New Beginnings

I’ll be honest, I was a little scared looking out over the high plains of Wyoming as my flight landed at the Natrona county airport. Where had all the lush trees gone? Where was Lake Michigan? Not here, Max, not here.

Not in Chicago anymore!

Wyoming is a land of big skies, strong winds, and geological wonders. Here, one can tap into their inner cowboy: the abundant land that rolls on in every direction invites one to run wild and free. Here too, one can sense the expansionist frenzy that drove hundreds of thousands of Americans to walk to the lush forests of Oregon in the 1840s. But for right now, my journey west has ended: I’m here to stay. I’m here to find water.

The agenda for this summer’s hydrologic interns is to find and record the status of around 250 springs and seeps dotted all over the public lands of Natrona County. Much of our work will be interdisciplinary: we will pool the qualitative expertise of BLM staff that are familiar with high desert ecosystems. They may be biologists, rangeland health specialists, or hydrologists. Each member of the monitoring team will help to ensure that these important wetland habitats are functioning at or near their ideal level. Why does this matter? Well, consider the fact that something like 99% of wildlife in Wyoming depends on wetlands and only 1% of Wyoming is wetlands.

A seep we will be monitoring.

I’ve spent the first weeks of my internship learning the protocols of proper functioning and conditioning monitoring. As field season begins to amp up, my co-intern and I, have been making our initial forays into the BLM lands of Natrona county. We use 4×4’s to traverse the county roads and two-tracks that spiderweb their way across the landscape. Armed with a GPS and maps we’ve created, we’ve begun the process of route-finding our way to the seeps and springs we will be monitoring in the coming months.

Exploring Natrona county, meeting my fellow staff members, and learning about hydrologic monitoring techniques have occupied my time so far. Overall, I am very happy to be here, even if there aren’t too many trees!

The author taking photographs of his new surroundings

Seed Orchards and the oddity that is Hot Springs, AR

I’m not sure where other interns are located but being with the Ouachita National Forest means that I live in this town called Hot Springs, named after the national park that is within it. Hot Springs National Park is the smallest park in the country but that doesn’t mean they skip out on the opportunity to be touristy. In fact, this is Central Ave stocked full of over priced boutiques as well as the famous national park bath houses (white buildings)


Seeing as this is my first week of work and I’ll be in Chicago next week, I don’t have a full grasp on what I will do doing during the summer. However, that doesn’t mean this week has been slow. Tuesday and Wednesday were full of meetings with the Regional Geneticist who is in town to talk about the progress and future directions of the seed orchard.

If you don’t know what a seed orchard is, don’t worry because I had no clue that they existed either until this week. This one, that is about 45 minutes from Hot Springs, is one of 7 (I think?) in this region of the country that grows pine trees for the sole purpose of being able to collect seeds for restoration projects and things of that sort. The main purpose of the Ouachita Seed Orchard is to grow short-leaf pine (Pinus echinata) because unfortunately throughout the 1900’s the forests were devastated (Ben Rowland–handout from meeting). In the 60’s people started to realize the need to create stocks of high quality trees for future forest regeneration and this is why the seed orchards were created. The thing about pine seeds is that don’t last long, even when stored in frozen seed vaults (personal communication with Barb Crane) so it is necessary to maintain live trees in orchards so that the genetic variation isn’t lost.

(screenshot of my instagram story of the seed orchard because I didn’t take a real picture) –see how they are in rows? Stops the spread of disease from one tree to the next

The national forests are interesting because they need to combine the interests of loggers/hunters with the inherent value of the forest. This means that when the original ‘superior’ trees were selected for the orchard they looked at traits for loggers (how straight the trees are and how parallel the branches are) as well as health of the trees (disease resistance, survival, germination rates, etc).

All this talk about the importance of seed saving made me think of the seed vault in Svalbard. I decided to look on their website to see if they carry any tree species and they do! Although their main purpose is to focus on crops, in 2015 they did receive some pine and spruce seeds (Kinver). How long these seeds will stay viable in the bank, only time will tell. The importance of maintaining healthy plants that are producing seeds is obvious even with these seed banks. However, because of climate change the seed orchard may be at risk.

Something that was talked about a lot on Tuesday was the fact that shortleaf and loblolly pine are hybridizing. Usually due to temporal differences in time of pollination the rate of hybridization is less than 5% but in some areas the rate has been shown to be 40% (Tourer et al). It is theorized that this is because of warming that is altering the pollination cycle. To keep the species in the seed orchard pure more research needs to be done about why this is happening but also the fitness of these hybrids.However, what type of tree will be desirable in the future is unknown, making it hard to come up with strategies.

Regardless, this week I came away with a lot of knowledge of pine trees in the region but even more questions! What does the future of forest regeneration look like, especially with global warming. Should we allow these trees to hybridize and where are the arguments on either side coming from? Short leaf pine makes for better wood so you know the loggers don’t want the hybrids. Will it be impossible to keep pure trees and should we even continue trying to plant only pure trees out in the field?

Let’s just say my first week has shown me that learning doesn’t just stop when school ends, which for me was about three weeks ago. And that my blog posts may end up being mini research papers…hope you learned something!

P.S Something that I found really funny is the fire fighters share a building in the seed orchard and they converted an old green house into a gym–pictured below–Hope you find it as humorous as I did

Kinver, Mark. “Forest Tree Seeds Arrive at Svalbard’s ‘Doomsday Vault’.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Mar. 2015,

Tauer, Charles G., et al. “Hybridization Leads to Loss of Genetic Integrity in Shortleaf Pine: Unexpected Consequences of Pine Management and Fire Suppression.” Journal of Forestry, vol. 110, no. 4, 2012, pp. 216–224., doi:10.5849/jof.11-044.

Ouachita National Forest

When gnats attack

The last few weeks here in the Colorado State Office have been a whirlwind of change. It is 90 degrees today, and I look back to last month when it was snowing and hailing, and wonder: what happened to spring?

Orobancheae fassiculata found while scouting White River sites.

Though the flowers in their full abundance, and the sweet smells in the air throughout the front range do resemble the shift in seasons I know so well, the desert is quite a different story. The last few drought years here in Colorado have really taken a blow to some of its Western landscape.

This last week we have spent searching for two oil-shale loving penstemons. Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis (White River Penstemon), and Penstemon grahamii.

Photo of Penstemmon  scariosus var. albifluvis

P. grahamii was listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006 when it appeared that extensive petroleum exploration could endanger the plant. The greatest potential threat to White River penstemon is also oil and gas development. Habitat disturbance from off road vehicle (ORV) use and trampling from cattle and sheep may be a factor influencing these plants, but these effects have not been sufficiently monitored (USDI-FWS, 2010).

This week we were lucky enough to scout, seek, and sample another population of White River Penstemon, however our search for Graham’s Penstemon was a lot more bleak. The drought appears to have effected the plats a lot more this year than in the past.

Additionally, the cedar gnats seem to have done a lot better with the drier years leading to a flesh feeding frenzy as soon as the females are ready to mate and lay eggs. In two of our days of field work, I was absolutely drenched in gnats so thick it was hard to even read my data sheet as I was writing. I made a mask out of a shopping bag, it was glorious.

Despite the gnat attack, it has been a pretty great week in Rangeley, CO. With some half-decent tacos consumed, a baby antelope and mule deer antler found, and a lot of desert botanizing, I now look forward to the weekend in preparation for the CLM training workshop next week.

Me and my fellow crew comrades doing field work, and a mule deer shed.

Hope to meet a few of you there.




Me loving life.



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2010. Species assessment and listing priority assignment for White River penstemon (Penstemon scariosusvar. albifluvis. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Denver, Colorado. 17p.

Rawlins, WY

Here in Rawlins, Wyoming, I am wrapping up my third week of the field season and preparing for the trip to Chicago. This is my first time in Wyoming, and my first time in the true west – I grew up in the northeast, went to school in the southwest, and traveled along both coasts, so living here is my first high desert experience. I already feel at home in this small town, surrounded by wilderness. We are within a couple hours of major towns in Wyoming and Colorado, and Yellowstone, Teton, and the Rockies are just a day trip away! Although I haven’t yet visited them in my time here, I have seen some incredible views just from our field office, which encompasses over 3 million acres of public land.

Seminoe Dam in Carbon County, which we saw this week driving from a field site

Lupinus argenteus at Cow Butte

As a Seeds of Success Intern, my first three weeks have consisted of voucher specimen collection, meaning that I search for plants on our target list that are in flower and go collect them before they begin to seed. We have already started 17 collections for the season, and will continue to monitor these populations and collect seed throughout the summer. Because southern Wyoming is still a (high) desert ecosystem, I am able to make connections between some of the plants here and some of the plants of the Chihuahuan Desert that I am used to. Big sagebrush is the dominant vegetation here, and I am enjoying learning the minute differences between all the subspecies.

Keying out a buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) in a Wyoming big sagebrush site

In addition to voucher specimen and seed collection, I have already gotten the chance to branch out and see other aspects of the BLM – working with realty, reclamation, and wildlife specialists to see the wide range of departments that work together on many different projects. Oil, natural gas, and wind energy make up a large portion of the  challenges to the public land in our field office, and it has been interesting to learn how these complex projects affect the land and wildlife in our office, and how difficult the processes can be. These projects influence our target species list as SoS interns, because we aim to collect native species that can be used for reclamation and wildlife.

A male pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in a proposed wind project area

I am excited to visit Chicago, continue the field season, and complete our field office projects and collections. Happy botanizing!

Chloe Battista


Rawlins, Wyoming

Meet Oregon’s Invasive Species

When you think of an invasive plant, what is the first image that comes to mind?  Something ugly and creeping?  A mat of kudzu, or perhaps the painful spikes of a thistle?  In a cruel twist of fate, two of the most infamous invasive plants in Oregon are a pretty yellow flower and a delicious fruit.  Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry were introduced here as a garden ornamental and a berry crop, and have rapidly spread across the state.  Now their presence is so visible, even the local fifth graders have taken notice.

(A logging road overrun with scotch broom on either side.)

A few weeks ago, I ran a short workshop on invasive plants for Douglas County fifth-grade students.  My time was short, as was their collective attention span, so I gave a simple crash course in invasion ecology.  Non-native plants become invasive when they disrupt the natural functions and processes of native ecosystems.  They often thrive in disturbed habitats and out-compete all other species.  These invasive species need to be managed to maintain healthy levels of biodiversity in an ecosystem.  I was gratified to see nods of understanding, and I came to realize how familiar these students already were with Oregon’s invasive plants.  I heard countless stories of yards bursting with blackberries or roadsides lined with scotch broom.  These kids did not need to use their imaginations to picture the dramatic effect that invasive species have in reshaping ecosystems, because they see it happening every day.

The most common ways to manage scotch broom and blackberry are to manually remove them, spray them with herbicide, or use the cut stump method.  In this last treatment, the plant is cut down to the stump, which is then sprayed with herbicide.  Unfortunately, I do not have a pesticide applicator’s license yet, so my part in these management efforts has been less direct.  For the past three weeks, I have been visiting recently disturbed or soon-to-be disturbed sites and mapping the location of scotch broom, blackberry, and a few other invasive plants.

(Mapping a patch of Himalayan blackberry in aftermath of the Horse Prairie wildfire, which occurred in August of 2017.)

After all, to manage an invasive species, you first have to know where it is.  In addition, mapping the location of an invasive plants over time is a good way to measure the success of various management strategies.  Toward this end, I have been recording the location of our invasive plant targets at two different sites: a road system that will soon be used as a timber haul route, and a large area of land that burned in a wildfire last year.  I was sent to these sites because disturbed habitat is normally a stimulus for the establishment and spread of invasive species, so there is a special need to monitor these areas and target them for herbicide treatment.

(Disturbed ecosystems, like this forest after a large wildfire, are prime habitat for invasive species.)

Managing invasive species often feels like an uphill climb.  An extremely steep one.  Time and resources are limited, and the spread of invasive plants is not an especially charismatic topic to rally around.  But at least I can do my part, in mapping these plants, to contribute to the continued health and integrity of Oregon’s native ecosystems.  Perhaps someday there will be a Douglas County fifth-grader who has never even seen a non-native blackberry.

My First 10 Days with the BLM

I’ve just started to get a feel for the way that things operate here at the Bureau of Land Management’s Vale, OR office, and I must say, everybody here seems to have a great time managing their district. So far my supervisor, Susan Fritts and several others have been gracious enough to allow me to shadow with several different positions at the office so that I can get a feel for how they all work as a team to oversee the area. I was able to take a trip out to the field with one of their range technicians to spot cows and check barbed wire fences to ensure that all cattle were in their allotted pastures. Additionally, I went out to see if some areas around the district were suitable to be turned into gravel pits for road construction. I was even allowed to delve into some biology this week as I accompanied a large crew of employees from the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service to survey Columbia Spotted Frogs along Dry Creek (5). This was a great experience in animal collection, handling and tagging protocol, as well as an in depth look at how riparian habitats function in our district. All else aside, there has still been plenty of time to learn Botany. Justin, our botany intern, has let me accompany him on several monitoring trips, and he has even been kind enough to help me learn to identify some common forbs and shrubs in the area. Some examples of plants we looked at include Bitterroot – Lewisia (1), Buckwheat – Fagopyrum (2), Indian Paintbrush – Castilleja (3), and Hawk’s Beard – Crepis (4). I’m very much looking forward to next week’s course on seed collection in Chicago, and finally to the actual seed collection, which begins on the 18th. I’m excited to see where this internship will take me by my next blog post!








Summer Fever

This weekend marked my fifth week in Lander, and with each passing week I find myself loving this little corner of the country even more. Last week I was able to meet some AIM crews from around Wyoming that were in town for training; after talking with them about the towns they’re living in, I feel even more grateful and lucky to be in Lander. There’s a wonderful culture with lots of things to do in town and even more things to do just outside the city boundaries. I have always wanted to live in a place where I can get off work and go on a wild adventure before the sun sets, and that has become my reality in Lander. There are so many unique places to explore within an hour of my front door, and even more the farther away I’m willing to go. I’m astounded with how beautiful this country is, and it reinforces my drive and dedication to help conserve the valuable ecosystems found throughout the Lander Field Office. 

Shoshone National Forest, about 20 minutes from my front door.

So far, our days have been filled with exploring our field office scouting for wildflower populations we could potentially collect seeds from, as well as working on a couple rare plant surveys. It’s definitely been a challenge learning the different flora of Wyoming, but every day I retain a little bit more and get a little quicker at keying out unknown plants. While I’ve enjoyed the process of learning a foreign ecosystem, it’s satisfying when all my hard work pays off and I can put my new knowledge to use.

Views from Copper Mountain, a site in our field office.

Yesterday was our first day collecting seeds, and it was quite the adventure. Ranunculus glaberrimus has a little yellow flower that dots many of the rolling hills in our field office, so I assumed it would be no problem finding a large enough population with enough seeds to collect. However, I didn’t take into consideration that the Ranunculus would not be in flower anymore when we collect seeds, which is how I ended up on my hands and knees scouring the rocky slope for a 4 inch tall brown seed head. To make things even more interesting, my coworker and I couldn’t decide if the majority of the seeds were mature enough to collect, even after cutting several open. A few were brown and definitely ripe, but most were still greenish and easily came off the seed head. I’m sure it will get easier to tell if a population has viable seeds to collect as we do it more often, and eventually I’ll chuckle about our first day of collecting seeds. The first few days of field work in any job always blindside you with questions and circumstances you never could have imagined. It just goes with the territory.

I’ve really enjoyed surveying for the rare plants as well. Our first survey was on a hill top with gorgeous bright red soil looking for Trifolium barneybi, a cute little mat-forming clover that’s endemic to the southeastern foothills of the Wind Rivers and southern Beaver Rim area. It’s only found in one county in the world! The other species we survey for is Yermo xanthocephalus, endemic to Fremont county as well and has an even smaller range than T. barneybi. I’m the type of person that enjoys the chase, so searching for these rare species has been the ultimate treasure hunt. We have a rough outline of the populations from previous surveys, so we know where to start looking and the hunt is on from there. Of course, one of the main reasons I like surveys so much is I get to hike around the beautiful rolling Wyoming hills, but it also is rewarding to assist in a project will help determine the land use and permits for these ecosystems in the future. It’s an important aspect of land management, which has been a great experience to be involved in.

                Yermo xanthocephalus buds

Well, that’s all I have for now. Cheers to another month!


Seeds of Success Intern

Lander BLM


Invasive Plants in Oregon

The past few weeks I have been working on mapping invasive species locations in different parts of the BLM Roseburg district. I mostly mapped invasive species infestations along a timber haul route. The goal of this project was to map invasive species locations so that they can be treated before timber harvesting starts. The intention is to reduce the spreading of invasive plants. Pictured below I am mapping a location of Himalayan Blackberry which is a common invasive species found along roadsides and riparian areas. If left untreated, this plant could eventually become a huge thicket and take over the under story. It could then out compete native species and prevent the establishment of newer trees.

Pictured below is an infestation of Scotch Broom. Scotch Broom is an invasive species that is difficult to manage because it responds well to disturbances and the seed bank can last up to 50 years. It can also cause damages to the timber industry through out competing seedling trees.

Another invasive species I have encountered in the field is Canada Thistle which is pictured below. Canada Thistle is another invasive species in Oregon that is difficult to manage. Pulling up one plant will not kill it since multiple plants share an underground root system and all the plants are interconnected.

In all it seems that invasive species in Oregon are very hard to control. I will be getting my Oregon Pesticide Applicator License soon, so I will be able to better help in the fight against these resilient plants in Oregon.

Will Farhat – CLM Intern with the Bureau of Land Management Roseburg District

Learning to Love the Desert

There is no standard day here at the Uncompahgre field office. One day, you are driving in a UTV to the edge of the wilderness and the next you are struggling to create a shapefile in an air-conditioned office. In my first months at the BLM, I have been immersed in the Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring Program or AIM. Most of the time, we drive our Dodge Ram over bumpy, rock riddled dirt roads to a randomly chosen site in the Adobe Badlands of North Delta. In the first week, when I was introduced to the 40,000 acres where our 60 plots were randomly strewn- I had some trepidations. The area looked barren and over run by the last years growth of Galleta grass and some of the hills appeared to be man made deposits, they were so bare and perfectly rounded.

But on a closer look there is something to see: bits of fossilized shells from the time that this area was an inland sea, shadscale, Spanish Bayonet, charming woody aster and -if you’re there at the right time- blooming prickly pear and strawberry hedgehog cacti. Occasionally, the hills move as reintroduced Pronghorns run over them and spooked prairie dogs scurry into their holes. All it took to begin to see the life in this area, was spending time  trekking over its clay soils and through the dried up riverbeds, all the while stopping to examine the difference between the grasses.

Being in the desert has taught me to consider the details and then, the implications therein.  It took paying attention to something as small as the pebbles covering the ground. . What does the overabundance of snakeweed indicate? Why is this Wyoming Sage thriving here and nowhere else? Did you notice the suddenly round, riverine stones?

It is easier to love something that is large and colorful- charismatic fauna that is immediately visible and awe-inspiring in its presence like a towering redwood or the snow capped peaks of the San Juan Mountains.  It is harder to love a bare soil dominated by drought stressed plants with their subdued colors, stunted growth and struggling small flowers. Everyday in the field, we must look for the story in the landscape and, honestly, I have cheered when I saw a thriving shrub. The evolving relationship I have with the landscape as my knowledge of its ecology deepens is one of my favorite things about this position thus far.

We have just completed our 46th plot out of 60 and we will be taking a break because of the heat. I am surprised that I will miss the dry land of North Delta. Thanks for teaching me patience, honing my eye for detail and showing me- so clearly- the power of learning to appreciate an area of land based on the delicate balance of its ecology rather than the colors of its flowers.

Uncompahgre Field Office

Bureau of Land Management




June on the Ottawa

I’ve been keeping busy up here in the North woods. I conducted plant surveys for areas which have been proposed for timber sales, searching for listed plants. Also, I spent some time collecting data for the final year of a two year study looking at bee diversity on the forest with pan traps and opportunistic netting. Specimens were put into alcohol and sent to a third party for identification. I was responsible for three of the nine observation sites on the forest.

I checked in on the establishment of some experimental plots of Vaccinium cespitosum. The V. cespitosum is an obligate host plant for larvae of the  northern blue butterfly (Plebejus idas), a listed species which has been extirpated from most areas of the forest. Also got to spent some time working with the youth conservation corps to remove an abandoned hunting cabin from the forest which was officially considered a dump site.

The forest has been providing an abundance of delicious oyster mushrooms.

And, for some fun, here are some of the neat plants I have encountered.