Halftime thoughts


As of this past week I have officially reached the halfway point in my position here in Safford, AZ.  Primarily most of the work I have been doing focuses on the native fish in the area.  In the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation area, which is right outside of town, there are two species of endangered fish (Gila Chub, Gila Topminnow) swimming in our project area.  Unfortunately for those fellas, there are two invasive and piscivorous fish (Green Sunfish, Yellow Bullhead Catfish) in the creek to join them.  You can see where the problem exists.  My job is to help remedy that problem by manually removing the bad fish, so the good ones can survive.  In order to do this we set up and bait nets every Monday and check them the following mornings throughout the week.  The Green Sunfish is our main concern and when I first arrived in May we were pulling out something like five to six hundred a week.  We would check nets Tuesday and get something like three hundred and throughout the week we would lower that number to around a hundred or so, which had me feeling like we were making good progress.  That mirage was shattered when we would check the next week and have the number jump back up to over three hundred.  This had me thinking that this task was going to be impossible, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill.  Well, let me tell ya what, we kept at it and sure enough throughout the following month or so we eventually dipped into double digits and kept getting lower and lower and sure enough last week we had our first doughnut on the scoreboard.  We are going to keep monitoring the situation to catch any stragglers that weren’t hungry at the time, but man, seeing that zero was such a rewarding experience.  Working so hard to produce visible results really put into perspective what the purpose of a life in the field is like.  This job is not only one where we are rewarded with invaluable experience, we are working on real life projects to try and retain valuable parts of this planet.  Seeing results like that and feeling like a part of a solution is an incredible feeling, which I hope the rest of you interns also have the chance to feel doing whatever it is you are working on.

With monsoon season upon us here (Monsoons in the deserts? Huh? My thoughts too, don’t worry) we can only go out into the field sporadically for fear of flash floods, but the office time is giving me a plethora of different opportunities that are also valuable.  Last week I got to go to Patagonia, AZ about 30 miles north of the border to Mexico to be the BLM representative at a meeting about improving wildlife corridors.  Patagonia is a really little town.  I expected it to be something straight out of a 1960’s western movie.  I was shocked when a little artsy eclectic community in lush mountains greeted me.  The meeting was focused on maintaining a corridor to ensure proper movement opportunities among animals in the incredibly impressive biodiverse region (home of the only Jaguar in the states, aptly named El Jefe).  I have also gotten the chance to write up an Environmental Assessment, which has been a great way to learn about the office oriented side of this type of work.  It also brings everything full circle and shows why we need things done like vegetation monitoring and wildlife surveys.

Hope everyone else is doing well,



Major road flooding after a monsoon. Puts into perspective the effects of overgrazing and the importance of riparian vegetation.


Found this dude wandering in the desert. I Looked for a while, but no sign of Shrek.


The AIM Protocol


Wyoming sage growing alongside rabbitbrush (Artemesia tridentata-wyomingensis and Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus)

As spring dwindled to an end and days began to heat up, it was apparent that summer was upon us. With summer comes the field season for the Bureau of Land Management employees. As an intern with the Kemmerer, WY field office I was ready to begin spending days outside, surrounded by nature with the sun as a constant companion. As each new season begins it is common to have new protocols which must be learned and implemented. For the summer of 2016 AIM, or Assessment Inventory Monitoring, was the new methodology to be learned. AIM was designed to capture a snapshot of overall rangeland health, while maintaining statistical validity. AIM training took place in Rock Springs, WY for the High Desert District employees. After one week of a combination of classroom and field sessions it was time to hit the field. Such was the plan. However, with the implantation of a new rangeland assessment program comes issues. For most monitoring or assessment techniques points to monitor are chosen by the field staff. With AIM points are generated randomly and are assigned to the field office. For the Kemmerer field office points were not assigned until late June. This meant that field work could not begin until then.

Points were assigned and the field staff was champing at the bit to get out and begin checking points off of the lengthy list. As a range technician I was prepared to go out on AIM points every day I worked, but was taken somewhat aback when my life was scheduled up through the first week of August and marked on a calendar.

Early season tailcup lupine (Lupinus caudatus)

Early season tailcup lupine (Lupinus caudatus)

As our AIM team approached our first point the training I had earlier was coming back and the cobwebs were shaken loose. AIM encompasses several techniques to capture rangeland health at a given point. Without going into too much detail, AIM protocol includes a soil pit with measurements taken for effervescence, soil color, soil texture and clay percentage.

Three 25 meter lines are laid out in a spoke design. Along each line a line-point-intercept transect is done. This gives an idea of canopy cover and composition as well as litter content. Canopy gap is then measured. This is important for understanding the percent cover of the transect.

25 m transect

25 m transect

Soil stability is the last measurement taken. This is a fairly straightforward test, giving an idea of the level of erodibility of the soil surface. A plant list is also taken for the plot area by simply walking the perimeter and marking each plant identified.

This was essentially my summer. The soil pit was the duty I was most heavily accountable for. Digging the pit to a depth of 80 centimeters, marking the horizons, collecting and sieving samples for each horizon and finally taking measurements for each horizon. I found the soil pit the most fascinating aspect. Identifying key characteristics of the soil can help one understand why the vegetation that is present is there and any underlying issues. One site was especially interesting. Several horizons were present, the A horizon, or topsoil, was low quality without much of an organic matter presence. The B horizon was absent as the next horizon was a Ct, or clayey C. This horizon was compacted so tightly it was apparent that water could only infiltrate at very slow rate. With slow infiltration comes a higher risk of erosion during average precipitation events. This is one reason I hypothesized that the A horizon was of such low quality. It had no chance to become established due to erosion. To test my hypothesis I poured a generous amount of water onto the topsoil. Infiltration was rapid for about 5 cm. Once the water reached the compacted Ct horizon infiltration slowed and water pooled at the surface, creating runoff and erosion. Of course this was a simple test, but it was a great way to induce deeper thought as to the processes responsible for a sites characteristics.

A soil pit with the soil horizons laid out on a sharpshooter shovel

A soil pit with the soil horizons laid out on a sharpshooter shovel. You can clearly see the distinct colors between them

Days began to blend together. Sites that were once quite distinguishable were now one blurry soil pit. Latin names of plants flew through my mind when off of work reading a book. When out fishing I could not help but take a mental note of every plant I came across. My AIM days are behind me for now. How lucky I was to see so much wonderful country. From low desert sites to conifer and aspen sites high in the hills, soil pits were dug.


The Wyoming Cutt Slam: Fishing For Conservation

During the winter months visions of wild trout flashing through the water and striking a dry fly danced through my mind. I was consumed by a challenge I had found out about last year as a BLM range technician with the Kemmerer, WY field office. This fishing adventure is called the Wyoming Cutt Slam. A challenge bringing anglers from all over the country, the Cutt Slam was implemented by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to increase awareness of Wyoming’s native cutthroat species and their management. So what is the challenge? The angler must catch all four sub-species of native Wyoming cutthroat trout in their native waters. This sure seemed to me like a heck of an excuse to get out and see some beautiful country while catching new fish!


The certificate awarded to those who have completed the Cutt Slam

My fly fishing buddy and I both ended up in Kemmerer, WY with the BLM for the summer. So naturally we decided it was Cutt Slam or bust. Well, this is a CLM blog. So what is the connection? In the Kemmerer field office two native species of cutthroat are found, the Colorado and the Bonneville cutthroat. Range managers cannot overlook these fish. Whether it is grazing or water development, decisions cannot be made without considering what the impact may be on the native species of trout. Riparian monitoring such as MIM or PFC help to monitor crucial trout habitat and protect them. (Also these were great for helping us find good fishing holes for later.) I learned about this challenge by learning about the fish we are paid to protect first.

PFC on Willow Creek

PFC on Willow Creek

Now that I have validated this blog, let us move forward! The first fish on our list was the Colorado Cutt. Found in the Colorado River watershed, this trout can be hard to find and even harder to catch. Luckily we monitored on a beautiful stream that held these fish. Upon arrival to the stream, spirits were high. My friend, Grant, cast his fly out on the water and it was immediately struck by a Colorado Cutt. Sadly, he missed the fish. But this was a good sign. I was giddy with excitement as I cast. Thirty minutes later, no fish. No bites whatsoever. What happened? We will never know. Eventually Grant caught his fish out of a nice big pool.

Grant's first Colorado Cutt

Grant’s first Colorado Cutt

We fished up about 2 miles of stream, and even spooked out a cow moose with her young calf. I, however had no luck. We fished our way back towards the pickup. I wasn’t pouting, but I was close. Think of a kid in a grocery store who wants the sugary cereal but mom picks out the healthy choice. We came around a small bend when Grant exclaimed that he had seen a fish. I excitedly cast my fly into the hole. Nothing. Several more casts and still nothing. Out of frustration I cast far upstream to a riffle. Bam! A Colorado Cutt exploded from the water and hit my fly and I did not miss this fish. Shakily, I reeled the fish in and Grant netted him. We did no want to lose this fish without a picture. After hours of frustration here was my prize. A small trout many would not even remember. But I was ecstatic. “Twenty five percent done!” we exclaimed.


My Colorado Cutt!

The easiest fish, in my eyes was going to be the Bonneville Cutt. I had caught many last summer and knew where and how to fish for them. We packed up the pickup and headed off to the Bear River watershed. We set up camp then went down to the creek to try our luck. Right off the bat I caught a fish.

My Bonneville Cutthroat

My Bonneville Cutthroat

Grant was taken aback after our misfortunes on Willow Creek. Well I had told him this would be easier! He caught his fish just upstream on a hand-tied elk hair caddis fly. Despite almost losing a flip flop and getting stuck in the mud, I think he had a great time. We caught a good number of fish before calling it a day and cooking several celebratory steaks.

Grant's trusty lab Sage and his Bonneville Cutt

Grant’s trusty lab, Sage, and his Bonneville Cutt

Now fifty percent finished it was time to tackle the two wild cards. Those being the Snake River Cutt and the Yellowstone Cutt. Saving the toughest for last and with a hot tip from a coworker, we took off after the Snake River Cutt. Just south of LaBarge, WY there is a road that follows LaBarge Creek into the Bridger National Forest. This road eventually leads to the headwaters of the Greys River. The Greys flows into the Snake River, meaning that Snake River cutts should be swimming throughout the reach. We took off after work, so we did not have much time to fish before setting up camp. We only had time to fish for half an hour before dark. Plus, the river was shallow and wide. Not exactly optimal trout habitat.

The next morning we woke, wolfed down a muffin and still groggy, pulled on our waders and set off. We fished all morning with no bites. We saw a nice fish feeding in a pool but he would not even look at our flies. He had an aloof nature about him one would expect from an English aristocrat. We were simply peasants in his eyes. Aside from this fancy-pants fish we did not see hide nor hair of a trout (just a saying of course, fish have scales). Around two we decided to hike back to camp to regroup and have a lunch. Over cheddar bratwurst we decided to take the road farther downstream in the hopes of finding better fishing. We drove down for about 45 minutes. Alongside the road were several reaches which looked quite promising. Too bad for us, a fisherman was found at each one. Frustrated and on edge, we zoomed down the road farther.

As we descended the Greys was still wide but there was an increase in depth. One section looked quite promising. A braided channel upstream created several riffles and pools. Great trout holding water. I gasped and pulled off the road. We had our fly rods prepared from earlier. We each cast out. I had a bite but missed. Grant had a bite, and he deflty set the hook. It was a nice fish. As it jumped we could tell it was a Cutt. I netted the fish and sure enough, it was a Snake River Cutt.

First Snake River Cutt I have ever seen caught.

First Snake River Cutt I have ever seen caught.

Grant set his rod aside. It was my turn. With the pressure mounting, I cast out into a large riffle and had a soft bite. Next cast and a fish nailed my elk hair caddis. It was a beautiful Snake River Cutt with some good size. This was not a small fish! Luckily Grant was on top of netting duties and raced down to the rivers edge, net in hand. He scooped up the fish and there we had it, the Snake River Cutt! All of the anxiety and frustration vanished. I felt as if I was soaring.

One of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught

One of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught


Seventy five percent done!

It was steak time back at camp.

Summer work picked up and there was less time for gallivanting through the hills chasing trout. We had a tenuous grasp on where to go for the Yellowstone Cutt. They were found throughout Yellowstone National Park, but this area is crowded with tourists and can be expensive. One of the many allures of fishing for cutthroats is the solitude their native habitats provide. So we needed an alternative. Finally we found a creek that provided us with everything we needed. High numbers of Yellowstones, camping, and a somewhat close proximity to Kemmerer.

The weekend of August sixth we took off. Full of optimism and with good music on the radio spirits were high. After several hours of driving and a stop at a local fly shop for last minute fly purchases and some tips, we got to the creek. Well, it was packed with campers and their RVs. Not what I had expected! We raced for a camping spot. Finally we found an empty one with a little isolation from the other campers. But when we went down to the creek the water did not look great. The creek was shallow and wide (sound familiar?). Grant was quite upset, visions of fishless hours on the Greys River haunted him as we pulled on our gear and strung up our rods. We tied on flies recommended by the helpful man at the fly shop and took off. Since Grant was in a foul mood I let him fish the first hole. “You can hardly call this a hole” he growled back at me. After several casts with his shoulders slumped, his rod suddenly jumped to life. I stared in amazement as a good sized Yellowstone Cutt leapt out of the water, trying to lose the hook. Grant’s eyes were the size of saucers. I fumbled with my net as I prepared to land the fish. It rushed downstream at us and ended up between my legs. Grant was shouting at me to land the fish while I stumbled about. Finally I netted the fish. “I didn’t think fish like this were in here” grant stuttered. Neither did I.

Look at that smile!

Look at that smile!

Once again Grant stepped aside. It was up to me to catch one now. Upstream and around a bend we happened upon a nice pool. As Grant held Sage back, I noticed a fish rise. I knew I had a great chance if a fish was feeding on the surface. I cast just above where I saw the fish, letting my purple hopper float directly into the fish’s path. It was a tense moment, waiting for the fly to meander into the strike zone. When the fish rose and took the fly I was ready to set the hook. My rod bent and my reel whirred as the fish took off. After a minute or two I was able to navigate the fish in close enough for Grant to net him. He did a much better job for me than I had done for him.

Yellowstone Cutthroat, 4/4

Yellowstone Cutthroat, finished with the Cutt Slam!

With great jubilation we continued upstream. We caught more fish than we could count that evening and the next day.

Eventually we made it back to camp for, you guessed it, steaks. This time we also brought along some cigars, for celebratory purposes. We had completed the Cutt Slam.

Conservation of our native species is crucial to maintaining what makes America and Wyoming special. All of these fish were caught on public land. Our land. Every citizen of the United States can fish these beautiful waters for native cutthroat.

The Teton Mountains

The Snake River winding beneath the Teton Mountains

Maintaining these rivers and lands is what makes the work I do something I love. Without proper stewardship it would be almost impossible to complete the Cutt Slam. So go forth into the wilderness, chase these beautiful trout throughout the hills and mountains of Wyoming. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Plants and People

If there is one concept that has been reinforced during my time on the Exotic Plant Management crew, it is that invasive plants grow where people go. When we create a new settlement or adventure into an unknown land, we carry with us tiny seeds that germinate and grow. And so, while I was drawn to this internship because I wanted to learn more about plants, what I didn’t anticipate was learning more about people. Much of our work involves surveying places that humans once occupied, as well as land that they continue to use today. What has struck me is standing in a place that was once a part of someone’s life; a part of someone’s story. Looking at an abandoned house can give us a glimpse into a place once full of life and meaning.

A few weeks ago I went to an abandoned homestead near an old copper mine that once belonged to a family that had an infamous battle with the park service. Being on that property and learning the history that had occurred there revealed another layer to the job that I once thought I understood in its entirety; not only am I surveying for plants, but I am also gathering small tidbits of data on humans as well.

Last week I went back to another district of the park, in the towns of McCarthy and Kennecott. Though this was not my first time there, it was my first experience being up close to some of the mines in Kennecott, an abandoned mining town. Kennecott struck me as such an interesting place mostly because of its oddity as an industrial town in the middle of Alaskan wilderness. Further, as an abandoned town, it remains (mostly due to restoration) in the state it once was so many years ago. This place serves as a memory of a very specific and unique time and place that was once shared by so many people.

~Remnants from Kennecott~

~Remnants from Kennecott~

While I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between plants and people, rest assured, I have had plenty of time among the plants. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to go to a new region of Alaska, to the coastal region of Yakutat, as well as to Dry Bay in Glacier National Park. The similarity of the ecoregion to PNW was both spectacularly beautiful, as well as a comfort in its likeness to my Oregon/Washington roots. I even got to see my old friend, Mimulus guttatus, for the first time outside of a greenhouse! There were so many other beautiful flowers to be seen, including Fritillaria camschatcensis and Dodecatheon pulchellum, however both were past their flowering time. I could have only imagined these fields with both of them in flower. One of the plants that we definitely saw in flower was Leucanthemum vulgare, a beautiful invasive that we monitor. It is possibly the only invasive that I have slight remorse while removing.

~Yakutat sunset~

~Yakutat sunset~

~Leucanthemum vulgare~

~Leucanthemum vulgare~

Though the bulk of our field season is winding down, our team is keeping busy. I will be going on more Elodea surveys in lakes throughout the park later this month, as well teaching a course on plant identification at a culture camp. I am particularly excited for the culture camp, as our preparation for it has brought together many of the themes surrounding people and plants I have encountered this season. People and plants are inseparable entities, and when we learn about one, we inevitably learn more about the other.



Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve



Resplendence in retrospect

A glorious transformation of my coffee mug, orchestrated by my field partner.

A glorious transformation of my coffee mug, orchestrated by my field partner.

These five months in Central Oregon strike me as a montage celebrating the Dionysian. The district, especially to the south in our swath of sage grouse habitat, was at first sleepy, cold, blanketed in its last sheet of snow, filled with just green-gray sagebrush rustling in the freezing wind; it soon stirred with little basal starts that my naive self dreamed were potential collections but ultimately were weedy little bur buttercups (Ceratocephala testiculata); and then things exploded into being and colors, yellow asters leading the way and mimicking the sun in their rays, blue pea-shaped lupine shocking the landscape with vibrancy, crimson-orange paintbrush charming even as their roots drilled into the roots of other plants to steal a little water and nutrients here and there. It had been a wetter winter than the last, so it almost seemed like flowers fell over themselves in portraying their luscious petals to their pollinators, and to me, the collector. And just as quickly, they dried, shriveled up, proffered some seed (if we were lucky), then disappeared, many leaving not even a shred of a remnant of their being. It was an explosive affair, and we felt a certain manic excitement when we timed it just right, or were just fortunate enough, to haul in a good batch of seeds. There were times, too, when often-monitored collections just spirited away, and our drive home was far more dejected. Sometimes the flash of flowers were just that, and no seed were to be found nearly at all.

There were celebrations of thunderstorms, which more often than not found me at the top of hillsides; I’d rush to the rig with my seed bag under my shirt, then watch as the rolling clouds and flashes of lightning danced across my vista then away. There were windy days on scapes, watching as the achenes of the invasive Lord Tragopogon dubius (which presents itself in a pappus ball bigger than a softball) took flight in impressive flocks. There were the rowdy roads that had us bouncing about in our rig’s cabs, our seatbelts straining to keep us in the vague radius of our seats.

The stately but invasive yellow salsify.

The stately but invasive Tragopogon.

Between that all, there were the quiet days. Quiet days filled the bulk of our time, but they blur together in memory. The one blended scene is this: the sun is bright, sometimes painfully bright. It was hard to pick out the particular shade of dried plant from the other shade of dried plants with sunglasses on, so we bore with the sun. Even when my field partner and I were working at the same site, we drifted away from each other to maximize the land we covered, so much of my time in the field was alone. My sunbleached senses snagged on the snapping of seed from plants, the clicking of my little metal movie-theater counter, the horseflies insistently orbiting and sometimes biting, the wind drying sweat from our brows – or just as frequently, hijacking a couple of the lighter seeds. Sometimes a cow would challenge us to a game of who could moo louder. Our ears craned for the rattling of snakes and we jumped when we rustled past a plant with seed pods that mimicked the sound.

My down time too was a celebration of the outdoors, since folks can find nearly any outdoor activity they like within a half hour drive from Bend. I found myself climbing and hiking every weekend, even after long weeks in the field. I thought I would stay here after this internship, but alas… community college is cheaper in California.


I’m changing tracks after this internship. As much as I loved the work and the mission for SOS, there are other avenues I’m planning on exploring next. Still, what a wonderful season to end my foray into botany as an occupation. I intend to continue annoying my hiking partners by stopping at every flowering forb I see.

Vi Nguyen, Prineville BLM


Astragalus obscurus… probably. The Hitchcock Astragalus key is as long as it can be cruel.


The ever cheerful Eriophyllum lanatum – “oregon sunshine”


For a while I couldn’t stop whipping out my phone to take a picture of every Lewisia I saw. It was excessive and I see that now.

Fishing in the Desert

Headed down Hole in the Rock road today to finish our collection of Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow). Hole in the Rock is a famous dirt road from Escalante all the way down to Lake Powell. It follows the track the Mormon pioneers took from Escalante to the (then) Colorado River. From Hole in the Rock, present day travelers can reach numerous exciting places to explore — Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons, Coyote and Willow Gulch, Chimney Rock and so many more. There’s also plenty of fun plants to find.

We started out early because it’s monsoon season here; almost every afternoon it pours rain, and when Hole in the Rock is wet, the red clay road turns into a sliding mess akin to ice and snow and slush all mixed together. A few weeks back my co-intern and I tried to get down it to check on our globemallow population…only to slide off the road into a sand due. Good times. We got the truck turned around eventually — I channeled some good old fashion Michigan snow and ice driving skills — but we weren’t too keen to get stuck in the same position again.

After some backtracking and a couple pit stops, we got to our site, finished collecting and then headed off to catch lizards for awhile. We’re working on some baseline species surveys on Grand Staircase, meaning we get to hike across the desert with lizard catching poles (glorified fishing poles) to see what species we can find. We measure, weigh, and photograph all of the lizards we catch, while getting a lot of strange looks from hikers who think we’re crazy people fishing in the desert.


Great Basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores) found down Hole in the Rock

In Search of Gold

Humans are bedazzled by gold and driven to unearth this precious metal. Alaska had the well-known Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s, but few people realize that there are still active mining claims. The glory days may be gone, but the living heritage persists. Miners are rather industrious and their equipment powerful. These extractive processes, as one can imagine, have an effect on the hydrology, water quality, plant communities, wildlife, soils, and overall ecology. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has started to employ the Assessment Inventory Monitoring (AIM) program to better understand these impacts and quantify the reclamation progress. AIM was originally developed for BLM grazing lands throughout the western region and are now being adapted for the Alaskan landscape. We received training in Chicken, AK and then completed our first assessments up the Dalton Highway. This past week Brad Casar, Soil Scientist of Homer Soil & Water Conservation District, fellow CLM Intern Sam Snodgrass, and I went into the White Mountains to examine gold mine reclamation sites in varying stages. Sam and I focused on the vegetation assessments using the point-line intercept method to determine cover and species diversity. It was a productive and full week with some of our own golden moments. We feasted on wild berries, viewed bumble bees lapping up sugar excretions from aphids, and fell asleep to the sound of a waterfall.


A water color inspired by mountain experiences.

So many wild berries including this blueberry plump and juicy for the picking!

So many wild berries including this blueberry plump and juicy for the picking!

Active mining area with remnant structures from older claims

Active mining area with remnant structures from older claims

Conducting AIM across this landscape of early seral species.

Conducting AIM across this landscape of early seral species.

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A mosquito prepared Sam Snodgrass amidst Alaska Rhubarb, Polygonum alaskanum, going to seed.

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A scenic outhouse on one of the mining claims.

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Fellow CLM Intern Sam Snodgrass presenting two bouquets of flower to a miner, one highlighting native forbs and one to discourage non-native invasive plants.


Sphagnum moss with sporophytes.

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A bumble bee lapping up the sugary excretions of the aphids.