Snow in April


The thousand mile trek from Reno, Nevada to Denver, Colorado felt like the blink of an eye, but passing through the White River National Forest made the time stand still by its beauty, also probably because driving a 15′ truck while pulling a car up 10,000′ passes almost literally brought us to a standstill. Aspens on the left and right and snow still on the ground, it was like a right of passage into the beautiful capital of Denver.

Looking out into our new home

The first week of my first CLM internship was filled with the elusive potential for computer access and many informative scientific papers. One that stood out was called “Evaluating approaches to the Conservation of Rare and Endangered Plants” which started off with a quote from Nirvana:

“Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don’t be late”

and then proceeded to discuss the general currently accepted process behind setting up a rare and endangered plant evaluation, which I see echoed in the past and present work of my mentor, Carol Dawson.

I also spent the week being brought up to date on the plants that Carol and past interns have worked on. Including 9 threatened and 3 candidate species, one of which we monitored my second week.

Now on to the fun stuff!

Since 2011 Astragalus debequaeus has been listed as a threatened species, is found near the Roan Plateau, and is the first species that we surveyed for.

I can already tell that I am going to like field work here in Colorado. Not only was I able to see hundreds of million year old formations, but also I met up with the Ecologists that worked out of the Silt and Grand Junction field offices as well as the director of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

We spent our field days scrambling along the lose shale foothills of the Roan plateau surveying for Astragalus debequaeus. At one point we were looking for more plots when we also stumbled upon Sclerocactus glaucus and Astragalus naturitensis as well. Although these were not our intended targets per say (I am learning that this geologic area is as Dr. Dawson would say “chock a block full” of rare species) it was nice to see what we would be looking for in the future.

Sclerocactus was blooming its dainty pink flowers and so was Echinocereus triglochidiatus:

Echinocereus triglochidiatus

After a full day it was nice to come back to Silt and peer down at the tame but powerful Colorado River. I have grown up in a state (Arizona) where the Colorado River not only plays a part in our everyday life as a source of drinking water and is the border of our western edge, but is also a part of history, something I learned and heard about as a kid. I realized I have actually not spent too much time observing it and I felt an odd connection to home as I watched the sun set and the swallows catch their pray and return to their mud nests.

The Colorado River from our hotel in Silt

Next week we survey again!

Tell then,



Colorado State Office

Lakewood Colorado


The beginning

Hello Upper Willamette Resource Area!

After several seasons of working around the Pacific Northwest, this year my duty station will be in Eugene/Springfield Oregon where I’ve made my home for the past 6 years.  I can’t wait! The majority of time I’ve lived in Eugene I haven’t had a car (don’t worry, the city is great for bicycles) so my exploration of the area outside of city limits has been guided by the wills of friends with vehicles. For the next 5 months, however, I am going to spend hundreds of hours exploring and getting to know the nooks, crannies, and plants in what I consider my own backyard!

Working for and alongside people who have led my field trips, mentored school projects, and who I have generally thought of as natural resource heroes, I think this field season is going to be a great one.

My mentor, Cheshire Mayrsohn, (Botanist for the Upper Willamette Resource Area, Northwest Oregon District) showing me the ropes of filling out GeoBOB survey forms.

My first week has brought about the usual routine of paperwork, trainings, technical difficulties, and a whirlwind tour all the folks in the office. I even got to drive part of an OHV course as part of my driver’s training test. You’ve got to love the opportunity to drive over logs, rocks, and slosh through giant mud pits!

One of the rocky mud pits I got to drive through.

Having survived the first couple of days, I got geared up and headed out the door to start the first of my rare plant monitoring. My target species: Eucephalus vialis, also known as wayside aster.

Eucephalus vialis

Belonging to the Aster family, this sensitive species is somewhat tricky to spot. Varying in height depending on habitat conditions and currently in a vegetative state, it does a great job of blending in with other vegetation. It’s also prone to growing in and among poison oak, which makes for an even bigger challenge. Hooray for Tecnu (and Dawn dish soap my mentor has recently divulged)!!

Eucephalus vialis has some look alikes, especially when the plant doesn’t grow very tall. Luckily Cheshire has lots of tricks for plant identification. For this aster, one of the best ways to identify it from others is its anastamosing veins, where the veins rejoin after branching and forming an intertwining network (which can be seen in the picture below).

It’s only a been a few days and my brain is already swirling with names of new plants or familiar plants that I’ve never properly identified, but I can’t wait to learn more! It feels great to be starting a new field season. I have a feeling this internship is going to be full of adventures, an abundance of new tasks and skills, and an experience I’ll never forget.

Emily, Bureau of Land Management, Upper Willamette Resource Area

A note on the value of genetic diversity within a species

Within the S.O.S. protocol it is noted that “each seed collection should comprise of a significant representation of the genetic variation within the sampled population.” This statement reflects a recognition, stated explicitly elsewhere in the protocol, that the capture and storage of genetic diversity within a species or within a population of a species is a goal nearly so worthwhile as the collection of seeds from a large number of species. I will use this blog post to first relate my team’s recent experience collecting seed of Juniperus osteosperma from two distinct populations and then to examine an ongoing story in which a rare, naturally occurring genotype may play a role in future ecosystem-level restoration.

My crew travelled to Washoe co., NV, on two occasions over the last week to collect cones from two stands of Juniperus osteosperma. By collecting many tens of thousands of viable seeds from a large geographic area we increased the odds of collecting genes that will allow the species to persist in an era of changing climate and novel pathogens. While it remains unknown which genes, if any, collected by my team will be of use to J. osteosperma in the future, I will offer an example of how genetic diversity may play into a future large-scale reintroduction effort in the eastern United States.

[A juniper woodland in Washoe co., NV]

Castanea dentata, the American chestnut, was driven to the edge of extinction by a fungal disease in the early 1900s. Some individuals, however, show varying degrees of genetic resistance to the pathogen. While several organizations are attempting to develop resistance to this fungal pathogen in American chestnuts by means such as the insertion of a gene found in wheat into the chestnut genome and cross-breeding with the naturally resistant C. sativa of eastern Asia, the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation is actively cross-breeding these resistant strains of C. dentata to a degree of success. This may, in the future, allow for a reintroduction of the species into the forests of which it was once a part and a restoration of lost aspects of those forests’ ecology.

[Good job crew- that oughta do it]

While the story of C. dentata and the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation revolves around genes that were preserved in situ in the eastern American hardwood forests, similar stories may in the future be told about a great many species which were unable to persist in their historic range under the combined stresses of habitat fragmentation, climate change, and novel pathogens and which, consequently, will revolve around the use of genetics preserved in seed banks around the world.

From Boston to Buffalo

Despite numerous trips out west, I’ve never had the opportunity to drive the whole way. So as I started thinking about the logistics of moving to Wyoming there was clearly only one option: road trip. Well, I could not have had more fun transitioning from New England. It was a perfect excuse to explore some beautiful national parks along the way, have a little adventure, and spend some extra time getting to know home for the next 5 months.

The sun begins to set in Badlands National Park, SD

Now, over 2,000 miles and 12 states later I find myself in Buffalo Wyoming, surrounded by the Bighorn mountains, and about to wrap up my first week as a Surface Use and Environmental Compliance (SUEC) Intern with the BLM.

Spring Snow on the Bighorn Mountains, WY

My time in Buffalo started off with a snow storm, road closures and unpredictable weather, but it took a turn for the better as my internship began and we are now experiencing daytime temperatures in the 60͒s and 70͒s; it’s supposed to hit 80͒ this weekend! My first week as an intern has certainly consisted of the necessary enrollments and trainings – not to mention getting to know the logistics and numerous aspects of the position – but there are plenty of assignments for me to get started on. I’ve been inundated with information and work in the best possible way, and now that the weather is cooperating I’ve gone into the field to join on some inspections. Of the number of sites we visited, the largest was easily a reclamation site waiting for final approval of abandonment. It had been resurfaced and reseeded, and after a number of years, had integrated back into the landscape. While the sagebrush regrowth wasn’t complete, we were happy to see that the other native vegetation had completely filled-in, and that the sage brush is making good progress. On the opposite end of the spectrum, is a plugged pit we inspected. With no regrowth and some erosion, the reclamation process will have to start over.

The vegetation hasn’t taken at this pit, plugged last year, and will need to be reseeded

View of the high plains landscape just up the road from the reclamation pit

I was also excited to realize that although unplanned, the start of my internship overlapped with the last week of lek counts/visits for the sage-grouse mating season. Given that sage-grouse have been a standard reference in pretty much every biology, animal behavior, and conservation book I’ve ever read, it was about time I see them in action. With their inflated gular sacs and fanned-out tail feathers the males are striking, and their performance did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to hear plenty of booming, and see the males strut and square off.

The first time out we visited an easily located lek, but the second day found us moving through the sagebrush looking for signs, until we finally found the lek had shifted to another hillside. It was definitely worth the 4am wake-up, and provided some great wildlife viewing. There’s nothing quite like starting your day with a sunrise and some sage grouse, or viewing a nesting golden eagle as you head to the office.

I’m already looking forward to next week, and can’t wait to meet the rest of the interns who join the office on Wednesday!

Bachelor group of Bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park, SD

Looking up at Devils Tower, SD

Southern Transplant

It’s a long way from Starkville, Mississippi, but I feel confident when I say, I believe I’ve found my own little piece of home here in Burley and Twin Falls, Idaho. To say the BLM team in Burley are an accommodating and friendly folk would be an understatement. Not only have they made sure I get to expand my experience in certain fields I’m interested in, aside from the initial job I came here for, but they made a girl feel like she’s at home away from home on her birthday. Homemade cake and donuts while working out in the sagebrush steppe all day… now, how can you find anything wrong with that kind of birthday celebration? Celebrations aside, this field season has commenced with a great start.

Views of Sheep Mountain and Black Pine MT range during a plant workshop

To be honest, the highlight of my month has been two things. First and foremost, the opportunities to complete some raptor nest surveys for the BFO (Burley Field Office) biologist. Being able to jump back in the raptor survey and identification saddle was a nice change of pace from training and office work. Most importantly, at least three life birds were crossed off the list when golden eagles, ferruginous hawks and sage grouse decided to grace us with their presence! I wish I had pictures as proof, but unfortunately they weren’t up for a photo shoot. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Second place actually ties with two highlights from the past month. One would be my growing knowledge and library of plant identification for this ecosystem that is entirely new to me. I have had a blast collecting samples from the field and keeping them in a makeshift press in order to have real samples on deck just in case. The surprising amount of diversity here can be breathtaking, but who knew there were so many species of sagebrush? (Probably many people, but I certainly didn’t until a few weeks ago). Thanks to Roger and the rest of the crew at our initial plant workshop, I feel like I had a great start and great group of teachers to help me along the way.

Chocolate lily found in City of Rocks area.

It has been quite the adventure so far, roaming around the sagebrush steppe and marveling at each new jewel I discover when I look closer (or when a plant guru points them out to me, which happens to be the case the majority of the time).

Another beautiful discovery hidden away in a nook somewhere in City of Rocks reserve.

I suppose I should tell you the last experience that tied with second in most exciting things to come from my first month in Idaho. Now, this could have turned into a major inconvenience for our other team that was completing raptor nest surveys in the area, but thankfully with a little bit of brain power and a whole lot of horsepower, inconvenience was avoided. I realize there may be some folks here in CLM who don’t have experience with backcountry driving, which is why I’ll explain what happened in hopes that just maybe, this will help someone out in the future.  First off, take it from first hand experience, but don’t go driving off into two tracks that sort of appear like roads if you glance real hard. The risk and time it will take from you is just not worth it. Secondly, if you believe you’ve gotten yourself stuck in a field truck, give yourself a few minutes to calm down and think. Yes, I’m sure you can probably guess what happened by now. We might have run into a bit of trouble with a few, well hidden dips in the road, but rest assured, there’s a happy ending! After realizing what had happened, all it took was a few minutes of contemplation to realize 1) Hey dummy, you should have put the truck in 4 wheel drive ages ago, and 2) if you’re losing traction, look for a wooden plank. Why a wooden plank you ask? Well, I can’t necessarily explain all the logistics behind it, but if you feel as if your tires are losing traction in mud (bits of mud are flying everywhere when you hit the gas), it’s always good to have a wooden plank on hand to stick under the tires. This will allow more traction for your tires when you try to drive out of that mess and can hopefully save you from having to wait to be pulled out. The relief from realizing this worked was enough to make my entire weekend! This was also an important reminder that if you aren’t sure you can clear something with your truck, it’s better to get out and inspect the area yourself before driving through it. Now, if this little tangent didn’t teach you anything at all because you have more sense and/or experience than me, then I hope that at least you got a chuckle out of it. I’m a firm believer in not taking yourself too seriously and learning from past mistakes.

I’m sure I could fit more into this post if I rattled my brain hard enough, but I’ll keep my first post short and sweet. Until next time, stay safe and keep on, keepin’ on!

Best wishes,

Isabela V

Restoration in the City Limits


When I applied to the CLM internship I pictured myself out in a super remote area trying to adjust to long days of hiking and without much human interaction. Working in the West Eugene Wetlands with the BLM couldn’t be farther from that! The West Eugene Wetlands is a partnership between the BLM, state government, various non-profits, and the community of Eugene to restore and preserve wetland species of the Willamette Valley. Before white settlers came out west and decided to farm the land, the valley was full of small forbs, tufted grasses, and a smattering of oaks. So often conservation is done far from the public eye but here you can drive on main city roads and see endangered species out your car window! It’s interesting to think about how a 150,000 person city can coexist with the 300+ species found in the wetlands including many that are threatened or endangered. You might not be able to tell from my photos but we are never more than a 20 minute drive from downtown Eugene!

It’s my third week here in the wetlands and we’ve already finished monitoring for our first endangered species, Lomatium bradshawii (Bradshaw’s lomatium).  I worked with one of our main partners, the Institute for Applied Ecology, to do this monitoring at 5 sites around Eugene. Bradshaw’s lomatium is extremely delicate and one of the first plants to bloom in the wetlands along with common camas, western buttercup, and death camas.

An intern from the Institute for Applied Ecology and I count Bradshaw’s lomatiums in a square meter along our transect. We found anywhere from 0 to 140 individuals in each square meter!

Bradshaw’s lomatium with one flowering head.

Next up on our list of endangered species is the Fender’s blue butterfly(FBB). The weather has to cooperate just right for these little guys to emerge from diapause, fly around, and lay eggs for next year. It rained for my first two weeks, so on our first sunny day above 70 degrees we headed out hopeful with nets in hand. Earlier in the week my mentor and I attended a training for all the people who would be going out across the state of Oregon monitoring FBB. It was awesome to meet the people from all the different agencies (Army Corp of Engineers, Fish & Wildlife, Institute for Applied Ecology, & Washington State University) who would be doing similar work. We learned identifying characteristics, life history, and the proper way to swing your net.

Waiting for a butterfly sighting in a field of Plectritis congesta(common nectar source for FBB) and Lupinus sulphureus spp. kincaidii(FBB host plant).

During our first couple days walking butterfly transects we were able to net many butterflies, but so far all have been a common species that looks similar to the endangered FBB. This other species of blue butterfly is the silvery blue (SBB). Both butterflies host on the Kincaid’s lupin, occupying the same habitats. A trained eye can sometimes distinguish the two species during flight, but netting or using binoculars is required in the monitoring protocol to truly ID the two butterflies. As the weather continues to warm up we should be seeing more and more butterflies so I’m hoping next week we see our first FBB of the year!

The silvery blue butterfly here looks almost identical to the FBB. Very subtle color differences, a couple ventral wing spots, and slightly different life histories differentiate the two species.



West Eugene Wetland, BLM