The largest terrestrial ecosystem on the Planet Earth is the boreal forest. Standing on top of a bluff or mountain, with a view of the interior, invokes a sense of awe that at this moment I cannot express in words. When attempting to describe how it feels to gently walk on a soft sphagnum carpet through the spruce/aspen stands, weaving through a berry-rich understory, lichens crumbling under my feet, sentences fail and language becomes ineffective. I have come to the conclusion that ecosystems of the north are otherworldly.

During the course of this summer, I have come to understand the allure of Alaska. So much can be accomplished under the summer sun, with days reaching 24 hours in length. Since the commencement of our field season, I have had the opportunity to see countless mountains, glaciers, river deltas and forests, both interior and coastal. Our primary goal has been the detection and management of exotic plant populations in the park. If you know anything about exotics in the lower 48, then 13,000,000 acres and with merely 4 people is completely ludicrous, but in Alaska, many of these infestations are only just establishing and can be controlled if detected early. And so we have set off to survey the most highly visited areas of the park, both road accessible and not, to search for these human-transported exotics.

The Copper River Basin with Mt. Drum hiding behind the clouds.

The Copper River Basin with Mt. Drum hiding behind the clouds.

Continue reading

Canyon Country

Well…here I am more than half way done with my internship in Escalante, UT, just now posting my first blog. Sorry about that; I have no excuse, really, other than the fact that I’ve been so enthralled by the beauty and power of my temporary home that sitting inside at a computer typing about it somehow hasn’t cut it. But here I am either way, hoping to make up for some lost time. This post will be an overview of my life in Utah:

On Saturday, May 14th, 2016 I arrived in the small, rural town of Escalante (which I quickly learned is pronounced es-ca-lant, or es-ca-lant-ie, NOT escalante in the Spanish sense. Anyway). I’d driven some 2,000 miles from Michigan and arrived in a strange country of white slick rock and red canyon cliff faces–a world I’d only read about and never imagined I would see for myself, let alone spend half a year exploring. That’s why I took this job, really. I wanted a new adventure. So, I graduated college on April 30th, filled my car with all sorts of unnecessary things, and drove across the country towards the land of sun and dust.

I’ve traveled a good amount, really. I’ve spent time in Japan, Chile, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana…but nothing really prepared me for Escalante. Here, there are more cattle than people. My neighbors walk by my bedroom window every afternoon moving their horses from pasture to corral. There are no bars, only a couple of restaurants, and a single main road through the center of town. (We do have a grocery store and three gas stations, though, a big deal around here.)

We are surrounded on all sides by the 2,000 acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (the space in which I work as a CLM intern), some of the greatest and last wilderness in the American West. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and it’s a multi-use space, that means that the tourists frolic down the famous Hole in the Rock road right alongside roaming herds of cattle. The Monument isn’t a National Park; some ranchers still make a living off this land and some are trying to find ways to continue that lifestyle for as long as they can. If you want to come and climb through the slot canyons, explore the gulches, and see the desert stars, you’ll get a taste of rural life in Utah whether you like it or not–

In short, Escalante is a town on the edge of the world; two worlds, really, an old world of ranching, cowboys, and rodeos and a new world of tourism and land preservation. Lots of people have opinions about this, about the American West–what is was, what it is, what it could be. Lots of people like to sit at desks in air conditioned rooms and talk about places like Escalante as if they really understand what’s happening here. I used to be one of them. Now I know better.

Three months in, I’ve become accustomed to this place and have settled in to the slow lull of desert life. My mentor, Terry Tolbert, has been amazing; our first couple weeks here, he drove us all across the Monument and the Boulder Mountain to the north to get us acquainted with the area. I quickly learned that the desert is all about respect and preparedness. You have to respect the landscape in order to love it, and even when you come to love it, you have to be prepared for all that it’s able to throw back at you: Between the red clay roads and unpredictable weather, you can slide right off a two track or get stuck in ruts as deep as your truck tires. You can take a wrong turn on the mountain roads and realize an hour later you have to backtrack three hours to get where you wanted to go. You can hike into a gulch you thought would have water in it, and there’s nothing but dust.

I have never lived in a place of such stark, desolate beauty. There is a quiet out here that seeps into you bones, a quiet that hangs about the canyons and penetrates the rainbow sandstone. Some people try to block it out with music and car engines and heavy footfalls of hiking boots. But you really have to let it in to understand Canyon Country. I’m still getting there, but I’m loving every moment.


More to come. -Kate

Escalante, UT; BLM

Weeds, wildfires, hawks & Häagen-Dazs

Hello from the BLM Mother Lode Field Office in El Dorado Hills, CA!

Much of my time in the last month has been devoted to pulling weeds and taking care of odds-and-ends in the office. The invasive species we have been hand pulling are yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens). Though there are huge populations nearby that would take considerable management and effort to eradicate, hand removal of small populations is doable to prevent further establishment into rare plant communities.

There have been relatively small fires on or near BLM land within our field office recently. Rare plant populations do not appear to have been affected, and hopefully there is a seed bank of some rare plant species in the soil that will germinate in the burned area. In some of the areas of the Pine Hill Preserve that I frequently visit, there is such a stark contrast to be seen between adjacent plant communities that have differing fire histories. That has been one of my favorite things to observe during my internship.

Some other unique opportunities have arisen in the last month. I helped with a small construction project, using a soil auger for the first time and pouring concrete for a retaining wall. I recently had the opportunity to tag along with the botanist and wildlife biologist at my office for a raptor survey at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Though we only saw a handful of species on our route, I had fun and just spotting anything is good practice for an amateur like myself.

I visited the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, a garden that supports bee populations and provides education about bees. It was great to see the garden promoting native plants to support bees and that many of the plant species we collected seeds from this year were represented at the garden. One coworker from my field office has been documenting and collecting pollinators found on species corresponding to seed collections. We must be a curiosity to many passersby, me collecting plants into bags and him wielding his net. I had the opportunity to help with the placing of Malaise insect traps, which when monitored over a sufficient period of time should provide a more complete list of the species present in an area and the relative abundance of each. Traps are being placed on gabbro soils associated with the rare plants within the Pine Hill Preserve, with other traps nearby but outside gabbro soils. Hopefully the results will lead to a better understanding of the endemic plant species and their associated pollinators.

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

They taste like the impossible

Hi all!

Month #2 is officially over (what!?). We’ve only four months left of this internship (hopefully all of them will be less hot). Instead of recapping the entire month, I would like to write about a few points.

We made a collecting trip in the beginning of the month. In this trip we went to Civil War Land Trust, Seneca Creek State Park, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Elk Neck State Park, Sassafras Natural Resources Management Area, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Caledon State Park, York River State Park, Voorhees Nature Preserve, and the Vandell Preserve at Cumberland Marsh.  From these places, we made collections of Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis, Viburnum dentatum, Carex vulpinoidea, Danthonia spicata, Schoenoplectus americanus, Eleocharis fallax, Deschampsia flexuosa, Carex lurida, Bolboschoenus robustus, Juncus effusus. Woooo!

We were ecstatic about finding the D. spicata and D. flexuosa especially, as these were two species that were not collected last year! I cleaned the seeds last week of Danthonia and it took FOREVER. But they’re so cute to look at, so it was okay. By the way, Viburnum is absolutely terrible to clean. It looks like chili and smells like, well, let’s just say – gross. However, elderberry smells divine, like a fine wine in the making. OH! Something else that is cute to look at? Conoclinium coelestinum, blue mistflower. The most magical, perfect name for the most magical, perfect plant! I remember learning this plant at the UNC Herbarium, but this was the first time I saw it in person – and I fell in love. Amanda spotted this tiny lady on our way out of Caledon SP. Jake says we will be seeing it ALL over the place… I can’t wait!

blue mistflower! :)

blue mistflower! 🙂


Another perfect thing about this trip – although not very plant related – is this adorable place. This, ladies and gentleman, is a little coffee shop in Chestertown, Maryland. It’s called Evergrain Bread Company, and they have anything from Nutella lattes to any pastry you could want. I got this perfect honey vanilla latte one morning for breakfast before we set out to Eastern Neck NWR.

The coffee shop in Chestertown!

The coffee shop in Chestertown!

My perfect honey vanilla latte

My perfect honey vanilla latte

While doing some herbarium research last week, I came across a species on our list – Spiraea tomentosa, steeplebush – and again, I don’t know what it is about steeplebush and blue mistflower, but MAN! I can’t get over them! If you aren’t familiar with this species, look it up! I don’t have any pictures of it unfortunately! Love love love. I can’t wait to see this out in the field!


Rubus phoenicolasius, wineberry – although invasive – is also so delicious.



Here are some pictures from our trip:

Jewelweed in bloom

Jewelweed in bloom


Right in front of where we collected a Carex species at Caledon SP

Right in front of where we collected a Carex species at Caledon SP

Caterpillars from heaven

Caterpillars from Heaven


Some personal side notes:

I love summer, but I’ve been noticing myself thinking about fall and cooler temperatures while we are out collecting. It will be so nice!

Sitting in the grass on the side of the road while collecting Eleocharis in the rain and doing some mindful counting is probably one of the most refreshing and relaxing feelings ever.

Collecting Eleocharis in the rain. Sammy is fabulous as always.

Collecting Eleocharis in the rain. Sammy is fabulous as always.

Eleocharis seeds! So cute.

Eleocharis seeds! So cute.

I’m really good at not scratching bug bites now.

Thanks for reading,




More Seed Collections, More Arm Muscles

Over the past two collecting trips we have almost doubled the amount of collections we make per week! It has been a whirlwind of activity and quite the learning experience. We have been traveling mostly throughout Maryland and Virginia and I have slowly figured out how to best seek out collection sites in the expanse of an entire state park or national wildlife refuge. This past trip we used kayaks to gather seed from a few species like Sambucus canadensis and to scout potential sites. I really enjoyed getting to use kayaks and being out on the water, but boy they do pose a few challenges when using to collect seed. A few times I made the terrible decision to try and get out of my kayak onto what appeared as land and just sank into the mud. Also, after our second day of kayaking, I thought I was going to awake to find two new arms the size of the hulk’s arms. This did not happen, but I was sore for a few days. Despite the challenges, kayaking was my favorite part of the trip, we got to see some beautiful vistas and scout out some great populations of one of my favorite species Hibiscus moscheutos. 

Views from my kayak at Tuckahoe State Park

Views from my kayak at Tuckahoe State Park


Hibiscus moscheutos in bloom!

In addition to the many amazing new plant species I have been learning in our travels, we have seen some amazing pollinators, moths, and various insects. It has opened my eyes more to insect biodiversity and has encouraged me to keep a lookout for insects as well as plants when out in nature. Below are just a few of the beautiful insects we have seen:


Furthermore, my team and I always discuss being opportunistic in if we see seed that is ready to collect on a plant that is not on our list to always try and key it out and collect it if possible. During our past trip we found this really awesome Schoenoplectus  sp.  that we later keyed out to be Schoenoplectus mucronatus. As none of us had ever seen this species before we got very excited and made a collection, however upon later research we discovered it is actually not native to the U.S. and had to begrudgingly microwave the seed (as to not spread exotic species around) and throw out the collection. Lesson learned! As exciting as it is to learn new species and be opportunistic where possible, I learned it is always important to do research on a plant and make sure you are not spreading an exotic species around. Overall, this past few weeks have been awesome and I hope we can keep up the momentum!

Rare gems in a sea of weeds

It can get pretty depressing spending every day of fieldwork searching for and mapping weeds. Monotonous as well, because (spoiler alert), we ALWAYS find them in abundance! Focus too hard on the knapweed, cheatgrass, and tumblemustard, and eventually it becomes all you see. That’s why I felt lucky the past few weeks to be introduced by Molly, our office’s botanist, to some Washington rare plants, and take a little time out in the field to focus on something more positive!

Long-sepal globemallow, Iliamna longisepala

Long-sepal globemallow, Iliamna longisepala

Ute ladies'-tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis

Ute ladies’-tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis

Coyote tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata

Coyote tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata

Having rare plants to search for while out mapping weeds is a nice distraction. Mostly, I’ve just confirmed that certain known populations of these three plants are still around, but last Thursday I had the excitement of discovering a previously unknown population of coyote tobacco! Because my fellow weed-mappers and I are either harder-working or more foolish than some of our other coworkers at the Wenatchee field office, we tend to hike the steeper parts of our BLM parcels than most people would probably categorize as inaccessible. (There’s a reason this internship has me in the best shape of my life!) While we were walking along a high ridge and bemoaning the fact that there was dalmatian toadflax absolutely everywhere, I found a clump of at least 20 coyote tobacco plants, and then more as we walked along further. I was thrilled, and even more so later on when I told Molly about it and she said no one had reported that population before. For once, I was able to give somebody in the office some good news, and it felt great!

Though the mild weather this summer held out much longer than I expected, we are finally experiencing the Wenatchee heat that everyone warned us about, and I’m learning how to survive fieldwork in hundred degree weather. The keys, I’ve found, are water and a good sense of humor!

Here are some more pictures from the past couple weeks:

We rode in a UTV for the first time! It was mildly terrifying.

We rode in a UTV for the first time! It was mildly terrifying.

Since I'm not an entomologist, I've decided to call this little buddy a unicorn caterpillar!

Since I’m not an entomologist, I’ve decided to call this little buddy a unicorn caterpillar!

Another day, another gorgeous, sweeping vista. I love my job!

Another day, another gorgeous, sweeping vista. I love my job!

Katherine Schneider, BLM, Wenatchee WA Field Office

July Recap

I can’t believe it has been a month since the last post, time sure flies around here. As usual, there are way too many items on the to-do list and not enough time to finish all of them. Recently, a lot of the staff members left for vacation or personal time off so Corey and I are the only interns left. Corey is an American Conservation Experience intern picked up by Harry (our preserve manager) to manage the Badger Creek restoration area. Since now I’m the person with the most experience about wetlands, I was left in charge of managing the water levels around some of our ponds. I’m starting to see species of waterfowl return to the area.

I’m also working with a volunteer who is a GIS expert. We’re trying to QA and QC (quality assurance and quality control) the location of all our valves, standpipes, air vents and water control structures. It has been a challenge to finish this little project due to lack of knowledge about the Citrix server and issues with the Trimble Juno handheld unit (battery discharge). However, after installing the proper background imagery and having a functional battery, I was able to finish that task this morning.

The YCC crew came back to our preserve after departing for the Pine Hill preserve several weeks ago. They were extremely valuable because they helped with weed wacking and moving rip rap, tasks that are really demanding in 100 F temperature. I really enjoyed meeting the crew members and hope them the best. I’ve attached a picture of me and the crew, not sure if that went through…

I’ve also been involved with pesticide applications this month. The water primrose is getting out of control around our sloughs, it is the worse that is has ever been. This could be attributed to the longer growing season, I think. We typically use Roundup custom in addition to Renovate to spray. The thing I find most tedious with pesticide applications is the clean up process.

We also had a move! Our center is going through some renovations, so we have to move all our supplies to another location. It took us several days to coordinate and move all our supplies. I can’t believe how much those giant folders weight. The heaviest thing I lifted alone was probably one of our printers. Probably not a smart idea now that I think of it.

I recently starting using the Kubota to mow some of our trails and ponds. Such a fun experience! Growing up in the city, I’m not really used to operating heavy equipment. This is one of the perks that I really enjoy about this job. I’m trying to work myself up to using a tractor to disc the ponds sometime in the future.


Pollinators, Plants, Milkweed, and Monarchs

Over the course of six weeks, I progressed the Mt. Pinos Ranger District initiative of creating a pollinator friendly garden at the Chuchupate Ranger Station. I surveyed Milkweed populations for evidence of Monarch reproduction, and made incidental observations about Monarchs and native pollinator and native plant interactions.

For the pollinator garden, activities included removing the noxious pepperweed (Lepidium sp.), researching planting and propagation methods for candidate plants in the garden, collecting seeds of native plants, and watering and measuring success of milkweed plants in the greenhouse. For the pepperweed, I performed one half day of removal on the property, filling a trash bag. However, the plant was back in full force within three weeks. I recommend aggressive removal and monitoring every two weeks. Collecting native seeds involved identifying healthy populations (>10 individuals) of pollinator-friendly, local plants, attempting to focus on those plants planned for the garden. In total, I collected 4,273 seeds, 2,204 of which are planned in the xeriscape garden (Seed Collection.xlsx). Seeds were collected in paper bags, counted in the office, and accessioned in a spreadsheet according to the quadrangle in which they were collected. Three times a week I watered the milkweed seedlings in the greenhouse at Frazier Mountain High School, measuring germination success at the beginning of each week. As of the end of July 2016, 44.1% of the seedlings have germinated and survived, 14% of the seedlings produced more than one shoot. I designed a straightforward data sheet for continued measuring of seedling success, corresponding to the layout of the greenhouse.

In addition to seed collection, I made observations of pollinator-plant interactions, Monarch adults, recorded milkweed populations, and surveyed for Monarch reproduction on Milkweed. I made 44 observations of pollinators, 25 of which included pollinated plants, and 22 of which were Monarch adults. I recorded the location, number, and behavior of Monarchs (Pollinators MPRD.xlsx). Milkweed observations were made incidentally within Mt. Pinos Ranger District (Milkweed MPRD.xlsx, Sheet 1). Each data point corresponds to a 1 m2 presence of one of three species of milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa, Asclepias fascicularis, and Asclepias californica). Within the data sheet I included known populations of milkweed that were not recorded for GPS coordinates, elevation, and flowering status data. These locations may be visited at a later data for observations, field collection, or Monarch surveys (Milkweed MPRD.xlsx, Sheet 2). Four locations on the Mt. Pinos Ranger District were visited for Monarch surveys, following the protocol on, measuring the total area, estimate or count of milkweed plants, number of sampled plants, and number of Monarch eggs, instars, or chrysalis’. I designed a datasheet for these surveys. Over the four locations and five survey days (one site was surveyed twice) we observed 5 Monarch instars. Results of the surveys are located on “Monarch Data.xlsx” and are able to be registered on the but have not been registered at this time. The monarch survey results file also contains a sheet of all incidental observations of adults on the MPRD.

Other duties of the internship included removing cliff swallow nests surveys and removal to prevent avian window injury, designing and posting fire closure signs, surveying springs for water flow and use, collecting herbarium vouchers (Herbarium collections.xlsx), writing native plant newsletters for education and distribution in the MPRD, identifying and referring seed collection sites for an AT&T restoration project, and editing and participating in the production of a rare plants field guide for Mt. Pinos Ranger District by local botanist, Pam De Vries.

My recommendations for the pollinator initiative at MPRD are 1) Create a restoration-like plan for planting pollinator plants. Ideally, it would look like a hybrid of the AT&T Frazier Park to Pine Mountain Telecommunications Project: Habitat Restoration Plan and the USDA Technical Note: Plants for Pollinators in the Inland Northwest. The plan would apply to all candidate sites within the MPRD 2) Design a sampling method for population density of milkweed on the MPRD. 3) Design a sampling method for population density of Monarchs on the MPRD. Every year, record the first and last observations of Monarchs and make estimates of density. 4) Create an insect collection with an emphasis on pollinating insects, taking perfect note of the pollinated plants.IMG_2173 IMG_2159 IMG_2135 IMG_2123 IMG_2111 IMG_2071 IMG_2054 Twin Spring DSC_0359 DSC_0363

Week in the life of a NYC seed collector

I’m working at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island, NY. Our small regional seed bank is working to make upwards of 300 collections of native plant seeds this year. These seeds will be used for restoration projects in areas damaged by hurricane Sandy. The first few weeks were filled with intensive training in plant identification and seed collection strategies. But now we’ve been loosed into the wild to do the work! We were assigned to teams in different geographic regions from which to collect. I’m working with my fellow intern, Laura, and we’re doing seed collection in the forests, dunes, and marshes of Long Island (which, in fact, is QUITE long, and quite a bit greener than I had expected). We have started to get into the swing of things, so here’s a look at what we did this week!

Monday: Every successful trip into the field starts with thorough planning in the office. Laura and I assess which species might be ready for collection and chose which new sites we want to scout. We book accommodation, plan meals, pick up our rental car, and contact park managers to let them know we’d be on site. We organize our tools: Plant press, clippers, GPS. rain gear, data sheets, collection envelopes etc. With (almost) everything accounted for, we head home and got an early night to prepare for the next day’s work.

Tuesday: I tote my backpack full of supplies through the subway crowded with commuters. I get some odd looks (my khaki field pants and and tie-dye t-shirt do not blend in with typical New York fashion) but I arrive on time at the subway station near Laura’s apartment in Brooklyn. We drive two hours until we reach our first field site: Rocky Point Pine Barrens Preserve. We spend a couple of hours hiking around, eagerly noting the abundance of bearberry (Arctostaphylus uva ursi) and wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria). After we’ve sufficiently scouted this site, we head to Brookhaven State Park. We find some nice populations around several small ponds, and along a powerline cut.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 11.44.06 AM
pondside Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)

Wednesday: Today we visit two new sites: Robert Cushman Murphy County Park and Sears Bellows County Park. Both are full of dried up pond beds, filled with interesting species. One of my favorite finds was a beautiful collection of Rhexia virginica growing happily in the mud of the dried up pond.

Rhexia virginica

Around the main pond on site we find an abundance of a rush called Juncus effusus that is seeding. It takes a bit of bushwhacking through the surrounding thickets, but we collect from the entire population.

We also find this little guy.

Thursday: We return to a site that we visited last week, Connetquot River State Park, to finish a collection of two grasses. We move swiftly through the roadside grasses, stopping to find another population of Juncus effusus around a stream that flows through the middle of the park. We finish up the day happy with our three completed seed collections.

Friday: Back in the office, we lay out our seed to dry in the lab, and plan for more botanical adventures ahead!

Halfway through the season

Can’t believe it’s already halfway through the season! It was a slow start in April but now it has been constant work outside. We had a nuisance bear at one of our campsites so no more picnic baskets for Yogi and Boo Boo.

One of the engineers welding for the bear proof garbage.

One of the engineers welding for the bear proof garbage can.

End product to keep the bears away from the trash.

End product to keep the bears away from the trash.


My cointern and I have also been on a mission to change out BLM road signs and so far have accomplished about twenty transitions from old and decrepit to new and refreshed signs.


New sign


Old sign we replaced.

Old sign we replaced.

We have also been monitoring our WSA’s, which can be an interesting truck ride, considering some roads are not maintained. Monitoring consists of us pounding in carcinites and putting on stickers to mark the boundary, scoping for wildlife, and checking for intrusions from people not using designated trails.

Wild horses by one of our WSA's

Wild horses by one of our WSA’s


Rocky Mountain Columbine in another one of our WSA’s

and here’s an encounter with a prairie rattlesnake in town.

He's a big one

He’s a big one

Until next time from the Rawlins Field Office.

Rebecca Radtke