Some Musings on Invasive Species Removal

With only three weeks remaining in my internship, I am beginning to reflect on my experience and take stock of all that I have learned.  Lately, this means thinking a lot about invasive species.  Unfortunately, this has felt like a monumentally disheartening topic.  While my fellow intern and I are doing our best to pull out weeds or spray them with herbicide, our efforts can feel very small compared to the scope of the problem.  In many cases, the area that we are treating for one invasive species is also home to many others.  If we were able to treat them all, we would be left with a mostly barren field by the end.

It is hard not to feel as if we are fighting a losing battle, so I would like to visit a time when I felt slightly more optimistic.  At the beginning of July, I wrote a blog post marking the halfway point of my internship.  I was never able to post it due to what I have dubbed the Blog Blackout of 2018, but I want to revisit it now, because I think it is a useful way to frame my current pessimistic train of thought.


Today marks the halfway point of my internship.  Hang on, that can’t be right.  While I’ve been stomping around in the woods, time has passed me by.  Collecting seed may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but it sure does pass the time.

The past two weeks have been a race against the clock: trying to find and collect seed from three native grasses before they disperse.  Roemer’s fescue, California oatgrass, and Lemmon’s needlegrass are very charismatic native species (well, as charismatic as a grass can be) and we are trying to collect enough seed to grow them out for restoration projects.  In practice, this means that I look at maps in ArcGIS to try and identify sites where these grasses have been spotted in the past or habitats that would support their populations, and then travel out to these sites and cross my fingers that those populations actually exist.  I have embarked on more than one long walk with disappointing results, but at least most of those hikes end with a view:

In the middle of this seed collecting frenzy, any activity that mixes things up is welcome.  This week, I practically leapt at the chance to pull weeds in a post-Independence Day rafting trip down the North Umpqua River.  The purpose of the trip was to pull out a grass called false brome, a nasty weed which will aggressively push out all other vegetation if left unchecked.  While we found plenty of false brome, we also noticed that it was much less prevalent at sites targeted by past rafting trips.  It was gratifying to see the positive results of a management strategy, and it is a nice reminder that my small efforts at weed control are not futile (provided they are part of a long-term plan of action).


After reflecting on my experience from two months ago and zooming out to focus on the big picture, I am feeling a lot better.  My efforts may feel small right now, but as long as they are part of a larger plan of action there is a brighter, less weedy future to look forward to here in the Umpua Valley.  I can go back out in the field for the rest of the week with renewed energy and determination to knock out all of this false brome or any other invasive weed that gets in my way.

Where did the time go?

It’s almost fall and the field season is winding down. Yesterday it hailed here in Denver (technically Lakewood) and some of it has stuck to the ground, looking like snow. The air is crisp and the leaves are starting to turn. And I am clinging to summer while I watch it slip through my fingers having gone much too quickly.

It’s been a great field season. My coworkers are wonderful and I will miss them so, especially Sam Andres, my co-star in this adventure. She will be moving on soon and I wish her the best of luck. She has been awesome to work with and I know she is going to do some awesome things!

Sam setting up a monitoring plot in western Colorado

This summer we often ventured to the western slope, to the drought plagued lands past the Rocky Mountains. While the drought is pretty depressing to witness, I must admit I like the heat and enjoyed baking out in the sun. We worked with a lot of cool plants. Unfortunately conditions were rough and many either didn’t flower or I missed the flowering. What was really cool was learning the different monitoring methods. Some plants we did demography monitoring, where data is collected for tagged individuals over many years. Other plants were tallied by the numbers of vegetative and reproductive individuals. Yet others we did frequency monitoring. Each method is applied depending on the life history of the plant, some of which aren’t completely known. Methods are taken from the Measuring and Monitoring handbook. This handbook goes really in depth into the statistical methods necessary for sampling sufficiency and for appropriate analysis. Math isn’t my strong suite so learning these formulas is super helpful for me!

Checking precipitation monitoring devices at a Sclerocactus glaucus monitoring site

While my coworkers weren’t thrilled about this species, as it is so small you have to kneel on the ground to get appropriate data, I think this may have been one of my favorite species (Physaria congesta). It’s so cute!

Though many of our rare species occur on the western slope, we had other fun destinations as well. We traveled to northern central Colorado a few times, surveying plants in the Kremmling Field Office. One trip we collaborated with a botany class from a Colorado University. We always had a solid crew of individuals always ready to help us whenever we worked in Kremmling.

Phacelia formosula

Our Kremmling friends helped us to monitor Phacelia formosula, here pictured at a newly established demography monitoring plot (this species has been historically monitored using frequency)

One fun adventure was near Canon City where we helped local BLM specialists identify a possible rare species to monitor.

Hiking to a possible population of Penstemon degeneri

Nope, it wasn’t Penstemon degeneri

One species that we monitored was in a vastly different ecosystem than what we normally worked in. This was Eutrema penlandii, a small alpine plant. This trip was a challenge because we were working in cold, wet climate with a lot of people from different agencies. We needed to ensure that monitoring efforts were done consistently across the various groups of people, many who had a lot of experience and weren’t about to be ordered around by interns. Though past years there had been some monitoring inconsistencies, we managed to keep it all together and collect some good data!

Sam et al monitoring Eutrema penlandii, a plant so small you had to get down real close and part all the vegetation to identify it

This guy was trying to steal our food while we worked

Pretty alpine plant

Pretty pretty

While we completed a lot of monitoring and I am very proud of our work, we also had some fun adventures along the way.

Full moon over Meeker, CO. Staying in Meeker was nice. Few food options, but a very nice park near the hotel where we gazed upon the full moon:)

My mentor Carol and Phil while we tour a seed farm that grows out native seed for research and restoration purposes

Stick works in Vail. Even though I was a very grumpy girl that day, Carol had us stop in Vail on our way back from Meeker to see this stick art. This really cheered me up!

Our adventures have been great! Though I will be sad to move on in ~6 weeks time, I will always remember this experience fondly:)


I Have A Least Favorite Plant Now and I Never Thought This Would Happen

July 2018

Nuttall’s Sunflower and I: Best Friends! So Happy!

Day of Antelope Bitterbrush collection– so sad

On days when we collect for Seeds of Success, the day could go a variety of ways depending on the plant we are working with, how hot it is outside, the conditions of our field site. Some days are totally perfect. Helianthus nuttallii is a beautiful sunflower. Each head produces 60 seeds, which means to get to our goal of 20,000 seeds, we only need about 330 seed heads. The population we found sits in mountain foothills where the temperature usually sits around 70 degrees and it’s only about a 90 minute drive from our field office. The actual collection took 45 minutes, our field site was gorgeous, I wasn’t drenched in sweat the whole time, and afterwards we had time leftover in the day, so we got to scout for other possible collections afterwards and “had to” drive through Medicine Bow National Forest to get back. I love Helianthus nuttallii. That was a great day. An easy day of field work.

Some collections do not go as great. Purshia tridentata is a shrub in the Rose family. Each flower produces an achene with a single seed. You read that correctly, one seed. That means, in order to reach the goal of 20,000 seeds per population, one has to pick 20,000 individual achenes while also making sure you pick from enough individual bushes to get an acceptable amount of genetic variation within the population. The population we worked with was in the desert. We collected on two hot days (90 degrees), morale was pretty low during the collection, and there were known rattlesnake sighting in that area before (eek!). It took around 10 hours to complete the collection. My back was sore from squatting down to pick the fruits– the bush was just low enough to the ground to be out of reach from a standing position. I am not a big fan of this plant. My opinion of Antelope Bitterbrush will probably always be colored by this experience of collecting its seeds. Apparently antelope love to eat this plant and it’s super great for the local habitat, but it also is probably my least favorite plant in the state of Wyoming.

Standing at the top of Mt Evans (14,000 ft)  in Colorado thinking about Antelope Bitterbrush Photo by Ari Rosenblum

I am not usually the kind of person who hates any plant. In fact, I am very partial to organisms of the botanical persuasion. I have had some bad experiences with the Rose family (Rosa multiflora has destroyed one of my jackets and has poked holes in several of my pants… and it’s invasive), but I generally do not hold grudges. However, it is going to take a while for me to forgive Purshia tridentata.

This Wyoming Toad tadpole does not even know what Antelope Bitterbrush is and look how happy he is! Photo by Alexa Rojas

Working At Night!!!!!! For Animals!!!

August 2018

It’s disappointing when the sun comes up after 12 hours of searching and you still haven’t captured a Black Footed Ferret. Not a lot of people can share that experience, so you might just have to trust me on that.

First, some background– just about 30 years ago, Black Footed Ferrets were in sharp decline due to shrinking prairie dog populations (their primary prey), disease, and habitat loss. In fact, they were declared “Extinct in the Wild” in 1987. The future did not look bright for these little guys until a captive breeding program helped to increase the population, and today we classify them as endangered rather than extinct. This is good news, and hopefully as these animals continue to breed in the wild, we will not have to worry about them at all. However, for now, we must keep track of these reintroduced populations, which has some peculiar challenges.

Many animals are nocturnal– owls, raccoons, foxes, bats, scorpions, the list is actually pretty long. Nocturnal behavior can be adaptive– either for hunting purposes, or for escaping hunters. Humans, however, did not develop this adaptation. Our brains have an intricate process for chemically maintaining circadian rhythms, so that we sleep at night and are awake during the day. Black Footed Ferrets, interestingly enough, are one of those nocturnal animals, though. They hunt prairie dogs at night, and sleep in burrows during the day. Our sleep schedules are incompatible to say the least. We can’t expect the ferrets to change their sleep schedule for us, so any humans who are interested in surveying their populations is going to have to go temporarily nocturnal.

Wyoming Fish and Game, being the agency responsible for these surveys, asked the BLM for volunteers to work from sunset to sunrise for 3 days. Unsurprisingly, us four plucky CLM interns working in the Rawlins Field Office jumped on the opportunity. We had no idea what we are in for, but after a fun week of Wyoming Toad surveys with the state Fish and Wildlife agency, we were excited for any opportunity to meet with other government agencies and learn more about how we can help endangered species. We showed up to Shirley Basin at 4pm, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to get trained for the night ahead. At sunset, we headed out to begin the search for our new BFF (Black Footed Ferret).

SOOOOOOOOOOOO Cuuuuuuuute!!!!! Black Footed Ferret

With spotlights in hand and traps in backpack, we searched and became familiar with the nighttime wildlife. Badgers are angry creatures, especially when we would follow them into their burrows, mistaking them for a ferret (it’s dark, okay?!). Foxes run away at first sight. Cows are just always awake, it seems. Pronghorn Antelopes look strangely like ferrets when their heads are low to the ground as they graze, but they often run in groups, so that’s a pretty useful diagnostic. We didn’t see any coyotes, but we definitely heard them as they announced their successful hunts throughout the night. Birds of prey look much larger when they are standing on the ground (and, as a dinosaur enthusiast, I was always happy to see them). Falling into a prairie dog burrow is embarrassing, and I was glad nobody could see me in the dark when it happened. Black Footed Ferret sightings were relatively rare in comparison to other animals, and they were often very hesitant to walk into the traps when found.

After 2 and a half nights of wandering around our assigned plot and capturing not a single ferret, my search partner and I were beginning to think it was all a prank. Maybe the ferrets in our plot were uncapturable. At around 3 in the morning on Thursday, we found out it wasn’t a prank at all. We captured our first ferret and I was so deliriously happy that I could barely talk into the radio to let the processing trailer know we were coming. The three year old female we found was very well behaved as the non-game biologist took her measurements. She had already received her vaccinations against plague and canine distemper when she had been captured in a previous year, but any other captured ferrets would have received those. We released her back to her burrow and set out to continue searching for more ferrets. While I had only caught the one, the overall project was pretty successful in capturing and releasing ferrets.

Anesthesia helps with allowing measurements to be taken

After returning to Rawlins at 9am on Thursday, I immediately fell asleep. The nocturnal lifestyle is probably not for me. Today, I very much enjoyed getting up in the morning for work and I look forward to going to sleep tonight knowing there are some cool BFFs hunting for prairie dogs.

New In Town (Rawlins, WY)!

Hitting the books– keying out species– pretending I know what I am doing Photo credit: Chloe Battista

June 2018

I graduated from my small liberal arts college in Ohio about a month ago and then almost immediately packed up and moved to Rawlins, WY to intern with the BLM for Seeds of Success. In my first few weeks here, I realized pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn. While I took plant taxonomy and botany classes as a part of my biology major at Oberlin College, I would not consider myself an expert in seed biology and plant identification. I guess in the next five months, I am going to become much more knowledgeable on those topics. Fortunately, my awesome mentor has been here to help, my amazing co-intern, Chloe, is incredibly  capable and knowledgeable, and my funny and sweet boyfriend, Miguel, is cheering me on from Miami.

I get to work in a pretty place!!!

So far, my time here has had me thinking a lot about conservation, natural resources, and local versus global spheres of each. My project– collecting seeds for restoration– is very focused on the local scale. When habitats within our field office are disturbed (by oil and gas, wind fields, fires, etc), the seeds we collect will be used to assist in the restoration of those habitats. Seeds could also be used for research on the flora that grow here, or may just be banked. All of this is focused on conservation within the High Desert District of Wyoming. Considering the importance of restoration with native plants and how different populations tend to support individuals that are most adapted to their specific environment, our project is crucial for local conservation.

Helping with that local conservation… Blowout Penstemon is an endangered species and we were assisting with surveys to assess its population in Wyoming. Photo Credit to Bonnie Heidel


The global sphere within conservation, however, is also extremely important. It is becoming increasingly laughable to deny that humans actions, specifically greenhouse gas emissions, have lead to a global change in climate. With more severe weather, higher average temperature, and increasing extinction rates, we are at the beginning of what looks like will be Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Marine organisms that are indicators of healthy oceans are now quickly falling in number, as are amphibians and other vulnerable groups of organisms. These major global patterns are a result of the enhanced Greenhouse Effect. Human use of fossil fuels for energy since the industrial revolution have a major hand in disrupting the balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Restoration botany can, in some ways, work to mitigate climate effects because plants can act as carbon sinks, but it would take a lot of planting to solve our problems and local communities can only do so much when large corporations are to blame for the grand majority of emissions. This is why, as I work in the local conservation sphere, I cannot forget about the global scale as well.

Blowout Penstemon

Global issues like climate change are hard to combat as one person who just graduated from college. However, our planet is a global community. What we do can affect everyone, so while it is easy to feel helpless and ignore what is happening at a global scale, we are responsible for maintaining awareness. We can encourage greener energy sources over fossil fuels, call government officials, and inform friends and family. I am going to hold myself accountable in doing those things, while I collect seeds for local restoration projects. 


Seed Collection and Spraying weeds

These last couple months have flown by. There is only one month left. The last couple months have been spent mostly on seed collection and treatment of invasive species. My grass identification skills are growing stronger and I am starting to recognize key differences in different types of grasses. Pictured below is bundle of Danthonia Californica which is a native perennial oatgrass.  My favorite part about this plant is that it can produce seeds in its stem as well as at the top of the plant.

The day after the 4th of July, we were able to have a relaxing day on the Umpqua River rafting and pulling weeds. We were controlling the spread of False Brome which is an invasive species from Europe that can outcompete native plants.

We had the pleasure of working with the Phoenix School Crew here in Roseburg. They helped us on a couple different projects. One of the projects was to pull tansy ragwort at the North Bank Habitat Management Area. They crew did a great job and we ended up with a few truckloads of tansy ragwort to dispose of! The other intern and I were lucky enough to have them help because it would have taken us weeks to do the work.

We have also been focusing more on forbs seed collection. Pictured below is Achillea Millefolium, also known as Common Yarrow.

We wrapped up our final seed collection on a population of Canada Goldenrod. We will be transitioning to spraying noxious weeds for the remainder of our internship.

I have learned a lot about plant identification and invasive species management so far and have appreciated all of the gorgeous views along the way.