Reclaiming the Wild and Sewing Seeds of Purpose

In July, our San Bernardino National Forest CLM team has continued to make more seed collections, but when I look back on the month, what really sticks out to me is all of the great restoration efforts we’ve been a part of! From monitoring and watering past restoration sites to preparing for the restoration of future sites, this month has really put into perspective the purpose of the work that we’re doing.

At the SBNF, the majority of our restoration crew is funded through our OHV restoration grant and it’s no wonder! A lot of the destruction caused to this forest is related to the popularity of OHVs and their misuse of our trails and FS roads. OHV riders often ride and stage in unauthorized areas and eventually these previously wild areas are reduced to compact dirt trails or patches. When this happens, it becomes difficult for some riders to differentiate between an authorized area and an illegal one. This in turn perpetuates the misuse of our forest.

The SBNF restoration team is constantly monitoring, fencing, and slashing new areas to prevent them from getting this bad. But, it can be difficult to keep up with the work that’s needed all over our mountain and sometimes these OHV damage sites require more than just fencing and slashing. That’s when our amazing volunteers come in and help us reclaim these wild areas.

Big Pine Flats Green Thumbs Volunteer Event

Big Pine Flats, the site of our most recent Green Thumbs volunteer event, is a beautiful area within our forest with a family campground and a relatively new OHV staging area. Before the designation of this staging area, the popularity of OHV riding in Big Pine Flats led to unauthorized staging and the destruction of some previously wild areas. The SBNF team has been working to regulate the use of this area now that we have a designated staging area and this month our volunteers were able to help us finish our Big Pine Flats restoration project!

The plan for this volunteer event was to outplant 158 of our greenhouse plants, and do some weeding, watering, and seed collection/dispersal. In the days leading up to the volunteer event, we visited the site and prepared the compact dirt for the incoming plant heroes: Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus and Penstemon grinnellii.

After digging 158 holes that week and loading up a couple of trucks with everything our volunteers might need for our planting day, we were ready for the big day! Our volunteers helped us plant the Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus and Penstemon grinnellii plants we’ve been growing in our nursery (from seeds collected by the SBNF restoration team!!) to speed up the restoration of the area and aid in species diversity. While working hard to restore this area, I was able to meet many of the lovely people volunteering that day. They each had their own individual experiences with volunteering and what the work means to them, but the running theme seemed to be a love for the outdoors and the satisfaction they get from helping us keep these areas beautiful and wild.

They helped us get all 158 plants into the ground and watered, then we moved on to weeding and seed collection. We collected native seeds from the plants in the surrounding area and walked around the restoration side scattering the seeds onto the ground. As we dispersed the seeds and our volunteer event came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel so happy about the work we do. We are helping to preserve the native species diversity of the area while creating events for like minded people to connect and be a part of meaningful work for the future of our forest. I’m so grateful for all of the help we had that day and can’t wait for our next volunteer event!

Prickly Predicaments

My first month working at the San Bernardino National Forest has been so much fun! After participating in a lot of amazing projects, we were finally able to start making some seed collections at the end of the month.

Our first collection site

Don’t Hug A Yucca

Interior goldenbush (Ericameria linearfolia) was one of our first contenders for seed collection. Big Bear has had an especially wet year, so even though these guys were among the first on our list for collection, they actually went to seed a bit later in the season than usual.

Ericameria linearifolia

On the day we showed up for collection, there were seeding Ericameria linearifolia as far as the eye could see. It was any new seed collector’s dream! I set out with my labeled bag and started collecting. After about half an hour of collecting from various smaller plants, I saw the perfect goldenbush. It was huge and every flower was seeding with very little seed dispersed! I knew I was going to be at this one for a while, so I crouched down beside it and then…

Not the yucca in question, but a close friend of his I’m sure

I literally sat on a yucca! It hurt so bad and started bleeding a bit immediately, but luckily the pain went away pretty quickly and I continued seed collecting. Regardless, contrary to what the sticker at our Regional Botanist’s desk might say, fellow seed collectors, don’t “Hug a Yucca”!

Thistle Be Interesting

At the same site, I helped Koby, a Biological Restoration Technician, with the collection of some native cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale). This plant species isn’t on our CLM seed collection list, but it’s on the general SBNF seed collection list and its elusive nature intrigued me.

See this thistle has what I’d refer to as a close evil invasive twin… Cirsium vulgare. Even the name sounds like bad news! Seeing them side by side in the pictures above, the differences are pretty clear. But in the field, when you’re worried about accidentally collecting from an invasive and looking at just one of the species on their own, the differences seem less apparent. During my first week on the job, I learned that several forestry techs at our office were wary of collecting from our native cobweb thistle and reluctant to pull bull thistle for fear of choosing the wrong Cirsium.

Since then, I took a special interest in telling these twins apart. I learned that bull thistle tends to look meaner, greener, and the leaf tips extend in a way that looks like it’s giving you the finger for just looking at it. Vulgare indeed… I also learned that bull thistle tends to like moister soils near water while cobweb thistle prefers well drained soils. Our native cobweb thistle also has dark seeds and the leaves are generally more narrow, sage green, and overall just look like they’re adapted to a drier climate. Having conversations about the differences between these two thistle has given a lot of us at the office more confidence around telling these two apart. I was so pleased to hear one of my coworkers come up to me the other day with a HUGE bag of thistle seed and proudly say “I’m not afraid of thistle anymore!”. Ana Karina and I are hoping to collect vouchers of these two thistles so they can be displayed side by side and help future SBNF employees and interns!

The Ants Beat Us To It!

The ants beat us to it! (Stipa speciosa)

Finally, we also collected Stipa speciosa (Desert needle grass). We learned that the tail on Stipa seeds bend to a right angle when the seeds are fully matured. What I was truly fascinated by, though, was finding this grass bunch where ants were harvesting seed! They were slowly pulling the seeds out and we saw a trail of ants hauling seeds back to the ant hill. I recently learned that some plants have a special relationship with ants in which ants will take the seeds with them underground effectively planting the seeds and allowing the plants to grow. Who knew ants were seed collectors and gardeners too!

I’m so excited to continue learning about our California natives and being a part of some great projects in the month of July. Also, we will finally be getting our own tablets!! I hope everyone is having as much fun as I’ve been having and I’m so glad to be a part of such a great program!

We Go Together Like Milkweeds and…

Think of a milkweed.

This is desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa).

This is rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata).


Good. Now think of an insect that relies on milkweed.

Can you name an insect that relies on milkweed.

Can you name an insect that depends on milkweed plants?


What did you think of?

Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on a desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa).

Monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on a rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata).

That’s what I thought. Don’t be ashamed, I think of monarchs and milkweeds, too. The thing is, though, many other insects also have close relationship with members of the asclepias family. Let’s take a look at some of them.


We’ll start with milkweed bugs. Milkweed bugs come in two flavors: large and small.

Small Milkweed Bug

Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus sp) on a desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa).

The small milkweed bug (Lygaeus sp) is (you guessed it!) slightly smaller than the large one. It also displays a red X on its back as well as two small white dots.

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus sp)

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus sp)

From what I can tell, the large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus sp) tend to be a littler more orange. Their markings also look like three large black horizontal bands rather than an X.

Both large and small milkweed bug larva eat milkweed seeds.

Milkweed bugs are in the order Hemiptera, meaning they are “true bugs”. I spotted another hemiptera chilling on a nearby milkweed, but that’s as far as I got in that identification game. Any ideas?



There were also a ton of tarantula hawk wasps (Pepsis or Hemipepsis sp) buzzing around.

Tarantula Hawk Wasps are up to 2 inches long with blue-black bodies and bright rust-colored wings.

Tarantula Hawk Wasps are up to 2 inches long with blue-black bodies and bright rust-colored wings.

Tarantula hawk wasps are so named because when it is time to reproduce, the female will sting a tarantula (permanently paralyzing it) and drag in into a pre-made brooding nest. The female wasp will then lay it’s egg(s) on the tarantula, I won’t go into the gory details here. Only the females hunt tarantulas, though, and only for reproduction. The adults feed off the nectar and flowers of milkweeds.

The tarantula hawk wasps were totally loving all the milkweed plants!

The tarantula hawk wasps were totally loving all the desert milkweed (Asclepias erosa)!

I photographed another insect which I believe is a wasp, but I’m not 100% sure. Any thoughts?

I think this is some sort of parasitoid wasp, but I'm not sure!

I think this is some sort of parasitoid wasp, but I’m no expert entomologist.

Yet another insect I couldn’t identify could be a bee (Order Hymenoptera) or a syrphid fly (Order Diptera). I don’t feel so bad about this one, though, because syrphid flies utilize Batesian mimicry (aka they exhibit the same coloring patterns as bees and wasps as a form of protection against predators).

Bee or Syrphid Fly? Who could tell?

Bee or Syrphid Fly?
Who could tell?

So, moral of the blog post: milkweeds are important to lots of insects. Let it be known.

A plethora of arthropods depend on milkweeds for survival.

A plethora of insect species depend on milkweeds (Asclepias sp) for survival.


Jessica Samuelson

Needles Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

See ya later Cedarville

Well, today’s my last day in the Modoc. It’s crazy to think that 7 months have passed since my arrival. My first impression of this small isolated town is definitely memorable. I drove into town and the first thing I noticed that the town population was 514. There’s one of everything- one bar, grocery store, gas station….you get the idea. It was a little unnerving to live in such small, isolated, and conservative place but I really enjoyed working in the sagebrush country. The townspeople here are nice and friendly and the people I worked with all very knowledgeable and easy to work with.

This internship was very rewarding. I got to see the beautiful landscapes of Northeastern California as well as Nevada and Oregon and experience real seasons (unusual in other parts of California). Word to the wise: if you end up in Cedarville in the winter time, have a 4×4 or AWD vehicle. It makes life much MUCH easier.

This internship gave me an opportunity to get hands-on field experience in disciplines that I didn’t really know much about. For example, I helped out with evaluating rangeland health by assessing bunchgrass utilization. Before Cedarville, I didn’t have any knowledge about rangeland. Also, I got to work on various projects like flagging juniper trees for cuttings, monitoring vegetation, planting sagebrush seedlings, and doing pika and raptor surveys. Moreover, I got to hone my ID’ing skills for plants and wildlife. I actually got to use the information I learned in school. Ha!

I guess the final advice to future interns is: JUST TRY IT. It may be out of your comfort zone, but once you do it, you’ll look back and be glad you did it. To think that 8 months ago, I was stressing about making a decision about this internship and another job offer. I’m glad to say that I made the right decision and really enjoyed my time here in the Surprise Valley.

Well…I’ll stop rambling now…and end with some cool  and memorable pictures.

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Amanda and I in our cave. At the Lava Beds National Monument

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Sledding up at Cedar Pass on our off day. It’s great that we have a “ski park” only a couple miles away from Cedarville.

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Avenue of the Giants. California is a gorgeous state.

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View of the Pacific Ocean up in Humboldt county

Lunch time with new friends

Lunch time with new friends

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Lockeford PMC – Introductions and Context

Hello interns,

First off, introductions – my name is Michal, I’m 22 and originally from Chicago, but for the next 5 months I will be working with the NRCS at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center here in the Central Valley of California. The region has a Mediterranean climate characterized by 6-month hot and dry, and cool and wet seasons. I thought I was escaping the agriculture giant that is Illinois, only to be thrown into a sea of walnuts, grapes, and almonds in California. These crops also require a ton of water. It takes 1 gallon of water to produce a single almond, and nearly 5 to produce a single walnut. To add some perspective, California produces about 2 billion pounds of shelled almonds annually – that’s 80 percent of world production and the supply still doesn’t meet the demand. Hopefully this will illustrate the stress placed on their natural resources, especially as the state enters its fourth year of drought.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a division of the USDA that provides services to farmers, whether they be developing conservation plans, providing financial assistance, or, as is the case with the Lockeford Plant Materials Center, producing vegetation for resource conservation goals. The 105 acres managed by the PMC are used for cover crop, seed mix, and soil health studies, growing plants for seed collection for propagation use, as well as a 10 acre plot dedicated to producing plants of cultural significance to Native Americans.

The key staff at the PMC are:

  • Margaret is the PMC manager. She’s really cool.
  • Dennis: Farm manager. He comes from three generations of Oregon farmers and is a very old school kind of guy. He’s very knowledgeable and I’m really looking forward to learning as much as I can from him.
  • Shawn: is the administrative assistant, but he also does a lot of field work.
  • Jeff: volunteering as a biological resource technician. We work together often, which is nice, because we have a similar work ethic.

I’m in my second week now and I’ve been really enjoying my time. Margaret has not been shy to admit that the PMC is understaffed and that there is a lot of grunt work to do, and understandably so. I have been doing a lot of maintenance, replacing 40-year old gaskets from the irrigation valves, herbiciding with an ATV, pulling weeds, operating a chainsaw to clear branches from obstructing the road, driving tractors and using the bucket to dump debris (fun!).

I feel that sometimes, as college graduates, our ego gets in the way and says that manual labor is beneath us and that we deserve something better. I disagree. I’m excited to work hard and give it my all to make sure the PMC is running as efficiently as possible, whatever my role may be. Over the course of my internship I will push myself to take on more responsibilities and grow as much as I can.

On my down time, I have been using ArcGIS to improve the property maps and keep track of the pokeweed I herbicided last week. I also got the chance to go to Modesto with Dennis to attend a “Farming in the Drought” seminar, which gave me a lot to think about. Today, Margaret assigned me a task that is a data management nightmare, but one that I take as a challenge and will hopefully discuss in detail in later posts.

But yeah, just wanted to give a little context for our work and describe what it actually is that we do. Hopefully this will help any CLM candidates who apply for 2016! Next time I’ll be sure to post photos.

Until then,


Michal Tutka

CLM Intern

NRCS – California

Panoche Hills, California

Hey Everyone,

I’m a first year Master’s student in Entomology at the University of Hawaii, and will spend the next few months working at the BLM office in Hollister, California. I have taken on several projects with my mentors. I will be studying native dune beetles in the Monvero Dunes, addressing concerns with malathion use to control spread of the Curly Top Virus and the Beet Leafhopper, and completing a genetic/statistical survey to address genetic diversity/primary productivity in grasshopper and leopard lizard populations. Our team is passionate, driven, and resourceful. I’m looking forward to collaborating and working with my mentors on awesome projects at various field sites this summer.

Good luck to all the other interns who are starting out.

Here are two pictures from my first day. I traveled to Buttonwillow, CA to look for leopard lizards. No such luck in finding any… but we found plenty of whiptails, and I noosed one on my first try! Looking forward to geeking out over science for the summer.


Jennifer Michalski
BLM, Hollister Field Office

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Noosing Whiptail Lizards

Whiptail Lizard

Whiptail Lizard

It’s not over yet!

Many things have happened since my last post in May, the highlight being that I have been extended for another two months! I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. My supervisor has really gone out of his way to make this happen. I am being treated as if I were a full BLM employee, handed tasks that carry the responsibility and weight that comes with decision making. For example, due to an employee retirement, there was no one in the office who was familiar with writing a Rangeland Health Determination. I volunteered for the undertaking and finished the document almost single-handedly. I have also been assimilated into compiling three Environmental Assessments. I have never before worked somewhere where I felt so respected and appreciated for the quality of work that I produce. They are willing to invest in me and in return I am able to produce better quality work.

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The Deep Springs Resource Management Team meeting on site, where the cowboys tend the herd of cattle.

Aside from office work, I still manage to get a few field days in. The Ridgecrest Field Office is part of an interesting arrangement with a local farm/college, Deep Springs. Deep Springs’ ranching operations are supported by the Deep Springs Resource Management Team (DSRMT), which consists of representatives from the College and Trustees, BLM, Inyo National Forest, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The DSRMT meets bi-annually, collects and analyzes monitoring data on Deep Springs’ BLM and Forest Service grazing allotments, and participates in inter-agency coordination and planning to develop best management practices and to inform agency decision making processes. During the summer meeting in the beautiful White Mountains, Deep Springs was gracious enough to feed everyone great farm raised fresh food, we experienced a flash flood and also had amazing cooperation among the agencies. By hearing the concerns about an allotment from all agencies, I was able to experience the development of a very thorough land management plan. It almost made my head spin with how organized it was.  I really hope this inter-agency hands-on model spreads to more offices.


Some arrowheads found onsite while performing surveys of the pastures.

The farm fresh steaks, potatoes and corn provided by Deep Springs.

The farm fresh steaks, potatoes and corn provided by Deep Springs.

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The horses the cowboys use to manage the cattle. They forage in the same campsite with the cowboys after work is done. Cowboy life is a rare sight to see, and we were very lucky to be invited to be a part of it.

Cheers and happy botanizing.

Leah Madison

BLM, Ridgecrest CA

Transitioning from Seed Collecting to Other Projects

A rare find - Kelso Creek Monkeyflower.

A rare find – Kelso Creek Monkeyflower.

Another rare find - a flowering Cholla cactus.

Another rare find – a flowering Cholla cactus.

Hello again from Ridgecrest CA. As of this week I am entering the third month of my internship. It’s hard to believe. The last two months we have been rushing to gather as many collections as we could for the SOS program. The flowering season is very short in the Mojave, and there hasn’t been any more rain, so it looks as if we may be at the end of our seed collecting. Fortunately, we had more rain this season than any previous years for the SOS program in this area. To give an idea as to what that means in the desert, we have made 18 complete collections so far, whereas in the previous 5 years the average was 6 complete collections. None-the-less, we feel pretty good about being able to provide a good collecting season. We have 3 more months to collect – the hard part will be trying to find something that hasn’t dried up.

The DTRNA volunteers hard at work making a collection of California Poppy.

The DTRNA volunteers hard at work making a collection of California Poppy.

The collection site of California Poppy and Fremont's phacelia in full bloom.

The collection site of California Poppy and Fremont’s phacelia in full bloom.

The highlight this past month: I took it upon myself to work with the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area (DTRNA), an organization dedicated to protecting the Desert Tortoise, to organize future cooperation with the SOS program to provide seed for the DTRNA. I set up a training day in which the DTRNA joined us in the field collecting seeds. We taught them about the protocol, what we take into consideration, and how to identify the target collection. We made three complete collections in one day! It’s amazing how much can be done when you have a few extra hands. All of the details haven’t been worked out but I really hope that there will be a way to continue using volunteer help to collect seeds and use the extra for restoration purposes in this area. There has also been talk of another organization interested in doing the same thing. I am working with my mentor to figure out the best approach to accomplishing this. Jeff Gicklhorn has been a really supportive, patient, knowledgeable and (incredibly) nice mentor.

One of the great things about the position in Ridgecrest is that the office is very supportive of taking advantage of the learning opportunities through the BLM. This week I am participating in NISIMS (National Invasive Species Information Monitoring System) training, and next week we will be traveling to Las Vegas for a NEPA class. This month is basically already booked full!


Leah Madison

Ridgecrest California BLM Field Office

Oh Mohave

From the bustle of the Chicago suburbs to the quiet, slow-paced town of Needles, CA, my first weeks of the CLM internship have been a period of great adjustment.  I’m glad to finally be away from the fast-paced days of Gurnee summers that are choked by traffic from the Six Flags amusement park and the mall.  Though not much goes on in close proximity to my residence, I enjoy my work with the Needles field office greatly.  My adviser Tom Stewart has been very helpful with my adjustment to the extreme temperatures and with navigating the region.  I am only beginning to get used to the temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny, summer day.  A strategy to combat the summer heat has been starting work early.  My field work is done before the afternoon hours.

What I love about the field work is the many lizards I can see dashing across the rocky terrain, the Joshua trees that I had only seen in photographs and the dry climate.  I don’t mind warm weather, but extreme humidity has always bothered me.  Though it is not work-related, I also love the cheapness of produce at some stores in the region.  I have bragged to friends and family about the affordability of avocados, grapes and strawberries.  The only scary part of the work is the threat of rattlesnake bites.  Though I have yet to hear that fear-inducing rattle, I have made myself a promise to not listen to an iPod while collecting so that I do not foolishly stumble across an angry rattlesnake.

As far as work goes, most of my time thus far has been spent collecting seeds for SOS from key plant species such as white bursage, creosote, indian ricegrass, big galleta and more.  Proper and efficient seed collection from desert plants is a new skill that I am developing.  Luckily I spent a great deal of time with flora and fauna identification in college; thus, my understanding of desert wildlife is rapidly expanding.  I hope that my seed collecting can help to preserve plant species that are at risk due to pests, grazing animals, invasive species, pollution and other causes.  Some seeds are extremely easy to collect (white bursage) but some can be very time-consuming (creosote).  I have noticed that my first days of seed collection were awkward and confusing.  Since my most recent field work, I can confidently say that my skills are improving.

I am also using GPS to mark good locations for seed collection as well as animals that are spotted.  I found two desert tortoises (endangered species) on the same morning on my way to a desert spring.  Some employees at the office say that they have only seen one tortoise after years of working in the field!  Photographs of anything that catches my eye are taken at my leisure.

I am on the verge of working with water source management, bat surveys and other projects in the near future.  Until then, I will see you fellow interns at the Grand Canyon.


– Eric Clifton