Dat Field Life

Tis the season to collect seeds! This summer I’ll be in Vernal, UT which is where I’m currently wrapping up my first week collaborating with the Seeds of Success (SOS) project. There’s nothing like loads of mosquito bites and a 10 degree burn on my lower back/butt crack to remind me that the field life isn’t glamorous by any means. It’s a good thing that glitz and glamour were never my vibe because this job isn’t for the weak at heart. What an amateur move on the sunburn though! That very first day out in the field I turned to my crew and said “Last year I got a really bad sunburn on my lower back from bending over with a short shirt on.” Mid seed collection I felt that burn as I tucked my shirt back into my pants for the fifth time that day. I thought that shirt was longer than it actually was when I slipped it on that morning and was sadly disappointed by that pitiful shirt combo with my long torso.

As a veteran AIM crew member, I’m enjoying learning different techniques and a completely different project altogether, although the purpose of this project is different than what I initially expected. I thought it had a lot more to do with preserving and rescuing threatened and endangered species but it turns out we are trying to avoid collecting from these as much as possible. The main purpose of this project is to find out what species thrive best at reclamation sites with the ultimate goal of reseeding those locations with a beautiful native plant species and ultimately replacing the hideously invasive cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Land restoration is important, unfortunate that we even have to do it but still very important. This first plant we collected was yellow milkvetch (Astragalus flavus) a perennial in the legume family. I was pleasantly surprise to learn how easy the seeds peel off and how fast my little paper bag filled up. We also collected loads of Sphaeralcea parvifolia throughout this week. I’m sure not all species we encounter this season will be as convenient to gather but it’s nice that some are. We currently have 18 target species that we hope to collect by August.

Most field days have been a success, with a plethora of seeds to show for it but we found out that one of our target species, Cleome lutea, has a very small collection window, which is why no other group has successfully collected it. The two sites previously scouted had empty pods or under ripe seeds when we went to visit a couple days ago. We decided that we may have to camp out to successfully collect seeds from this species. I would be excited about camping if it weren’t for the fact that this site that had the most mosquitos I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a net jacket on and the little boogers still managed to bite my chin and wrists. You should see the welts these guys left behind its pretty pathetic how much mosquitos like me but I know of an awesome trick I want to share with you. Drink a couple ounces of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) in eight ounces of water for a week and mosquitos will not touch you with a ten foot pole. I assume that’s because continual ingestion of it causes it to come out of your pores. ACV is also great for gastrointestinal issues, you just have to drink it about 30 minutes before lunch and dinner. It taste bitter but you can doll it up with a little lemon and honey. Once I’m drinking it consistently I actually acquire a flavor for it and start to crave it. Unfortunately, I just started drinking it two days ago because I didn’t expect to see mosquitos my first week. It slipped my mind that they were even a possibility! The suckers were just waiting to give me a very warm welcome back into the field lifestyle. Mosquitos or no mosquitos, I thoroughly enjoy the benefits of being out in the field. I get paid to hike and go on plant treasure hunts, exploring Martian habitats I may never have discovered and meeting new species of all types. We found a horny toad I named Ted

Astragalus flavus

Cleome lutea

Sphaeralcea parvifolia

Devil’s Playground, UT

Ted (Phrynosoma)

that was the most chill creature I’ve ever hung out with. Yea I got a little attached to it and really wanted to take him home and make him my pet but I resisted the urge and left him in his comfortable habitat. Ted, I’ll miss you buddy! He lives in Devil’s playground and will remain the devil’s play pet. I look forward to many more adventures and also to sharing those experiences with all you cool cats.




Blissful Scouting and Wild Penstemon Chases

It has been one crazy month here in the Colorado State Office, since my first blog post. The rest of May was a blur of trips to the Western Slope, monitoring all sort of rare plants. We determined that our crew visited/worked in all the Colorado Counties bordering Utah in less than 30 days – quite a feat on our part! My crew took part in monitoring Oreocarya revealii in southwest Colorado, to searching for Penstemon grahamii and Penstemon scariosus var. albifluvis up in the Northwest corner of the state.

A rare and newly described species from southwest Colorado (Dolores and San Miguel counties), Oreocarya revealii. A Boranginaceae family member, this is more commonly known as Gypsum valley cat-eye, named for the bright yellow center of the flower. It is found with a wonderful association of a gray cryptobiotic lichen, one I wish I knew more of.  Photo: B. Palmer

This little plant is Penstemon grahamii, a Uinta/Piceance Basin-endemic plant limited living on calcareous shale of the Green River Formation, as you can see in the picture. This little plant has been involved in various lawsuits to get it listed as an endangered species. Photo: B. Palmer

The beautiful beardtongue known as Penstemon scariosus var. albifluvus. Along with P. grahamii, this one is also found around northwestern Colorado on rocky shale areas and steep slopes. This is a newly added species into the monitoring program in Colorado. Photo: B. Palmer

I realize that many CLM interns may understand the importance of monitoring, however, I know my blog reaches a broader audience of friends and family that may not understand why I care about rare plant monitoring. For those of you that don’t quite understand the mechanics of it all, I will attempt to sum it up for you in a concise matter…why should we care about that little Penstemon found only on the Uinta Basin? Or how about the tiny cactus endemic to only a small portion of Colorado and Utah? A long, winding story cut short, they are part of something bigger. Because these plants are rare, and found only in special conditions filling unique niches, by definition they are more susceptible to the changes humans have brought on since the 1500s. They (along with other common species) are influenced through habitat loss and degradation, over-exploited land resources, and even the introduction of invasive, highly competitive species. This may lead to the extinction of species. Of course, extinction may be a standard process that affects every living species on this planet. But when extinctions happen at the abnormally high rate it has, we risk losing what I hope we hold dear to our hearts – healthy land. So why care about plant conservation? These plants help make our world more diverse, and that biodiversity is an undermining key of all functioning ecosystems. If we lose biodiversity, we lose a healthy planet. We don’t only monitor plants for the sake of being loving plant nerds in the first place, but because we care about the future of our land.

Now stepping off my little soapbox, monitoring some of these rare plants can be hard work, and often enough, finding these populations is no easy feat…a “wild goose chase” if you will, or rather, more often it was a “wild penstemon chase.” As I may have mentioned in my previous post, we search for new populations to monitor through Element Occurrence Records (EOR’s), based on natural heritage surveys. Sometimes it took us on to steep mountainsides. On top of climbing up mountainsides in the dry heat, we must keep the integrity of our research pure, our confident intervals high, and follow protocols to the best of our abilities.

Here is CLM intern Taryn Contento, attempting to show off the steep landscape we trekked up near Rangely, Colorado, to look for an element occurrence record of Penstemon scariosus var. albifluvis. Although out of breath and fatigued (at least I was…), we managed to find a few plants up there. Photo: B. Palmer


Of course, we make time to have a little fun too outside of searching for plants. While in Southwestern Colorado between locations, we made a detour to check out some of the local scenes, and buy some fresh Anasazi beans.

We managed to detour to Mesa Verde National Park…how does one travel this far away from home and NOT see the park? This is known as “Spruce House,” named by the large pine tree on the left side of the picture….I’ll let you determine whether that is truly a Spruce or not, as it was heatedly discussed in our group… Photo: B. Palmer

After spending so much time on the Western Slope looking for rare plants in May, monitoring had come to a short stand still, and I had finally been able to go around Colorado in search of seeds to collect for Seeds of Success! Travelling around with the rare plants crew in May was slightly nerve-wrecking, as everywhere we went was incredibly dry, with very few plants flowering, not not many large SOS-sized populations about. I was nervous I wouldn’t find much to collect for SOS this year. However, with my first initial scouting trips, I was pleasantly surprised at the things I saw, and rewarded with spectacular views.

Dalea jamesii, James’ Prairie Clover, growing around a little cactus. The D. jamesii was a surprising and great find, and I hope can be part of an SOS collection! Photo: B. Palmer

Definitely no disappointment here, just another day at work…I caught a beautiful scene in Grand County, Colorado, painted in beautiful greens of the nearby forests, and a landscape speckled yellow with flowering Purshia tridentata and Eriogonum umbellatum. Photo: B. Palmer

Another pleasant scene from Grand County, Colorado. The yellow blanket of buckwheat flowers, Eriogonum umbellatum var. majus, will likely add to another SOS collection when it fruits. Photo: B. Palmer

Scouting is perhaps one of the more important steps in Seeds of Success. It is always about being in the right place, at the right time; one would have to find that area “chock-a-block” full of whatever species is desired. There is a lot of BLM surface land in Colorado (8.5 million acres), so it can be a lot of land to cover! Being at the State office, I have to plan for my trips possibly a little more carefully than being stationed at a field office. My shortest drive time to decent BLM land on average is two hours away drive time and often longer. Because I must account for time spent travelling, there is no time to get lost, and must stay focused while out in the field! This can be a daunting task, because once out in the field, it is easy to go astray and take time enjoying the scenery, keying things out, and pressing plants, and generally just enjoying the outdoors. But, no matter what I have been looking for or where I am going, being out in the field is almost always rewarding!

Although I only saw a few, they were too photogenic to pass up. You know you are in Colorado when Aquilegia coerulea greets you on a bright, sunny day! Photo: B. Palmer

What can I say – I enjoy being outdoors! The SOS season has started out slow and is still just getting started for me, but I can already tell it will be one rewarding summer, with many collections to come! I hope everyone else is enjoying their summers as well, with positive vibes coming your way, from Sunny Colorado. Until next time!

-Brooke Palmer, Colorado State Office

Alaska is AMAZING, but the mosquitos are NOT!

In my 24 years of living, I have maybe encountered 7 mosquitos in California. In the last month, I have probably been fed on, at least 700 times. Currently, I am simultaneously typing with one hand and scratching both feet with the other. My mistake was wearing Chacos on the drive back from Coldfoot with a healthy population of mosquitoes thriving in our car.

A month has gone by rather quickly. On my bike ride to work, I can see all sorts of wildflowers blooming-taking in the only three months of constant sunshine they will get all year. I, myself, am also trying to take in as much sun possible. I’ve spent a decent amount of time on Chena Hot Spring Road, dogsitting for a family who works in the office. Somehow, I always find myself picking up this kind of gig over the summer (flashback to Susanville). I’m extremely grateful to Chel Ethun, for allowing me to stay in her cozy house with her cozy dogs, Pickles and Anabelle. Side note: Pickles doesn’t actually eat pickles.

Pickles waiting for me to feed him in the morning.

Since AK is really big, we have a couple of field stations spread out throughout the state. Unlike the BLM office in Susanville, a lot of our sites are 7-12 hours away. So, our options are to camp, or stay at field stations. Most of my work this summer will be out of the Chicken Field Station in the small town of Chicken-it is super NICE! It is fully equipped with beds, wifi, hot water, showers, a full kitchen, a TV…the whole enchilada.

While I was in Chicken, I helped conduct wildlife and vegetation surveys at a reclaimed mine site. I worked with Casey Burns, the Wildlife Program Lead, and two contractors from the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Jeff Mason and Bryan Strong. We also had a UAF student, Renee Nowicki, act as our “residential entomologist.” We spent the first couple of days delineating four plots and one control, which all varied in reclamation year. The goal was to collect all of our data from small mammal traps, bird counts, line point intercept (LPI), grazing, scat count, pollinator, plot characteristics, and insect surveys. Our insect surveys entailed searching for ants and setting six bumble pots, traditionally called bee bowls, in each plot. For the ant search, I followed Renee around while we flipped rocks and searched for colonies. Then, she used an aspirator to suck them into a container through a tube! I wish I had a video of that! I spent a fair amount of time applying 100% deet all over my body, but somehow, it was not enough. However, I’m pretty sure that by the end of the summer, by body will naturally be producing deet, which will save me a lot of money for next year. On the drive back to Fairbanks, I got to see the Alaska Range for the first time! It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was so unbelievable. But, I didn’t take any pictures. Sorry.

The following week, I decided to join the crew for another week of surveying. This time, our site was thirty minutes south of Coldfoot, at Jubilee Mine. Unfortunately, on the morning of our second day, we had an eye injury, which required an immediate evacuation, and a stressful drive back on the Dalton. Luckily, I only hit one rough patch, and after six hours, we made it back to the ER in Fairbanks. The patient is doing well, and it was a non-life threatening accident. Enter mom rant HERE. Please be careful using bungee cords in the field. If it doesn’t reach, it’s not worth it. Eye injuries are very serious, so please be safe. End mom rant. I really wish I could have taken pictures of the drive on the way back, but the timing was, obviously, not appropriate. If I get a chance to go back north, I will definitely upload better pics. However, I was able to get a “I crossed the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway” tee.

Yukon River

I made it to the Arctic Circle!

Well, it’s no wonder time goes by quickly. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks moving around from Chel’s house to Chicken to Coldfoot. In the upcoming weeks, I have planned to attend an invasive species training workshop in Fairbanks and a sedge identification workshop in Anchorage. It’ll be my first time in Anchorage, so I am stoked!

On my personal time, I’ve been volunteering at the herbarium in the Museum of the North at UAF. Hopefully soon I can start volunteering at the entomology lab too! I have also been birding with a group at Creamers Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Later, I have a botany trip planned with the Alaska Native Plant Society (ANPS). AND…I’ll be going to Denali soon! Basically, I’m slowly settling down some roots in Fairbanks, in hopes of staying here longer.

Here is a list of common plants I’ve seen near Fairbanks, Chicken, and Coldfoot…So won’t the real plant nerds, please stand up, please stand up (Eminem).

Astragalus alpinus

Mertensia paniculata

Polemonium acutiflorum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Cardamine purpurea

Epilobium angustifolium

Epilobium latifolium

Vaccinium uliginosum

Hedysarum alpinum

Potentilla norvegica ssp. monspeliensis

Cerastium beeringianum

Ledum palustre ssp. Groenlandicum

Hedysarum mackenzii

Oxytropis campestris

Potentilla spp.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Spirae beauverdiana

Cornus canadensis

Cornus Canadensis

Eriophorum spp.?

Salix alaxensis

Salix arbusculoides

Salix scouleriana

Salix pulcha

Gallium boreale

Betula neoalaskana

I find myself overwhelmed with how much there is to see and I think my writing reflects that. I apologize if I was all over the place, but I have a hard time keeping track of my days.



2,700 Miles to Home?

Let me begin by saying I am a New Yorker by birth and by heart. But, I cannot (and will not) go on and on about how great New York City is. For one thing, I am not a big fan of cities. For another, I grew up far from NYC–where dairy cattle, cornfields, vineyards, and old small towns dominate the landscape.

Through the CLM Internship Program I have found myself ~2,700 miles from home at a little place (~50,000 acres) called the Cosumnes River Preserve (CRP) in Galt, California. Much like the town that I grew up in, the name probably means very little to outsiders. What I did know before coming out here was that it was somewhere in the Central Valley and somewhere about 30 minutes south of Sacramento (a name I was familiar with). However, having never been further west than the Detroit Airport, this still did not mean a whole lot to me. What I soon found out was that it isn’t too awfully different from home. I have found all the cattle, corn, vineyards, and small towns you could ask for, but also so much more.

Here at the CRP we fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management’s Mother Lode Field Office which is in Folsom, California. If that sounds familiar, it may just be because a pretty famous country artist once wrote a pretty famous song about a prison there, but I digress. While the Mother Lode Field Office is quite substantial in terms of the area managed and the staff based at that office, the CRP is fairly small in comparison. As a partnership, there are many people involved here. That means that on a daily basis I get to interact not only with people from the BLM (my mentor included) but also with people from The Nature Conservancy and other partners. Nevertheless, the office is fairly small and we keep ourselves fairly busy.

There is no shortage of stuff that needs to be done. Managing riparian and wetland habitat for waterfowl, while also working to maintain and conserve habitat that is rare and imperiled in the Central Valley Region of California, is no small chore. Having just started on June 5th, before attending the Chicago Botanic Garden CLM Training Workshop, I am still learning the ins and outs of day-to-day operation here. However, one thing that has become clear, as my mentor likes to say, there is always more work to do. Working with a Youth Conservation Corps crew, providing trail maintenance, and planning for future projects are just a few things that have kept me busy. With more training in my future, I have my eyes set on getting out in the field and helping to control our invasive aquatic species– primarily water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala) and a handful of other terrestrial and aquatic plants that make managing for native and natural wetland/riparian habitat difficult.

After quite a trek by car and some settling in, I have had interesting run-ins with wildlife, dealt with heat I never dreamed of, and learned so much in the first 2 weeks here at my new “home” that I cannot wait to see what the next 5 months bring. While I have mostly been preoccupied with training, I hope to have plenty more to post about next time (especially more about the beautiful flora and fauna).


(BLM Mother Lode Field Office–Folsom, CA)

Cosumnes River Preserve–Galt, CA

Sunset on the hot California Delta

Never have I ever been out West

My first week after graduation was filled with excitement and anxiety. I actually skipped walking across the stage during graduation because I was moving in to my new house that same weekend. I finished my last day as an undergraduate on a Thursday and started work in a new state the following Monday! Thankfully, I have very supportive parents that helped me trek my way with each passing minute farther and farther west than I had been before.

Our drive was only supposed to take 2.5 days, from Madison, WI to Twin Falls, ID. It turned into almost 4 because we got swamped with a snow storm in the middle of May!? Never would have thought to pack snow boots for May weather as I had already experienced 70 degree weather coming from Wisconsin. We ended up getting stuck in Cheyenne, WY for 9 hours. But here’s my dad as we happily continued to make our way as the roads cleared!

My dad with a smile as we finally are able to get onto I-90 from Cheyenne to Twin Falls, ID

The following first two weeks were flooded with new information and training. Besides all the online training, we also had some great hands on training in the field. I work directly with 4 other CBG interns, there are another 3 at my office.  All 4 of the CBG CLM interns I work with come from different states and are familiar with different flora, so learning new plants in the arid environment of southern Idaho has been quite entertaining!

As a contractor working for the BLM, I am assessing habitat cover and preferred forbs for sage grouse.The methods we used to do this assessment was modified as soon as the interns arrived, so as we learned the ins-and-outs of the methods, so were the crew leads and supervisors, to some extent. This was quite a bumpy ride to start as we all were interpreting specific methods differently and encountered different scenarios than were provided in the new manuals. Each day we came up with new questions and each day we solve them with gusto and readiness to continue the following day, knowing we’d come back with still more questions.

Shoshone, ID modified AIM crew. Our first time out in the field together, 4 CBG interns, our crew leads, & our mentor

Out with my crew, my mentor and other range techs from my office

Throughout the next few weeks I learned to adjust to the lack of trees and the beautiful diversity that can (surprisingly) be found here! I started to learn common grasses and forbs and learn varieties of sagebrush.

As my roommate and I got a feel for the area, we began most of our weekends traveling to some touristy sites. These areas were nice to visit while we’re learning about the area because they were so chock full of historical information and just fun random facts that are super useful for newcomers like us!

Bitterroot at Craters of the Moon National Park

Back out in the field the following week, I started slowly discovering I had some favorite plants and animals we continue to run into. I had studied trees for my undergrad but I’m finding myself drawn to some of these little forbs in southern ID.

Little horned lizard that I kind of love

Lupine! I’m slowly falling in love with this plant for some unknown reason

At the start of the next week I traveled to CBG for the Workshop, which was an incredible opportunity and I am super grateful I was able to attend. I had the chance to meet other interns in the neighboring field offices for the BLM. I was happy to be back in the Midwest and actually had the chance to see my parents again after a month in Idaho.

Back in Idaho, our big group split into 2 groups of three people, we were officially on our own! Driving to any one of our plot points may take anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours one-way. The drive can be a little daunting, but each location is so unique and the views there are so absolutely incredible, it’s always so gratifying once we arrive.

Upper Davis Mountain view about 4 miles away from our plot point

Coming from Wisconsin and having spent a lot of time up north where there are unpaved roads, I knew how to drive a pick-up truck on gravel roads, but some of the “roads” out here barely warrant the name. Thankfully, I have stellar crew lead that has extensive experience driving on these same roads last summer! Also, I will admit, I have a really poor sense of direction, so I am thankful for her navigation skills too.

I’m also learning how to use USDA plant codes for these common plants. I’ve worked with plant codes previously doing monitoring but since the locations of these plots may have upwards of 45 species, keeping up with all plant codes and numbers following each code has been a struggle of mine. I tend to learn the common name first, then the scientific name, then the code. But sometimes the same code can be used for  2-10 different plants so you also have to remember which number corresponds to which plant!  Ex. ERNA6 & ERNA10, one is a forb and one is a shrub, and you could possibly have both on the same site!

Penstemon with a little visitor wasp

To help me with learning plant codes and scientific names I’ve made a little “key” of all the ones we’ve come across and keep the booklet with me out in the field. So far, it’s been pretty useful and have only used it 2 days but have to update it already!

Quick lunch break before finishing modified AIM transects. This location actually had upwards of 35 species, 12 of which were unknown to us! (We’re still working on keying them out)

I’ve been in Idaho exactly a month and I really cannot wait to continue exploring this state. I’ve been trying to convince all my family and friends from home to come visit me, because there’s so much here to see! One month down, four more to go. So far, this has been one of my favorite summers, yet.






Home on the range

The MAIM (Modified AIM) crew and our mentor – Joanna Tjaden

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I have now been living and working in Idaho for just over a month. I work in the Shoshone Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management as a range tech intern along with three other CBG interns and two crew leads. We don’t really have range (as far as I know) east of the Mississippi so I’m excited to learn more! Right now that means we are monitoring ground cover to learn more about sage grouse habitat, but next week we’ll wrap that up and move on to other projects. I’m particularly excited about going out with Idaho Fish and Game to look at insects and plant clearances (looking for sensitive plant species).

Davis Mountain Road

The landscape and climate is dramatically different from the hot, humid, and patchy forests of Southeastern Virginia where I worked before. I am still amazed at how far you can see here without hills, trees, or buildings to interrupt the view. It felt strange at first, but the incredible views and tiny wildflowers are winning me over.

Callochortus nuttallii (Sego Lily)

Eriogonum sp.








So far I’ve learned a lot! The first week or two included training in some important skills including first aid, defensive driving, changing a tire and how to recognize hazardous materials that might explode or kill you. Best of all though, I’ve picked up all kinds of useful information about the local flora and botany, more generally just from being surrounded by people who are excited about plants every day!

Seed Season

It’s week 4 of my internship with the BLM here in the beautiful Roseburg, Oregon and activities are in full swing! Seed collection season began just recently, and we (me and my co-intern, Mira) are kept busy by tracking down target plant species using previously recorded GPS data and determining if they are ready for seed collection. Not gonna lie, it’s probably one of my favorite things to do. I’ve gotten way better at reading maps, using GPS, and keying out inconspicuous-looking grasses—not to mention, I think I’m getting pretty great at driving the huge truck they let us use for field work. I’d just like to say that my appreciation for trucks has grown tenfold over the past month. Those things can drive over things that would probably destroy my little Altima. ArcGIS remains my greatest nemesis, but I’m confident that I’ll get better at it by the end of my five months. “Better” of course is a relative term, but let’s not dwell on that.

Bromus carinatus, one of the grasses we’ll be collecting seed from.

Calochortus coxii, one of our endemic plants.

Boss and co-intern looking out over the oak savanna as we prepare to trek down and remove invasive plants

Right now one of our bosses has us working on an awesome project to collect the seeds of plants that will help promote native pollinators in the North Bank Habitat Management Area. One thing I’ve come to learn throughout this is the truly fleeting nature of seed collection for many of the species we’re to collect. It all depends on the species and the location of the population; one week you can drive up a ridge and find a lovely almost-ripe population of Danthonia californica, and the next you can drive up to the same ridge and discover a sea of yellow husks! It’s certainly something that’s going to keep us on our toes for the rest of the season. If we’re going to collect enough seeds for the project, we’ll need to be out as often as possible hiking around and checking populations to determine readiness.

All in all, these past four weeks have been fantastic and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I’ve learned a truly impressive number of new plants and picked up a whole new set of skills. I’ve become braver in my nature explorations and seen many beautiful things. I think my klutziness may even be decreasing.

I honestly can’t wait for what the rest of my time here has to offer.


Wild, Free, and Fruity Forays

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, not every man’s greed.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Throughout this internship I have felt like a professional forager. And I suppose am, having gotten paid to gather seeds, nuts, and fruit. I love foraging, collecting, gathering or “native plant material collection” as it’s put on my time sheet each week. Actually, I think I’m just a glorified squirrel. Using my tiny hands to grab at any seeds I can find, saving them, and forgetting about every third acorn. :3

There is something primal about gathering seed and fruit. The eyes adjust to the task at hand. They hone in on the color and shape of whatever they search for. Even when the object of desire may be obscured by the surroundings. It may be same color as the leaves, the soil, or other fruit that doesn’t suit the palate. A dormant instinct is reawakened when given the chance. It’s as if a human can partially revert back to being a undomesticated, nomadic gatherer-hunter when out on a foray.

I feel conflicted about foraging during my personal time. Gathering wild foods for the purpose of genetic preservation and restoration stock is a worthy reason to deprive other animals that live in these spaces the full bounty of nourishment. But for my own sustenance? With so much land on earth devoted to food production and life for humans, it seems selfish and unnecessary to just start taking food from the wild where free animals may still live as they should. But I want to be a free animal too! Humans once feasted on thousands of different species from hundreds of families over the course of one year, prior to the invention and domination of agricultural societies. In America we’re lucky if we get more than 50 different species in our diet over the course of a year. So shouldn’t the modern human diet still contain wild varieties of food? Foods that haven’t yet begun to lose their nutritional value through what Nikolai Vavilov (a pioneer in seed saving) called “varietal disintegration.” This is when nutritional value, resilience, and vigor diminishes the longer a species is domesticated. I would like to think so. I wouldn’t forage an entire meal unless I needed to in order to survive. I prefer harvesting some wild greens for pesto or salad garnish. Harvesting a handful of mushrooms for a dish. Or taking a taste of some berries when out hiking.

How do I know this is safe to eat? A general rule is if you’re going to harvest something for ingestion, it should be growing at least a few hundred feet from any roads or buildings. Be sure it’s not near or in any brownfields. Be sure what it is of course. For all of us at CLM that know how to look at plants, this is obvious. Consulting a few books and the internet is a given. Don’t end up like Chris from Into the Wild. Trust your palate. If it tastes bad, spit it out! Our taste buds aren’t just for pleasure, they are for determining edibility of foods we try. In short: Use the senses wisely. Research the plants. Avoid contamination.

Don’t I need a permit? I am not an expert on this but I would assume so, considering we had to use permits to collect seed on any state, national and private land. I have had the pleasure of foraging along the edges of farms where I have worked in the past so I never had to ask for anything more than verbal permission. Ask your neighbors, friends, and family that have some land if you can forage there. Maybe you have a big yard with some overgrown edges that provide some fruit and greens. Be creative.

Eating the local native flora can connect you to the land in a way that buying food from a grocery store never could

Here are some pictures of some of the delicious berries I collected/snacked on when out in the field this summer.



Opuntia humifusa

I just had a taste of this wild candy while collecting it. Watch out for their prickles!


Rosa palustris

Rose hips. They sweeten up in November, a great time to harvest and dry for tea. Or to save for seed banks of course.


Vitus riparia

A wild grape found along wet, sunny places.


Vitis rotundifolia

Muscadine grapes found growing wild. So delicious and refreshing on a hot day. I even eat the seeds.


Rubus cuneifolius

The sand black berry, one of our target species here at MARSB. They grow in sandy places (DUH) along the coast.


Rubus phoenicolasius

Native to Asia, and not to the US. The hairy stem distinguishes them from other Rubus species.


Gaylussacia baccata

Black huckleberries are one of our targeted species that is literally absolutely abundant in the understory shrub layer of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.



High Peak

Today I had the pleasure of going out in the field with Virginia, a botanist from the research branch of the Forest Service. We had many missions in mind for the day, some of which were accomplished. The main reason that we went to High Peak (near Mt. Ida, Arkansas) was to get a good picture of the woodland sunflowers in bloom, which grow almost in a monoculture in some areas of the open forest there.

Virginia has been monitoring the vegetation in areas of High Peak since 2011 when a lightning strike started a wildfire there, and the FS decided to let it burn instead of sending out the fire suppression team. Some people worried that the overstory trees would all die, but it turned out that one year later 95% had survived, as well as 33% of the understory trees less than 15 cm. This research has had real-life management implications, as the FS has let a few more low-intensity natural fires burn since then. The sunflowers were just starting to bloom at that elevation, so we didn’t get the majestic photo we had hoped for.

Woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) beginning to bloom. Photo by Virginia McDaniel

We bushwacked around recording what species were present. We also found a fair number of crystals, which the Hot Springs area is famous for. We dragged a white piece of cloth to collect ticks for a researcher in Texas. Somehow no ticks ended up on the cloth, but at least 10 ended up on us! We were finding them the whole way home.

Tomorrow Virginia, my mentor Susan and I are heading to the Ozarks FS office to give another invasive species workshop, so V and I collected invasive plant specimens while we were out like kudzu, stiltgrass, sorecia lespedeza and autumn olive, as well as their native lookalikes. Luckily we didn’t find many out in the field– we had to go over by the Dollar General to find kudzu and I will be walking around my neighborhood tonight to find mimosa and nodding thistle.

Me with kudzu (Pueraria spp.) taking over trees by the Dollar General. Photo by Virginia McDaniel.

Until next time! Take care! -G

The Definitive Guide to Pooing on Public Lands

       Answering the call of nature presents an interesting challenge for CLM Interns and other outdoors people alike. The vast majority of our lives are spent in civilization where we feel comfortable and can achieve privacy easily, but when you are out in the woods or on the steppe, answering this call of nature may not come very… naturally. In order to dispel some of the awkwardness that comes with “going number two”, I wanted to write a blog post to educate fellow and future interns on a topic that isn’t frequently explored. I know it’s easy to be immature about this topic but we are no longer in grade school and frankly I think there are some worthwhile points that merit discussion. We all poo. I poo. You poo. Your mentor poos too. Get over it.

An Intro to Poo

What is a poo?
I’ll keep this brief. Poo is a combination of waste material and bacteria. It is mostly made of water (~75%) and the rest is all the bacteria that helped digest the food, fiber, waste material, etc. It is usually brown because of a compound called bilirubin, which is a pigment that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver and bone marrow.

What is fiber?
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate and the undigested portion of food derived from plants. Basically, it adds bulk to your stool and make it easier to pass. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

What does healthy poo look like?
Your poo is a troubleshooting tool. Just as we use species composition and alteration as indicators of streambank stability, we use our poo to tell us if we are properly nourished. Flushing without looking is like hiking to a mountaintop just to hike back down. You went through all that strain, but what about the view? Think of it like a check engine light in your car. If you don’t do something about it now, you might have bigger problems down the road. Feel free to consult the Bristol Stool Chart, a visual guide for stools. Ideally you want to achieve a Type 4 or 5, which are considered “normal”.

How often should one poo?
Everyone is a little different – but you should typically poo at least once a day. Signs of constipation include pooing only a couple of times a week, not ever feeling quite empty, and hard stool. On the other hand, going 5+ times a day is stepping into the realm of diarrhea. When this happens it is important to rehydrate your body to make up for lost fluid and to consume fiber to add bulk to your stool.

Poo Protocol

       This is a topic that I want to take rather seriously. Our work revolves around helping better manage the land, resources, and ecology around us. Careless pooing does exactly the opposite of that in that it adversely impacts environment quality and the aesthetics of the land we use to recreate and share with others. I suggest getting familiar with all Leave No Trace guidelines, but the ones concerning waste disposal are as follows:

1. Minimize the chance of water pollution
2. Minimize the spread of disease
3. Minimize aesthetic impact
4. Maximize decomposition rate

       The most practical method is to dig a hole and bury your poo. We always have a shovel in our truck for this very purpose. First and foremost, locate the toilet paper. Agree to keep it in one spot so you can all find it easily.  Find a private spot far away from water, trails, or campsites and dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. In desert environments, waste has a harder time breaking down so it is recommended to dig shallower holes (2-6 inches) to maximize decomposition. Once you finish your business, toss in the toilet paper and cover the hole completely and disguise it. Because we usually work in very remote public land, this method is adequate. In many popular, high-use areas however, you may be required to pack out your waste. Remember to sanitize/wash your hands afterwards!

Other methods

Toilet: . . . . .

Groover: I first saw one of these when I went on a float trip on the John Day River. It’s essentially the most miniature of porta-potties, a large canister with the sanitizing blue chemical in it and a toilet seat attachment. They’re called groovers because they used to not have the seat. Use your imagination. Here’s a good article about them.

Holding it in: So you decided to go this route, eh? Think you can make it a day until you get back into town? That’s cool, but keep this in mind — If you decide to hold it in, water will absorb back into your body, dehydrating your poo, making it harder, which can lead to unnecessary constipation. Also, because your brain treats a stretched intestinal wall as a stimulus to excrete, a prolonged stretch will dull the signal to empty, and will result in more effort when it’s time to go. It’s not harmful to hold it in from time to time, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it.

What to Wipe With

1.) Hopefully, toilet paper.

2.) Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a biennial forb that is native to Europe and Africa. It’s a common weedy plant in the United States and prefers well-lit disturbed soils. The soft, tomentose leaves make it nature’s version of your favorite triple-ply extra deluxe TP from your parents’ place. Except it’s right here, on the other side of that sagebrush over there. Go ahead… try it out and you’ll see that miles and miles away from your house (or another human being for that matter), you’ll feel right at home. You can also sleep well at night knowing that you contributed marginally to curbing the population of an invasive weed.


A word of caution: Be very careful to not use plants that you are not familiar with. For one, they can have adverse conditions and be harmful to your health. They may also be listed as endangered and under federal protection. I’m really preaching to the choir here and I trust that all you botanists-in-training will recognize that.

3.) Alright. You found a safe place to poo but you’re out of TP and the vegetation looks abrasive at best. It’s time to get creative. When my fellow technician Wyatt first suggested this, I thought he was just messing around. I thought it was some sick joke until I actually tried it so hear me out:  rocks. A river rock, a chunky lump of upland basalt, it doesn’t really matter. It all works equally as well and there is no shame to it. So if the world ever puts you in that desperate position… just take the leap and join the club.


       Just a few quick tips here. In the field, you are essentially reduced to pooing as our ancestors did. There is no tall porcelain structure to support you, so you have to essentially squat in order to go. Research has found that this is actually the healthiest posturing to poo because sitting puts pressure on your rectum and impairs bowel movement. The most stable and best way to squat is the 3rd world squat, a basic human movement which many of us cannot do. Try it. If you are one of those people, you may like to learn, or, you can always support yourself with a shovel/tree. Another problem concerns keeping your clothes clear from the line of danger. For this I would advise the following:
When crouching with your pants around your ankles, reach in from the front of your legs and grab the back part of your pants (middle of your belt) and pull it forward. This will keep your clothing clear of the danger zone.

Some Workplace Considerations

       Out in the field, our bodies and minds have to put up with many factors, whether they be the heat, humidity, rain, mosquitos, fatigue, hunger, etc. Each one of these wears on us over the course of the day. The urge to go is just another one of these distractions – pulling your focus away from the task at hand, making you irritable, lowering morale, and negatively affecting your interactions with coworkers and ultimately your productivity and the quality of work you put out. Why put yourself through that?

       I feel very fortunate to work in a crew where we talk about mostly anything. We spend looong days in the field — I’m talking regular 10-day monitoring trips. It’s impossible to not get a sense of everyone’s poo schedule. So when one of us is off beat, the others notice. Take it from me when I say it’s really nice to hear someone ask “Did you remember to go today?”. Honestly. For one, yes. Yes I did forget to go. But two, that means I won’t have the urge to go during the middle of the day when we are in the thick of monitoring. It is an unnecessary disruption to the workflow that can be mitigated and, like I said, a senseless tax on the brain to deal with the urge otherwise. I would invite you all to communicate openly and maturely about with topic with your coworkers.

Thanks for reading, y’all.

Happy pooing, everyone!

Happy pooing, everyone!

Michal Tutka 💩
Prineville, Oregon BLM