A Second Round of CLM Commences

When I waited for my time to start my internship with the Lakewood, CO State BLM Office over a month ago, time practically stood still. Now that I have already worked nearly a month, the beginning of my internship has been a blur!

This is the second year I have been in the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program. For those of you that don’t know me well, I started my first year as a CLM intern in Carlsbad, NM, collecting seeds for the Seeds of Success Program. Long story short, it was an incredible journey and crazy experience, yet, must have been good enough to try the internship a second time around in a different location this year! Although I would suggest young adults to travel around and try living/working in new places, I am happy to say that I got placed this year close to home, close to my husband and two dogs. I am a Colorado Native working in the BLM Colorado State Office, only 15 minutes from home! As I was last year, my main focus will be working with the Seeds of Success (SOS) Program yet again, collecting common native seeds from BLM lands of Colorado. Although, I am excited to also be a small part in helping with Colorado rare and sensitive plant monitoring.

My first week started a little slow, as I am sure was the case for other CLM interns across the country. I toured the office, met employees, found a cubicle to take refuge in for the duration of my internship. I anxiously waited for a government ID and computer access to come through. To help the time pass by, I researched Colorado natives and began to hone in my plant ID skills, as these qualities will be crucial this field season. I also was the lucky duck of assembling plant tags (metal numbered tags attached to long, large, galvanized nails) for use in the long-term rare, sensitive, and endangered plant monitoring projects going on.

A single plant ID tag, to be placed near whatever plant will be monitored in the future. The tag is attached to thin wire, then wrapped around a nail…and meant for many years of use once put in the ground! Photo by B. Palmer

However, I was off and running by the second week of work – already in the field! My SOS work has not lifted off the ground quite yet, so I tagged along with the rare and sensitive plant monitoring group (CLM intern Taryn, Phil, and my mentor Carol Dawson) to check out Astragalus debequaeus, near Silt, Colorado.

Near Rifle, Colorado in Garfield County. Not a bad site to see on the first day of field work in Colorado, hiking to an Astragalus debequaeus macro-plot. Photo by B. Palmer

Astragalus debequaeus, commonly known as De Beque Milkvetch, is a Colorado endemic, and one of many subjects of long term rare plant research. Monitoring this plant was a valuable experience for me, as this was my first time doing this type of fieldwork, setting up plots to record data on a species of interest. I learned the process quickly: we traveled to long-term macro-plots, set up the measuring tapes, and checked the number of seedlings, vegetative, and reproductive A. debequaeus found at random transects within the marcoplot. New seedlings were tagged, and old ones hopefully were still tagged from years past. The idea is to get a sense of the mean plant density, and see if we can detect a change in the population’s density over time. I love the fact that research can be done outside of academia…a possible reason to stay in this type of work in the future.

The group of us set up a plot at an area we called North Webster Mesa, in Rifle, CO. The macro-plot is 36m x 20m, and plants in random transects along the 20m side were counted. Photo by B. Palmer

A tagged A. debequaeus plant within one of the transects. Data is collected from this and other plots, and later analyzed back at the office, using a paired t-test. Photo by B. Palmer

For that first trip of ours, it was nearly all Astragalus all the time! However, while scouting for different populations to setup another macroplot, we stumbled upon some other pretty neat plants that one would only see on the Colorado Western Slope!

While scouting for A. debequaeus populations, I stumbled across this beautiful common bloom – Echinocereus triglochidiatus. Photo by B. Palmer

We also stumbled across a not-so-common bloom: Sclerocactus glaucus (Colorado Hookless Cactus), a rare, endemic Colorado gem, and one we were schedule to monitor the following week. Photo by B. Palmer

Of course, we saw a few more things than Astragalus and Cactus. Here is the little common plant Townsendia incana, Hoary Easter Daisy. Photo by B. Palmer

The next week was just as busy as we rolled into another 5 days of field work. The same group of us took a trip out to Delta, Colorado in search for Sclerocactus glaucus, the endemic Colorado Hookless Cactus. We had stumbled onto some healthy populations the week before, so I was in high hopes that we would have positive results in the coming plots. I had come to realize this area was incredibly dry from a mild winter of little snow and precipitation, and not many flowers were out to be enjoyed.

The Star Nelson Sclerocactus glaucus macroplot/allotment in Delta, Colorado. This was one of the bigger plots we surveyed over the week, the macro-plot encompassing 30m x 70m area. The weather was cold and windy, the area was dry, and vegetation sparse.  Photo by B. Palmer

Not only was the vegetation we saw dried up and crispy, a lot of it was chewed up and stomped on by cattle! Even the saltbushes (Atriplex app.), sagebrush (Artemesia app.), and Galleta grass (Hilaria jamesii) were demolished and munched on (and these are the kinds of plants that are a last-resort food source to cattle. We found it especially true for one of our macro-plot areas placed in the Escalante Canyon and National Conservation Area. Although the soaring sandstone cliffs of the canyon are quite beautiful, it was hard to enjoy among the decimated vegetation below, impacted by cattle of the Escalante Ranch sharing the land nearby.

Escalante Canyon and National Conservation Area, in Delta, Colorado. Cattle from Escalante Ranch frolic through an area we JUST finished surveying for Sclerocactus glaucus. We had just taken the measuring tapes down from the macro plot, when it became blatantly obvious that the cattle were impatiently waiting for us to leave so they could enjoy the area, and stomp all over our little rare cacti looking for food. Photo by B. Palmer

Looking for Sclerocactus glaucus proved to be more difficult than I realized, and it became something of an Easter egg hunt, or what I thought to be a thrilling, tedious game of I Spy. This was especially true during a day we decided to conduct a Point-in-Time Survey of S. glaucus. The idea behind using a point-in-time is to help calculate a population density within a given area. Once the average plant density is found within a reasonable confidence interval, these data are compared to the set long-term plots to see how the species is doing on a landscape level. So we went to an area were there was a previous record (EOR – Element Occurrence Record) of the species being seen here, we branched out, and we searched. We searched for the little cacti, and flagged every one we could find before setting up a plot and counting just about every single Sclerocactus we could find!

One of the few Sclerocactus glaucus I found and flagged while putting together a Point-in-time plot. Notice the drab appearance of the cactus, blending in to the dry, beaten down habitat around it. Hardly any were flowering, making it even more difficult to find the individual plants. Photo by B. Palmer

I am not only a month into the second go-around of this internship, and I have learned oh so much. Until Seeds of Success kicks into gear, I am happy to be working around BLM sensitive, rare, and endangered plants in the meantime playing games of I Spy and Easter egg hunting. I get to travel around Colorado, work outdoors, enjoy the little things. I am also working with great, fun people full of positive vibes, and you can’t ask for more than that. I am excited for what the future brings me!

To all the other new and returning CLM interns out there: wishing you all safe travels and exciting adventures at the beginning of this field season. This is Brooke Palmer from the Lakewood, Colorado, BLM State Office. Until next time!

Fun times making transects, looking for plants with awesome coworkers, not to mention little Collared Lizards! Looking forward to another field season as a CLM intern, closer to home! Photo by B. Palmer

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