The last two weeks of my internship out in Wyoming began with a road trip to Kansas. Me, my mentor, and a co-worker were headed to the Kansas Herpetological Societies annual meeting where I would be giving a presentation on the herpetofauna research I have been assisting with this field season (read my previous blog posts if you’d like to know more on the project). My presentation went well and the other presentations were informative and interesting. Getting to meet Herpetologists from around the states was a great and interesting opportunity and I am thankful that I was afforded the opportunity to attend the meeting.
The last couple days of my internship were spent mostly tying up lose ends and finishing data entry. I’ve come to love the topography and openness of the Wyoming landscape. I’ve also made some unforgettable friends over the past seven months. Rawlins is a small vagrant town and the social opportunities are minimal but the friends and connections that I made in the town make living here more than bearable. I gained many experiences this summer that will assist me in furthering my career in wildlife conservation and I will always be grateful for my time spent out in Rawlins and the opportunities that I have had. However it seems my time here in Rawlins hasn’t yet met its end. I will be staying at the field office to help our weeds specialist over the winter and I am very excited for this new experience. I wouldn’t have this opportunity if it wasn’t for the Conservation and Land Management Program and I appreciate them for assisting me in furthering my career.
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” – Into the Wild
Reflecting on the past six months is something that has been on my mind a lot as my internship comes to an end. In June I moved to West Virginia, a state I had only previously driven through, full of excitement to be living in the mountains but reservations as to what it would be like living and working in a new place with people I had never met.
Any worries I had soon disappeared as I was lucky enough to be based out of the Marlinton Ranger Station, the best office on the MON. My mentor worked to get my co-intern and I to experience many different types of work that occurs on the forest. I got to assist with rare plant monitoring, botany and Non-native Invasive Species (NNIS) surveys, stream surveys, and seed collection to name a few of the opportunities! These experiences took me to every corner of the forest and allowed me to work with individuals from other organizations and from other parts of the Forest Service.
My time outside of the office was filled with adventures around the forest with my coworkers and good friends. From floating the river to blueberry picking to caving to sitting around a fire and stargazing, there was never a dull moment!
As I prepare to move on to my next adventure I will treasure the experiences I have had, knowledge I have gained and the friends I have made down on the Monongahela National Forest where the country roads are my home.
October started off with our last round of herptile trapping for the season. Normally we wouldn’t have trapped in October as conditions are usually unfavorable however, as we did not have the opportunity to trap in June due to a delay in funding we decided to take our chances. We only trapped for eight days instead of the usually ten due to poor forecasts in the weather and definitely saw a decrease in captures with the cold change in temperatures. We caught a handful of mammals but only two young garter snakes for herptiles. Two bullsnakes were caught basking on the roads but, as they were not near our trap sites, they did not count in our data.
The rest of the month was spent mainly on analyzing the data that was collected over the past three field seasons, starting when the project began. The main goal of the project was to determine species presence for the region with the secondary goal being to compare abundance and diversity between our grazed and ungrazed sites.
During the 2019 field season we had 4,255 traps nights capturing 51 individuals with a total of 6 recaptures. As for the overall study there were 13,982 traps nights with 169 herptile individuals captured and 20 total recaptures. The vast majority of the captures were wandering garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans vagrans) with 31% of the garter snakes being young of the year. Herptile species detected included wandering garter snakes, bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis), yellow-bellied racers (Coluber constrictor), greater short-horned lizards (Phrynosoma hernandesi), northern sagebrush lizards (Sceloporus graciosus), northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipens), and the western tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium).
As for comparing our grazed and ungrazed sites, we saw a slightly higher diversity in our ungrazed sites than within the grazed sites. This is likely due to the higher quality of riparian health within the exclosures then within the grazed sites, where the riparian areas are usually degraded by the cattle use. We also saw a higher abundance of northern leopard frogs and prairie rattlesnakes within the exclosures. Interestingly we saw a higher abundance of bullsnakes in our grazed sites. It is unclear as to why bullsnake abundance is higher in grazed sites but it is possible the difference is due to the small sample size and does not show any significant trends.
Something interesting that we noticed while analyzing the data was that we had significantly less captures per trap night in 2018 than we did in 2017 or 2019. One factor we believe may have influenced this was precipitation. The winter of 2018, before they trapped that year, had approximately 50% below average precipitation for the season. This likely resulted in an increase is desiccation during hibernation for herptiles which in turn caused a spike in winter mortality rates that was then reflected in the decrease in captures for the 2018 field season. With only three years of data however it is important to note that this is mostly just speculation, we would need to continue trapping in the Ferris Mountain region to gather long term data that we could then use to determine significant trends.
The plan for this project in the following years is to leave the Ferris Mountain area and begin trapping in new locations. The Rawlins field office encompass over 3.5 million acres of public land and little herpetofauna work has been done within this area. Moving the trap sites to a new area will allow for the opportunity to learn more about Wyoming’s herpetofauna which in turn can help inform better management decisions within our field office. However if funding and resources are available, hopefully trapping can continue in the Ferris Mountain region so long term data can be collected. Additionally, it is suspected that if we create new trap sites at higher elevations on the Ferris Mountain range we may find new or different compositions of species. Hopefully the BLM will continue to get funding to develop projects that improve imperative wildlife management decisions across public lands.
Far over the Bighorn Mountains cold, To canyons deep and forests old We must away ere break of day To find our long forgotten goals.
The pines were roaring on the heights The winds were moaning in the night The snow was wet, its flurry spread The trees like beacons shone with light (-The Hobbit, sort of)
Wyoming started October 1st with the first of many snowfalls. The
trees experienced one blast of the icy cold and decided immediate leaf abscission
was their only path forward. On multiple occasions I have been foiled going to
work by ice on the hilly roads between my apartment and the office, and “oh
look, the high is 5 degrees” has been a sad and somewhat frequent lamentation
by my coworkers. But for all this, I will always remember my time in Wyoming
for its beauty, absurdity, and the wonderful opportunities I had while working
at the Buffalo BLM.
I was able
to take plenty of trainings and develop many professional skills while in
Wyoming. In my very first week, I learned “Defensive Driving” (and consequently
how to drive a pickup truck) and was able to take an awesome NOLS wilderness
medicine course through the BLM. A very long day was devoted to driving a UTV
and countless online courses gave me proficiency in writing government
documents such as NEPA, Visual Resource Management, and Statements of Work. I
was also extremely fortunate to work with Buffalo’s hydrologist on the early stages
of a river restoration project. This opened up an entire new knowledge set for
me regarding fluid dynamics, elevation measurements via laser, river terms, and
just being able to slog through the river in waders to collect various kinds of
data. That in particular was an awesome project that I am proud to have been a
always little moments of delight at work. Sometimes, especially in the colder
months, someone would put out a jigsaw puzzle in the break room. As puzzle
enthusiast, I would always take my lunches (when I was not in the field) to
work on these. There were a few of us for whom this pastime was perfect, and so
a little community of puzzlers formed, people with whom you would chat and eat
while plopping pieces into place. Or when it got closer to Halloween, being
able to take a break after finishing an office task by cutting out a
construction paper bat or meandering through the halls to see the decorations
in all of the different departments. This particular joy culminated in a
morning of preschooler trick or treaters in the office, whom I was lucky enough
to lead through the various rooms on their hunt for candy and stickers.
my most rewarding moments were working with kids. Every time I was able to work
with kids as the rec intern (which was actually fairly often) I was ecstatic. We
did camps and lessons for kids ranging 6 through 16 over the course of the
internship. Flower dissections with elementary and middle school students
resulted in ripped up pieces of flowers everywhere while students
systematically went through and described what they were seeing to me and to
each other. A pollination game with first graders lead to conversations about
how there are so many things that make it difficult for trees to successfully
reproduce, from pollinators to weather conditions. A game focused on public
lands use saw beads all over the floor and 4th grade students super
excited to use their public lands passes to explore. Each of these experiences
once again showed me that the work we were doing, educating the public from a
young age about nature and keeping our lands safe, could really make a
difference for the next generation of nature lovers and users. It also showed
me that you are what you teach. Once, a few weeks after a day of educating 8th
grade students about plants at a nearby campsite, I was walking through town
and a few students stopped me by saying “hey, I know you! You’re the plant
lady!” I think I can safely say being the one and only “plant lady” may be the
highlight of my career thus far.
that I did find lacking in this internship was the chances for scientific data
collection and engagement. As the rec intern, there was not much need for me to
collect data, beyond shuttling the traffic counters with a special tool to amass
data on rec site use. I began to keenly feel this lack of science a few months
into the internship, and think future interns should be aware that this job is
much more focused on the physical aspects of land management (fixing fences,
putting up signs, interacting with land owners) than the science that informs
these management decisions. Thankfully I joined the hydrology project and spent
several weeks back in my element of data collection and analysis. But without
this project, this internship would have felt somewhat incomplete. In the end,
perhaps this was all a good thing – I now know for certain that I do want to
return to the world of academic science, at least for a time, to focus on the
science helping to inform land management for the next generation of BLM
During my second week, I was sent out to the Outlaw Cave campground at Middle Fork to pick up trash and do general site maintenance. The campground is located on the edge of a breathtaking canyon. As soon as I got out of the truck, I knew that if trash cleanup on this job meant visiting one of the most beautiful places in Wyoming, then I was set for this internship. During my last week, I revisited the canyon as part of a sagebrush planting crew. This time, covered with snow, the trees standing out starkly against the white of the canyon slopes, I was able to look across this view and say goodbye to this beautiful scene, this wide open place, and all of the people who helped fill my time in Wyoming with stories.
After a few quick weeks of work, I was ready for another trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Lucky for me, one of my best friends from childhood was coming to visit! Christina and her boyfriend stayed for a long weekend, and gave me the perfect reason to go back. I made the 2+ hour drive to Casper Friday night, and showed them around Lander Saturday. We woke up super early that Sunday morning and made our way into Grand Teton National Park by noon. Just before we got to the entrance, we noticed a large group of cars stopped on the side of the road. We pulled over at the last second, and were lucky enough to see a mother grizzly bear and her cub. Seeing these bears was a dream come true! The picture I got is still surreal. Apparently, the female grizzlies in the park have been learning to keep closer to the roads in order to protect their offspring. The male bears don’t like to go towards people, and so the females are more likely to protect their cubs. After taking several photos, we continued our journey, stopping at several scenic roadside attractions and lookouts along the way.
We then made it down to Jenny Lake, one of my favorite spots of the park, and took a short walk around the water. This was where we started to realize that a lot of the buildings and stores inside the park were closing… that day. We struggled to find a place to get dinner at on our way into Yellowstone, so we ended up backtracking to Signal Mountain Lodge. We enjoyed a quick dinner with an awesome view before getting back on the road.
We started to get worried that we wouldn’t find an open campground, especially since we were relying on walk-up sites. We must have passed at least a half dozen closed campsites before we found one to stay at, conveniently right in between the two parks’ entrances. Just as the sun started to fall, we set up our tent and fire at Sheffield Creek. It got below 20 degrees that night — definitely the coldest temperatures I have ever slept in! Fortunately for us, Johnny’s boss let us borrow a portable space heater, and we all had insulated thermal sleeping bags. It was cold, but we survived and woke up to a beautiful new landscape.
We woke up to a frosty wonderland. Every surface and object had a thin white coating, and everything was sparkling. I had plenty of time to take some photos while we waited for the tent and car to thaw out. Once we had breakfast, and a few visits from the surrounding wildlife, we were ready to start our adventure in Yellowstone.
In Yellowstone we stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, Kepler Cascades, Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Firehole Falls, Beryl Spring, Artists Paintpots, Mammoth Springs, and the Roosevelt Arch. Our. day. was. packed. I was so happy that I got to see some new things in Yellowstone, but was definitely exhausted by the end of the day. After a quick stop in Gardiner, Montana, we made the 6.5 hour drive home to Lander.
I would still go back to Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons any time, but lately, we have started branching out of Wyoming more. Over the next few weekends, Johnny and I visited Utah, Colorado, and more of Wyoming. I am behind on sharing so many of our adventures, but they’re still so fun to write about. I am so happy I will have these to go back to and read in the future. 🙂
Along with our normal trapping project this month, I had the opportunity to assist with a multitude of different habitat assessment surveys. The assessment, inventory, and monitoring (AIM) strategy is used to assess terrestrial and aquatic habitats across our field office. This system is used to provide standardized information about the habitats in our field office and help to inform better management decisions. In terrestrial AIM you have three, 25m long transects and you start by categorizing the plants that occur along each transect at equidistance points. Gap is also measured along transects, which is a way to measure how much of each transect is not covered by living plant matter. A soil pit is dug and the different layers of soil are analyzed for their composition. I assisted with AIM surveys in sage brush steppe habitat north of the Ferris Mountains and also within an aspen stand near the Baggs area of our field office.
Aquatic AIM differs from terrestrial AIM in many ways however the main goal of providing standardized information for habitats across the field office remains the same. In aquatic AIM, transect are set up along a stream bed and measurements are taken at standardized points. Measurements are used to determine stream characteristics and include bankfull, scour, thalweg, pH, temperature, channel widths, floodplain connectivity, canopy cover, and slope to name a few.
I also helped with Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) and surface compliance monitoring. MIM is a monitoring strategy that combines long term and short term metrics to condense surveying efforts along stream systems but also inform good management decisions. Measurements taken include stubble height, bank alteration, woody browse, pool volumes, stream width, vegetation, and slope.
Surface compliance monitoring is used to keep companies, especially oil and gas, responsible for safe practices. Active and rehabilitated well sites are examined for any hazards to humans or wildlife, including unlabeled areas, poor rehabilitation, broken structures, invasive species, and so forth. Anything found to be out of compliance with the company’s contract must be fixed by the company or they will be responsible to pay hefty fines.
We completed our third set of trapping this month with another ten day stint. We caught plenty of garter snakes, a couple leopard frogs, and finally another rattle snake! Unfortunately we couldn’t process the rattlesnake and all we could say for sure was that she was not a recapture. One of the garter snakes that we captured was preparing to molt. Before molting snakes will develop an opaque film over their eyes and you may see some flakes of skin already starting to peel. Another interesting capture was a sagebrush vole that was in one of our pit-fall traps. This is the first sagebrush vole that has been caught since the project started in 2017. The most intriguing capture of the season so far was a horsehair worm. Horsehair worms are parasites that develop in the bodies of grasshoppers and crickets. It is common that when the host of the parasite dies, especially if it is in water, the worm will leave the dead hosts body and search for a new host. In our case, we had a dead Mormon cricket in one of the pit-falls and next to it in a puddle of water was the living horsehair worm parasite. Hopefully we will have even more interesting captures next month.
Summarizing the entirety of a season is always a challenge. Especially when the five months have provided stunning landscapes, introductions to many platforms of plant science, and meaningful relationships. My time as a CLM intern in Idaho Falls, ID with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has been an absolute joy. Even being fully prepared by both my mentor and Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) staff before my move, I could not have expected the amount of knowledge and experience I would gain throughout this program. Or the huge love I have now for the state of Idaho. With the multitude of different projects and interagency partnerships, I am leaving this internship feeling more grounded in my career goals and passion for science. To close out my season, I wanted to run through a handful of standout moments and thoughts for future interns. As well as a massive thank you to my mentor Rose Lehman, co-intern Olivia Turner, and CLM staff. You are what makes this program.
One of the most meaningful experiences from the season was our opportunity to establish the fourth Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) peak in Idaho. These sites are created across the world to analyze one of our most vulnerable landscapes, the alpine. With the trends of climate influence becoming more apparent every day, it is crucial to establish infrastructure to document how alpine vegetation is responding. To pull off a research site of this level, it took multiple agencies from across the state. Seeing how the BLM, Forest Service, Idaho Fish and Game, ARS Bee Lab, master naturalists, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Idaho Native Plant Society, and state botanists, came together to complete this research was extremely motivating. It showed how important working together is for the future of our environment. Additionally, having the exposure to GLORIA expanded my fascination for alpine life zones and confirmed how dearly I hope to attend a graduate program that is doing active research for alpine conservation.
After completing GLORIA in June, it felt like a snowball of excitement and projects came tumbling down the summit. In the best way possible! Thanks to our incredible mentor, we were non-stop the entire season. This leads me to my first advice tid-bit for future CLM interns. From the beginning, be honest with your mentor and your co-intern(s) about your goals, hopes, and overall preferences for your time with them. When you do your interview with your mentor, ask all the questions and don’t be shy to follow-up throughout the entirety of your season. Olivia and I were sure to let our mentor know how interested we were in rare plant conservation, alpine ecology, climate change, community partnerships, and GIS. With that, she continually put projects on our plate that encouraged those interests. As for your co-intern, talk to them before your season starts! You will be with this person 40+ hours a week for five months! Camping, strategizing, driving for hours, sharing meals, laughing at each other for sliding down a mountain, meeting superiors together, etc. It was essential for Olivia and I to share a bit about who we were before coming to Idaho as well as staying completely honest with each other throughout the season about where we were at.
Two additional highlights from the season were: working closely to document the monarch butterfly populations here in southeast Idaho and being a part of the Seeds of Success (SOS) seed collecting initiative. I wish I could insert all of you reading this into the Curlew National Grassland in early August just so you could fully experience how magical it is to see monarchs nectaring on native milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) surrounded by the river, cottonwoods, and rocky mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata) in the grassland. We had the opportunity to capture monarchs, tag them for migration tracking, and peacefully release them back the same day so they could continue their journey. With the monarch populations dwindling rapidly, it was an awe-inspiring moment to be involved with any conservation effort on their behalf. Additionally, our chance to be a part of the seed collecting process of SOS provided us with the ability to travel all across Idaho, western Wyoming, and northern Utah. Seeing gorgeous areas. SOS allows you to be apart of a multi-state, multi-partner research action. We were able to discuss our populations and seed zones with other CLM and SOS seasonals, learn about sustainable seed harvesting, and be a part of the restoration efforts SOS supports.
Another tid-bit for future CLM interns would have to be, dive into this experience. Engage yourself! You have the chance to meet your future boss, colleague, research associate, graduate school advisor, and so on just from the remarkable network CLM provides you with. Send follow-up emails, reach out again, get numbers. Ask too many questions. Be yourself and laugh at yourself. Go out with other crews and supervisors to expand your knowledge. Say yes! Truly, this is an unforgettable experience so make it your own!
It is with a full heart, I leave this internship. I’ve only shared three moments from a season filled with hundreds of them. If I could, I would write 10+ pages filled with photos and accomplishments from all the hard work everyone contributes to the CLM program. Thank you again to my incredible mentor Rose and my lovely co-intern Olivia for being an outstanding team. As well as Chris and Krissa from CBG for providing all the avenues of support anyone could ask for.
I’ll leave you all with this dreamy photo of mat rockspirea (Petrophytum caespitosum)!
CLM 2019 Cohort: Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho
My internship has provided me with meaningful learning opportunities that have given me a sense of direction in my intended career path. During the field season, I have collected seeds to be used for restoration + research practices that work to provide regionally appropriate native plant material to the Great Basin. As the threat of wildfires in the Great Basin grows, conservationists/restorationists are faced with the increasing need for native plant material and seeds. This month, my internship has allowed me to experience first-hand the positive implications of my seed collections from the summer field season. The native wildflower seeds I collected will then be sent to a seed extractory for cleaning and processing before they are used for research or restoration purposes. This month, I was lucky enough to be apart of both!
First, we helped Washoe County Parks and REI plant native seedlings at Crystal Peak Park in Verdi, California. The soils in the area were surprisingly rocky, which made digging the holes for the plugs extremely challenging! The soil auger even failed to properly create holes in the rocky soils! Luckily, there were plenty of volunteers and shovels and together, we were able to finish planting all the native plugs. We planted shrubs, grasses, and forbs! Including sagebrush (Artemisia sp.), horsetail (Equisetum sp.), globemallow (Sphaeralcea sp.), and many more. The goals of this replanting event were to beautify the park surrounding a recent art installation, attract/support pollinators, and promote the use of native plant material. This experience allowed me to realize the positive implications of my seed collections and how great the need for native plant material is. It also highlighted the necessity of native plant material in more urban/developed settings to support native pollinators and prevent the spread of invasive species!
Next, we assisted researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) in setting up a field study using native plant plugs grown from seeds collected within the Seeds of Success program! The NAU researchers plan to investigate plant-pollinator interactions and spatial differences that affect the plants’ ability to grow successfully in this location (Carson City, NV). They are using native forbs collected from various elevations in southern regions of the Great Basin to investigate which wildflowers will successfully grow north of their ranges. This will help inform conservationists/restorationists of the feasibility of assisted migration, a relatively new concept born from the concern that species may not be able to move/and or adapt fast enough in response to changes in climate and should be manually relocated in order to conserve genetic diversity/prevent the extinction of the species. This concept is growing in importance as sub-populations of critical plant species cease to exist as a result of wildfires and other forms of disturbance (usually perpetrated by climate change). This lessens the genetic diversity of the species as a whole, affecting its ability to adapt to disturbance and changes in climate. The issues we face as a result of climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances force conservationists/restorationists to critically evaluate the best ways to mitigate the loss of genetic diversity so we can assure the persistence of critical plant species.
Setting up the study required using a soil auger to drill holes for the plants at each experimental plot. There were over 500 experimental plots and each contained six holes for the plants! Half of which were set up in a cleared area while the other half was placed within the sagebrush. The researchers are interested in investigating the variables within sagebrush habitat that may affect the plants’ ability to grow (e.g., distance from sage, percentage cover of cheatgrass). Nearly 3,000 holes were made and nearly 3,000 native seedlings were planted! Luckily, we had the help of several volunteers to set up the study.
Overall, it was an impactful learning experience for me to see how collected seeds are used for research intended to help conservationists/restorationists mitigate the impacts of climate change/biodiversity loss. Having the opportunity to experience the direct applications of my work has driven home the value of native seed collection. Above all else, these experiences have inspired me to continue learning more about native plant-based restoration methods and pursue career opportunities allowing me to invest deeper into this passion.
Our Last trip out into the field- We got a nice send-off!
The chill is rolling across the Sierra Nevada mountains, reminding locals and interns alike that the desert still has the power to get quite cold. With the coming of winter comes the winds off the mountains and “Rabbit-brush Season”, woe to anyone regardless of allergies or not. Many of the native forbs and grasses are preparing to bed down for the coming winter. Still now isn’t the time for relaxation and staying indoor working on reports and administrative duties.
We are currently developing the next phase of the Seeds of Success Program (S.O.S.), the development of Plant Development Areas (PDAs). Most interns are gone by this time but, the luck and fortune of being a ‘late-breaking position has granted me a wholly unique and amazing opportunity to witness and be apart of the phase that comes after collection.
Planning out the plots for a forbs study!
Ready, Set, Plant! Finally marked out our plots
We had lots of help, from everyone at the office! USFS, Fire crews, Arizona Univerisity, and even our fellow interns for the Hydrology team. Who wouldn’t on such a nice and perfect day!
Two weeks of hard work has resulted in the creation of four research plots for our partners, and we will continue perhaps for another two weeks to get everything settled. It does come with its challenges, like the issues of hydrophobic soil (not so good for baby forbs) and predation by the rabbits and rodent that live in the sagebrush. However, it has been a time in which everyone can escape the office and enjoy the few warm days left to offer.