basin Daisy (Platyschkurhia integrifolia), Desert Yellow Fleabane (Erigeron linearis), and Tansyleaf Tansyaster (Macaeranthera tanacetifolia). The seed collection has been a little challenging, sometimes seeds that we’ve scouted have disappeared before we could get to them. It seems like many of the seeds were ready at the same time and we couldn’t get to all of them at once.

Two days this month we had a Montana Conservation Corps crew come out and help us with seed collection. There were 12 kids (ages 14-22) on the crew and it was very helpful to have all of the extra hands. It was a little difficult to keep their attention at times, but they helped us collect 14,000 seeds of antelope bitterbrush and 15,000 seeds of desert yellow fleabane.  It was also nice to be able to teach others about seed collection and why it is important. I liked being able to be in charge and have my own crew.


Some of the antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) seed that the Montana Conservation Corps crew helped us collect.


Antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) seeds

One of the most tedious things about seed collecting is doing the seed count. We have a formula we use that uses the weight of the collection to figure out how many seeds we have. However, it requires us to take a handful of seeds as a sample and sort through and count how many viable seeds there are. This process can take about an hour. Although seed collecting can sometimes be monotonous, it is also very rewarding and is definitely my favorite part of my job.

In my free time I have been exploring the history of this area more in depth. One weekend I drove out to visit independence rock, which was much more interesting than I expected it to be! I learned that independence rock was considered the halfway point on the Oregon trail. Travelers were supposed to reach the rock by July 4th in order to ensure safe passage over the mountains before winter. Many people who stopped here carved their names into the rock, creating a sort of registry of travelers on the Oregon trail.


Signatures on top of Independence Rock


The view from standing on top of Independence Rock

The month of July started out very hot, we have been going up the road into the mountains more often to jump in the cold mountain lakes. There also has been no rain! Everyday is hot and sunny, which has caused many wildfires in the last couple of weeks. I’m starting to hope for a few rainy days.

I have also been out hiking in Sinks Canyon State Park a few times this month. Sinks Canyon is by far my favorite place in Wyoming.


A suspension bridge on one of the hikes in Sinks Canyon State Park.

Month three working with the BLM has gone well, I have really been enjoying my time here. However, I have to say that I am looking forward to the fall and cooler temperatures. Until next time!

Erin, Lander Field Office, BLM- Wyoming

Midsummer Notes

I am over half way through my time here at the BLM in Baker City. There is rhythm to our team as field sites and protocols become familiar. Stream channel assessments have changed up the routine a bit though with new techniques like plant identification!

We started off by attending training on multiple indicator monitoring (known hereafter as MIM) for riparian systems. The focus of MIM is quantifying the impacts of grazing on streams from bank stability to plant composition. The training brought people from a variety of backgrounds from range management to geo engineering. MIM has a holistic approach, attempting to account for all forms alterations. While alterations are examined individually, their potential relationships are examined in the final analysis. In the field, we discussed these connections as we practiced the methods of MIM. I found it intriguing to examine the morphology of streams as well as riparian vegetation.

Conducting MIMs on our own sites has been a real eye opener. Our first stream was in poor condition with highly eroding banks and little plant biomass left after cattle are taken off. It is shocking and disheartening to hear from my mentor how difficult it can be to have the grazing reduced on such allotments. It is a consequence of a working landscape. Ranchers often depend on free range grazing in the summer and cannot feed the cattle sufficiently otherwise. However, the impairment of these valuable ecosystems is gaining notice as evident by the growing importance of MIM in BLM.

I often find myself struggling with the complex and seemingly conflictingly commitments of the BLM. The reconciliation of conservation and resource utilization has been a subject of many a class or book of mine, yet the challenges are something I feel I am only beginning to grasp. It is easy to ignore when sites are part of large swaths of conserved land like some of our streams (see below), but it is evident in these highly degraded streams that there is still much to be done.

potters creek

Heavy duty restoration time


It’s Michal at the Lockeford PMC, NRCS. Just a quick update this time. July has been a very busy month — I’ve been trying to get everything locked down for this restoration project I’m carrying out. After we finally got our brushcutter, Jeff and I set off to start clearing the blackberry thicket (Rubus armeniacus) that I wrote about last time. And boy oh boy, let me tell you that it’s not very fun, but very satisfying when you see progress being made.

levee before

Levee before cutting

levee after

Levee after cutting

It may not look like it, but much of the thicket is over 5ft tall so it took quite a bit of effort and patience to get through it all. To complicate things, there are a lot of heavy branches hidden between the canes to avoid.



How I feel before cutting blackberries


How I feel 2 hours into cutting blackberries

We also spent a week clearing willows, which we will mulch back into the clearing as fertilizer and to retain soil moisture. We were careful to pile any walnuts into a non-mulch pile, as walnuts (Juglans sp) contain juglone, an allelopathic compound. The next step is to spray a pre-emergent herbicide to prepare the site, all the meanwhile allowing the blackberries to foliate again so we can herbicide them in the fall when they are translocating nutrients to the roots and are most vulnerable.

I have also been writing the USDA Plant Guide for California mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana). Because it is such an important plant to Native Californians, not only medicinally but also spiritually, I put a lot of effort into my research to make sure I do it justice. When it gets published, I’ll update everyone and post the link so you guys can check it out.

I hope everyone is learning a lot and doing well!


USDA-NRCS, Lockeford, California.

High Desert?

Orange mounds 2

Orange mound formations Badlands

The second month in the Black Hills has been very eventful. After one of the wettest early summers on record the Hills are still lush and green, very different than normal. In the office I hear people commenting on how streams are still running as well as the lack of fire ban. The lack of fire ban is one thing that has been great.  Where I am staying there is a fire pit, so my roommates and I have been grilling and roasting marshmallows often.

The projects that my coworker and I have been working on are finally progressing. The fuels-wildlife project is done save a final walk-through, and let me say I am happy it is over. The work has yet to be scheduled, but will probably be completed next spring. What we are trying to do is improve mule deer winter forage range by removing ponderosa pine to release mountain mahogany. At the same time we are creating a meadow area on the flatter areas. When we were lying out and designing the different areas we ran into problems that I had never thought about much before. While some areas are better off on paper as mountain mahogany, the logistics of getting men and machine in to do the work prohibits its inclusion into the project. There are some areas that are over 120˚ slopes with loose shale “soil”, these areas while in need of management will not be included.

The other project for this summer is a timber sale.  One nice thing about the BLM is that the timber sales are mainly about improving the health of the forest. The timber sale is on approximately 250 acres, however there are some areas that are canyons and will not be touched. It is these areas that some massive old ponderosa pine coexists next to an aspen stand, chokecherry, and the only oak in the Hills, bur oak. Being able to explore and see things that most people won’t is one of the hidden gems of this type of internship.
But it has not been all work and no play in the Black Hills, I am constantly amazed at what there is to do here. Some of them are amazing, others are pure tourist’s traps. One of the surprising finds is Custer State Park, this place has it all. They have one of the largest bison herds, elk, pronghorn, deer and a prairie dog town. There are also two very scary roads with amazing views of unique geologic landforms. What makes these roads scary are that they are so narrow there is not even a center line, along with almost constant blind turns and four single car tunnels. But it was worth it. The other CLM intern and I also went for a weekend trip to Badlands National Park, all I can say is that it is a great place to visit if you have the chance, just don’t feed the prairie dogs, they have plague! Our first night we were treated to an amazing lightning show, until it started pouring on us. It rained off and on all night, but my tent kept me dry. Looking forward to what the rest of the summer holds.

Pinnacles 2

Trees in the Badlands!


Badlands Vista

Pinnacles 1

Badlands Pinnacles

Badlands Drive

Badlands Drive

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

The last month (or two…) kept me very busy. I met new people, gained new skills, witnessed world cup soccer, and the seeds just keep coming!

Hope Solo defending the US goal against Japan in the World Cup Final. Yep, I took that photo from my seat at the game in Vancouver!

Hope Solo defending the US goal against Japan in the World Cup Final. Yep, I took that photo from my seat at the game in Vancouver, BC!

While I usually spend most of my time in the field alone, my last two trips brought fresh faces to the campground. Olga Kildisheva, a grad student at the University of Western Australia, spent a few days in the field collecting for seed dormancy studies she’s working on. She has collected in the Vale district as well, but I’m hoping she spends a couple more days on Steens Mountain with me in the future. A long day of seed collecting through bugs and heat isn’t so bad when you have a buddy to joke about your shared PTSD from the buzzing of flies and mosquitoes. She urged me to write a food blog with photographs of what I’m eating in the field (look for it on the CLM blog next month!). Apparently she was impressed with my camping snacks.

Olga investigating... something...  Polygonum bistortoides with pollinator in the foreground

Olga investigating… something…
Polygonum bistortoides with pollinator in the foreground

Despite working alone most of the time, this internship has been a great opportunity to network with a diverse array of like-minded folks.  I helped lead a Native Plant Society of Oregon hike on Steens Mountain with a retired BLM botanist from the area. Walking around my field site with someone who spent 30+ years identifying its flora was a real treat. It also gave me a boost of confidence; working alone, I have no one to tell me if I’ve identified the plants correctly but, now I know I’m doing it right! Most of the hikers drove in from Portland or Bend and camped on the mountain. I was lucky enough to share my campfire and my inner tube for floating on the campground lake with the NPSO Portland chapter’s president. She told me of federal botanists working in Oregon and how best to go about working for them in the future. Meeting other plant enthusiasts and networking with professionals while looking at flowers has been the highlight of my field season so far.

White-crowned sparrow nest spotted on the NPSO plant hike

White-crowned sparrow nest spotted on the NPSO plant hike

Getting to know the grasses (all by myself!)

Getting to know the grasses (all by myself!)

Flowers are a mere highlight, seeds are the real deal. Collecting seeds, missing seeds, finding new seeds ─ sharp seeds, itchy hair seeds, buggy seeds, jumping seeds. I am learning how seed collecting can be an exciting adventure. The toughest lesson so far, is learning how to slow down even though the seeds aren’t going to wait for me. I take 10 day trips to the field with 10 days in Portland in between, so if I don’t make time to collect a population that is ripe on one trip it will likely disperse before I return. This fact sent me into a dizzying whirlwind of 12 hour days the beginning of July. The flowers are easy to collect, seeds can take all day. Although this sense of urgency continues to haunt me, I realize I will never be able to collect ALL the seeds (no matter how badly I’d like to). So, I now make it a rule that I return to camp in time for a swim before dinner and begin where I left off the next morning.

Where I work is beautiful. Little Blitzen Gorge, Steens Mountain.

Where I work is beautiful.
Little Blitzen Gorge, Steens Mountain.

The best advice I’ve received: “Don’t forget to have fun” -Retired BLM botanist, Rick Hall

A Steady Rhythm of Collecting

The month of July has been a very full month! My partner, Erin, and I have been splitting our time between collecting data for an on-going vegetation production study and SOS collections, both of which are time sensitive projects.

Our SOS collections have been focused primarily on key pollinator and sage grouse forbs, as well as a couple grasses and antelope bitterbrush. Even though we started with 16 vouchers of specimens that we had the potential to collect seed from, the reality will be that the final number of seed collections we make this season will be much smaller. I’ve learned this month how unpredictable and time-consuming the process of locating and monitoring a potential collection can be. I don’t mean these adjectives in a particularly negative sense, but I’ve had my eyes opened to some of the basic hurdles a seed collection program such as SOS must face. As we’ve monitored species, trying to predict the dates of prime seed readiness, many of the seed populations have gotten swept away or chomped to dust by wind and insects. Managing our time for two projects also meant that some of our seed was ready for us before we had the time to snatch it up.

Lander Field Office Monitoring SOS Species

In light of this, we are proud and excited to have completed our first few collections this month with the help of the Montana Conservation Corps crew that came to assist us from the Wind River Reservation. We were fortunate enough to have their help for two days collecting seed just outside of the Red Canyon Wildlife Management Area. We are hoping August will bring several more successful collections!

Production Study IMG_1122

When we are not busy collecting SOS seed, our other task has been to gather data about the annual vegetative production of rangeland across the field office and make comparisons between grazed and ungrazed rangeland. Each study site we visit has an exclosure that has been preventing cattle from grazing these small sections of land for many years now, which allows the grass and other plants to proliferate (hypothetically) as the rest of the land would if cattle were not present. Our job is to collect data about the cover by species and production by species weight for plots placed inside and outside the exclosure. Part of this process is clipping small circular plots, dividing and bagging species separately and then weighing them. Today we finished our tenth and final study location and are excited to see what new projects August will bring!



Triumphs and Trials in NC

After a very productive week in the NC OBX, the team returned to Chapel Hill for seed cleaning, debriefing, and planning. Our greatest feat was collected over 10,000 Prunus serotina seeds at Currituck Banks!



To take break from the seed room, we would help monitor some of NCBG’s properties while we studied up on our species list. But it’s North Carolina and we get a lot of flash rain showers…



After a week in Chapel Hill, we were ready to get back into the field. We planned out a trip up to Virginia and Maryland with five sites in mind. However, we found that seed production is experiencing a weird hiatus where some species are done producing, while others aren’t ready to be collected! We still got to see some awesome scenery and wildlife: a rafter of turkeys and a pair of bald eagles. Sadly, we saw no black bears this trip.



Until next time!



The calm before the monsoons…..


Howdy gang!

It has been a busy few weeks here in southern New Mexico.  Although it has been uncharacteristically wet this year, this is the Chihuahuan Desert.  It’s still hot and still dry.  We are still waiting for the climax of collectable plant populations to hit.  So far, we’ve made a collection of Thymophylla acerosa, commonly called prickly Leaf Dogweed.  Fortunately for us collectors, it really isn’t all that prickly.  It does, however, have a wonderfully pleasant odor that reminds me a bit of turpentine.  Secondly, we made a collection of Aristida purpurea var. longiseta which is simply a really long awned version of Purple Threeawn grass. And finally, we made a collection of Plantago patagonica (Woolly Plantain).  Beyond that, our task as far as seed collections has been to find, monitor, and predict optimal timing for collections.  In this respect, we have pretty well determined when and where we will be making our collections.  Many of these will be mature enough for collection within the next three weeks or so.

Jeanne and I have also been doing some monitoring of Peniocereus greggii var. greggii (PEGRG), one of a handful of rare plants of concern to the BLM in this area.  Very little is known about the plant, which is a problem given that the BLM here in New Mexico enacts a policy of herbiciding large swaths of land to herbicide the shrubbery with the hoped effect of increasing carrying capacity of grass forage; which, of course, make the cows happy; which makes the ranchers happy.  That’s the logic anyway.  However, this may be problematic for PEGRG, because it likes to live in nurse shrubs.   So we are studying the effects of how dead nurseplants or reduced canopy affect the survival of these odd but cute little cacti.  As if all this weren’t enough, occasionally the field office sends us out to perform veg surveys for salvageable plants wherever construction projects are impending, such as power line or road widening projects. I enjoy these tasks because we get to save plants from annihilation. The salvaged plants get sent to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Preserve or some other responsible party that will give them a new and loving home.

Over the course of our adventures, the three of us have gotten the chance to see some extremely remote and extremely cool areas. Of these, so far, my favorite is the Florida Mountains.  These mountains are not all that accessible that I know of and are located very near to the Mexican border.  Ecologically, the area is fascinating because they are intermediate between Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts in terms of plant species present.  My mentor always takes a moment to play with any random herps we come upon.  I will look, but I do not touch!   Anyway. happy trails fellow CLMers!  May the force save us from getting the truck stuck!……again.

Best wishes,

Dave M.

Las Cruces District Office of the BLM





Haplophyton, a cool and rare Apocynacid from the Florida Mts.


Future collection site for Black/Blue grama in the Floridas.  With barrel cactus, ocotillo and a Jeanne…


Jeanne collecting Thymophylla acerosa seeds with enthusiasm…


Patrick with coachwhip…


Phacelia sp. in the Floridas


Dutchmans Pipe (Aristolochia) in the Florida.  Too weird!  Too cool!


Evolvulus sp, Florida Mts… Small, but beautiful


My mentor, Patrick in standard mode.  Sometimes writing, always looking down!