All Grown Up

We’ve been growing a bunch of plants for restoration projects, and now many of them are all grown up and ready to be out-planted here in Oregon. We take them out of their nice sheltered greenhouses and throw them out into the harsh world by putting them out on the raised beds. Though we do not have the most extreme winters over here, it is regularly below freezing at night (as evidenced by the nice dusting of frosty dew on the spiderwebs draped across various plants).

With the changing fall colors, it means that the raised beds are gorgeous. I sometimes walk out there on my lunch breaks just to admire some of the plants we have tended out there, getting ready to go out into the world.

We have already sent off many of them to be planted and we are carrying some over into next year. However, we are getting to plant some of them ourselves in the next few months at a wetland/riparian restoration site. Personally, I am a fan of waders so I am looking forward to the out-planting. To get a sense, here are some photos of the restoration as it is now:

We will be lugging boxes of plants for half a mile or longer through marshes so it may be a bit of an adventure. People have suggested using llamas or horses only half-jokingly. We’ll see how that goes.

With winter coming along most of our plant propagation has slowed to a halt. However, we are having to hold over around 12,000 huckleberry unexpectedly. While this may not seem like a big deal, plants grow. The problem with that is that they need more space as they get bigger. More space means bigger pots. Bigger pots means transplanting. 12 THOUSAND huckleberry plants. One at a time. It’s going to take a while. Luckily, our crew is fun to work with and everyone has a good attitude. That and, personally, I love the chance to work outside, even if I may need the occasional break to heat up my hands.

We also have been continuing to clean and process seed. That is an ongoing process and will likely not be done when I leave in January. The amount of Douglas Fir seeds alone is staggering.

Doug-fir seeds

We also process various other species (Port-Orford Cedar, Limber Pine, Whitebark Pine, Western White Pine, Sugar Pine, etc.). The POC (Port-Orford Cedar) cones are from our own greenhouses, which is exciting.

POC Seeds

That said, they are challenging to clean because the male cones (which we are trying to remove) are small but not small enough to easily sieve and they tend to break into little pieces. Patience is handy when cleaning seed. Patience and some good podcasts. Then again, I suppose the same thing could be said of life.

Farewell Wyoming, I Hope We Meet Again

Sadly, I’m wrapping up my season working for Seeds of Success with the BLM in Lander, WY.  I knew halfway into the internship that this was one of the best decisions I had ever made, but I’m still surprised at how much I’ve fallen in love with Wyoming and its plants and wildlife!  I’m sad to say goodbye, but I can’t help but hope/believe that I’ll have more opportunities to work in such a vast and marvelous place like central Wyoming.  Never have I been so perplexed by the weather systems, than in Wyoming.  One minute you think your going to get rained out, and the next, winds change and it’s a beautiful, sunny day…or vice versa.  And the MOUNTAINS!!  I am so thankful the internship was extended a month because it wasn’t until mid October that we finally got some snow; and waking up to a fresh dusting of snow on the Wind River Mountain range, is one of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve ever seen!

The experience and skills I’ve gained throughout this internship are invaluable!  Because this was my first internship outside of my undergrad, I really appreciated how much safety training we were put through.  From safe driving and general first aid and safety procedures, to other types of training, like computer and internet safety, I felt very confident and prepared out in the field.  Our field office also offered additional bear safety training, and other training more specific to wildlife threats concerning central Wyoming, such as tics, snakes, heat exhaustion and altitude sickness.  In a profession that calls for so much time spent out in the field, I didn’t realize how essential some seemingly simple skills were, like working with an intricate radio system, driving on back country two tracks, or maintaining vehicle/equipment logs.  I appreciate this job and the wonderful mentor I had for providing me with such an encouraging environment to grow and improve these kinds of skills, which I know will be applicable to any job related in conservation.

But the wealth of skills and experience I gained, far extends that of the everyday workings of a government facility.  The confidence this job has instilled in me, concerning practices in field botany, is irreplaceable.  My ability to identify plants using a dichotomous key has improved ten-fold, as well as my general knowledge of Wyoming’s flora and the various kinds of habitats your likely to find them.  I realized how crucial timing is in a job like SOS.  Fruit maturation differers from plant to plant, and some plants seed out more quickly than others; I experienced how challenging this could be first hand, and have a new found appreciation for truly understanding plant lifecycles and how they differ from organism to organism.

I’m finding that, typically, that kind of knowledge can only be gained through shear doing…experience.  And that’s exactly what this job allowed me to do!  I couldn’t have asked for a better partner and mentor (I know I was spoiled in that regard) for being so approachable and open to questions and curiosities.  With such a secure and enjoyable work atmosphere, I was really able to take advantage of every opportunity this internship had to offer and walk away with incredible memories, dear friendships, and an abundance of experience.

Land of Enchantment

When I arrived in Santa Fe a cool mountain drizzle welcomed me with a much-needed car wash and the intoxicating smell of juniper and pinyon pine in the air. In an instance, I was convinced that it I would be here to stay. However, this rain did not seem to return. Months went by and I would soon learn about the realities of drought, fire restrictions, and of course, unhappy plants. This became the theme of my summer.

During this period of drought dormancy, I found community around Santa Fe and started learning the landscape. This began with my favorite BLM past time, drive by botany. At 60 miles an hour, my crew mate Sam would rattle off Latin name of plant skeletons that to me were just blurs on the side of the road, who knew this would prepare me for what was about to come.

Unlike my home in the Midwest, where April showers would bring May flowers, the Southwest created its own rule book and in order to survive species have to adapt to these ever-changing weather extremes. By late July, the rain finally arrived, but the desert is not gentle, and when it rains, it pores. On July 24, the monsoons arrived with 3.5 inches of rainfall in one delirious night; this night marked a turning point in our collection season. The high plateau landscape transformed overnight from brown to green with plants emerging from the sandy soils anywhere with a hint of moisture. Like the animals, our crew adapted to the weather of the Southwest to survive and we collected whatever we could get our hands on. Within a few weeks, my desk was buried in a mountain of seeds awaiting their journey to the Bend Extractory.

This season was riddled with many lessons about the resilience of desert plants, the challenges of ever increasingly unpredictable weather, the struggle of racing DOT mowers, and the search for annuals that seem to move miles in a season. If you get a chance to work with CLM you might not share these same experiences but you will walk away with a wealth of stories and experiences unique to your season. Working in the BLM New Mexico State Office presented a variety of opportunities to learn about careers in conservation and receive cross training in a variety of fields. Even if you do not gain something from working with a diverse group of professionals, there is never an absence of lessons to be gleaned from desert plants and the incredible ecosystems they live in.

Cleome serrulata camouflage in the Gila National Forest\

Take care CLM,

Luke Knaggs Santa Fe BLM office

Extracurricular Activities

As we approach the end of August and seed collecting is winding down a bit, our mentor has provided us with opportunities to expand our knowledge and experience past seed collecting.  Throughout the summer, but particularly now, we’ve had the opportunity to survey and monitor various endemic or rare plants in the Fremont Co. area.  Earlier in the year, we were tasked with monitoring the phenology of a rare plant called Yermo xanthocephalus, commonly known as desert yellowhead, which only occurs in two areas of Wyoming.  We collaborated with a botanist performing studies to understand what pollinates this rare plant and at what frequency, as well as perform paternity analyses.   My partner and I helped her set up pollinator traps and checked on the maturity of fruits for her on a weekly basis.

Setting up experimental pollinator traps

Another rare plant we spent a few days mapping out was Cleome multicaulis, a beautifully tiny, spindly little forb apart of the mustard family.  It only occurs in or near very alkaline, dried lake beds.  Even though its flowers are purple and it’s about a foot tall, they’re still somewhat hard to spot at first, because they are so thin and delicate.  We typically found them along the perimeter of these dried lake beds, usually near or under a group of sagebrush.  One of the days we spent scouting for this plant, my partner and I had three separate encounters with rattle snakes.  We’d definitely ran into them before, being in Wyoming, but I’ll say after the third rattle… we were both a bit on the jumpy side.  I believe we called it a little earlier than we might have usually, because our nerves were shot by then.

One of my favorite areas we spent time at was in the badlands of Chalk hills, where we scouted and mapped out a rare sagebrush, Artemisia porteri, commonly called Porter’s sagebrush.  I realize it’s a bit bizarre for someone who loves botany to also enjoy an area so void of vegetation, but I did 🙂  Perhaps it’s because I’ve just never been exposed to such a drastic habitat, part of me felt like I was on Mars…or at least the closest I’ll ever get to being on Mars.  Surprisingly, we saw a lot of Jack rabbits in the area, which was really cool.  We were successful in identifying the rare sagebrush, and once we got a better feel for the distinct areas they occurred, it was a very pleasant way to spend a day out in the field, in a habitat that I was so unfamiliar with.

Badlands of Chalk hills, where we found Artemisia porteri

We recently received very exciting news; our internship was approved for a month extension, so instead of finishing up in late September, my partner and I will work a the BLM- Lander Field Office until the end of October, which is wonderful!  Any extra employment I can get, especially during the off-season for field work, is very welcomed.  And I’m especially excited to have an opportunity to see what Lander’s like in the Fall 🙂  I feel very grateful right now, and look forward to the upcoming months!

Becca Cross,

BLM- Lander Field Office

In Full Swing of Things

It’s mid July and we are fully immersed in seed collecting.  For the last couple weeks, and for our unforeseeable future, all my partner and I do is check in at the field office, drive out to a field site, pick whatever wildflower seeds we are targeting that day for roughly six to seven hours, and then return and go home and pass out.  Sometimes we spend the entire day both picking the same seeds, for instance with Comandra umbellata, which produces a single seeded fruit, so for us to reach a target of 20,000 seeds, it could take an entire week.  If we are collecting something in the Apiaceae or Asteraceae family, which can produce anywhere from 75-150 seeds per plant, we can complete an entire collection and then some within an afternoon.  These collections are by no means more significant, but as the person making the physical collections…I love those days! The satisfaction one gets  from collecting 35,000 in one day is incredible.

Seeds collected from Perideridia gairdneri ssp. borealis 

We’ve strategically selected field sites with more than one species seeding out, making what we call opportunistic collections along the way.  Recently we spent the entire week at one particular field site called Miner’s Delight because there were four viable collections seeding out all at once.  My partner would tackle one species, while I focused on another, and then midday we might switch, to avoid becoming bored or sloppy.  They’re long days, but it’s also very pleasant once you allow yourself to become fully immersed in your work and nature.  One collection we made during that week that I am particularly proud of was Penstemon radicosus, which is very beneficial for native pollinators in the area 🙂

This little guy caught my attention while I was collecting Lomatium simplex var. simplex at Miner’s Delight that same week, I had to take a few minutes to bask in his/her colorful glory.  I’m finding the proximity that seed collecting allows me to have with so many different bugs, is one of my favorite perks about this job.  I’ve watched beetles oviposite eggs, dragon flies mating, and a slew of incredible spiders.  My phone is quickly filling up with just pictures of plants and insects…

Caterpillar hanging out on the branch of Lomatium simplex var. simplex

A colorful caterpillar hanging out on the branch of Lomatium simplex var. simplex

An enormous spider with a hefty meal, found on Polanisia dodecandra ssp. trachysperma

We’re a little more than halfway through our internship and we’ve made about ten or eleven collections so far and have many more in front of us.  Right now I can’t imagine life void of seed collecting…which is a good thing, I guess!

Rough Start

After the first six weeks of our internship, we are finally ready to begin seed collecting!! Almost…not quite.  Unlike the previous Spring, when our field office apparently experienced record high amounts of precipitation, this year was quite the opposite.  We did experience some precipitation, but mostly in the form of rain, and much later than to be expected.  So, we were a bit dismayed, as there were a handful of days our mentor would send us somewhere to look for a specific population, that perhaps the year before had bloomed out phenomenally, but this year, practically nonexistent.  It wasn’t too frustrating, but rather a bit unnerving for my partner and I, as this was both our first SOS internship, and we were worried that maybe we were missing something or weren’t looking in the right habitats.  However, anytime our mentor was out in the field, she reported the same lack of spectacular blooms she’d seen at this time of year in previous seasons, which gave us some comfort.

Unfortunately, the timing of our CLM internship training also played into an overall loss of potential seed collections.  It’s a bit of a conundrum, because the training was truly excellent.  It was loads of fun getting to familiarize ourselves and work at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a whole week, and the speakers were all personable and full of useful information!  It just ended up falling on a week that was a prime seed collecting window for where we’re at in Wyoming.  Not to mention, the week before our training in Chicago, our mentor had a training of her own that she needed to attend, so we missed both the first and second week of June for collecting seeds.  And the first two weeks of June are pretty critical for many of the potential collections we’d spent the last three to four weeks scouting for.

So as of now, we’ve only made a couple full collections.  Many of the populations we revisited had either already seeded out, or been severely damaged due to insects.  BUT our mentor seems very determined that we’ll find more populations in habitats of higher elevation, and makes the point that this is a good opportunity for the SOS team to branch out and try to make collections that have never been made before 😀 Keep your fingers crossed that next time I report, we’ll have made more progress!


Becca Cross,

BLM- Lander Field Office.

“Don’t be in a hurry.”

The five months of my life as a CLM intern have come and gone and with it, so have many new experiences. I did not really know what I would be getting myself into when I decided to commit to the CLM internship nor did I know what to expect before moving out to Idaho. For the most part, I anticipated spending most of my time outside, hunting for wildflowers; I was also hoping to determine where my professional career might head in the future. Seed collecting was definitely the focus of my internship, but I was also privileged to experience many other areas of work within the Forest Service as well. These opportunities allowed me to explore many of my interests within conservation work, but I can’t say I have figured out the rest of my life just yet.

If I wasn’t meandering through the desert, searching for various flowers in the aster family, I could still be found working outside. I spent a day completing a horsemanship training class, which included a 4 hour ride through the back country. That was basically my first time on a horse and it was an incredible experience. I was also quite sore the rest of the week. I had a few opportunities to shadow range specialists throughout the summer and fall as they monitored areas that had been grazed by cattle or sheep. It was interesting to see how a landscape might change over time, as was the case when sheep and beetles were used to control leafy spurge in certain rangelands. It was also neat to understand how the intensity of grazing could be determined by looking at a landscape.

Other opportunities that arose for me included participating in environmental education and volunteer outreach events, hiking through the Jedidiah Smith Wilderness to inspect campsites and their respective bear boxes, surveying land with an archaeologist, and visiting a phosphate mine with a soil scientist. (I have spent some time at a couple of other mine sites before this internship, but I have never experienced anything as massive as this phosphate mine operation. Talk about a slice of humble pie.)

I went for the longest hike of my life in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and was able to call it work! It was 18 miles of some beautiful country.

I am currently interested in a LOT of different aspects of conservation work, so I still don’t quite know where my life is headed in the long-term. I do know I would like to spend a bit more time exploring my interests before eventually returning to school for a graduate program. For now, I’m not quite sure what my next step will be in life. However, when I mentioned this in the office one day, someone merely told me, “Don’t be in a hurry.” It was encouraging to hear that as I begin to enter another period of transition. I may not have experienced any major epiphanies while working in Idaho this field season, but I have learned to be more comfortable with taking life one step at a time.

Cheers to more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID

The Art of Seed Cleaning


Seed collection came to a close for me in October, and with it, so did my time spent in the field. However, I still needed to organize all the plant matter I had accumulated over the summer and send it off to the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise, ID. Towards the end of the month, my supervisor and I decided it would be a neat experience for me to participate in the seed cleaning process. So, I tucked all my seed collections and their respective herbarium specimens into a box and headed out to Boise. I spent a few days in Boise learning the art of seed cleaning and witnessing many mounds of messy fluff transform into neat little packets of seed eager to be planted.

The hard work of many interns this summer now patiently waiting to be cleaned.

After the species identification of seed collections were verified, each bag of seed was cleaned by hand and then by machine before moving into storage. Hand cleaning could be a daunting task, especially if there happened to be a lot of debris in the collection, but this step definitely improved the effectiveness of the mechanical seed cleaning. I could feel my eyes begin to cross as I sorted through piles of fluff for hours on end, but it was rewarding to complete a collection. Additionally, this monotonous task was made enjoyable by sharing the experience with the fun crew of Boise seasonals.

Machaeranthera canescens at the beginning of hand cleaning.

Tessa, one of the Boise seasonals, doing a stellar job at hand cleaning M. canescens.

The machinery we used for seed cleaning is located at the Lucky Peak Nursery, near Lucky Peak State Park. This step in the seed cleaning process is also pretty time consuming, but it’s a bit more engaging than the hand cleaning. We would run a collection of seed through a mechanical brushing machine that would ideally remove most of the pappus (all the fluffy stuff) from the seeds. The seed collection would then be transferred to an air column, where a stream of air was supposed to separate all the debris from the viable seeds. The effectiveness of these machines often depended on the cleanliness of the seed collection and the species we were working with. I worked on Crepis acuminata and Machaeranthera canescensC. acuminata is much better behaved when it comes to seed cleaning.

The brush machine.

Tessa: master of the air column.

While cleaning wildflower seeds is not the most exciting thing I have ever done in my life, I think it’s neat to see the end-product and it’s an important step in improving the germination rates of the seed. I am glad I had this opportunity. I will definitely appreciate the cleanliness of any packet of seed I plant in the future!

C. acuminata before cleaning.

C. acuminata after cleaning.

Some packets of CLEAN seed – aren’t they beautiful???

Cheers to more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID

Goodbye, Wyoming… For Now

In the summer of 1956, my grandfather, Art Humble, moved to Cody, WY to start his first job out of college in the coal industry. In the summer of 2017, I collected plant fossils for a research project in Hanna Basin, WY among the layers of coal, carbonaceous shales, and sandstone. On my last day that summer, the coincidence struck me as interesting. Art and I have always understood each other well. Even in my early years, I was very bookish, and I loved history, and we always bonded over that because he is also bookish and loves history. It was funny to me that we would spend time in the same places when we were around the same age.

Art Humble and me

I never thought I would go back to southern Wyoming so soon.

This past spring (2018), when I found out I had gotten into the CLM program and would be working in Rawlins, WY (just 40 miles from Hanna), it was my grandfather who was the only one in my family who had been to Rawlins before.

“It’s not much”, he said. And he showed me a photo of the simple, brick storefronts of downtown Rawlins from when he visited there. Rawlins has grown considerably in the past 60 years, but it is still small, with a population just under 10,000. I moved here 3 days after graduating college with no sense of what to expect out of my first real job using my real degree. I quickly found that, while Rawlins itself does not have a ton going on, the BLMers in our field office are incredibly kind and interesting people.


Once I started working, the weeks started to fly by incredibly quickly. I climbed sand dunes to survey Penstemon haydenii, an endangered plant that only grows in constantly disturbed sand dune environments. I tried to cut through thick reeds and willows to search for Wyoming Toad, the rarest amphibian in North America. I built a snow fence to protect sagebrush seedlings. I spotlight searched all night long for the ever charismatic black footed ferret. I ground checked for historic raptor nests. I surveyed Bennett Peak for invasive weeds. I visited Cody, WY with my boyfriend. I collected SO MANY SEEDS for Seed of Success. I even returned to Hanna Basin for one of our seed collections.

The CLM internship was a very good decision for me. I learned a lot at work, I went to 3 national parks, and I met some nice people. That’s all I can really ask for. I hope to find a more research-focused position for my next job, and eventually apply to graduate school. I love plants; I love natural history; I love ecology. I am really just following that bliss.


Now, I am looking at the clock on my last day of work, mentally preparing for the drive home ahead. I don’t know what’s next for me. I can’t even be sure where I will be 2 weeks from now, but today, I am starting the journey home to my family, and I am set to start substitute teaching until I figure things out. I will see my grandfather, and celebrate my mom’s birthday, and keep applying for botany-related jobs, and feel anxious about the future.

The only certainty in life in uncertainty, especially when you are 22. In the summer 1956, Art Humble did not know what the future would hold for him in Cody, and in the summer of 2018, I felt the same way about Rawlins. This week, on the phone, my grandfather put these feelings into words. They seem very profound for me right now, as I move on with no real plans for the near future. I can’t say that I won’t end up back in Wyoming for work for third time.

“You never know what to expect until you are there.”

I love you, Wyoming

Time Vacuum Discovered in Ozark National Forest


If you have 5 months of time you’re trying to relieve yourself from you may now rest assured.. the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests recently unearthed an antiquated time-vacuum beneath restored glade-woodlands.  It continues to effortlessly function despite its appearance, and significant aging.  All that is required of you is to come prepared with yourself, and yourself alone.  Traverse the bluffs, the plots of pine, the prodding briers, passed the oblivious armadillos (that truly have the best intentions) and all under the thick curtains of sun.  It will appear as if no change has taken place…but upon checking your calendar (for those who still rely on physical calendars like we aren’t in 2018) you’ll notice someone, or something, has crossed off the previous 5 months.

In all seriousness, however, I am bemused by how quickly this term has reached its end.  Of course I’m finally beginning to grow quite comfortable in the grooves I’ve made and found myself in.  Things tend to work that way, don’t they?  I suppose facing a fleeting sense of time is necessary.  It encourages you to become more efficient in your efforts.  Good, or bad, your plate from which you place endeavors upon becomes larger than before.  However, once you reach those final pages closing that chapter, it serves as a way to gain a notable reflection on: yourself, the things you have accomplished, and the things you wish to improve.  Grooves keep you going, but grooves may serve as an obstacle preventing you from acknowledging your overall, wide perspective as well.  All I know is I’m disappointed to close this chapter of my life, but I’m also eager to capture the next opportunity that appears before me.  Might I add as soon as humanly possible, too.

I’ve discovered in this short period of time that my resolve for conservation, and restoration has only strengthened.  Before we work in an actual conducive, and generative environment pertaining to our fields of interest, we tend to either romanticize, or grossly misconceive it.  I believe that after meeting too many individuals to count who all share the same common interest as me performs as a tool to reaffirm, and encourage my pursuits.  To be in the midst of minds who not only thoroughly comprehend anything, and everything including biology, ecology, and methods of restoration, but who are also in a position to actually make/see a noticeable difference, (and have) has become a ceaseless source of inspiration and motivation.  I can only hope that I’ll become eligible to acquire a title such as that.  I quickly gathered that I am so far from the knowledge and competence necessary, yet so close to being on a path leading towards just that.  If I am given a short moment to come up with one thing I have gained from this internship, it’s gratitude.  Gratitude I express for being given the opportunity to develop a sense of what this was all about.  I can only hope to find something similar again!

Although I know I’m experiencing what feels like a loss of time, (subletting my apartment in town, planning for the trip back to NH, etc), I will quickly acquire more.  I’m positive,  I’ll have plenty of spare months ahead that I’ll be willing to submit to this so called “time-vacuum”.  I wonder if more will be unearthed?  Perhaps there are hundreds, and in other places, too?  Well, one thing is certain, I’ll be sure assist in the process in efforts to find them.

(Candid photo of me.  Notice the impact of 5 months of being sucked away.   Looks like absolute misery, right?)

Until next time CLM,

Ozark-St.Francis National Forest