Big Bear, Bigger Snow in the SoCal Mountains


Before I moved to Big Bear Lake for the CLM internship, I lived in Washington state for eight months. Before that, I studied environmental science in northern California for four years. The epic California drought is a common topic of conversation among my environmentally mindful circle of friends, coworkers, and teachers. With very, very good reason. California is the most populous state, and delivers a majority of the thirsty produce and meats and other foods desired by people all over the country (and the world). The drought here affects most everybody, and the establishment of new priorities and solutions in the face of this new climate regime is essential.

During the few weeks prior to my internship, I drove the full spectrum of the state in terms of moisture. Beginning on the North Coast, under the noble redwoods, I soaked up steady rain showers with college friends. Down in the Bay Area, a few pitiful sprinkles fell on the green-brown hills. Further south, on the Central Coast near San Luis Obispo, little more than a few live oaks survive to dot the golden hills. Another 200 miles south on Highway 101 the gold gives way to intense human development, palm trees, and the gray-green of coast chaparral. Finally, I turned east from Los Angeles towards the vast Inland Empire for the last leg of my trip. Along the road through Riverside and San Bernadino, I took note of the truly arid landscape. I’d never traveled this far south on the West Coast. Scrub, cacti, and yucca are the status quo here. I switched on Mountain At My Gates by Foals to magnify the montane vibes, and ascended into San Bernadino National Forest in my old Suabru.


Passing by the first National Forest sign I wondered if someone had made an egregious error designating this a forest. Where were the trees? It was just too hot, too dry, too sparse here to support a true forest ecosystem. But as I climbed another hundred feet and then another, the landscape rapidly transitioned. Hello trees. And hello everyone from SoCal. E v e r y o n e. Traffic up the mountain slowed to a crawl. My supervisor warned me this was a heavily utilized forest. She warned me it’d be a good idea to consider alternate routes on New Year’s Day. But, sometimes I mistakenly place too much trust in Google Maps, so spent an extra two hours in bumper to bumper conditions en route to Big Bear Lake. For all the roads in the world to crawl along, though, I was grateful this was mine. The brigade of southern Californians and I twisted and turned from dramatic mountain vista to vista, alongside diverse, beautiful plant communities. At last, I reached the lake and my new home.

I’d chosen to arrive a few days early so that I could properly settle in and explore the new digs. As it turned out, there was a trailhead just outside the front door of my government barracks that connects to the PCT and tops Mt. Bertha, which offers spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains. I seized upon the convenience, and made it to the peak in about two hours. I look to my left, lodgepole pine. To my right, juniper. Seems about right. I look down. Cactus. Growing straight out of the snow! What is this place? I share a photo with a few of my friends who assert the cactus is actually a set of dinosaur scales. Hmm. I can see it. But the naming scientist thought the species more closely resembled a beavertail. Therefore, beavertail prickly pear, Opuntia basilaris. While snow did cover some shadowed spots on the trail where I found this cactus, along the roads, and by the ski slopes, the majority of the area was dry. Like the rest of California, right? Not for long!


Two days into my internship, I was enjoying the company of a savvy USFS crew, I’d completed the bulk of my entrance paperwork, and spent some time transplanting baby buckwheat in a delightful greenhouse. Then the heavens opened up, and out spilled two feet of heavy, wet, snow. In southern California! This was a great thing. One storm will not cancel a four year drought. But snowpack will provide some degree of relief to the landscape and the community. The snow, however, also presents its share of challenges to a USFS district office complex.


Our priorities shifted from more paperwork to snow removal. The greenhouse was coated with a growing layer of frozen precipitation. We needed to relieve this weight from the roof of the structure, so got to scraping with a very long shovel. Fortunately, the other intern and I both grew up in New England and are no strangers to shoveling. It’d been a while since I’d seen this amount of snow, though, and it’d been a while for the locals as well. A couple informed us this was their first “big snow” in 3-4 years. The mountains and trees covered in glistening white is a spectacular sight, especially in contrast to the sharp blue mountain skies. The Forest Service vehicles and my Subaru, however, I prefer snow-free.


For the remainder of our time, the other new intern (the incredibly accomplished Marta) and I attended an informative meeting between our SBNF restoration team and non-profit partner, the Southern California Mountains Foundation. It was interesting to learn the ways in which these two groups of highly committed conservationists and educators work together to achieve forest restoration. Both rely largely on grant funding to carry out an array of impressive projects within one of the most heavily utilized stretches of public land in the country. So glad I took that grant writing class in college!

We also got to enjoy a bit more time inside the greenhouse, which remains humid and warm despite the chilly snow outside. SBNF collects seed and propagates several dozen species of native vegetation for out-planting at resto sites all over the forest—grasses, forbs, cacti, trees, and yucca, among many others. My favorite thing about the Big Bear area and San Bernadino National Forest so far is the dramatically different types of vegetation that grow side by side, and the variety of diverse habitats that exist in close proximity to one another. In fact, SBNF is part of a bioregion designated by Conservation International as one of 25 global biodiversity hotspots, demonstrating “high vegetation diversity, unique ecological communities found nowhere else, and many endemic species…” How fortunate I am to be stationed here for the next several months in this special corner of California. More soon!

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A Snowy Welcome

I was welcomed to the San Bernardino National Forest with a cascade of snow. By Tuesday, January 5, my second day of work, over three feet of snow had fallen. Despite being in Southern California, I was returned to my typical Boston and St. Paul winter duties: clearing roofs and digging out cars.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

This is my second CLM Internship, and I am working at the Big Bear Ranger Station here in Fawnskin, CA. It’s about two hours to Los Angeles, an hour and fifteen minutes to Joshua Tree National Park, and steps away from forest recreation opportunities like hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and OHV riding. Interestingly, my first CLM Internship site has been in the news a lot recently: heard of Burns, OR lately? Yep, it’s crazy to read about what’s going on there and remember visiting the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on a sunny spring day to watch birds.

I am working with the Resource department in their Restoration program. This is not a normal Forest Service department, like botany, wildlife, or recreation; my mentor, along with some others, created and built it up to work on restoration and revegetation within the forest. Many of the restoration sites are OHV damage sites, and the majority of the money funding the department comes from OHV grants. The resource department also works closely with a non-profit, the Southern California Mountains Foundation (SCMF), and together they get this restoration and revegetation work done. Sometimes the Forest Service people will take the lead on a project; sometimes it will be SCMF. This way they can complete a chunk of the many projects waiting to be done.

So far, I’ve been in and out of the office and the greenhouse and spent one day visiting some restoration sites in the forest. I am reading a lot of literature as part of my work updating and revising the Native Plant Materials Notebook. This notebook will be a guide to San Bernardino restoration and plant propagation programs and provide links to many resources to help other National Forests or interested groups create their own program. This is already quite an impressive document, but needs updating as well as some additional sections.

I am learning all about the plant propagation process in the greenhouse. The plants begin in flats, are transferred to “small bullets”, then to “large bullets”, and then into the “tall pots”. They may be out planted, that is, planted at a restoration site from any of the last three pot sizes depending on need. What is really interesting to me is the focus on proper genetic selection of source plants for propagation for your restoration site. I read several papers on such selections, and they focus on choosing local plants in order to avoid both inbreeding and outbreeding depression, i.e. you want to gather seed from enough plants that you have a high genetic variation from within the population, but you do not want to swamp your restoration site with genetic material that could make the plants less fit for the ecology of the site. Interestingly, in the Resource program at Big Bear this translates to gathering plants from within the range of 500 feet vertically (because of the elevation change in this mountainous area) and about one mile horizontally. I have also learned about the watering regimen, some common pathogens, and how to plant seed and transplant seedlings.

It was great to get into the field this Wednesday to visit some restoration sites. Seeing OHV damage in the field, which is such a huge problem here, helped to connect everything that I have been learning from other Forest Service employees and the literature. The landscape was also stunning, with the San Bernardino Mountains brown against the snowy San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. I was happy to recognize plants from my days as a CLM Intern in Burns and to learn some new plants from Mary, a seasonal employee who has been working with the Forest for two years, starting as a CLM Intern. I also got a quick lesson on how to use a Trimble and was able to map a fence.

I am very much looking forward to attacking the Native Plant Materials Notebook, starting some milkweed plantings in the greenhouse, and getting out into the field again to learn monitoring methodology. Other things I am looking forward to doing during my free time are hiking or snowshoeing, joining a gym, volunteering, going to the library, exploring more of the town, eventually going to LA, Joshua Tree National Park, and the hot springs, and studying for the GRE.

Best Wishes,
San Bernardino National Forest

Month 11-CO State BLM Office

Hi everybody, I’m a bit over due for a blog. This is my eleventh month at the CO state BLM office! It is also my last full month on the job. So, what have I been up to?

Since returning from all the holiday fun my most recent task has been to inventory all the information known about the CO threatened species Sclerocactus glaucus. This is one of the species we monitor here at the state office, along with much help from the field offices. I went on a river trip surveying for additional populations over the summer, which I believe I talked about in an earlier blog.

The inventorying is going well so far, there is a lot of data to sort through from various sources. I’m trying to get a clear picture of how many plants we know exist, where they’re at, an idea of occupied habitat, and what portion of the population has any protections. This is all in an effort to get this species delisted.  There are a lot more plants on the landscape than previously thought and our monitoring efforts have shown density is higher than previously believed.

The largest problem I’m facing is how to deal with dated occurrence reports and geographic data without survey dates or population estimates. Luckily we do have a lot of reliable, accurate, and recent data, but tweezing out information from less recent, less reliable records has been difficult.

I also recently finished an annual report of our rare species monitoring for 2015. This is more or less just for our office here, but information for certain species will also be sent to field offices and partners. It’s important to summarize our monitoring activities and results from year to year, and especially helpful to new interns becoming familiar with these species and our monitoring efforts.

As I said, this is my last full month working with Carol here in Colorado. I have four more weeks, and will leave in mid-February, but it’s strange to think it’s all coming to an end. In my next, my last, blog I’ll share some parting thoughts and future plans!


Here are two pictures of a plant I really like, and saw for the first time over the summer.


Caulanthus crassicaulis

Caulanthus crassicaulis

Caulanthus crassicaulis

Until next time,

Colleen Sullivan

See ya later Cedarville

Well, today’s my last day in the Modoc. It’s crazy to think that 7 months have passed since my arrival. My first impression of this small isolated town is definitely memorable. I drove into town and the first thing I noticed that the town population was 514. There’s one of everything- one bar, grocery store, gas station….you get the idea. It was a little unnerving to live in such small, isolated, and conservative place but I really enjoyed working in the sagebrush country. The townspeople here are nice and friendly and the people I worked with all very knowledgeable and easy to work with.

This internship was very rewarding. I got to see the beautiful landscapes of Northeastern California as well as Nevada and Oregon and experience real seasons (unusual in other parts of California). Word to the wise: if you end up in Cedarville in the winter time, have a 4×4 or AWD vehicle. It makes life much MUCH easier.

This internship gave me an opportunity to get hands-on field experience in disciplines that I didn’t really know much about. For example, I helped out with evaluating rangeland health by assessing bunchgrass utilization. Before Cedarville, I didn’t have any knowledge about rangeland. Also, I got to work on various projects like flagging juniper trees for cuttings, monitoring vegetation, planting sagebrush seedlings, and doing pika and raptor surveys. Moreover, I got to hone my ID’ing skills for plants and wildlife. I actually got to use the information I learned in school. Ha!

I guess the final advice to future interns is: JUST TRY IT. It may be out of your comfort zone, but once you do it, you’ll look back and be glad you did it. To think that 8 months ago, I was stressing about making a decision about this internship and another job offer. I’m glad to say that I made the right decision and really enjoyed my time here in the Surprise Valley.

Well…I’ll stop rambling now…and end with some cool  and memorable pictures.

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Amanda and I in our cave. At the Lava Beds National Monument

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Sledding up at Cedar Pass on our off day. It’s great that we have a “ski park” only a couple miles away from Cedarville.

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Avenue of the Giants. California is a gorgeous state.

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View of the Pacific Ocean up in Humboldt county

Lunch time with new friends

Lunch time with new friends

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Final Thoughts from Cedarville, CA

My CLM internship in Cedarville, CA has come to an end. It has been a very enjoyable and educational 7 months spend with the BLM Surprise Field Office. Moving to northern California was definitely a change and provided me a great opportunity to learn a lot.

One of the first things that was a major change was the town itself. It is a small town consisting of only 500 people and one of everything….one grocery store, one gas station, one bar, and so on. It took a while to get used to the idea that Wal-Mart was 2 hours away and in a different state. Because of this fact, excursions to the store involved some planning. However, needing to get groceries gave me the perfect opportunity to do some exploring of nearby nature. During 2 separate trips to the store, my co-intern and I were able to explore Lava Beds National Monument and Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Another thing that was a major change and an opportunity to learn new skills was the fact that I was now living and working in a whole new ecosystem. Coming from the Midwest to here I had to learn a whole new set of plants. Luckily, I was able to learn the predominant species fairy quickly. It is really neat to see how plants are adapted to living in this area and compare that to how plants in my area adapted to living there. While the 2 ecosystems are vastly different, they each have their own special qualities.

Mountain Sunset

Mountain Sunset

While working in my office I also had a chance to work on a variety of projects.  I had a chance to work on wildlife, botany, archaeology, and range projects. It really was a great opportunity to help narrow down my career goals. It also gave me experience working within the federal government. It helped me to understand the process and why things are done the way they are. This will help me easily transition into another office.

I greatly enjoyed my CLM internship and the experience and knowledge that came with it. I would definitely suggest this internship to anybody thinking about working in the federal government. It is a great way to earn valuable experience, network with professionals in the field, and possibly experience a different ecosystem then they are used to.



Where I’ve been in the past year

Hello world,

Last year about this time, my post was a map of where I’d been in the past year. I couldn’t think of a better idea then, and I can’t think of one now, so here we go again.

I’ve highlighted the counties of the Las Cruces District Office in red. Each of those blue dots is a place where I’ve taken a picture and recorded what plants were there. About a third of those dots are places I visited as part of my CLM internship, the rest are mostly recreational botanizing. I continue to move slowly towards my goal of having been everywhere in southwestern New Mexico, but do not anticipate achieving that goal any time soon. That’s good. If I thought I knew what was going on, I would be wrong and it would be time to move elsewhere. For instance, at this time last year I had visited 174 of the LCDO’s 608 grazing allotments. Now I have visited 250 of them. So, closing in one half-way for that particular metric. In the last few weeks I’ve decided to wander around northwestern Luna County for no particular reason. It’s nice out there.

And, recently, I came across a mysterious Cylindropuntia. I couldn’t identify it, so I sent the pictures out to folks who might. According to Marc Baker, it is Cylindropuntia davisii, a species I had not seen before that has been very rarely recorded in southwestern New Mexico.

It’s kind of an unpleasant little cactus, but interesting. And, repeating a theme from my earlier posts here… you wouldn’t find it unless you’re walking around out there for a while, and why would you do that? Well, why not?

Looking Back

Nearly five months ago I began a journey with the CLM internship program with no idea what would be in store for me. Little did I know that I would be a pioneer of something new to the state of Texas. This botany internship is the first to be established with the United States Forest Service in Texas.

I have met many great people from the Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands District office, the Ladybird Wildflower Foundation, and Texas Nature Conservancy. I have seen new sides facets of the conservation that I have previously were unaware off, such as wildland fire fighting.

Accomplishments achieved include the completion of the offices first seed collection, a monarch butterfly survey, and Asclepias survey.

This internship has opened new possibilities and options for the coming days. But for now it is just time to sit back and relax in the moment.


First collection complete and shipped to Bend for cleaning.

First collection complete and shipped to Bend for cleaning.