Logging the Siuslaw

During the week, I am a CLM Intern, but during the weekend, I work as a Lichen surveyor in the Siuslaw National Forest performing lichen community analysis for air quality monitoring.  This is no roadside analysis, this is bushwhacking through thickets of prickly Salmonberry and Himalayan Blackberry for as far as a mile off an old logging road that was decommissioned 10 years ago and has become a temperate rain forest jungle right-of-way.

Two weekends ago I followed the Alsea River East in from Waldport, OR on Hwy 34.  After about 20+ miles, I turned North for several miles up a Siulsaw logging road, and boy did the name fit the description.  Large segments of the ridge sides were clear cut.  I thought “I have to be on private or state land, there is no way the Forest Service would clear cut to this extent now a days.”  Alas, to my che-grin, I concluded that it had to be  USFS land due to the fact that my survey plot was on it (they’re almost always on  USFS land).


Siuslaw National Slaughter


Siuslaw National Slaughter

Some logging began in the PNW as early as the 1830’s, but it did not kick off until the turn of the century.  In the 1990’s PNW timber contributed to 1/3 of America’s plywood and had fed the housing boom since WWII.  Chances are that any wood house built since 1946 contains materials from the PNW.  Douglas-firs are the most valuable tree in the timber commerce worldwide. In the 90’s, the USFS had proclaimed that timber is the nation’s number 1 agricultural crop.  Timber companies obtain logging units from Private, State, and Federal lands. In fact, virtually all old-growth forests on private forestry company lands have been logged.

The Oregon Forest Practices Act is the legislation that Private and State logging operations have to adhere to and compared to California and Washington legislation, it is pretty lax: comprised of minimal regulations for timber harvesting, road construction and maintenance, slash treatment, reforestation and pesticide and fertilizer use.

To give you some perspective of the amount of timber sequestered from the PNW; there has always been focused attention on the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, however according to 90’s statistics, only 15-30% of the ancient Amazonian rainforest has been logged, compared to about 87% of the ancient PNW forest logged, in less than a century.


Siuslaw National Slaughter


Siuslaw National Slaughter

And now Oregon Public Radio just aired that a new study found that over the last decade an increasing amount of Pseudotsuga menziesii trees on the Oregon Coast Range have been infected with the Swiss needle cast fungal disease.  Oregon State University research has suggested that the epidemic has grown by as much as 30% over 1 year.

The fungus does not actively kill the tree, but instead clogs the needle stomata and thereby greatly reduces tree vitality.  The effect can slow the growth of commercial timber by up to 50% which results in an estimated $128 million dollars in economic losses per year!  However, it has also been shown that if one plants Tsuga heterophylla, Thuja plicata, and Picea sitchensis with the Pseudotsuga menziesii, then the trees are less susceptible to it.  So, in conclusion, if we STOP clear cutting and treating Doug Fir as a crop and instead replant with a variety of trees and lightly thin over longer periods of time, OH YEA, and not export most of our domestic harvest from private and state lands overseas to Japan and Korea, then we might just save little chunks of our coastal temperate rain forests and still keep Oregon’s economy alive.  And maybe we’ll be able to see more Giant Pacific Salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus).


Dicamptodon tenebrosus, the largest terrestrial Salamander in the World. Found in the Siuslaw National Forest along a creek that cuts through a tiny swath of old growth.


Obliquity — physically used to describe the angle of the tilt of our planet’s axis; a departure from perpendicularity with the planar direction we follow through empty space. Also a description of mystery, of indirectness or obscurity.

There is a certain obliquity that is an arrangement of our existence on this planet. Have you noticed it lately?

Oscillating between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees on a 41,000 year cycle, not a single living creature will come to experience this veering in its entirety. But tilting is the reason for the seasons — and we cannot slight the experience of season. These refractory gateways find their own ways of reminding us of, from the mundane to the grandiose. The seasonal changes we experience not only manifest around our physicality but also within ourselves.

We are here again in the serotinal season. Late summer, where swirling changes are closer than the periphery. Fire, barn swallows out of the nest and into the sky, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, gold grasses with nothing but glumes and the remembrances of vibrant annual wildflowers in their cracking dehiscent fruits. Fall advancing, school coming back on, students returning to Arcata, my next chapter advancing.


Queen anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Arcata Marsh.

In this last month, moving from the inner-bark of July to the serotinal, I have been engaged in my expectedly diverse and open work as a CLM intern. I walked the upper ridges of the King Range to monitor grazing allotments on Johnny Jack Ridge, adding a new experience to my journey at BLM. I took a sort of summer vacation to my heart-place — the big Tuolumne Meadows, were I spent time with friends and family, strolled the high ridges, climbed on feldspar crystals and soaked in the rarefied air. Collecting seeds has certainly been on my plate as well — the collection season is waning and the manzanita berries are nearly ripe!




I have also been heavily engaged by the Humboldt Bay dunes climate vulnerability and adaptation study (which I will refer to as ClimateReady from now on…), which is a collaboration between U.S. Fish and Wildlife, BLM, State Park (and others), funded by California Coastal Conservancy’s climate ready program. The long-term goals of the project are to understand how climate change will effect the dune ecosystem and to test adaptation treatments. More practically speaking, highly sensitive GPS (RTK, real-time kinematic; think 2 centimeter sensitivity) is used to create dune profiles (measurements of elevation) along 73 transects covering 32 miles of Humboldt’s coastline. These dune profiles are coupled with vegetation data and the entire survey is completed every year in winter and summer! I will be working a good deal with this project in the coming month.


Base station and John, Lanphere Dunes.


King Range, Arcata BLM F.O. Lands

Several posts ago, I explored stewardship in the most practical sense. Pulling broom along the roadside. Collecting native seed. Stepping and living lightly. These beautiful tasks are still a strong stream in my work as a CLM intern. That all said, in thinking about the different facets of stewardship, I have recently come to reflect on a stewardship of another kind.

When we engage in stewardship (acts of care, responsibility and love) we use our complete selves as tools. We use our hearts and minds to design solutions, our communication and connections to implement acts and our bodies to carry them out on an area of land (or sea).

Think of a feature of the land. What does it look like, is it as mysterious as the riparian gulch or as clear and pure as the long jagged scarp of granite?

Perhaps we can agree, that these land forms (or sea-forms) exist within ourselves. You may have already considered this. The peak you stand on within yourself when you have achieved a goal, the dark skulking depths you fear to go, the broad plateau within reaching from one experience to another. Are you in the valley of your life or are you on the shore of the lake of your life?

Thus, we are the tools of stewardship, and within us is the land we wish to be the stewards of (the reciprocality of this relationship should be disarming at the very least). On the path to become better stewards — to give more and love more the land that gives us more than we could ever ask for — this connection seems highly relevant.

The stewardship of another kind I wish to elucidate is moral stewardship, the stewardship of self in which we tend to those inner landscapes. The greater care, love and responsibility we can turn to our inner topographies, the more we will be able to give as stewards.

How can we steward our internal landscapes? These are the slot-canyons of exploration and the endlessly mystifying dune sands shifting. Cooperation, compassion, non-violence, temperance and adventuring to those dark inner riparian areas could be a great place to start.


Kaleb Goff

Arcata BLM Field Office, California.

Full Circle

The last day of field work for my CLM internship in Grants Pass, OR brought me back to working with the rare, endangered lily Fritillaria gentneri, which could be considered the centerpiece of my entire internship (trust that you don’t want to hear the rest of my metaphor comparing this internship to Thanksgiving dinner). Only this time, instead of just searching for the lilies and entering data about populations of them, we were digging up their bulbs! All you botanists may be up in arms at that last part, but sit back down in your chairs because we were digging for a good purpose. The clonal reproduction of F. gentneri results in a number of smaller bulblets that can be found attached to its main, “mother” bulb. Every year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) identifies F. gentneri plants in the spring that it then collects bulblets from later in the summer. These bulblets are brought back to the ODA’s greenhouses to be cultivated. After about three years in the greenhouse, the plants are ready to be brought back to the wild. They are usually planted in about the same general area that the bulblets were sourced from. These outplantings help augment populations of this rare plant and are imperative to bringing it closer to recovery.

Digging up one of the rarest plant I’ve worked with was nerve-wracking at first, but Kelly and Cameron from the ODA helped me get over it. The bulblets were very small, most were the size of rice grains, and they popped right off the main bulb. I wish I had taken pictures because they were quite adorable, but we were digging among poison oak roots and I didn’t want to get my camera covered in the oils.

This experience brought me closer to coming full circle with Fritillaria gentneri. This whole internship has opened my eyes to the world of endangered plants that I had previously known so little about, the overall message being that a LOT of work goes into trying to help these species recover. Surveying for new populations, revisiting old sites for monitoring, growing new plants for augmentation, adaptive habitat management to protect populations from threat, research, regulations, reports and more paperwork, an incredible amount of time and money, all for a single species!

I’ve learned so much about rare plant conservation, but also a lot about how the BLM operates. I’ve worked with botanists who have provided insight into what it would be like to have their jobs. This experience has shown me what working for the BLM would be like, and after this summer, I could easily see myself enjoying a permanent botany position with the BLM or another government agency.

I’ve really had such an amazing time working as a CLM intern, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better internship experience. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities afforded to me through this internship and for the lasting connections I’ve been able to make. Thanks especially to my awesome mentor Stacy, my super supervisor Biker Bryan, and my favorite fellow intern Lillie.

Kiki, Grants Pass BLM

Taking a part in the community

Over the weekend, here in Salmon, Idaho -where if you didn’t know is the birth place of Sacajawea- there was a Heritage Days festival celebrating her life history and impact on the local Native American population.

The BLM here like to takes an active role in their community, and thus we had a booth set up to work at the festival. I volunteered to help work at it because we were going to be a tent that read stories to children, and I love to work with children.

Fish tent 2

Me as a blue jay

We set up this really extravagant tent that was shaped just like a fish. It was about 30ft in length and stood about 15ft tall. It was ginormous. There was a zipper on the tail and on the mouth. We would walk into the fish through the tail and we would bring in all the children and I would tell them a story about the salmon life cycle and then when it was finished we would leave out of the mouth of the fish.

fish tent

Me as a turtle

But the funnest part was that we had all of these animal costumes that someone had made for the tent that were amazingly fun. Everything from a mushroom, to a thunder bird and the kids (and myself) absolutely loved them. They were a blast to play in.

Not only that but we also had a fish painting station for the kids and a sand station where they could make animal tracks. Needless to say we were one of the most popular set ups at the festival.

Fish tent 3

Me as a mushroom


Over all it was an amazing day interacting with the local community, and it was a blast playing with the children and teaching them about the salmon.


Sierra Sampson

Salmon, Idaho BLM

Permafrost Dynamics

In late July, I had the opportunity to attend a soils conference hosted by the NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service) and University of Alaska Fairbanks. The presentations varied from policy, regulations, and research, but every presentation focused on permafrost. Technically, permafrost is any soil that is frozen solid continuously for 2 or more years, but there’s so much more to it. There’s stable permafrost, which is much deeper and less likely to thaw. On top of it lies an active layer that is more likely to thaw, changing in depth year to year given the range of air temperatures.

This native Alaskan orchid was found in calcareous soils associated with the frost boils of Sukakpak Mountain.

This native Alaskan orchid was found in calcareous soils associated with the frost boils of Sukakpak Mountain.

Within this active layer, a variety of land formations can develop including ice wedges, pingos, and sorted circles. These unique landforms often create a diverse set of microclimates that can support a more diverse plant community. Ice wedges start to grow when rapidly cooling air temperatures crack the ground, allowing snowmelt to enter in the spring and freeze in the winter. Over time, these cycle grows the wedge and pushes soil up and out of the way. At some point, the wedge starts to die. This dying wedge can be the source for a seep, leaving a depression in the ground when it’s completely gone.

Pingos or frost boils result from ice pooling and building underground, pushing the above soil into a dome. Once the soil cracks, all the insulation is gone and the ice melts away. This cracking can be explosive. Local folktales include people building houses or cabins on small hills only to have the house forcefully ejected as the hill implodes. Finally, sorted circles come from the repeated freeze-thaw cycle pushing rocks up to the surface and sorting them by size. However, what all permafrost seems to have in common is a high silt and organic content in a matrix of ice.

Frost Boil at Sukakpak Mountain

A frost boil at Sukakpak Mountain surrounded by wetland in calcareous soils.

As a part of the conference, we were allowed to visit the permafrost tunnel in Fairbanks to see some of these formations in real life. Imagine a dusty tunnel that smells like an old attic at about 31 degrees F with evenly spaced work lights. Hanging from the ceiling is a veil of tangled, fibrous roots of long dead plants. That’s essentially what the permafrost tunnel is like, except in the dusty walls and ceiling you can also see giant blocks and lens of murky black ice. This particular tunnel was built to better understand how to mine in the permafrost. Since it’s construction, it’s now used to study the permafrost itself and the creatures it has encapsulated. For example, one outcropping of plants is an ancient overturned riverbank. The plants were preserved so quickly that they’re still green if you shine a light on them. Steppe bison and woolly mammoth remains are routinely excavated. Towards the deepest end of the shaft is a branch carbon dated to 46,000 years old!

A look down the Permafrost Tunnel in Fairbanks, Alaska. The tunnel is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A look down the Permafrost Tunnel in Fairbanks, Alaska. The tunnel is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.


The permafrost is a dynamic soil type, but climate change is accelerating and intensifying that dynamic beyond the norm. As Alaska broke its hottest day of the year record this summer, the permafrost has been receding, the active layer encroaching into areas that have historically been more stable. This has some major implications for life in Alaska. When water melts from permafrost, that silty organic mix is a perfect recipe for quicksand, meaning more buildings and roads being swallowed underground and greater dangers of mudslides like this one in Denali National Park. It means greater deterioration of hunting trails that Native Alaskans rely heavily on for subsistence and traditional practices. It also means a greater acceleration of climate change.

Remember that 46,000-year-old branch? The reason it hasn’t decayed is because it’s surrounded by ice. Remove the ice and it’ll start to decompose, along with all the other organic matter in the permafrost. Because it’s deep underground where there’s no oxygen, that decomposition will create methane, which can and does bubble to the surface and escape to the atmosphere. It’s already happening as demonstrated by these scientists. The tundra will go from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Some predictions even show the tundra shifting to a grassland ecosystem if warming continues. Climate change is real and during a summer of record heat and rainfall, it’s quite noticeable here in Alaska.

Want to learn more about permafrost? There’s a new documentary coming out in 2017 specifically on Alaskan permafrost dynamics. Check out the trailer for Between Earth and Sky here.


I can’t believe my internship is nearly halfway over! Time is truly flying by and the ebb and flow of field work is starting to feel normal. After a rather slow June and July, collection season is speeding up, and I welcome it.

In July, I was assigned to my state to work in, which is Delaware, and I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this state. It’s the furthest state from the office (I’m in the New York office), so I spend about eight hours a week just traveling to and from Delaware, which can be tough. We have visited a lot of sites that are fragmented, covered in trash, and just not managed very well, which can be incredibly frustrating. But in contrast, we have visited gorgeous sites that have many of the plants on our list. We have visited pristine dune habitats, beautiful (albeit smelly at times) marshes, and stunning lakes and ponds. I spend a lot of time camping, and my hammock has become a second bed. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a job that allows me to be outside as much as I am.

As the oncoming months arrive, I expect for time to speed up even more. We have spent the last two months working hard to scout out sites for future collections and soon all of that planning will come to use, which is exciting! It feels great to collect seeds, knowing they will be going to restoration projects. It’s a good feeling to know that I am giving back to the ecosystems which I love so much.


Signing off from the Staten Island MARSB office

Barbara Garrow

Tree frog on some cattail (Typha latifolia)

Black racer (Coluber constrictor) just hanging out.

My partner, Gio, trying not to fall into the wetland – a common occurrence while on the job.



A Hodge Podge of Protocols

Its been a while since I last wrote anything here, but a lot has gone on since the last time and I have been learning a lot of new protocols in the meantime. The last time I wrote I was just about to head off to the CLM conference in Chicago. It was a great experience! We heard talks from people working with and studying native seed, learned more about the Seeds of Success program, got to explore the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden grounds, and were able to meet many other fellow interns. It was nice to be back in a city again too, I haven’t had Chipotle since being there.


I finally saw a sage grouse! Truly the reason for this field season

When we returned to Shoshone, we finished up our HAF surveys in a few weeks and moved on to many other protocols. The next protocol we worked on was fire re-entry. After fires, the BLM will seed some specific grasses that do well in the climate and that the cows and other grazers will find palatable. Looking for the seeded grasses, we would walk a transect and measure the closest species, note whether it had seed heads or not, and give it a quick tug to see if grazers would rip it out or not when trying to eat it. We pretended to be cows for a while and it was pretty sweet.


The area on the left burned in 2014, the difference is stunning

After that we checked out some trend data plots. These sites were established in the 1960’s and have been monitored every couple years until the present. This long term data give a great picture of how the land is changing over time and what the impacts on specific areas are. Unfortunately we were unable to find 2 of the sites, apparently fires burned through the area and, in the re-seeding effort, the plots got ripped up. The rest of the plots we found gave us great data though, and I feel confident in saying that I am an expert at identifying dead plants in Southern Idaho.

I had never gone caving before, but we were able to go out with the Geo Corps team, people that work with the geological resources in the field office, and explore some of the caves around here. Southern Idaho has a volcanic history, and that activity has left many caves in the area, mostly of the lava tube variety. We explored 4 caves, including Gypsum Cave, which, measuring 2.5 miles long, is the second longest lava tube in the lower 48 states. I was also able to go with the Geo Corps team to assess some sites for rock hounding in our field office. They were making a brochure for the field office to hand out to people looking for neat rocks, and we went to some of the sites to see if it was worthwhile to send people there. Although the day I went with them didn’t lead to as exciting finds as some of their other sites, I found some obsidian and cool looking calcite.


Gypsum Cave


Tea Kettle cave, my favorite cave so far


Caves lead to some good opportunities for artsy photos


I found out obsidian and quartz are both primarily made from SiO2, but the difference is black and white!

Finally we were able to join up with the Idaho Fish and Game biologist to do some monarch tagging! Monarchs go through a huge migration every fall down to Mexico, and our goal was to catch and tag ones we saw in order to get some data on where the monarch population of Idaho end up. It was fun to spend a day working with butterflies, and it was pretty funny to be grown adults sprinting down the road with a butterfly net. We were only able to tag 2 Monarchs, but luckily more were tagged before we got started.


After catching them, a small sticker is placed on the right wing

I have about 2 months left in my internship now, and I have certainly learned a lot and had experiences I would probably not have anywhere else. Huge shout out to my mentor, Joanna, for coming up with all of these opportunities for us, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has to offer!


Ipomopsis aggregata, one of the showier plants I’ve seen out here

BLM, Shoshone field office

Looks different, but it’s not!

Over the past couple of months I’ve learned a lot of plant species and something that doesn’t fail to astonish me is how diverse their phenotype and genotype can be from one plot to another. From what I remember, the phenotype of plants is dependent on factors like grazing, slope face, stratum, and soil conditions. Genetic variability may also occur for some of those same reasons and studies indicate that it could be due to the genes of its host species as well as its own genetic print. I learned this during my undergraduate education but it never really sunk in until I witnessed it the other day while surveying a very diverse plot.

Among the many plants there, we had to be especially careful when passing by stinging nettle (Urtica diortica). We’ve worked with and around stinging nettle before but it was nothing like this. This stuff was so much more toxic than at the previous plot. When I walked by it, the sting would seep through my pants and last for several minutes. On our walk back to the truck I noticed that my hand was also a little inflamed from being exposed to this insanely strong nettle. We noticed that the plot was pristine in the sense that there weren’t any side trail stomping (besides ours) or cow trails that would maybe be a reason why this nettle’s chemical compounds we so caustic. Humm, this could possibly lead to a good research topic.

We have also witnessed how diverse phenotype could be when we saw Northern bedstraw (Galium boreale). At one plot it was a mere 8 inches tall and at another location we found it standing tall at over 15 inches. It looked so different tall yet there it was, the same plant just doing its thing. I wouldn’t have recognized it if it weren’t for my mentor that pointed it out. I was shocked to learn how big it could get.

The plots we visit and plants we have the pleasure of meeting constantly have me questioning their nature and diversity. If it weren’t for plants evolving, it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t be here. Plants add to the stunning painting of this thing we call life, let’s not forget to stop every once in a while and appreciate their mysticism.


A Drive with NPR

I am not exactly sure when it happened, it certainly wasn’t that recent, but at some point while being out here in Buffalo the desolation no longer started to seem so desolate. The emptiness became part of the grandeur and beauty.

While I won’t say I enjoy the long distances between this town and the next, I have arrived at a point where driving a couple hundred miles is no longer a chore or an exercise in mental fortitude. Rather now, even if I have driven a route multiple times in the week prior to the current trip, I get to experience something that feels new each time. Whether that is the weather patterns, the wildlife I may see, or simply what’s playing on the local NPR station.

Certainly there’s a part of me that wishes there could be less driving associated with managing such wide swathes of land, but the realist in me acknowledges that at the current time that’s just not possible. With articles coming out touting the abilities of drones, and the ever expanding scope of work they can accomplish, maybe one day much of my work can be done sitting in a dark temperature controlled room. But then while that may have less of a footprint, that wouldn’t really be work I’d enjoy doing.

For now though, let’s just say that I am happy I get to venture forth into the woods and desert every so often, and make some money while doing so.

So Many Things

The past month has been a hodgepodge of tasks. Its been kind of fun to do a bunch of different stuff. We finished TREND up and my co workers starting working on Ultization, which is looking at what areas of the range get the most use during grazing. Abby and I, however, went looking for some rare plants. Red wool plantain (Plantago eripoda) is a rare plantain that was found in the field office in the 1940s. It was fun to look for since its grows in wet areas, it was a nice change from the sage brush steppe grass. We were in a lot of areas dominated by Aspens and Willows. Unfortunately we could not find the plantain.

I also got to help Abby out with a Seeds of Success project. Yampa (Perideridia gairdneri) is a fairly common plant that is a staple crop of Western Native American Tribes. The roots were consumed and are similar to water chestnuts and the seeds were used as seasoning. Yampa was requested for collection because of its cultural importance. It grows in steam beds so we got out a map and the herbarium vouches and went looking. We were prepared for a hike and prepared to find dried up plants that were hard to ID. It turns out Yampa was still flowering and is in abundance in our field office. There was a large population about 20 feet from the road. We were not planning on collecting it this year because we thought it was done flowering, but now it has been added to the list!

Collecting Yampa vouches

Collecting Yampa vouchers


Mother load of Yampa!!

Mother load of Yampa!!

After the Yampa adventure we spent a day looking for the Chatterbox Orchid (Epipatis gigantea) at a project site at Briggs Creek. Briggs Creek is an area where BLM land meets land owned by Idaho Power. The BLM in conjuncture with Idaho Power and US Fish and Wildlife Service is constructing an enclosure to protect two species of threatened and endangered snails. The Chatterbox orchid is a special status plant for the BLM. These plants are not threatened or endangered but can be rare or sensitive, sometimes endemic. The BLM has special protocol when projects occur in areas with special status plants. We were tasked with searching for the plant and doing a habitat assessment to determine how the project would affect the orchid. This was a really fun assignment. It was a little difficult since we haven’t done much riparian work, there were a lot of new plants, some that stumped the office. We got to work with the GIS specialist, who is a former CLM intern. She wanted to get out in the field. It was really great to hear how she got where she is and some of her experiences. I got the chance to do the write up, which was really great experience.

In addition to all these new projects we got to go caving! There are two interns from Geocorps of America which are sponsored by the Geological Society of America. There are a ton of caves in the field office because of the volcanic history of the area. We went into Chris’s Crystal Castle, Will’s Cave, and Teakettle. Teakettle is the most interesting because there is a skylight in the cave where a bunch of ferns are growing.

There are more interesting things to come! We are tagging monarch butterflies for Idaho Fish and Game and trying to find all the Range Improvement Projects in the allotments we did our earlier monitoring in. So stay tuned! Shout out to my awesome mentor Joannna!

Nicki Gustafson

Shoshone ID