Colorado Highs and Lows

Whelp, its been a while…but I guess the blog is back up and it is about time we all get in touch and see what everyone has been up to this summer.

Things here in Colorado have been pretty swell. With my internship is coming down to the final few weeks, which is crazy to think how fast it has gone. Field work is slowing down, and that fall feeling is starting to get in the air.

View from the top of Mt. Sherman after a day of sampling

Some hi-lights over the past few weeks have included:

A week spent in Fairplay, CO (the town that the inspiration for the TV show South Park was formed from) sampling for a tiny plant in the mustard family called Eutrema penlandii. This tiny guy is an ice age relict, more commonly found at high latitudes, and closely related to Eutrema japonica (wasabi). All in all it was a good week, with a lot of folks crammed in a small cabin, a few ptarmigans, a less than wet wetland (due to the pretty serious drought Colorado has been experiencing), and a fox that seemed to want to be a part of the field work too!

Photo of E.penlandii with a penny for scale. 

Gentiana algida (arctic gentian)at the field site

A big 'ol bugger (thumb for scale)

Some folks taking a summit hike after work

Our friend the fox

35% fox

Some additional highlights the last few weeks have been a backpacking trip in the maroon bells, a week sampling for North Park Phacelia (P.formosula) and establishing a demographic monitoring protocol in order to get more information on the species life history, and a really cool t-shirt find at a thrift store.

North Park Phacelia (P.formosula)


Me sporting quite possibly what might be the coolest t-shirt ever made
Lots of Castilleja in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

More Castilleja

Now for some low lights of the last few weeks:


Currently, Colorado is experiencing an extreme drought, with some of the driest conditions recorded since 2002. This in addition to Colorado’s naturally dry climate is very apparent. The drought has significantly effected some of our monitoring plans this year, causing us to skip our species diversity assessment (Modified Whittaker) plots up in the high country, since nothing was blooming. We have also had a rough trip out to Montrose sampling Eriogonum pellinopholim, with most of our plants looking barely alive, and perhaps dormant (unable to put out vegetative or reproductive growth given the severe environmental conditions).


If you’r ever in Rangeley, CO…don’t do it.

Can’t wait to hear more about what everyone else has been up to this summer and where their paths may take them next! My next stop once work is finished up here for CLM is Moab to work with the USGS studying the effects of drought and climate change in dry land ecosystems. If anyone is passing through Utah on their way to their next adventure come say hi!



Scoring Milkweed

My recent endeavors in the Natural State have lead me in a pursuit of collecting the Monarch-necessary Milkweeds.  Monarchs have experienced a sharp decline in the most recent decades due to an array of pressures.  These pressures range from habitat loss, due to the agricultural-related land management, to droughts influenced by climate change. Given that Arkansas lies within the spring breeding area, it is becoming increasingly apparent that an initiative to assure the ample supply of Milkweed is placed in motion.  Monarch’s not only rely on Milkweeds for nectar sources to complete their migration journey (from Canada and North America to the Oyamel Fir forests in central Mexico in the fall) but as a site to lay their eggs – they are the only species Monarch’s prefer.  Additionally, as the offspring emerge, the plant serves as a source of nourishment.   It may confidently be stated that Milkweeds are essential for their survival.

The project I have been working on is establishing a Milkweed plot.  The necessary requirements lie with not only sourcing a location, but sourcing seeds possessing the local genotype.  Recently, individual gardeners, homeowners, etc, who have decided to plant Milkweeds (be it aesthetics purposes, or a desire to attract Monarchs) have unfortunately planted Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which flowers at incompatible times of the year, deterring Monarch’s from remaining on their crucial migration path, but it also carries a parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which infects the chrysalis, imposing on the health and success of the developing butterflies.  Often, these infections render the emerging Monarch less fit, reducing their chances of completing the migration and breaking the delicate link.

I’ve taken it upon myself to search for Milkweeds within the Ozark-St. Francis forests through an efforts driving to various locations, and with the much appreciated assistance of Forest Service employees who have caught sight of Milkweeds during their own projects. After recording the location of spotted populations I have either collected the pods, or tagged under-developed pods, with intentions of returning at a later date.

With these seeds, I plan on planting them into the aforementioned Milkweed plot, in hopes of creating a seed source. This source will prove as a living bank, which may be utilized to rehabilitate populations within restoration areas amongst the forest.  This plot will be placed within close proximity to one of the district offices.  The easily accessible location will assure that routine maintenance will be manageable, and time-efficient.

It is my hope that this project will serve as a pivotal addition to the Ozark-St. Francis district, providing a tool for restoration as well as emphasizing genetic security.

Below are photos of a Monarch, as well as a caterpillar spotted on Asclepias incarnate, while collecting pods!

“We Can’t Stop Here, This is Bat Country”

Upon my second month immersed into the Forest Service, I’ve quickly gathered dull weeks do not exist. Since the summer’s been welcomed like an old friend, and decidedly not leaving in any rush, summer-sensitive projects have begun. And similar to visiting with old friends, you wish to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. It’s a shame, yeah? Regardless of the time constraint, the days are brimming with activities.
One activity I quickly grew partial to, almost immediately upon hearing of it, was bat netting. As many species of animals, summer months are of their most active. Prey is abundant, as well as the bats. At least one would think. Bat species present, specifically the tree-roosting Northern Long-Eared, and Tri-Colored bats, in Arkansas have experienced a sharp decline in numbers due to an outbreak of White Nose Syndrome. Due to this steady decline, bat monitoring has become increasingly crucial to analyze the success of these populations – or lack thereof.
In addition to this devastating punch, forest and timber management is still expected to be conducted. However, this poses a great threat in the face of declining numbers. The aforementioned bats roost, and forage in these tree stands. If they are battling an infectious outbreak, as well as becoming subject to timber management, the disturbance to said suffering populations may prevent the remaining individuals from having a fighting chance.
Lastly, it is still largely unknown what services bats truly provide. It is this same lack of solid, cohesive information that leaves no foundation for further investigations into the importance of bats in the ecosystem. Without this information, timber management may carry on, unbeknownst of the damage it may cause to suffering populations. So, the main objective is to document, monitor, and study the activities, and presence of bats in the forest stands across the forest. The netting provides quantitative information on how many individuals are utilizing the space. Comparing this season’s with past-season’s findings may suggest the current success of said species of concern.
The night of the netting was a night one could describe as most ideal, if not exemplary. Great for the bats, and us as well. After pitching the large, incredibly fine, almost tennis-like nets, (which can be noted in the last photograph), the game of biding time began. You could describe the experience like fishing. Patience, eagerness, and witty conversation are necessary. The only exception being you don’t need a rabies shot to handle fish. You could imagine the dismay that rushed over me upon hearing that small piece of information.
Looking back at the experience however, it was probably for the better – I don’t know if I would have been able to let go of these incredibly cute creatures of the night.

The Natural State

Upon my late arrival across the Arkansas border, after driving a short 2-day drive from New Hampshire, I was swiftly confronted by high winds, heavy rain, tumultuous thunder, and threat of a tornado, (which I shortly learned was nothing out of the ordinary for the Natural State – lovely, isn’t it?). I remarked, “Thanks for the hearty greeting, Arkansas – glad to make your acquaintance, too”.
Within my first week, the clamorous episode I had experienced that night began to reflect my emotional state. I felt vivid strokes of enthusiasm followed by weighted anxiety reaching depths I had never wished to explore. In a land obscured by canopy, and my obliviousness of the world beyond my home town, it felt as if I uncovered my own “City of Z”. However, unlike the unfortunate assumed fate of Percy Fawcett, the ensuing days were brimming with the firm handshakes and animated faced of many, all willing to assist in my transition. Through what began to be a routine conversation of “what brings you down here?”, “New Hampshire? Oh, just right down the road, yeah?”, and “How do you like the humidity?” I shortly grew comfortable (as well as a fine layer of sweat), with the community I would be spending the following months with.
Given the arduous efforts to complete HR protocols, and other seemingly innumerable procedures to be recognized in the system, receive a government license, etc, I spent my first few weeks tagging along with various individuals to assist in conducting biological evaluations, surveys, and other projects in the district. This allowed me to receive an understanding for the local environments, ecosystems, and flora that are present. Not to mention an understanding just how very cold, and very dry Arkansas weather is…
A few projects that illustrated the successful restoration efforts the Forest Service has embarked on is the use of prescribed fires in disturbed, and previously unmanaged environments, fraught with ill-motivated invasive species. Interestingly, I learned of how some of the plots had formed into what they are today – agricultural lands abandoned after financial pressures of farmers reached too grand of a scale. These previously open, and breathable plains were subject to encroaching invasive species, sinking their roots in vulnerable, fertile soils, inviting others to join the party. The kinds who bring friends who trash the place, eating all of the provisions. However, through the application of fire and selective cuttings, even an untrained eye can recognize the significant improvements present. Native species are experiencing a triumphant return, as well as the soils, landscape, etc – the starkness creates such a contrast that burned, and unburned sites do not appear to belong to the same plot of land. Not even of the same region.
Additionally, among these native species are the lesser studied grasses. In efforts to enhance our knowledge of grasses, their diversity, as well as their minute taxonomy, our office, including others in the district, attended a course, which was wonderfully organized by my mentor, Jessica Hawkins. The photos attached to this post capture a glimpse of how the course was conducted, and what the attendees gained. Thoughtfully, notebooks were provided, which were filled with specimens located in the restoration fields. Notes were scratched, grasses were taped, heat was felt, but much needed knowledge was acquired. In total, 46 species were marked! (That was our location alone – just one restoration area). Now we are all equipped with a personalized grass ID field book, and they’re fantastic.
I must say, I never imagined the complexities noted, and exhibited by the locally present grasses. Often disregarded and viewed as a homogenous green mass we either walk through, or drive by daily, my newfound appreciation for grasses has bloomed. Mowing will now become a problem…
Needless to say, I am looking forward to the months to come, and what they include. I’m elated with the way this month has unfolded.

Corey Skeens

USFS Russellville, AR

Welcome to the Chihuahuan Desert

Hi everyone!

A large amount of seed production begins in late summer here in the Chihuahuan Desert! Since many desert plants rely on the summer monsoon season to begin flowering, I have only been in Carlsbad, NM for a little over a month now. Being from the tallgrass prairies of Kansas, the desert has been a drastic change in scenery! However, desert ecosystems are fascinating and being an SOS intern means that I get to see so many unique plants and help to collect their much needed seed.

One of the biggest challenges so far has definitely been the heat. During my first week in Carlsbad, the temperatures were reaching 106°F! This is why the monsoon season is welcomed in the area, since rain brings cooler weather and a lush landscape. Another characteristic that takes some getting used to is the prominent presence of the oil and gas industry. Aside from the obvious habitat degradation the industry causes, the oil and gas pads emit gases that have the potential to cause serious harm. One gas of note is Hydrogen Sulfide. This gas, which is colorless and odorless, can be fatal if the concentration is too high. Since this is a major health concern, we need to have H2S monitors handy whenever we are in the field. Despite the potential hazards of the desert, I am having a great time becoming familiar with this ecosystem and all of its associated flora and fauna.

An example of just how many oil rigs can consume an area.

Believe it or not, this is an oak forest! (Quercus havardii)

Proof that this plant is indeed an oak.

One of my favorite desert plants so far, Chilopsis linearis.

Aristida purpurea (One of the plants that we have made numerous collections of so far.)

Yucca elata

One of the many storms that we have seen brewing in the distance.



BLM Carlsbad Field Office

Seeds of Success Intern

Satisfying Tasks and a Real Life Scavenger Hunt

This past month (this is from July-but August has been similar) has just been a large hodgepodge of different things from collecting seeds, searching for milkweed, counting Harperella (Ptilimnium nodosum) plants, helping with vegetation surveys, and doing lots of herbarium work.

Herbarium work is really relaxing and satisfying because you have a tangible product at the end. I’ve already finished a couple audible books while gluing plants. One that was particularly relevant to read was Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I would highly recommend reading this book, especially as you are working with plants! The whole concept is whether we really domesticated plants or if they domesticated us….

Just a beautiful botany sheet

As for seed collecting, I’ve been collecting seeds at the seed orchard that is part of the Ouachita National Forest (I talked about this place in my last blog post). It’s a great place for wildflowers because the sun can reach the ground unlike most of the rest of the forest that, due to past human manipulation, has a closed canopy. I’ve collected, with the help of Corey, the intern with the Ozark National Forest, a lot of pale purple cone flower ‘cones’ that I have been slowly working the seeds out of. My desk is covered in seeds by this point.



This was my first monarch sighting. And it was on milkweed! Ascelpias tuberosa

Searching for milkweed has been a big task too because there isn’t much information about where it actually grows in the forest, and even when it is found there is a low chance that it will actually have seed pods. (See below for one that I found with two pods that had no insect damage!) For this I’ve been  wrestling with GIS. I’m trying to use information on known locations of milkweed to make some predictions of where they may be found. I’m trying to use soil type, species composition, and slope. The only issue with my method is that there is a low chance that all the information is up to date. I’ll let you know if I find any using this technique! I’m excited to see if I can find plants this way.

Asclepias variegata in the forest. Aren’t milkweed pods so strange looking?

One day I was able to go out scouting for possible flowers to collect seed from later in the year. I was able to snap these two pictures below.

See the spider?

Pollination at work at the seed orchard

That’s all for now! Look out for my August update soon.

Rachel Froehlich

Ouachita National Forest

North Star

A little saxifrage in Chugach State Park, just outside of Anchorage. The lake below was still frozen at the beginning of June

I was skeptical that my first real week in the field would begin June 11. Doesn’t that seem late? When I left Colorado at the end of April the trees were out to play and flowers had begun to poke their colorful little heads out. Well, it snowed on us during our first day of field work. The temperature didn’t rise much above 50 degrees for the entire week. Most days had a bit of ice and frost in the morning. So, in retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t out much earlier than this. It seems like winter can hack as far as it wants into the short summer in Alaska. The project lead kept saying “if summer doesn’t come, people get pissed.” Its mid-June and most of the plant haven’t completely leafed-out yet. Apparently its a real possibility that a true summer can skip these parts.

I drove up to Fairbanks for this three-week project on Placer Mine restoration. Fairbanks is one of the northernmost cities in the world. These days, the sun is up nearly 22 hours a day and it never gets totally dark. The name of the borough (Alaska has these instead of counties) is the Fairbanks-North Star borough. Something about this name is quite pretty and poetic to me.

Nome Creek. This area of the stream was mined sometime in the early 2000’s. The white mountains are in the background.

I hadn’t heard of placer mining before coming up here. Chances are, you haven’t either. Gold lives in the bottoms of rivers in the Alaskan interior. Where there’s gold, there’s development. Placer mining reroutes entire rivers, dredges out their historic channel, and sifts through all that material for gold. Sometimes the mining companies will return the river to its historic channel when they are finished. Sometimes they will restore the habitat. Sometimes they wont. Currently, most placer mining companies can only actively mine a small area of land, say, 5-acres. Before they move on to a new area in their lease, they need to restore these five acres. Our four person crew is collecting data on sites that have been restored after mining with various treatments, and comparing those different treatments to control sites and sites that haven’t been restored at all. This project will eventually influence BLM policy on how placer mining restoration should be conducted.

The forest around Nome creek burned in 2004 in a 500,000 acre wildfire. These are the haunting skeletons of thousands of black spruce trees.

Two of the people on my crew are men who work for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Delta, a community east of Fairbanks. They have been in this area for decades and have a great grasp on the general ecology of the place. Jeff is an excellent birder. He has helped me learn the calls for most of the birds we encountered during our first week. I quickly noticed that he was always passively listening for birds, even when in conversation. He knew all the species that were around, and in what abundance. I got my binoculars on some new lifers, including the Northern Hawk Owl, Blackpoll Warbler, Grey-cheeked thrush, and Fox Sparrow.

Crossing Nome Creek on the way out of our field site.

Bryan, the other ecologist, focuses on wetlands. When prompted, he will give long discourses on the permafrost, soil layers, and strange the phenomena that ice creates in the Arctic. Renee is a grad student in entomology. She spent time collecting and finding bugs in all sorts of ways, including Winkler samples, bee bowls, and general searches. It turns out we all play music, so we made some nice tunes to wind down after long days of work. Together, we conducted LPI, counted small and large mammal scat, recorded bird observations, collected insects, diagrammed and collected  soil layers, assessed animal browse, measured downed wood and snags, conducted pollinator observations, trapped small mammals, and summarized the flora of each site along Nome Creek. Most of these assessments were new to me. I enjoy the concept of taking data on such a wide array of flora, fauna, and abiotic factors in an ecosystem because it helps get a picture of the entire community rather than just a part of it. Working with this team of highly tuned-in ecologists is educational and goofy at every opportunity.

Next week we head up to the Brooks Range to do the same surveys. I’ll get to be north of the Arctic Circle on the summer solstice, which means a halo of sunshine all 24 hours of the day. 14-hour work days go surprisingly quick with this amount of sunshine because I can never tell what time it is. The week after that we head a little south to the Denali highway for another week of surveys. I’m looking forward to spending two more weeks with these folks, and two more weeks in the North Star.

Somewhere in the millions of miles of boreal forest…



It’s almost a month now in my new home in Boise, ID and I’m having a blast!! I am originally from Chicago and so stepping out of Illinois was new and different for me. I left the busy traffic of the city to begin my journey west! This summer, I am working with Jessica Irwin at the USFS station in Boise for the Seeds of Sucess (SOS) collection. Our goal this summer is to find populations of species: Chaenactis douglasii, Phacelia hastata, and Crepis accuminata . These species are important as they benefit pollinators such as bees and insects as well as sage grouse. Chris, Kimberly (my coworkers), Jessica and I collaborate to create maps of various regions in Idaho to monitor and collect seed. These species grow in various habitats such as rocky hillsides, ridges, sagebrush habitat, valley grasslands and forest communities. It’s always a wonderful surprise at work because I am usually in awe of the beautiful views! It’s great to drive and explore different regions in Idaho on a daily basis to find these species. It’s been an amazing experience so far to challenge myself to be in a new environment, meet new people, botanize, hike, camp out and enjoy the moments outdoors with my coworkers!

Here are some of the cool photos I’ve taken during my trip so far:

Castilleja angustifolia

Orobanche fasciculata

surveying out in the field at Salmon-Challis National Forest with my mentor Jessica

Fritillaria meleagris


Me enjoying the view of Little City of Rocks!

Crepis acuminata 

Sphaeralcea munroana


Penstemon deustus

I also had the opportunity to attend the Idaho Botanical Foray early June. It was a great chance to meet others and nerd out about plants! We also came across a short-horned lizard!

Idaho Botanical Foray 2018, our group enjoying the view during lunch

Don holding a short-horned lizard!


just a few of what we all collected and pressed!

On my free time, I ride my bike on the Green Belt in Boise and check out the farmers market on Saturday. There are plenty of delicious restaurants, breweries and coffee shops in town that I enjoy going with the friends I’ve made here. I’m loving Idaho!




Allison Buiser

USFS Boise, ID