Killing invasive fish to save frogs!

August, 2018

Thanks to my mentor Dirk, at the end of July I was able to go out on a backpacking trip with 2 fish biologists from the forest service. With 3 other ladies from California fish and wildlife, we hiked 16 miles to Stella Lake. This lake is right on the eastern border of Yosemite and is right on the PCT! The purpose of this trip was to continue an ongoing project called the high mountain lakes project that is designed to remove fish from alpine lakes in order to help restore populations of the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. This frog is endangered due to a combination of factors including predation by invasive fish and due to outbreaks of the Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Our team spent a week at Stella putting in gill nets in order to catch and remove rainbow and brook trout. During our time up at the lake, there was an active forest fire in Yosemite called the Ferguson fire. This made the visibility pretty awful and sometimes made breathing a little difficult.

I really valued my time with these women because they didn’t mind me asking all of the questions that I could think of! I learned so much about the project and about their jobs in general. I am very grateful that this internship has allowed me to meet such a diverse group of people.

Dawne Emery and Rachel Van Horne out on Stella Lake, setting up the gill nets.

Making me feel like I’m back in the Rockies! This Alpine Gentian looks an awful lot like the Arctic Gentian that I sought out in CO.

Thanks to the high mountain lakes project, we found frogs all around this lake and didn’t spot any fish!

Marmot friend 🙂

Bee enjoying Ranger’s button (Sphenosciadium capitellatum)

Zoë Moffett

US Forest Service, Sparks NV

Where is the rain?

I am situated in Mesa county Colorado. The entire county is inundated by extreme drought conditions, which has resulted in many plant species failing to produce viable seed or only producing small amounts. I have seen large populations of Gutierrezia sarothrae and microcephala beginning to die back to their caudex before reaching antithesis. I assume the plants are still alive below ground but couldn’t afford to nurture their above ground foliage. There are multiple forbs that have dried without maturing to seed, such as some Packera, Heterotheca, and Grindelia species. While some plants may still complete their life cycles, there seems to be an exceedingly high proportion of plants that are struggling, especially as the summer comes to a close. When I first got to this area in mid-May I was surprised by the drought conditions and found a charm in seeing how different populations were able to handle it and the phenotypic nuances that were exhibited dependent on soil, cover, and water. However, as the summer has gone on the majority of plants have shriveled and left behind their standing dead with few characteristics to determine what they once were.

Antithetically one of the most valuable things I will take away from my experience here is my love of mesic, riparian, and wetland areas. Before coming here I was on the fence about what I wanted to focus on and study ecologically, yet being in the desert I find that I can’t help but be drawn to the seasonal springs, seeps, playas, and rivers. Many of these spaces have dried by the time I reach them, but I can still read the space through the landforms, plants, animals/amphibians present and get an idea of what this area is like during different times. A salvation for me from the desert heat/dryness has been to visit the wet montane meadows and riparian areas of the San juan and Weminuche wilderness. It has been a fabulous and increasingly interesting experience to learn about the local ecosystems, and I find myself wishing I had been here in the spring to see the full circle of the growing season.


Our seed collections have been rolling nicely along here in Rawlins! We are over halfway done with our collections for the season. Now that we have a better grasp on the phenology of the plants here coupled with the dry year, it’s been easier to understand how to prioritize our collections between the forbs (especially the asters!) and grasses.

Collecting bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) in the Chain Lakes area, which is rich with oil and gas pads.

We’ve also been branching out a lot into other areas of our field office, primarily with the wildlife biologists and interns. It’s been really cool to see the kind of projects they are in charge of and even get to work with other agencies, like we did with Wyoming toad surveys! I mentioned before that I had really enjoyed endangered species work, and that was even more solidified with these surveys.

Anaxyrus baxteri in all her glory.

We spent three days out at Mortensen Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Laramie with biologists from the BLM, USFWS, and USFS from areas in Wyoming and Colorado. We split into groups and took different plots around the refuge; censusing the toads we found and splitting them into groups of adult, overwinter, young-of-the-year, and metamorphs; as well as taking measurements and swabbing for chytrid fungus. We also released tadpoles from enclosures that had recently grown legs and lost their tails, and were therefore (hopefully) developed enough to survive on their own in the lake.

Hanging with a beautiful toad

About to release a bucket full of newly developed baby toads


We’ve also gotten to go out with the other wildlife CLM interns in our field office who are doing a herpetofauna study with their mentor. They do intervals of 10-day trapping, and we got to help check their plots around the Ferris Mountains and record and measure anything they’ve caught. Although the study is centered around herps, we’ve mostly seen some smaller snakes and a couple small mammals. As an aspiring botanist I haven’t gotten to handle much wildlife, but as you can see from the following photos I was pretty excited about it.

This vole kept trying to bite me while I measured his ears but I admired his sassiness.


The excitement is apparent here, with a very docile deer mouse

This is the first snake I’ve ever held – a small, slithery garter snake.

I’m excited to continue seeing other parts of our field office and make progress on our seed collections in the next half of my internship!


Things are starting to ramp up as we head full swing into summer here in Rawlins, WY. I am almost two months into my field season and we’re in the middle of our voucher specimen and seed collection. I’m enjoying getting to see so much of the field office collecting and scouting for plants and really being in the wilderness. As of early July, we’ve completed 6 seed collections so far, putting in long days with travel and collecting.

We also got to branch out a little bit this past month from seeds to do some endangered species monitoring with our mentor, Frank Blomquist, and Bonnie Heidel, from the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) in Laramie. We went out to Bear Mountain, in the northeast section of Carbon County, to monitor the Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii). Our first day at Bear Mountain included hiking to the sand dunes in the mountains and censusing all the plants we could find, listing them into 3 categories – flowering or fruiting, vegetative, and browsed. We were prepared for a long day in the mountain; we had tried to census the day before and got hailed out so we made sure we had all our rain gear this time.


With P. haydenii

Our second day was on the other side of Bear Mountain running transects to get an idea of how many seedlings and mature plants were present in a different sand dune blowout. This census is done each year to look at the persistence of the seedlings in the blowout and see if they are surviving despite the changing placement of the dunes.

Our little seedlings



Completing transects with my co-intern Anah, our mentor Frank (not pictured), and Bonnie.

I think the endangered species work has been one of my favorite things out here so far, other than getting to seed pronghorn every single day – I’m still not used to it! I enjoyed the deviation from our usual scouting and collecting to go to a different site (this one is actually an ACEC, or Area of Critical Environmental Concern) and complete work that contributes to emerging research.

Scouting up in the mountains

July, 2018

Still acting as a sort of third wheel, I have gone out with a different duo working out of Reno. This team could not function more differently than the first team that I worked with. While they still of course do a great job, they are much more independent and quiet. This was a tricky transition for me as I came from a team of two who constantly chatted and joked, cooking and walking together even when the day was technically over. It took some adjusting, but I figured out how I fit in with the new team, finding my own ways to spend my solo time in the mornings and evenings. I am learning a lot about group dynamics and team efficiency in a field setting.

We have been scouting out for small, research collections for the Rocky Mountain Research Station. As the summer continues, we have to move higher up into the numerous mountain ranges where plants are flowering later in their phenology and where there is more moisture.

Camping spot south of Austin, NV

I have started to keep a list of reasons why I love the Nevada landscape. Here is a sample:

  • So much BLM and USFS land! You can camp basically anywhere.
  • The milky way is incredible basically every night.
  • Constant night hawks and poor-wills at night.
  • A species of mountain mahogany that is new to me! Cercocarpus ledifolius. 

Quick pit stop at Diana’s Punchbowl! There’s a hot spring in this formation that reaches 200°F!


Zoë Moffett

US Forest Service, Sparks NV

Getting to know the Great Basin

June, 2018

In May, I moved from Colorado to Reno with the help of a good friend. Together we drove west across the state of Nevada, peering at the sage brush and endless mountain ranges, so different from those in Colorado. Every time we passed a sign declaring “Entering the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest”, we would look around, discussing my new “office” for the season.

My internship is with the Seeds of Success (SOS) Program working with the US Forest Service. However, I have realized that this internship is not going to function exactly as I thought it would. Unfortunately, I do not have a partner for the season. This means that I will be acting as a “third wheel” with two different 2 person SOS crews from the Great Basin Institute (GBI). In order to scout out populations and make collections, these teams go out for 8 days at a time, camping out in the desert. So far, I have gone out with one of these crews to help scout grass populations and to make a few collections. These two girls have been working together since April, so I was a little nervous to come into a group that had already been so established. It was also tricky because they already had their training and routines down – and here I was coming in with no real understanding of their work or group dynamics. It was awkward to try and learn on the job, asking for clarifications and tasks without wanting to slow them down. Luckily they are two lovely people who I immediately got along with on a personal level.

With the help of a fantastic crew of inmates from the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF), we collected a crazy amount of Indian Ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides)

A few SOS field tips that I have learned right off the bat:

  1. Don’t wear nice hiking songs in sagebrush habitat. The cheatgrass will shred them up
  2. Podcasts are king when collecting seed nonstop for hours at a time.
  3. Gatorade powder can really help out with those 100 degree desert afternoons.

Until next time,

Zoë Moffett

US Forest Service, Sparks NV

Trailer Life

1 July – 14 July 2018

One of this summer’s new experiences includes living in a trailer in Idaho’s Snake River valley. I had difficulty finding a place to live in downtown Idaho Falls before I arrived here in June. However, since I am working with the US Forest Service, I am allowed to live in a trailer at the USDA Snake River Administrative Site. This option was not ideal, but I have found benefits to match the drawbacks of my living arrangements.

I have not tired of passing this view of the Snake River on my way ‘home’ from work.

I have never camped in a trailer before, let alone live in one for an extended period of time, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I decided not to hope for anything glamorous. In fact, I was eager to live in a quaint space. Upon first arriving at my trailer, I was pleasantly surprised with the setup. Sure, the window sills were loaded with fly carcasses, the floor could use a sweeping, and it smelled a bit stuffy inside, but I kind of expected that. Overall, the trailer seemed pretty spacious to me and it was decked out with a fridge, oven, 3-burner stove, and a microwave. There was even a shower in the bathroom! I had not been expecting to have all of those luxuries.

I have had a few battles with the trailer, such as a leaky roof when it rains, lost power, and hot water that lasts for exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds in the shower (when the water heater decides to work). Maybe this isn’t the most comfortable lifestyle in America, but I really don’t mind. I haven’t quite mastered the art of showering under 2.5 minutes, but if I only turn the water on when I need it, I usually don’t have to worry about frigid showers and I’m reducing my water consumption! I think that’s pretty neat.

I am not fond of the 45 minute drive to Idaho Falls from my trailer – I am burning a lot of fossil fuels just to get to my office or the grocery store. I also have to deal with a plethora of oversized pickup trucks on the highway, none of which seem to be able to get to their destination fast enough. Despite this, I am happy to be in a beautiful area and to have access to numerous trails within an hour’s drive from my trailer.

The Palisades Trail is a 20 minute drive from my trailer – a gorgeous place for a long run!

Fall Creek Falls is three miles from my trailer, making it a great place to cool off during the hot Idaho summer days.

Cheers to many more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID


11 June – 30 June 2018

Last December, as I began to ponder where I wanted my life to head after my upcoming graduation, I decided it would be a good idea to entirely uproot myself from familiar places and faces. That decision led me to apply for Chicago Botanic Garden’s CLM Internship and has since landed me in Idaho Falls, ID. I am from the Midwest. I have only been “out west” twice, so relocating to Idaho fit the bill of moving to the unfamiliar. As the start date for my internship approached, I told myself I was excited to scamper around the mountains of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, to learn about plants and ecosystems new to me, and to meet new people. This was true, I was excited for this opportunity, but I was also telling myself to be excited in an effort to ignore my anxiety of living in a new place without a single familiar soul around.

Since starting my internship, I have experienced some disorienting excitement. I happily dashed out to the field on Day 1 to help with vegetation surveys. I laughed as my coworker casually maneuvered our rig through a small herd of cattle lounging on the road. I smiled as our crew splashed back and forth across a small creek before ultimately deciding the weather would be good enough to safely conduct vegetation surveys in the field. I found it amazing to be greeted by the sights of foothills, cows, and vegetation. I certainly am not in the Midwest anymore. Yet beneath this joy lurked a slight fear in not recognizing any of the plants around me. My “help” with the vegetation survey mostly consisted of me asking everyone else what all the plants were in that area. Everyone graciously and patiently shared their knowledge with me.

It was great to get out in the field on my first day of work!

The next few days have already begun to blur together. I have spent many hours swimming in piles of paperwork that I hoped would be a little more straightforward than reality seems to allow and I have also happily spent more hours out in the field. I was able to follow a pair of entomologists around the Scout Mountain area as they conducted bee surveys, I have camped out in the field for work, and I am learning to identify the four wildflower species I am responsible for collecting seed from. Through it all, I am beginning to learn a bit about the flora, fauna, and people around me. I would not say Idaho Falls feels like home, but I am slowly becoming more familiar with the area and I am eager to learn more about the ecology of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Chaenactis douglasii – one of the four wildflower species I need to collect seed from.

Watching the sunset and moonrise from the top of a mountain is one of many perks associated with camping for work.

Cheers to many more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID

To Tarry in the Taiga

June 2018

After just over two weeks working as an intern for the Bureau of Land Management, I am just beginning to settle into the rhythm of Glennallen, Alaska. The town, and those surrounding it, are like no part of America I have ever experienced before. It’s in the taiga, so the trees are small (a black spruce that you can close your fist around can be upwards of 100-150 years old) and the highways (there are almost no roads here, just highways) fold up everywhere like an accordion from winter frost heaves. It seems like a third of the buildings are abandoned and falling apart. There are solitary gas pumps, faded signs, and long-deserted cars in multiple nooks along the highway. In a way, the taiga is slowly creeping back in, reclaiming the laundromats, crushed 4-wheelers, wood-paneled trailers and other fringes of the scattered boom towns here. Tourists traveling through photograph prodigiously. The people I have met so far are for the most part hardworking and kind with an optimistic DIY attitude towards any mishap or mechanical issue that arises around them.

My actual job — working as an intern under a GFO forester — has not come into full swing yet. I spend most of my days collecting plants for an identification guide, keying out local flora for my own knowledge, occasionally collecting insects from bug traps and helping out with odd jobs around the field office and surrounding campgrounds. My supervisor has sent me on several errands that have taken me decent distances around the Copper River Valley, so I have been fortunate enough to see a good amount of the surrounding SE interior Alaska so far. The surrounding forests and snow-bedecked mountains with their cold tarns interspersed between them are a level of beauty beyond description. I have included some photographs below, which could not possibly do the environment here full justice.

The Tangle Lakes

Mountains Abound
Abandoned Buildings
August 2018
The remaining summer days of June and July since my last post passed in much the same way — marked by hours spent driving along interior Alaska’s deserted highways hemmed in by lakes, bogs, and stunning mountains. When not completing odd jobs around the field office (building pick-nick tables, organizing sheds, trimming foliage, chopping wood, etc.), I was frequently sent off to search roadside gravel pits for non-native invasive weeds such as bird vetch and sweet white clover. Around the end of July, I had the opportunity to flex my academic muscles in a research project involving mountain goats for our field office’s wildlife biologist. I spent a week scouring any research article I could find on BLM’s research databases concerning the impact of helicopter noise on these elusive ungulates and related mammals. Though I would not consider myself a wildlife enthusiast, I was surprised to discover my own newfound fascination with this topic, along with the dearth of much-needed research on the impact of man-made sounds on animals. I learned quite a bit more than I expected to and produced several pages of notes for the wildlife biologist to use in an Environmental Impact Statement he was writing at the time. In the process of this project, I also learned quite a bit more about the intricacies of NEPA documents, which I am sure will be useful in my future work.
Shortly after I finished my research on my mountain goats, I was whisked off in early August for some forest inventory work north of the arctic circle. In was elated to finally begin working within the purview of my internship description and also to see some new boreal ecosystems. For a period of two weeks, I traveled with a team led by a northern Californian forester, Ken Stumpf, setting up surveys around Yukon Crossing, the arctic circle, and Coldfoot — a tiny outpost in the rain-drenched Brooks Range. We sampled approximately 65 field sites off of the Dalton Highway using Stumpf’s unique line-point transect sampling methodology. In contrast to the AIM sampling method typically employed in BLM surveys, Stumpf’s method provides more precise species-specific canopy cover estimates and other metrics that provide a more holistic description of a given ecosystem from the ground up. Individual sample sites were chosen based on the results of image stratification from 2017 Landsat 8 imagery that determined the largest homogeneous areas of different spectrally-determined strata — each of which described a different forest type. This process ensured that we surveyed a wide variety of land classifications, information that can then be applied and mapped to represent a wider scope of BLM land in Alaska. While working with this team, I had the opportunity to not only learn a new sampling method and pick the brain of a brilliant forester, but also to immerse myself in a menagerie of unfamiliar plant species. I collected several plants, which I intend to label and leave at the field office here for future educational purposes.
After returning from the arctic circle, I spent a few days meeting with a forestry review panel to discuss reforms in BLM Alaska’s forestry program. A decent amount of time was spent reviewing policies regarding non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Subsistence permits for NTFPs (e.g berries, mushrooms, burls, walking sticks, etc.) are a unique feature of rural Alaskan life that does not exist in the lower 48.
This past week, I assisted a team of botanists from Anchorage with collecting seeds for a plant restoration program called “Seeds of Success.” We collected from a wide variety of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs in the Tangle Lakes region, and again, I was thrilled to buff up my plant identification skills. The climate of the Tangle Lakes could be best characterized as mesic, and rarely does it have a cloudless sky, but the weather held out for at least two days that we were there. This much-welcome window of sunlight lit up the surrounding mountains, the tallest of which were brushed with yearlong snow, and the smaller ones were set ablaze in the vibrant autumnal colours of turning fireweed and resin birch. In late August, fall has already arrived here.

Alien planet or Chihuahuan Desert?

July 30, 2018

Two weeks ago, I packed up my belongings and moved across the country from Illinois, where I have called home for most of my life. With my dad’s help I drove all the way to

Carlsbad, New Mexico to begin my internship. As we drove, I watched the landscape change from the lush greenery of the Midwest to the dry scrub of the desert. I found myself wondering what kind of desolate place I was going to be living in for the next five months. Truly, it felt like I had traveled to some kind of post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. Nothing like home.

In our first week of work, we hit the ground running and started collecting seeds. I have so many new plants to learn! Collecting seed is tough work, both mentally and

physically. Especially in 100 degree heat. But, it was rewarding to come back to the office with a pile of seeds after all that hard work. I was also impressed and surprised to

learn that there were so many different plant species in the area where we were collecting. Before, I just saw a bunch of scrubby plants and dirt. Now, when I look at the landscape, I see diversity. Now, a week after that first collection day and with several more collections under my belt, I am starting to feel more confident with this work


After a couple weeks here, I am gaining an appreciation for the desert and the incredible tenacity of the flora and fauna that inhabit it. I am learning to look for beauty, like the bright splash of a cactus flower against a big blue sky. I am finding vivacity in the oasis that desert streams provide. Though Carlsbad may be different from the home I’ve known in the Midwest, I am excited for this adventure and to continue exploring this unusual area!



Carlsbad Field Office, Bureau of Land Management