Plants, Fish, and Bats! Oh my!

Hello all!

I can’t put into words how amazing it is to have the privilege to work outside nearly everyday. One of my favorite things to do lately is take a picture of the gorgeous scenery when I’m out working and post a photo on my facebook or twitter when I get home with the caption “this was my office today.” Fieldwork is such a rewarding experience. Yes, it gets hot and tiring sometimes, but the sights, sounds, and sheer adventure of it all makes it so fulfilling.

This week's "This was my office today" photo.

This is my current “This was my office today” photo.

Lately, I’ve gotten to contribute to several projects. My mentor sent all of the wildlife technicians out with the range crew and we have been learning how to read trends and assess sites for possible prairie dog relocation. Working with the range crew has allowed me to learn a lot more of the Utah plants. A brief overview of what reading trends consists of: We go out to either a historic site (an area where they’ve been collecting data for years) or a new site (where we set up a new plot) and take stock of what plants there are using a combination of methods (point intercept, line intercept, and nested frequency). It has been great getting to know our range crew, practicing new sampling methods, and learning new plants.

Zach and I assisting the trend crew.

Zach and I assisting the trend crew.

We’ve also gotten to pair up with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) in a town near St. George. They have been seining the Virgin River in order to remove the invasive red shiner. Now that was physically exerting! It was wonderful getting to work in a riparian area again. There’s not an abundance of water out here in Utah, which is very different from what I’m used to. So getting to be in a river all day was quite a treat (even if I was sore for several days after). Unfortunately, since we were in the water all day (sometimes up to my neck), I wasn’t able to get any photos.

Last, but not least, we got to pair up with another DNR team and assist with a bat survey last night. I’ve always wanted to participate in bat monitoring, but I’ve never had the opportunity. When my mentor said he might be able to work something out, I was thrilled. After a couple months of contacting various crews that did bat work, we got the go ahead to help the Cedar City DNR, and my dream finally came to fruition. By some dumb luck, I ended up doing data recording. That meant that I got to see every bat we caught and help assess their age, sex, health, and a few other measurements. I couldn’t have asked for a better night!

Sporting the headlamp and taking a moment to cheese for the camera while helping assess a bat.

Sporting the headlamp and taking a moment to cheese for the camera while helping assess a bat.

Zach and Ruth helping to set up one of the mist nets in the cave.

This month has exposed me to so many new skills and experiences. It’s been great working with both intra- and inter-departmental crews to get involved in different types of plant and animal research and monitoring.

In a non-work related note, I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with some of the other CLM interns in Utah and we have had some pretty great adventures. I’m thankful we all got to meet in Chicago at the workshop. I didn’t realized how many friendships would stem from that trip!

 My CLM friends. Jinny (from Vernal), Jessie (from Escelante), and I (Cedar City) met up in Escelante and explored some of Utah's wonderful outdoors. Here we are posing in a hoo doo.

My CLM friends. Jinny (from Vernal), Jessie (from Escalante), and I (Cedar City) met up in Escalante and explored some of Utah’s wonderful outdoors. Here we are posing in a hoo doo.

Don’t feed Cheetos to Babies

        The following conversation has little to do with the CLM internship, I just think it is quite funny.

I was visiting a friend out in Miles City when I ran to the grocery store to grab supplies for our barbecue. As I was passing a bag of Cheetos to the cashier, the woman in line behind me squawks, “Don’t feed Cheetos to babies!”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah, something about the cheese they use upsets their stomachs. I used to get stomach aches, but after I cut Cheetos out of my diet: nothing.” She drew a line with her hand to illustrate her lack of digestive distress. I stood there, unsure of the correct response to a woman whose cart was full of Oreo’s and potato chips. She kept talking.

“I’m just waiting for the American people to wake up and sue the FDA for the chemicals they are allowing in our food. Or, really what we should all do is stop paying our federal taxes.”

She was talking to three BLM employees, paid by the federal government.

“When the government shuts down, then we’ll see what happens,” she was nodding sagely at me, taking my shocked silence as agreement. My friends had already turned their back on her. “When China tries to invade, we’ll meet them at the border. If you know what I mean.” She cocked an imaginary shotgun.

Oh boy.

Stormy afternoon in Sage Creek. Beware of mud.

Stormy afternoon in Sage Creek. Beware of mud.

Eastern Montana aside, things in Dillon have become more familiar now. I know what I’m going to do any given day, the squeaking sink in the office no longer makes me think the fire alarm is going off, and parking the long box truck in the overcrowded lot does not gives me anxiety anymore. In a typical week I spend about half my time collecting seeds or scouting populations by myself and the other half conducting various riparian surveys and upland studies with the range techs. When my family and friends ask what I actually do, I tell them I mostly hike around and look at plants. It is a nice balance, and although I’m still learning constantly, the deer-in-the-headlights-am-I-doing-this-right feelings have mostly subsided.

Knapweed hunting

Knapweed hunting

Occasionally, I mix up the routine and go out with the wildlife techs. I’ve gone out on ferruginous hawk surveys several times, but have yet to see a ferruginous hawk. Another day I participated in the office spray day in the Bear Trap. Armed with our spray packs (Ghostbusters?), about 30 of us set out to exterminate that pesky knapweed. Unfortunately, I encountered my first rattlesnake (right by my foot!), forgot to stay calm, and ran away yelling profanities in front of the renewable resources manager. Pat understood, although she still teases me about it.


Living in Montana has been awesome. Initially it took some adjustments: many restaurants close at 8 pm, driving an hour is “close,” and there is no recycling (the Portlander in me dies a little bit every time I throw away a piece of paper in the office, although I’ve set up my own efforts at home). Besides this, the mountains are incredible and the people are friendly. I hiked the Sphinx outside of Ennis and could see 14 mountain ranges from the 10,800 ft peak. I had a dress altered and the seamstress invited me in for gumbo and we talked for hours about skiing. People say the pace is different than city life, but I’ve found that really it’s a whole new walk.

View of the Madison range from the top of the Sphinx

View of the Madison range from the top of the Sphinx

Top of the Sphinx, as seen from the saddle

Top of the Sphinx, as seen from the saddle


It’s a Cow’s World

I’m going to start out this blog post by openly admitting that I came to Burns with the mindset that beef is the root of all evil. I stopped eating beef when I was 15 years old because of the environmental implications; it takes an estimated 2,000 gallons of water and 12 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of beef. That’s pretty darn inefficient, and a completely unsustainable way to feed humanity over the long term. With that in mind, let’s just say I had a fairly uncomfortable transition to an area where ranching is so common and cows are beloved by all. In fact, the BLM was formed from the former U.S. Grazing Service, so basically my job revolves around making sure the beef cows I am so adamantly opposed to have good land to graze.

There was a lot to be learned about cattle ranching in the Wild West, however. First of all, the cattle here are all free range, making it an entirely different ball game than beef production in the industrial system. I still wasn’t convinced, though, because I was frustrated by the fact that people seemed to prioritize grazing land over conserving the natural plant communities. For example, many of the wildfire rehabilitation sites that I monitor were seeded with “desirable non-natives” such as forage kochia and crested wheatgrass. These are highly palatable plants that cows love to eat, but they aren’t native to Oregon. So what’s the point in using plants that don’t even belong here? To me, it didn’t seem like a very environmentally-conscious rehab plan.


Vegetation monitoring at a fire rehab site

Here’s where it gets interesting. As I’ve mentioned before, wildfires are a huge issue out here. They burn hot and fast, and scorching all of the good plants like sagebrush and native bunch grasses in their paths. In the past, these plant communities would’ve bounced back naturally; however, with the introduction of invasives like cheat grass and Medusa head, the natives just can’t compete. Which means that if the fire sites are left to their own devices, cheat grass and Medusa head will completely take over (no animals will eat them and no other plants will grow back). That’s why the BLM uses non-native plants in their seedings – they do a better job at competing with and blocking out the invasives, whereas the native plants would never have survived. By preventing the invasives from taking over, there is a better chance that the native plant communities will eventually regrow and live cohesively with the desirable non-natives.


A fire site overrun with invasive cheat grass

That’s still hard for me to swallow. I am disappointed that the only way to prevent the spread of invasives is to plant non-natives, but I suppose that is the lesser of two evils. And I’m happy to know that they don’t plant things like crested wheatgrass because they want to make the cows happy, but rather because it’s the only choice they have. However, I still think more research is needed on how to control the invasives, and while the BLM does a good job stabilizing and rehabilitating the land after a fire, there really is no push to restore the native plant communities. So in that regard, I do wish the BLM put a little more emphasis on conservation and preservation, not just grazing.

All in all, I had a lot of misconceptions about how things are run out here. I’m not saying that I’ll be cooking myself a juicy T-bone steak anytime soon, but I’ve certainly learned a lot about fire ecology and beef production in the West. I hope to continue having my opinions challenged and horizons widened during my time here. Because that’s the beauty of exploring new places – you may not recognize how close-minded you are until you truly open your mind to the thoughts of others.

On a lighter note, here are some pictures from the past two (exceptionally muddy) weeks:


We were headed out of the field just as a huge storm rolled through…


…and things got messy real fast.


The very next day our truck got thoroughly stuck in the mud.


This week, we did stream restoration. Hauling all of those rocks was a dirty & tiring job!

Austin Yantes

Burns District BLM

An End to Vegetation Monitoring… The Beginning Of?

Sericocarpus rigidus the last species to count this summer.

Sericocarpus rigidus, the last species to count this summer.

Since starting at the BLM here in Eugene in April, the majority of my time has been spent doing various forms of vegetation monitoring. I’ve spent many weeks counting and documenting the number of individuals in a particular population of rare plants to help the BLM better understand the trajectory of these species and to continue or make changes to existing management protocols. As of today, we have completed the very last of our rare plant surveys. My feelings are mixed. I guess I’m not exactly sure what my main focus will be for the next few months and worry that my future holds a lot of data entry… which, as it turns out, I am terrible at. With a little luck I’ll figure out a way to get in the field with a machete and an weed whacker and hammer on some wetland prairie invaders, like prickly pear and blackberry.

One thing that I’ve realized after two botany-related internships over the past year and a half is that being outside and working with plants is only part of what I want for my future. Oddly enough I yearn for daily struggles, problems with open-ended solutions, and the ability to adapt my actions to meet these challenges. To me this confirms my desire to work in restoration. Before studying habitat restoration, the term adaptive management was unknown to me. Now that I’ve seen a variety of restoration and research projects aimed at supporting native plant populations, it has become my creed. Oddly, the notion that I could spend the rest of my life working to unlock the best possible way to restore native plant communities… and never truly find that answer… is one of the most appealing aspects of becoming a restoration practitioner. Unending challenge and the constant need to adapt, re-think, and start over, sounds like a lot of fun. Field work detached from that thought process will never hold my interest for more than the short term. Although positions like I find myself in now are not my ultimate end-goal, I am comforted that it will take me one step closer. As I get older (I’m 31 now), I often wonder if I’ll know when I’m at that jumping-off point, that moment when the next chapter starts. Will I recognize that moment when it’s time to quit that last safe job and launch full force into a risky but rewarding career? I’m not sure how long or what it will take for me to get to that point, but I’m hoping that starting graduate school this fall at OSU will bring me closer.




A long echoing hello again from canyon country. The past week took us to the Virgin River area near Zion Canyon. We sampled abandoned oil well sites dating back to the late 1920’s with some as recent as the early 80’s. The oil drilling scene there was very different from those near Bluff or Moab, UT. In those two areas drill sites are flat, expansive, and far apart. However, the sites near Zion are clustered together wherever there was a flat space to be found, no matter how tiny. The wells are everywhere! Sometimes right next to each other.

A fun vegetation survey to me means lots of plants to ID! Which is exactly what we got! Our team was unfamiliar with many of the species found, so we have been spending lots of times pouring over Utah Flora and Intermountain Flora and debating over glumes, phyllaries and various bracts, and of course the many wonderful types of plant hairs (Ilovestellateplanthairs). We have been IDing so much that I dreamed about IDing Sphaeralcea. “It’s all about the leaves,” my dream-self recommended.

Here’s to dreaming of plants and spectacular Utah!


USGS Henderson, NV


Typical well cap

Typical well cap

Vegetation Transect

Vegetation Transect

Oil Well turned Campsite

Oil Well turned Campsite