contemplating the future of america’s youth….

Recently, Alex and I spent a week teaching fourth graders about botany. We experienced a variety of responses from said fourth graders, including excitement about the prospect of playing games, endless questions about seed formation, and even the occasional mid-lesson nap. The one question that has stuck with me past our week of serving as teachers came from a student on our last day. In the middle of hearing about leaf arrangements and divisions, he stuck his hand up and asked: “Why do we need to learn about plants?”

This question may have been typical fourth grade sass coming from a kid who would rather have been on his school sanctioned tablet than walking around on a beautiful September morning. But long after the school groups had left for the day, I found myself still wondering about the answer. Why do we need to learn about plants? These students are growing up in a world that spends most of its time inside, looking at a screen. Why should they value learning about leaf arrangement or how pollination works?

While thinking about these questions (and, admittedly, procrastinating writing this blog post) I fell down a rabbit hole of research on topics like plant blindness, botanical education, and the status of nature connectedness in kids today. I found countless studies attesting to the growing lack of knowledge about native plants- students of all ages are unable to identify native plants or even accurately describe what plants need to grow. One study showed that of a thousand kids (aged five to sixteen), 82% failed to recognize an oak leaf. Even more studies attested to the fact that kids are spending less time outside than ever before (worth noting here that race and income both have disparate effects on availability of green spaces) The disconnect between kids all over the world and their environment can feel startling at times.

But back to the question at hand- why does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t. At least, maybe it doesn’t matter if someone can tell you the name of a plant, or what kind of inflorescence it hosts. In the same way that I really don’t want to understand how wifi actually works, maybe it’s okay for that kid to not want to understand how trees store carbon. What does matter, however, is that we don’t lose our connection with our local environment. At the end of the day, conservation is motivated more by emotional connection than anything else. Equitable availability of environmental programming nurtures a mindset of ecological awareness and conservation with impacts far beyond plant identification. When we understand our environment, and our place within it, we can better communicate the needs of our local ecosystems and help combat environmental issues on a small scale. As we face loss of biodiversity from climate change and habitat loss, the effort we put into conservation will have to be greater than ever, and so our connection with nature and motivation to work towards preservation will have to be greater than ever. No pressure, right!

As I face the final day of this internship and consider the future of my career, I’m left wondering how much of an impact one person can make on the conservation of our environmental systems. On one hand, it feels daunting (there are so many problems everywhere all the time!). On the other hand, I spent all day yesterday reseeding disturbed areas on the Caribou-Targhee- those areas are now less susceptible to the spread of invasive plants and will better support native pollinators and be more resilient to climate change. Because of the efforts of Alex and I this summer, there will be a greater stock of native plant material available, helping maintain the diversity of native forbs on public lands in Southeastern Idaho. It may not be stopping global climate change, but it feels like something to be proud of.

Anyway, to anyone who got through this final blog post, good luck with whatever comes next!


ps- if you’re interested in reading further about ecological knowledge/nature connection/environmental education, here are some good articles:

Welcome to the Jungle

My boss’s cubicle has a quote hung on the wall from Enrico Fermi, the Nobel-winning physicist, when he once had a student ask him to recall the name of a particular subatomic particle. “Young man,” the professor replied, “if I could remember the names of all these particles, I would be a botanist.” In my first month since moving to Idaho from Pennsylvania, I have learned just how true that statement was. There has certainly been a bit of a learning curve to adapting to a whole new set of plants, most of which I had never seen before. Botanizing in a new part of the country is a bit like sticking a firehose of information in your mouth – open the valve and just try to swallow everything you can. What was this death camas plant that everyone was trying to get rid of? And why would anyone ever eat common camas, which looks almost exactly the same until it flowers?

But there have been a few important things that softened the landing a little and made botany in Idaho a little less intimidating. The first was realizing just how many Western plants have close relatives in the East, plants that I was already quite familiar with. I’ve never seen Galium aparine or Trillium ovatum before, but the other species in those genera are quite common in Pennsylvania. It’s also been very helpful to work with a crew of Westerners who know what grows here and to have the colossal Flora of the Pacific Northwest to walk me through. And wouldn’t you believe, the born-and-raised Idahoans are just as unfamiliar with Pennsylvanian plants as I was with theirs. I’ve learned dozens and dozens of plants so far and more are sure to come.

We’ve scouted for many types of wildflowers so far and learned the trials and tribulations of keying out huge genera like Eriogonum (wild buckwheat) or Erigeron (fleabane). Staring through a microscope to piece apart minute details of a specimen can be exhausting, but it’s incredible to realize just how much diversity there is among the plants of the Rocky Mountains. I have a special passion for botanical Latin, and I’ve spent many an evening by our campfire reading through our flora to learn the fascinating history of why plants were given the names they were – either for famous scientists, ancient medicinal uses, or an author’s one-year-old daughter in one special case. We’ve had the opportunity to hike many a mile in search of rare mosses and onions, and seen a great diversity of other plants and flowers along the way (not to mention an incredible hike).

Lewisia sacajaweana, a rare plant we spent a day scouting for a population of. It is named for Capt. Merrriwether Lewis and Sacajawea of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

But life, just like botany, is a mosaic of little pieces that may look disjointed, but when you find the little similarities, they fit together into an extraordinary picture. When I first moved here, Idaho seemed like a whole puzzle of disassembled pieces – I dropped my dad off at the airport after our road trip and immediately found that every hotel in Boise was fully booked for a Luke Combs concert. I drove an hour out of town to find a room, and the only thing keeping me together was getting a surprise call from my old college roommate. How was I ever going to survive here?

But what a place Idaho has turned out to be since then! The forests and the fishing are incomparable, and I have met more than one person with surprising connections – the Mennonite grocers from my state, another Penn State Agriculture graduate, and many others. And imagine my surprise when I learned that my roommate, a wildlife biologist from North Carolina, was my fifth cousin! Idaho is still a bit of a puzzle, but sure enough, the pieces are starting to come together.

Welcome to the jungle, it gets better here every day.

A Month of Adventure on the Caribou Targhee

While the extent of our work for seed collections has been mapping potential population areas and scouting around the Caribou-Targhee, my co-intern Alex and I have been lucky enough to help out on a number of different projects, as well as spending a lot of time getting to know the plant populations here in Southeast Idaho. While working with a variety of resources across the forest, we have learned about riparian restoration, soil surveying, field photography, burn restoration, environmental education, and horsemanship. Every day is filled with opportunities to meet new people on the forest and pick up new skills.

View from Snakey Canyon while learning about NRCS soil/vegetation surveys

One of my favorite projects we worked on had us in the field with the Palisades wildlife biologists doing goshawk surveys on various project areas in the forest. Goshawks are considered a sensitive species by the Forest Service, so any project that might alter the habitat needs to undergo monitoring to determine if there are any nesting individuals present in the area. After spending hours bushwhacking through the forest, surrounded by swarms of mosquitos, we were rewarded by seeing a male goshawk circling above us. When we returned to the area hours later, we once again spotted a male goshawk. Chris, the lead wildlife biologist, told us that this behavior likely indicates that there may have been a nest in the area. The next day, we went out to a different section of the forest to monitor a known nesting site of a female goshawk. Goshawks may build several nests in a given area and can return to the same nest year after year, so they had known of a few potential nesting sites that this hawk may have returned to, and earlier this season the wildlife crew had found the nest that she chose for the season. Joe, the wildlife biologist we worked with that day, told us how this hawk’s mate had been killed last summer at a local ski resort and that they weren’t sure if there would be any signs of reproductive activity at the nest because goshawks sometimes mate for life. After arriving to the nest site and settling down into the undergrowth to watch the nest, we noticed her eyeing us (I can say with certainty that I now understand the expression “watching like a hawk”). Goshawks are notoriously defensive of their nests, and I had heard from several coworkers that we should be on the lookout for divebombing birds- some even suggested sitting with a large stick on top of our heads to give the hawks something other than our scalps to aim for! Luckily, this female opted to keep a sharp eye on our group. After sitting in captivated silence for a while, we noticed motion underneath the female, and spotted the fuzzy white bodies of at least two chicks in the nest. Going out with the wildlife biologists was a really cool experience as it gave me a chance to understand a bit more about all the steps a project needs to go through before action can happen on the forest. Even though a management plan may be as simple as removing fuels from the forest floor, it can have serious unintended impacts on the sensitive species in the area and ultimately damage the ecology of the forest.

Female goshawk in her nest

Another highlight of my time on the CT was helping out with a botany walk that my mentor set up for a group called Great Old Broads for Wilderness. During this botany walk, I got the chance to show off what I have been learning for the past month and help teach a group about plant identification and some of the native species present in the Teton Valley. The ladies that attended the walk were very enthusiastic and asked a lot of great questions about the plants in the area and some of the disturbances they were seeing along our hike. We got to tell them about the work we are doing for our seed collections, and they were very curious about what the point of seed collection was, the process of finding and collecting seed for various plants, and what they could do to help our project. I have worked in environmental education and outreach in the past, so it was fun to get to work with the public and educate a group about the work we are doing, especially because this group was so excited about learning new plants and exploring the forest with us.

While the first month has been filled with a ton of great experiences, it hasn’t come without its challenges. The first weeks of waiting for the field season to kick into gear definitely left me feeling a bit useless around the office, especially with the various difficulties I had in my Forest Service onboarding process. We have also faced many technical issues with Fieldnotes, making it difficult to document the work that we do with surveying for our target species. This, combined with our late start to surveying work, made it feel like we weren’t doing enough work for our seed collection project. Hopefully, as we move later into the season, we will be more able to make progress towards our seed collection goals!

Alex at Fall Creek Falls after a day of surveying

Saying goodbye to the Gem State


Today is my last day at the Shoshone Field Office and it is feeling really bittersweet! I am excited to see what life holds for me next, but looking back, I am beyond pleased with how my internship went. One of my favorite things about this position was the diversity of tasks my boss, Joanna, let us explore; With monarch tagging, bumble bee surveying and bat monitoring with Idaho Fish and Game, electrofishing with USGS, rare plant monitoring with the Idaho Natural Heritage Program, and cultural clearances and cave surveying with other teams in our office, it has been a whirlwind! It was great getting to not only work in other areas of ecology that I have not been exposed to, but also work with other agencies.

Of course not every day can be as exciting, we often helped with more mundane tasks, such as GPS’ing fences and accessing range improvements. These days often involved driving through BLM land for hours on end. However, these days proved to be some of the most valuable in my eyes! Spending nearly entire days in a truck with the same three people can really bond you together like nothing else. We often were at our silliest, leading to funny stories and great memories. The people I have met here have been amazing and I truly feel like I have made life long friends.

Elk skeleton – working in the desert you find so many bones and sheds!

Another great thing about Idaho is how jawdroppingly gorgeous it is! Most of my money ended up going towards gas to explore all of the beautiful sights and I have no regrets. The last five months has given me a chance to explore not only Idaho, but Utah and Oregon as well! These weekend trips have been spent with other CLM interns and has provided me with so many fun and unique memories. I was also only four hours away from Yellowstone National Park, which gave my friends and family back home a great incentive to come and visit!

City of Rocks! One of my favorite places in Idaho!

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Logan, Utah! Coming from Florida, I was so excited to see fall colors!!

Signing off from Shoshone,


Scream if you love potatoes!

My time spent in Idaho is coming to a close. Today is my last day in the office and I’ll be heading back to the Midwest at the end of the following week. I’m grateful of my time and experiences I’ve shared here in Twin Falls and Shoshone. My last day is filled with mixed emotions as I’m excited to be moving back to a familiar place, but also upset I’ll be moving away from people I’ve grown to care so much about these 6 months.

Idaho BLM has given me so many new experiences working with people from all over the country, people of all ages, and people with varying levels of experience in range management.

I came to Idaho with an open mind, seeing as this is my first job after graduating, and I’m grateful that the CBG program was able to send me out West. I felt like it was important to stretch my comfort-zone and pursue this job as far west as I’ve ever been, and I truly enjoyed my time here and the experiences I went through. I made friends with locals and they took me on many adventures, one of which was to my first rodeo which is where I really learned to understand potato appreciation (being from WI, you get a lot of cheeseheads, so potatoes were new to me). I’m now interested in getting my Red Card after experiencing wildfires so near to home and hearing talk around the office about fire culture. Idaho has moved me to explore more of the world, expand my understanding of people and express myself in new ways.

I’ll miss the people, I’ll miss my house, but I’ll definitely miss flora of the west.


Idaho Fish and Game

More work outside of BLM has been pretty fun lately. Aside from our new projects relating to GIS and GPS, we also get the opportunity to work on other projects throughout the week with Idaho Fish and Game.

Last week I was able to go out on a bat project. I honestly know very little about bat calls and bat biology etc. but it seemed like something I would enjoy and I’m glad to report I did!

I had previously gotten the chance to work with Ross Winton working on an entomology project, so he was a familiar face. It was fun getting to see his work with insects and bats, alongside Senior Conservation Officer Meghan Roos. The second day of data collection we went out with GeoCorps interns as well.

After dinner, waiting for the sun to set, waiting for the bats to emerge!

2 CBG CLM & 2 GeoCorps. After dinner, waiting for the sun to set, waiting for the bats to emerge!

We started our day at 3pm, set up microphones at designated spots, had dinner, drove a transect to capture 25 miles of bat calls and ended around midnight. We had a small hike to some of the points but were able to see a young queen bee, a beautiful sunset, a moose and her calf and hear coyote’s (wolves??) and investigate some pretty neat unknown plants. Overall, a very entertaining couple of days.

Queen. Captured by the talented Ross

I love the spatulate leaves on this plant. No idea what it is though, anyone have any idea?

In other news, the eclipse is coming up and Idaho is expected to have almost a quarter million people travel in the path of totality, if that’s you, be safe!



Catching endemic beetles

Just before the holiday weekend, my field crew finished our main field project and had the opportunity to join Idaho Fish & Game for a day field-trip. Many Burley and Shoshone Field Offices’ CBG Interns were able to join Ross Winton with Idaho Fish & Game on a hunt for a beetles on different species of Eriogonum, commonly known as Buckwheat.

Unfortunately, I know pretty much nothing about buts/insects/arachnids whatsoever, but I got into contact with Ross again and he filled me in on a few things about what we were looking for that day.

Our goal was to find any Chrysobothris beetle on Eriogonum or Crepis species, however the jackpot was Chrysobothris idahoensis, a wood-boring jewel beetle. This species is an Idaho endemic and a species of greatest conservation need. Ross let me know that, “they live as juveniles (larvae and pupae) in the roots of Eriogonum and emerge and often visit flowers as adults in June and July.” So, in addition to sweeping above Eriogonum flowers, we also dug up some roots of that same genus to perhaps find beetles emerging later.

Ross with mouth‑operated aspirator to aid in capturing samples to easily transfer them into vials (not pictured, his beetle-head belt buckle)

During the first hour or so we split up over the landscape switching off duties between sweeping and digging for roots. My first time sweeping, I found it, I had found the jewel beetle! I swept over strictly Eriogonum species for about 20-30 minutes and my beetle made it quickly into a sample vial full of acetone and ethanol. The little beetle was somewhat shiny and green, had a square head and a pointy butt, easily distinguishable from other insects in the same vial. My name went on the specimen and we all were excited to find more that day. Unfortunately, no more were found on the site, possibly too late in the season to see their emergence.

Chrysobothris idahoensis, species of greatest conservation need

A quick glimpse of other neat creatures we caught.

Again, sorry I know nothing about entomology

A giant, gross/cool wasp?

Other beetley things

Pollinator on a mariposa lily

I’m glad I was able to get in touch with Ross again and we all got the chance to work a day with an entomologist. So neat! 10/10 would recommend to a friend



Southern Idaho at First Glance


Hello there from Shoshone, ID!

Wyethia field in Sawtooth Mountains



My name is Patricia, and I am working primarily on SOS with Danelle Nance for the BLM. I came out here late May from Phoenix, AZ and life in Southern Idaho (so far) has been treating me very well. (A pleasant surprise! — Sorry, I have to be honest and admit that I was definitely a skeptic about Idaho before I arrived here, but I couldn’t be happier that I just went for it with this one.)

With Danelle and my SOS partner Jenny, and Harpo (another CBG intern) in the Bennett Hills scouting out potential SOS populations of our target species (field of Yarrow on right)

Dierkes lake at sunset – great rec site located in Twin!

One of my favorites so far this summer – spiny hopsage *Grayia spinosa*

SOS partner and new friend (Jenny) killing it on a climb at City of Rocks – definitely recommend going if you’re into climbing!

Similar to a lot of the other interns in my office, I am living in Twin Falls, which is approximately 30 minutes south of the Shoshone Field Office. Compared to Shoshone, Twin has a little bit more going on in regards to groceries, people, and not feeling too isolated. It is in a great location — Sawtooth National Forest, Yellowstone, City of Rocks, Sun Valley, etc. are only a short drive away! Plus, there is also a ton of great local climbing, biking, and hiking spots too. Dierkes Lake near Shoshone Falls, in particular, has been a great place to boulder, sport climb, run, and swim with both work and new friends. I think that this effort to explore my new surrounding area extensively after work and during the weekends has helped me immensely in adjusting to this new environment.

In regards to work, I cannot express how awesome Danelle has been as a mentor.  She truly has been an approachable and helpful guide these first few months: helping me feel comfortable in the office and pushing me to take advantage of the ample learning opportunities here in our field office. With that said, my knowledge in botany for the area, plant identification, and field skills have all been strengthened immensely, and my interests have become much more apparent to me.

Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls – great spot to watch and meet crazy base jumpers who come from all over the world!

Until next time.

CLM round two

Wrapping up my 5th week at my internship in Shoshone, Idaho, it’s hard for me to decide what to write my blog post about! There has been so many exciting moments that it’s hard to choose! This is my second gig with the CLM program, but my experiences have been vastly different. Last summer I worked at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank, doing Seeds of Success work. I was stationed at Staten Island, NYC and I lived in Brooklyn. Now I am here in Idaho working for the the BLM and it has definitely been a change in pace. Although I really loved New York City and having such a unique CLM experience, I can really appreciate the quietness of Idaho.

I’m originally from Florida, so about 10 days before the start of my internship, my cat and I drove out to Idaho. It was a 48 hour drive and luckily I have a cat who weirdly loves the car! Driving across the country was definitely an experience. I had never spent any real time out west before and driving through  Wyoming felt like I was being awoken to the amazing-ness of the west. As I drove into Twin Falls (the town I live in), I am taken by surprise as I cross over a bridge with a GIANT canyon (now I know it’s the Snake River Canyon)! This was just the beginning of the beauty I have discovered in Idaho so far. Seriously, my phone storage has been hating me ever since I moved here.

Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, ID!

One thing I really love about my job so far is the diversity of things that we get to do. We started out doing a modified version of AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring). Doing MAIM has been great so far and I really love learning new species of plants everyday. We get to visit beautiful spots and *maybe* one day I will be able to easily identify the different species of sagebrush! However, we are quickly wrapping up that part of the job and are moving on to other projects! We get to help out on various projects with Idaho Fish and Game, which really excites me because I have a degree in Wildlife Ecology and have a love of both plants and wildlife! Today we went out and did bat and invertebrate surveys in three different caves. This was such an awesome experience, even though we did not find any bats unfortunately. Tomorrow we will be helping out on pollinator research! Very exciting stuff!!

Bat and invertebrate surveying

The workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden was also a great experience. They were lovely hosts and it was so nice getting to meet interns from all over the country!  The “Butterflies & Blooms” exhibit at the garden was amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits the garden.


Butterfly or leaf? Found at the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit at CBG

Hiking out to our field site!

Overall my experience has been wonderful and I am looking forward to more to come (and to eat more potatoes).

Signing off from Shoshone, Idaho!

Barbara Garrow

Never have I ever been out West

My first week after graduation was filled with excitement and anxiety. I actually skipped walking across the stage during graduation because I was moving in to my new house that same weekend. I finished my last day as an undergraduate on a Thursday and started work in a new state the following Monday! Thankfully, I have very supportive parents that helped me trek my way with each passing minute farther and farther west than I had been before.

Our drive was only supposed to take 2.5 days, from Madison, WI to Twin Falls, ID. It turned into almost 4 because we got swamped with a snow storm in the middle of May!? Never would have thought to pack snow boots for May weather as I had already experienced 70 degree weather coming from Wisconsin. We ended up getting stuck in Cheyenne, WY for 9 hours. But here’s my dad as we happily continued to make our way as the roads cleared!

My dad with a smile as we finally are able to get onto I-90 from Cheyenne to Twin Falls, ID

The following first two weeks were flooded with new information and training. Besides all the online training, we also had some great hands on training in the field. I work directly with 4 other CBG interns, there are another 3 at my office.  All 4 of the CBG CLM interns I work with come from different states and are familiar with different flora, so learning new plants in the arid environment of southern Idaho has been quite entertaining!

As a contractor working for the BLM, I am assessing habitat cover and preferred forbs for sage grouse.The methods we used to do this assessment was modified as soon as the interns arrived, so as we learned the ins-and-outs of the methods, so were the crew leads and supervisors, to some extent. This was quite a bumpy ride to start as we all were interpreting specific methods differently and encountered different scenarios than were provided in the new manuals. Each day we came up with new questions and each day we solve them with gusto and readiness to continue the following day, knowing we’d come back with still more questions.

Shoshone, ID modified AIM crew. Our first time out in the field together, 4 CBG interns, our crew leads, & our mentor

Out with my crew, my mentor and other range techs from my office

Throughout the next few weeks I learned to adjust to the lack of trees and the beautiful diversity that can (surprisingly) be found here! I started to learn common grasses and forbs and learn varieties of sagebrush.

As my roommate and I got a feel for the area, we began most of our weekends traveling to some touristy sites. These areas were nice to visit while we’re learning about the area because they were so chock full of historical information and just fun random facts that are super useful for newcomers like us!

Bitterroot at Craters of the Moon National Park

Back out in the field the following week, I started slowly discovering I had some favorite plants and animals we continue to run into. I had studied trees for my undergrad but I’m finding myself drawn to some of these little forbs in southern ID.

Little horned lizard that I kind of love

Lupine! I’m slowly falling in love with this plant for some unknown reason

At the start of the next week I traveled to CBG for the Workshop, which was an incredible opportunity and I am super grateful I was able to attend. I had the chance to meet other interns in the neighboring field offices for the BLM. I was happy to be back in the Midwest and actually had the chance to see my parents again after a month in Idaho.

Back in Idaho, our big group split into 2 groups of three people, we were officially on our own! Driving to any one of our plot points may take anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours one-way. The drive can be a little daunting, but each location is so unique and the views there are so absolutely incredible, it’s always so gratifying once we arrive.

Upper Davis Mountain view about 4 miles away from our plot point

Coming from Wisconsin and having spent a lot of time up north where there are unpaved roads, I knew how to drive a pick-up truck on gravel roads, but some of the “roads” out here barely warrant the name. Thankfully, I have stellar crew lead that has extensive experience driving on these same roads last summer! Also, I will admit, I have a really poor sense of direction, so I am thankful for her navigation skills too.

I’m also learning how to use USDA plant codes for these common plants. I’ve worked with plant codes previously doing monitoring but since the locations of these plots may have upwards of 45 species, keeping up with all plant codes and numbers following each code has been a struggle of mine. I tend to learn the common name first, then the scientific name, then the code. But sometimes the same code can be used for  2-10 different plants so you also have to remember which number corresponds to which plant!  Ex. ERNA6 & ERNA10, one is a forb and one is a shrub, and you could possibly have both on the same site!

Penstemon with a little visitor wasp

To help me with learning plant codes and scientific names I’ve made a little “key” of all the ones we’ve come across and keep the booklet with me out in the field. So far, it’s been pretty useful and have only used it 2 days but have to update it already!

Quick lunch break before finishing modified AIM transects. This location actually had upwards of 35 species, 12 of which were unknown to us! (We’re still working on keying them out)

I’ve been in Idaho exactly a month and I really cannot wait to continue exploring this state. I’ve been trying to convince all my family and friends from home to come visit me, because there’s so much here to see! One month down, four more to go. So far, this has been one of my favorite summers, yet.