Kickin’ off the field season in the high desert

When asked to conjure up a scene of natural beauty and serenity, the go-to image for a lot of folks I know – including myself from a not so distant past – is a lushly vegetated vista. Maybe it’s psychological, or linked to some evolutionary hard-wiring. After all, lots of green, lots of wet, lots of resources. Or at the very least a good place to string up a hammock.

Moving to Central Oregon’s “high desert” – in quotation marks because many areas around here are actually semi-arid and get a touch more than ten inches of rain a year – has, for me, added some third party intrigue to the marital suite shared by lushness and beauty. First of all, photos of the sagebrush-steppe around here don’t always do them much justice. It’s hard to capture the emotive vastness and calmness of being out there. It can also be easy to wash out the soft shades of the forest-gray of the Artemisia with its reddish-brown to tawny inflorescence skeletons; the mint-gray of the rabbitbrush (a sure sign of disturbance and/or overgrazing) with its yellow star-like flower remains; the deep blue of the buttes and mountains that line the distant horizon from nearly every direction; the little pops of near neon orange, yellow and green on volcanic rock formations; and yes, the more vibrant greens of the new shoots of bunchgrasses and forbs screaming hey! Look at me! Under your foot, ya oaf! Spring is here!

Secondly, there’s a lot of narrative going on here in this ecosystem, and there isn’t a thing this girl loves more than some natural history. A strapping tale of over-grazing, water-suckin’ (although native) western juniper creeping into shrub-steppe lands due to fire exclusion, noxious invasives at every turn – with our protagonists, the native bunchgrasses and forbs, trying to push back against all odds with the help of their buds at the BLM and SOS! Or something like that. (I’ve got a whole season to work on all the nuances.)

I’ve only been here for two weeks as of this post, so most of the work my fellow SOS intern and I have been doing with the Prineville BLM has revolved around training, learning about the plants we should try to collect this year, scouting some of the sites recommended to us from last year’s SOS intern, and miscellaneous opportunities like leading some kids in a native seed sowing day and checking out some sensitive species populations. It’s still early so many of the plants are still just popping out of the ground, but there’s some early flowers – like Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus (sagebrush buttercup) and Lomatium spp. (biscuitroot).

... wait a day. Or in our case, five minutes.

Caught in a surprise burst of snow on a muddy drive.


Little tiny Draba verna!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring.

Beautiful Smith Rock.

Hikin’ around beautiful Smith Rock.

Crazy cool lichen.

Likin’ the lichen.

Are you serious or just Echinocereus?


Today marks the end of my third week working for the BLM in the Needles field Office, California! The Needles Field office manages around 3.2 million acres in California. A little over two million acres of that land has recently been designated as the Mojave Trails national Monument. Being a Floridian, the learning curve has been fairly steep, but I am excited by how quickly myself and my fellow interns are learning the native flora and fauna of this area, and also how quickly we have all become friends. The Needles Field office is full of a diversity of landscapes, including springs, mountains, dunes, and a volcanic crater!

Many plants are blooming ahead of schedule this year, which meant we had to jump into things very early on and have been learning a lot through hands-on experience. Our first seed collection was of Chylismia claviformis ssp. claviformis, a flower in the Onagraceae family. For this, we went to Amboy crater, our home away from home. This area is a hot spot (pun intended) of biodiversity. Interesting insects and lizards scurry along the lava field rocks while the wildflowers inhabit sand patches leading to the crater. At this location we also collected seeds of Gerea canescens. We returned the following week with Dr. Sarah De Groot, field botanist and Seeds of Success coordinator at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. This was easily one of my favorite experiences thus far. With Sarah we took a hike up into the crater where we collected Atriplex hymenelytra and Peritlye emoryi. Not many people can say that they’ve eaten lunch on top of a volcanic crater. But now we can! We scrambled along the inner walls of the crater moving from plant to plant collecting seeds, skillfully avoiding sliding down the rocky slopes, and feeling incredibly small in comparison to our surroundings. We also collected Plantago ovata and more Gerea canescens along the bottom flat areas surrounding the crater. Sarah also taught us how to do tissue collections of Larrea tridenta, and later that week we did collections on our own of Chylisma brevipes ssp. arizonica in the Kingston Mountains!

Whenever I move to a new area I like to learn about its history. We got a taste of that so far as well! We went on a tour with a local Chemehuevi elder. The Chemehuevis are one of many indian tribes that have inhabited this area. We walked around in the Chemehuevi mountains (which are gorgeous) talking about the native plants and wildllife with other students from Duke university who were helping them install solar power on the reservation. The interns and our mentor, Lara, were invited to the Chemehuevi cultural center on the Reservation afterwards where we got introduced to their history, customs, art, and even their plant collections and vouchers!

Because we are just beginning to become familiar with the area, a lot of what we have been doing is scouting for sites and taking notes on what populations are present, what species we can expect to find in various areas, when we should come back to the area, and comparing our notes to those of past interns. We are eager to continue exploring and finding as many populations as we can in the five months we are here!

I’m excited to learn more about this area and everything that lives here. The desert really is a diverse place and I’ve only just become learning all it has to offer!

Atriplex hymenelytra

Atriplex hymenelytra

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

Echinocereus engellmannii

Echinocereus engellmannii



Encelia farinosa-brittle bush

Encelia farinosa-brittle bush



Blooming Ocotillo-Fouquieria splendens

Blooming Ocotillo-Fouquieria splendens

Petrolyphs at Chemehuevi Mountains

Petrolyphs at Chemehuevi Mountains

Desert Five Spot-Eremalche rotundifolia

Desert Five Spot-Eremalche rotundifolia


Photo courtesy of the fabulous Lara Kobelt

Photo courtesy of the fabulous Lara Kobelt

The best crew there ever was

The best crew there ever was

Chylismia brevipes ssp. arizonica

Chylismia brevipes ssp. arizonica

Desert Iguana at Amboy Crater

Desert Iguana at Amboy Crater

Gerea canescens at Amboy

Gerea canescens at Amboy

The best crew there ever was atop a volcano

The best crew there ever was atop a volcano

The beautiful Chemehuevi Mnts

The beautiful Chemehuevi Mnts



A Ridgecrest Arrival

My first couple weeks in Ridgecrest, California have been a whirlwind of activities and new experiences. I had never spent much time in a desert ecosystem and thus had stereotypical expectations of cacti and very few other plants. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Already, I have encountered more species of vibrant wildflowers and pale green shrubs than I can count. When my fellow intern and I first arrived in the area, we were curious about the identity of the little green shrub that seemed to be everywhere. Little did we know there are actually at least twenty species of little green shrubs!

A view of Ridgecrest, CA from the nearby Rademacher Hills

A view of Ridgecrest, CA from the nearby Rademacher Hills

A few of the "little green shrubs" found in the northern Mojave Desert

A few of the “little green shrubs” found in the northern Mojave Desert

I kicked off the week with orientation and training in the office. The BLM office is filled with specialists in a host of areas including wildlife biology, archeology, wilderness, recreation, geology, botany, grazing, reality, and many others. On my second day, I had the chance to attend a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) meeting. These meetings create a space for the experts to come together and analyze how a new project will affect the land from each of these perspectives. The meeting was a great way to meet everyone in the office and learn about how they apply their unique knowledge to manage land.

My first day in the field, I shadowed an archeologist surveying potential restoration sites for artifacts. It turns out anything (especially “trash!”) is considered archeological evidence if it is over fifty years old. The day also provided an opportunity to learn the in’s and out’s of GPS operation.

I spent another day in the field helping with small mammal monitoring, specifically the threatened Mojave ground squirrel. We began the morning bright and early by opening and baiting the 225 traps set-up in a 15×15 grid formation. At mid-day we walked the transects and checked the traps for animals. Despite warnings not to get our hopes up, I was disappointed to find every trap empty.  We repeated the procedure at the end of the day and this time we were rewarded with an antelope ground squirrel! Although not our target species, it was still exciting to meet the furry creature and see the documentation process before letting it scurry off into the desert.

The captured antelope ground squirrel just before its return to freedom

The captured antelope ground squirrel just before its return to freedom

Even my off time has been bursting with new experiences. On my first free day, we headed out to Death Valley. There, I was quite surprised to find water! In fact, we took a short hike to Darwin Falls where there were suddenly trees, cattails, and generally an expected lushness. I found I recognized several relatives of familiar Midwestern plant species that I would never have expected to find in the desert. The valley itself even boasted a few trickles of water beneath salts flats. At first glance the salt appeared to be snow, but the 96 degree weather quickly contradicted that observation.

Salt coated plants on the floor of Death Valley

Water and salt coated plants on the floor of Death Valley

I also had the chance to help out with a Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew performing desert restoration. I have some background in ecological restoration in Midwestern wetland and oak-savannah ecosystems and I found it fascinating to learn about restoration in a desert ecosystem. For example, while woodland restoration often focuses on invasive species removal to allow the growth and return of native species, desert restoration concentrates on erosion control and re-establishment in areas damaged by off-highway vehicles. Additionally, since the desert is so much drier, restoration requires even more patience for rejuvenation.

Overall, my time thus far has been one enormous learning curve, from basic office procedures to local geography to plant identification (and botany and more plant identification). My field notes are quickly evolving from “little yellow flower with fuzzy stem” to “Amsinckia tessellata “fiddleneck,” boraginaceae family, pubescent,” as I become familiar with the local flora and hone my botany vocabulary. I look forward to learning more and exploring the diverse environment around Ridgecrest in the coming months!

Eschscholzia californica, California poppy and other species

Eschscholzia californica, California poppy and other species

E. O’Connell

Ridgecrest BLM Office

National Seed Strategy

Hello again from Washington, DC!

Life in the capitol city is still excitingly busy. It’s the middle of March and the BLM’s Washington Office Plant Conservation team and I have already hosted two meetings this month: an interagency meeting to discuss implementation of the National Seed Strategy and a Plant Conservation Alliance meeting. We will be traveling to Pittsburgh for a conference next week (more on that to come).

I visited NYC on the coldest weekend of the year! Despite temperatures being well below freezing, I enjoyed Central Park and the High Line.

The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. The scale of the memorials in DC is breathtaking and inspiring. I can’t help but point out that the memorials are overwhelmingly male and white, but they are awesome despite their lack of diversity.

The interagency meeting on implementing the National Seed Strategy was the first week of March. Planning and organizing for it began in November. It was a big deal. A couple words I heard used to describe this interagency meeting included monumental and historical. Although I haven’t been in DC long, I quickly learned that an event in which leadership from many different Federal agencies are at one table at one time to discuss working together on a common goal is not something that happens every day. While Plant Conservation Alliance meetings often have representatives from 8 or more federal agencies, the interagency meeting on implementing the National Seed Strategy had a higher level of government leadership in attendance.

Helping to organize and attending the interagency meeting was an eye opening experience. I felt both discouraged and inspired. Together these federal agencies manage huge amounts of land. But, each agency has its own mission it must follow, its own programs and policies. Additionally, many of these agencies are underfunded, especially when it comes to plant conservation. These barriers aside, the opportunity to work together in a coordinated effort and restore the health of the plant communities and the functioning of ecosystems across our country has presented itself in a real way that could be hugely successful. This is what inspires me.

Barbra Kruger’s exhibition “Belief and Doubt” at the Hirshhorn Museum. I have been taking full advantage of free access to art, history, and science at the museums in DC this winter.

Working in Washington DC has exposed me to high level land management policy and introduced me to many people in charge of land management programs. More importantly though, it has shown me my voice. Working in an office, I spend the bulk of my time communicating. Avoiding phone conversations is no longer an option (email is far less effective with flooded inboxes and buried messages). It might seem silly to say that talking on the phone has increased my confidence, but it is true. The more I use my voice, the more confident I become. Everything becomes easier with practice, and talking on the phone is a daily exercise in being heard.

My posts are lacking in pretty flower pictures, I know. Spring is on its way and I hope to photograph the cherry blossoms like a good flower-loving tourist in the coming weeks.

Till next time,


Reporting from the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington Office in DC.

Every rose has its… prickle?

I’ve just ended my first week as a Seeds of Success botany intern with the Needles, CA field office of the BLM. It’s been very busy and feels like I’ve been here for far more than 5 days! Getting to know my fellow interns, our mentor, and the other staff at this small office has been great, and I’m looking forward to my five months here in the “Heart of the Mojave”.

So far I’ve completed various training courses that will help my team and myself stay safe while doing field work out in the 3.2 million acres of land that the Needles office encompasses. The range of wilderness and other land that we’ll be working in is impressive, including desert, mountains, and even a volcanic crater! I’ve also begun to learn some of the many plants in the area, and some of the plants I’ll be scouting for and collecting seed from. Some favorites so far include ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), a desert giant that can reach heights of up to 10 feet, and the beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) which some of us refer to, affectionately, as “basilisk” because of its species name.

Fouquieria splendens towering over other desert species.

Fouquieria splendens towering over other desert species.

A "basilisk" in bloom!

A “basilisk” in bloom!

This week I have had the chance to see some of the interesting desert wildlife out in the field. Various lizard species were running around the rocks alongside us earlier in the week as we collected seeds at a site. I also spotted my first group of wild burros while out driving, which was exciting! One of the wildlife cameras our biologist set up captured some fun pictures of a packrat running around a borough as well.

A chuckwalla sunning itself on the rocks.

A chuckwalla sunning itself on the rocks.

A packrat caught by one of our wildlife cameras.

A packrat caught by one of our wildlife cameras.

I think one of the highlights of the week, though, was attending a cultural presentation given by a Chemehuevi elder about the history of their tribe, traditional uses for native plants, and their people’s connection to the land, which is adjacent to our field office. We were shown a couple of petroglyph sites and then were also invited to the Chemehuevi cultural center for some more in-depth education. I feel it is important for myself and my fellow interns to learn about the cultural history of the area we will be working in, as well as meet the indigenous people of the area who the BLM work with, so it was a very enriching experience.

Chemehuevi petroglyphs.

Chemehuevi petroglyphs.

Bureau of Land Management

Needles, CA

A New Season


New ride, new location, and new blooms (Cercis canadensis)

New ride, new location, and new blooms (Cercis canadensis).

Howdy y’all!

A lot has changed since I submitted my last blog in December. I am a second time Botany Intern for the U. S. Forest Service. Last year I was based out of the LBJ National Grasslands at Decatur, TX. I am now working out of the Caddo National Grasslands Work Center “office” located near Honey Grove, TX. This location is a much more rural and remote area than before and needs lots of work done botanically. I am looking forward to the season to really kick into gear as the weather gets warmer. Hopefully I will be able to share some neat pictures and information here within the next month.

Until then,


Office entrance at the Caddo National Grasslands at Honey Grove, Texas.

Office entrance at the Caddo National Grasslands at Honey Grove, Texas.

1st week on the job!

So much on my mind!

First off, Hello from Ridgecrest, CA!!! A beautiful piece of dirt and rocks that creosote and some other amazingly adapted plants call home.

I dont even know where to begin explaining the strange journey it’s been out west. As a native Midwesterner, moving to the desert was a huge shift. I drove from Lawrence, KS. As I slowly inched across the highway the land went from a lush spring green to a increasingly more arid landscape. As I crossed through western Kansas into southeastern CO, I began to question my journey. Seeing the Midwest form of a “desert” and fearing how much worse it would be once I finally got here. As someone that has spent his entire life in the Midwest, it was quite a dramatic turn of events.

Once I was here, I didn’t believe it. I still have trouble remembering where I am when I walk outside. The Sierras in the distance. The brownness.

“The desert is a long and brown land” – A quote from a natural history book I’m reading about the area. This is truly a fascinating place. I am in the Indian Wells Valley that is on the east side of the southern extent of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. To the south are the El Paso mountains, which are littered with Creosote and Lysium shrubs. The flowers are amazing. So many new species and genus. However it’s been fairly frustrating that a key hasn’t been written in the past decade (or at least none of the books anyone has given me are recent) and many of the genus have been renamed. The joy of taxonomy!

Our project seems interesting. There weren’t that many collections from the previous year and this year seems to be a big year for flowers. I wish the internship would have started a month ago, as the learning curve seems steep and the diversity is surprisingly high.

This weekend we are planning to go to Death Valley and Darwin Falls. Apparently there is water out there.  Although when one looks at the landscape, I find it hard to believe.


This is a photo over looking Rigecrest. 20160314_174120

This beautiful looking shrub I believe is Lycium andersonii



The infamous California Poppy Eschscholzia californica



More to come soon!

Robbie Ray Wood

Saltgrass and Sunshine

Last year’s intern team began experimenting with transplanting saltgrass rhizomes. The rhizomes are harvested from Adrian’s allotment and moved to Swan Lake. Our mentor, Dean, asked us to expand the grow site to help determine the best location for saltgrass survival. We had an eventful day at Adrian’s allotment where we used a pick hammer to locate and extract the rhizomes. While working, we stumbled upon a decomposing horse carcass. Dean informed us that the carcass has been decomposing for a few years.  We spent a day and a half planting at Swan Lake. The first day, we were able to eat lunch in the presence of a Bald eagle. The second day was less eventful, but it was enjoyable to work in the warm sun.

Horse Carcass at Adrian's Allotment

Horse Carcass at Adrian’s Allotment

Gil - Railroad

Railroad at Adrian’s Allotment

Gil - planting at swan lake

Planting rhizomes at Swan Lake.

Lunch with Bald Eagle

Lunch with Bald Eagle

Seeding OHV roads at Hot Springs Mountain

Seeding OHV roads at Hot Springs Mountain

Storm Cloud over neighborhood at Hot Springs Mountain.

Storm Cloud over neighborhood at Hot Springs Mountain.

Monique Gil

Carson City, Nevada

SFFO Carson City BLM

February to March

A lot of last week was spent preparing to take over greenhouse management from Alex (Forest Service Biotech). I was reading the greenhouse notebook, books on nursery management and pest disease, and various other articles. I met with Mary, a Forest Service Biotech who had formerly managed the greenhouse, and Alex who managed the greenhouse up until last week. I learned how to sterilize old soil, mix new soil, treat a couple of common pests, and the daily and monthly routine for completing greenhouse tasks. As I’ve been spending more time in the greenhouse, I’m noticing more, especially the pests.

Right now I am working to treat 200 manzanitas for scale. Scale is a common insect pest on many trees and shrubs. Scale insects form a waxy, protective coating and remain in one place on a plant for most of their lives. When they first hatch they crawl away from the mother to find a new spot and then lose their legs. Only males will emerge in a winged form later on to mate with immobile females. The scale feed on the plant and damage includes water stress. Our manzanita are heavily infested and the leaves are quite yellow and brittle. The treatment for scale is simply to scrape the little buggers off the plant. Since they don’t have legs they can’t come back. This I am patiently doing using an old toothbrush.


Scale on Manzanita.

Other pests we deal with in the greenhouse include aphids, gnats, and powdery mildew. There is also a mysterious problem with some of our terragon, which have small, round, black spots over the leaves. These terragon plants are quite old and have filled their pots to the bottoms with roots – apparently from what I have read this can decrease the ability of a plant to defend itself. I have also seen one more unknown pest, which, like scale, appears to be immobile on Rabbitbrush, but is brown in color. If anyone knows what these might be, please comment!


Aphids on Sandberg Bluegrass.

Captured gnats.


Mysterious Terragon affliction.


Unknown, immobile pest on Rabbitbrush.


I have continued to go in the field for restoration site monitoring, HMP monitoring, and to plant with the Americorps crews. This week I learned to build T-post fence, which is A LOT OF FUN. I learned how to plan a fence, brace the ends using Wedge-Loc or wire, use a fencing tool, pound the posts, and string the wire under the tutelage of Hannah (Southern California Mountains Foundation Employee). I can’t wait to build another!


Completed fence.


Post pounding to brace a corner.

Otherwise, the weather is getting very nice here. Since daylight savings we have light much longer in the evening, and I have been using the extra light to run along the perimeter of Big Bear Lake. We had (probably) our last snow this past Friday, and I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the rain, snow, and winds first hand as I walked home from the grocery store. By morning we had a nice coating, but it quickly melted. As always, I am working on my plant ID, reading, going to yoga classes, and recently started a knitting project.

Very cool fungi in the greenhouse.

Very cool fungi in the greenhouse.

San Bernardino National Forest
Fawnskin, CA

Beginnings Awash in Rain: First Post from Arcata, CA

I rode north from Santa Cruz in my trusty red Subaru (which is very happy to be back in California after two months of riding around the southern states), windows down in the cold and damp air — so known and yet so new. A few frantic days of house-hunting and floor-sleeping yielded a wonderful small hut for my latest chapter — a CLM internship in Arcata, California working as a botanist for the Bureau of Land Management for the next 7 months. I am already in my second week; reeling as we do from the sidelong speed of living life. I must admit, it has been the most fully “adult” week of my sub-adult life! Happily transitioning into a new chapter, new place, new pretenses for my between undergraduate and graduate school life.

Many habitats have greeted me thus far, further intensifying my pleasure in residing and working in the heart of diversity in the California Floristic Province (that’s right, Northern California has the highest regional diversity in the state!). The dense, resplendent Redwood forest, is quite different than the Redwood forest I came to know near the southern extent of its range in Santa Cruz, CA (where I graduated in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in December). In the north, the charismatic Sequoia sempervirens mixes with several species from the Cascades, including snowflake-foliaged Grand Fir (Abies grandis) and the lustrous grey flake-barked Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). Groves of Yellow Skunk-Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) cover the low wet forest ravines with long, broad leaves and a warm animal musk. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) flowering and shedding ruby petals in the babbling draws! Wakerobin (Trillium ovatum ssp. ovatum) blooming white in every shady nook and cranny!

To make things even more overwhelming, spring is springing — not the bloom and bust sort of spring many Californians are used to, but a slowly unfolding sort of spring driven by warm oceans, a warming world and locally, a higher latitude than I have ever lived at! (Pacific Wren and Ruby-crowned Kinglets have already begun singing in my ears and outside my window at home.)

I digress… The past week and a half have been a diverse mix of duties, reflecting the diverse management issues and responsibilities of the Arcata BLM Field Office. I attended a two-day climate change adaptation workshop (directed by EcoAdapt), have been getting oriented and trained, began my primary project for the next months, drove to the King Range to input invasive plant GPS data and judged the Humboldt County Science Fair! My primary work in the coming weeks will be monitoring the dune mat plant communities along the Humboldt coast line, of which the Humboldt Bay hosts the longest continuous stretch in the state. My work out there includes identifying all plant species, discerning cover densities and paying close attention to two federally listed dune plants — the Humboldt Bay Wallflower (Erysimum menziesii subsp. eurekense) and Beach Layia (Layia carnosa). The dune system is a truly beautiful and rare habitat type — salt spray, intense north coast wind, powerful sun, constantly shifting sand. One cannot help but stand in awe of these humble plants (particularly in a year like this, when the entire dune leaps with flowers). Paradoxically, these incredibly well-adapted plants exist within a fragile matrix — a habitat that is in many locations inhospitable to native species due to invasions of European Beach Grass (Ammophila arenaria) and Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis and C.chilensis).

Samoa Dunes, Transect #3!

Samoa Dunes, Transect #3, a classic example of North Coast Dune Mat habitat.

image1 (1)

Federally endangered plant #1: Erysimum menziesii subsp. eurekense. Growing characteristically close to Artemisia pycnocephala, an indicator species.

image2 (1)

Federally endangered plant #2: Layia carnosa. Many more rosettes in the background!

image4 (2)

Spring? The wonderful Sanicula artopoides, the Footsteps of Spring.

image2 (2)

Close-up (Iphone photo through a hand lens) of Platystemon californicus — Cream Cups.

image3 (2)

Claytonia exigua ssp. exigua


The incredible Dune Silver Bee (Habropoda miserabilis), perhaps the most important dune pollinator, doing what it does on Humboldt Bay Wallflower.

Anyways….back to the dunes! Thanks for reading!

Kaleb Goff

Arcata BLM Field Office