Lately, there has been quite a lot of change happening around here… With the switch from summer to fall brings the end of the season for some. And with the end of the season upon us, the tasks we are able to accomplish begin to shift as well. What is most striking is how quickly Montana seasons change from one to the next. We’re now experiencing quite the winter wonderland here in the Little Belt Mountains, and I am greatly anticipating the few field days we may have left and what we’ll be able to accomplish in a foot or so of snow.

My counterpart, Dayna, has left for the season. She was a huge help with many of the end of season tasks, and did what she could to make the end of the seed season easy on me in my final weeks. I’ll be here about a month longer than her seeing as I started about a month late. Work without a co-seed collector has been strange! But overall, it has been exciting to have the opportunity to work more with the wildlife crew. One of their members wrapped up and headed home shortly after Dayna did so. As she finished her final day, and left the office, Madeline, the only other seasonal wildlife technician quietly declared, “And then there were two.”

Dayna left just in time. With the wildlife crew’s help, we were able to make our last collection of Monarda fistulosa, or beebalm on her last day. It was such a beautiful and sunny day. So sunny, in fact, that the vegetation wasn’t even wet from the recent rains. We considered ourselves lucky as we split into teams of two and went off in separate directions. We collected all along these massive meadows that had some encroachment from the surrounding Douglas fir forests. It made me consider how large and sweeping these pocket meadows must have been before the days of no grazing and of active fire regimes… Regardless of encroachment, we were able to find and collect lots of MOFI, which was our final known location where there was collectable seed. Perfect timing as we were expecting snow the following week.

As an added bonus that week, I was able to join my supervisor, Victor Murphy, and what was left of our seasonal crew for a tour of the local Superfund Sites. For those reading who are not familiar with this term, Superfund Sites, at least as I understand them in this neck of the woods, are areas of environmental concern due to past mining activities. The sites we toured are just a 30-or-so minute drive down a dirt road from the Ranger Station. These sites are a large part of the reason for our seed collection efforts in this area, so it was incredibly interesting to hear all the where, what, why, when, and how of these sites. Apparently these sites have been polluting the watersheds and the land where people recreate (camp, swim, play) for around 60 years!! Tragically, there was signage put up about the issue just this year as liability for who’s technically responsible is arguable and somewhat unclear. By the end of that day, I had greatly exceeded my capacity for receiving information, however, I am still very grateful for the opportunity to know more about why our work here in the Little Belts is so critical to the restoration of these landscapes.

Snow did arrive the next week, however, it did not come as quick as projected. So the following Monday morning, I was prepared to get a start on office work, however, Victor asked if I’d be interested in joining the wildlife crew on a lynx habitat survey! But of course I wanted to join, and I was so glad for the opportunity. It is interesting to experience the forest landscapes through the lens of land management and wildlife habitat. We toured around parts of the Castle Mountains which has previously been areas where timber had been harvested. The idea behind the surveys is to see if the forest has since recovered enough to be suitable habitat for lynx. Sadly, we did not find many stands that would classify as such, and even the little we did find that classifies is not helpful to a lynx who travel one to five miles a day and require dense forest and tall/thick understory to move through… Being afforded these different opportunities as the seed work comes to an end has been a really awesome part of my time here on the Helena Lewis and Clark.

After only a couple days of Lynx Habitat Surveying, the snow came. For a Californian such as myself, this change has been rather drastic. I’ve only heard of and seen on TV what snow storms and white winters look like, but the actual experience of it is a bit baffling! Especially in the fall! It came, a foot or so of snow, overnight. We woke up and got to shoveling the walkways to the Ranger Station. We bundled up in layers, only to remove them as we worked. The temperatures hardly climbed above freezing the rest of the week. To think people live here year after year in this snowy/icy landscape. As I made my way to town after the storm had subsided, I couldn’t help but think, “Who in their right mind would live here and among all this dramatic weather?!” As somewhat of an answer to my own question, I do think the stunning flora in the summer does make it quite worth it. And after all, there really aren’t so many people out here comparatively, which is another perk in itself if you have an aversion to people.

Despite the low temperatures, the sun has been high in a blue blue sky most of the day. It does little to melt the snow, but it does feel good on the skin. The plowed roads are beginning to clear up, and I am curious to see what tasks I’ll be put on to do for the end of the season. Even with all the changes of late, I am still thoroughly enjoying my time spent here working on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests.

Larch Madness

Many of the mountainsides around the Lolo NF have turned to a shade of golden yellow as the larches turn and the weather towards the cold of winter. The Western Larch has become one of my new favorite trees, and I am so glad that I was able to watch this magnificent change of the seasons in such a beautiful place. It has been a successful season on the Lolo National Forest and although it is a bittersweet feeling to leave, I know I can leave this season behind feeling accomplished and full of new knowledge to take with me to my next destination.

My one and only bear picture from this season

Since seed collection is mostly complete, I have been able to spend some time helping out with different departments around the forest. The Botany/Weeds crew collaborated on a seed collection day for the hydrology department, collecting alder cones for a stream restoration project on a superfund site. We spent the day walking decommissioned roads where alder loves to grow, talking restoration and the joys of seed collecting. We also got to check out some completed restoration projects that the hydrology crew had worked on. It was cool to spend designated time exploring and appreciating interdepartmental restoration efforts. Another exciting part of the October agenda was being able to go out on a few days of work with the wildlife department. I was lucky enough to tag along with Luke, one of the wildlife techs on this forest. We did gate and barrier checks on roads that lead into modeled Grizzly habitat. While checking gates, we got to hike up to two different lookouts on the forest. I have become a lookout enthusiast, and hope to hike to many more next season.

The absolute highlight of October was my participation in the release of Northern Saw-whet Owls. The Owl Research Institute allows visitors to come and watch the process of owl banding once a week at the Flathead Lake Biological Station. I attended with a few co-workers, and we got to watch six owls get banded and measured for data. I even got to release an owl, which was a dream come true.

A little bit of information about these adorable owls: The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is one of the smallest owls in North America. They are known to nest in a large variety of wooded habitats, but prefer conifers with good cover. They hunt mostly small rodents and shrews, but have been know to prey on insects, songbirds and other small owl species during migration. They can be identified by their small size, round head, lack of ear tufts and bright yellow/orange eyes. A fun fact about these owls is that their age can be determined by a pattern on the under side of their wings. A UV light is shown onto the feathers and the pattern that appears correlates to the age of the bird.

(A) Hatchling year (B) Second year (C) After second year
Photo source: Weidensaul, Scott & Colvin, Bruce & Brinker, David & Huy, J.. (2011). Use of Ultraviolet Light as an Aid in Age Classification of Owls. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 123. 373-377. 10.1676/09-125.1.

Being a truly nocturnal owl, little was known about the migratory habits of these birds until around 1990 when project Owlnet was founded. This project includes more than 100 banding sites, capturing migrating owls and banding them for future ID. More information about these owls, the ORI and Owlnet project can be found here:

Now there is snow on the ground here in the Missoula Valley, time to say goodbye to Western Montana and head back East!

Seeds are Everywhere

I had a teacher once who told me “seeds are everywhere.” They just don’t take root everywhere.

Working on the Tongass, living on Lingít Aaní (Tlingit, pronounced “KLING-it”, Land) has meant many things. I have witnessed how deeply rooted harvesting and foraging is in Alaskan culture. I collected seeds and learned that this ancient practice is one that joins science and art. I grew to understand how variable a plant’s phenology can be — how unpredictable and essential an act it is to pass on genotypes, pass on restoration, pass on seeds through generations.

Seed collection is an intimate act. Over the past months, I worked largely on the microscopic level — leaning through understory to discover the smallest of berries or fixing my eyes on the ground to notice the smallest of flowers, straining my eyes through a hand lens or cleaning seeds by hand invites you to zoom in even closer. With some plants, like the pungent and prickly Oplopanax horridus (Devil’s Club), this intimacy is difficult to achieve, often requiring two people to get close to the plant — one to climb up high and bow the toppling head of berries down near enough for the second person to reach up through the spikes to strip the berries into a bucket. Days collecting Devil’s Club left us with torn clothing and smelling of celery and rainforest. We took, and so did they.

This intimacy extends beyond the collection and into the entire process. During the planning and scouting phases, we paid multiple visits to the populations we anticipated collecting from, tracking their phenology and guessing when they would go to seed. Many times, we thought we had it planned and predicated exactly right, that we were tuned into their growth and timeline. Then when we arrived to collect from them, they’d fooled us — gone to seed within a span of a few days or a week. Their seeds were not for us.

I found that small acts of intimacy were present all over the Tongass, including interactions between strangers in town. The District Office here sits on the rock cliffs above Bar Harbor, along with the bunkhouse. I spent many evenings on these docks, growing accustomed to the wobbly walk and coming to know the names of certain resident boats and fishermen. One evening, a stranger handed me a bouquet of fresh herbs — English thyme, rosemary, Japanese kale. He reached down to collect the herbs for this spontaneous gift from the variety of potted plants trailing off the side of his boat as he paired down his deck garden for the colder months. We exchanged smiles as the plants passed from one hand to the other. I shared my gratitude.

This is not the first time I am writing about gifts during this internship. In an earlier post, I spoke about the delight of seeds, how they are like small gifts from the earth. In my first post, I wrote about abundance. I have found both here on the Tongass — gifts and abundance.

Yet this season’s seed collection comes at a time where native plants and their seeds are growing increasingly scarce, removed from the land by people, infrastructure, hot and widespread wildfire, eroding streams and drying wetlands. I witness abundance; I also think about the gradual loss of habitat and native plants on this planet.

This is why we collect. Native seeds are gifts for the future.

I was introduced to so many plants while I was here. Many were strangers who I gradually developed a relationship with. I tracked their phenology, gathered their fruits, cleaned their seeds. They signaled cues of growth, gave up juicy berries that painted my jeans in smears of red and purple, offered their seeds.

We collected 1,577,772 seeds, that is, 17 pounds of seed from 17 species and 23 populations, ranging across southeast Alaska’s rainforest, lakeside, alpine, and muskeg ecosystems. Six of these populations will be stored locally at Ketchikan Misty Fjords Ranger District. The remaining 17 we labeled, packaged and shipped to Bend Seed Extractory.

We were able to restore and recover 2 miles of salmon habitat on two streams. Some of the seeds we collected this season will return to those stream banks in years to come. It feels good to know where a handful of the seeds we collected are going.

We collaborated with other departments, expanding our experience beyond Botany and seed collection. With Timber, we visited micro- and macro- timber harvest areas and surveyed for rare plants. With Recreation, we hiked-in wooden planks to repair a bridge and helped maintain local trails. With Fish and Wildlife and Ketchikan Indian Community, we dug trenches and hauled logs into stream beds with winches, blocks, and tackles. With Archeology and Landscaping, we hiked into cabin-building sites and assessed the area for archeological evidence, probing the ground for charcoal and remnants from the past.

This exposure to other specialties in the Forest Service was eye opening and so much fun. It also interested me to think about the diversity of habitats and species seed collection will impact. Sometimes it is seed that will go into the soil of a major bird migration route or a seed mix specifically formulated for riparian areas (one of the goals through seed collection here on the Tongass). Sometimes it is seed going into steam banks, supporting soil stabilization and spawning salmon. Other times, the seed goes toward grouse habitat, maybe even city parks.

Seeds will be everywhere.

Scouting in the clouds on Upper Silvis trail

Alaska, I love your silvery blue mornings. Your fog and rain. I love the smell of red cedar. I love watching the shore pines bathe in the wideness of your sky. I love your islands shrouded in clouds that break up the ocean’s vastness. The bouncing, soft ground of moss beneath my feet. The eagles, bears, salmon, deer. How the people here live closely to the land — hunting, foraging, fishing, gathering. The pace of life in Ketchikan slows over winter and expands in the summer. Locals almost hibernate, before spending their summers out at sea or, in our case, in the forest.

I have learned, while being here that humans can live in pace with the seasons. And some of our greatest teachers in this lesson are extraordinary adapters: the plants. Their chance of survival is so slim, conditions are varied, places are packed, and so many of our current land practices adversely impact their ability to take root.

Seed are everywhere. And sometimes they do take root. They are small, but meaningful. And so, we collect.

I have completely fallen in love with the process, the plants, and the people.

Thank you, Alaska, for your many lessons. I will carry your seeds with me, everywhere.

The Midwest is *not* flat and boring

I was born and raised, went to university, and now work in the Midwest. Yet, this job was like learning an entirely new landscape through remnant habitats. Before this job, I thought of the Midwest as the land of corn and not much else. Now, to be fair, much of the Midwest is covered in corn. In Illinois, almost 30% of the land is covered by corn crops. In Iowa, it is up to almost 35%. The cover of prairie habitats is much diminished. Even in the acclaimed “prairie state” of Illinois, less than 0.01% of the prairie remains intact. My closest interaction with the prairie before this job was the hill outside of my high school in Kansas City, Missouri. It was never mentioned to me until a picture of the swim coach smiling next to the burning field in front of my high school went viral. Thus, the strong connection between the prairie and fire was forged in my brain.

Fields of Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)

As part of the Seeds of Success protocol, our crew was only allowed to collect on remnant lands. While this stipulation made it challenging to find this surviving habitat, it was an absolute privilege to visit these sites. Many hours were spent imagining what the Midwest had looked like before the widespread settlement of the United States. I think life in the Midwest is a prime example of how disconnected the general public has become with their land. Honestly, how could they be connected when the land has been converted into suburbia and crop land as far as the eye can see?

Headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, Minnesota

As a result of seeking out these remnant habitats and spending hours getting up close and personal with seeds, I have never felt more connected to the land that I’ve lived on for my entire life. When I look into a bed of native plants, I can recognize them and call them by name. I recently went back home (Kansas City, Missouri) for a weekend and even in that short time, started to recognize the local plant community more than ever.

The rolling hills of the Midwest and its famous freshwater

I am here to advocate that the Midwest has gotten a bad reputation from the destruction of its habitat. There is the common belief that the Midwest is flat and boring and if you want to see real nature, you have to go out west or to the Appalachians. Sure, maybe Kansas is literally flatter than a pancake, but elevation is not everything. The prairie habitats of the Midwest make it truly special. A rich, full prairie is teeming with life. The plants overlap to what seems like an excessive degree. The underground system of roots is even more unexpected with many prairie plants having more biomass below ground than above it!

I look back on these five months with pride in my work and gratefulness for the opportunity to meet the land.

Until We Meet Again

The past 5 months working at the San Bernardino National Forest have been filled with so many amazing new experiences. While I didn’t move states away (or relocate at all really) for this internship, this summer has allowed me to meet these familiar mountains in a whole new way.

On the very first week working here, I realized that the team I was becoming a part of was filled with so many knowledgeable people ready and eager to share their knowledge with us. From botanical and wildlife knowledge to some of the forest’s best views and swim holes, everyone we worked with opened up to us and made us part of the team. It’s hard to encapsulate all of the things we learned this season and it would be impossible to mention all of the great moments we’ve had. So here are some parts that stand out to me:

Rare Plants!

Early on in the season, we got to do a lot of T&E plant surveys! While a lot of the plants that we worked didn’t have the big showy flowers that many people think of when they’re talking about cool flowers (except maybe Lillium paryi), the plants we worked with had a subtle beauty and unique characteristics you might miss if you aren’t looking for them.

The small black dots on the inside of the petals on Linanthus killipii were so important to us for telling these guys apart from the other small white flowers nearby.
The translucent windows on the petals of Phacelia exilis were always awe-inspiring
Here’s Castilleja lasioryncha and her unique pillowy flowers

These are just a few examples of the rare plants we surveyed this year. I don’t know if I’ve ever unknowingly walked past these plants during my past visits to the SBNF, but I’m glad to say I won’t in the future. A huge thank you to Joseph and Katie for sharing so much knowledge with us out in the field, and to Scott Eliason and Drew Farr for being great resources to us whenever we brought back common plants to key out.


Another great part of our season was getting to work at the Green Thumbs restoration events. It’s been so great getting to meet so many people with a passion for working with plants. Our biggest event this year was National Public Land’s Day and it was extra special because of all the prep work. Some of my favorite moments on this forest were actually on the days I spent shoveling mulch with the team! Thanks Koby and Diego for taking us under your wings and always being such a blast to work with :’-)

2023 Mulch Fest!
It was also SO special because some of my favorite people were there. Thanks to my wonderful partner and family for coming out to help with our event and getting to see the work I’m so proud to be doing. Even Smokey the Bear made it out !


And of course, the seed collecting. The whole reason we’re here folks! When I learned about the work we’d be doing during our training in Idaho early this year, I was so excited to get out here and be around plants all day. The seed collecting we’ve done this year definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s been so fun being out with Ana Karina and our team collecting seed and working with people who are just as happy to be out there as we are. When I look back at all of the collections we’ve made this year, it makes me think about how quickly the time flew. One minute you’re collecting some of the first seeds of the season (like those of Ericameria linerifolia) and the next you’re on to some of the last of the year!

Ana Karina in a beautiful field of flowering and seeding Ericameria nauseosa

Beauty all around us

But, overall, some of the most memorable things I’ve done have been to sit in awe at the amazing views our forest has to offer. I didn’t get to capture every moment, but here are some pictures of a few of the best views and places I’ve visited this year.

That’s a wrap on this season! Endings are always so bitter sweet. But, I’m hoping this isn’t a goodbye to the SBNF and more of a “see you next time”. Thanks so much CBG for the great opportunity and for all of the doors it’s opened for me. I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of this experience <3

Until Next Time

The past few months on the San Bernardino NF have gone by fast and it has been an absolute pleasure both working and living in the surrounding mountain area. Before this internship I had never seen a forest before or the diverse habitats and species that can be found within. While I’ve been working here for the past 5 months and have increasingly become accustomed to the beauty that surrounds me, I still find myself breathless at the many scenic views that the forest has shown me. From the dramatic sunsets to the towering deep green pines, I am incredibly grateful that I have had the opportunity to experience the mountains beauty firsthand.

A small glimpse into my morning commute to the Big Bear Discovery Center. Yes, I pulled over on a turnout, it was just too dang gorgeous to ignore.
Some Salvia pachyphylla (Rose sage) in bloom at the Cactus Flats Staging Area.

While the nature was one highlight, I can’t forget all my coworkers that made the season an absolute blast. I’d like to give a shout out to Kobe Bench and Diego Durand who were excellent mentors in helping us become acquainted in the diverse set of species found throughout the forest. They were incredibly patient in their teachings and taught us a diverse set of skills that we can continue to carry into our future careers. Working with them was always filled with laughter whether we were pounding in posts for fences on hot days, picking up a ridiculous amount of beer cans on OHV roads or shoveling mulch for restoration sites. Days rarely felt slow when working alongside them and I’ll miss being a part of their team. I’d also like to thank Drew Farr for being such a great mentor as well! It’s been awesome learning about the multiple facets that play into creating and executing restoration projects within the forest. All the work put into the greenhouse, the field, and seed shed all become worth it once you see a restoration project come to completion. While a majority of our focus was on botany or restoration, I’d like to acknowledge two other individuals that I learned a lot from, Julie Donnell and Jay Marshall. Karen and I had the honor in accompanying Julie on the 3-spined stickleback fish relocation project that occurred in Big Bear. It was so much fun spending a few days with the Fish and Wildlife teams on this project as we got to help catch the fish for relocation both manually and by using electroshock. While the electroshock method was unsuccessful it was neat to learn about how it works in stunning the fish and the necessary caution needed in the work (While we wore waders for this you could still feel the tingle of the current being put into the water which was rather ticklish!). A thank you to Jay as well who is our forests archeologist! It’s been lovely learning about the Native American history of the Serranos in areas throughout the San Bernardino NF. The times we accompanied him out in the field were always enjoyable as he would often educate us on artifacts, paintings, and metates that could be found in these archeological sites. Lastly, I’d like to give a big shout out to Karen for being such a cool coworker/fellow intern! I’m so glad we were able to meet and work together so well this past season. We’ve had a blast learning and troubleshooting together these past few months on keying species, greenhouse work, and much more. Overall, it’s been a fantastic season and I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve worked with so far. As the season wraps up to a close, I look forward to my next adventure working as a Biological Science Technician in Nevada with USGS. I see this ending of the internship as not so much a goodbye but more until next time to everyone I’ve met so far! Goodluck to all the other interns in the other national forests! I hope you have had just as lovely as a time as we have!

Warm regards,

Ana Karina Andrade <3

Metates ground into the stones from years of use grinding up food by the Serrano Indians.
3-spined stickleback fish that have been baited with blue cheese and trapped in a net.