November Post (my last)

This month has been such a blur since time went by so fast again. One thing I’m glad I was able to learn this month was how to drive a large tractor with a bat wing mower attached. What we wanted to do was a mow a certain portion of the preserve that is commonly flooded during the winter season. The purpose of this was to create additional habitat for birds such as egrets and cranes. Two egrets actually came by and foraged approximately 20 feet of where I was mowing!

Another fun thing I did this month was installed our “Cosumnes River Preserve” sign. This thing is huge and it required a four man team to installed it. We had to bring in a backhoe and attach it to toe straps to hoist it up and manuever it towards the post. One of the more memorable assignments during my internship!

Left to right: Mark (our wildlife biologist), me, and Robin (one of our amazing volunteers).

Left to right: Mark (our wildlife biologist), me, and Robin (one of our amazing volunteers).

Many of the broadleaf weeds such as yellow mustard, wild radish, and milk thistle are starting to emerge as rosettes and a large portion of what I did this month is herbicide application. The type of herbicide to be used depends on the goal. Since we’re only targeting broadleaf weeds and not grass, we can only use only Garlon 3A. Any residues of Roundup left over in the previous pesticide tank is diluted and disposed of before we can start with a fresh batch of Garlon. What Roundup will do is that it will wipe all the plant species including grass species which we’re trying to preserve. The equipment that has been used lately is the UTV and sometimes ATV for the herbicide application. I enjoy cruising along on the ATV, the only downfall is that it’s strapped with herbicide.

We recently moved back into our visitor center. During the move, we came across some vandalism such as broken fire lane signs and damaged displays. Another volunteer and I worked on these repairs and many other touch ups for the building and its surrounding area to make things safer.

We’ve been also setting out squirrel traps for the resident ground squirrels around our facilities. Another part of my job has been to capture and relocate squirrels to areas where they are no longer a nuisance. So far we’ve captured and relocated four individuals.

Nothing super exciting went on this month, but it’s work that needs to be done.

Chau Tran

Epilogue: An Epic Footnote in CLM Internship History

(Curtains Open)…..

Hello Everyone!! This is it!! The Season Finale!! For the past four field seasons, I have been all over the West looking for plants, birds, and various ecosystems. Here are some fun facts from my past and present internships.

a.) I worked in temperatures ranging from 26°F to 110°F!

b.) Most of my internships were in sagebrush steppe, but I had the opportunity to work in mountain tundra, forests, riparian landscapes, wetlands, dunes, deserts, grasslands, badlands, talus regions, pastureland, and ephemeral springs.

c.) I saw some of the most amazing plants and animals during my internships. Some of my favorite plants were seen in Burns, Oregon! Leiberg’s clover (Trifolium leibergii) was my favorite plant to monitor out West! If you google search the plant, you could see my picture of it in the images section. One of the rarest plants I encountered was the Malheur Wire Lettuce (Stephanomeria malheurensis). The wire lettuce would only grow on a very small flatland area where there was tuff and limestone parent rock.

Leiberg's clover (Trifolium leibergii)! My favorite rare plant to monitor!

Leiberg’s clover (Trifolium leibergii)! My favorite rare plant to monitor!

d.) Fifty percent of the time, the towns I stayed in for my internships were on fire at one point. (Burns, Oregon and Wenatchee, Washington had fires within city limits.)

One example of when Wenatchee caught on fire!

One example of when Wenatchee caught on fire!

e.) Every place I worked, I was fortunate to see the greater sage grouse  (Centrocercus urophasianus)

f.) I loved working with song birds and game birds, but monitoring golden eagles in Wenatchee was an amazing opportunity! Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) built nests in the craziest locations in central and north-central Washington. Viewing the eagles feeding, taking care of their young, and protecting their territory was great to see! Even during the intense fire season, the eaglets did not seem to mind.

Sage grouse!! They might not be the smartest birds, but they are one of the most spectacular birds I had the privilege to meet!

Sage grouse!! They might not be the smartest birds, but they were one of the most spectacular birds I had the privilege to meet!

g.) Buffalo, Wyoming provided plenty of different job opportunities to fill my resume! One of my favorite jobs (beyond AIM and S&G monitoring) was doing NISIMS. I hiked in hostile back country for over 200 miles looking for salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvensis), and different bromes (Bromus).

Salt cedar being devious.

Salt cedar being devious.

Internship Accomplishments

2013-2016 Conservation of Land Management Internship for the Bureau of Land Management

  • Performed a vast number of plant surveys in central Oregon, Northeastern Wyoming, and central Washington.
  • Monitored rare plant species.
  • Evaluated weathering and erosion of soils within specific study areas.
  • Created multiple maps with the use of GPS systems and ArcGIS.
  • Photographed a variety of landscapes, fauna, and flora for documentation efforts.
  • Updated plant databases.
  • Developed powerpoint presentations for plant identification.
  • Created geodatabases and shapefiles for GPS systems.
  • Digitized field collected data.
  • Worked with Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access to create graphs and               reports from statistical data collected over the present and past field seasons.
  • Monitored invasive shrubs and grasses in forested, sagebrush, and high desert communities.

2013 Field Season in Hines/ Burns, Oregon (Additional Experience)

  • Performed ES&R/Vegetation monitoring for numerous post fire studies in Harney County.
  • Monitored and documented invasive species with the study areas.
  • Evaluated landscape dynamics and erosion processes.
  • Performed rare plant monitoring surveys.
  • Co-authored several ES&R reports.
  • Surveyed mule deer populations.
On top of the Steens near Burns, Oregon! This place had the most unique plants! The Alvord Desert was near by! This area had many interesting rocks and unique plants as well!

On top of the Steens near Burns, Oregon! This place had the most unique plants! The Alvord Desert was near by! That area had many interesting rocks and unique plants as well!

2014 Field Season in Buffalo, Wyoming (Additional Experience)

  • Performed vegetation monitoring in many allotments across Northeastern Wyoming.
  • Used a number of survey methods to assess greater sage grouse habitat.
  • Performed bird surveys in the Wilderness Study Area.
  • Documented plant, amphibians, bat and invertebrate species for Wyoming Wildlife databases.
  • Collected seeds for the Seeds of Success Program.
  • Worked on the Powder River Basin Restoration. We would evaluate the landscape after a fire and prepare restoration guidelines to develop ideal habitat for greater sage grouse and other sagebrush bird species.
  • Helped with habitat restoration to preserve the sagebrush ecosystem and eliminate   unwanted invasive plants.
  • Organized and maintained databases that would be used for future monitoring efforts and report writing.
This was taken in the Fortification Creek WSA in the Buffalo Field Office! This place had amazing wildlife!

This was taken in the Fortification Creek WSA in the Buffalo Field Office! This place had amazing wildlife!

2015 Field Season in Wenatchee, Washington (Additional Experience)

  • Helped with the capturing and tagging of sage grouse and pygmy rabbit.
  • Monitored golden eagle and peregrine falcon nests.
  • Monitored for Washington ground squirrel.
  • Worked with NISIMS: Monitored specifically for invasive plants on BLM land.
  • Mapped invasive plants using ArcGIS and the GPS.
  • Completed rangeland health assessments. Recorded rangeland indicators, worked with rangeland improvements, and completed soil testing.
  • Worked with line point intercept that included plant identification, plant density, and canopy gap.
  • Helped out with Seeds of Success: Searched for plant populations and collected.
The Dune System near the Saddle Mountains in Washington! This place had a hidden eagle nest that was hard to find! This place had an incredible dune system full of specialized animals. Bonus, the top section of the mountains had opal and petrified wood!

The dune system near the Saddle Mountains in Washington! This place had a hidden eagle nest that was hard to find! This place had an incredible dune system full of specialized animals. Bonus, the top section of the mountains had opal and petrified wood! Also, around 11:00am, jet planes would fly through the area!

2016 Field Season in Buffalo, Wyoming (Additional Experience)

  • Worked on an extensive remote sensing/ supervised classification project involving cheatgrass and landcover detection in the Powder River Basin.
  • Worked on vectorization, georeferencing, and digitizing GIS projects.
  • Updated GIS files, documents, and geodatabases.
  • Documenting, labeling, and categorizing large maps, slides, and aerial photography for the Buffalo Field Office Library.
  • Performed AIM vegetation monitoring with the Buffalo Field Office and University of Wyoming.
  • Performed extensive song bird, sage grouse and nest surveys with the Buffalo Field Office and the University of Wyoming.
  • Worked with NISIMS: Documented remaining salt cedar, leafy spurge, North Africa grass, and other invasive plant populations on BLM Land.
  • Helped out with multiple education opportunities and community outreach through the Buffalo BLM Recreation Department.
This place was the Hat Ranch Allotment! I believe we are looking at the Spearfish Formation (red sandstone). Also, this area had the Sundance Formation, which was a high yield fossil site!

This place was the Hat Ranch Allotment! I believe we are looking at the Spearfish Formation (red sandstone). Also, this area had the Sundance Formation, which was a high yield fossil formation!

Present Interns I worked with…
I have had the great opportunity to work with other CLM interns on this internship! All of them definitely worked very hard during the Summer time to get their work done! I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with them to their sites and see what they do for work! Some of the places and jobs they did have were very interesting.

Nick and Corinne mostly spent their time monitoring in the southern Bighorn Mountains doing site evaluations and rangeland monitoring. They did go to other places such as the Gillette Area and along the Powder River Basin. The southern Bighorns were beautiful!! All of the past rangeland interns would love to do vegetation monitoring around there! The geology and the plant diversity was incredible! Corinne and Nick were always hard at work, taking the truck and UTV on back country roads to very obscure, in the middle of nowhere site plots. It was always an adventure to go out to see what they were doing. I also went with them to brush up on my plants and monitoring skills. Some sites had very bizarre plants that were challenging to identify, but both of the rangeland interns were able to identify everything. Nick and Corinne were very helpful when I was doing NISIMS. I would take them out near VanHouten Draw and show them how to look for weeds and record them in the Trimble GPS device. (Even though Trimble GPS devices will be replaced by phones soon) They were able to complete the monitoring season with no issues and they were able to monitor most of the sites they were given!

Nick, Damen, and Corinne!

Nick, Damen, and Corinne!

Damen spent most of his time going to various back country roads, finding if the back country roads were really roads or just cow trails. He also went to many recreation areas and did site visits with his mentor. Damen had many skills that he applied to his internship! He used education for many of the outreach programs. He even gave me some very helpful tips when teaching younger kids! Beyond his education and recreation skills, he was great at writing reports and using various computer software to complete jobs for the BLM.

All of us worked very hard over the Summer and we learned a lot from each other. After work, we would get together for various celebrations, mostly birthdays, and talk about Bighorn trails, field stories, politics, fishing, and work! We would usually have a big cake for these events. (Like ice cream cake, picture cake, cupcakes, and quarter section cakes!) Sometimes we may catch a movie later in the week!

Overall, I am very happy that I was able to work with very capable and hardworking CLM interns! I learned from each one of them as they contributed their expertise to field work! I wish them all the best in their future endeavors!

Interview with Krissa and Rebecca

How you’ve grown personally and professionally?

Wow! Four field season’s worth of experience! Usually the max amount of internships would be three, unless a particular field office would want you back for a specific reason. My last internship was supposed to be Wenatchee, Washington (last field season). I learned that the Buffalo Field Office was looking for a GIS/ Remote Sensing seasonal to complete the cheatgrass project. I quickly asked if I could fill in as a seasonal, which they agreed. I still got funded under CLM as an intern, but they gave me higher priority responsibilities that other BLM employees usually work on.

The past three field seasons have given me plenty of experiences that made my resume glow! I had botany, wildlife biology, landscape restoration, natural areas management, GIS, weed management, and rare plant monitoring to name a few jobs that I did within three years. One thing I wished I had more experience with was GIS and song bird monitoring. Luckily, this final internship filled that space! I had plenty of GIS and bird surveying opportunities to make my internship very well rounded, specific, and not all over the place.

Looking at Melilotus and Bromus infestations in ArcMap.

Looking at Melilotus and Bromus infestations in ArcMap.

The Buffalo BLM field office gave me projects that normally other employees would work on. I was a bit nervous, because I would not want to let them down. Plus, I am working in the Big Leagues now. If I had a future job, I would be exactly doing these kinds of work related tasks. I feel confident in my GIS and remote sensing capabilities. I am very strong in a number of analyses, techniques, and Boolean statements within the GIS program. One thing I still need to work on would be GIS computer script. Beyond GIS, I was very confident in my navigation, survival, and timing skills when I was out in the field doing vegetation monitoring and NISIMS. NISIMS was extremely tough! I had to walk in 100°F weather in hostile terrain. With the skills I picked up in the previous internships, I was able to survive whatever VanHouthen and Burgher Draw threw at me!

Spiny Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) was one of the rarer NISIMS plants I encountered. P.S. Do not walk into this plant.

Spiny Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) was one of the rarer NISIMS plants I encountered in VanHouten Draw. Also, this was one of the many dangers you could encounter there. Seriously, these burs were not friendly.

I was able to work with my communication skills in the most unlikely places. I was able to teach and lecture in four different school groups ranging from K-12. I had meetings with the higher officials in the NOC and state office in regards to why I was using up a lot of memory and bandwidth on the server for my cheatgrass project. Those phone conferences were interesting and they provided me with experience with in having to explain myself, the project I am working on, and how everything would be alright at the end. Apparently, I succeeded with this, because they did not call after a while. Another communication opportunity was to speak with the BLM Staff and employees about my cheatgrass project. Usually, my presentations would be exciting and interesting, but when you are talking about GIS applications and remote sensing, it could be a bit dry. I was able to show the data, the analyses that were used, and how this data would benefit everyone! In the end of the presentation, I had a lengthy discussion with the employees about the overall project, which was always a good sign.

Overall, the final internship helped build my GIS experience, communication skills, my teaching skills, and my bird identification skills. I am really happy with the results from this internship. With all of these opportunities, I would definitely be able to get a very nice job working for the Federal or Private Sector job market!

What are some new skills that you have gained on your internship?

This internship provided me with plenty of “jack of all trade” skills and experiences. My main experiences were GIS, field work, or bird survey related.

Diane and Courtney ( GIS BLM Legends) gave me various small projects to accomplish in between field work and major projects. I definitely learned more about remote sensing applications in ArcGIS. Diane allowed me to attend many of the GIS training days, where I was able to help out other BLM employees and learn new applications and GIS skills. I even attended a GIS seminar in town where we learned about GIS involvement with oil and gas projects. Along the lines of GIS and remote sensing topics, I learned many interesting skills in regards to drones and their applications. During the early Spring, I used my CLM funds to attend a Drone (UAV) Conference in Laramie, Wyoming. When I was at the conference, I learned about all of the new drones and data collection software that was being used in military and academic settings. I got to fly and accidentally crash a drone in the process. ^_^; (Not a highlight) The conference provided me plenty of opportunity to network with people and learn about potential software programs I may be using for work!

One of the large UAV/ drones I encountered!

One of the large UAV/ drones I encountered!

During the Early Spring and Summer seasons, I was able to travel with three wildlife biologists. One project was to count sharp tailed and sage grouse on various leks sites in our field office with BLM Legend Chris. I learned about the counting process and how that data transferred into reports. I accompanied BLM Legend Don in the field two times to do song bird monitoring along the different roads near Arvada and Recluse, Wyoming. I got to sharpen my songbird song skills and learn how to identify birds by their flight. Don was very knowledgeable and I was able to learn a lot from him. I got to help BLM Legend Wyatt with bird banding and mist netting. This was a trial and error experience for me, but the other ornithologists were patient. Catching cliff swallows was very hard to accomplish, especially when the bridge over a river was very tall. Learning how to untangle the birds, handle them, and band them was like an art for some people. Hopefully in the future I will get better at banding birds.

Sage grouse strutting his stuff.

Sage grouse strutting his stuff.

This internship provided me with more field work skills. My navigation skills have been improved and I am able to navigate through difficult terrain with ease, especially after doing data collection with NISIMS. I was able to learn new plants when I was with the Range staff and interns when we were doing S&Gs. Some of the plants up in the Bighorn Mountains were rather odd, because they had to adapt to a different climate and precipitation level. For example, a large Lithospermum species in the badlands area east of town may develop different growing habits and shape structure up in the mountain peaks of the Bighorns. I really had to use the taxonomic key to find out about some of the tricky plants. Sometimes, I worked backwards where I just looked at a genus instead of starting from the beginning of the taxonomic key.

Sagebrush/ Mariposa Lily (Calochortus spp.)

Sagebrush/ Mariposa Lily (Calochortus spp.)

What are some learning experiences that stand out to you?

There were three experiences that stand out to me during the term of this internship.

Experience 1: The End of the Cheatgrass Project
Working on the cheatgrass supervised classification project had been a definite learning experience in regards to real world applications of GIS. Using different ArcMap tools had been a tough, yet rewarding experience. I spent hours upon hours of just processing data. After months of processing and supervised classification, extracting data through algorithms and arithmetic have been challenging and very tedious at times. After mapping the processed data and ground truthing the results, the final product had turned out to be very successful. This large project in itself was a huge learning experience and I am very happy on how everything turned out. Plus, I got to use applications I used in my college education!

Experience 2: Educating People at Welch Recreation Area

Each age group of people has been an experience. My main background in education was College Academia. Having to rework lesson plans for people ranging from Elementary to High School Level had been tough. Fortunately, I was able to reach out and educate all the students. Teaching about rocks, vegetation monitoring, birds, insects, and plants had various hurdles. I quickly picked up on what the students were interested in and developed short lectures with field applications for everyone to work on. I enjoyed this experience, but I could see how teachers for K-12 must have patience, endurance, and street smarts when working with these children.

Experience 3: Helping Sara Burns with Vegetation monitoring

 No matter how long you worked in the field or the experience you develop over time in regards to vegetation monitoring, there would be always something new to learn or see. Plant taxonomy would always be changing and you would have to refresh yourself at the beginning of each season with grasses and forbs. Helping Sara with her Master’s project has had its challenges. Not only did I have to learn a new vegetation monitoring system, but I had to think outside of the box when monitoring reclamation sites. These sites had some of the weirdest weeds and vascular plants that were not in the taxonomy books of Wyoming. I had to look at other taxonomy books in states outside of Wyoming to find out about various Brassicaceae, Chenopodiaceae, and Asteraceae weeds that would grow in disturbed areas.

Sara Burns looking at various plants.

Sara Burns looking at various plants.

What were some rewarding experiences/memories of your internship?

There were three experiences that stand out to me during the term of this internship…..

Experience 1: Surviving Salt Cedar Monitoring

This experience had been one of the most rewarding trials of my internship. I walked over two hundred miles of drainage, draws, riparian landscapes, and badland regions looking for salt cedar. Thunderstorms, quicksand, fields of thistle, rabbit excrement piles, rattlesnakes, high temperatures,  and barbed wire fencing were just a few of the hurdles I had to endure when working with NISIMS in the draws east of Buffalo, Wyoming. When I was done with the entire project, I was able to fall back and treat myself to a few fishing flies to celebrate this huge task. Completing the project was one of the most rewarding experiences beyond vegetation monitoring.

Sorry salt cedar...your days are numbered!

Sorry salt cedar…your days are numbered!

Experience 2: Getting Done with Supervised Classification

Completing the cheatgrass project had been extremely rewarding for me. Not only did I use my college education and past field experiences to complete the project, but I learned about many other techniques that could be applied for my future work! Finishing the project on a successful note lifted a huge burden off my shoulders. The results were satisfying to everyone, so I was very happy on how everything turned out in the end.

Experience 3: Finding Bird Nests

One of the toughest tasks of this internship was finding active bird nests with the University of Wyoming. You would think it would be easy to find bird nests, but you would be dead wrong. Vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri), and western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) bird nests were incredibly tough to find. Luckily, I did find a few active nests. Even finding one nest in a day was extremely satisfying and rewarding!

Found an active nest!!

Found an active nest!!

What were some expectations that were or were not met?

My main goal with this internship was to be able to help out as many people as possible and accomplish any major project that was given to me. My mentor, Janelle, expected me to finish the remote sensing cheatgrass project as a priority project, afterwards I could help out with other BLM Legends with their work. The remote sensing project took a few months to complete, and I was able to successful complete the project. I was able to provide information and valuable data for the field office to use in the future for reports and land management projects. I was very happy with myself that I was given more advance work to do and be able to complete everything without any major setbacks. After completing the major remote sensing project, I was free to help out with bird surveying, GIS projects, BLM Recreational education sessions, vegetation monitoring, and office organization projects. All my expectations for this internship were met and I was very glad that all my goals were met by the end of the internship. This internship was a real resume builder, that was for sure!

Dear Present CLM Interns

Good Day, Present CLM Interns!

You might be asking yourself right now, “Hey! I am in the office right now and my internship has been extended through the Winter. What is there to do?” For some interns Winter Season could be very busy with projects or it could be the complete opposite! In the desert areas, there probably is plenty of SOS projects or vegetation surveys. In mountainous, forested, or sagebrush areas in the North, work may be harder to come by. I will give you a couple of tips you could use for your internship along with your office work projects.

  • Make Lists and Databases: One thing that is definitely beneficial for yourself, your field office, and future interns would be to make lists and databases. If you are a SOS or a vegetation monitor, you may want to develop powerpoints and excel spreadsheets on the plants in your field office. Here are some ideas for potential powerpoint and excel projects.
    1. Develop a plant guide for trees and shrubs, grasses/ sedge, forb families, Plants of Concern, SOS plants, or a weed guide: List the common name, latin name, habitat, description of the plant, and an interesting fact. (Add pictures of the plant as well). This may seem like a massive project, but it would help many people down the road in your field office or state. You might just want to work on a small powerpoint of plants that you struggled with. If you create a powerpoint guide on grasses, sedges, and rushes in your area, many future interns would thank you! Sometimes creating specialized powerpoints for specific genus like Lomatium, Eriogonum or Astragalus may help out a lot. Sometimes these plants may be confusing or hard to tell apart and making a printable powerpoints for future interns may be great.
      1. If you make a species guide for what dried grasses and forbs look like in your field office in late Summer, many future interns would thank you and you would win the Noble Prize.
    2. For wildlife biologists, the same kind of powerpoints guides may be applied to fish, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other animals.
    3. For those of you who specialize on lichen and mushrooms for monitoring and research, a powerpoint guide or spreadsheet would be very necessary and helpful to future interns and the public.
    4. Excel Spreadsheets that list all of the plants or animals in your field office would be a great guide for future interns as well!
  • Learn New Skills: Since you may have more time, you might want to add more skills to your resume. You might want to learn various GIS applications for example. If you work for the Department of Interior, there are classes you could take to boost your skill levels in GIS and other related programs on DOI Learn. If you are looking for different projects to do outside your priority projects, ask your advisor for other projects relating GIS or other software programs. This would help build variety in your Winter work schedule.
  • Learn from other Employees: During the Winter time, you could shadow different employees at your work! (If it is alright with your advisor) Sometimes you might want to take a day or two off your regular work and learn what other employees do for their work. Shadowing someone would be beneficial for you if you want to learn new skills or learn how different jobs work.
  • The most important thing you could do after doing your main job would be to make the transition to the next generation of interns easier. For example in the past, I would develop a few reports on what to do for future interns. Some of my internships, I learned the hard way on finding resources or knowing where specific plant populations are. Writing reports on locations of various populations would save many hours of searching for future interns. Providing a list of phone numbers, contacts, and local organizations would help a lot! Even writing a letter for future interns may be very nice to develop, so they could get a sense of what to do the first few weeks and following field season.


Thank you!!

I wanted to thank everyone who read or skimmed read my past blogs! (Especially my family and friends who provided extra input when I shared the blog on social media.) I know some of my blogs were super long, but there were many activities happening each week and I wanted to give present and future interns an idea of what I do! ^_^ I wish everyone a successful future and good luck!!

(Fun Fact: Each blog usually takes 3-6 hours to plan, write, and organize. I take blog writing seriously!)

Moment of Zen

Castilleja species

Castilleja species.

(Curtains Close…)

Plants and People: the final chapter

It has taken me a long time to write my final post; I thought that this would be the easiest to compose, but it has turned out to be the hardest. In short, this internship was an amazing experience. It was the best I could have hoped for – I had a great time working with my team, made many new friends, and adventured in the Alaskan wilderness in my free time.

First, a huge thank you to the Chicago Botanic Garden and the CLM internship program for this opportunity. I also want to thank my mentor and co-workers – I had a blast working with you all! And finally, thanks to all of the other great people that I met along way.

Conducting an internship at a national park was an even more complex and dynamic experience than I had imagined. National parks and other protected lands are integral places that are rooted in not only breathtaking landscapes, but also often contain hidden histories and rich cultural backgrounds. Working at Wrangell-St. Elias NPP, I was plunged into an environment consisting of abandoned mining areas, tensions with local residents, and long histories with old homesteaders and Native Alaskans. One of the most meaningful aspects of this internship was the opportunity to interact with so many different people and places.

Thanks to the recommendation from CLM intern Sophie, I began reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer towards the end of my field season. I was immediately struck by how applicable the content was to my own experiences during this internship. Her teachings on the inextricable link between plants and people especially resonated with me. I think that the majority of us as CLM interns already understand at least a small part of the importance of this relationship, or we wouldn’t be here today. My time in Alaska gave me room to consider my own relationship with plants and with land. Admittedly it was a very emotional transition; I felt such a strong connection to the natural world of the North, even though I had been there such a short amount of time. My position on the EPMT (exotic plant management team) took me to many regions of untouched backcountry. Rather than experience desolation or panic (which was plausible as I was born a city girl), these were some of the most peaceful times I have experienced.

It is easy to become disconnected from the land that we live on. I have always loved the Northwest and have felt a sense of “home” for many years. But being in Alaska challenged my (in many ways) static relationship with land. So many of the people that I met had such a strong relationship with the Alaskan wilderness that irrevocably changed not only how I see natural systems, but broadened my perception to how my own relationships could be. The symbiotic dynamic between people and land often becomes grossly uneven, resulting in much more “take” from the land. Kimmerer and many of the people I talked to reminded me of a much healthier and prosperous relationship where there is much more even distribution between what is taken and given. Largely as a culture we need to remember our connection to our ecosystems; our forests, deserts, etc. In order to enact and perpetuate efficient and effective conservation, people need to shift how they perceive the land they occupy.

I remain passionate for conservation, and certainly have a broader and more well-informed notion of the complex mechanisms that go into it. Working for a national park and preserve allowed me to be at a fulcrum point for people and plants. I hope to continue to work towards further understanding this dynamic relationship, and I want to continue to do this by working for similar organizations such as the park service. I don’t know exactly where I want to go from here, but as long as I am among plants, I will be happy.

Signing off,

Natalie Balkam

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

A Farewell to Colorado

The past four months I spent living and working around the Northwest region of Colorado has been a rather unique learning experience for me.  It has helped me better understand myself, regarding what I do and do not enjoy doing in a professional setting, and therefore, a more clear understanding of what my career goals are.  On top of that, I have learned and improved a number of important skills while working here.  I had to re-learn the ability to identify plants, as it is definitely one of those “use it or lose it” skills, and I had been out of practice for some time.  I think it is similar to learning a foreign language, in that there is a lot of vocabulary to familiarize yourself with before you can fluidly understand what a key is telling you to look for.

The other skill I had a lot of practice with and became proficient in was data management.  The majority of my internship was dedicated to getting plots done, as we were behind in the goal number of 35 that had been set for our team.  We ended up not only reaching, but exceeding this goal and completed 40 plots for the year.  However, this left us with a considerable amount of data management to catch up on after the field season was over.  In the time it took, I had lots of experience and became pretty confident with the DIMA database system in Microsoft Access as well as becoming more comfortable and efficient in Excel.  I know this doesn’t necessarily sound like fun, and a lot of the time it was pretty tedious, but familiarizing and being comfortable in these programs is definitely something I am glad to have had the opportunity to do.  It’s one thing to have a class where a task is set for you to accomplish in a program like Excel and then be graded on it; it’s another pressure altogether to have real data that you collected and need to organize using that program, so that it correlates correctly with other teams and can be used for making decisions.

Throughout the internship, one of the cooler aspects was how much I was able to travel.  The nature of the job meant we were driving to a new location almost every day, and many times it would be far off any road or trail as well.  This meant the hiking could be a challenge at times, but it often led us to some pretty amazing and remote locations.

img_20161005_175633796_hdr  img_20161102_135138509_hdr

Near the end of my internship, I had one of my more memorable experiences. My co-worker and I were sitting in the office going through plants and data, as we had been for a couple weeks, when the office Wildlife Biologist came in the door and asked if we could help him catch a goat.  He was not joking.  A domestic goat had broken free, as it was around the time of the rut, and he had been spotted by several people along one of the main roads in the area.  On the surface this seemed rather benign and not something of great importance.  However, if he came into contact with the local bighorn sheep population he could very likely infect them with a disease.  He was a breed of goat from the old world and probably carried many diseases that the wild sheep of Colorado had never been introduced to, similar to the Europeans infecting the native peoples of the Americas with a host of diseases they had never been exposed to.  The bighorn sheep herd is quite small as well, only numbering around 40, so a stochastic event such as this could potentially wipe them out.  Given this information, it became clear we needed to find and wrangle ourselves a goat as soon as possible.

We ventured out in the truck and searched the areas where he had been seen with little luck.  Then around noon or so we were coming back from hiking a trail along the Colorado river, got in the truck and were backing out to turn around when the Wildlife Biologist looked up and low and behold there he was standing proud on the ridge nearby.  He was a stout, 150 pound, proper Billy goat, with a long beard and huge curling horns.  I’m going to be honest, as we approached him I was a little anxious at the possibility of him charging.  I can’t say I’ve had much experience with goats and the thought that this one was all riled up for the rut didn’t give me much comfort.  We began to try and herd him with the three of us as best we could, as well as luring him in with some carrots we had for lunch, but it soon became clear we did not have a real plan as to how to secure him in the bed of the truck even if we did manage to get him up there.  We nearly had him at one point with a sandwich bag, but he didn’t like the loud cars along the road and as soon as one would pass by he was running for the hills.  The Colorado Parks and Wildlife members were on their way, but they weren’t going to be there for some time, so we decided the best thing would be to just make sure he didn’t venture too far from the road.  We eventually got him to lay down and sat with him for about two hours as we waited.  The crew grew quite a liking for him in that time; beside the stench, he was a pretty docile and friendly goat.

img_20161031_125649440 goat3goat

Parks and Wildlife eventually showed up and, after a clown show of chasing him and trying to get a lasso around his horns, we were able to thankfully get him in the horse trailer without hurting him.  After that it was decided that until someone claimed him, he would reside in our ware yard, also known as the office parking lot, that was fenced in.  He was there for about two days and escaped a couple times with people going in and out, but it was pretty awesome to have a goat hanging out in the parking lot.  Eventually it was found that he didn’t belong to any of the local farmers and was actually being transported through the area by someone who had gotten him off of a craigslist add.  I know this whole story sounds ridiculous, but I am not making this up.  With this knowledge, a home was found for Billy, as he became known, one that had 200 acres of land for him to roam and spend the rest of his days happily grazing.  All of this was going on during the World Series as well, while the Cubs were still down 3-2 in the series, so was it an omen? Who knows, but it was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.



Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

As I reflect on this past year, I have a lot to be thankful for. I had a satisfying and fun final semester at university and got to say proper goodbyes to most of my friends before graduation. I am thankful my parents provided me with a car to use during my internship and that everything fit in that car for the drive. I’m thankful that the other Lander interns started a week after me and I was lonely and bold enough to strike up conversations in the grocery store. I’m thankful Lannie was one of those people and that she became a good friend and mentor during my time in Lander. I’m thankful for the CLM Internship not only for the training and the interesting job but for bringing me to Lander, a wonderful town full of wonderful people in a wonderful landscape. I am thankful for the many people in this town who left me with this impression through their kindness and humor. I’m especially thankful for Lara, who worked with me all day, every day then shared an apartment with me, and we still got along well at the end. I’m also thankful for Abby, who was the best roommate I’ve every had, despite not knowing each other beforehand and having to deal with a lack of storage space. I’m thankful again to my parents for currently storing my stuff and being somewhat supportive of me traveling with friends before the holidays. I’m thankful to my friend Ellery and her family for welcoming me into their home for the second Thanksgiving in a row. And I’m thankful for Ellery and Ryan, my college friends who are still willing to go exploring with me.

If you made it through that massive block of text, woohoo! Here’s some pictures!


Lara on our way to Wind River Peak


Bridges at Arches


A porcupine in the Bighorns!


A lovely afternoon in the Bighorns

The internship. Where does one start? Lander? Lander was the first place to feel like home in nearly 5 years. It is the only home I have had to leave with no active plan to return. This is the highest praise I can give a place.

The responsibilities? I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but I was not surprised by any of it. The work was varied and interesting – we got to work on botany, wildlife, range, fuels, and archaeology projects. We learned and followed SOS protocols, including herbarium preparation. We struggled with plant key terms for the first couple of weeks, then became rather practiced at using Dorn. We drove on ridiculous 2-tracks and fought ridiculous winds. We bonded over difficult hours spent on 1 seed/fruit collections and breezed through the 50 seeds/fruit collections. We completed oddball plant and wildlife surveys. We hiked through canyons and up mountains. We spent a week and a half digging holes and planting sagebrush. Sometimes we tried to kill time – that’s how I started to help with the NEPA Environmental Assessment documents. Perhaps the most useful part of the internship was being in the BLM office. I didn’t get to work with everyone, but I got a solid understanding of what everyone did and now I know I would rather perform active research than manage public lands. In all, it was an adventure.

A cool spider in Yellowstone!

A cool spider in Yellowstone!

Waterfalls in the Bighorns

Waterfalls in the Bighorns

Treacherous trail in the Wind River range

Treacherous trail in the Wind River range

Lander, I’ll see you again!

Five months of field work in photos

June: Training at the North Carolina Botanic Garden (NCBG), group field day at Connetquot River State Park, training/camping trip in Delaware and New Jersey, and our first few scouting trips in Long Island.

My coworkers and I posing as carnivorous plants during our training at the North Carolina Botanic Garden (NCBG).

A delicious breakfast at the NCBG training.

My coworkers, Gio and Barbara, in the Connetquot River on our first field day. Most of us newbies swamped our boots.

Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) on a beach in Delaware. Definitely a top contender for prettiest native plant of the field season.

Some cool bones on a beach dune in Delaware.

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) in the Delaware woods. This plant is parasitic so it has no need for chlorophyll (the chemical used in photosynthesis that makes photosynthetic plants green).

A rare orchid, the snakemouth orchid (Pogonia ophioglossoides), in a bog in New Jersey.

More orchids in the magical NJ bog – this was one of those sights that makes up for the heat, bugs, and exhaustion. 

In addition to orchids, there were carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia sp)!

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in some New Jersey woods. Kalmia was one of the first plants we learned to identify, and one of the lasts plants we collected (it was ripe in mid-November).

A grove of white cedar trees (Chamaedaphne thyoides) in New Jersey.

Blooming common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in a New Jersey field – we collected milkweed’s fluffy pods later in October.

We stayed in a hotel the last night of our 7-day camping trip – I was very happy to be in a real bed again.

Virginia glasswort (Salicornia depressa) at Cow Meadow Park – the first site my field partner and I scouted on our own. We found out later that glasswort is edible (it’s called sea bean in the culinary world), but very salty.

July: More scouting, more rare plants, and our first independent collections in Long Island.

A salt marsh path in Seatuck National Wildlife Refuge from which we collected black grass (Juncus gerardii).

A rare eastern spotted box turtle (Terrapene carolina).

An ant stuck in a rare carnivorous thread-leaved sundew plant (Drosera filiformis)!

Rare carnivorous horned bladderworts (Utricularia cornuta).

Meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica) at Sears Bellows County Park. We collected this species here in September.

Our black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) collection from Connetquot River State Park.

August-September: more scouting and collecting.

The beautiful crimson-eyed rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) at Merrill Lake Sanctuary.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) at Conscience Point National Wildlife Refuge.

A boquet of marsh lavendar (Limonium carolinianum) and salt marsh fox glove (Agalinis maritima) in Wading River Marsh.

Patridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciulata) at Scallop Pond Preserve.

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sp.) – unfortunately I didn’t realize this fungus is edible and delicious until later!

My field partner, Emily, by the fish hatchery during our lunch break at Connetquot River State Park.

Me, quite content, collecting American sea rocket (Cakile edentula) at Nickerson Beach.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) at Welwyn Preserve – I ate some of the delicious fruits on my birthday, but got a few prickles in the process.

A monarch caterpillar on the leaves of some common milkweed we were collecting.

October: some quality time in the office, then back into the field.

I spend a week and a half in the office after getting a laceration in a salt marsh from some broken glass, and I spend a lot of quality time with the office cat, Miss Kitty.

I also made lots of herbarium vouchers, including this woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus) specimen.

Finally back in the field! Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and woolly beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) by a nice, bleavhed crab exoskeleton at Cupsogue Beach.

Dune Rd in Westhampton floods twice a day with each high tide. It was an interesting adventure to drive through.

The seed heads of some rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) I collected at Cupsogue Beach.

November: our last collections of the season.

A beautiful fall view at Gardiner County Park.


Another beautiful fall view, at Caleb Smith State Park.

Some very late blooming American sea rocket (Cakile edentula) in Accaounauc Harbor.

Cakiles late-blooming buddy, evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), also in Accabonauc Habor.

Eastern groundselbush (Baccharis halimifolia) fluff.

The 6PM sunset on our last day in the field.

Thanks for the great experience CLM. I hope my readers have enjoyed my posts and learned a few things about plants!



We’re basically truck drivers

My last collecting trip has come and gone, but by no means was it as sad as the overall feeling here at the North Carolina Botanical Garden with the impending end to our internship. We wanted to go out with a bang, and I feel like we really did. It’s surprising too, considering our days had to end around 5:00 because of daylight savings (which in my opinion is pure garbage and helps no one in this century).

We planned for the longest trip we could feasibly do in one week, and it actually panned out really well. Starting off here in Chapel Hill, NC, our first stop was Rocks State Park, a 5 and a half hour drive, but it was worth it, since we made our first Kalmia latifolia collection. Kalmia has the tiniest seeds, but true to form with it being in Ericaceae, the seeds take forever to mature. We first saw the very same plants flowering in mid-May when we scoped the place out, and it took until mid-November for the seeds to be ready for collection. And then they have the nerve to grow just as slowly once they germinate. Ericaceae has some of my favorite plants, but the glacial-pace growth from seed keeps me from growing my own.

Kalmia latifolia

Kalmia latifolia

Next we stopped at Elk Neck State Park, where we met a really friendly character, Joe, in a neighborhood we had to pass through. If anyone reading this hasn’t been to Elk Neck and plans to be in the area, it’s worth a visit. The views are gorgeous, and the people are so nice and passionate about their special peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay.

We continued on, stopping of course in our favorite town, Chestertown, MD, before hitting up Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, where we collected loads of Solidago sempervirens and a very late in the season Bolboschoenus robustus.

Solidago sempervirens

Solidago sempervirens

Bolboschoenus robustus

Bolboschoenus robustus

Our day ended with another long drive to Chincoteague Island, VA. That of course didn’t happen until we had first stopped for dinner at my favorite place to eat on the Virginia Eastern Shore – El Crucero Tienda y Taquería. In case you’ve been living under a rock in our melting pot of a country, that’s Spanish, and they sell tacos. But not just any tacos. The best street-food style tacos and pupusas and tortas and huaraches and tamales and and and… you get the picture. Look them up on yelp – they’re located in the biggest city I know, Temperanceville, VA.

The following day we went to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which has been hands down the best site we’ve been to. We collected so many things there that it’s hard to decide what to share with you all, but I’ll keep the list short. We got Strophostyles helvolaPityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifoliaPanicum rigidulum var. rigidulum, and plenty of others.

Panicum rigidulum var. rigidulum

Panicum rigidulum var. rigidulum

Pityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifolia

Pityopsis graminifolia var. tenuifolia

We spent so much time there (as usual), that we had to seriously book it to our other stop for the day, Brownsville Preserve in Nassawadox, VA. Mostly everything there was a bust, but we learned that Bolboschoenus is not at all a genus set in stone. I think the taxonomists that have described it thus far just gave up on trying to truly differentiate between species. There are hybrids all over the place, and with no certain characteristics. So at least something was accomplished at Brownsville!

What even is this? It doesn't fit comfortably into any species!

What even is this? It doesn’t fit comfortably into any species!

Our night ended with a drive down to Virginia Beach, which is really nice this time of year. The place is almost devoid of tourists, and the hotels are much cheaper.

The next morning we went to First Landing State Park where we finished a collection of Ammophila breviligulata, and made another hundred collections there including Panicum amarumStrophostyles helvolaSolidago sempervirensUniola paniculataCenchrus tribuloides, and more. We also got to see an LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion), AKA the loudest vehicle on the planet. It’s amphibious, and large enough to carry a tank. Amanda, who’s a Navy veteran for those who have no reason to know that, said that you need hearing protection to even be inside of it. I could definitely believe that, considering we were a good mile from the thing and it was deafening!

Uniola paniculata

Uniola paniculata

Cenchrus tribuloides

Cenchrus tribuloides

Strophostyles helvola

Strophostyles helvola

Panicum amarum

Panicum amarum, which we’ve been told sets seed horribly, but not in our experience

Once we yelled our goodbyes to the folks at First Landing, we headed down to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to collect Bidens laevis which sticks into your skin like you wouldn’t believe, Euthamia caroliniana, and a few others, after a nice chat with one of our contacts there who’s thrilled to receive seeds from us for a huge meadow they want to restore this coming Spring.

Euthamia caroliniana

Euthamia caroliniana

Bidens laevis

Bidens laevis and my fingertip

We spent the night in Elizabeth City, NC, and headed to the area around Phelps Lake for our last bit. We collected Conoclinium coelestinumSaccharum alopecuroides (which USDA Plants won’t admit is now Erianthus – they’re so August), and Andropogon glomeratus.

ERIANTHUS alopecuroides

ERIANTHUS alopecuroides

Conoclinium coelestinum in flower and fruit

Conoclinium coelestinum in flower and fruit

We returned home that afternoon with 24 collections – a new record for us. That’s just over 1 collection for every hour of driving we did that week! But honestly, we spend way too much time driving. We’re lucky to make as many collections as we do. The only drawback to collection so much seed is the fact that we have to clean it all. Not to pure seed, that’s Cape May Plant Materials Center’s job. But we sure do have a lot of work ahead of us before we close out the season.


One last blog post till the end. See you then.

Jake Dakar

SOS East – North Carolina Botanical Garden

The End of My Season

It was an incredible season.  That’s really all there is to it.  I was able to do so many different things and meet so many new people to expand my knowledge and I am incredibly grateful for those opportunities.  I will never forget my season at the BLM in Lander.  It was wonderful.  Life is moving on now, though.

I recently got a permanent position as a Natural Resources Analyst with the Land Quality Division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality in Lander.  I am beyond excited to start this new adventure and see where it leads me.  The natural resources field is where I know I need to be.

To keep it short and sweet, I will end this post by encouraging anyone out there who isn’t sure about applying for a job or taking an opportunity presented to them to just do it.  Take the job, submit the application.  It may be scary at first, but the majority of the people in these fields are some of the kindest people you will ever meet and are more than willing to help you along your way in any way they can.  I thank the Chicago Botanic Garden Conservation and Land Management Internship for this last season.  It was great!