Not much has changed since I last posted, most days consist of scouting spots with noxious weeds and treating those areas. We have also taken time to scout for rare plants in the district to make a herbarium voucher based on past known sites, but unfortunately we were unable to find any. My partner was out of town for a week so I did get to mix things up for a week by working the night shift with wildlife. I got to participate in Spotted owl surveys, in which we go out at night to set points and use a pre recorded owl call to call them in hopes of a response. I was told in the past they would fly right up to you, but now due to habitat loss and the increased population and competition for territory with the barred owl, their population has been dwindling and will rarely make their presence known. The barred owls though will always call back, in fact one juvenile flew to the tree right in front of us as seen in the picture below.
I have also been able to participate in a frog survey, were we waded down a creek looking for mostly frogs but took note of any other animal found. The stream for the most part was at our ankles but went as deep as our waste, but it was amazing to be surrounded by an old growth forest, unfortunately due to the fear of wetting my phone I didn’t get any photos. We did find several yellow and red legged frogs, a couple of crayfish, and water snakes.
Unfortunately, my time as a CLM intern will end at the end of the month and I will soon become an official BLM employee for two more months, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experience as a CLM intern. I learned so much during my time here, not only on species identification but also invasive weed control methods and gained some insight what its like to work with a government agency. I am so thankful for everyone at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, especially Chris Woolridge and Krissa Skogen, for making this experience possible!
It has been quite a long time since I made a blog post, so this one is definitely going to be a long one. I have been insanely busy traveling, exploring, and working in between. BUT, it is so nice to hear people looking forward to these posts, and so writing them is really enjoyable. I got to explore Sinks Canyon State Park even more in the past month, and ventured through some shorter hikes like the Nature Trail and the North Slope to The Rise in the park. The Rise is where the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River comes back out of the Earth, after going into and under it at the natural sink further upstream. It just so happens that The Rise is also a natural trout spawning pool and (thankfully) no fishing is allowed. That being said, this makes it possible for a small variety of HUGE trout to live there in the summer — harm free. Depending on water levels and its flow, the sandbar you see in the bottom of the picture below may be bigger, or even nonexistent. This is definitely one of my new favorite spots in Sinks to take friends and family to see and feed the trout.
Back at work, Jon and I had still been learning the country we are currently monitoring. I just recently asked my mentor exactly how big that was, and was shocked to hear his answer. We are monitoring over 400,000 acres of land! That is crazy to me!! Despite the size, we are really getting into the rhythm of things in our allotments, and are starting to make quick(ish) work of the acres we drive through. Towards the end of June, we were ecstatic to find a herd of elk nearby one of our favorite transect sites in the Arapahoe Creek Allotment, Lost Creek. I still don’t know how I managed to get a decent picture of them — they were so fast! They can also make some of the strangest noises I have ever heard in my life.. I love them.
That week, I found another one of my favorite hikes and lookout spots down the Loop Road. This is the road that continues S/SE past Sinks Canyon State Park and into Shoshone National Forest. You definitely want a four-wheel-drive car for this road. Haha. The trailhead starts at one of the most ambiguous “parking lots” near the top of the mountain and is (ironically) called the Blue Ridge Lookout. This only makes me think of home when I see it (I do miss it a bit sometimes!). It reminds me of the East Coast’s Blue Ridge Mountains and all of the fun adventures I had in them with some of my greatest friends. Anyways. The short, but completely uphill, hike takes you straight up to an awesome old stone fire tower, and has become one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset.
The next week at work, we had some serious car problems. Haha.. We had a flat tire, a flat spare, and several engine problems that seemed to come at us all at once. Needless to say, the next couple of days were spent fixing her up, and getting her ready to get back on the road the week after.
The weekend after all of the car issues, I drove to Thermopolis to meet a fun friend of mine from JMU, Lucas, who is also a BLM intern out here! What are the odds. He was placed in Buffalo though, so we figured Thermop was a great halfway place to meet and explore. We hiked the Round Top Mountain butte, went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, soaked in the Hot Springs State Park Bath House, and explored the town all weekend. We had such a great time! The smell of sulfur was seriously… uh… something. Haha. I drove home smelling like rotten eggs. 🙂
For some reason, once I got back to work the next week, I was determined to get better pictures of the pronghorn antelope and wild horses we constantly see out in the field. Both are super skittish and unaccustomed to people, so this has been a pretty difficult thing for me to accomplish. I brought my nice camera out with me to the field for the first time, and seriously benefitted from it. I got pictures of both. 🙂 A couple days later, Jon and I went to finish fixing the fence around Hadsell Pasture. We thought we had a nice and easy drive over Green Mountain, but quickly realized that this was not the case. We drove over (what seemed like) miles of boulders that I didn’t think we would clear, and around ditches that I swore to Jon we were going to fall and flip in. Thankfully, Jon is a bit more reasonable in these tricky situations than I am, and so he helped me drive through all the tough spots. I am so thankful for his help and his friendship! We made it safely down the mountain, and to Hadsell Pasture. On our way home, we both did not want to go back up the way we came, and ended up finding one of the easiest ways home… probably ever… Hahaha.
After a bit of a stressful week, I was ready to travel again, and found myself driving to explore Buffalo with my friend Lucas again! We tried to get to Outlaw Canyon and the Hole-In-The-Wall, but sadly got rained out. I have gotten used to the weather here; it can be so unpredictable, no matter how many times you check it in advance. Still, it is pretty disappointing when it ruins a new adventure. But! On our way back, we saw an awesome double rainbow, and some really spectacular cloud formations. I only spent a day or so there, so we did a lot of shopping, but did not have much luck venturing outside of the town of Buffalo.
These past few weeks have definitely exhausted me bit more than usual, but I was ready to roll heading into work last week. I have started bringing my camera every time I work out in the field now, because there are just so many possibilities of capturing some amazing Wyoming wildlife. Last week, I managed to get pictures of some prairie dogs, as well as more elk! I was ecstatic. When we found the elk, we were monitoring compliance in a very confusing pasture called Magpie, and got very lost on our way out. But, through our exploration of the entire pasture, we saw that herd of elk, a coyote, several Magpie birds, and a sage grouse that nearly scared me to death. She literally popped up out of nowhere, flapping her wings and squawking like a chicken. We had quite the adventure to say the least. On top of that, this happened after our first full 7-8 hour day with the Seeds of Success (SOS) team in our office. We spent that time with them collecting seeds, testing soils, and collecting specimens, honestly having the best time. Still, Jon and I were soo worn out by the time we got home.
I have come to love Wyoming, its abundance of wildlife, the small amount of people here, and the WYde open spaces. 😉 Almost everyone around me seems to be on the same page: willing to converse, willing to share, willing to learn. I couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect town, or BLM office. Lander is seriously the best and I’m so thankful I still have a few months left here.
Time has been flying by here in Carlsbad. Lately our time has been spent revisiting
sites to collect species that have ripening seed, or revisiting collections to
collect more of what we’ve already collected. We’ve been able to send some of
our collections to the Bend Seed Extractory to be cleaned, and it’s so
satisfying to consolidate the seed we’ve collected for a species and see it all
together in a bag. We’ve made 18 collections so far and the season is still
picking up with the monsoon rains bringing everything to life.
Our crew has definitely run into a couple of roadblocks (literally and figuratively) in the last month. We have followed our map and GPS to roads that lead to nowhere and roads that have fence right through the middle. A couple of our sites have been lunch for the cows – we still haven’t decoded which plants they seem to like best. Some points have also been inaccessible as the road that leads to them gets eaten by oil pipeline construction. It can be discouraging sometimes, but then we find sites that have 7 different species we can collect and we forget about the lost ones.
No matter what we do each day, we always see beautiful plants and new places. Southeast New Mexico has surprised me with it’s beauty and life. I can’t decide whether I’m seeing more interesting, colorful insects than I have before or if I’m just noticing them now. Either way, I have been amazed and entranced by countless bugs and butterflies and moths and caterpillars these past few months. So here’s to 2 months left in Carlsbad! May it be filled with more flowers and more bugs than ever before.
Famous as the site where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Hole in the Wall gang hung out, the Hole in the Wall area is quite the spectacle. The massive red wall seems to stretch for miles, only broken up when its wavy path is visually blocked by the wall’s own protrusions and dips. In the distance, hills made of the same red sediment disappear into the blue and grey of faraway vegetation, and the only sounds that pervade the landscape are the wind and the mumbling of cattle, insects and birds.
lucky enough to visit the Hole in the Wall via an odd route. While I had
previously attempted to reach the site by the normal designated roads, the
mixture of bad weather and a computer malfunction in the car meant we had to
turn back before reaching the base of the wall. So this time, we went in over
the top of the wall. Our goal was to see if the marked road was still
accessible to trucks.
started off decent enough, with only a few tight spots and turns. But as we
approached the edge of the wall, we found ourselves at our first really iffy
area. The road sloped steeply downward with a layer of loose stone on top,
making slipping inevitable. At this point, we switched drivers to that the member
of our team who had been driving Wyoming roads since she was a kid could tackle
these sections with much more confidence and know-how than me or my supervisor,
both from the East. We made it down with little incident and continued on,
getting right up along the edge of the wall at one point. Then came the
scariest slope of all; what felt like 50% slope up on that same broken and
loose stone. I’d be lying to say I didn’t close my eyes and grip the seat,
knowing that even if we made it up, we’d have to take the same crazy slope back
down on the way back. While we made it, I didn’t really relax for the rest of
the drive, which became much more pleasant but less stunning as we moved into
the grassy areas further in from the edge of the wall.
one of these grassy areas, we ran into a rancher herding his cows. Well, more
like we were suddenly surrounded by cows and sat waiting in the truck until the
rancher, some ways away, drove over in his ATV. It is clearly a lonely job,
roaming the fields each day with cows and not interacting with people very
often, so we all had a nice long chat. He also gave us a heads up on a mountain
lion in the area, alongside a terrifying story of watching a hunter behaving
oddly in the distance who, upon questioning, said that he had been preparing to
shoot the mountain lion lurking on a ledge just above the rancher if need be. Needless
to say, we proceeded with even more caution.
By the time we finally made it to the end of the road, three hours had passed since we first entered the gate. Though only 13 miles, the landscape had made the passage difficult and safety standards necessitated caution. But the final destination was worth it. We wandered the landscape above the wall, locating the specific sites our team’s archaeologist wanted to find. We found several pieces of flaked stone, likely broken off from the rocks used to form tools hundreds of years ago. Obviously, we left them at the sites, relatively confident that others would not find them, or if they did, have no idea what they were really looking at.
walked over to the edge of the wall, we could see the hiking trail that lead
from the official rec site parking lot winding its way through the landscape.
This trail required hiking up the steep wall, with only one section of “iffy
scaling” as my supervisor put it. While we did not plan on taking that trail
today, I know it is in my future, a challenge for both my bad knees and my
dislike of heights. In any case, we had our wander, examined the sorts of
vegetation growing in this area, and made it back to the car without being
mauled by a mountain lion. The drive back didn’t take quite as long, and the
dangerous slope, which had us all slightly shaken, did not prove fatal. We
returned to the starting gate and let out a sigh of relief, for while the
landscape was incredible, its boldness only served to remind me that I am a
mere speck in the history of this place, a land that can and should never be
tamed by the ambitions or pride of humans.
They say the Carlsbad NM BLM field office is the busiest in the country because of all the oil permitting. Due to the excessive oil and gas development in the Carlsbad NM Field Office, we don’t usually have to do much hiking to achieve our work goals. There are roads almost everywhere, usually with pipelines next to them. There’s been a few instances when we are scouting for seed in areas void of development. Unfortunately those places don’t typically have any plants we’re interested in either. It’s been bittersweet to discover that the most lush places are usually next to oil development, but I try to remind myself that it’s just extra urgent to collect those seeds! When you look out on the horizon and see flares or pump jacks in every direction it can be difficult to stay positive, but we have found a few gems in this dusty landscape.
The news came back this week from Bend that New Mexico had the most operational seed collections last year. I think it must be because our sites are so accessible. We have several ongoing collections since it’s so easy for us to go back again and again.
This week our crew got to do some cross-training with the rare plant intern. It involved a lot more hiking than we are used to. We were going out with the goal of learning some special status and rare plants so that we can keep an eye out for them both in our free time (which is when most of us get our hiking fix) and while we are scouting. Carlsbad has a way of being unpredictable. Some days are great, others feel futile. I found the exploration for rare plants a lot less fulfilling than seed collecting, but we did get to see some incredible sights.
We found a stunning site for Verbesina enceliodes which we have two days worth of collections from. I’m willing to keep going back for more, but I have a suspicion that Aly may not be so keen. There are often cows chomping away on our sites but typically don’t seem to care about our existence. This week was a little different. Alex and I were collecting on the other side of the road when all of a sudden we heard the truck horn blaring and Aly shouting at us. Sensing danger, Alex ran over to see what was up. I didn’t sense danger so I collected seed on my way back. Turns out everything was fine, but a few minutes earlier a truck with a trailer sped by and excited the cows. Maybe they thought they were getting a special food or water delivery? According to Aly, they all starting moo-ing like mad and started trotting toward the road. Aly was between them and the road. Naturally, she got nervous as she saw the herd jogging towards her! She started running for her life towards the truck with the cows picking up speed behind her. As the herd was spread out, she didn’t have the option to run perpendicularly from them. Her only option was to get to the road–and the safety of the truck–before they did. Luckily for all of us, we didn’t have to file any worker’s comp paperwork that day. The word is that almost getting trampled by cows makes you an official cowboy. Yee haw!
I’m just past my halfway point for the season and it’s causing a lot of mixed feelings. Instead of processing them, I’m distracting myself with awesome trips and the little things! I went with Aly and the AIM crew lead to Big Bend National Park this past weekend and it was phenomenal. From walking across the Rio Grande into Mexico to hiking up to the top of the world, I see why it’s such a popular park. We even saw a few acorn woodpeckers!
Across the Buffalo Field Office, whether in the rolling planes or up in the Bighorns, fencing is everywhere. Fence delineating grazing allotments, boundaries between federal, state, and private land, exclosures, and enclosures covers the landscape. All this fencing may provide barriers for the livestock but it can often function in the same way for wildlife. Pronghorn, especially, who evolved on the wide-open North American plains, struggle to cross these barrier as jumping is not their forte. Fencing with five barbed wires or sheep wire at the bottom makes crossing these barriers even more difficult. Creating wildlife friendly fencing means keeping the bottom wire above 14 inches off the ground and making it smooth rather than barbed wire.
The miles and miles of fencing across the landscape also makes keeping track of it more difficult. For this reason, much of the fencing that exists is in need of repair or updating to wildlife friendly construction. This week’s fencing project involved tackling and removing an old barbed wire fence at a BLM recreation site in the Bighorns.
Removing and repairing fence is hard work, best to rise with the sun and get started before the heat of the day sets in. Leather gloves don’t stand much of a chance against these rusty barbs so there is a certain technique and finesse with which I have learned to role and handle this old wire.
To make our sunrise start on the fencing work a bit more manageable we spent the night in the field after our first day of repair at a nearby site. Great sunset views and a hearty campfire dinner are sure to heal the bruises and scratches from a day working to make these fences a little more friendly.
-Katherine, Resources Intern @ BLM Buffalo Field Office
Last week I had the opportunity to monitor a couple of populations of Gibbon’s Penstemon down by powder rim, and a population of Wyoming toads over by Laramie. Gibbon’s Penstemon is a BLM sensitive plant, and Wyoming toads are the most endangered species of amphibian in North America. The work was a good change of pace from seed collecting, and I really enjoyed it. It was immensely rewarding to be able to see and learn about these rare and beautiful organisms, threatened by humankind’s never-ending and destructive expansion.
Gibbon’s Penstemon is a purple flowered plant that grows in soil that has a lot of volcanic ash in it, giving its habitat a distinctive color and texture. To me this seems like a very narrow range that limits the plant to growth in somewhat predictable locations. Similarly, meadow milkvetch (another BLM sensitive species, with delicate cream-colored flowers and green stems that sprawl across the white soil to form a spider we pattern) only grows in alkali flats on the lower side of greasewood in the chain lake region of the field office. I found it fascinating that a plant would specialize to such a narrow and theoretically predictable habitat.
Wednesday morning, I arrived at Bennet Peak Campground,
the backseat of the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 was loaded with power tools and the bed
was loaded with dark painted boards; however, our most important cargo was a
clipboard, a pen, and a pile of visitor use surveys. We quickly found a picnic bench
in dire need of repair. Mike showed us how to remove the bolts from the picnic
bench and replace the old rotting boards with our new freshly painted ones. In
a few minutes we had one drop-dead-gorgeous freshly painted picnic bench. We
replaced the boards on another picnic bench; but by the time we finished it was
time for our most important task of the day: Visitor Use Surveys at the nearby Corral
Upon arriving we immediately encountered a parked truck
occupied by a genial old man. He agreed to take the survey and we waited
comfortably under a tree while he filled out the sheet front and back with
vitally important and useful information about his experience at the corral
The corral creek campground is a beautiful BLM operated
site about a mile down the road from the Bennet peak campground near the North
Platte river. It is a great spot for fishing and floating, with beautiful views
of nearby mountains, and wildlife, including: pronghorns, mule-deer, elk, and
cattle. However, the nearby Bennet peak campground is closer to the river,
making it far more popular than Corral Creek, which essentially operates as an
overflow campsite for when Bennet Peak is full.
For the next four hours we relaxed and enjoyed a cool and
pleasant summer day. An incredibly nice couple arrived and asked us for
directions to Bennet peak; a truck pulled through for a quick pit stop at the
immaculately maintained bathroom facility; we handed out zero surveys. I also
found out that the surveys themselves were incredibly general, designed to be
applicable to any BLM recreation site. Consequently, the information from them
is very hard to interpret, and make use of.
On the way back from the
field we listened to a couple of inspirational Oprah podcasts:
had been awake and driving for over 24 hours. His Wal-Mart truck was traveling about
twenty miles over the posted speed limit on the dark interstate highway. That’s
when he struck the back of a car containing beloved comic legend Tracy Morgan, and
several of Tracy’s close friends. People died in the accident, including one of
Tracy’s close friends. Tracy suffered life-threatening injuries that sent him
into a coma lasting for weeks. Tracy wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be
able to walk again. Tracy was worried that he would never be funny again. Tracy
briefly questioned his faith in god. Why did this happen? Why did his friend have
to die so suddenly and so young? However, in a conversation with Oprah a few
months after the accident both Oprah, and Tracy agree: “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR
A REASON,” & “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COINCIDENCE”, after all coincidence
is never mentioned in The Bible.
In conclusion, as Oprah says: “JUST BE YOURSELF, IT’S THAT SIMPLE.”
The time is just flying by here at the Lander Field Office! We now have completed 18 seed collections and have just a few more planned before the end of the season. Some new additions include 3 different species of Penstemon, and important genus on our target list, and Hedysarum boreale ssp. boreale var. boreale (sheesh – what a long name!) which has never been collected in this field office before.
This past week, we have begun packing up our seeds and preparing them for shipment to the Bend Seed Extractory in Bend, Oregon where they will be cleaned and processed for long-term storage or conservation projects. I spend much time admiring the seeds and taking notice of the great variety that exists amongst the different species. This variety carries over in all other facets of life and it amazes me every time I think about it.
Seeds of Lomatium simplex, a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae)
Seeds of Hedysarum boreale, a member of the pea family (Fabaceae)
Seeds of Antennaria umbrinella, a member of the aster family (Asteraceae)
This past month has been very successful regarding collections. My coworker and I have had the opportunity to collect Astragalus drummondii (Drummond’s milkvetch) and Hedysarum boreale (Utah sweetvetch) from a hillside. It’s possible that Hedysarum boreale has never been collected from this area before, so that’s exciting! We’ve also collected three different Penstemon species, including Penstemon humilis (low beardtongue), Penstemon paysoniorum (Payson’s beardtongue), and Penstemon laricifolius (larchleaf beardtongue). We’ve been told that Penstemons are excellent for use in fire restorations, so that makes these collections even more special. This past Tuesday, my coworker and I stumbled on yet another Penstemon (Penstemon procerus–littleflower penstemon) that we are hoping to collect in the future.
Speaking of future collections, we are intending to get at least a few more species before the end of our internship and surpass our target of 20 species. These would include Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian), Astragalus bisulcatus (twogrooved milkvetch), Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia), and Cordylanthus ramosus (bushy bird’s beak).
On a personal level, I have truly been enjoying the area. My coworker and I have explored Wyoming, Colorado, and most recently, Utah. We even got to swim in the Great Salt Lake, which I recommend doing at least once.
As the funding for our trapping project finally came through, we spent the first two weeks of the month building our trap sites up in the Ferris Mountain region of our field office. It was physically demanding work but essential for our project and rewarding in its own way. Each trap site consists of three cover boards and a Y-shaped drift fence with a pit-fall trap in the middle of each arm and a funnel trap at each end. The fence is designed to encourage animals to either enter the funnel trap or fall into the pit fall traps. We have twelve trapping sites; six within exclosures and six outside of them. This is in an effort to compare the type of species that occur in grazed versus ungrazed areas.
The purpose of the trapping project is to inventory the herptile species that occur in the area, assessing both the diversity and the abundance of species. We will also be comparing species occurrences between grazed and ungrazed sites. We trap for ten consecutive days, checking each trap daily. We will do three sets of trapping total, one set per month. As herptiles go this month, we caught many Wandering Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans vagrans), two Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens), and a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). When we catch a snake we will insert a pit-tag just under its skin to track if a snake is a recapture or not. We will also cauterize a small part of the snakes scales in a systematic numbering system as another way to identify different recaptured individuals. For frogs, we mark them by preforming toe-clippings and again use a specific numbering system to tell between different individuals. Since our traps don’t discriminate we also catch plenty of mammals. Most of what was caught were Deer Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) and voles. However we also caught Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus) and Northern Pocket Gophers (Thomomys talpoides).
I hope to catch more rattlesnakes as the season goes on, they are a fascinating species to work with. Before handling a rattlesnake we will use a tongs to guide the posterior of the snakes body into a tube so there is little risk of the snake being able to bite you. Once tubed the snake can be handled safely and is processed the same as any other snake that we catch.
Before trapping we spent a day doing surveys for the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). Surveys for horned lizards consists of walking transects and scanning the ground for the well camouflaged animals. Once one is spotted they are pretty easy to capture by hand as they are relatively slow. Horned lizards main defense against predators is their camouflage. Their flat-bodies cast very little shadow and they will often stay completely still when you pass by making them even more difficult to notice. When one is captured, if it was not a recapture, we will pit-tag it.