A Month Filled with Fire

This month I took some personal time off from the preserve for a fire assignment with the Folsom Lake Veterans Crew from the BLM Mother Lode Office. I spent almost a good three weeks in Wyoming with the crew so this month’s to-do list was not as loaded as the previous. Lots of stories to tell, but I suppose this isn’t the right place to share. 🙂

Upon my return, I assisted our wildlife biologist with water work which involved sending water to some of our wetland ponds in addition to fixing any visible leaks within our “dams”. Another assignment of mine was to supervise the habitat restoration team (HRT) crew for a day. Around this year, the HRT crew manage the weeds around the ponds so that our biologists can manage the water without having to trek through weeds to find our water control structures that hold back the water. We also trimmed down the Atriplex, which we use as hedge row to prevent trash from Highway 99 blowing in.

Some of the trails needed maintenance as well since they are prone to erosion due to the seasonal flooding. As a result, we ordered some gravel from Galt Rock and used the Kubota tractor to scrape it evenly among the road. It was a fun experience driving the tractor. My goal is to be able to drive the big tractor to disc to ponds by the end of this internship. Baby steps.

We had a small fire recently within a portion of the preserve’s property. As of result, it exposed a lot of the trash that accumulated over the years. I was recently put in charge of leading 30 high school kids to clean up the burn area on the 2nd of September.

Since I have some (Geographic Information Experience) GIS experience, I’ve been in the office more often lately. We are putting together a grant proposal to restore some habitat for the listed giant garter snake and I was tasked with creating a map of the proposed restoration area for the grant. We went over numerous edits and I really enjoyed the map making process. I was also tasked with creating the literature cited page and the peers edit process as well.

Until next time…


My last blog post:( :oh wait, nevermind!)

My internship began in April, so I was nearing the end of it this month, but I am excited to say I accepted a three-month extension. I am looking forward to staying in the Sacramento area in the foothills here for the fall. This month I traveled to and camped in Lee Vining to attend a California Native Plant Society workshop for collecting and reporting rare plant species, then I participated in CNPS staff-lead Rare Plant Treasure Hunt. We searched for and found Salix nivalis, snow willow, in the Eastern Sierras of Mono County. I hope to join other Rare Plant Treasure Hunts in the future, and maybe volunteer to lead sometime.


Looking east toward Virginia Lakes and Red Lake in Mono County.


Salix nivalis, snow willow, east of Red Lake in Mono County.


Aquilegia pubescens, Sierra columbine, east of Red Lake in Mono County.


Botanists and enthusiasts doing their thing on the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt in Mono County.

I was able to join in on another raptor survey at the Cosumnes River Preserve, and the sighting of the day for us was a Peregrine Falcon first observed by a fellow intern. It perched near us for a while before flying and diving above us, and we thought we saw it in the distance hunting doves some time later. We also had a nice view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I have assisted with the checking and maintenance of insect traps, Malaise traps, and pan traps painted to attract pollinators. I have continued removing invasive species around Pine Hill Preserve. Upon returning to one location to remove those stubborn yellow star thistles that sprung up since the last visit, we learned that a very recent small fire had beat us to it. The roadside area of mostly invasive species is adjacent to rare plant habitat and has been treated for a number of years but had not recently experienced fire. Hopefully some rare plants will now germinate and have less competition due to the years of treatment. Relatively larger fires on the Preserve have apparently been more easily managed due to the presence of fire breaks, giving us some positive feedback for the fuels reduction work that has been implemented in recent years.


A small fire burned at the roadside on Pine Hill Preserve, leaving no yellow star thistle for us to pull.

The Pine Hill Preserve partners recently had a meeting to discuss the renewal of the Cooperative Management Agreement between parties, ongoing land acquisitions, research projects, etc. During the meetings it can be difficult for me to follow everything as a lot of unfamiliar terminology is used, and as I am on vacation now visiting family, I am trying to devote some time to study related topics. I’ll leave it at that so not outright announce my ignorance. I hope everyone is having a fun, productive summer and looking forward to fall.

John Woodruff

BLM Mother Lode Field Office

Goodbyes are always Bittersweet


I started the season not knowing what to expect and as the last week rolls by I have time to look back on all the adventures I had here in Rawlins, WY. The season definitely started off slow in April. Snow storms hit every weekend causing a not so good beginning to the field season. I even did a pack test in the snow, which was a first.

As the snow melted in May the field season finally took off. We were preparing campsites, by making them look pretty for the travelers that would make their getaway and relax in southern Wyoming. Also, as a recreational intern, we were changing out BLM road signs that had been sitting in a tool shed for quite a few years.

Things changed for my internship halfway through. My mentor got a different job and left us leading ourselves here with the BLM. He did leave us a list that included monitoring campsites on a weekly basis, monitoring WSAs, and setting out traffic counters. This was enough for about a month of work.
Other opportunities did arise and I was able to get out with others in the field office. The projects were vast. I did toad surveys, AIM sites, forest inventory, checked pit fall traps, and so much more. The people here were willing to share their knowledge and I was willing to learn.
So with this experience I’ve been able to narrow down what I want to do in the future and gain insight of a federal agency I had not worked with in the past. This was a wonderful opportunity that I was able to build my resume, develop lasting relationships with my coworkers, and most of all be outside doing work in the environmental field. Thanks CBG for making it enjoyable this season!


See you in the future Wyomong,
Rebecca Radtke

Rains and collections!

It’s finally started to rain here, and that means lots of new potential collection populations have popped up! With the recent rain things are getting very busy, but it’s also been incredibly exciting to see so much new plant life at our collection sites!

Dimorphocarpa wislizeni

Dimorphocarpa wislizeni

Rasahus thoracius assassin bug found while collecting Isocoma pluriflora seed

Rasahus thoracius assassin bug found while collecting Isocoma pluriflora seed

In addition to working on seed collections, we got to help the Range department with an erosion control project earlier this month. This involved bracing a section of land in a riparian area from further erosion during flooding with burlap bags filled with mulch and a tiny fence we built.

Me, Jorge, and Nicole during the erosion control project

Me, Jorge, and Nicole during the erosion control project

We were also able to do another milkweed planting this month at the Black River, during which we planted 200 plants of two different species, Asclepias speciosa and Asclepias latifolia.

Our milkweed planting team: Janna, Joe, Nicole, and me

Our milkweed planting team: Janna, Joe, Nicole, and me

A very feisty rattlesnake that we found near our planting site

A very feisty Western diamondback rattlesnake that we found near our planting site

Planting milkweed!

Planting milkweed!

After a particularly heavy few days of rain, we found several turtles in the field over the course of one day. This was after having never seen any for the past few months!

Moved this feisty lil guy out from the middle of the road last week!

Moved this feisty little ornate box turtle out from the middle of the road last week!

In addition to getting very busy with our collections this month, we also had to say goodbye to all of the HACU interns here at the Carlsbad Field Office as well as our mentor, Johnny Chopp, who is moving to Pennsylvania to work with the Army Corps of Engineers!

With HACU interns Cynthia, Jorge, and Nicole in Santa Fe!

With HACU interns Cynthia, Jorge, and Nicole in Santa Fe!


Elkhart Park Trailhead: Cook Lakes Loop and Titcomb Basin

My 40 degree bag was not cutting it up in the Winds. Most recommend bringing a 20 – 0 degree rated bag at least. Without making a bank-breaking investment in a mountaineering sleeping bag, I purchased this Thermolite Fleece Liner for a fraction of the cost. I was so impressed that I felt compelled to add this to the blog. Not only was I not shivering at night, but I was WARM — very warm. Finally I felt the revitalizing impact of a good nights sleep before another day of hiking. I would recommend this liner to anyone –lightweight, and easy to pack.


Photographer’s Point


there is one stream crossing among others of note–across Pole Creek


Cook Lake


north of Cook Lake



top of Lester Pass



Island Lake




A JetBoil is another piece of gear that I feel is well worth the cost if you plan to backpack frequently. This is the “Flash” system. I loved the luxury of warm oatmeal in the morning and delicious backpacker meals in the evening. P.S. When cooking oatmeal, boil the water first, and THEN add the oatmeal and let sit. I made the mistake of throwing it all in at once. Trust me, just do not do that.


Island Lake was my favorite destination of the trip, and of all that I have seen here in Wyoming thus far. White, sandy beaches on the edges of sheer rock faces and alpine lakes. Peaceful and relaxed, we spent a few hours at this beach soaking up the rays, napping, snacking and fishing.




Titcomb Basin

Titcomb Basin

Explore More.

Happy Trails 🙂

Val Stacey
Pinedale, WY

The Greater Sage-Grouse

It’s happened multiple times. I will be casually wandering through the sage, on another adventure for the Pinedale BLM Office. As I walk, I take in the beautiful, serene landscape around me. I relish the peaceful, quiet air.

All of the sudden, I’m so startled that I jump, nearly clearing the earth’s atmosphere. I hear a squawk, and wings moving as a majestic bird takes off from the ground. I never even saw it before it took flight. Sometimes, others birds will join in flight, as they rise from their hidden havens in the sage. They are….the sage-grouse. I often ponder as to whom is actually more startled: me or the grouse?

Sage-grouse, also known as the prairie chickens, are a major species of interest in the Western United States. They nest in the sage (shocking, right?), and are considered to be an “umbrella species”; conserving these species will undoubtedly conserve many other species of plants and animals that make up the fragile sagebrush ecosystem. In recent years, sage-grouse habitat has dwindled significantly, mainly due to drilling and mining. In fact, there was some debate as to whether or not this bird should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The BLM, along with other organizations such as the Forest Service, have come up with a plan and assessment tool to continually monitor and conserve the sage-grouse and their habitat.

In order to implement this, however, it is of course important to know where the sage grouse spend their time…i.e. what/where is their range? To this end, several biologists at the Pinedale Field Office have caught sage-grouse, attached radio collars to the birds, and then released them. These GPS radio collars allow the birds to be tracked and also give important geographic information regarding the bird’s whereabouts.

We were very excited when Dale (wildlife biologist) came to ask the interns if we would like to go out with him to catch a grouse and remove the radio collar so that the data may be analyzed. We tried to contain our excitement as we happily drove off to the general area where Dale knew this particular grouse was. In order to pinpoint her location, we used a hand-held antenna, as Lara demonstrates below:

Lara with the hand-held antenna, trying to find the location of the grouse.

The receiver is dialed to the same frequency as the grouse’s collar, and we slowly move the antenna around. Beeping signifies that the bird is off in the direction that the antenna is pointing. It takes us about three hours of hunting and closing in on the bird before we are actually near enough to capture her. Dale has brought a net gun that will hopefully capture the bird. We walk slowly, like a predator closing in on its prey. However, the grouse are smart and quick. The grouse we wanted was with others, and they all panic and fly away. We struggle to identify which one has the radio collar. We do successfully do this, but unfortunately the birds have flown off public land and are now on private land. What’s important to realize is that this is the very foundation of working with un-predictable and wild animals. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. We were not discouraged! Dale promised that we would try again, and then even demonstrated how to use the net gun. It was a neat, educational experience with radio telemetry.

After Dale demonstrates how to shoot off the net gun, the net must be meticulously re-packaged back into its holder, so that it goes off properly the next time.

Life among the spiders, snakes, soils and sea

In preparation for my weekly excursion, I had laid out all my field supplies across the living room floor. Now a routine part of my week, I mechanically began packing all my supplies into my daypack and overnight bag.

“What do you do out in the woods all day?”

Skyping an old friend, I didn’t bother to look up at his virtual face. I was focused on meticulously organizing every object into its designated compartment of my field pack. Packing this way is rather pointless.  By the end of the second day in the field, well, let’s just say my backpack is no exception to the rules of entropy.

“I scout for and collect seeds. They are used for restoration projects. A large number are to reconstruct marshes and coastal habitats damaged during Hurricane Sandy.”

“So, you are telling me that for the past three months you have just been hiking around collecting plants?”

“Seeds. And yes. Pretty much”

“What a dream job.”

I looked up and smiled in agreement.

Thus far, my field partner and I have spent at least 600 hours in the woods. Though the majority of that time has been spent sleeping, the rest has consisted of hiking, setting up and taking down camp, cooking, eating, discussing plans, organizing herbarium specimen, collecting seeds…and peeing. There is never a toilet when you need it, and always is a toilet when you don’t.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the forests and beaches of Delaware have become our second home. For at least 4 days of every week, that is.


My bed for most of the week.

When explained concisely, our job is simple. We hike. Observe. Record. Collect seeds. Then move on. Though a fundamentally straightforward assignment, it can prove frustrating at times. Searching for plants is like playing a game of hide and seek with my elusive little sister. I can spend hours searching for her to no avail, and even when I begin to yell to her that I give up, she still refuses to reveal her master hiding place. At times, no matter how patiently we search, the plants of which we are interested refuse to let themselves be seen. That is why, when we happen upon a plant population of interest, I cannot help but feel a rush of excitement and accomplishment. At times I want to point my index finger at the plants and hysterically yell, “You! HAHA! Not so sneaky after all, you plant!”

Half way through our internship, one would assume we would be halfway to our goal of approximately 80 collections. The reality is, we are only a quarter of the way there. It can be unnerving at times. We still have so much to do; time is fleeting and I feel a strong obligation to fulfill my role as a Seeds of Success Intern. My job may not change the course of all humanity, but it is still important. Many organizations rely on us to move forward with their restoration projects, and I like to think they are relying on the right people. (Don’t worry, they are).

Part of our difficulty in locating our  target species stems from the underwhelming state of many of our field sites. Unfortunately, many of the new lands the Delaware team acquired permits for this year are quite urbanized. The result is field sites with little diversity, dry and eroded waterways, non-existent understories, and invasive plant monocultures. A lot of our time has been spent visiting sites that we end up crossing off our list for future scouting and collecting ventures.


Spartina cynosuroides (big cordgrass)

Luckily, not all of our sites are in a state of decay. Just last week my partner and I spend the entire week knocking out multiple collections across beautiful beaches and marshes as shown in the pictures to the left and below. Healthy sites like these are both precious resources for obtaining  plant materials to restore other sites, and are natural blueprints illustrating what a healthy marsh, beach, or forest should look like.


Salt marsh at St. Jones Preserve, DE. (Invasive Phragmites can be seen bordering the marsh, but that is hard to avoid).

Though to me the SOS internship is a dream job, I have come to realize that not everyone is enamored with the prospect of wandering woods and marshes for days on end. I have a few friends who cringe when I show them photographs of invertebrates and snakes I encountered in the field.  I was recently sharing some field stories  with a friend of mine, relating to her the few times in which I got stuck, thigh deep, in marshes and of the time my tent was obliterated by a strong coastal storm in the middle of the night. My friends response: telling me that is is not too late to join her in medical school, away from the dangers of the outdoors. No thanks.


Northern black racer napping in a tree at one of our field sites.

Apart from improving my identification skills, observational skills, and, to some extent, survival skills, the most important knowledge I have gained during the course of my internship so far is that I have chosen the right career path.  Though physically exhausting at times, there is nowhere I would rather be than outside. Collecting seeds will not be my life-long career, but it is an important step toward my goal of spending the rest of my life studying the interactions between all the abiotic and biotic aspects of our world’s ecosystems.  To me medical school is the dark and scary jungle. Where I work, among the snakes, spiders, soils and seas, that place is a paradise.


Mr. Spidey the Spider. (Because I don’t know its scientific name)

AIM on the Gold Mine

Mining is and has been a major industry in Alaska. Minerals continue to be the 2nd largest export of the Alaskan economy (1). While there are several different resources taken from Alaskan soil, this post focuses on gold. In 2013, roughly 300 placer mines exported 100,000 ounces of gold (1). Placer mines work similar to gold panning except on a larger scale. The miners dig to where an ancient streambed is buried, excavate the rock and sort it by size, and then extract the gold. You can see the old tailings, or mounds of churned gravel, resulting from this practice along creeks in interior Alaska.

Taken on the rocky stream bank at an old gold mine site in the White Mountains. Because of the difficulty in reaching sites and the time required to complete an AIM assessment, we would sometimes camp out at our sites, like this one, to reduce travel time.

Taken on the rocky stream bank at an old gold mine site in the White Mountains. Because of the difficulty in reaching sites and the time required to complete an AIM assessment, we would sometimes camp out at our sites, like this one, to reduce travel time.

If a placer mine is to operate on BLM owned land, there are some restrictions. First, only so many acres can be open to mining at any given time. Second, after mining activity is done, the miner is responsible for restoration of the disturbed area. Third, restored areas have to be approved by the BLM as restored before those acres are released from bondage, AKA the quota for open and disturbed acres. This last point means that the BLM has to approve the restoration before the miner can open new areas for exploration and extraction.

However, until this year, there wasn’t a set standard protocol for measuring whether a site was restored or not, nor an exact definition of what it meant for an area to be restored. This year, based on talks with various groups including mining communities and BLM scientists, the BLM is testing the AIM protocol as a method for measuring these sites and adapting the protocol from its use as a range tool in the lower 48 to better fit the conditions of Alaskan mines.

To be approved as restored, an area must have: 1. 70% vegetative cover 2. Meet certain species diversity requirements for different functional groups (woody, grass, forb, etc.). The presence of invasive species counts against vegetative cover. This is to incentivize miners to use native vegetation rather than non-native or invasive mixes in their restoration efforts. These goals are evaluated through the use of transects, point intercepts, quadrats, and species inventory.

The view of our first mine site that we evaluated using AIM this season. The settling pond is on the left.

The view of our first mine site that we evaluated using AIM this season. The settling pond is on the left.

What’s great about AIM is that it gives managers and miners a quantitative method for determining whether or not a site can be released. It also fosters interagency cooperation as not only do BLM field scientists participate, but also NRCS soil scientists join in to characterize soils in both disturbed and reference sites. The downside is that these mines are fairly remote. Many are off road, requiring ATVs to reach the site. Some require helicopters to drop off people and supplies as it’s impossible to reach even on ATVs. Because of these transportation difficulties, it’s expensive in both time and resources to visit these mines. AIM itself is also labor and time intensive, which adds to the cost of visiting the mines.

My fellow CLM intern and I went on a couple of AIM trips to evaluate these mines. While the mines can be hard to reach, the quantitative basis of the AIM protocol results in data that can be used to track regional health and succession over time. While there are some sites that don’t appear to be recovering, some sites are. The main difference seems to be in whether the miners re-spread the fines or organic matter over the disturbed site. If that happens, there’s a better chance of successful recovery because it’s very hard to grow tundra or boreal forest in gravel. I’m optimistic about the potential for the AIM protocol to act as an archival dataset for these disturbed regions and to better inform land management decisions.


(1) Resource Development Council. Alaska’s Mining Industry. http://www.akrdc.org/mining accessed 8/24/2016.


A lull in the season

Regarding seed collection, these last two weeks haven’t been very successful. It seems that other than Tetradymia glabrata, just days past its prime at the time of writing, we are at a point where early season plants have dispersed their seed and late season plants still aren’t ready for collecting. We’ve been hitting the field almost every day hoping to come across populations ready for picking. Instead we come home with a long list of coordinates, a press full of vouchers, and the hope that next time we see these populations won’t be too late.

Cleome lutea. Not quite ready to collect.

Cleome lutea. Not quite ready to collect.

Last Wednesday, August 24th we took off to Pyramid Lake to collect seed for two days. Arriving early, we would collect seed until 7 pm and then camp. The next day we would rise and immediately get to seed collecting. Our main target was Eriogonum heermannii. We thought we’d be swimming in seed. We did find plenty of it, but only 2 distinct populations that were ready to collect. We did what we we could, called it a day, and pitched our tents by a beach. 2 collections in 8 hours. I went to sleep feeling disappointed. At around 3 in the morning, in a dreamlike haze, I pried an eye open to see what I thought was a coyote sniffing around and looking at me through the mesh of my tent. “Go away, coyote…”, I mumbled and let my single eye close again.

Next morning I woke as the sun peered out from the mountains. 6:20 am. The coyote was back. Except she was just a dog from the campsite over. I opened my tent and let her stick her two front legs inside my tent so I could scratch her head and a call her a good dog. She was an old dog with graying fur and eyes and she demanded some attention. After a few minutes, my co-worker caught her attention by going on a morning run. She sped up after her and left me to pack up my tent and belongings.

Pyramid Lake shore

Pyramid Lake shore

An hour later we met with 3 environmental interns from the Paiute who wanted to see what all the seed collecting business was about. We hit up the E. heermannii sites again to provide them with a sure demonstrations of seed cut tests and collecting techniques.

“Okay, now we’ll actually collect seed.” we promised them.

We couldn’t waste another day collecting the same thing so we invited them to scout with us. We scoured sandhills, beaches, canyons. All of them filled with plants too old, not ready, or in such small numbers that made collection an impossibility. We tried to impart on them as much botanical knowledge as we could, as to not make them feel robbed of a day. The names of plants and their uses, fruit types, anatomy. Around 4:00 pm we shook hands and waved goodbye. We left Pyramid lake as well and headed to Bedell flats in hope of something better. We drove for a couple of hours, stopping here and there to take vouchers of something that wasn’t quite yet and curse this phenological lull. At last we headed home, presses looking like broken accordions.

Asclepias fascicularis. Not ready either.

“Maybe next week?”