Moving into Fall


Things are beginning to wind down here in Dillon, although I still have some weeks left. I just finished my last seed collection. It seems appropriate that it was Mountain Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentate subsp. vaseyana), considering the species has characterized most of the landscape in our watershed.

Other happenings in our office: our range staff recently attended a Montana Range Tour hosted by the Madison Conservation District in Ennis. It was interesting to see land management agencies, conservation groups, and ranchers interact as we moved from site to site. While everyone was very friendly, there were moments of disagreement, particularly concerning grazing rotation and biological controls. The tension seemed to stem from the potential contradiction between anecdotal evidence and scientific support; bias exists in both. Still, the tour was fun and informative. The incredibly beautiful Madison valley helped distract from the tumultuous weather.

This was cold.

This was cold.


The Madison mountain range in the background

The range techs and I have recently started doing juniper surveys on reaches that will be treated next winter. This involves establishing 1/10 acre circular plots and measuring the diameter of each juniper at the root crown. The first reach was challenging.  The brush was so thick that getting through the rose and ribes drew blood. By the second stream the procedure became rhythmic and much more enjoyable. The coffee stop we made along the highway undoubtedly helped.

In other news, I went to Yellowstone and was blown away. The park was amazing, as seen in the following unedited iphone photos.


Elk sparring!


Mammoth Hot Springs


Artist’s Point


The Painted Pots, my personal favorite


Farewell Oregon

I finished up my internship in Northeast Oregon as summer came to an end. The weather seemed to herald the autumn arrival with cooler days and much needed rain. Even our local mountains, the Elkhorns, had a dusting of snow! I started with the thaw of spring and left with the (slight) chill of fall. I will certainly miss the beautiful landscape that surrounded our office with its seemingly endless open space to explore.

My final month(s) of my internship were a mixture of water quality monitoring, riparian assessments, office work and a few fish surveys! I was very excited to have the opportunity to wok with our fish biologist, learning about the life cycle of salmon and how to find ideal salmon habitat, such as redd sites throughout our rivers. We took a tour of a large scale creek restoration project, focusing improving salmon spawning. I was fascinated by the different techniques and specialities involved with creating viable salmonoid habitat from constructing channel shifts to re-vegetation of banks.

Catherine Creek

In my final weeks at the BLM, I finished up my independent project of determining thermal regimes of streams within the Powder River Basin. I was specifically examining how grazing may be impacting the stream temperatures by complying historic temperature and grazing data, along with flow levels, elevation and a variety of other factors. After analyzing the data through correlations and linear regression models, I found there was a notable positive relationship between the level of grazing and maximum average temperature. Other factors, such as elevation and percent of BLM ownership, also had a role. My report suggests further examination of stream temperatures in the basin as my analysis was limited in scope, but showed there exists potential effects of grazing.

My internship through the Chicago Botanic Garden has given me a good perspective of the management side of conservation. Before CBG,  I had mostly been involved on the research side of examining impacts and recommending shifts in management. Carrying out the objectives of any management plan has its successes and obstacles. I have seen or heard how many plans have to be alter once implementation begins in the field. Through my independent project, I learned about how many government agencies work on improving the efficacy of restoration plans through cycles of research and monitoring. The success of restoration and conservation relies on both. Monitoring often provides the long term data that research relies on for trends. These trends are the starting point for many a research question. As someone who is thoroughly invested in pursuing a research career, I enjoyed coming to understand the role monitoring serves not only for management plans but also future scientific study.

I would like to thank Krissa, Rebecca, and the rest of CBG.


Phillips Lake

Vale District Office, BLM

Adventure on Two Mountains and Bill’s Place

As I approach my last month, I have been trying to use my time as well as possible-besides this weekend, which I’m using to recharge. The past couple weeks I have been working on a bat study, recording data on bat roosts in rocks and trees.

Three weeks ago I made the effort to go hiking in Mt. Rainier. Cold, rainy, snowy, exhausting: I loved it all. And I was relatively pleased for knocking out a 40 mile loop in 3 days.


My favorite moment was probably sharing a campsite with a fellow solo hiker. As it turned out his wife and grandfather went to my alma mater at Wake Forest. He told me how his wife will be “tickled” to hear how he spent a night with a Demon Deacon. He spent dinner telling me how I need to follow my dreams. Backpacking always gives me a renewed sense of optimism in humans, and this man was no exception.

20150905_153733 20150906_085015


As I was driving back-less than 24 hours to prepare for returning to work-I came to realize that one of the biggest reasons I love backpacking is afterwards returning to civilization I feel like a better person. I may not smell like one, but I sure feel better in a way no other activity I know can provide.

The weekend following, to the dismay of my recovering feet and knees, I climbed South Sister just outside of Bend. For me, climbing up was the fun part, on the return trip it seemed falling was the only right way to get down. Still, a gorgeous hike.

20150912_133851 20150912_133137

Finally, last week for work we got the opportunity to visit Bill’s place. While there we found a visit from some wild horses, so all in all it was a pretty great day.



All in all I’m pretty proud for the high density of adventure, so I’m rewarding myself with a weekend of coffee and relaxing.

Until next time,

Ben Robb

Our apartment looks a bit seedy

Over the past month, the New England SOS team’s seed collections have surged from 32 collections on 8/25 to 120 on 9/25–just about everything is fruiting in the narrow growing season of America’s northeast.  A month ago we were collecting about one species per day; now, we collect about six or seven.  Consequently, all four interns are bursting at the seams trying to properly dry, de-pest, and package the seeds for cleaning following collection.  Though the weather is now cooling down and the salt marshes are a little less rife with mosquitoes, our apartments, though booby-trapped with dozens of no-pest strips, are getting buggier and looking, well, seedier:

Scene 1 - Dining room table:  seeds from Eutrochium maculatum, Limonium carolinianum, Asclepias syriaca, Iva frutescens, Carex lupulina, and Panicum virgatum

Scene 1 – Dining room table, from left: Eutrochium maculatum, Limonium carolinianum, Carex lupulina, Asclepias syriaca, Iva frutescens (top right), and Panicum virgatum (bottom right)

Scene 2 - Living room, from top:  Scirpus cyperinus, Iva frutescens

Scene 2 – Living room, from top: Scirpus cyperinus, Iva frutescens

Scene 3 - Dining room round table (aka the Graminoid table), clockwise from top right:  Schizachyrium scoparium, Cyperus diandrus, Echinochloa walteri, Schoenoplectus acutus, Cyperus strigosus, Schoenoplectus pungens

Scene 3 – Dining room round table (aka the Graminoid table), clockwise from top right: Schizachyrium scoparium, Cyperus diandrus, Echinochloa walteri, Schoenoplectus acutus, Cyperus strigosus, Schoenoplectus pungens

Since we also have to collect specimens, our plant press is also very full:

Ran out of blotting paper...newspaper will have to do.

Ran out of blotting paper…newspaper will have to do.

Despite the sudden rapid pace of collection, we are working hard and I think we are much more efficient at finding all the target seeds that we need on this giant plant scavenger hunt.  The time is flying by…soon it will be November, we will have made >200 collections, and our two dozen aluminum trays will be filled with–not seeds–but turkeys and stuffing.


If there’s one thing about this internship that I wasn’t quite expecting, it’s the driving. Harney county is the largest county in Oregon in terms of area, and much of the land is owned by the BLM. Driving to field sites takes hours upon hours on black top, gravel, dirt, and rocks. The single activity I have done the most this summer is to drive or ride in a pickup truck which is the single most valuable tool I use to get field work done.


The last apple:

Back during the first week, we had finished field work for the day. There was still a little bit of time before we had to head back, so some of the guys we work with were driving us out to see Krumbo Reservoir. I had been sitting in the truck for what seemed like forever. I had a little motion sickness, but felt like I could handle it. Then we turned down a slightly bumpy and curvy gravel road that led down to the reservoir. By the time we reached our destination, I was about dying and ran to the bathroom to lose the better part of my lunch.

Right before we were about to go back, I ran over to a trash can just to make sure I was done. When we climbed in the truck to head back, Kyle asked if I was sick. I said it was just motion sickness. He looked kind of concerned and said we were going to be doing a lot more driving this summer and I should get some medicine or something. He asked if it would help if I drove, and he let me drive the rig home.

I knew my mistake though. While they aren’t solely to blame, apples generally make me car sick for whatever reason. So now I eat oranges at lunch. That was the last day I brought an apple.


Learning to navigate in Harney county was a bit difficult for me at first. The dirt roads all looked the same, and the rolling hills of grass and sage looked the same. When giving directions, my boss would use phrases like “you can’t miss it”. Needless to say, the four of us interns all missed that spot the first time and started driving to Nevada. Even the guys who weren’t new had to backtrack occasionally when seeking out our field sites.

Into this sea of navigational troubles walked Randy. Randy, a salt-and-peppered fifty-something was born and raised here in Burns. Randy spent much of his life exploring the backroads of Harney County, and has been driving to BLM field sites for five years now.


Randy drives through a herd of cattle


A coyote watches us stop for some typical scenery

ArcGIS and the Disappearing Roads:

ArcGIS, the most prominent program for mapping and geographic analysis is all the rage these days. There is even a version of the program called ArcPad that is made for use on a tablet. We have ArcPad on our fancy Trimble tablet GPS units, and are therefore able to track out position relative to the expansive network of back roads without too much difficulty. You would think it’s impossible to get lost with this technology.

This past week, we were assigned to mark sagebrush seedling establishment plots in several specific patches in the Miller Homestead Fire region. We set out with a map, a GPS, and Randy. We were making good time and had gotten three sites marked when we hit a lovely stretch of road heading for the fourth site. The road curved up and over a patch of rim rock, and was entirely made of rocks. At one point, I had to get out and roll a particularly large rock out of the way, and another time we went up a stair of rock that was larger than an average stair. Both sides of the road were lined with more rocks sticking out and threatening to rip up our tires. And that was the site we made it to. Randy just gritted his teeth and drove. We got back to the office an hour late that day. Randy looked at the tires and pointed out where a chunk of rubber had been gouged out of their thick tread. “I thought these tires were new; didn’t you get them a couple of weeks back?”  “Well they ain’t new any more.”

The sites we didn’t make it to came the second day. We came to an intersection and the road we needed to take completely disappeared. There was another road present which was not on the map and went off in a different direction. This happened again on the third day. While GPS and ArcGIS are wonderful technologies, they have limited usefulness without regular updating. Even when a map has a road drawn on it, that doesn’t make the road a reality. Navigation would also be easier if a measure of road roughness were included on the map.

Northward Bound

Hello from Utah- one final time! Last week was the end of my time here in Vernal. In a couple of days I will be packing up and heading to northern Minnesota, where I will be collecting MORE seeds with the University of Minnesota-Duluth for two months. I’m very excited!

It has been a blast getting to know all the botanists at the Vernal Field Office. I will treasure all my memories of this summer, including hacking away at teasel, wandering up mountains surveying for rare plants, floating down river rapids on an inflatable kayak, and navigating the truck through some questionably well-maintained roads. The town of Vernal itself was not my favorite place, but the nearby recreational activities were seemingly endless. I have visited 10 national parks and five state parks this summer, along with countless hikes and scenic drives. I would definitely recommend having a car if you are planning on working in Vernal, because the town itself is not that spectacular, but the surrounding public lands should not be missed.

This internship has helped me to cement my knowledge that I am obsessed with plants, and that I would be perfectly happy wandering around outside all day looking at plants… probably for the rest of my life! I thought I might get bored collecting seeds after six months, but I really haven’t. Each plant population is unique and interesting in its own way, and it makes me realize how much more I’d like to know about plant community ecology. I am planning on attending grad school in the near future, and the workshop at the Chicago Botanic Gardens earlier this summer was incredibly helpful in teaching me the next steps of applying to grad school.

So, that was my summer in a nutshell! I will never forget my time here in Vernal, and I hope to cross paths with some of the amazing people I have met here again in the future.

Go plants!

Probably one of my favorite pictures of the summer... one of our teasel-spraying expeditions!

Probably one of my favorite pictures of the summer… one of our teasel-spraying expeditions!

Jinny Alexander
BLM- Vernal, Utah Field Office

Its the Little Things

They say that in your twenties you meet alot of temporary people. Immediately that may conjur up a lot of negatives — best-friendships,  romantic relationships, the removal of bad vibes and people from your life —  but as an ecologist, temporary people are an integral part of our careers. The early stages of our careers are often seasonal and short-term, which is a hinderance and a blessing. As soon as you learn to identify all the grasses on the range it’s time to move on, by the time you get to really know your co-workers – adios the next place is acallin’.  We become a jack of all ecosystems (learning a little about each place we visit) and are yet to be masters at any. But, we see some of the most scenic and beautiful places and by understanding how our interactions with nature shape the land, we gain a greater appreciation for where we live. This transient-ness in the prime of our lives allows us to connect with a lot of new people, reshape and modify our opinions, and challenge ourselves in ways we may have not expected.  As I enter my last month of working in Burns, OR I’ve been reflecting on how lucky I am that this is one of those temporary places. Therefore, I dedicate this blog to some of my favorite moments. Oregon photo...8

Oregon photo...5

Seriously, one of my favorite parts of living in Oregon is living out on a farm. Every evening I take a walk in the fields and feed treats to horses, donkeys, and cows. Pictured above is Fuzz, one of the barn cats.Oregon photo...6












some of the critters we see at work:

Oregon photo...2 Oregon photo...7 Oregon photo...3Oregon photo...9


Moments with Friends:


Oregon photo...11

Hiking the Strawberries. My First Back Country Camping Trip

Oregon photo...13

Fishing at Delitment Lake my first weekend in Burns

Oregon photo...12

Hike to Wild Horse Lake on the Steens


Ending of a season and Marmots!

Work at the fish evaluation station came to an early close at the beginning of September. The number of suckers being caught at the station made a dramatic decrease, so it was decided to stop our efforts. The peak in their numbers must have happened earlier in the season. Now we’ve begun our final reports on the project, with mine focusing on the recirculation aspect.

Research down at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge has also continued with water quality measurements, trapping of predator fish, and other predator surveys. So far we’ve mainly caught fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) and Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus).  These pose threats to suckers by either being predators to young fish or competitors. These fish end up in the ponds from the water being supplied from other sources, such as Tule Lake. We did get a surprise in our traps, two suckers.  They were placed in the ponds last winter from salvage operations. It was exciting to see that they had survived.  Both still had their PIT tags, making them easy to identify. Some larval suckers that were raised in captivity were placed in net pens down at the ponds as well. These will serve as experimental fish and answer questions such as growth rates and parasite loads. While visiting the ponds we also continued trapping at  Tule Lake for suckers released last year.


One of the suckers caught at the LKNWR ponds.

At the beginning of September I was able to get some time off to travel up to Olympic National Park for a week. There I got the opportunity to volunteer for the park on their Olympic marmot surveys.


Moose Lake

The Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) is endemic to the park. They inhabit isolated sub-alpine and alpine meadows, or on montane scree slopes. They are a burrowing species and live in colonies. Spending most of their lives in hibernation, from about September to May. While hiking, you’re most likely to hear them “whistle,” which is actually more of a scream and is a warning to other marmots about predators. The population has suffered a huge decline, which has since stabilized but is still of concern. The project was started in 2010 and aimed to estimate population numbers. This was the last year of surveying before the data collected will be accessed by the parks wildlife biologist. Hopefully this data will reveal whether management actions might be necessary.


Marmot laying out and relaxing.

In order to survey we had to backpack into a remote part of the park and setup base camp. Our camp was at Moose Lake (even though there are no moose to be found in the park) in the Grand Valley just below Grand Pass.  From there our day hikes traversed most of the valley and parts on the other side of the ridges. Some of the surveys required off trail hiking on some steep slopes.  Marmots sure don’t make it easy to get to their burrows.  Overall it was a fantastic trip!


Base camp.


A view from Grand Pass.



As Autumn Comes Along…

Greetings again from the North Carolina Botanical Garden!  Actually, greetings from the field on the Southeastern Coastal Plain, where my crew has been spending 95% of our time.  The last time I wrote, we were waiting for a lot of our target species to develop mature seed.  That time has passed!   It’s hard to believe, but Autumn is already here, and we are staying very busy with our rounds of seed collections in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland’s coastal plain areas.  Our crew of four has split into two teams in order to cover the most ground possible.  My teammate, Lauren, and I have decided to take on a schedule starting in September where we work 8 ten-hour days in a row, and then take off 6 days in between.  This schedule is intense, but rewarding, because it gives us enough time to really cover a lot of ground and make a ton of collections in a week, and then have a nice long chunk of off-time at home before doing it all over again.  Because we do a lot of driving across a three-state range, it makes the 6-ish hour drive to Maryland and some parts of Virginia worth it, and we don’t feel like we have to turn around and drive right back immediately.

My crew has now obtained permits and visited over 75 sites in our range.  By the end of the season, that number will top 100.  It is interesting to see that the parcels of land in conservation are much, much smaller and spread out here on the East Coast than what I observed while living out West.  Instead of working on one or two enormous tracts of Forest Service or BLM land, we have been contacting and scouting dozens of National Wildlife Refuges (managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service), The Nature Conservancy Preserves, State Parks, County parks, and various land trusts.  Some of my favorite sites we have visited have been the National Wildlife Refuges.  These sites tend to be a bit larger, allowing for a diversity of micro-climates and habitats, which seems to provide more continuity for the plant and animal species that make their homes there.  In addition, these Refuges tend to have some spectacularly beautiful views!

Occoquan Bay NWR

A view from shore at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia

Salt flats at Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge

Salt flats at Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge

An advancing storm over Chesapeake Bay as seen  from Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.  Luckily, we were done with work for the day!

An advancing storm over Chesapeake Bay as seen from Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. Luckily, we were done with work for the day!

Another interesting thing about these conservation lands in the East is their proximity to developed, urban landscapes.  Occoquan Bay NWR, which has become one of our favorite sites, is only minutes from the urban sprawl that extends out of Washington D.C.  While we are there, the hubbub and traffic (OH, the traffic!) is far from our thoughts as we listen to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore.  One of our recent collections at this site was Strophostyles helvola, annual sand-bean, or wooly-bean, a cute little viney legume that pops open its pods and hurtles the seed every which way when mature.  Using a bag with a wide opening helps while collecting this little guy!

Strophostyles helvola, with an immature fruit

Strophostyles helvola, with an immature fruit

As September breezes by, the onslaught of hunting season is upon us as well.  When considering that turkey, deer, and bear hunting is allowed on National Wildlife Refuges, one may wonder if the term “refuge” is really appropriate.  I’m sure this is one of the main reasons these Refuges were set up, though, and how they continue to maintain funding.  I know the managers of the lands are doing their best to keep balanced populations on their properties, especially considering how close most of them are to developed areas.  They must be doing something right, because the list of wildlife we have seen while working this season includes bear, deer, bald eagles, osprey, groundhogs, beaver, snakes, lizards, and even an alligator!  This doesn’t even include the countless species of smaller birds or the numerous pods of dolphins we’ve spotted while working along the coast.

Although all the driving and nights in hotels can become a bit of a grind, thinking of all these experiences helps me realize just how lucky I am to have such a fabulous job.  While most of the people of Washington D.C. or Raleigh might think of nature as something “other,” not a part of their everyday environment, I have the privilege to walk within it every day, and witness its everyday moments of radiance and tranquility.  I get to behold the glorious skies and beautiful blooms of her shining moments, and the stinking muck and terrifying venom of her darker side.  And all of these things help to make me who I am, someone a bit outside the norm of this “civilized” society, perhaps, but also one who is in touch with the pulse of nature and the rhythm of the seasons.  I’ll leave it on that note.  Until next time, peace outside!

Emily Driskill

SOS East: North Carolina Botanical Garden

A few more words on cheatgrass

One of the many projects we have going (while we wait for fall seeds to mature) is to find an adequate site to apply soil microbes for the biocontrol of cheatgrass. Did you know there is a microbial control of cheatgrass and other winter annual grasses? It’s pretty neat. Research scientists from Washington State University and USDA-ARS have painstakingly isolated the bacteria Pseudomonas from the roots of yellowing winter wheat. This bacteria produces a toxin that targeted the winter cultivar, which they then (through a long process) applied to a few of the invasive winter annuals that plague the arid west. The cost per acre is equivalent to the lower price end of herbicides, and can be delivered by spraying or coated on (wanted) perennial seeds. They are working with many agencies to put this method into widespread practice.

But in the meantime…

Cheatgrass. It’s everywhere! Why not use it to our advantage? I’ve noticed its natural tendency for its seeds to work their way into everything, so I thought, “Heck, just go with it.”

To make all-natural, (somewhat) organically grown socks:

1) Go to work. Preferably fire monitoring at the ol’ Spring fire, which was not seeded.

2) Let it in. Roll your pant ends up once or twice, just enough to expose your ankles. If your pants are a little on the short side, like mine, you can skip this step.

3) Walk. And walk and walk and walk. It’s that easy! You can just walk to your site, and continue your daily work routine. If you want to go the extra mile though, then do so (probably on your lunch break). Don’t worry about taking off your shoes to get the cheatgrass seeds all the way to the toe of the socks. They’ll get there, trust me.

4) Admire the tenacity of cheatgrass. It really is everywhere, isn’t it?

5) Launder. You might think this would remove the seeds, but it actually helps them weave deeper into the fibers. Make sure to turn your socks inside out! Wash and dry. Cheatgrass likes high heat, and your fancy wool socks don’t, so do that.

6) Re-evaluate. Stop for a second and think about what you really want.

6a) If you’re still thinking “WOAH, cheatgrass socks! What a great concept!”, then repeat steps 1-5. Eventually, your sock fibers will be entirely replaced by cheatgrass seeds, and you will have killer calluses covering your feet.

 6b) If you’re starting to miss your old, soft socks that didn’t constantly poke your poor feet, you might want to think about reversing the process. This will take 1-3 hours and must be done by hand with excellent lighting. Good luck!



Carson City BLM