Last Days With CLM

Wow things moved fast. I can’t believe that the internship is already over with. This internship helped me get a lot more familiar with the unique flora of gabbro soils and their pollinators. I also got an in depth run down on fire ecology/management in a chaparral system. Despite the stereotypes of many about the work ethic of folks in the federal government, I was very impressed by how hard everyone worked/works and my eyes were opened to how much more complex it is to get something done if you do it correctly, something the layman does not realize. The people that I have met here at the BLM Mother Lode Field Office have been excellent and I hope that I can keep in touch with them. I had hoped to spend more time in the field these last few months but for the first time in 5 years or so we have had a real winter in the Sacramento area, so I am happy for that. Other than I have no complaints! Thank you CLM!


Landon Eldredge

BLM Mother Lode Field Office, El Dorado Hills, CA

Pygmy Rabbits and Fences

Brachylagus idahoensis Leporidae – the pygmy rabbit – is a tiny native of the American steppe. Although it is not threatened as a species, the isolated Washington population has essentially been eradicated through extreme habitat fragmentation and genetic drift. Known WA populations exist thanks to the efforts of the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, which have a captive breeding program involving non-WA rabbits, but while maintaining as much native WA genetics as possible.

However, it is possible for some wild populations to have persisted, or spread to other areas from the captive breeding program enclosures. Winter is the best time to look for previously unknown populations. Tracks are, obviously, easy to see in snow, and Pygmy rabbit tracks are most easily discerned from other rabbit species during the winter months.

A four-stranded barbed wire fence in its typical sagebrush habitat.

Erik (my CLM mentor) and I drove to the site of a 2015 wildfire to look for signs of the little creatures, while conducting fence inventory. We saw plenty of fences but, sadly, no evidence of pygmy rabbits. It is likely that no population has managed to reestablish itself in the area since the last local sightings over 20 years ago.

A very alert whitetailed jackrabbit. Somewhat confusingly (sorry) it is not shown begging, as I couldn’t get a good picture of that. I guess it’s also confusing that this is not the rabbit species that is the subject of this post.



We did see a whitetailed jackrabbit though – veritable giants in comparison, this one probably stood about 30cm tall in “begging” position. I don’t believe it was actually begging the way a trained dog might, but rather that some accident of its rabbit psychology causes it to assume this pose when nervous.




A group of sagegrouse.

Zoomed in. More charismatic photos of courting males in the future, hopefully.

I also got to see greater sagegrouse (Centrocercus urophasianus Phasianidae) for the first time. This is a pretty important species for land managers in the West, and another American steppe obligate with an isolated population in WA. They are best known for their lekking behavior during the spring breeding season, where males gather and display their tail feathers and enormous neck-pouches (gular sacs).

Grouse in general are sometimes known to fly into barbed wire fences, which can result in mortality. Fortunately, efforts have begun to mark fences with white reflective markers in sagegrouse areas.

The group we saw were congregating at the edge of a former wheat field taken out of cultivation through the Conservation Reserve Program, so they were easy to see; in sagebrush they can be quite elusive.

And here are a couple of coyotes, sprinting full speed to keep their hunting skills sharp. These deep snow conditions are optimal for running down larger animals such as deer, whose hooves sink deeper into the powder than the padded paws of canines.

Coyotes sprinting.

Zoomed in.

Since fire can damage fences and other structures, it is important to conduct an inventory like this every time a wildfire occurs. Locating fences and gates, the most common structures on BLM, helps manage rangeland and keep the cows where they’re supposed to be. Fire crews can also use this spatial data for planning access routes in the event of future fires. Detailed information on the structure material, condition, and so on, must be collected and entered in a BLM regional geodatabase.


Wenatchee Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

The Beginning

It’s been five weeks since I started my second CLM internship in Wenatchee, and I’ve spent the vast majority of that time sitting at my computer entering data from dusty, decade-old data sheets into Microsoft Access. It was a good task to keep us busy during this snowier-than-usual winter, and a huge help to the field office, which usually doesn’t have interns during the off-season. However, I can only stare at a screen for so long before starting to feel a little crazy. Which is why I’m happy to announce that it’s the beginning of field season once again–the beginning of flowering, the beginning of long hikes and being covered in dirt and ash, and the beginning of another exciting year of learning and exploring in central Washington.

Last Thursday was my first day in the field, and it didn’t disappoint! We traveled a couple hours south of Wenatchee to the Range 12 fire to inspect the aerial seeding of native bunchgrasses into certain portions of the burned area. Aerial seeding is an important part of the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation process, since it gets lots of seed laid down quickly over large swathes of land. For this area, a mix of basin wild rye, bluebunch wheatgrass and Sandberg’s bluegrass was used. The work was contracted out to Central Valley Helicopters, a business that provides many important land management services such as aerial herbicide application, fire suppression, wildlife surveys and, of course, aerial seeding. Their sophisticated GPS systems and ingenious seed-distributing apparatus (which they built themselves!) allow an incredible amount of precision when they are dropping seed. Watching the helicopter arrive and pick up load after load of seed was one of the most exciting things I’ve done during this internship, and I’m glad we got the chance to experience this important aspect of post-fire stabilization.

The seed dispenser was much more complex than I’d imagined

Hooking the seed dispenser requires lots of precision

Flying off to dump some seed!

We didn’t just drive down to the aerial seeding operation to observe. Due to wind gusts and slight discrepancies between the seeding polygons and the actual draws they are supposed to represent, certain areas may be missed by aerial seeding. Usually this isn’t too critical, but in some cases, when the missed spots are bare, coated in a monoculture of weed seedlings, or showing signs of erosion, it’s important to get them covered with native seed. That’s why we laid down tarps in three of the draws slated for seeding before the seeding began–when it was over, we returned to the tarps to see how much seed had fallen on them. One had a lot of seed, one had a little seed, and two were bare, indicating areas that had been missed. In the spots that were not missed, the areas where the tarps had been will serve as control units later on when we are assessing the success of the seeding.

This tarp at the beginning of a draw was bare after the seeding, indicating that we needed to return for hand seeding

Since there had been an error in calculating the amount of seed that would be needed, we ended up with 500 extra pound of the seed mix. We returned to the seeded area on Tuesday with this extra seed and hand-seeded some of the spots that had been missed, with a focus on particularly degraded looking areas. It was much harder work than I expected it to be, but also lots of fun! We didn’t stop once we finished the aerial seeding area, either. Since there was so much leftover seed, we brought it with us to other parcels in the fire as we drove around mapping structures and scouting the best access routes. We walked along draws and put seed down wherever we saw bare ground and erosional features.

Feeling like a goofy sandwich with my seeder and my backpack!

Kat puts down some seed in a shallow draw

We found this “glacier” in a draw we were hoping to seed. The snow was so deep we were able to walk right over a fence!

While the seeding was fun, the most exciting part of the week for me happened during lunch on Tuesday, when I spotted my first flowering plant of the season in a draw bottom. It’s some kind of Lomatium, but I haven’t been able to identify it to species (yet). It was heartening to see something native coming back, and gave me hope for the area’s recovery.

Lomatium spp…possibly quintuplex or watsonii, both of which are on the state watch list!

Katherine Schneider, BLM, Wenatchee Field Office






Snow and Plant Specimens in Carson City

This week my two fellow interns and I started our stint on the BLM Carson City botany team. As a California girl who has been chasing summer around the globe for the last 2 years, I was more than a little anxious about moving to 4800 feet in the middle of winter. Being surrounded by snowy mountains and bundling up for even a brief trip outside might seem normal to many, but for me it is new and exciting. I love the landscapes of the arid West in all seasons, and under snow they are even more magnificent.

Due to muddy road conditions, most of the field sites we’ll use this season are inaccessible, but we did get to take a short trip to a restoration site worked on by last year’s crew. We wandered around the site, reviewing familiar species and encountering new ones, while learning about the history of the site and BLM’s role in management. This project has the potential to be a model for restoration using only native species, something that can be controversial in agencies that represent the interests of multiple groups: recreational users, ranchers, conservationists, fire crews, and more. I’m already learning a lot about the opportunities and challenges presented by working for a federal agency, and the remarkably broad impact of these organizations.

Other than training and a few field trips, we spent some time working with herbarium specimens collected by previous interns. I’m not shy about admitting that I am a hardcore plant systematics nerd, so getting to key out plants and check out the huge collection in the UNR (University of Nevada-Reno) herbarium was like being a kid in a candy store. I also got to realize my childhood dreams of doing arts and crafts for a living, as we spent an afternoon mounting pressed plant specimens. There is nothing that compares to the aesthetic appeal of a perfectly mounted, beautiful plant specimen, wouldn’t you agree? I am really looking forward to keying out, pressing, and mounting our own specimens once we start collecting seeds in a few months.

If I get to identify plants and look at snow-covered mountains every day, I think I could get used to the cold…

Britney Zell, Carson City BLM