Stranger in a Rangeland

Now over halfway through my internship here in Dillon, Montana, I’ve officially made the switch from full-time Seeds of Success work to rangeland monitoring.

Wyethia helianthoides, a Seeds of Success collection

Platanthera dilatata, a potential SOS collection

Arnica fulgens, a Seeds of Success collection

The transition is both bittersweet and well-timed. I’ve enjoyed the Seeds of Success work much more than I initially expected: the thrill of roaming around the mountains of Beaverhead and Madison Counties, searching for large populations of native wildflowers; the unadulterated delight of locating a robust population of plants and identifying its associates; the satisfaction of pressing well-composed voucher specimens and collecting complete field data; the sense of relief at returning to these populations at the perfect time for seed collection; the serenity of collecting seed high up in the mountains among the flowers and butterflies and magnificent views.

The critters really love Gaillardia aristata!

There are so many amazing plants around here it was hard to narrow our Seeds of Success collections down to just fifteen species! I’ve already started a document of potential seed collections for next year’s intern.

Hopefully a future intern will enjoy collecting from this huge population of lovely Calochortus

All that said, I’m already enjoying the transition to rangeland monitoring. One of the best things about this job is the variety! It’s nice to work with other people more frequently, and in the week since I switched over I’ve gotten to pick up some useful monitoring skills and visit parts of the field office I hadn’t yet explored.

Such as this surprise abandoned cabin we stumbled upon during a stream reach assessment – pictured here, smack-dab in the middle of the dry creekbed

Did I already mention that it’s beautiful and amazing here? In addition to all of the places I get to go for work, there are countless incredible places to explore for backpacking, hiking, swimming, driving, flowers and views within 1.5-5 hours drive from Dillon. Five months is hardly enough time to see and do everything that I want to do here, but I’m loving these three day weekends as much as my four day workweeks.

Marvelous Mimulus lewisii at Yellowstone, just a 2.5 hour drive east

Gentianopsis in Yellowstone

Pink lupine in the Gravelly Mountains just 1.5 hours east

Until next time,

Stellatrix LeRange

Dillon, Montana Field Office

Fieldwork (or field trip?) in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Last week, the Las Vegas BLM, Henderson USGS, and Nevada Conservation Corps  teams from central NV gathered to conduct an experiment on seeding methods for the Burned Areas project. They ended up being short-handed one day, so for the first time in quite a while, I got to go out and do some field work! Outdoor work in the desert during the summer may sound like torture to many, but that day I rediscovered the joys of working outside and being immersed in one’s ecosystem of study.

Sunrise in the Las Vegas Valley.

Besides, desert conservationists are well-versed in the art of beating the heat. In the warm desert, doing fieldwork in the summer means starting at the witching hour and finishing up by noon. We set out for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area well before dawn, and set up our supplies under cover of darkness. Our task was to complete a few more plots for the diversionary seed aspect of the Burned Areas project. The lack of palatable vegetation most of the year makes granivory – seed predation – an important diet adaptation. In the Mojave, the chief granivores are harvester ants and rodents, such as pocket mice and kangaroo rats. I understand that seeds are an important part of these animals’ diets, but their caching efforts can throw a huge bone in desert restoration efforts! Previous studies in the Mojave have found that granivores can thieve substantial proportions of propagules from seeded disturbed sites. The diversionary seeding was an effort to distract them from the native seed that we want to keep in place.

Seeds of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), carefully measured for our study plots.

Seeds of Joshua trees, white bursage, and creosote bush, all mixed up with millet and ready for broadcasting!


We mixed small portions of Yucca brevifolia, Ambrosia dumosa, and Larrea tridentata with several ounces of millet seed. The millet seed is more nutritious, and thus more attractive, for granivores. Millet is also not adapted to the Mojave’s hot, dry climate, eliminating the danger of germination of thousands of non-native seedlings. The idea is that any would-be rodent seed thieves would fill up on millet, and then be too stuffed to bother with the native seed. In conjunction with the diversionary seeding efforts, USGS wildlife biologists, along with several volunteers, conducted trapping surveys to gain an understanding of what rodent species were active in the project area.


After weighing out pounds of millet and mixing in carefully calculated quantities of the native seed, my crewmate and I trekked out to our sites. As the sun crested the ridge to the east, it burnished the conservation area’s namesake mountains into a deep crimson. The blue yucca made a lovely contrast with the rocks. Slowly, the air warmed, but a light breeze kept the morning air pleasant as we flagged and hand-seeded our plots.

Sunrise at Red Rocks Canyon NCA.

A pin flag amidst Bromus madritensis and Schismus arabicus, two invasive annual grasses that are major problems in the southwest. These grasses artificially increase the fuel load and create continuity between shrubs in an otherwise sparsely vegetated landscape.


The scenery would have been perfect if not for the haunting reminders of the fires of a decade ago. The difference in plant communities between burned and unburned areas was incredibly stark, with far fewer perennial shrubs – mainly burroweed (Gutierrezia), brittlebush (Encelia) and desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) – growing in the disturbed areas. Bromus and Schismus carpeted our sites, and twisted stumps of dead Mojave yucca, some still blackened, dotted the landscape like desecrated statues.

Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera) that has re-sprouted after fire. It took 12 years…but it is re-sprouting nonetheless!




At the base of many, however, emerged the new green spikes of a re-sprouting individual. The sight of these little green spears reminded me that despite the vulnerability of this ecosystem to fire, tolerance to harsh conditions has always been the name of the game here, and that many desert plants are more resilient than one might think.

Due to my office schedule and the blazing summer heat, I hadn’t had much opportunity to venture out into the Mojave over the last few months. Admittedly, since the annuals died back and the shrubs went to seed, there wasn’t as much draw for me to go outdoors as there was in the spring! However, while out in the field I was pleased to see the desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) still going strong in the anthesis department. And to be fair, just because a plant is past flower certainly doesn’t mean that it is of no interest! Several species were still loaded down with seeds. We found plenty of desert wishbone-bushes that were bursting with cured achenes, and many creosote bushes were still covered with their iconic downey schizocarps. While I’ve learned more information that I ever thought I could about desert plants, from their phenology to palatability to seed dormancy, even the most well-written scientific paper is no substitute for getting out in the field and learning about these species hands-on.

Larrea tridentata, the iconic creosote bush, chock-full of ripe seeds.

Baileya multiradiata, a year-round bloomer in the Mojave Desert.

Monsoon season is in full swing here in the Desert Southwest. For the last week, the morning sun has been blocked from delivering his usual greeting at dawn by thick, blue-grey thunderclouds. On such mornings, the mountains are dyed a deep indigo, and the smell of creosote is thick in the air. Every Vegas Local’s commute is focused on the same goal: to make it to the office, or home, or wherever, before the rain comes down and the flash floods ensue. I for one am grateful for the reprieve from blistering heat and endless sunshine, and even more so for the promise the rain brings – that there is a second bloom happening further south! I hope that I will be able to see the spiderling, devil’s claw, and agave bloom in the Sonoran before the second dry spell of autumn comes along.


Inching Closer to our 30 JZ’s

Theresa and I are so close to our target of 30 collections and it’s kind of amazing. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for some bad timing, we likely would have hit our 30 and surpassed it. Sometimes though, you just need to roll with what the season throws at you. Recently, we camped in Fillmore’s Field Office to collect the seeds from plants we scouted there about a month ago. It was moving along at a slower pace, and we thought we timed it pretty accurately. Unfortunately, Utah decided to have a week straight (and then some) of days over 100 degrees F and when we went to collect our seed, we were dismayed that the plants essentially got fried before the seed could even develop properly. So, instead of our trusty work truck being full to the brim of seed bags, we got about half the collections we intended to get. All is not lost however. Since we GPS everything, next years crew will be able to get the ones we missed out on this year.

Rural Utah has a sense of humor I can appreciate!

Return to Crystal Peak in Fillmore’s Field Office.

As of last week, we wrapped up a cool rare plant monitoring project by collecting a tiny amount of seed for a grow-out project the office is interested in. It was hot. It was dusty. Fire ate away one of our populations. And somehow, a road flooded, and we strategically had to maneuver off-road around it. Our truck hasn’t let us down yet though, which is a miracle considering we’ve logged over 7,000 miles on every sort of road and non-road imaginable. I probably just jinxed that luck now.

When not sweating out of every pore in my body during our work days, I have been enjoying the cool hikes the Wasatch front has to offer. I’m looking forward to some upcoming scouting in the higher elevation areas of our office since the mountains have seemingly exploded into bloom. It’s a breath-taking sight to see meadows thick with color.

Saving a mantis dude from our debugging process that we put the seeds through


Down in the Valley

Another month has come to pass and I cannot imagine where the time has gone. Here at the preserve, I have been very busy with a multitude of activities and a myriad of new experiences that have kept me well occupied and learning every day.
Chief among these endeavors has been supervising a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew. Over the past few weeks, I have seen the small group grow as individuals and as a whole– a truly rewarding experience for someone with not much experience supervising any sort of crew. We had them doing all sorts of different projects at the preserve and it was great to teach and learn with them for about three weeks.
Having come to us with little to no experience with tools like a weed-eater, the crew members now know not only how to operate such equipment, but also how to maintain and properly care for such equipment. With such skills, we were then able to clear a large number of the preserve’s water control structures, which are crucial for controlling our wetlands during the flood-up season when we are providing habitat for our beloved avian visitors. By clearing these structures it makes flooding up and draining the wetlands easier and more efficient. Two things that we are always looking to improve at an office with relatively few hands.
This crew also helped us with a cleanup of one of our levees that had been littered with debris from the floodwaters of this past winter. With the help of some local youths from the Galt School District and some California State Office employees, we were able to clean a large amount of debris, ranging from tires to tree limbs to a fishing net. Having such a mix of ages out in the field together was very exciting and I hope the experience really inspired the young ones to respect and care for the environment and keeping it clean. I would never have guessed it could be such fun, but we even had kids that didn’t want to quit when it was time to go!
We also embarked on a mission to repair a retaining wall that had been damaged by flood waters–a feat which really allowed us to work on teamwork and building with different tools and skills. Although it was relatively arranged for us by the previous builders, we had to do a lot of on-the-spot improvising to really work certain areas into place and get the pieces to fit. All in all, our work was quite productive and the wall is looking good and is close to finished. Having never built such a wall myself, this was a learning experience for us all.
In addition to these more work-intensive activities, we were also lucky enough to get out and enjoy the riparian parts of the preserve’s namesake. On two separate occasions, we took the crew out canoeing, both with the school district students and as a small group. On both occasions, we had excellent paddling conditions and were able to all share in a really fun experience. Many of the students older and younger had never experienced canoeing before, making it another great learning experience for us all.
In terms of more personal happenings, I am now UTV and IPM Herbicide trained. This was a crucial step for an intern at the preserve, mainly because we have so many weeds that need to be treated and this year has presented us a great chance to get some of them under control. With the major flooding of this past winter, many of the once heavily infested areas that have been battle grounds in years past are now relatively clear, presenting us with a great chance to get ahead of the weeds and keep our waterways relatively clear. Water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) are our main aquatic foes in these areas and they do not relent.
This has thus been a big focus of my past few weeks. I was able to go out and treat primrose and hyacinth on two separate boat operations as the applicator. In addition, I worked with our lead applicator for several days following my training to treat primrose, as well as yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis).
While this may make it seem as though all that we have are weeds, we actually have a good diversity of native plants and an abundance of wildlife. I have not been as good a botanist as I would hope to be with learning all of the beautiful and unique plants around the preserve, but as I get out and do some scouting for our preserve’s two SOS collections I will keep my eyes out as we always do here at the preserve. You just never know if you will happen upon some river otters, owls, waterfowl by the bunches, or maybe even a mountain lion.
As I continue my internship here, I can’t wait to see what each day brings. I am sure I will have more to share soon!
Until then–

Picking seed

Well, we have picked a bajillion seeds by now, I think. Seriously, we made some great progress this last month, though it is getting pretty hot out now and I am very much done with the dust and heat. But boy can it be stunning out here! Life is good in the Salt Lake Field Office.


Wrapping up in July

As July is coming to an end, many of my collection goals I had made at the beginning of my internship are wrapping up. I find myself with a higher confidence in collecting seed. I have realized that 10,000 seed is actually not that much. Many of my plants (and many plants in general) produce so many seeds that I only need to collect from a handful to reach 10,000. This plant below has about 4 seed per little capsule and hundreds of capsules per plant!

I am still learning plant identification skills everyday! I love knowing what plants I am seeing and which ones are native or not. Plant identification is something I will never get tired of.

I got to meet with a botanist in the Forest Service that does active restoration in Siskiyou county. Having a day just to hear what she does and how she does it was awesome! It really made me think about my career path and that I may want to guide my career into restoration. My mentor is not doing restoration and may not start any projects till a few years from now, so unfortunately gaining experience in that field is unlikely. However, it does motivate me to look into jobs in the restoration business and hopefully get a job in that field after SOS.

The temperatures have been rising since May and now they seem to have reached a plateau. They oscillate around 100 and 107, usually the latter at the end of the week. Thank goodness most of my seeds have been collected and I can enjoy the AC more often. Although, I find myself day dreaming about the outside as I get chills every now and again from the AC being turned up too high.

The BLM office hosted and participated in a float trip down the Trinity river. We all set afloat on rafts to head downstream. The mission of the trip was to monitor a long-term restoration project. The goal of the project was to create more inlets from the main river to create more fish and wildlife habitat. This was a really fun float and gave a different view of the river. The public was also invited on this trip and they got to see the improvements on the river. Overall this was a great learning experience!

-Redding, CA BLM office

Snow in July

My internship here in Idaho is zipping along! After a fun and informative week spent attending the CLM workshop in Chicago, my crew jumped into collecting data for MAIM (Modified Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring). A typical day for this includes driving up to two hours on somewhat treacherous dirt roads deep into sagebrush country. We then record information about the plot, set up a three-spoke transect and record vegetation heights and cover using the line-point intercept method. We also conduct forb sweeps along the lines and take an inventory of every species present in the plot. This data can then be used to assess the site’s suitability as sage grouse habitat and to inform decisions about grazing permits.

Last week, I also got the opportunity to go out with the non-game wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish & Game. Myself and some other interns were lucky enough to escape a hot day by going underground to look for bats and cave invertebrates in the lava tubes. Although we didn’t see any bats that day, we did find a rare cave beetle! We also helped conduct insect surveys aboveground- we looked for a rare jewel beetle commonly found in the roots and flowers of Eriogonum sp.

Cave explorations

Eriogonum sphaerocephalum

As my plant ID skills sharpen, I find myself spending more and more time looking at them, even in my free time. For fourth of July weekend, myself and a few friends headed up to the Sawtooth Range near Stanley, ID. We backpacked up to the beautiful Goat Lake, which was still coated in snow and ice! I expected there to be snow up at high elevation, but didn’t expect the entire area to still be completely buried. Instead of heading up higher through slushy snowfields, we opted to hike down at lower elevations, which afforded us more time to look at plants. We were entranced by beautiful meadows filled with Artemesia tridentata, Calochortus nuttallii, Eriogonum sp., Penstemon sp., Purshia tridentata, Delphinium sp., Balsamorhiza sagittata, and more.

Sunset at Goat Lake in the Sawtooth Range.

Ridge-line full of wildflowers!


Shoshone Field Office- BLM

A Closer Look

So this is my first blog post since starting my internship here in Carlsbad, New Mexico! I have to admit… driving here from Northern Virginia and reaching my last hour and the first real stretch of desert, I thought to myself, “what in the world could possibly be collected or even growing out here?”. All I saw was shrub after shrub and yucca and oil drills for miles! However, just a couple of days in the field and I was proved wrong. When you pay attention and look closely enough there is beauty all around out here in ‘The Land of Enchantment’ and I find it pretty amazing.

One of my favorite flowers so far was that of our first successful collection, Centaurium maryannum, the gypsum centaury, which we found growing way down in a ravine of Ben Slaughter Draw.

Centuarium maryannum

Another beautiful flower was that of our first failed collection, Zephyranthes longifolia, the copper zephyrlily. Apparently, these little guys are quite appetizing to rabbits and cows because the day we came back to make our collection, after weeks of carefully watching over them, we found they had all been munched on! It was definitely a letdown but we learned our lesson and moved on to more scouting.

Zephyranthes longifolia

Despite our slow start, things should be picking up soon! We have since found several more collection-worthy populations that will be going to seed soon and I assume with monsoon season quickly approaching we will discover even more desert treasures.

Beetle inside a cactus flower

-Ashley Warrington, BLM Carlsbad Field Office

Transitioning to the Desert

This marks the end of my second month working in Carlsbad, NM and I have to say I feel like I’m in the twilight zone… Being from North Carolina, I don’t think I have ever seen so much cactus in my life and I also find it kind of surreal that there are just no trees (besides a ridiculous amount of pecan trees). I ended up joining a group of interns from the Carlsbad field office on a trip to Santa Fe this weekend and I almost cried out of joy when I saw a pine tree. Though, I will say that I am enjoying the lack of humidity in spite of how hot it can get out here.

I have started getting used to seeing cacti everywhere but that doesn’t stop me from getting excited when I see one in flower

Despite the drastic change in environment, I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. I have seen and experienced so many new things I never would have without taking this internship and moving across the country, for example the Carlsbad Caverns! They are definitely worth a trip out here if you ever get a chance. The sheer size of the caverns is humbling in my opinion.

Entrance to the caverns

There are so many different landscapes within New Mexico that it makes every trip exciting, even if you get lost! I can now honestly see why its called “The Land of Enchantment” and I am eager to continue exploring the state during my stay.

Got lost on the way to Tent Rocks and stumbled upon a hot spring! Well more like tepid spring… Photo Credit: Julie Mao

We eventually made it to Tent Rocks!

Bandelier National Monument

Petroglyphs near Santa Fe


And now, as a botanist, here are my obligatory plant photos:

Centaurium maryannum

Zephyranthes longifolia

Unidentified thistle

Kicking Things Into Gear

Things around the Buffalo Field Office in Wyoming have really picked up since I returned from the workshop in Chicago. Upon our return, my fellow intern, Christine, and I have been going out to the field together to start our inspections. What we do is a bit different than what most CLM interns are working on. To explain briefly, she and I inspect abandoned oil and gas wells to check on their status and how the reclamation process is progressing. Reclamation is the final requirement in releasing a well from bond, and if it isn’t being completed properly the operator will be notified by the BLM and can be fined if necessary.

On our first solo mission out to the field, Christine and I chose 5 wells out of our assignments for which the office had received notice that the operator was to plug and abandon the well. No further paperwork had been sent in in the few years following the notice to plug and abandon, which we thought was odd. So we decided to investigate. Prior to heading out, we created a map of the site and roads to load into Avenza (an app I highly recommend checking out). Something I’ve learned working this summer is that navigating dirt and two-track roads in Wyoming is never as straightforward as you think. Locked gates and roads in rough condition were the major obstacles we faced that first day out. A good portion of that day was spent trying to find the right road into the site, but we succeeded after plenty of trial and error. The wells we inspected that day still had infrastructure in place and lots of cheatgrass around them. Clearly, the reclamation isn’t going well.

We went back out to that site a few days later to check on the rest of the wells in that grouping. All were in a pretty similar state to the ones we saw on the first day. As we were leaving the site, we heard a call over the CB radio that there was a fire right off the main road we took into the site. I scanned the horizon and saw smoke rising in the distance. After a moment of irrational panic that somehow we had caused the fire, we realized it was a few miles from anywhere we had been that day. There were already BLM firefighters working on it, so we continued on with the rest of our day.