Wrapping up the Field Season in Kremmling

Working in the Fall

Autumn arrives quickly in the Rockies. By the time the first leaves started changing in my hometown, the aspens had already put on their grand finally of yellow and orange and red, in the once green mountains.

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As the plants shifted in their phenology, we faced special challenges identifying them. Many of the forbs and grasses we surveyed had ready gone to seed and were ready for winter.


A transect running through a Gable Oak (Quercus gambelii) site.

With little characteristics left to aid in identification, we had to rely on our past experiences to compile our species list. The ray flowers on many of the asters were either dried up or missing completely, which made getting an ID a bit more difficult.


A crispy Dieteria canescens, being identified.

We do our best to ID plants in the field but occasionally we press specimen to give them a closer look. A few plants here and there have amassed into an entire box over the busy field season. Needless to say we have our work cut out for us as we prepare our data for submission in November.


During our last week in the field a cold front rolled through northwest Colorado. On our last night we were hit by cold rain, which froze and turned my rain fly into an ice sheet. I was thankful that night for my down sleeping bag, and warm clothes. Despite the acclimate weather, we managed to get out and finish our final plot.


A time for celebration

To celebrate a finished field season I took a trip down to Rifle, CO for the holiday weekend to do some rock climbing with friends. Our first stop was Rifle Arch, which features some easier climbs on relatively soft sandstone. The Arch was beautiful and the weather was great for climbing.

unnamed-2 The next day I ran into some climbers I met on the front range in Rifle Mountain Park. This area is known for its challenging routes up sharp and unforgiving rock. I was more interested in just scouting the site out, because I knew many of the routes were a bit above my skill level. However I couldn’t resist giving it a try after watching a few friends climb. Here is a shot of the meat wall, as they call it.



The area also features some spectacular plants and wildlife and it was a great place to spend the day and enjoy the outdoors, I made some new friends (a fox) and learned a lot from some really stellar climbers.


I am onto the last month of my internship and the reality is setting in that it will soon come to an end. I am looking forward to reuniting with my friends and family back home during the holidays but I have defiantly gained a whole new appreciation for the West and I am already looking for my next opportunity to come back out here. I am grateful for this tremendous opportunity to do field work in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Thanks CLM !

Eli Lowry

BLM, Kremmling CO

Final Days

Well, six months goes by pretty quickly. I am now down to just two days. We finished up the sucker rearing project in Upper Klamath Lake last week, and have deconstructed the net pens and docks as of 2 days ago. There was not a very good survival rate of the suckers, being that we only had in the end 21 suckers out of the 1,000-1,500 larvae that were introduced to the net pens. This ended up being the exact same amount as was able to be recovered last year. The project is not likely to be continued in the same manner in the future, as it has not had very high success rates over the last three years.

I have gained many skills in the field of fisheries over this past six month period. I now know how to use five different types of nets including seine nets, fyke nets, drift nets, trammel nets, and Wisconsin style tow nets, to catch both adult fish and larvae, and their food resources. We have gotten experience in both assisting in the process of PIT tagging, taking length measurements and inspecting for parasites and other abnormalities, and have had the opportunities to tag the fish ourselves. Also gaining more experience in electro-shocking to catch fish and sample for fish presence. Learning to manage data sondes for water quality measurements has also been very interesting and is much more efficient than the hand methods that I learned in college.

Although I was never able to get my Motorboat Operator Certification because I was not notified the most recent time they were back in Klamath Falls, I was still able to gain much more experience than I had previously had in boat operation. At the end of this season I feel much more comfortable driving boats than in the beginning of the season, which will be useful in the future, as most of the animal species I want to work with the most live in, or near, aquatic habitats.

This season was also filled with many other types of experiences, in a large part conducting plant surveys. I can say that while I do love plants, I do not think I would like to continue in a direction where I would be conducting plant surveys in the majority of my job. This may be because for the most part when conducing our surveys the weather was very warm and the species which were being studied all occur in habitat with no cover. These species included Applegate’s Milk Vetch, found to be slightly less endangered than previously thought, and Slender Orcut, an endangered grass which was not found in the target study areas. However, even though it was most likely just the weather which caused this feeling, I think that I have a passion for working with animal species. I was involved in more water fowl work, including the collection and banding of Canada geese and duck species in general. This was so different from the other bird banding and collection that I have done, which only included smaller passerine species during mating season. It was really interesting learning to sex the species from their cloaca, instead of brood patch development and size, or the lack there of.

This job has left me in quite a conundrum as I do not know exactly what I would like to go into. I have gained more experience in fisheries work from this summer that I feel like I would have a better chance of obtaining a fisheries job in the future. However, I don’t know if I want to stay in fisheries work, or try and gain more of the experiences I have been trying to obtain, including telemetry and radio tagging for working with birds or small mammals. I am not going to get into carnivore work because I have found that it is just too competitive.

Overall, this has been a great season. The people who I worked with are all so wonderful, and have really been so helpful these past months. Many of them them have also expressed how important it is to go to grad school, which I was not really considering, and I will be taking my GREs this winter. I will continue to reflect on the experiences I have had and will make a decision on which species I will be going to school to study further. May it be fish, or birds? I don’t know but will figure it out.

I think the other most positive part of this internship was the location. I have been so many beautiful places this summer. Being in south central Oregon has been a great opportunity to visit other areas haha. The redwoods are only 3 hours away, I had never seen them and it was a magical trip, I fell in love with those giant trees. The Oregon coast is also amazing! My favorite spots were Cape Perpetua with the temperate rainforest, Diamond Peak Wilderness, and of course the area surrounding Crater Lake. Best wildflowers I found were on Mount Ashland 🙂

Damnation Creek trail- Del Norte Redwood State park. So pretty

Damnation Creek trail- Del Norte Redwood State park. So pretty

me and boy scout tree

Me and the Boy scout Tree- Jedadiah Smith Redwoods State Park

Trail near home, view of Upper Klamath Lake

Trail near home, view of Upper Klamath Lake


Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua

Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua, didn’t see any whales


Shilah Allen

USFWS Klamath Falls, OR



Winding Down the Season

It’s almost that time where the seasonal positions end and winter begins.  This summer has been an absolute blast and I wish it didn’t have to end.  The people I have had the opportunity to work with, the sights I have been able to see, and the skills I have learned have all left a huge impact on my life.  Luckily, I get to stay in Lander because my husband has year round employment here.  I don’t ever want to leave this place.  Getting to know the field office was awesome.  There are so many hidden beautiful places.  It’s a secret gem that I wish more people knew about, but also want to stay hidden.

I don’t really know what to say right now.  It’s always sad when the season comes to an end.  I’ve been through it so many times now you would think that it might get easier.  Unfortunately it doesn’t, at least not for me.  Wyoming in general is an incredible place.  If you’ve never been here, come take a look.  You won’t regret it.

I’ve still got about a month left at work here.  There’s going to be some seeding on a burn area, letting down a fence in an antelope migration path, and lots of office work.  It’s all hard to say goodbye to.  The picture below is of hoarfrost from a couple mornings ago.  We went out early to clip small plots on some riparian areas and the whole field office seemed to be frozen in time.  The sun came out, burned off the fog, and make the frost sparkle.  It was beautiful.  I’ll never forget moments like that.  I hope you all have memories from this season that will stay with you forever.  This is all worth it.hoarfrost-at-atlantic-city

In Search of Treasure, Part II

As the seed-collecting season winds down, the SOS team of Rawlins is once again on the hunt for treasure. As it turns out, Penstemon haydenii was only the beginning.


Colorado Butterfly Plant, one of the most exquisite blooms I’ve seen all summer!

In mid-August, I accompanied a team to the Laramie area to find Ute’s ladies-tresses, a threatened orchid with very particular tastes in habitat. This little monocot prefers the sunny peripheries of gravel bars in shallow streams (sans riparian shrubs), an environment that is extremely few and far between in southern Wyoming. Unsurprisingly, we did not find the orchid. However, we did stumble upon something just as exciting: a new population of Colorado butterfly plant. There are only a few populations of this species left in the Rockies, and our discovery was the westernmost yet. It was terribly exciting to be a part of a groundbreaking discovery such as this!





Hours of searching are finally rewarded!

Besides these precious stones of the south-central Wyoming plant kingdom, I got to work with two “BLM sensitive” species. Penstemon gibbensii, Gibbon’s penstemon, is greener and less showy than its dune-dwelling congener, and prefers soils with a bit more stability. A long, tiring day of trekking 100-foot clay dunes was rewarded with a lot of new experience with line transects, but only two flowering individuals. 


Intrepid biologists in search of P. gibbensii.








The alkai Chain Lakes of southern Wyoming, A. diversifolius‘ preferred habitat.

Astragalus diversifolius, a milkvetch with an unusual growth form and a penchant for alkali lakes, was another that was difficult to find. I suspect that many of these “sensitive” species are ones that are poor competitors and are highly picky about their habitat. Unfortunately for them, this combination is not a recipe for biological success.



The crown jewel of my Wyoming T/E monitoring was not a plant at all, but the famous Wyoming toad, Bufo baxteri – the most endangered amphibian in America. Like many aquatic species around the world, Wyoming toads are suffering from Chytrid fungus. Keratinized amphibians, like toads, are particularly susceptible to fungal infection, and the limited range of this species doesn’t help its chances of survival. Reintroduction efforts are underway, and annual surveys are crucial to determining the success of this program.


A juvenile specimen of B. baxteri.


Bufo baxteri’s preferred haunt.

For two weeks, we patrolled the shores of lakes that lay in the the shadow of the picturesque Snowy Range. I came to appreciate a valuable skill of wildlife work: the ability to spot tiny creatures in thick vegetation. My eyes, being trained to spot cues of color and shape rather than movement, had a hard time distinguishing thumbnail-sized toads from grasshoppers, voles, and spiders. Every accurate ID felt like a victory. For all the toads we caught, we would take their measurements and note the colored pit-tags on the bottoms of their legs. The larger toads would be examined for signs of Bd, swabbed with cotton, and photographed. My favorites were the adult males, who chirp and vibrate when threatened. Amphibians are amazingly endearing when they’re quivering in one’s hand like a joke buzzer.

As many of my fellow interns can tell you, the sagebrush steppe of the intermountain west can easily feel barren. Lion-colored hills and austere rock outcrops rise from the sage like islands. Trees are rarer still, only to be found in the faraway mountains and remote waterways. Blooms are bright but brief, shriveling into brown husks in the unrelenting dryness. But, as Tolkien wrote, “all that is gold does not glitter”. Though the days of gold-panning have gone, there is still treasure to be found among the ridges and buttes, if one comes at the right time, and knows where to look.  

In Search of Treasure, Part I

When I took on this internship, I knew that I would branch out into non-SOS duties during the course of my internship: wildlife monitoring, organizing the herbarium, etc. I didn’t, however, anticipate that I would be treasure-hunting. While it’s true that gold fever once struck these hills (along with coal, uranium, oil, and natural gas fever) what little precious metal here was picked away be prospectors long ago. Nevertheless, I’ve found that Wyoming still has many unique treasures hidden within its landscape.

The first precious gem we set out to find was a periwinkle-coloured penstemon, hiding up amongst the dunes of the Ferris Mountains. Penstemon haydenii, the Blowout penstemon, was re-discovered by my mentor in these dunes twenty years prior. This species only occurs in two places on Earth; here in southern Wyoming, and in the Sandhills of north-central Nebraska.


Penstemon haydenii in flower.

Dune ecosystems remind me of the limestone glades of my native Tennessee; they are confounding, entrancing patches of desert tucked into the prairie. Standing at the crest of a long line of majestic dunes, I no longer felt like I was in southern Wyoming, but in the Sahara or the Kalahari.


One of the many dunes flanking the Ferris Mountains of southern Wyoming.


Penstemon haydenii thrives at the edges of blowouts, great sand bowls that are carved out by the wind, creating the classic “dune” shape. Researchers at Wyoming Natural Diversity Database and University of Wyoming believe that P. haydenii is highly disturbance-dependent. The active dunes of the Ferris Mountains maintain the sparsely vegetated “blowouts” this species calls home. The constant shifting of the sand reduces competition, leaving a sparse community of specialized survivors: Redfieldia flexuosa, Psoralidium lanceolatum, Rumex venosus, and Penstemon haydenii. Through a unique combination of geology, climate, and physical forces, a one-of-a-kind assemblage of desert plants has come together.


Typical habitat of P. haydenii.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Nebraska Sandhills. Management practices dating back to the Great Depression have put P. haydenii populations at a disadvantage. After the Dust Bowl, the Sandhills, along with every other plot of land in the Midwest, were planted out to anchor loose soil. This frenzy for erosion control is understandable, but it wasn’t always appropriate. The dunes were, effectively, put to sleep. As they lay dormant, more competitive species colonized the ecosystem, crowding out P. haydenii and other specialists. Despite the efforts of a local reintroduction program, populations are dwindling.


My mentor, who re-discovered the Wyoming populations of P. haydenii, inspecting a specimen.

Led by Bonnie Heidel of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, our team trekked the dunes in search of data for the biennial P. haydenii survey. Vegetative plants are difficult to spot, particularly in patches of R. flexuosa, the blowout grass. Identification hinges on careful attunement to the the plant’s blue-green foliage and slender leaves. Every sighting was sounded with whoops of excitement, particularly when the individual was flowering. But the best was yet to come.

It is quite rare to find P. haydenii seedlings, partly due to their small size (imagine spotting a green toothpick in the sand) and partly due to high predation of seeds. But, as luck would have it, on my first day of monitoring, we ran across a bona-fide nursery! A spray of tiny seedlings tumbled down the bowl, coming to a halt along another ridge of sand. We speculate that the cache of some luckless rodent was uncovered by the wind, giving the seeds another chance at germination. Seeing this trail of young plants gave us hope that this species, whose rarity alone has left it on the brink, will have enough resilience to handle any new factors our changing world throws at it.


Hope for the future!