Winding Down in the Snake River Valley

The summer has gone by in a blur here in Twin Falls, ID. I’ve spent the last 4 months learning the flora of the Great Basin, collecting data on areas that have burned, kayaking in the Snake River Canyon, backpacking in the Sawtooths and Yellowstone, and looking at a whole lot of cheat grass.

I’m currently working on a project with the two other CBG interns on the fuels program on 5-year burns. Generally, we collect quantitative data on areas that have burned between 1-3 years ago. After three years funding is often lost, so getting to go out to spots that haven’t been studied for a few years has been interesting. We’ve also gotten to read reports on the history of the fires, the resources that went into them, and the importance of the areas burned, giving us a more rounded understanding of them. We’re compiling reports on our 5-year finding along with management recommendations, which will be sent to the state office, which is exciting.

Other fun things I’ve done recently:
Caving- I went out with the GeoCorp interns to one of the longest lava tubes in the US! It is accessible only with a permit to preserve the fragile environment.
Rare Plant Monitoring- I have gone out with both the rare plant botanist of Idaho to monitor Castelleja christii, a rare Painbrush, as well as the LEPA crew that works out of our office to find stands of Lepidium papilliferum. 
Carex Workshop- myself and one other CBG intern were sent to a 3 days long Carex identification workshop. Carex are incredibly hard to identify or key out, so getting structures guidance was incredibly helpful
I’ve also been trying to spend as much time as possible in the Sawtooth Mountains. I grew up in Alaska and have spent the last 8 years in the Pacific Northwest. I’m a mountain baby. This high sagebrush steppe desert isn’t quite my cup of tea (though it does have a beauty of its own), so escaping to the mountains has been a comfort.To be totally honest there’s not a lot that would bring me back to this area of Idaho, but I would come back for the Sawtooths.

Ranger Things

After working a full field season in Dillon, I can safely say I am no longer a fairweather botanist. Something I’ve had to work at is identifying plants by vegetative characteristics alone in the early season and in their senesced, dried out, most crispy state later in the season — important skills for rangeland work.

Although not much is still blooming out in the open montane sagebrush steppe, I’ve been finding refuge from the smoke and heat in riparian vegetation assessments. Under the shade and thickets of cottonwood, quaking aspen and sometimes-encroaching conifers, I have been delighting in the relative abundance of non-vascular plants, fungi and lichen.

A small piece of a large mat of Peltigera venosa

Marchantia polymorpha, a complex thalloid liverwort. Check out the gemmae cups on this cutie!

Stropharia aeruginosa or Russula parvovirescens? Who can really say. I did not get a look under the cap, unfortunately.

Some robust eyelash cup fungi, named so for the remarkable eyelash-like hairs around the rim of the cup. Maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s Scutellinia scutellata!

While I don’t have any new flower pictures to share, I finally made it over to the Bannock ghost town this weekend where I was thrilled to behold some botanically accurate-ish wallpaper from long ago.

Much of July, August and September has been very hot and smokey in Montana. All that changed quite suddenly last week: on Wednesday it was 95 degrees, on Thursday it was 55 degrees and slightly breezy, and on Friday it snowed in Dillon for nearly 24 hours straight.

This was fun to wake up to the morning of September 16th

At last! Gone is the eery red sun and thick smoke in the air. The fresh air and breathtaking snow-capped mountain views that typically surround Dillon are back.

This shift in the seasons could not be better timed. AIM monitoring is done, as is most of the outside work with rangeland techs. Now all that is left to do is mounting herbarium specimens for Seeds of Success and, of course, data entry.

Signing out for now,


Dillon, Montana

Critters of Idaho

Our little office crew of CLM interns have been busy working on completing a GIS map of fences along 2 allotments in our field office. Many days this means driving for up to an hour and a half to the site that needs “ground truthing” for certain features and confirmation of fences. We’ve gotten proficient at using Avenza on our mobile devices and converting the data to allow compatibility for ArcMap. We’ve also gotten pretty good at figuring out if a figure in the distance is actually a cow or a rock. Inexperienced range techs may see the rock moving, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cow, the heat can fool you!

Coworker searching for fences, cows, and canyons

Every so often we get the chance to follow along and perform a riparian area management protocol called Proper Functioning Condition Assessment. Our mentors then take us through the questionnaire at the end of the transect, to determine if the riparian area and stream are properly functioning or not

On one of the many eventful days out in the field, I found some bear scat. The following week, a coworker found one of these little horny toads. They are pretty much my favorite wildlife we’ve found out in these deserts. As cute as they are, apparently some species of this genus squirt blood from the corners of their eyes (Ocular autohemorrhaging) as a predatory defense mechanism. Thankfully, these little guys haven’t perceived us as threats (or just aren’t the spp that has this capability), so none of us have been squirted with lizard blood, yet.

horny toad (horned lizard)

One hectic week we got the chance to check out a Bat BioBlitz organized by Idaho Department of Fish and Game. We arrived just in time to set up our tents on site, have a meeting about the nights’ event and help set up mist nets.

Momma bat, master of the night

The following morning we drove back for an opportunity to go caving in the second largest lava tube cave, Gypsum Cave

me, smiling for the camera in the cave

CBG interns, GeoCorps and BLM crew all out exploring lava tubes in our PPE

More recently we’ve gotten the chance to tag monarch butterflies, but with little to no success. Unfortunately, “Monarch butterflies living west of the Rocky Mountains are on the brink of extinction, according to a new study”

Juicy monarch caterpillar munching on milkweed, you go dude!

1/3 tagged butterflies 13 Sept 2017, Tag number: B4701 Female

Enjoy the last few weeks of your internship fellow CBG interns!



Continued from page 3:

After the Eutrema penlandii monitoring effort we headed out to a short trip near Walden, CO to look for Phacelia formosula. This plant is our first biennial and, therefore, species that we surveyed for frequencies rather than density. Basically, this means that instead of a permanent plot with a permanent set of transects we have a permanent plot with transects that move each year. This way we can follow the trends of the plant population and their movement in an area. Unfortunately, this species saw a rather large decline in 2016 and we were hoping for some recovery this year. Although the species did not have a boom this year, we did see some promising trends that the plant will come back, but only time, more data collection and some more data collection will tell.

The interesting part of this story is that a Pandora’s box of complications is opened when you start to ask questions about why this plant is in decline, because so little is known about it. Are the flowering plants creating adequate amount of seed? Is that seed germinating? What are the conditions needed for germination? Have those conditions been met in the last few years? What additional information do we need to know about the plant in order to answer these questions?

A former intern here at BLM Colorado attempted to answer a few of these questions. Going so far as collecting soil samples, looking for seed in them and trying to grow those samples out. Continued investigation in this area is still needed.

In the intervening time between my rare and threatened plants data collection I have started to help my fellow intern with seed collection. I was excited to take part in this process, having learned about it at the CLM training. It is a pretty straight forward process, but we learned first hand that illegal seed collection on BLM land is somewhat of a problem when  we had a BLM ranger come visit us on site. Apparently some concerned observers in the area had witnessed illegal sagebrush seed collection in that area in the past. I did not know that was a problem and that the BLM would respond to such a call.

I also found while attempting to look at some demography data that we collected on Astragalus osterhoutii, that someone had sorted the data so that the tag numbers of a couple hundred plants and the information about those plants was jumbled into an incoherent mass of numbers and letters. After spending a week sorting this data out, the demographic data was a lot more coherent and insightful. I am hoping to continue looking into some of the demography data we have collected, sometimes for more than 10 years, in order to answer some of the questions that are still looming, such as the ones mentioned for P. formosula.

This last week we headed over to Fairplay, near Mt. Sherman, to set up and read a Modified Whittaker plot near our E. penlandii monitoring plot. Conducting the plot in this way allows us to look at the overall trends of plant populations in the area to understand what might be affecting E. penlandii. For this plot we were blessed with the presence of a handful of botanists from the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Although I have seen it time and time again, I am always happily surprised by the fact that there are so many women in botany. One of the reasons I was so excited by the idea of Carol as a mentor, besides the fact that she is extremely fun to be around, is the fact that she is a woman with a PhD in botany, getting stuff done.

The four other women amazing women from CNHP that we met up with have all been working in Colorado for many years and all of them were very well versed in alpine and riparian plants. Having them as a resource was a huge help when it came to the 50+ plants that we needed to identify – not a simple task when this includes a variety of Carex, Juncus and Potentilla with few distinguishing features. I love when my dreams of working in this field are justified by meeting amazing people. Let’s all take a moment to raise our glasses to the dedicated plant people of the world.

After finishing the plot, I made my way up a scree field to the top of Mt. Sherman-14,036 ft above sea level. Mt. Sherman is not the highest peak in Colorado, nor is it the most impressive peak that I have summited  (that distinction goes to Mt Whitney, which I bagged at sunrise while collecting Forest Health data for the Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada). BUT the gratification felt similar. Let me wax poetic a second to be grateful for legs and lungs that can carry me, eyes that can take in the experience, and knees that only slightly complain when I run down the trail to catch up with my fellow crew mates.

Salida was our most recent stop and one of the most amazing small towns that I have seen in Colorado. During this visit we all wanted to partake in the local scene and so after work we stopped at a local bar where we walked in on a circle of 12 people playing harmonic folk music. Each person had a different folk instrument, and they must have communicated through the language of music because I never saw them speak to each other. Not a bad place to call home or pass through in the quest for more plant knowledge.

One would think we would slow down in September as the summer winds down but we still have a few more trips, a few more hikes and a lot more data to collect this season. As Jack Torrance demonstrated, though, work must be balanced with play and this summer’s intensive fieldwork was broken up by many new experiences. The most memorable had to be the solar eclipse viewing trip that we took a few weeks back. And it turned out that the 2 minutes of darkness, stars coming out and a lot of end of the world talk was well worth the trek up to Nebraska and back.

Never thought I would make it to Nebraska but #eclipse


Till next time,


Colorado State Office

I’m Going On An Adventure!

Not much has changed here at the Klamath Falls Field Office, so I thought I would include a million photos of some of my favorite things I have seen and done in Oregon over the last several months!

Umpqua National Forest is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life! Filled with waterfalls, rushing rivers, deserted campgrounds, and crystalline lakes, it is a dream.

The North Umpqua trail!

Umpqua hot springs has the best views

Toketee Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls in Oregon!

Lemolo Lake at sunset was an absolute dream.

If anyone is passing through Oregon and hasn’t experienced Umpqua National Forest, you absolutely must!

Off of the McKenzie Highway, east of Eugene, you will find enough waterfalls to last you a very, very long time! There are more popular falls right off of the road and there are more discreet falls you can spend several days backpacking to. I haven’t been able to spend near as much time there as I would like, but I’ve included a couple of pictures of some of my favorite sights.

Proxy falls is my favorite waterfall I’ve ever had the joy of hiking to!

The Tamolitch Blue Pool is a very cold 37 degrees! I did swim in it for about…. 5 seconds 😀

The last adventure that has really stuck in my mind from this summer is the first time I went rock climbing OUTSIDE on REAL ROCKS! Oh boy! The other intern I am working with, Jeff, purchased a butt load of climbing gear and we went out and had a grand adventure!

Climbing rocks and stuff

A beautiful view of Northern California after climbing to the top of a spire at Castle Crags!

I am looking forward to more adventures and fun times in Oregon!

Marissa – Klamath Falls Field Office – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hard Work Meets Good Luck, Eerie Aspens, and the Alpaca that Stole my Heart

Hey everyone!

Things are looking up for us meeting our target number of collections. We’ve made 10 collections in the last three weeks, 8 of those in the month of September! These last several weeks have been our best yet as far as making collections and covering a lot of ground while scouting goes.

Our situation wasn’t looking too good a week ago with regards to meeting our target collection goal. We had only 16 of the 35 collections that we needed. Our saving grace came in the form of the 10 collections we were able to claim that the SOS crew made last October (technically in the current fiscal year) and the 6 that we were able to make this last week in the Carson National Forest northwest of San Antonio Mountain.

We made a collection of Heterotheca villosa on this hillside. The valley was so beautiful that it didn’t look real. This picture doesn’t do it the justice that it deserves.

We drove through a beautiful aspen forest in the Carson National Forest near San Antonio Mt. I didn’t realize that New Mexico had aspen forests, so I was very pleasantly surprised!

I thought the aspen forests were gorgeous, but I must admit that they gave me a bit of an eerie unsettled feeling with their silent uniformity.

Cryptic messages like this one didn’t do much to settle my uneasiness as we were scouting.

One of the big things that has helped us out is that some of the populations that we’ve been finding are finally mature and ready to collect. We’ve been having a bit of a problem with only being able to find populations that are either past seed or not yet mature. Luck was definitely on our side this last week. In addition, employing some of Ella’s techniques that we picked up on last month has helped us as well. We’ve been covering more ground with scouting, and have even done a couple of camping trips. Spending one day a week in the office has helped us keep up with data sheets and make organized weekly plans.

On the first night of our camping trip, we stayed by a small lake and were treated to this lovely view just after sunrise.

Our tent bathed in ascetically pleasing early morning light

In the last month, we’ve found some sizable populations of species on our target list that will make good collections when their seeds mature in October. Specifically, we have found tons of Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama), Krascheninnikovia (Winterfat), and some Atriplex canescens (Four-wing saltbush). I’m also excited that 4 of the 6 collections that we made last week were Heterotheca villosa, a priority species for the Southwestern Seed Partnership.

The lovely Heterotheca villosa with its puffballs of seeds that are so satisfying to pluck off the stem

Me collecting Heterotheca villosa

This weekend, I spent a couple of days at the New Mexico Native Plant Society conference. There were some interesting speakers, including Thor Hanson, the author of The Triumph of Seeds, who spoke passionately about the way that even though many people are more removed from nature than ever, seeds are still integrated into all parts of our lives if we only know where to look. It was also very interesting to see Lillis Urban, my supervisor, give a presentation on the Seeds of Success programs in Santa Fe and New Mexico. It was neat to hear about some of the programs that the seeds that we are collecting will go towards in the future. For example, there is a program just starting to try to get going in New Mexico where inmates in prisons will use our seeds to grow native plants in order to increase the amount of native seed available for use in restoration projects.

During one of the field trips for the conference, I fell in love with this alpaca. He was so fluffy and adorable!

As for the rest of the month, I’m looking forward to making the three collections needed to meet our target number, and hopefully many more! I really think we can finish out the collecting season strong!

Until next time,


Seeds of Success Intern

Taos, NM BLM Field Office

Fall is coming on fast!

August was a packed month that brought a lot of new experiences in and out of the field. My partner and I have continued to monitor where cattle are grazing and check on the health of their favorite “ice cream feed” spots, the coveted riparian areas that dot the allotments. Doing these compliance checks has allowed me to gain more experience in using the GPS, try out different monitoring techniques and get out in some of the most remote areas of the field office to see some incredible views and creatures. Recently, while solo surveying a riparian area, I came across a group of about 150 wild horses and was able to admire them from a few hundred yards away while they snorted at me and slowly trickled out of the draw we were in.

At the beginning of August, a friend came up from Colorado and we went on a spectacular backpacking trip to the Cirque of Towers in the Wind River Mountain Range. We quickly learned that most people took four or five days to do the route we were completing in three, but it was a great challenge and we came home sore but refreshed. A couple weeks later I went home for a weekend and it was so fun to see friends, family, and of course my dogs!

Since I didn’t start the internship until early June I still have about a month and a half to go and have just recently started the arduous task of applying to jobs all over the country. There is still plenty of field work to be done and the weather just recently changed from being in the high 80s or low 90s to all of the sudden being in the 40s when we wake up (not even mad about it). I am excited to get our first snowfall and see how our work may change as the weather gets a little less predictable. The cows have about a month before they are rounded up for the winter, a task that still blows my mind after seeing how spread out and surprisingly adept at hiding they are. In the mean time, I will be switching from iced to hot coffee and busting out the wool socks.

Hanging out with some wild horses.

Our first night’s camping spot.

Arrowhead Lake in the Wind River Range.

Has it cooled down yet?

After successfully collecting Erigeron speciosus, we have shifted our focus to scouting for other target species populations. Fortunately, our adventures in the last couple of weeks have taken us to the Bridgeport District in California. This area is beautiful but the high elevation left Payton and I fatigued and dizzy for the first few days. Although, I couldn’t complain too much since the 60 degree weather was a welcome relief from the high 90s that we feel in Reno.

A bumble bee visiting Erigeron speciosus, aka Showy fleabane

Our excursions brought us to Twin Lakes where the mule deer completely ignore people as they munch on away without a care in the world. The mornings and early afternoons were the time for scouting, since thunderclouds rolled in as the day progressed.  Once we heard the distant rumbles we slowly rushed back onto the paved roads. Dirt roads on forest service land will turn into slippery slush if they get wet, and we weren’t going to take any chances.

Bridgeport, CA

Mule deer graze near Twin Lakes Resort, CA

As we shifted our focus to different native plants, we began scouting the drier sections of USFS land which led us to Cleome serrulata. Two weeks later, some of the lower pods had mature seed, so we didn’t hesitate to begin our first Cleome collection. It was a tedious task and my hands smelled like a very potent green pepper by the end of it. As I think back to my start in the SOS program, I realize how quickly we can pick up skills. Within minutes of investigating a new plant, we can distinguish mature from immature seed and efficiently collect the seed from their receptacles.

Cleome serrulata, aka Rocky Mountain bee plant, add color to the drier areas of Nevada


Closing time

Well, Alyssa and I are T-minus 3 weeks away from being completely finished with this internship and we both can’t believe it.

Our mentor has given us a couple of opportunities that I am so grateful for over the past month. We were able to do a media training, during which we had to do a pretend interview while being filmed, yikes. That gave us a lot of insight into how to speak to the media and the general public about research and projects. We got involved in a project with the forester in our office and participated in a data collection. He had planted around 500 white pine trees a few weeks back and Alyssa and I checked their viability and learned how to identify trees with symptoms of blister rust. Earlier this week, we drove to Yerington, NV to attend a PFC assessment training for streams and riparian areas. There was so much to learn that it was a bit overwhelming but it was a great couple of days getting new exposure to different fields of science!

Our main focus for our last couple of weeks is to scout and make opportunistic collections. We have collected Asclepias speciosa and Cleome serrulata and have spent a lot of time traveling around Nevada looking for new populations.

The not-so-great part about collection Cleome is the pungent smell of green peppers

Typically, we collect upland plants that we have grown pretty familiar with but milkweed grows in riparian areas. We spent a decent amount of time trying to ID a lot of look-alike willows and wildflowers but had some fun doing it!

Alyssa carrying around our vouchers and a few plants to ID in the office!

Wrapping up our season means a lot of organization, planning, office tasks and a lot of reflecting. These past four months have been such an experience and can you really beat a west coast sunset???? I know I’ll miss that beautiful sky!

Life in the Fast Lane

The month of August has absolutely FLOWN by. There were times I desperately wanted it to slow down because I am not looking forward to the end of this internship (or having to leave the beautiful state of Wyoming). However, because the past month has been so jam-packed, I have had an absolute blast! Here’s a tiny glimpse of each of the events that made this month, and the entire summer so special…

Great Dam Day: On August 19th, the old road to the east entrance of Yellowstone was opened to the public. Different organizations in town positioned themselves along the road and set up informational booths. We had a BLM tent set up at each end of the road. One was a Leave No Trace station where kids could answer questions about the ethics of LNT and win prizes. The other booth had a trivia game (pictured below) with questions about the management and different aspects relating to public lands. The game was a big hit with visitors of all ages!

Here I am playing Your Public Lands Trivia Quest with a few visitors and my mentor’s kids 🙂

Eclipse: On August 21st, I traveled down to Thermopolis, WY with fellow CBG interns, Tyler Kerr and Hank Carlson, to see the Great American Eclipse within the range of 100% totality. After a short two hour drive, we pulled over alongside a horse pasture and hunkered down for event. As it got darker, we noticed the horses begin migrating to the other end of the pasture. When it started to get lighter again, the horses walked in a straight line towards a gate on the opposite end to wait for what I’m assuming they thought was going to be breakfast. The most common question I received after the eclipse was about how dark it got. My response was always along the lines of “not quite as dark as night time, but more like sunset…right after the sun has gone down behind the trees or mountains, but still lights up the sky a bit. That’s how it felt, only it was in the middle of the day which definitely felt strange! However, it was still an incredible experience and I can’t wait until the next time I can see an eclipse. The struggle was real as I tried to capture photos of the miraculous event, but here’s one I captured with my eclipse glasses positioned in front of my camera lense. Pretty neat!

Great American Eclipse 100% totality from Thermopolis, WY.

National Public Lands Day: On August 26th, we invited volunteers to join us in remodeling our Hogan and Luce Recreation Area. The goal of the project was to increase accessibility for visitors with disabilities. Together we assembled and installed 6 new picnic tables, 5 new bear boxes, and five new fire rings that are all ADA/ABA compliant. We also installed a boot brush station, refurbished and painted a damaged kiosk. Volunteers also helped to gather and remove over 1,000 pounds of trash from the site making it a cleaner site for all. Everyone was very enthusiastic, the weather could not have been better, and the results look great! NPLD Part II will come next month sometime where we will delineate the campsites and spread gravel to finish the project.

Volunteers and BLMers assembling ADA/ABA compliant picnic tables in celebration of National Public Lands Day

Volunteers and BLMers/CBG interns refurbishing and painting an informational kiosk in celebration of National Public Lands Day

Myself and fellow CBG intern, Hank Carlson, working together to size and cut a new backboard for the kiosk

The finished product! Not bad for a day’s work 🙂

Black-Footed Ferret Release: On August 28th, for the second time in history, black-footed ferrets were released on the Pitchfork Ranch in Meeteetse, WY. If you haven’t heard the success story of the black-footed ferret in Wyoming it goes like this. Circa 1987 a rancher’s dog brought him an animal he believed to be a black-footed ferret, which at the time was considered to be extinct. He brought it to the local vet and it was confirmed that it was indeed a black-footed ferret! He then decided to place a tracking device in the animal and release it in hopes of finding a larger colony. He had an extreme stroke of luck and the remaining animals were found and captured by the Game and Fish Department. After that, the animals were bred in captivity until the population was considered large enough to release a small portion of them. History was made when 35 were released for the first time last year. This year I had the incredible opportunity to attend the second ever release of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming. This year, 13 animals were released on the ranch. Over 60, excited community members from all over Park County attended the historic event, and a great time was had by all.The highlight was definitely when one of our BLM wildlife biologists got to release his very own ferret. It was a bit shy to come out at first, but after a nice juicy prairie dog leg was dropped into an active prairie dog hole, our little ferret hustled down that hole after it! Needless to say, life is about to get very interesting for the prairie dogs on Pitchfork Ranch.

One of the feisty black-footed ferrets released this year on the Pitchfork Ranch

The first ferret being released by the great grandchildren of the man who discovered the species was not extinct 35 years ago!

Beautiful night to release a few ferrets!

Melissa Higley

Recreation Intern

Bureau of Land Management ~ Cody Field Office