Vegetation Classification

The whole Carson City team drove to the coast

To be trained at a university research outpost.

We met agency employees and consultants

Every one of whom about plants was exultant.

The instructors were such plant enthusiasts,

That we didn’t mind foggy weather forecasts.

They also knew all the local vegetation

And were able to help us through all our frustration.

The goal of the course was to learn about classes

Of California vegetation, of which there are masses.

The book listing them all is such a huge tome

That there’s no way we ever could bring one back home.

We practiced two methods for determining types,

Though agreeing on answers caused quite a few gripes.

Estimating cover was somewhat contentious

And about their judgment a few were pretentious.

Finally our decisions were all calibrated,

And similar values each species was rated.

We learned to classify both plots and whole stands

And tried out the methods in valleys and uplands.

We learned how the data would be analyzed,

And how vegetation types for each point be advised.

Each type is defined by species and their cover —

It’s quite thrilling when the right one is discovered.

Now every time we go out to find seeds

We’ll look differently at associated species.

How rare is this veg type? What patterns are there?

We see vegetation types change everywhere.

It’s a whole different way to look at a landscape

And when we look out, a map starts to take shape.

Just imagine if every type someday were defined

And on a big map communities were outlined.

This level of detail gives so much information

Vital for landscape management plan creation.

Thanks CNPS, and our amazing teachers,

For showing us a new lens for ecological features.



Rapid Veg

It’s hard to believe that I have just over one month left in my internship here in Carson City, Nevada. There is, however, still much to do with the remaining time that I have.

My team and I just returned from a week long escapade in coastal California. The first part of the trip was a mini vacation, in which we got to explore the undulating streets of downtown San Francisco, camp in the breathtaking Big Basin Redwood Forest and discover the wonders of Angel Island.

The second part of this excursion was dedicated to the rapid vegetation assessment and releve(accent over the second “e”) course we signed up for. This training showed us how to assess a given stand of vegetation to determine what plants occurred in an area and how abundant they were. This data can then be used to map the area in GIS which can then be utilized by land managers.

The remainder of the internship will be designated for SOS collections. Next week my crew and I will be heading to the Mono Lake area, which I am really excited for.

Until next time,

Jason Fibel, BLM-Carson City

Tagging along with foresters!

The Roseburg BLM office is unique in the amount of timber land it manages. Public timber land is certainly not something I (a Wisconsin native) am used to, but I’ve come to love the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. And I am slowly coming to understand the very complicated and ever-changing Resource Management Plan the BLM uses to try to meet its multi-faceted objectives of supplying timber, providing recreation areas, and preserving biodiversity.

Over the past month, I have had a number of exciting opportunities to tag along with a number of foresters with different amounts of formal education and experience (ranging from a few classes to a phd). Through these experiences, I have absorbed some very big picture ideas of forest management paradigms and practices, as well as many hands-on, practical, and specific management techniques.

The first foresters I tagged along with were actually conducting a PCT (Pre-Commercial Thinning) which involved thinning out land units that were designated for timber harvest (check out the specifics here!) Much of my botany internship here focused on grasses and forbs, and I actually spent a lot of time hiking through the forest in order to find open meadows. Trees were not necessarily a destination, merely something to get through. With these foresters however, I learned to make educated guesses about fertilization treatments, thinning treatments, stand age, and land allocation types just by walking through the understory and being observant towards the average distance between trees, the straightness of the trunks, the distance at which foliage starts, the diameters, the crown development, the amount of sunlight that permeates through the canopy, etc.While flagging the boundary of the thinning unit, I learned the art of controlled slides down cliffs, bushwhacking through literally anything, and tying knots in less than a second. This was certainly a fun day and a great introduction to the hands-on, day-to-day of forest management.

In fact, it is a higher up position within the BLM that decides when PCTs need to take place. The District Silviculturist is in charge of identifying when, where, and how much to thin out a unit. The Roseburg Swiftwater Silviculturist occupies the cubicle next to ours, and was kind enough to take us out on a field trip the next week to show  us how she actually collects data on different units.

First, she creates a random set of sites within a unit. Then, she visits each site and estimates the basal area, canopy cover, and takes the DBH and age of a subset of the trees.   After enough random sites, a statistically robust representation of the entire unit can be made.

Different units have different abiotic conditions, such as the amount of sunlight, water, and soil nutrients that are available to them. This can make a drastic difference in the growth rate of the trees and the overall density of trees that can be maintained. Using growth charts that are specific to these different forest subregions, the silviculturist will then make a determination of whether a PCT is advisable, the ideal tree spacing to thin to, and when a thinning or regeneration harvest (more colloquially known as a clearcut harvest) should take place.

Lastly, some bigger picture concepts I’ve picked up on. The BLM occupies an interesting position in that we are tasked with two seemingly contradictory goals; on the one hand we are given a target in terms of millions of board feet we need to produce each year, and at the same time on the same land we manage habitats for botanical diversity, endangered species, and recreation. The BLM is often sued both by private timber companies for not supplying sufficient timber, and by environmental groups for destroying the habitats we are required by law to protect. It’s often said a good compromise leaves both sides unhappy, and this often seems to be the case with the BLM. There is perhaps no right answer, other than ultimately this is a organization meant to represent the will and interests of the public, and balance opposing interests in the most fair and transparent way possible.

But it is also important to keep in mind that the science of land management is still being improved! Researchers and public land managers are always innovating on ways to maximize the biodiversity and timber production that we can have from public land. The BLM for instance, does not do 100% total clearcuts like private timber companies will. The benefits of leaving around 10 trees per acre can result in large improvements in the ecological health by allowing legacy effects to affect future succession, while not severely cutting into the amount of board feet the unit ultimately produces. Another increasingly popular practice is Variable Retention Harvests, which essentially is removing timber from a unit unevenly, to create structural complexity instead of a monoculture of the same age and type of trees. Additionally, there are many important species that only thrive in the early successional stages of forests. While old growth forest is certainly important and needs protection, forest succession through wildfires and management by Native Americans has been taking place for thousands of years. I was very lucky to hear about the many new practices that are being adapted by public land managers tagging along with a group of graduate students from the University of Washington on their field trip to Douglas County.

I have certainly had an amazing time these past four months learning all about grasses, forbs, fires, and forests. And I am looking forward to the next month and what it will entail!

Conquered Fears

Temperatures are dropping rapidly in Idaho, and I’m ready to flee before my long route back to New England starts getting snowy.

Our work truck one chilly morning. Freezing cold in October is normal in New England. Freezing cold a week after 90 degree averages is just one of those Idaho things.

When I was first offered a CLM position in Shoshone, ID, I was honestly very hesitant to accept. I didn’t know anything about Idaho, and it was frightening to consider living in a remote area so far from everyone and everything I’ve ever known. Looking back now, I’m grateful to my past self that I took that leap! My time with the BLM was an incredibly valuable experience with awesome co-workers, and Idaho has been a beautiful place to explore.

I’ve been doing some last minute projects for the past month. We wrapped up our assessments of 5 Year ESRs – areas that burned 5 years ago and were seeded to hopefully maintain a healthy habitat. This was absolutely my favorite project of the summer – other CLM interns and I worked together judging whether seeded plants had successfully established in old fire areas, and wrote reports discussing our findings and recommending further management actions. It was awesome insight into how the BLM makes large-scale management and funding decisions.

The last few weeks have been given to sagebrush mapping, which is pretty dull work, but vital to sagebrush seed collection efforts. We often drove 7-8 hours a day checking on isolated sagebrush populations – whether we had the right species, how big the population was, how productive the plants were, insect damage, etc. We found ourselves alternating between confidence and complete confusion in regards to sagebrush ID, but I think we found our groove by the end. Hopefully we found enough good Wyoming big sagebrush populations for seed collection, which will be carried out later this fall.

Mountings of my SOS co-workers specimens, plus sagebrush mapping specimens to confirm which species we found. Many that we initially thought were Wyoming turned out to be Big basin, a less desirable species. Oops.

I recently got to check out a juniper treatment project – large swaths of juniper are removed to increase sage-grouse habitat, with the added benefit of reducing fire risks in mountain areas. It was a bit shocking to see the destruction and desolation created by the machines, but the result will hopefully be healthy sagebrush slopes with plenty of habitat for sage-grouse. Sometimes environmental management isn’t pretty, but the results are worthwhile.

These machines grind up juniper and reduce it to shreds – scary! But the downed juniper will insulate seeded plants through the winter.

Temporarily ugly. What was once a low diversity juniper forest will soon be prime sagebrush/sage-grouse habitat.

Learning about all of this management and project assessment stuff was great, because I’ve been leaning more toward a professional career in natural resources management than botany. However, I am disappointed that my botanical skills weren’t noticeably strengthened this summer. Working with a fuels crew meant that we saw pretty degraded habitats that were recovering slowly from recent fires – a whole lot of cheatgrass, Sandbergs bluegrass, phlox and not much else. It was awesome to learn a lot more about grasses, I was lucky enough to attend a Carex identification workshop, and we searched for rare plants on several occasions, but more opportunities to botanize would have been great to help me learn the families better. It’s something I’m determined to improve upon in my own time.


Like I mentioned above, working with the BLM helped me develop a lot of confidence in natural resources. But I’m 100% certain that my choice to live away from my known world for a while did more for my confidence than all of that (valuable as it still was!). To anyone who might be reading this blog after receiving a similar offer from CLM, do it. Leave your big city world, or rural corner of the country, and test yourself with something new and maybe a little scary. I moved from Boston to rural and very-much-on-fire Idaho, made friends from strangers, and learned a whole new set of plants in a whole new set of environments. Kinda doubt that anything’s gonna seem insurmountable after this.

Bye Idaho! I look forward to seeing your scenic vistas again someday.