September Fun

I spent some quality time out in the field conducting the last of the field surveys. Although not here yet, autumn is on its way.The colors are beginning to appear.

I finished up the lake surveys with a monster day of paddling a collecting, about 15 miles in total. The wind was not helpful in the least.

We spent several days working on the bilberry project. We planted about 450 plugs at three new sites, weeded the others to try and help with establishment. Another day, I went out with some wildlife biologists to evaluate the potential for sustaining a  population of blue northern butterfly and some ideas for sourcing them from on the forest

I played hero for the day by discovering a new population of Panax quinquefolius. Just a couple of plants but also some evidence of seed production.

Panax quinquefolius


Some other interesting plants from the forest:

Desert Treasure

Our job has become a treasure hunt on a grand scale. The treasure we seek is not gold, or diamonds: it’s water.

We are now well into the process of spring inventory. Twenty years ago, BLM hydrologists went all over Natrona County and catalogued information about every single spring on BLM land. The hydrologists took photos, made maps, and took water quality samples. The time is ripe for new hydrologists to begin the task of assessing the health of these wetland areas.

Armed with topographic maps from the 90’s, and a couple of old photographs, we set out in our pick-up to check the wetlands. The search is sometimes simple: a spring may lie just off a county road, but often, things get complicated. Two-tracks visible on satellite imagery are not always what they appear to be on the ground. There may be a giant rut running through the center of the two tracks. One false move, and the truck is almost guaranteed to be stuck.

I’m always excited when we find the wetlands. We may have been hiking or driving for an hour, not seeing a trace of green vegetation, or water, when suddenly we come upon a wet meadow with a giant cottonwood swaying in the wind. Water in the desert! Treasure found!

Sometimes the spring is very colorful and smelly!

The next task is to take some quick, but informative water quality measurements: conductivity, pH, and temperature. Then we take photographs, and map the area precisely using arc Collector on a tablet. Afterwards we inventory the riparian plants found in the area and assess the ecological condition of the spring using a checklist designed by the Natural Resource Conservation Association. Then it’s on to the next spring! Only three hundred more to go!

Getting Stuck Sucks


There are some things growing up in a city can never prepare you for. Driving on dirt roads and two tracks are one of those things. I’m not an absolute novice on country roads, but that’s certainly a skill I’ve had to work on during my internship. It seems like one of those things that comes as second nature once you know what you’re doing, but the learning curve is steep. On paved roads, the only impediments you have to look out for are things cutting in front of you like people, cars, and wildlife. Off the pavement, the road itself is sometimes an impediment out to get you. I’ve learned it’s all about angles and speed. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way. It’s a sad thing to call your mentor an hour before your weekend is supposed to start to explain you’ve gotten your truck high centered and you need a rescue. Emma (my mentor) is thankfully very understanding and came out with another guy from the office to tow us out. From what everyone at the office has told me, this happens to everyone. Failing is a crucial part of learning. It still sucks.

My office has a great sense of humor with field work, so they have an “award” called the Golden Shovel that you get to sign and hang up in your cubicle if you have to get rescued. I’d like to say I only had to sign that shovel once, but we’ve had a couple other incidents out in the field regarding keys. We’ve locked ourselves out, and a key magically dropped off the key ring one day in the sagebrush. In terms of keys, I’ve learned that zippered pockets are absolutely ESSENTIAL. If the keys aren’t in the ignition, they’re in a zippered pocket.

As I write this post, I feel silly because it sounds so common sense. Of course it’s important to learn how to navigate the terrain and keep your keys safe. But truly, it’s been a big part of my summer. I take a couple seconds to stop and think about my surroundings and what I need to do to do my job well and keep myself safe, and this consistency and mindfulness has been key (sorry for the bad pun, I’ll see myself out). 

If you’ve made it this far, here’s one of my favorite flowers to collect seeds from, Perideridia gairdneri ssp. borealis. Apparently, the roots were a staple food for Native Americans; I’ve yet to try cooking them, but I’d like to. Truthfully, they’re my favorite flower because the seeds are so satisfying to collect. They produce a lot of seeds per flower, and the seeds are surprisingly big for having so many on an umbel. It’s a wonderful little plant that I’ve enjoyed working with. (My coworker also thinks they smell like Diet Pepsi, which is a plus).

The New Ruminant on the Block

     Buffalo used to be the largest ruminant on the North American continent. Now, the ecological role of buffalo has been taken up by domesticated cattle. The BLM plays a huge role in managing ranching operations on public lands, and strives to make sure that sustainable yields of cattle can be maintained long into the future.

Cattle being moved to a new pasture.

     As part of the management of ranching operations, the BLM performs rangeland health assessments, which are reports outlining the ecological health of land grazed by cattle. To provide an inter-disciplinary examination of the land, we pool our expertise with the range team and the wildlife team. Ranchers in these arid plains need to be careful to not overgraze their allotments. Grasses take a long time to become established, and if a herd of cows grazes all of the grass to the ground, it may be five or ten years before anything can grow on the sandy soils. Furthermore, overgrazed areas are prone to invasion by non-native species, which are not as palatable to cows, and very difficult to remove. The wildlife team is mostly concerned with making sure that enough habitat remains in these areas to support the sage-grouse, a threatened species.

     The hydrologists are concerned with the health of wetland areas. In the summer, a cow may return to a water source three or four times a day in order to drink. Many times these water sources are artificial troughs fed from wells, but sometimes they may travel to natural sources of water. Hydrologists are responsible for monitoring the health of the riparian areas on public lands, which in this case, often means making sure that the wetland areas are not over-used. We are looking for signs of damage to the fragile ecosystems, like deep hoof-prints, which form bumps over time (called hummocks).

     The hydrologists are also responsible for taking and processing soil samples. We are updating the Natural Resource Conservation Association’s soil type map. Soil type, along with precipitation, is the most important predictor of ecotype. Soils with a good balance of silt, clay, and sand, tend to be better able to support grasses. Many ranches lease land on sandy soils which are more prone to erosion, and have a lower yield than more loamy soils. Updating the soil information helps the range team create accurate estimates of how many head of cattle one acre of land can support.


Me holding a photo board to document a seep on BLM land.

     Ranching is definitely not an easy task in the arid plains of central Wyoming, and participating in the rangeland health assessments has helped me to appreciate the vast quantities of land needed to support cattle. Sometimes I try to visualize the large herds of bison that used to run through the plains of the United States. And sometimes, if I try hard enough, I can hear the thunder of their hooves rushing along to green pastures.


Turning over a new leaf…

When you change your focus from limitations to boundless possibilities, from doubt and fear, to love and confidence, you open your world in entirely new ways. However, change is not something that necessarily comes easy….Albert Einstein once wrote, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” To truly change…change one’s ideas, habits, perspective, etc. means that one has to have the courage to leap into the unknown. The unknown can be scary, the unknown can often pose an effort of resistance to change. However, it is this resistance that is the only painful aspect of change.

Things are changing rapidly, for all of us. A new job, a new life, maybe a vacation, perhaps back to school. A shift in gears and a turning of leaves (literally). Fall is on its way, and although today is 80 degrees and bluebird skies in Denver, the crisp mornings and evenings lend homage to the onset of Autumn.

Sunset on some cottonwoods behind my house

My experience here at the state office for the Colorado BLM has been one for the books. A big step in my overall career building experience, as I have had the opportunity to spend weeks in the field conducting rare plant surveys, and also working behind the scenes with the data, writing technical reports, and even establishing a new demographic monitoring protocol. To be able to use my skills in and out of the field here has been one of the things I have been the most thankful for in this job, as a lot of my past experiences with field work have led me to submerge myself in only a few aspects of the scientific method, whereas here I have been given the opportunity to do much more.

Exploring Canyons of the Aincients National Monument 
on our way back home from the field

My time here in Colorado has also truly solidified my interest and ambition to continue to pursue education, and with the way things are looking that very well might be possible in the coming months. I have been speaking with a potential adviser about a scholarship opportunity that seems very promising, working on a project well-aligned with my interests in conservation biology, and forest pathology, in a place that would be very, very far away, but would be a great experience and practice in leaping into the unknown…I have been waiting to go back to school for a while, as it is expensive, funding is limited, and to be honest…I have been very picky in choosing an adviser, a project theme, and a place to commit myself to living for an extended period of time. It is a frustrating process, especially when many of the advisers that I would like to work with seemingly have endlessly full labs, limited funding, or don’t even respond to my emails…The frustration makes it hard to keep trying, but with a little patience, “the right wave will come, and when it does, grab your board, jump on, and ride it for all its worth” (Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart). We will see how things shake out in these next few months…

Driving towards Independence Pass on the way to the 
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

While I will not miss the Denver metro area, or the hot muggy summer days…I will miss a lot of things about my time here. My garden, my house, my awesome crew and co-worker Lauren, the nooks and crannies of the Colorado Rockies, full strength beer. Up next, I am headed to Moab in a week to start a new job with the USGS. The desert has always been a place that has excited pieces of my soul in strange ways, though I have never thought I would be capable of living in the conditions. A summer in Colorado has been rough for me, as I am acclimatized to temperate, cool, rain and fog. From what I hear, the fall in Moab is great though, and I sure am excited to get some red dust all over my bike again.

My backyard featuring way too many peaches

Cheers to a great season of growth, pursuit, and experience! It has been a pleasure meeting you all, and I look forward to keeping in touch as everyone moves into their next adventures. And also…if anyone wants to come visit Moab, or plans to pass through on their way to wherever they may be headed next…give me a shout!

All the best,


Morning Mate with a view (Somewhere in Utah)