First weeks

My first two weeks working at Fort Ord National Monument were exciting, extremely varied, and a tremendous amount of learning compressed in a short amount of time. In those two weeks I watered native plant restoration sites, exterminated stands of invasive mustard, hemlock, and thistle, mapped the location of oaks using GPS and GIS, tracked a collared ground squirrel using telemetry, attended meetings planning heavy equipment projects and a central California invasive weeds symposium, collected native lily, silk tassel, and venus thistle seeds, and drove 4wd trucks on dirt roads around Fort Ord, waving at passing hikers. Needless to say, it was a lot – something new every day, or sometimes every half day. Tiring, but also fun, challenging, and rewarding.

Watering a young oak within a stand of thistle

Watering a young oak in a stand of dried up thistle

One of the highlights of those first two weeks was using telemetry to find the ground squirrel collared by a research team from CSUMB (California State University, Monterey Bay). It involved hiking a steep canyon while carrying an antennae over my head and using the volume of a steady beeping as an indicator of proximity to the squirrel. In the end we were able to pinpoint the squirrel’s location to a tunnel underneath a bush, and laid down a trap baited with a smelly peanut butter and tuna sandwich.

In my second week, while hiking through rolling hills covered in yellow grass, we came across a few white praying mantises frolicking in the grass. They really are some odd creatures:

A beautiful and odd insect

A strange and beautiful insect

Another one

A whiter one

The purpose of the hike was to reach an old goat grazing plot where Ranger Manny had remembered seeing lily plants in need of seed collecting. However, when he last saw them it was springtime and the lilies were in full bloom, but now in the middle of summer the dried up lilies camouflaged perfectly with all the other dried up plants, so finding them was a bit of an easter egg hunt. But the whole time we were surrounded by beautiful sweeping views:

"KYAWW!" -red tailed hawk

Eye candy

More eye candy

“KYAAWW!”  -red tailed hawk

The landscape really evokes feelings of a cowboy roaming the wild west, what with the swaying yellow grasslands littered with coyote brush, the turkey vultures circling overhead, and the occasional cry of a red tailed hawk. That was the setting of a lot of my field work during those first two weeks, along with some oak woodland and maritime chaparral. Not too bad of an office.

Sean Pagnon, BLM Fort Ord National Monument, CA


Old home on the range

This post marks the first month of my employment with the CLM. I didn’t know what to expect as I packed my bags and drove from Kalamazoo, MI to Kremmling, CO to work with the BLM. Kremmling is a small ranching town located about two hours west of Denver and is radically different than the suburban Midwest. I am still wrapping my head around the sheer expanse of the country here. Kremmling features prime sagebrush habitat, diverse wildlife and you guessed it a lot of cows. There are limited housing options in Kremmling and it almost made me pass on the position. Fortunately, a co-worker at the office offered me a room at his place. The house is custom made and is heated in the winter using a radiant heating system, which is very cool.

My home away from home for the next 5 months. I did not expect to be staying in such a nice place, but I am not going to complain.

My home away from home for the next 5 months. I did not expect to be staying in such a nice place, but I am not going to complain.

My position involves working on the AIM project, which stands for Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring. AIM is an ambitious project intended to provide the BLM with up to date large sale ecological data. The new data is important as it will allow decision makers to better mange natural recourses and identify valuable habitats across field offices. Our main focus is identifying suitable habitat for the sage grouse, which has lost significant habitat to development in the west.

The great part about my position is that it allows me to explore Colorado. Each week we are assigned several plots that are scattered across the northwest quadrant of the state. My mentor, Amy, and I collect data on plant species richness, distribution and heights. We also collect data on abiotic conditions such the physical geography, soil texture, and soil stability. That data is used, mainly to determine the erosion susceptibility of a site.

Amy and I identifying plants along a transect. The blue avalanche poll in the upper left is used to measure plant height.

Amy and I identifying plants along a transect. The blue avalanche poll in the upper left is used to measure plant height.

Action shot of a soil pit, in a sage bruch site. The soil was very sandy here which made for easy digging. Sometimes getting to the standard 70cm can be a struggle.

Action shot of a soil pit, at a sagebrush site. The soil was very sandy here, which made for easy digging. Sometimes getting to the standard 70cm can be a struggle.

Each plot we are assigned can be located in various ecosystems, ranging from sagebrush, pinyon-juniper, aspen, gambel oak and others. This presents unique challenges when it comes to identifying plants. I have been sharpening my plant terminology skills to make plant ID more efficient. Luckily, Amy is familiar with many of the plants we encounter, and can at least narrow them down to the family. When we cannot identify a plant in the field I get to practice pressing and cataloging plants to be identified later in the office. The field guide we rely on the most is Flora of Colorado by Jennifer Ackerfield. This 818 page book is very comprehensive, I am impressed that anyone could compile such a catalog of plants in a single lifetime.

Camp site in some aspen forest. The cabin belongs to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Camp site in some aspen forest. The cabin belongs to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.


I am happy to be doing something meaningful for work. I enjoy driving around Colorado, hanging out with plants, and camping in beautiful places. The job is not always easy, the sun can get pretty intense in the mountains and the mosquitoes are extra hungry at altitude. There is also the added weight of knowing that my data must be correct in order to serve its purpose effectively. That aside, the past four weeks have been great, and I am looking forward to the next time I get to share my experiences on the blog. Before I go here is a nice picture of some cows.



Kremmling CO, field office

Bureau of Land Management

Eli Lowry

4th of July in Lander, WY

CLM interns came from Buffalo, WY and Pinedale to celebrate the 4th of July with those in Lander. Jack came all the way from Taos, New Mexico! Lander is a unique small town in Wyoming. With the presence of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander attracts a younger crowd of folks from all across the nation. There is a great Thai food restaurant (among many others) and a lively night life.


If you like Thai food — this place was fantastic!

Rock climbing and bouldering is a popular recreation activity, one that I had yet to try before my visit. I only made it up a couple of the easier routes we climbed, but the mental and physical exercise was fulfilling, and the feeling at the top was remarkably gratifying. I look forward to practicing this sport more often.


Saturday night led our crew of seasonal workers into the WInds.


One guitar and many good friends in the wilderness of the mountains created a night full of story-telling and laughter. Kumbaya was never on our playlist, but some of the group’s favorite songs echoed through our camp site as we sat around the fire. Yes, “Wagon Wheel” was the first one that came to mind for us, too. We roasted marshmallows and feasted on smores. We learned things about each other that were not allowed to leave the fire circle that night. We fell asleep to the sounds of the rushing river below us, and woke up to a peaceful sunrise over the lake.


The morning of the 4th started off with the parade / water fight. As the floats, trucks, people and animals walk by with proud advertisement, water balloons flew from every direction. Many people even had super-soaker water guns. By no surprise, the Lander Fire Department won by a landslide. Every once in a while, some of us would bravely run out in the street, scrambling to grab Tootsie-Rolls and Fruities (no children were harmed).

After the parade, a few of us walked to the grocery store, where we filled a shopping cart with all of the necessities for a summer weekend cook-out. We all gathered outside of the apartment in the courtyard where the festivities began and lasted all afternoon. So many good people and good vibes; I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate.


The grill-master and MVP of the weekend, Ryan

IMG_1847Many left in the afternoon to head back home; a bitter-sweet departure. With a few hours of daylight left, Rachael, Jack and I decided to go for a bouldering/hiking adventure back into Sinks Canyon. We hiked up to Sinks Falls, where there is a 15-foot natural slide into a pool of ice-cold water. I remember sitting at the top, thinking to myself, “why are we doing this!?” After one slight movement, gravity and loss-of-friction takes over, and there is no going back. Soon the cold water induces a scream as we came up for air, swimming a bit faster than usual to get back on shore. That submerge felt so incredibly refreshing and revitalizing, I remember thinking, “yes, this is why we do this.” 


Though our fireworks could not compete with our neighbors, it was great fun to run around the streets with sparklers, snappers and fountains. One of the “flying” rockets we lit off was suppose to go into the air and spin rapidly. Instead, it fell to its side and shot off in the direction we were all standing. We all ran away frantically, a mix of fear and gut-wrenching laughter. I was overcome and filled with child-like joy.

After our shenanigans in the streets, we grabbed a bag of chips, our sweatshirts and blankets and headed up to the roof of the apartment to watch the rest of the show.


Fireworks light up the sky around the entire city of Lander on the 4th of July. It was by far the most entertaining and extraordinary firework show I have ever seen. From the neighborhood streets to the fairgrounds, friends and family set up their stations for hours of colorful fire and explosions. Words truly cannot do this 4th of July celebration justice — a must see if you are ever in this part of the country for the holiday.

To future interns — if you are worried or concerned about being “in the middle of nowhere,” know that so many are in the same place as you. With a little planning and out-reach, you can create an incredible weekend of adventure and make good friends along the way. I cannot wait to go back to Lander and visit. However, this weekend is Rendezvous Weekend in Pinedale! Activities all day and all night long outside from Thursday – Friday.


Oregon Part 2

When I left Burns last October I didn’t think I’d be back in Oregon for a long time. Yet, here I am again 8 months later living in the pretty green city that I passed through on my way to other adventures last summer. Compared to Burns, Prineville is a big city…. well its 3x bigger in population and only 45 minutes from Bend, the biggest city in central Oregon.

During my first CLM internship my job was emergency stabilization and rehabilitation monitoring. After a summer working in the high desert though, I realized that I missed being near water and decided to focus on getting jobs related to aquatic ecology. This summer I’m working as an aquatic AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) technician. Basically, I take physical habitat and water quality measurements of streams on BLM lands. Learning the aquatic AIM protocol was fairly exciting for a number of reasons. The protocol, which is being developed by the National Aquatic Monitoring Center, Utah State University, and BLM is new (in-fact the official protocol is unpublished), so I felt privileged to be among the first technicians to be trained to use it and the very first to implement it for the Prineville BLM. I’ve never been to Utah, so of course traveling there and crossing off another state was a plus.
After a week of training in Utah it was time to implement AIM in the field. Our first site was on the North Fork of the John Day and unsurprisingly getting into the work flow was kind of slow. Reaches (the stream survey length) can range anywhere from 150m to 2km. On the North Fork of the John Day the reach was 800m long and consisted of pools so deep that were impossible for me to wade –least I top my waders. Remembering left bank and right bank and transect letters (where data is collected) was counter-intuitive at first. In AIM transects are labeled KA with K being the topmost part of the reach and A the bottommost point. Left and right bank orientation is considered while facing downstream, however data is collected starting at A and walking upstream.
Nine completed sites later and all of this is second nature. Hopefully next time I blog we will be 2/3 of the way through our monitoring.



There are secrets in New Jersey

New Jersey has a secret. It wears an industrial mask and is draped in a costume made from the fabric of loud boardwalks, clubbers, and miscellaneous state stereotypes.

But, beneath the façade, there is something very—very different. The secret’s out, New Jersey is bursting at the seams with plant life and environmental diversity.

My partner, Robbie, and I have gained a lot of memorable and joyous experiences exploring NJ and its plant life. We have driven through rough and gritty dirt roads deep into the soul of the Pine Barrens. We did not find the Jersey Devil, but we did find adventure.

We camped under hearts of oaks and pines, nestled in the rib cages of blueberries and huckleberries. N.J. unveiled its rare Lysimachia terrestristhe and Pogonia opioglossoides to us in the summer’s boiling bogs brimming with sun dew and pitcher plants.Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 10.10.03 PM

We have taken shelter from the sobs of the earth and its storming pulse under the spiral bark of the Atlantic white cedar.

We’ve inhaled the aromatic scents of Rhododendron viscosum of the Appalachian Mountains tucked away in the northwest of the state.


Rhododendron viscosum

We kayaked through the narrow veins of the creeks, and saw the Spartina species thriving on the scalps of muscle clams.

Egg Island, NJ

Egg Island, NJ

We escaped the vicious greenflies and their shocking vampiric bites.

We traced roads that evolved into thick, impassible tickets. We baked like potatoes in the summer’s oven. We searched through the labyrinth of dunes seeking beach plum (Prunus maritima), bear berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) , and heather (Hudsonia sp.).

Endless Gaylussacia baccata

Endless under stories of Gaylussacia baccata

We saw proud bald eagles, and ravenous osprey gripping fish in their razor talons. We saw black face terns plummeting and breaking the skin of the sea. We eaves dropped into conversations of sand pipers and red winged black birds as they discussed territory defense strategy.

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)


Our alarm clocks were not actual timepieces, but roaring torrential downpours, leaky tents, and whippoorwills gossiping into the night.

Our breath would escape our lungs from the snakes slithering across our boots.

We were freckled with ticks.

We waited patiently for nesting terrapins to cross the road.

We learned the language of the land and had the opportunity to listen closely. It spoke in gentle whispers. It said, “I have a secret. Can you guess what’s under this mask?”

From the East Coast to Chicago to Susanville


It is exciting to be posting my first blog after reading previous interns’ posts in anticipation for my internship! This has only been my first week working after a long journey to get here. It has been such a whirlwind since I graduated at the end of May: I spent some time at home, went to a university near Toronto for a Great Lakes research conference, went to the Chicago training, followed by a week of driving from Chicago to San Fransisco. Now I finally made it to Susanville, California! Crazy to think about the journey I made from the east coast to west coast.

The week at the Chicago training was very informative – it allowed us to complete our first SOS collection during our second day working! (more later). Also, so fun to be in the city and meet other interns and hear about their CLM experiences thus far. So many people I met are super passionate about what they are doing and love ecology and conservation – it was so nice to be around so many like-minded people. Additionally, I felt a ton more prepared for starting my internship than I would have if we didn’t have the training first.

After Chicago, my dad and I road-tripped west! We drove through cornfields, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin and made stops in Omaha, NE, Denver, Arches National Park, Salt Lake City, and even made it to San Fransisco to see family at the end. It was such a fun experience and gave me a new appreciation for the west and the changes in scenery along the way.


It was such a beautiful drive through the rockies!

My favorite stop along the way, Arches National Park, Moab, UT. This is Windows Arch

My favorite stop along the way, Arches National Park, Moab, UT. This is Windows Arch

I have spent the past week settling into Susanville with fellow interns/roommates Jocelyn and Alia. The landscape is incredibly different from what I am used to, mostly made up of sagebrush, junipers and in some places, tall jeffery pines. We went out three days in the field in our trusty white jeep (which we have yet to have decided on a name for…) in order to get familiar with the field office. We started SOS (Seeds of Success) collecting and SSP (Special Status Plant) monitoring. Our first SOS collection was squirreltail (Elymus elymoides var. californicus), which we found lots of so it was fairly easy to collect. The population is located in a disturbed part of the field office that was burned in a wildfire a few years ago. Unfortunately there is not much sagebrush, but lots of medusa head and cheatgrass, so this seed will aid in restoration. It sounds like we are going to have lots of opportunities to do different tasks in the field and go to some beautiful places. Next week I am looking forward to marking trees with the forester and going to riparian areas to do work with water rights.


My favorite place we went this week for SSP monitoring on some state-owned land in Sierra Valley

I am excited for what the field season will bring as we get into the swing of things here. Also exploring Northern California – we are so close to so many amazing places and I can’t wait to check them out on the weekends! 🙂


Eagle Lake Field Office, BLM

Susanville, CA

The day-to-day, and the exceptions

The day-to-day of my job monitoring riparian areas to analyze the effects of grazing for the rangelands section of the BLM in Lander, WY has been great thus far. I get to spend every day outside, learning a new landscape and wildlife. As summer sets in, I’m enjoying watching the changes within our study sites – less rain, less wildflowers, seeding grasses, more grazing, slightly older sage grouse and antelope fawns. I’m excited to see how the landscape changes as summer and fall progress. Despite the great day-to-day, my favorite part of the job thus far has been all of the opportunities to learn from other BLM employees.

A few weeks ago I went on a tour of the allotments I’ve been monitoring with the Cooperative Rangeland Management group – a team of people involving BLM and State lands employees, conservationists, ranching permitees, emeritus professors, and me. I learned about the land I’ve been working on from the experts – one of the rancher’s grandad moved there in 1919. For some perspective, that’s before the BLM even existed! It was so great to hear the open communication between those with such differing perspectives. The day truly drove home the idea of multi-use multi-value land. It is extremely difficult to have all of the values represented in each parcel of land, and often the values are competing, but I think the aim is admirable and it is possible.

Two weeks ago I got to go on a plant ID refresher field trip with our new field botanist (also a CLM graduate!) and a collection of others from the office. There were a few rangeland people, two fire guys, and some oil and gas folk. It was fascinating to hear the conversations between the different experts, and to see where their own experience lies. The rangeland people helped ID a lot of grasses and they all had different tips for recognizing them.  The fire guys were talking about the transitioning ecological systems post burn and what plants to look for there. The plant ID refresher was very helpful, but, even better, was getting to spend time with and being in the field with the pros.

The learning curve my first month here has been immense. It’s been full of learning many acronyms – HMA, CRM, NCS; driving on muddy two-tracks, remembering names and positions of those in the office, knowing which rock to turn left at, learning grass names. I’ve enjoyed learning the field office and getting better and faster at monitoring and my day-to-day work. It’s been such a privilege to work in an office where I can stray from my normal work and learn from the experts around me.


Bureau of Land Management

Lander Field Office

Lander, WY

The joys of being an intern

It sure has been a busy summer so far, with a lot happening since CLM training in Chicago. Right after training ended my wife came to Chicago to visit for the weekend and we had a blast visiting the wonderful museums and enjoying the city. We were extremely lucky and managed to get a reservation at the world famous restaurant Alinea, one of the most innovative and exciting dining experiences in the world.

Onion flowers, garlic chips, and mint

Onion flowers, garlic chips, and mint

Wife enjoying a strawberry balloon filled with helium.

Wife enjoying a strawberry balloon filled with helium.

Unfortunately life cant be filled with fine dining and exploring museums. After returning to the Colorado State Office, we have been extremely busy with threatened and endangered plant monitoring all along the western slope of Colorado. We spent a week in Canon City Colorado to monitor populations of Eriogonum brandegeei, a species of buckwheat that is only found in the Canon City area of Colorado. Most of our time was spent in the washes near the foothills that had significant populations of E. brandegeei. 

A view from the field

A view from the field

I was able to pull away from our research group at the state office for a week to do some scouting and seed collection in the Pawnee National Grasslands. I was amazed at the amount of diversity that the grasslands contain. The flowers were in peak bloom and the colors popping up among the grasses were a beautiful sight. I unfortunately left my bird identification book at home, which was a big mistake because the grasslands are known for their amazing species richness. Hopefully I will be able to make it back later in the year and try to ID some of the species.

Traffic jam in the grasslands

Traffic jam in the grasslands

Coneflowers in bloom

Coneflowers in bloom

My field vehicle in the beautiful plains

My field vehicle in the beautiful plains

Population of Hesperostipa comata (needle and thread grass)

Population of Hesperostipa comata (needle and thread grass)

A small sampling of the H. comata seeds that were collected.

A small sampling of the H. comata seeds that were collected

This past week we joined a Field Botany course from the University of Northern Colorado to monitor populations of Astragalus osterhoutii. This was very exciting for me because taking the same course at UNC 2 years ago got me interested in a career doing field work. It was a great experience to interact with students new to field work, it is amazing to see how much I have grown personally and professionally in the last 2 years.

Penstemon penlandii

Penstemon penlandii

The crew doing field work

The crew doing field work


That is all for me, about to head back to the mountains and get some more work done.



Lichens and Tussocks and Grizzly Bears- O my!

Hello Hello!

Alaska is known as a land of mystique and beauty and now having lived here, I can say that Alaska is indeed a land of mystique and beauty. Completing field work in Alaska has its own unique set of challenges because of the vastness, lack of accessibility, wildlife and terrain. One strategy to navigating these lands is to take to the air; on a recent trip to Unalakleet (Western Alaska, off of Norton Sound), we flew by helicopter to our field sites every day. The diversity of ecotypes included wind swept lichen alpine tundra to volcanic rocky rolling hills to willowy grasslands to sphagnum moss bogs to tussocky low shrubland to mixed spruce woodlands. This project in partnership with the National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) focused on soil and vegetation mapping of Nulato Hills managed by BLM and is anticipated to take another five years. I was on the botany team and identifying woody plants, forbs, graminoids, lichens, and mosses as well as estimated cover. Where forest existed we also measured trees for canopy cover, size, age, and density. The beauty and diversity of plants and animals was unbelievable- lichens, tussocks, grizzly bears, o my! These surveys help to better understand the land and can be useful for making a range of management decisions including reindeer and caribou grazing strategies. In addition to gaining a scientific perspective, I enjoy a reflective approach through photography, poetry, and watercolor painting. Below is a poem from my time there and photos to give you a sense of that stunning place.



Irises blooming in Unalakleet, Alaska.

Irises blooming in Unalakleet, Alaska.


Carnivorous sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, in the tundra.


Fellow CLM intern, Monica Kopp, in good botany form.

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Colorful sphagnum moss, lichens, sedges, and low shrubs in the tundra.

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A bumble bee in the lichen.

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Our field helicopter picking us up for the day.

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Beaver dam from the air.

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Norton Sound with fellow helicopter heading into the field.