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

Spreading the word

Since my last blog entry, this collecting season has been crazy! My team and I have made way more collections than we had by this time last year, and we’ve visited nearly all of our 84 or so sites that we have permits for.

In addition to seed collections, I had the opportunity to attend the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in Cullowhee, NC for 4 days! I had heard about the conference over the past few years, both working at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and studying at North Carolina State University for my undergrad degree. Everyone that had been to the conference raved about it. There were remarks ranging from “…you’ll learn more about native plants than you thought possible…” to “…it’s the one place I feel comfortable geeking out about plants…”.

I must say, my experience was leaps and bounds better than I imagined it to be, and I had pretty high hopes going into it. One part that I particularly enjoyed, and that is pertinent to this blog, was the poster session. I had the honor of presenting a poster on SOS East to anyone and everyone that was interested in learning about it. Most people were very familiar with seed banking, whether by first-hand experience, or indirectly via their own personal involvement with plants and seeds. Some people here and there were knowledgeable on Seeds of Success and its presence out West, where most of my fellow interns are enjoying their time.

Being generous, I’d say 10% of the people I spoke to were aware of SOS on the East Coast. The fact that my team and I, at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, along with the teams at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center in New York, and the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts, are doing large scale native plant seed collection on the East Coast was a huge shock to people. One comment that I heard, phrased in many different ways, was this – “It’s about time.” Every person I spoke to had a very strong opinion when it came to seed banking, and especially for the purpose of restoration on the East Coast. Don’t get me wrong, the need for seed in the West is huge, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the work everyone is doing out there, but the fact that until last year there was no comparable work being done East of the Mississippi River, is a joke. The East Coast gets battered by hurricanes constantly. The rate at which development here is happening at an ever quickening pace is painful to watch. Habitat loss is happening everywhere you look, and there is not enough locally adapted and locally sourced seed to fill the need for restoration efforts. Not to mention, most people don’t even know about the presence of SOS on the East Coast.

I did what I could to inform my fellow botanists, hobbyists, nursery managers, researchers, etc. on our work, and the response was fantastic. Everyone loved the work we’re doing, it seems word is spreading (albeit slowly) throughout the ‘plant world’.

My personal mission while at the conference was to get people thinking about how important the work that SOS does, truly is, and by the same token, convince people that SOS needs to broaden its reach. Right now, we on the East Coast only cover from Maine down to North Carolina. I believe it is of utmost importance to extent SOS East down south through Florida and West along the Gulf Coast, where damage is caused quite frequently. Anyone with memory of Hurricanes Andrew, Wilma, Katrina, Floyd, Fran… knows just how devastating storms on the East Coast are.

Anyway, I’ll end my rant there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference and am forever grateful for the funding I received from the North Carolina Native Plant Society that allowed me to attend this year. I hope very much to attend next year and every year thereafter.

Here’s a photo of me with my poster:


SOS East poster at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in Cullowhee, NC

And for those of you wanting to see some nice native plants and seeds from my travels with SOS:

Borrichia frutescens

Borrichia frutescens flowers

Sabatia brachiata

Sabatia brachiata flower

Bolobschoenus robustus

Bolboschoenus robustus seeds

Viburnum dentatum

Viburnum dentatum fruits

Rubus hispidus

Rubus hispidus fruits

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias incarnata flowers

Hibiscus moscheutos

Hibiscus moscheutos flowers

Schoenoplectus americanus

Schoenoplectus americanus fruits

Pontederia cordata

Pontederia cordata flowers

Rein Orchids and Restoration

The past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time working a restoration site located in the coastal grasslands of Fort Ord. After filling in a gully that was threatening to damage a nearby road, BLM planted a few thousand native plants in order to populate the barren earth and prevent future erosion. I have been monitoring the survivorship of those plants, as well as watering them by means of a large water tank truck and a few hundred feet of hose. I often work alone amid dense morning fog, which burns off to spacious afternoon views, with mice, mantises, beetles, grasshoppers, vultures, hawks, spiders, and plants for company.


Pillarcitos restoration site and water tank truck


Friendly mantis

Black widow inhabiting one of the plant basins

Black widow inhabiting one of the watering basins

Meanwhile there has been a huge wildfire raging in northern Big Sur, 30ish south miles from Fort Ord. Luckily the prevailing winds are NW, but there has been some lingering haze and smoke smell in the area, as well as a few days of ash fall. One day however I accompanied our recreation manager to BLM campsites in the valleys inland from the fire, and fire’s effect there was surreal. Everything was enveloped in a yellow-sepia haze, which when coupled with the hot, barren oil field landscape created the atmosphere of a zombie apocalypse.

Smoke plumes visible from Fort Ord

Huge smoke plumes visible from Fort Ord

More recently I accompanied a longtime volunteer who conducts vegetation inventories across Fort Ord. We looked for elegant rein orchids in the coastal dunes, and ended up finding twelve individuals. It was incredibly refreshing to work in the smell and view of the clean, windless morning ocean, and trampling across the mats of invasive ice plant in search of scattered natives was fun too.


Elegant rein orchids amid ice plant

Sean Pagnon, BLM Fort Ord National Monument, CA

Wildlife of the Great Basin

The last two weeks has been filled with capturing bats, monitoring sage grouse,  and working on establishing protocols for measuring flow rate in various streams, stock tanks, and reservoirs in the Great Basin and Modoc Plateau regions. For collecting bats, we targeted perennial water sheds, stock tanks, and meadows scattered from High Rock Canyon north to the Oregon state line and west to the Hays Mountains. I teamed up with people from all over Nevada and California who came for the annual bat blitz. In four days we caught several hundred bats (one of the nights we caught 240 bats) and about 15 different species. The most notable species that we caught were the Townsend’s Big Eared Bat, Pallid Bat, Long Legged Myotis, and Long Eared Myotis.

IMG_5501The Townsend’s Big Eared Bat caught near Painted Peak in Washoe County, Nevada. (Photo by Jennifer Mueller)

During one of our office trainings that went over measuring stream flow rates, we decided to go up Hay’s Canyon. During this training we went over the use of flumes, V-notch weirs, the use of meters, and the use of the bucket method. We also went over which technique was batter depending upon stream size, velocity, and the characteristics of the channel. While we were going up the canyon we saw a single big horn sheep ewe in the rocks above us but didn’t see any others. After we did some flow rates in various springs and creeks in the area, we decided to do more recordings along Hay’s Canyon on our way back. At our last stop we looked up from the channel we were working in to find fourteen big horn sheep above us on the rock face. The big horn sheep had come down to drink where we were working. With them were several rams and some lambs and it was a nice treat after a long day. We also saw another band of at least eight big horn sheep coming up another slope to join the herd above us, so we had roughly twenty-two big horn sheep.



The majestic Big Horn Sheep. Both photos were taken in Hay’s Canyon by myself.

Finally, while I’ve been collecting grass seed in the area, I’ve also been doing fuel loading surveys, assisting in determining past fire histories in the region (especially in timber and sagebrush steppe areas), and monitoring sage grouse. The largest flock of sage grouse that I have seen so far was 66 individuals in one area with another flock of 18 individuals in an adjacent stream watershed. Every time I see sage grouse I take a GPS waypoint, pictures, and record the number of individuals seen. So far this summer I have seen roughly 132 sage grouse, and several raptor species.


Sage grouse found at Mosquito Lake in a site heavily dominated by great basin wild rye, prairie junegrass, western wheat grass, and low sage brush.

I hope everyone else is having a fun internship and is staying safe out there!



Summer Continued

It’s hard to believe that we’re already getting to the later stages of summer. The weeks come and go and I lose track of time. Our focus has been to survey as many BLM parcels as we can reach within the areas burned by wildfires in the last few years. We’ve kept track of the areas we have hit and it’s amazing to see how long our completion list is. With that, however, our list of easy access areas grow slim. Many of the parcels remaining require trekking across private property or hiking a ways to reach. The other week we took a UTV out to reach a rather large area. It’s very dry by now, which means the vegetation (especially grasses) are more prone to catch fire from heated engines driving over them. So naturally our main concern was to not cause one, for that surely would not look good on a resume. Despite the occasional whiff of what I can only describe as a burning pizza smell, a fire has yet to be started. Go us.


Our trusty UTV

Anyways, after so many weeks of figuring out logistics and weed surveying, our crew needed a short change of pace. Two weeks ago we went into the field with our office botanist and assisted her with her surveying for rare plants. It was nice to look for good plants for once! The two species of concern were Nicotiana attenuata and Iliamna longisepala. Nicotiana can be found all over the western US, while Iliamna is endemic to central Washington. Both, however, do well in areas recently burned, so it’s right up our alley. I didn’t manage to grab a picture of the nicotiana but the common name is coyote tobacco.


Iliamna attenuata

So we helped our fellow botanist out for a few days in the the burned area of Douglas Creek. We were successful and found quite a few plants for her inventory. We did come across one obstacle on our search. A familiar faced foe blocked our path. But we demanded entry and didn’t take no for an answer (aka we spent 15 minutes throwing tumble mustard off the road).


A soldier in the middle of battle

When not at work, I try to invest a little time fishing in the area. As many of you know the Columbia River is the route for many migrating salmon. The salmon fishing season opened July 1st and Wenatchee exploded with anglers hitting the river. Having dabbled in the sport of fishing myself, I felt I needed to check it out. All I can say is it has been a humbling experience so far…. I’ve caught, in total, about 20 pounds of grass and snagged a rock, which took my line. It seems I am playing with the big boys now. To regain some pride I did some fly fishing in the Wenatchee River one afternoon, go for something a little smaller than a salmon. While that too ended with an empty stomach, the spot I chose was absolutely gorgeous so I wasn’t too disappointed.


Hopefully my next post will have a picture of me with a fish, cross your fingers.














Lynx/Snowshoe Hare Habitat Surveys

Our last and final day monitoring amphibian habitat was a success. The last allotment was located in an area that was surrounded by a private landowner who did not permit us access on their roads. To get around this obstacle, our only option was to drive on a National Forest road and hike in through the woods a few miles to get to the point. I know, so unfortunate, right?




Enveloped with willows, the slow moving streams and creeks were jumping with Boreal Toads: a relieving and hopeful site to see this sensitive species doing well and as hoppy as ever.


juvenile Borel Toad


adult Boreal Toad


Fun Fact: Each toad has a unique spotting pattern, like a fingerprint. Researchers can photograph the underside to identify individuals (without cutting their toes off)!

Check out this site to learn more! : http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchBorealToad.aspx


It’s a good thing they stand out so well in the foliage …

All of our data is collected and inputed into the database. For now, we will leave it be until it is time to write the report once the weather turns on us in October. We are moving on to our next project — Lynx and Snowshoe Hare Habitat Assessments.

Across BLM land are a number of aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands that have been burned or “treated.” Aspen stands often get choked out by spruce and fir trees. Ecologically, is this a bad thing? I cannot say. But I do know that underneath a dense, mature spruce stand lies a whole ‘lotta nothing. A combination of blankets of acidic needles and almost complete, constant shade results in a barren and unproductive understory. When the focus is to support large herbivores, mainly elk, these kinds of stands serve little purpose. A rich understory of young aspen saplings, shrubs, forbs and grasses is like one, huge salad-bar for herbivores. Additionally, no understory means no refuge for Snowshoe Hare, and no Snowshoe Hare means no Lynx.


A stand burned 3 years ago

As Lynx rely heavily on Snowshoe Hare for food, our habitat assessments are mostly catered to their desires and needs for a good home. A number of sites were identified in a grid-like pattern, using rebar and flagging, throughout both burned stands (treatment) and unburned stands (control).


Within a 22 inch radius, Snowshoe Hare pellets are searched for and counted.


Snowshoe Hare pellets

At each of the four cardinal directions, we estimate the “horizontal cover,” which is a way for us to quantify how dense the understory is (how much refuge and forage for hares).


horizontal cover board

We also calculate the density of seedlings(<1cm DBH)/saplings(1-4cm)/mature(>4cm DBH) trees. Consequently, it is imperative that we are able to identify the different species of common trees at all life stages.

Lynx also feed on squirrels, so we look for and take note of any sign (visual or audio). Where a squirrel has used a tree stump or log to tear open the cone, they call this a “plucking post.” It looks like this :


plucking post

Where they have cached tons of cones, large mats are formed by the sheds. There are often visible holes where they have stored the cones :




a closer look

I am really enjoying this new project as I learn and see new things every day. The woods feels like home to me; I am so grateful to be in this field of study and work.


moose track





Val Stacey

Pinedale, WY