What’s in a Seed?

What’s in a seed? Endosperm. Embryo. Cotyledon. Radicle. Etcetera… The mysterious potential for new life. As our seed collection season slows in Santa Fe, I ponder our intimate connection to the vital rhythms of the natural world. Of course we are all intimately connected to the natural world in one way or another, but handling so many seeds has uniquely intensified my connection to the natural world. My appreciation for and understanding of seeds has grown tremendously. Beyond this appreciation and understanding, I have been forced to question our role in relation to the potential life embedded in the small seeds we handle each day.

Upon explaining the work and vision of Seeds of Success and related plant conservation strategies to a local ecologist, I was inundated with thought provoking questions. What does “local” mean and how does our potential misunderstanding of “local” impact the notion of local adaptation? Can we deny the relativity and subjectivity of this notion? What chance is there that “weed seeds” will get into desired seed? What is a “weed” in our changing world? Are there potential hazards that we may be introducing in our attempts to conserve or restore the environment? Are we a help or a hinderance in our conservation attempts? On a more spiritual level, what are the implications of removing native seeds from their natural habitats? Does the notion of belonging transcend ecology? Where does our instinct to interfere come from? How do we approach environmental conservation properly; is there a proper way to conserve? How can we make informed, adaptive conservation decisions when each ecosystem we are approaching is wholly unique; how can we come to conclusions when truly understanding a place takes decades of deep ecological integration.

These questions have been running through my mind, like a cascading waterfall that I am perpetually coming up against. I am working for what I believe in, while constantly questioning the roots of these beliefs. Through careful attention and criticism even my most deep-rooted beliefs become dynamic and take on an aura of complexity. I encourage all of us to engage in conversations around these issues to understand our perspectives related to the work we do, and the potential implications of those perspectives.

Kids at Fort Ord

This past week I led three outdoor education classes of children age 5-12 at Fort Ord National Monument. It was my first time directly interacting with children that age in what feels like years, and it was a really heartwarming experience. The young children were really unfiltered and enthusiastic, and it was really enjoyable and comedic at times to spend time with them. I led them on nature hikes pointing out any interesting animals, plants or fungi that I saw, and showed them BLM’s domestic California legless lizards and gopher snake, two reptiles found on Fort Ord.

Kids taking time to journal

Kids taking time to journal

Old man's beard

Old man’s beard

Before those nature classes, I was helping a group of CSUMB capstone students do transects of old restoration sites in order to monitor their vegetation coverage. While in the field, we stumbled upon a very large orb-weaver spider in one of the plant basins.

Orb-weaver spider with his meal

Orb-weaver spider with its meal

Here for the long haul and loving it

As I read the farewell posts of other CLM interns across the country, it’s hitting me that as far as botany goes, it’s basically the end of the field season. The sagebrush seeds are ready for collection, the wildflowers that had me constantly geeking out all spring and summer are fast becoming unrecognizable in their senescent states, and the steady sunshine and 90 degree heat I’d grown used to have been replaced with a perpetual dampness. Now, instead of slathering on sunscreen and making sure I have 3 liters of water every time I go out in the field, I’m bundling up and checking to make sure I remembered my raincoat and some extra pairs of socks.

Despite the way everything seems to be wrapping up, I’m glad to say that my time here in Wenatchee, and in the field, is far from over. My current internship won’t be finished until December 16th, and there’s already been talk of fence mapping and pygmy rabbit surveying in snowshoes! At this point, I’m up for anything–I’ve done so many things this summer that I previously thought I was incapable of, so why not experience four seasons of fieldwork? Even better, I’ve been rehired by my field office to repeat this internship next year, so after a short hiatus in Wisconsin for the holidays, I’ll be back to work starting in late January or early February so we can get in some early season sage grouse work! Though my heart belongs to botany, I’m thrilled that I’ll have the chance to gain some wildlife experience. My time in Wenatchee has already been the biggest adventure of my life, and I’m so glad I don’t have to say goodbye just yet.

The three months since I last blogged have flown by, in part because I’ve been traveling nearly every week! Starting in September, we got into a pretty steady rhythm of camping out one or two nights each week for work, and that, combined with weekend camping trips and the vacation home I took in early October, has put my life into a seemingly constant state of packing and unpacking. I love it this way, though! There is so much to see and do in Washington.

We went to take post-fire monitoring points at the Range 12 fire, so naturally these ash mustaches happened

We went to take post-fire monitoring points at the Range 12 fire, so naturally these ash mustaches happened.

Lakes next to a BLM parcel in northern WA, in the "lime belt" area. The alkaline water gives them that tropical color!

Lakes next to a BLM parcel in northern WA, in the “lime belt” area. The alkaline water gives them that tropical color!

One of our cozy campsites!

One of our cozy work campsites!

We went up to Little Chopaka Mountain to do LPI and bunchgrass monitoring. We were only a mile away from Canada!

We went up to Little Chopaka Mountain to do LPI and bunchgrass monitoring. We were only a mile away from Canada!

Walking through a patch of cynoglossum officinale is an ill-advised life choice...

Walking through a patch of Cynoglossum officinale is an ill-advised life choice…

The beautiful Ipomopsis aggregata

The beautiful Ipomopsis aggregata

Reflection On The Great Basin

To be honest I have never been good at writing blogs, but over this internship I have expanded my use of social media, if barely. The first part of my internship was an excitement of racing across the desert trying to collect plants before the July heat roasted what forbs had sprouted in the lower elevations of the desert. Soon the volcanic rock had cooked everything in the lower elevations, so thus began the explorations of the mountains that separated these little linear valleys. As the July heat wave rolled over the top of the desert, we were spared of any major fires. Instead, dust storms plagued the valleys as alkali dust got picked up in the afternoon winds and antelope raced across the dry basins. We went out pika searching and began doing water quality surveys along the perennial streams in the area. Sage grouse and their young would wander across roads or around old watering holes in their attempt to find springs and horse trough tanks.

The first cool evenings announced that August had arrived. I spent my first week of August spending my evenings and nights capturing bats and doing bat surveys. We collected 15 different species of bats and captured several hundred individuals. I learned how to ID and handle bats, and enjoyed spending my evenings watching the sun change the colors of the desert around me. On the drives back from our capture sites we would see anywhere from 200-400 jack rabbits and cottontails along 30 miles of gravel roads. Many people with me could not believe that there were that many jack rabbits in one area. In August I began my Water Rights project by finding all of the locations for each right and creating a software program that would allow us to collect data in the field. Then began the map making and learning how to use the big plotter that sat within my office. The rest of August was spent collecting seeds and working with range projects.

September came and went extremely quickly. We had our first field test with the program, which worked, and I finished figuring out what all we needed to record to update our data bases. Then we began working in the field, first in the north and slowly spreading out from there. September was also the time where many of our seasonal technicians left for school and the office slowly became more quiet. There were only around 19 of us to begin with, and I worked in two states and 5 counties, my field station being in charge of 2 million acres. I spent the weekends of my summer fishing, hiking, re-walling a chicken house, dry walling a chicken house, cutting and splitting 7 cord of firewood, raising a garden, re-flooring the upstairs, and painting my grandmother’s 100 year old house.

And then it was October. Storms began coming in and the days were steadily getting shorter. Having been used to driving over very rough rock filled roads all summer, the rain was a welcome site in keeping the dust down. Hunters would visit with me when they came across me working on many of my projects, and I got to learn more about the area that I was working in. I finally decided to use up my comp time and went to Yellowstone National Park and Montana for a little over a week of hiking, exploring, museum visiting, picture taking, and helping my friend prepare for the hunting season. I got back last week, and prepared for the ending of my internship. I will be staying on with the field office that I am currently working in until the dead of winter hits and am hopefully coming back on as a technician next summer.

Now as November is here, I have two months left with my field station. November is also the start of the waterfowl and upland game hunting season, which will now fill my weekends, as my fixing-my-grandmothers-property projects have been completed. I wish the best of luck to all of my fellow interns and wish them happy holidays.

Blog Posting for October

Right now, the preserve is filled with birds migrating from the north. Since last month’s post, we filled approximately a dozen more ponds with water and that’s not including the rice and safflower fields. Here at the preserve, we also utilize agriculture fields as wetlands. Some ponds are utilized by birds more than others, only the birds really know why. Currently, there are several thousand sandhill cranes on the preserve, most of which prefer the safflower fields that are now flooded. The survey conducted by volunteers last week estimate the population to be 3,160. This species is arguably the most popular bird species on the preserve.

Another bird species drawing a lot of attention is the greater-white fronted geese. Sometimes when I peek up at the sky, I estimated there to be at least 3,000 birds. And that’s just the ones that I see, we expect their numbers to be in hundreds of thousands. Regardless of the abundance of birds, we didn’t see a large number of species diversity during last week’s waterfowl survey. We saw mostly Canada geese, greater-white fronted geese sandhill cranes, northern pintails, and American coots.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the backhoe performing road maintenance. The rain is abundant around this time of the year in northern California, which is an issue for us. It’s great since we’re in a drought, the bad thing is that it’s preventing us from driving on the roads. Besides the rain, our resident beavers are also weakening our levees that we drive our rigs on. So, I’ve spent a lot of time patching up potholes, widening the levees, and repairing other forms of erosion around our water valves. It has been really good experience utilizing this heavy equipment.

In addition to road maintenance, I’ve been tasked with maintaining our current office as well. We pulled weeds, sprayed weeds, filled in ground squirrel holes with concrete, rebuild the retaining wall, and trimmed trees. I’ve done some saw work recently too. A portion of our trail had been blocked by a fallen Arroyo willow tree. Another volunteer and I cut down what was over hanging and bucked up the remaining limbs. I love saw work, reminds me of the fire season with the BLM fire crew.

Water primrose and hyacinth is on a rampage. We must have partaken in a least half a dozen spray sessions to remove them. These herbicide applications are only a form of control, the battle is never ending. Some of the spray sessions were at a restoration site owned by The Nature Conservancy called Bjelland, the others were on public waterways. Spraying pesticides is probably the easiest thing to do, but also the most difficult in my opinion. Squeezing the trigger and watching out for back spray is easy, but transporting two full 15 gallon tanks with a large car battery on a canoe down 200 meters to the boat launch is a little more challenging. What’s worse is that you’re now sitting in a cramped canoe after you manage to push over 250 pounds of herbicide into the slough and now you’re stuck in the water surrounding by primrose and hyacinth. Every paddle stroke you make gets you only an inch forward. Regardless, the job was done and it was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done on this job. What I wouldn’t give for another set of hands on deck.

This job has given me an enormous amount of skills that I wouldn’t have imagined ever attaining. I now know how to operate almost all of the equipment at our facility and it’s given me a lot of confidence. What I hope to happen during the rest of my internship is to become more well rounded as an individual. I can handle much of the physical aspect of the job, what I hope to gather is more knowledge. Knowledge about the grant proposal process, environmental policies, what it takes to manage a restoration project, and ways to better manage the land.

Chau Tran


Seasonal Reflection

Well, I’m back in New York after 5 incredible, enlightening, challenging months in Vernal, UT. I definitely feel as though I learned a lot about plants of the intermountain west and about the Bureau of Land Management and how it is run. Never in my life have I seen this much open space. And while it was vast and majestic and beautiful it was also deeply saddening. Nearly every inch of the land in the Vernal Field Office was blanketed in cheat grass and tumble mustard. The riverbeds were crowded with tamarisk and Russian olive trees. Million year old biotic crust was scraped away in favor of flat dusty drill pads as far as the eye could see.


At the same time, I was in some ways pleasantly surprised. The desert that I thought would be a barren, sandy landscape was dappled with tiny gems. Place out of reach of drills, trucks and bull dozers, held incredible diversity. Even places within reach of such disturbance were managing to hold on to some incredible plant species. I saw beauty such as I’d never seen on the east coast.


I think mixed-use management of land is extremely difficult to accomplish. This land is public, but what does that really mean. You can’t do whatever you want on that land. Who matters more, the people who see and use the land everyday? The whole population of the United States? Or maybe the following generations who will be left with this land after we’re all gone. As of right now, it almost seems to me like no one is happy with the use of this land. Grazers want lower fees and more freedom, oil companies want less bureaucracy, environmentalists want both those groups to do their work responsibly or get lost. Obviously, that is a very over-simplified version of the situation, but that’s the gist. And there are far more players than those 3 groups.


I learned a lot during this internship and I’m glad I did it. I feel now that I know more about my planet and my country and my government than I did 5 months ago. There are a lot of good, smart, hard working people that I’ve met in our government and in this internship program and I hope that in the future I continue to work alongside them towards the goal of a healthy, vibrant, just planet.



The Girl With the Sagebrush Tattoo

Many happenings have taken place since my last blog post! I turned 25 years old, I biked across the Idaho Panhandle, plus had a few other grand adventures, I attended The Wildlife Society Annual Conference, and I’ve had to say goodbye to two interns here at the field office.

For my birthday at the end of September I decided to take myself on a bicycling trip across the Idaho Panhandle on one of the most beautiful rail trails in the Pacific Northwest! I cycled the farthest I ever have: 150  miles. I broke it up into 3 days. This adventure was one of the highlights of my life! I saw a male, female and baby moose, I received countless saddle sores from all of the biking, and saw panoramic views like any I’ve ever seen. And the best part is that it was during autumn so the leaves were as pretty as they could be!

"Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go." This is the rail trail in the Idaho Panhandle that I biked.

“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” This is the rail trail in the Idaho Panhandle that I biked.

After completing 150 miles across the Idaho Panhandle!

After completing 150 miles across the Idaho Panhandle!

An intern and I went on an adventure through the Idaho Sawtooth mountains to Alpine and Sawtooth Lakes. What a view!

An intern and I went on an adventure through the Idaho Sawtooth mountains to Alpine and Sawtooth Lakes. What a view!

Just a few days ago I got home after spending 7 days in Raleigh, North Carolina for The Wildlife Society Annual Conference! I cannot thank this internship enough for allowing me to attend this conference! I networked extensively, received great feedback on my resume, attended a forestry workshop where I got hands-on training that I hope to apply to my job one day, tested my wildlife knowledge at the annual quiz-bowl, and attended 3 field trips to surrounding areas in North Carolina! I took in the Hemlock Bluffs and the beautiful long-leaf pine forest as I rode by horse-drawn wagon through the trees with bagpipes playing in the background (yes, there was an Irish man playing the bagpipes for us, it completed my day), but my absolute favorite field trip was to the Duke Lemur Center where I learned about their conservation efforts to preserve these beautiful creatures and got up close to the Coquerel’s Sifaka lemur! If you are interested in finding a wonderful organization to donate to, SAVA Conservation is the place!

Coquerel's Sifaka lemur! So cute!

Coquerel’s Sifaka lemur! So cute!

Here at the field office we’ve been getting a lot of rain so it’s been preventing us from getting out into the field as often as we would like. We’ve been catching up on a lot of data entry, though, and having a lot of laughs with our co-workers. We recently lost an intern because she received a “big-girl” job. We were all sad to see her go, but happy at the same time because she was so happy. We lost our only male, too, because he finished his internship. It is just myself and two others now! We are slowly dwindling (sad face)!

For my last note, I wanted to mention how hilarious it was when we went out into the field the other day and found a BATHTUB! Yes, a bathtub. We find strange things in the desert sometimes. It wasn’t just a ditched bathtub either, it was cemented into the rock and had stairs built up to it lol. The chrome even looked freshly cleaned. Hey, people will do what people do, can’t blame them for wanting a bath with a view! (I rhymed, giggity.)


Marissa- Shoshone Field Office- Idaho

Where did this rain come from?

It’s that time in the season where things are winding down and we are doing a bunch of different projects. It is raining a lot lately. Last night there was a massive storm that came through and dumped a lot of rain and hail. That means we can’t go out in the field as much. The roads are often not navigable when it has rained, last week we went out two days after the rain and we were mudding. So right after the rain means we are rolling the dice about getting stuck. Dealing with data and files can be frustrating, but data management can be weirdly rewarding. I like finishing the project all the way, not just stopping at the field work.

What I’ve been up to lately:

  1. RIPS- A lot of what we have been doing lately involves Range Improvement Projects. These are things like reservoirs, troughs, and pipelines. We are finding them and assessing them sometimes adding them to the GIS database. It’s a lot of driving and looking for things that haven’t been monitored in a long time. It’s been a lot of both field work and office work. In the office we are pulling files trying to figure out exactly what we are looking for. We are also looking at maps in the project book and on Google Earth to try and figure out where projects are. Often times the GPS point or map point is wrong and by cross referencing various sources it prevents us from just wandering around until we find something. We have found some interesting things out on the range. We found a desk chair that had been buried in the center of a reservoir and a bath tub that had been cemented into a rock formation.img_20161013_134134603_hdr
  2. Sagebrush Monitoring- We have also spent a good amount of time looking at potential sites for Sagebrush monitoring. Some of the sites had to be adjusted because the species were mixed or because they were difficult to access. We have been checking these sites for a few weeks so we can collect sagebrush from them. There are a couple of sites that we won’t be able to collect from this year because the flowers were pretty eaten up by bugs. But we still have  plenty of sagebrush to collect from.
  3. Willow Cuttings- Today we spent time cutting willows for a willow planting day with a a group of 7th and 8th graders. We cut willow branches to plant in a restoration area along a stream bed. This is an awesome yearly project that allows them to connect with the public lands, which is super important.
  4. Agriculture Resources Service Laboratory- We got the opportunity to visit the ARS  laboratory in Logan, Utah. This was a really awesome experience.  They gave us a tour of the whole compound and explained the process of developing plant materials. It was a great overview of how cultivars come about and how native plant and native plant seeds go into that process. We got to talk about careers and the backgrounds of people working for ARS. It was a great day. They gave us some papers and they are putting on a Native Plant Summit in Boise this year. We are going the first couple of days in November and are really excited about it!
  5. TREND Data- I have spent the last couple of weeks gathering the TREND data and putting it into a database. TREND data is collected about every 10 years, the data goes back to 1950s and there is an Access database that collects it all and runs the analysis. It was fun and a little frustrating to mess around with the database. It was satisfying to complete the project fully.

A reflection of my time in Pinedale, Wyoming

As my time in Pinedale continues to decrease, I can’t help but to look back at the past five months in amazement…in awe of all the inspirational people I have met and all the things I have learned. I came to Pinedale timid and nervous….uncertain about what to expect. Before this internship, the Bureau of Land Management was just some branch of the government that deals with the feral horses.

But now, through the completion of this CLM internship, I know that it is so, so much more. It is the caretaker of the public lands, and I am honored to have been a part of its role. Throughout my time in Pinedale, I have surveyed for amphibians, lynx, and pygmy rabbits. I have enjoyed learning about the different habitat requirements and surveying techniques. I have also been introduced to GIS software, something that will undoubtedly be very important in my future career. There were some days when I went out into the field with various people, including range specialists, and learned analyze the land for over-grazing (utilization). Helping with AIM introduced me to just a small amount of the plants native to the west. Trapping grouse allowed me to gain a more thorough understanding of the importance of radio telemetry. And of course, the internship wouldn’t have been complete without many backcountry adventures with my fellow interns…driving on two-tracks, especially in the mud, can be a challenge!
That leads me to one final point. My two fellow interns, Val and Lara. I am so, so, SO extremely grateful that I had these two along for the ride. Meeting them and working with them made daily work so much more adventurous. They have both inspired me in multiple ways, and I am certain that they will be successful wherever they end up!
I would highly recommend this internship to absolutely anybody. It was an eye-opening experience and led me to develop many resume-building skills. I will certainly miss the Pinedale BLM, but I know it has prepared me for whatever comes next.

Our Final Field Days in the Desert

The past few weeks here in Carlsbad have been ultra busy getting in as many collections as we can! After getting a late start on collections with the late rainy season here, we ended up doing 46 collections this season! We were especially lucky to get permission to collect at Guadalupe Mountain National Park in collaboration with the National Park Service.

Ipomoea lindheimeri nestled in Sotol at the GMNP

Ipomoea lindheimeri nestled in Sotol at the GMNP

Spaeralcea angustifolia by the Black River in Carlsbad

Spaeralcea angustifolia by the Black River in Carlsbad

This month, I also got to participate in Wildlife Water inspections with a couple of my coworkers. This involved cleaning out the waters, inspecting and repairing any broken fences, and sometimes repairing water tanks! We did six sites in a day, finding lots of interesting wildlife along the way.

One of several black widow spiders found at several of the sites we inspected

One of several black widow spiders found at several of the sites we inspected

A juvenile black widow spider-may had built webs in the corners of the Wildlife Waters.

A juvenile black widow spider-may had built webs in the corners of the Wildlife Waters.

An oil well against the sunrise on the way to inspect Wildlife Waters

An oil well against the sunrise on the way to inspect Wildlife Waters\

We found a huge field of milkweed at the first site! Brooke and I are going back to the site to do a collection this week.

We found a huge field of milkweed at the first site! Brooke and I are going back to the site to do a collection this week.

Only two weeks are left for me and Brooke here in Carlsbad, with only two more collections remaining this week! We’ll be doing a lot of office work after that, mounting vouchers and wrapping up paper work here at the field office. I will definitely miss this wonderful place and the people I’ve met here!

-Meridith, Carlsbad, NM BLM