Work and Play

The Work (The Weeds)

Since wrapping up our main portion of the field season we have been doing any and all tasks that have come up. Corinne and I have been primarily occupied with the many weeds-related activities. One of which includes pulling weeds quite regularly for a vegetation plot found on BLM land within a special recreation area known as Welch Ranch. While pulling weeds on a vegetation plot may sound like a relatively simple task, (and at any given moment it is) never could I have imagined we’d be needing to pull out what seems like 99.9% of the plants found on the plot. While progress has been made, progress has also been slow, and a task that started a ways back still requires work to be done. The weeds are certainly relentless.

Since weeds not only grow on research vegetation plots, we were honored to help out Justin with his weed mapping activities. We joined in on an adventure to help locate the many invasive and weedy plants that had grown out in the field. The database we were adding to, known as NISIMS (the acronym is a difficult one to remember what it stands for), is one we are becoming familiar with recently. And so we had a fun filled day of hiking and mapping, and with this training we are now involved with a large-scale weed mapping project at Welch Ranch.


Justin and Corinne on a mission to find the weeds.


Justin mapping weeds with tenacity. As Justin may say: No dreams weeds, only tears.

While we’ve just recently begun our time at Welch Ranch, we have certainly been shown quite the task ahead. Welch Ranch, the location of the infamous vegetation plot, contains a great variety of NISIMS species requiring mapping. With many walking points to map, and hills to traverse, we may be looking at many many miles of fieldwork over the course of coming weeks.


Located at Welch Ranch is a coal seam that has been on fire for some time. Fairly surreal to stand over smoking, hot, moist air coming from deep underground. The cheatgrass sure loves it though.

The Play

Recently I took off for an 11 day adventure across Colorado and primarily Utah. I had been looking forward to taking off a chunk of days for quite some time now. And with Labor Day around the corner I got to planning. The trip would include friends visiting in Fort Collins, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Moab, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Zion NP (the main goal), and visiting a friend in Salt Lake City. Quite the adventure ahead with an unfortunate amount of driving.

The first stop was Fort Collins, and with lucky timing I was able to make the annual Tour de Fat put on by New Belgium Brewing Company. Missing this event the year prior it was great to finally make it. And what an event it is. Also a difficult one to fully describe. Involved is a celebration of biking and dressing up in costumes with no discernible theme. The highlight for me may have been a 4-person tandem bicycle pulling a giant rocket with a man playing guitar and singing atop. Beyond the fascinating costumes and bicycles comes the multitude of strange events, such as the slow ride, live music, and a bike pulled karaoke stage.


A glimpse of the Tour de Fat action.

But eventually my time in Fort Collins was at an end, and I was off to see some nature. The first trek was off to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. At first arrival I decided to shake out the legs by going on a 6-7 mile trail run atop the canyon. And what a canyon it is. The scale is pretty incredible and also difficult to fully capture in pictures. With steep, dark, hard rock walls, the canyon is very dramatic. But sadly I was still on a self-imposed schedule to make it to Utah the next afternoon so I did not get to spend nearly as much time as I would have liked there.


The Black Canyon in all its glory.

Southern Utah, National Parks, Moab, trails, biking, running, where to even start. This section of the trip was a blast. Never having been to the Southern Utah region and always hearing about it, it was finally time to make the trip. Starting off in Moab was a fantastic dive into limitless recreation activities. With Arches, Canyonlands, and extensive opportunities on BLM and Forest Service land nearby it’d be hard to run out of things to do there. Arches proved to be even more fun than I had originally expected. While I only had an afternoon to explore, I went on a long and scenic hike/run in the Devil’s Garden. This may have been the most fun I’ve ever had on a trail. Beyond the obvious scenic locations (arches, etc.), was traversing atop sandstone ridges, following rock cairns, and moving along sandy trails. It truly felt like a natural made playground.

Canyonlands was filled with some massive views. Most of my day there was spent on short hikes, and I can say for sure that I saw a good chunk of the Island in the Sky region. And after attempting to take it easy that day (a sure failure on my part), I ended up going on my first mountain biking ride outside Moab. Finding a significantly more difficult trail than I was capable of doing was apparently my choice for the day. With the grace of a fainting goat, I tackled the trail and was off to Zion the next day.

The three pictures blow are: Arches (Double O Arch), Canyonlands (the view from Island in the Sky), and Zion (Angel’s Landing)

20160905_17195420160906_11515220160907_172352 Zion National Park was easily the highlight of the whole trip. Seeing pictures and being blown away by the supposed views, I had to set several days for the park. The first hike I attempted was the well known Angel’s Landing hike, a hike known for multiple reasons. One, the views are incredible atop Angel’s Landing. Two, it is known to be a semi-dangerous hike with a fairly exposed scramble to the top. And three, it has a steep section of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. While several people have died here over the past 12 years, and with nearby drop offs sure to challenge those with a fear of heights, it is fairly reassuring knowing how many people make it to the top daily, and that chains are present to grab all along the way.

My last and worthwhile adventure in Zion was a solo backpacking trip through Echo Canyon. I was off to the East Rim of Zion, a location that appears to see somewhat little backpacking, likely due to the lack of water once reaching the camping zone. And the hike I chose to get there wasn’t lacking on the elevation gain either (roughly 2,400 ft in 4 or so miles). But setting up my hammock atop a mesa overlooking the canyon was a great end to my outdoors portion of my trip. My last several days were spent in Salt Lake City for the cozy household life, and ultimately making it back to Buffalo.


The spot for the night in Zion

All in all it was an incredible time and a rejuvenating break from the work-life. Now back onto the weeds.

Nick Melone

Buffalo, WY



Bonus: Little lady dog creeping out the truck, silently judging our Chinese Buffet food choices.


Grand Junctions


Eli Lowry,

Kremmling, CO field office, BLM


A pic of me pretending to know what I’m doing.

Spending time in grand junction

For the majority of the month of August AIM crew and I were trekking southwest to Grand Junction (GJ) CO. Its about a 3 hour drive from our field office in Kremmling and camping out for the week is a necessity. I’m not sure how many other CLMers out there are also in the AIM program so I’ll explain quickly. AIM mostly involves taking vegetation surveys of predetermined sites that are randomly selected across BLM land. Our goal is to survey at least 4 plots a week, Mondays can be long when you include loading up the truck and commuting. We are narrowing down on available sites for this field season, and there just so happened to be more sites in the GJ area.

This is by far the most transient job / lifestyle I have ever had, as the random plot selecting machine decides our fate and sends us out into some very remote and strange areas. There are times when we hike into backcountry away from trails and roads that I wonder if anyone has ever stepped foot on the land before me. Then I come across a dried up cow pie and know that at least some brave cows have made the journey before. For an idea of where we have been here is a map of plots completed over the field season. We are the Kremming field office, (the purple dots).

aimplotssep222016 Rejected plots

Not all plots are winners, and when they are too far out, steep or just plain dangerous to access they will be rejected. Some plots are obvious rejections that are clearly too difficult to access, while others are rejected only once you get up close and personal. GJ is riddled with steep cliffs and deep gullies and sometimes our plots lie smack dap in the middle of them. This happened twice, but all is not lost, as even rejected plots provide data on the slope and aspect of the area.


Here you can see me measuring out where our plot would extend to. In this case we would be going off the cliff near the very precariously placed boulder. Needless to say the topography was grounds for rejection.


The second rejection lies along the steep face of this cliff, nope.

The little things

The drive is not all that bad.  We pass through the spectacular Glenwood canyon and drop down 1,400 feet into a warmer, sandier and fruiter area. GJ is adjacent to the Colorado National Monument and features some pretty Grand Mesas, actually the “Grand Mesa”, which is the largest flat topped mountain on the planet. We had the privilege to camp there for a night, I’ll get to that later. There are also some pretty greet farmers markets in the area that stock delicious Palisade peaches

Fruita is a funky little town outside GJ that is a haven for mountain bikers and pizza lovers, which happens to be two of my favorite things. One night after a long day of looking at plants and digging holes, we decided to reward ourselves by visiting the Hot Tomato, an infamous pizza shop that prides itself on creative topping combinations and bike themed décor. It’s the little things in life that make it worth living, specifically melty cheese.


There can only be one, off to the highlands.

The beauty of Colorado is that if you are too hot all you have to do is climb. During our most recent visit to GJ we had to cross over from one end of the Grand Mesa to the other. We left a plot from a base elevation of 4,593 ft. and climbed up the 11,332 ft. Mesa. As we passed switch backs after switch back, the hot cab of the truck began to cool, soon enough we were scrambling for our long sleeves and turning off the AC. Suddenly we reached the top and the arid high desert became a montane conifer forest, dappled with vibrant almost turquoise lakes. There was good foraging, with currants and raspberries galore.


To give you an idea of what the landscape looks like, the Grand Mesa can be seen to the left of the mesa in the foreground.


Eggleston Lake on top of the Grand Mesa

Cactus Tax

I feel these little buggers deserve their own subheading, as they found their way into my foot several times hiking around GJ. Watch your step folks.


Opuntia polyacantha being fed on by what I believe to be cactus bugs (Chelinidea vittiger aequoris)

Stay tuned for the next entry of Aspens turning yellow as Autumn makes makes its way through the Rockies.

Everyday is a New Adventure


My internship originally was a whirlwind of scouting areas for seed collection. While doing this I got to witness majestic views of the high dessert. So far I have sent off 24 of my 32 seed collections to Bend Seed Extractory with a total of 74 pounds of seed shipped to date. My supervisor and I have laughed many times about my hidden box collection in the garage that I use for shipping seed off. The dessert has gone from the annual and perennial forbs painting the dessert a mirage of purple, pink, red, yellow, and white, to now being a sea of green and yellow as the rubber rabbitbrush and various sagebrush species are blooming. Last week I joined the Friends of the High Rock/ Black Rock Desert with taking out old fence in the Little High Rock Canyon Wilderness. Next week, if the weather holds, I will be picking my first cone producing species, the Washoe Pine.

But as the season has changed I have been working on a water resource project that spans 2 states and 5 counties.  At first it was nerve wracking to come up with a way to find over 500 water resource sites and organize what paperwork was needed for each site. I also had to find what documentation was needed to update the out of date water resource files. For this project, I turned to ArcGIS and a pair of Trimbles in order to run the program that I established in ArcMap. Trimbles are great for field work and sometimes can prove difficult when they don’t always want to work. Learning how to program and use Trimbles has been a great experience for me and has given me another great skill to use for future field work.

Sometimes my sites aren’t where my GPS unit says they should be, so occasionally I end up going on a bit of a search to find them. On flat and open ground areas finding pit reservoirs, stock ponds, stock tanks, and other water resources are easier, but in dense vegetation or in mountains it gets a bit more difficult. Some of my favorite places to see are Graven Reservoir and Likely Mountain. Many of these places are very hard to reach by vehicle and most of the time I hike into the sites. At one of the sites I got within 100 yards of a coyote and at another site I saw an antelope with triplets. Now that fall has hit, the days are getting cooler and shorter. Today we had our first snow storm, though it rained in the valleys, and this change in weather is a signal that the seed collecting season is almost over and that it’s time to wrap up projects.

Graven Reservoir looking back at Likely Mountain Fire Lookout.

Graven Reservoir looking back at Likely Mountain Fire Lookout.

The pronghorn with triplets below Alturas.

The pronghorn with triplets below Alturas.

Finally, I was ready to conquer a day of rain, hail, and snow on my quest to find stock ponds.

Finally, I was ready to conquer a day of rain, hail, and snow on my quest to find stock ponds.

I hope everyone else has enjoyed the changing of the seasons where they are stationed!

Questions? No Answers.

Throughout this field season I’ve found myself questioning a lot of things, amongst them I’ve questioned why non-native species are where they are, how they’ve migrated, who brought them and the stories + logic that came with bringing some of them to where they are. I believe most species have explanations requiring nothing more than some time and online research to find answers. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered.

Recently, we were at a Pinyon-Juniper site and everything seemed so ordinary. There weren’t many plants out of their usual ecosystem, or prominent wildlife but there was something a little strange. As we evaluated the plot, we started to notice random burn scars on tree logs. These pieces were somewhat blended into the environment so the burn marks weren’t noticeable until I stood right in front of one. I found this all strange because clearly there wasn’t a prescribed burn, the damage wasn’t vast enough to say that there was a fire in the area. In addition, there was one burned log that upon further analysis appeared to still be rooted. This burned rooted Pinyon crossed out the possibility of down wood from a fire, since we were on a slope. So why in hell would this burned tree be here, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I sat there and pondered on the possibilities, the explanation I settle on was that lightning hit the one tree, setting it ablaze. If trees would talk, I’m sure the stories they’d tell would be fascinating, limited but fascinating. I picture them talking really slowww and with a deep monotonous voice, droopy bark mouth and bushy bark eyebrows all related to Sesame Street’s Snuffaluffagus. I remain in question but shift my outlook to he thought that maybe it’s better this way, helps my imagination fly as free as the birds overhead.

I’m generally a rather inquisitive person but questioning everything seems to be my theme this field season, I feel as though I’m 5 again asking why the sky is blue. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but these unanswerable questions sometimes make me feel the same way as I do when I try and key out the species of a plant and I’m not happy with my final answer. However, I look forward to more unanswerable questions that I can try and piece together answers to.

Cheers fielders!

Going batty at the BLM

While the field season is winding down and things may have started to become routine, I can promise you that I am not going crazy.  Instead, I am starting to work more with bats now.  For the past couple of weeks I have been putting out audio surveying equipment near water sources to collect bat calls.  The audio equipment records the calls that they use to echolocate and then software at the office can transform the call into a sound range that we can hear and even identify the species of bat making the call.  This is a part of an ongoing effort to learn more about bat distribution in central Oregon, especially determining the distribution and habitat of each individual bat species.  I have really enjoyed this break from my typical routine as it gets me to new areas.  


Audio recording device at a watering trough.

I am about to transition to working more directly with bats, but not in actual contact with them due to the threats of White-nosed syndrome that has recently been detected in Washington State.  We will be going through decontamination procedures, which are crucial in being able to go into caves safely and minimize and hopefully eliminate the possibility of disease transmission.  My supervisor has many years of experience working with bats, so I will get to learn more about bats from her and watch as she and other experienced professionals remove bats from mist nets and take some measurements that are used to conclusively identify the species.

Recently we headed out before dark to set up mist nets at a cave just outside of Sisters. We drove on Forest Service roads and then parked on a non-descript pullout.  We then proceeded to walk about a quarter of a mile and a cave suddenly appears out of nowhere. I was not expecting a cave out in the middle of the forest, but there it was.  We set up three mist nets near the mouth of the cave and then waited.  Shortly after the sun set (and I think that we even got a couple while it was still light) we started getting bats in the net.  I was not able to handle the bats as I don’t have a rabies shot, so I helped to record data. The bats were removed from the net, the sex, age and species was determined and then we tested them for Pd (white nose syndrome).  In the end we captured four different species of bats (California myotis, Western long-eared myotis, Long-legged myotis and a big brown bat).  This experience turned out to be much more fulfilling than my previous experience, where we were only able to capture one bat the whole night.


Big-brown bat caught while mist netting.

 Now I leave for a week of vacation touring the National Parks before heading back to work for the BLM and exploring caves and searching for bats.  I am really excited to be able to take a break from work and go explore the West, but I cannot wait to get back and start going Batty with the BLM.

First Day of Fall

It’s hard to believe summer is officially over! Though the weather supports the calendar. Temperatures have already dropped with most days lingering in the 70s while nights have become brisk. However, it’s even chillier outside the valley. We’ve done a couple of camping trips these last 2 weeks for work with more to come in the next couple of weeks and it’s dropped down to the 40s some of those nights. Fortunately my coworker and I have kept warm in our sturdy bags and tents, but it takes extra will power to part them in the chilly mornings, especially now that the sun refuses to rise before 6:30. Our work this week was the usual noxious weed surveys at an area called Watermelon Hill, but unlike what the name suggests, there is sadly no watermelons of any kind present (It was a bigger disappointment than it should have been). On the contrary to delicious fruit, the place was covered in noxious weeds. The area is roughly 1.5 square miles and nearly all of it had invasive weeds present. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a pretty area and if I had still been back in the days when I was blissfully unaware of what a noxious weed even was I’d surely find it an “ideal” natural area.  But regardless of the weed situation, the trip was a fun one and I could never complain about having to hike around all day.


Watermelon Hill (oh look, no watermelons)


Chondrilla juncea or Rush Skeleton Weed, a Class B noxious weed.


Taeniatherum caput-medusae or medusahead, a highly invasive grass.


Cynoglossum or houndstongue and you guessed it, another noxious weed and obnoxious to remove from your pants.

Next week we travel to another area with a fruit in the name, Huckleberry Mountain (it seems more realistic to hope for the actual presence of huckleberries this time). It’s supposed to be a beautiful area, perhaps even the nicest place we’ll see during our internship. And instead of the usual crew of two, two others will be joining us as well. It’s time to spread our knowledge of the ways of the weeds, as in I’ll take on a crazed Newman alter ego from Seinfeld “The weeds never stop! They just keep coming and coming and coming. There’s never a letup, they’re relentless. The more you take out the more that come! And then the Trimble dies and weeds consume you!” It will be a great time for all. Last week I helped out at the annual Salmon Festival that’s held at a salmon hatchery in Leavenworth (30 min north of here). Elementary school kids from the area come to the hatchery, where several different federal and state agencies have interactive setups to inform the students on a variety of subjects. Ranging from salmon life history and other cool wildlife (mammals, birds, other fish) to learning about Native American culture. Our booth was particularly popular, an obstacle course to represent what salmon have to go through to reach their spawning grounds. Kids had to run through the fish nets and hooks (streamers with hooks drawn on them), over the dam (slide), under the wildfire (more streamers), past the bear (cardboard cut out), over the rapids (speed bumps), and finally through the culvert (an actual culvert) to spawn at their nesting site (dropping a wiffle gulf ball in a kiddie pool filled with gravel). To make things more interesting, I hid behind the cut out bear and surprised kids by roaring and having it lunge at them. It always startled a squeak out of the first kid before throwing them and the followers into fits of giggles while they attempted to dodge me. It was actually really fun and I was sad when my shift ended!

Anyways, I brought this up to make another point but got carried away. One of the booths was run by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and they had an assortment of mammalian skulls. I got to talking with the woman running it and she mentioned that there is an established wolf pack up in the Huckleberry area we will be camping in next week. She said that if I wait until dark and do a little howling I may get some return howls from the pack! How cool would that be? A pack of wolves howling with me. I’m super excited to try it out, though the thought of being out in the woods in the dark being howled at by wolves even now makes my hairs stand on end. But she assured me that of all the wildlife out there, wolves were the least to worry about due to their extremely cautious and shy nature.

Howl ya later!


How to Make an Herbarium Voucher

A little project I have been working on over the past couple of weeks has been organizing the field office’s herbarium. It doesn’t look like it has seen much love since the times when Apiaceae was called Umbelliferae. I have been working on sorting specimens, updating family, genus and species names as well as creating some new vouchers from materials us interns have collected over the season. I’m not an overly creative person, so I figured I’d lay out the process for creating an herbarium voucher for the purpose of this blog entry. I’ll be working with curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), a forb, so other growth forms such as shrubs and trees will require different treatment.

Step 1: Obtain a specimen

Before you make an herbarium voucher, it is necessary to find the plant that will be on the voucher. To collect a good specimen, there are a couple of things that you will want to look for. Your plant should be an average plant (not uncharacteristically large or small), be generally free of disease and damage from insects or other predators, and contain either a flower or fruit to aid in identification. Once you locate a good one, rip it out of the ground. Just get down and pull. If the soil isn’t sandy or moist enough it may help to use a shovel or other tool to remove it, ideally you will want to get some roots, but just uproot that plant from all of its friends and neighbors as completely as you can.


Just a plant press, waiting to be given a job

Step 2: Press the specimen

Once you have your target plant, you need to press it so that the 3D organism can be preserved and stored as a 2D representation of itself. You will need a plant press, some sheets of blotter paper, a piece of cardboard, and a sheet of newspaper. When pressing plants, I like to do an initial press for 15-30 minutes to make the plant more malleable. Fun fact about curlycup gumweed – the common name actually applies to the plant as it’s very sticky and made some tears in the newspaper. Once the plant bends a bit better it is easier to pose it so that some flowers are visible, some leaves are upside down and others are right side up, and the stems and branches don’t overlap. Once positioned in a pleasing pose, press again and leave for a week or two.


Step 3: Manage your information

A good voucher will have a little piece of paper in the bottom right corner of the sheet that will give you some information about the specimen. Information that you want to put down includes the scientific and common names, where you picked the plant, the general habitat and other associated species, and a collection number. This information will be helpful when you want to find a population of Grindelia squarrosa but can’t quite find a disturbed area along a roadside anywhere else. Fun fact – Grindelia squarrosa concentrates selenium from the soil, which can make it toxic when ingested by mammals. In retrospect, maybe don’t trust the common name.

Step 4: Secure the sample and file it away

After the plant has spent enough time in the press and your information is placed neatly on small piece of paper, it is time to attach all of it to a larger, acid-free piece of paper. This is your chance to hone the skills you learned in kindergarten and use glue! If you posed the plant well before pressing it it will fit nicely on the acid-free paper with no parts sticking off of the page. When gluing, make sure to leave room for the information sheet in the corner: never shall the two touch. Fun fact – unlike Grindelia squarrosa, the glue you will be using is most likely non-toxic, so feel free to go to town on that if you so desire! Just be sure to check first! Once the glue dries and everything is secure, the voucher is ready to be saved in the herbarium to help teach next year’s interns what things are.


Sometimes you’ll have to weigh down some of the thinner parts of the plant

20160922_132347    `










Many thanks to Wikipedia for some of the information in this post


Shoshone Field Office