Bye Carlsbad!

Today we had our final day at the Carlsbad Field Office. Saying goodbye to everyone was really difficult, and I will miss a lot of wonderful people that I’ve met here. I have gotten to see such amazing landscapes in the field here and feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work outside most days doing what I love to do.

Dark Canyon from up in the cliffs, one of my collection sites

Dark Canyon from up in the cliffs, one of my collection sites

By the Black River, a field site we frequented this season


The dunes at the peak of the season, teeming with wildflowers!

Centaurium maryannum, one of my favorite plants we encountered here and a gypsum soil endemic

Centaurium maryannum, one of my favorite plants we encountered here and a gypsum endemic species

Yucca in full bloom, a rare sight this time of year as most we've encountered have only had dried seed pod remains

Yucca in full bloom, a rare sight this time of year, as most we’ve encountered have only had dried seed pod remains

As a side project here in Carlsbad, I have been working on an insect collection to try and demonstrate insect diversity in the area. Today I finished it and put it up for display in the Field Office lobby outreach section, along with a couple of the herbarium vouchers Brooke and I mounted this season! It was great to see it all come together and leave something that we made here at the field office. We also included a plaque (not pictured because we hadn’t put it up yet when I took this photo) with information on the Seeds of Success program!

The finished product!

The finished product!

Our projects from the season on display!

Our projects from the season on display!

After this I will be moving to Albuquerque because New Mexico is the bee’s knees. Let me know if any of you are ever in the area!

– Meridith McClure, Carlsbad, NM BLM

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge: Land of the Bulrush

Hello! In this post I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite field sites: Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. Wertheim is the headquarters of U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s (USFS) Long Island Wildlife Refuge Complex. It’s a lovely place with beautiful nature trails, information about Long Island’s National Wildlife Refuges, a gift shop, and several realistic models of Long Island’s ecosystems (see pictures below).

A beach/dune model with Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass) and Lathyrus japonicus (beach pea).

A salt marsh at low tide with Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) and its symbiotic marsh mussels.

An old field model with Schizachyrium scoparium (little blustem), Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan).

My field partner, Emily, and I first scouted for naive plant species at Wertheim in August. We were looking for bulrushes – sedges in the genera Scirpus, Schoenoplectus, and Bolboschoenus – and we were starting to worry that there weren’t many collectible bulrush populations in Long Island. Luckily, Wertheim had every bulrush species we had hoped to find, and several other native plant species. We were ecstatic! At one point, we shouted “Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani!” in unison, like true botanical nerds.

Emily, a true botanical nerd, in her waders, prepared to brave the muds of Wertheim!

In total, we made fourteen collections at Wertheim, including five bulrush collections: Schoenoplectus americanus (chairmaker’s bulrush), Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush), Schoenoplectus pungens (basket grass), Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush), Scripus cyperinus (woolgrass), Hibiscus mosheutos (crimson-eyed rose mallow), Pluchea odorata (sweetscent), Symphyotrichum subulatum (eastern annual saltmarsh aster), Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail), Triadenum virginicum (Virginia marsh St. John’s wort), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (indian grass), and Pseodognaphalium obtusifoloium (rabbit tobacco).

Now, let me tell you about some of these awesome native plant species:

Bolboschoenus robustus (study bulrush):

Bulrushes are really cool. They look like big grasses, but they’re actually in the sedge family (Cyperaceae). You can tell most bulrushes apart from grasses and some other sedges by their triangular stems. Bolboschoenus robustus is a bold looking plant with its triangular stem and, as its epithet implies, robust seed heads.

Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush) seed heads.

Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush):

So in the last paragraph I said that most bulrushes have triangular stems – Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani is the exception to this rule (most botanical rules have exceptions, it’s actually pretty annoying). Schoenoplectus‘s round stem, as its common name suggests, has a soft pithy core and is easily snapped.

A field of Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush).

Pluchea odorata (sweetscent):

Pluchea a sweet little plant with pink flower heads and a wonderful smell. Pluchea is in the Asteraceae family – a huge, diverse family that includes many common flowers, including dandelions, sunflowers, and daisies to name a few. Many of the flowers in this family are wind-dispersed – they fluff up like dandelions and wait for the wind to blow their seeds away. Collecting wind dispersed Asteraceae can sometimes be challenging, but Pluchea’s fluffy seed holds on to the plant pretty well, and we were able to make a great collection.

Pluchea odorata. Picture found on

Typha latifolia (broad leaf cattail):

Typha latifolia is a common cattail that grows along pond edges. We found it at Wertheim growing around a large brackish (slightly salty) pond, along with Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Pluchea odorata, and Hibiscus moschetuos. Typha was one of the easiest collections we’ve ever made, because each head has TONS of seed.

A pond edge with Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail) and Hibiscus moschetuos (crimson-eyed rose mallow).

Thanks Wertheim!

Until next time,


We’ll miss you Wertheim!



At first there was nothing. My field partner and I were four months deep into our internship with only 20 out of 75 collections completed. We were beginning to worry. With only two months left, how were we going to reach our goal? Then, to make matters worse, my field partner sustained a leg injury making her bedridden for a week, and banishing me to the seed lab to process and clean seeds. Yet another week passed, and our collection count remained embarrassingly low.

Moving clockwise from the top: Schizachyrium littorale (shore little bluestem), Scirpus cyperinus (woolly grass), and Panicum virgatum (panic grass).

Then, there was everything. The following week, with only seven weeks of fieldwork left in our internship, we anxiously rushed back into the marshes, beaches and forests of Delaware. Before taking a week off from fieldwork, we had been grasping at straws—the plants from which we needed to make our seed collections were either still unripe for reaping, destroyed by pests or lawn mowers or simply non-existent. The following week, our luck began to change. Once back in the field, the very first site we visited yielded three seed collections. During our week away, not only did seeds finally ripen, but as the seeds developed, plant populations we had completely overlooked became beautifully obvious. Panic grass panicles spread out to form a fuzzy haze of seeds.  Woolly grass inflorescences poofed up into fluffy red clouds, and shore little bluestem seeds exploded out of their sheaths in snowy clumps.  By the end of the week we had made 12 collections, having worked 12 hour days to complete them. Finally a stroke of relief. If we kept up that pace we would surely make our goal by the conclusion of our internship.

Covered in marsh gunk per usual. Had to get down and dirty to collelct this Spartina cynosuroides specimen.

Covered in marsh gunk, per usual. Had to get down and dirty to collect this Spartina cynosuroides specimen.

Working long days with only brief fuel breaks mid-day, my field partner and I were starting to feel worn down.  Despite constantly sipping water, we were perpetually dehydrated and our backs occasionally ached from being continuously bent in a tiered bow to the earth.  That is when Spartina decided it was time to ripen. Spartina is a genus of marsh grass which includes various species ranging from only 2 feet tall (Spartina patens) to 8 feet (Spartina cynosuroides). This was good news as it meant we would have more seed collections to make, but bad news, for those collections- especially those of Spartina alterniflora, were bound to take an excessive amount of time.

Spartina alterniflora, also known as smooth cordgrass, is highly sought out for restoration projects across Delaware and New Jersey. The grass is cited to function as an ecosystem engineer; it stabilizes marsh soils to prevent erosion and protect against coastal storms, creates habitat for coastal species, and filters heavy metals and other toxins out of the water column. The ecological services provided by S. alterniflora make the grass highly sought after by various restoration and environmental groups. So many, in fact, that we could barely fit our collections into our small rental car.


Spartina alterniflora in all its glory.

Typically our seed protocol requires each plant population we collect from to have at least 50 individuals ( to maintain genetic diversity), that we collect a minimum of 10, 000 seeds, and that our collection does not exceed 20% of the seed available in the population. Those requirements still stand when collecting S. alterniflora, only that instead of collecting a minimum of 10,000 seeds, we needed to collect a minimum of 50 lbs of inflorescences for each collection we made.

So, one early morning in October, we began to collect Spartina alterniflora. The collections were long and difficult. For our first collection, we spent two entire days of work, that is 16 hours, collecting Spartina from a single site. It was stinky business. By the end of our first collection we had gathered about 200 lbs. The stench was unbearable. Like the marshes from which they are collected, S. alterniflora smells like hydrogen sulfide, better known as the scent of rotten eggs. Just a few inflorescences could stink up an entire car, so imagine hauling around 200+ lbs of it at once. We had no choice but to drive with the windows rolled down, despite the frigid air that pinched at our cheeks.

By the conclusion of our first week collecting Spartina alterniflora, my field partner and I reeked.  After each day in the field we could not wait to clean ourselves of the wretched salt marsh cordgrass perfume. However, that was impossible to do considering we were spending our nights in a farm house. A farmhouse that relied on well water. Well water that come from the surrounding marsh. A marsh that was full of sulfur. This meant that not only did my field partner and I spend our day in a field of stinky Spartina, but we then showered and drank water that shared its pungent scent. We were becoming one with the marsh. Luckily, or unluckily, our bodies have a tendency to acclimate to new environments. I started to notice the scent less and less. And then, one morning as we walked through a field of Spartina alterniflora, I took in a deep breath and as I let out a yawn I thought to myself, “ It smells like hard boiled eggs.”  The thought made me hungry.

 I needed a break from Spartina collections. This was the result: An improvised sunhat made from the remains of a horseshoe crab.

I needed a break from Spartina collections. This was the result: An improvised sunhat made from the remains of a horseshoe crab.

Spartina alterniflora collections lasted two weeks, during which we received heavy rains and strong winds from the passing of Hurricane Matthew farther south. The strength of the storm forced us out of the field and into a Panera Bread for nearly an entire day, and gave us a late start the following morning. There was some slight flooding on marsh-side roads, which prolonged our commute times to field sites, but luckily that was as difficult as it got.  Two weeks since the conclusion of Spartina collections, my field partner and I are close to wrapping up the season. We expect to meet our collection goal by the end of this week, and hopefully surpass it the following week. Then we will have one week to process seeds and digitize data sheets before our internship concludes. The storm is at last behind us and all is now calm and becoming still. Though the process of seed collecting was at times difficult, looking back this internship has been both educational and exciting. It will be bittersweet seeing it come to an end. It has been a pleasure. Except for the Spartina. I won’t miss Spartina.

All Things Must End

September 29th was my last day working with the BLM in Lakeview, Oregon.  It was a day that I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded.  On one hand, I would be returning home to see my dogs, my family, my friends, my home state – everything I love.  On the other hand I would once again be woefully unemployed, but such is the life of a seasonal biologist!

The past month went by in an absolute whirlwind; I spent a week with family in the Willamette Valley, drove back to New Mexico, and began the job/housing search for my next stage in life.  I was only left with interspersed moments to really reflect on what the past few months were to me.  I didn’t want to phone it in on this final blog post, so I gave myself the time to digest my experiences.

In many ways, this internship was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done.  I was in a completely new, unfamiliar area.  The vegetation was completely different, the culture completely different, my job quite different from anything I had experienced before.  I didn’t have a crew-mate for a month and I had no idea whether we would gel and successfully tackle our sizable list of goals.  Pretty much everything was totally new to me, which can often make me pretty stressed at first.

In many ways, I felt like a fish out of water.  Luckily, many of those feelings passed as I fell into the groove at work, became close friends with my field partner, and started making serious headway with my list of things to accomplish.  There were many days at work where I felt like I was barely treading water.  What matters is that I never went under.

Taking this job, with more responsibility, freedom, and a steeper learning curve than I had ever had before, ended up being one of the best things I could have done.  Not only did I get a crash course in plant identification (I’m more of a wildlifer with my background), but I learned how to be patient and accepting of myself and those around me.  I took this job because I wanted to learn more about plant ecology and how to take that into account from a management perspective.  And I did.  I took away many things from this job that will inform any future management decisions I make (assuming a pursue a career with an agency).  What I didn’t expect, though, was the amount of personal development that got crammed into five months.

This experience taught me how to hold on a little bit, be patient, and let myself grow while the situation around me develops.  This experience taught me more about just how important personal relationships are to me; I made some friends over the last few months that I hope to be in touch with for a long time yet.  This experience taught me that when things aren’t perfect, keeping my chin up and working hard will keep me going.  Most of all, I learned to relax a little bit and let things happen – life isn’t a race and living in the moment is all we get.  This experience was not the easiest in my life, but it was definitely one of the best.  I’m happy to say that I feel like a much better person than I did a few months ago and that will stay with me far longer than anything else I learned.

Until next time, Lakeview.

Brennan Davis, BLM – Lakeview, OR

Fall Arrangements

Hello, everyone. I’m writing you all today because there is something I need to get off my chest. It’s been weighing down on me for some time now. I don’t think I can keep it in much longer. I figured that the CLM blog would be a safe space to come out and say this…..I love plants. Okay, I’m actually COMPLETELY OBSESSED with PLANTS. I can’t stop looking at them and thinking about them. I eat, sleep and breathe plants. I dream about them. Sometimes I even talk to them. I love house plants, food crops, native grasses, wildflowers, weeds, even some invasives! Cacti, moss, conifers, C3, C4, lichens since they’re like half plant, ALL OF THEM ARE BEAUTIFUL. That’s why this internship has been so perfect for me. I get paid to walk around and look at plants, and touch them too; “botanize” if you will. I’ve gotten to flex my identification chops and learn about hundreds of natives. I’ve gotten better acquainted with where they grow, when they bloom, and even when they fruit. I feel like the friendship between me and my green companions has become more personal, in a way.

In true friendship spirit, plants and I enjoy sharing activities together. One of my favorite activites (besides cooking and eating) is floral arranging. I found it to be very cathartic when I was stressed out in college, or when I’m sad about something. Floral arrangements are great way to take a little piece of a hike or a garden home with you. If you know how to dry the plants, their beauty can last quite a bit longer. You can take a nice bouquet home to your honey for smiles and smooches. Give one to a stranger for a weird look/new friendship. Make a centerpiece to gaze at while eating dinner, brighten up a room, or hang a seasonal wreath on a door. 

Now, I don’t want y’all to think I was just walking around pickin’ daisies when I was supposed to be working. It’s rare that I pick a flower unless I’m having a hard time trying identify the species, so I take a specimen to press for a later time. I always want to leave as many flowers for the pollinators so they can transform to fruits and seeds and spread their genes. It’s the cycle of life, folks. The only time I’ll interfere with the flow of the cycle, is when the plant is invasive. I don’t have a problem taking it out of an environment it does not belong in. When I was doing my capstone research on a dry prairie ecosystem, I would often make a bouquet of the invasive exotics encroaching on it at the end of a field day. It was enjoyable to make something pretty, while also helping manage the land. Imagine if florists did that! 

When making arrangements, I like to emulate the habitats the plants came from in the shape and sectioning of the piece. This is my own botanical style because I’m an amateur without any formal training. When constructing an arrangement, I try to incorporate elements of the plants’ homeland. I want my final product to be reflective of the open field or woodland path from which (it/they) came originally.  I also like to take in consideration the season that they bloom in. Spring might be most people’s favorite time of year for natural beauty, but I personally really like the muted and earthy shades of Autumn. Plus, when everything has already flowered and gone to seed, there’s no worrying about whether you might be stealing a bumble bee’s food.

In this native grass wall piece, I have collected Scirpus cyperinus, Schizachrium scoparium, Juncus canadensis, Andropogon glomeratus, foxtail, and 2 non-natives I have yet to identify. It is representative of a wet meadow in Tuckahoe wildlife management area.

In this native grass wall piece, I have collected Scirpus cyperinus, Schizachrium scoparium, Juncus canadensis, Andropogon glomeratus, foxtail, and 2 non-natives I have yet to identify. It is representative of a wet meadow in Tuckahoe wildlife management area.

Soldiago sempervirens, Bacchris halmifolia and foxtail are bundled in this quick little boutonnière bouquet I put together.

Soldiago sempervirens, Bacchris halmifolia and foxtail are bundled in this quick little boutonnière bouquet I put together.

Crafting floral arrangements is a way to repurpose nature’s own expression of evolution as a medium for new art, beauty, decorations, and mementos. You can touch them, smell them, and best of all, compost them when you’re ready to make a new one!

Decomposing my Troubles

“Fungi are the grand molecular disassemblers in nature. Fungi are the interface organisms between life and death. They generate soil.”

  • Mycologist Paul Stamets

There is something lurking in the swamps of New Jersey. It breathes oxygen. It respires CO2. It devours the dead for dinner.

What I’m talking about is fungus, of course!

When making plant collections in thick forests, it’s hard to miss the unique shapes and vibrant colors of the fungus that are contrasting with the brown and green background.   

This internship not only strengthens my skills in plant identification, but additionally gives me the opportunity to expand my realm of knowledge to other aspects of biotic life.  Like finding a 1up mushroom in a mario game, it’s like a prize to see a brightly colored cap along the path I’m hiking. As a naturalist, I enjoy matching each new plant or fungi to their correct species epithet, and learn about their functionality. Social media platforms, like Facebook, currently host tons of group identification forums. The online community is always helpful to plant-nerds like me whenever the right answer cannot be found in my field guide. So as I walk along, I snap a quick picture of these photogenic fungi and continue on my way. Here are some of my favorites:


Cortinarius iodes

“Violet cort”

This fungi gets a slimey cap after it rains.


Artomyces pyxidatus

“Crown coral”

An elegant coral mushroom.


Amanita muscaria var. Guessowii

American Yellow Fly Agaric”

What a pretty baby growing on the path!


Boletus edulis


The choicest of all mushrooms. Highly prized in Europe, they can sell for over $50 a pound dry.


Trametes Versicolor

“Turkey tail”

I often see these more than any other mushroom in my travels. Has medicinal and anti-cancer properties.


Pleurotus ostreatus

“Oyster mushroom”

These were growing on Fagus grandifolia, although they normally grow on oaks. They have a fishy smell and are commercially cultivated. I have noticed that the wild variety has a more fragrant smell than cultivated ones.

“Bicolor bolete”

Boletus bicolor

The “Bicolor bolete.”

This fungi, sports a red stem and cap, and yellow pores. It is apparently edible and bruises blue.


Laetiporus sp.

Chicken Mushroom”

MY FAVORITE. Serve em up anyway you like, batter em, fry em, stick em in a stew. Unmistakable and easy to spot. They have sulfur colored pores beneath. Tastes like chicken.


Lycoperdon pyriforme

“Pear Puffballs”

This species is white inside and can often be found growing on wood.

Clavaria sp.

Clavaria sp.

“Flame fungus”

When I saw these poking out from under the leaf litter I just thought, “Wow, the Earth is weird.”

I would have loved to pick some of these toadstools, however, I only had a permit to collect seeds, so I had to leave them be. When foraging mushrooms, it’s good to keep in mind that picking them will not destroy the mycelial networks that they sprout from. In fact, picking the mushroom can spread the spores that are produced from the fruiting body further when they are carried in something like a basket. If it is your style to pick, then try and cut or pinch the end that has soil/debris on it, (the part that you would cut off before eating) and leave it on the ground or on a piece of wood nearby. By incorporating this into your foraging habits, it can help proliferate culture in the future.

I saw most of these mushrooms in Northern New Jersey in both the piedmont and Appalachian ecoregions. I have also seen some in the pine barrens. Within the permits of the Mid- Atlantic Regional Seed Bank, one of the most biodiverse areas to collect is the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1960. Half of the refuge is designated wilderness area, and was the first wilderness under the management of the U.S. Department of Interior. Perhaps the area’s preservation from half a century ago left the mycelial networks intact better than the other areas I’ve explored that have roads through them. I usually associate the presence of a diverse array of fungi with a healthy swamp ecosystem.

There are roughly 5.1 million species of fungus on earth, of which 10 percent produce fruiting bodies or “mushrooms.” From food, to medicine, to bioremediation, to plant communication to decomposition; fungus is integral part of life in our world. Even when there aren’t any fruits to be seen, you can be sure there are webs of mycelial networks just beneath your feet.

Northwest Colorado Adventures

I’ve gotten my first glimpse of the seasonal field life this summer, and I know I want more to come. There wasn’t much time to think about how the work day was dragging because there was always something interesting to do. I worked with the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) AIM crew out of Meeker, CO doing vegetation and soil surveys throughout the Northwest Colorado District. AIM stands for assessment, inventory, monitor and is representative to what we did on a daily. There were times when I thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to hike and learn about plants!” If only flowing season were year round and this position were permanent, nonetheless I’ve had a priceless experience this summer.


AIM crew taking a break from a long hike.

I’d like to share a little of our daily routine for those of you interested in joining a similar team in the future. Random pre-designated locations were prioritized and assigned to different groups in our region. Everyday we’d drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in a treasure hunt for the day’s plot location. Many times, the plot was in remote locations requiring the use of topographical maps, GPS unit, a truck to drive us close and our chevrolegs to hike to the desired coordinates. Once there, we’d set up 3 transects 25 meters in length, starting at 5 meters from the center point, and we’d analyzed and record various data along each transect. To collect data for ‘line-point intercept’, we would record the vegetation present at every 0.5 meters and the height and species of the tallest woody and herbaceous plant at every 2.5 meters. We also recorded the length of canopy gaps along all three transects. Since my team was a group of three, two people would observe and record that data while the third dug a soil pit 70 cm deep (not an easy endeavor when there’s gypsum and big rocks in the soil, but it makes for a great workout). Soil assessments entail categorizing each soil horizon by rock fragment type & volume, texture, % clay, effervescence, color and structure. The soil pit and all three transects’ start and end locations need to be recorded on a GPS and photographed with a photo label. Since the season is so short, we needed to take advantage of the good weather so we did as much field work as possible, leaving all the plot research details to be filled out at the end. The past couple of weeks that’s exactly what my team and I have been compiling, this entails researching what type of allotment we evaluated, weather trends and fire history to name a few. Throughout this summer we evaluated some very diverse plots with over 60 different plant species and others that had less than 15 species, consisting mostly of cheat grass. Although the plots with the most diversity typically took longer to evaluate, I enjoyed doing those most because I learned a wider variety of species and the locations of these were typically in a prettier much healthier ecosystem, making for a scenic lunch break.


Petroglyph presumably by Ute or Fremont tribe.

Another aspect I’ve enjoyed about this internship is having the opportunity to join other BLM employees out on their field days and aid in various projects. The archeologist in the office often goes out to log GPS routes of archeological sites and I’ve caught a glimpse of some epic pictographs and petroglyphs, presumably from prehistoric Ute and Fremont Indian tribes that cruised by Northwest Colorado.

We also shadowed archeological students from Colorado State University as they excavated various plots. This one particular canyon is about an hour and a half from Meeker, CO and has long been known to have archeological remains like large granaries and scattered points made of chert and various stones throughout the land. Due to an intersecting plot of private land, access to the area was restricted until recently so we went out there to explore the site and help student sieve out prized items from their digs like arrowheads, glass beads, fossils, corn cobs and they told us about some intact jewelry pieces they had dug the day prior. Most of the students were ecstatic about the work they were doing and their focus and pep made me smile. All items found will be analyzed and stored in safe locations, like museums, which is much better than the alternative of being sold on the black market. It’s a shame that this particular site had already been looted and those pieces of history will remain a mystery, but at least access to the site was finally achieved, aiding to piece together the puzzles of prehistoric humanity.


Brook Trout realizing the end is near. Electrode in the foreground.

I’ve gone out on various fish and wildlife adventures, including electrofishing and assessing streams for viable fish feed. I had the preconceived notion that electrofishing was only done when people wanted to collect data from the fish, briefly shocking the fish but allowing it to live. Although this is typically what’s done when electrofishing, this trip entailed a different outcome. Roan creek had a bank failure that caused the brook and rainbow trout to invade the cutthroat community downstream. Brook trout is native to Eastern North America in the US and Canada and the state fish of nine states, but in Roan Creek, CO it is an invasive species that is forcing out the native Cutthroat. Our goal this particular day was to completely eradicate brook trout and rainbow trout whenever we spotted it. Since first timers aren’t allowed to use the Ghostbuster looking electro line, I was designated euthanizer and would place all unwanted fish into a bucket containing MS222 which is a poison that kills fish within seconds. I asked if there was an alternative to euthanizing and tossing the fish, like using them as fertilizer or feed if MS222 wasn’t used, but I was told that statistically speaking the amount of fish we were euthanizing wasn’t enough to outweigh costs of alternative options. In my team of two we saw 3 cutthroats, euthanized 153 brook trout and 1 rainbow trout. All euthanized species were measured and length recorded before sadly putting them in bag to be tossed. Truth be told, it didn’t affect me too much to euthanize the fish, but it did make me sad to hear that these organic creatures were going to waste in a dumpster. Nonetheless, it was great to gain some hands on experience electrofishing and I was grateful they allowed me to tag along. Assessing a stream for feed was a completely different process where the goal is to collect all insects present within a 12×12 by brushing rocks and collecting the specimens with a net. This wasn’t your ordinary net; it had a platform at the mouth of it, and a cylindrical ‘dolphin’ catcher at the end, making it easier to contain the bugs being washed by the stream. We did this 8 times every 50 meters upstream, designating each random point with start and end riff locations that were logged on a GPS. There was lots of bushwhacking and mud scrambling involved, but using waders in cool stream water was a great reprieve from the scorching heat that day.


Pictograph in Canyon Pintado, CO.

On office work day, I helped the rangeland crew build a fence in efforts of preventing illegal grazing that is occurring in Canyon Pintado, CO. This site contains a pre-historic structure at the top of a cliff and just like all other archeological sites, there are many theories as to why it was built and what it was used for. There are also pictographs and petroglyphs within close proximity of a hiking trail that was absolutely covered in cow piles, so I was stoked to know that we were making a positive impact by keeping the cows out.


Hanging Lake hike in Colorado.

During my time here in small town Meeker, I’ve explored quite a bit of Northwest Colorado that I wouldn’t have otherwise if it weren’t for this great opportunity that Chicago Botanic Garden has provided. The sites here are beautiful and I can’t express enough gratitude for my experiences. My advice for future CBG interns would be to explore different aspects of wherever it is you are doing your internship at, and I don’t just mean shadowing other professionals in your office, but also discovering the outdoors in your area. I’ve done a handful of hikes, including two fourteeners, camped in locations that look like they’re straight out of a Hollywood movie set, and seen animals I’ve never seen before; from tiny chipmunks to a black bear and even a mountain lion! I’ve gone duck hunting for the first time and sat in natural hot springs along the Colorado River. I hope you find your seasonal experience as fulfilling as I have mine and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Last few weeks in Susanville

Our time in Susanville has been wrapping up as the fall rains have been becoming more frequent and with that, increasing the amount of time that we have spent in the office. The roads are now wet and muddy, so it’s been difficult to get out into the field without completely trashing them. Two weeks ago, after we got a lot of rain over the weekend, we tried to go out in the field to visit some water rights, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it and had to turn around. It seemed like the road would be passable, but as soon as we started climbing up Spanish Springs Peak, we quickly realized that it wasn’t going to happen. The wheels started spinning and digging into mud and we lost traction, so all we could do was turn around and slide back down the hill. One exciting part to this adventure was that it was snowing! Snow in the desert is a stark contrast to the intense heat that we had in July, when I remember thinking that cold weather temps would never come, but here we are in late October and fall is in full swing.

To get a break from office work last week, Jocelyn and I took a work trip to the Jepson and University Herbarium at University of California Berkeley. This is the herbarium where our SOS collection vouchers are going to be kept, so instead of mailing them we took the opportunity to drive them to Berkeley and deliver them ourselves. We spent the afternoon there looking at plants of interest in the collection and learning about the organization of the herbarium, what they do there and what it is used for. I have never seen a collection of plants this large, so it felt very overwhelming and definitely a place that one could spend hours in. When we were explaining the concept of an herbarium to a friend, we described it as a museum of pressed plants, which definitely felt like an accurate description of the collection they had. At Cal they actually have two herbariums housed together, the University Herbarium has specimens from all around the world, while the Jepsen focuses on California specific specimens. I really enjoyed looking at some of the forbs that we collected this summer and ones that we have seen around the field office and on weekend trips. We looked at Clarkia lassenensis, that we collected for Krissa’s Onagracae project at the beginning of the summer. At the time of our collection the plants had already fruited, so we were fairly certain of the correct identification, but this gave us the opportunity to see the specimen in person. From what we could remember from our collection, it looks like we what we collected and the voucher matched up, although there was some variation in the leaf size from the vouchers at the herbarium. Additionally I also looked at the Mimulus guttulus, (common monkeyflower) collection and a few Castilleja sp. collections, (Indian Paintbrush). Its one thing to look at the collection photos online, but having the opportunity to actually see them in person brought our work to full circle and I am very happy that we had the opportunity to visit.


Castilleja. minata specimen that I found from 1917 !!

Our weekends have also been busy as always! Since my last blog post, we went to Desolation Wilderness, south of Lake Tahoe, for a backpacking trip. It was my first backpacking trip, which happened to be during the first snow in Tahoe! It was exciting, but also added a whole new layer of intensity to the trip. Luckily we were able to set up tents before the snow really got going and in the morning we woke up to around 2-3 inches of snow! For the rest of our hike we could see lots of animal tracks, including a few from
img_0006bears. The weekend after we finished our remaining sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail to finally complete all 165 miles of the trail, YAY! We are now part of the 165 mile club 🙂 The past two weekends have been city trips, which has felt a lot different than most of the trips we’ve done this summer.



BLM Eagle Lake, Susanville, CA


Sayonara, Susanville!

At the beginning of June I was fresh out of college with a fully packed car, ready to drive west across the country for the first time, eager to see places that had only been flat names on a map come to life, and unsure of how living in the wild west would feel. Sure enough, there were some frightening parts including rattlesnakes, marijuana gardens, forest fires, bears, and large boulders hiding behind sagebrush on barely drivable roads. Along my journey to Susanville, CA I gained a deeper appreciation for the vast expanse of our beautiful, diverse country. My first day at the office I eagerly walked in wearing a t-shirt and trail running shoes. I soon learned that the basalt rocks in Lassen county will absolutely rip your tread to shreds, and that the sun is so strong that wearing a t-shirt means you’ll be getting some irreversible tan lines. It is not possible to imagine how big the sky feels out west. Before becoming a CLM intern I’d never seen cheat grass or medusa head. The concept of a dry lake had never been illustrated to me in person. I had never gone more than three months, let alone three weeks without rain in the summer. I had also never hiked through snow pack in July, or seen flakes fall and accumulate on the first weekend in October. I have measured more JUOC trees than I ever imagined I would. I have gained a better understanding of how our land use practices have left us with the landscape we see today. I have seen how “natural” beef and wild horses can truly wreck the landscape and demolish natural springs. I have puzzled over a fair number of water rights, and wondered, how was this huge earthen dam constructed out here (and why)? I have had the pleasure of watching sage grouse flush out of the shrubs, coming across elegant Calochortus sp. blooming, witnessing pronghorn racing across the sage flats, and seeing some very cute Astragalus sp. growing in the dry sand. I have seen beautiful springs in the middle of the desert, and also helped clean up special designated shooting ranges with more shot gun shells and pieces of target clay than sage brush. I learned that unlike in the east, fences in the west are used to keep things out. I have a better understanding of range, and how trees are marked for timber cuts. My 22 weekends were spent on various trips adventuring to some of the country’s most well known outdoor recreation areas and some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The past month I have had the chance to help with education outreach and visit with 4th grade classes at Lassen county elementary schools for the Every Kid in a Park initiative from the Obama administration, which gives every 4th grader a free annual pass to visit national parks. Visiting children, telling them about what the BLM does, and getting them excited to hopefully use their park pass has been a great part of my last month here, and gives me hope that we can help encourage the next generation to cherish and care for our public lands.

Farewell Taos!

You know it’s fall in Taos when the red chilis are brought out to dry and the first snows start to blanket the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The passing of the summer into the fall is certainly not lost on me as my CLM internship draws to a close this week.

Beyond the beautiful sights and captivating wildlife witnessed while on the job, the most important part of the internship, and the part I will miss the most, will be the people I have met along the way. Too many to name within the confines of a blog post, but here are a few.

First to my roommates and fellow CLM interns; Jack and Sophie. You’d think that working and living together would be a recipe for disaster, but the fact that after 5 months in Taos we aren’t at each others throats, but instead are wonderful friends, is a true testament to their kindness and sense of humor.

Next up are Alex Traynor, Lauren Price, Allie Heller, and Paul Ahnert of the Taos AIM crew and fellow CLM’er Michelle McInnis. In addition to schooling us in life as a seasonal tech with the BLM, you also were our climbing partners, hot spring buddies, and dancing companions. I won’t soon forget our adventures in Moab, Utah or our Planet Earth screenings.

Taos SOS & AIM crews unite in Moab, Utah for the 3rd annual Biological Soil Crust Conference

…and how could I forget our supervisor, Jessa Davis! Your unique blend of humor, wit, and practicality made bearable our long days in the office and helped me along the way as a CLM intern in immeasurable ways.

One of the consolations to saying farewell to so many great people is that, by shear nature of our common spirits, I know we will cross paths once again.


This last week was brought to a close with an opportunity to give back to the community that welcomed Jack, Sophie and I when we started work in Taos last Spring. On October 24th, we helped organize and participated in a tree planting event in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. High schoolers from the Vista Grande Charter School in Taos and the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque joined forces with Southwest Conversation Corps (SCC) veterans and us at the BLM to help restore land along the rio grande corridor.

To be honest, I was expecting the high schoolers to be a bit apathetic, but I was surprised by their genuine interest in restoration. The group I worked with slaved feverishly to dig an 11” deep hole in which to plant a cottonwood sapling. No joke — these kids were insane diggers!


Here’s a photo of me looking a bit over-eager when planting a cottonwood sapling with the kiddos (photo credit: Jim O’Donnell)

At the closing of the ceremony I gave a brief talk about career opportunities in conservation and (of course) mentioned the CLM internship. After me, one of the SCC veterans gave an impassioned speech how conservation work helped her transition from active duty in Afghanistan to civilian life in the states. Another young man talked about how the lives of native people are inseparably connected to the land and closed our ceremony with a Navajo mountain song.


All the great people who came together for the event (photo credit: Jim O’Donnell)

Participating in this event, with some of the people I have gotten to know so closely over the past few months, was the perfect way to close out the field season.

This winter I’ll be working as a teaching assistant as the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colorado. Look me up in the CLM directory and hit me up if you happen to be in the area!

Farewell Taos! – Jack