Independence: An Unexpected Gift from the West

My introduction to Wyoming as a CLM intern was marred by an unfortunate incident. The person who was to be my partner abandoned their position on the eve of our first day, leaving me to handle all SOS-related activities in our field office this summer. It was the last thing that I had expected upon my arrival in the little town of Rawlins. We had a big job ahead of us, and the CLM program at this particular field office was crafted for two people. With one, the amount of work allocated to our office would be unmanageable. My mentors and I had two options: cut way down on my workload and not meet the original seed collection quota, or try to make ends meet while CLM worked to hire a late-season replacement.

We chose the latter. I commenced researching the flora of southern Wyoming and my duties as a SOS intern. I gained a feel for the plant community and began work on scouting possible collection sites and gathering voucher specimens from each population. It was a large amount of work that depended on several factors: the existence of suitable populations of our target species in the field office, correct identification of those target species, accurate estimations of population size and seed yield, the site’s relative safety from stochastic factors, etc. If any of these factors went belly-up, I would need to begin the whole process over again. I decided that the only thing to do would be to dive in headfirst with both sleeves rolled up, and make the best of whatever happened.

I quickly found that I had a lot to learn about both BLM work and Wyoming itself. The high desert is a harsh landscape full of hazards that this Tennessee native had never encountered: prairie rattlers, ferocious winds, and a dryness that seems to suck the life out of you. One must be tough and self-sufficient to survive this landscape. Over time, I found that many Wyomingite life skills are skills that are integral to working in the conservation field. Probably the most important of these is field navigation. I had some superficial experience with reading maps in school as part of a cartography class, but for most of my life, Google Maps and plain ol’ familiarity told me how to get to wherever I went. Once in Wyoming, I was faced with a novel landscape, most of which was without cell phone service. To find my field sites, I had to resort to the old-fashioned methods of paper and intuition. There were more than a few wrong turns before I really got the hang of it!

Going hand-in-hand with field navigation was learning to operate 4WD vehicles. “Lucky”, our trusty Chevy Silverado, did not always have the easiest time with us interns behind the wheel. But after a week of being made to drive on steep, rocky, guardrail-less canyon roads (never has Driver’s Ed been more terrifying, emotional, and effective), I felt completely at home behind Lucky’s steering wheel. Trucks such as these are used extensively in federal agencies and other outdoor jobs, so I’m very glad to have this experience now!

The most enjoyable new field skill by far was learning the flora of the Intermountain West. As a botanist in training, it is always a pleasure to apply my skills to another region. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor with a botany background; with his guidance and some research time in the field and the office herbarium, I was able to get a handle on the plant communities in a relatively short amount of time. One of my best memories of the summer was of my first day in the field with him. Second week of work: going out with Frank for some hands-on botanical education. It was the last week of May, when most desert wildflowers are at peak bloom. We drove up through the Cherry Creek valley in the Ferris Mountains, stopping at every new plant we came upon. After copious notes and exploration, we drove down into a small canyon filled with limber pine, currants, blazing stars, and wild greens. I was amazed at the diversity of this austere landscape.

My drive to learn these new skills and the prospect of tackling our collection project alone greatly fostered my independence, a character trait that’s always been crucial to eaking out a living in the West. My mentors were there to help me with anything I asked, but over time I began to manage our project myself. I decided our weekly schedule according to the phenology of our target species, gave reports at project meetings and on conference calls, and handled the data management aspect of our project.

My mentor’s guidance, weeks of preparation, and a lot of new knowledge from the CBG workshop made me feel equipped and determined to tackle our collection task on my own by the time the seeds had begun to cure. Fortunately, the arrival of a replacement intern spared me from doing that (It turns out that collecting seeds can take a long time!). Nevertheless, I feel that my solo work during my first month and a half in Rawlins left me feeling much more confident in my own abilities than I was when I first arrived. This experience allowed me to guide my new partner through our busiest month (July) and wrap up our project in a timely manner.

I’ll admit, when I first accepted this internship, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of what I would be doing. The importance and scope of the SOS program didn’t become clear to me until I attended the workshop in Chicago. The JMP Symposium especially hit home the dire need for a national native seed program. I understood the importance of restoration research, but had no idea of how much networking and coordination is needed to make native plant restoration a reality. I also didn’t realize the precarious state of plant conservation and botanical training in the U.S.; learning that my desired profession is itself on the brink of extinction shook me to my core, and made me feel more committed than ever to advocating for plant conservation measures. Plants are the literal ambassadors between Earth’s main energy source and the inhabitants of this planet; their communities cannot continue to be sidelined in the way that they are now.
I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up next year, or even next month, but one thing is for sure: I am a much more equipped conservation worker than I was this spring. If the West has taught me anything, it is that with enough knowledge and persistence, the battle can be won.

Fall Finally Hits the Desert

I had always figured the desert was going to be a hot place.  That’s just part of the whole “Desert” deal…You get sand, cacti, and heat.  I knew that going into this job.  However, knowing and experiencing are two totally different things.  It’s similar to jumping into a mountain lake. You KNOW it’s going to be freezing, you’re geared up for it and mentally prepared, but once your feet hit the water everything changes.  You gasp for breath and can’t think coherently, even though you KNEW it was going to be freezing.  That being said, it was obviously hot, very hot in the Arizona summer.  The saving grace was that most of our work was in water and early in the morning so usually the heat was not a huge issue while working, even though I’m not sure “breathable waders” manufacturers know the correct definition of the word “breathable”.

Besides a few days here and there where we did work in the middle of the day, we were able to beat the heat on the job, although I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time on blacktop.  Sidenote: I’m still not sure how all the high-schoolers handled football practice during July and August but that’s neither here nor there.  A week or two ago I was absolutely shocked when I went outside one morning to get something from my truck and legitimately shivered.  My brain had no idea what to make of that, but there was definitely an internal celebration because autumn had finally gotten to Southeastern Arizona.  Growing up in Texas (where it’s also absurdly hot), fall was always my favorite season because it meant that you could be outside running around doing whatever, without suffering from heat stroke.  I realized not much has changed since childhood, because I immediately perked up the first time I had to put a jacket on. (They also evidently don’t believe in Daylight Savings Time in Arizona, so come November it’ll mean more time working in the cool temperatures!).  A few weeks have passed since then, and we’re still in that awkward phase where you have to wear a jacket in the morning, then start overheating when the sun gets up, and then take it off but its perfect weather in my book.

The coming of Fall also means that we did our bi-annual monitoring of Aravaipa Creek.  If you are unfamiliar with Aravaipa, I would recommend looking it up.  It’s an absolutely stunning place, and considered the crown jewel of Southeastern Arizona and also of our field office (Edward Abbey even called it home for a while as a Ranger).  A good portion of the creek falls within BLM wilderness, along with The Nature Conservancy property, as well as a few private inholdings scattered in.  We teamed up with a group of students from the University of Arizona to monitor nine different sites along the creek for fish demographics.  Aravaipa Creek houses two species of endangered fish (Loach minnow, and Spike Dace) and this monitoring has taken place twice a year since 1963 to assess different statistics about how they are doing.  It was a wonderful experience because A. I got to work in a beautiful and almost unknown area of the country, B. I got to interact with a lot of like-minded people in my age range (You’ll never believe it, but there aren’t a lot of young conservationists in a ranching/mining town of 10,000 people) and C. It’s an extremely fulfilling feeling knowing that you are doing your part as a cog in the machine of something much larger than yourself.

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That last sentence I think sums up the number one thing I have gotten from this job.  I wrote on a previous blog post that our main project is removing invasive fish species from a creek within a national conservation area.  When I first started, if I was in a bad mood or a sleep-deprived/lack of caffeine state of mind it was easy to think of negative thoughts like “Well, how big of a difference can one person make?… It’s just one creek, even if we remove all the invasive species, it’s just one creek. How big of a difference will that even make in the broad spectrum of the world”.  After reading blog posts on here for a while though, an epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks, and it has made all the difference both in this job and my outlook in the future of nature.  Ya, I’m just one dude slowly but surely repairing and ecosystem.  Just by myself, I’m making just a mere blip on the radar in conservation.  BUT, I’ve read about people doing the same thing in Alaska, In California, In New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, the Eastern U.S and probably others I’m forgetting.  My point being is that to save the world, it takes a village.  One person has nowhere near the amount of man power to do everything that needs to be done to conserve the natural world, but if a large group of people that truly believes that they are making a difference in their neck of the woods do their part, then we all act as spokes and keep this wheel moving.  Hopefully the students we worked with this past weekend enjoyed the work enough to enter this line of work and add to the number of people working toward a common cause.  Hopefully someone somewhere has seen what you are doing and understands how important it is and has been inspired to do the same.  Hopefully you can see a goal involved in what you are doing, because it gives you a perceptible meter of how your project is going and something to strive for.  And finally, hopefully everyone reading this has had a least one “Ah-Ha” moment where you have seen success in your project and felt that extremely rewarding feeling inside of you where you look across the landscape and honestly tell yourself that you HAVE made a difference.

Anyways, I’m going to hop off the soap-box for now, best of luck to those finishing up their time with the CLM program, and good luck to those continuing.  As Fall continues and dips into Winter I’ll write again.  In the meantime keep trekkin’ along, saving the world.


Theres somethin’ about those Saguaros…


…And I’ve never been to Boston (Harbor Islands) in the Fall

(Veggietales, anyone?)

It is definitely Fall here in New England, and each day is getting more and more beautiful with the changing foliage. The seeds are changing as well – we have entered into a season of finally being able to collect from the Asteraceae family – Goldenrods (Solidago spp.), Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and soon the pretty flowers of the Asters will also be dispersing their fluffy seeds to the wind.

Scarborough Marsh in Maine a few weeks ago, sporting some new Fall colors.

Scarborough Marsh in Maine a few weeks ago, sporting some beautiful Fall colors.

New York Aster (Symphiotrichum nova-belgii) in a salt marsh in Southern MA.

New York Aster (Symphiotrichum nova-belgii) in a salt marsh in Southern MA.

Last Friday, we went on an adventure to collect seeds on one of the Boston Harbor Islands, Thompson Island. The Island runs STEM education programs for children and has camp programs as well. Just a twenty minute ferry ride out of a port in South Boston and we arrived. We met with someone from the National Parks Service who showed us around the island. They are working on restoration projects around the island, and will be using plants from our seed collections to replace invasive plants with native ones.


Approaching Thompson Island! A very windy morning, but sitting on the top deck was so worth it for the view.

We began our day in one of the salt marshes, and migrated throughout some smaller microhabitats throughout the island. We found a small patch of Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) on the side of a hill, some blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) sprinkled throughout a small meadow, and collected seed clusters from the staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta) along the paths (the trees we could reach anyway…). We also stopped to eat lunch on the beach facing Boston, and had a full view of the skyline.

There is something very serene about watching a bustling city from the shores a quiet beach with your fellow hippies...

There is something very serene about watching a bustling city from the shores of a quiet beach with your fellow hippies…


We then proceeded across the entire 170-acre island, looking for seeds along the way. Just as we were thinking we might have scoured the whole island, we decided to walk along the beach on the side facing the open ocean. Lo and behold, we found dozens of salt-marsh patches along the shore, filled with sea lavender (Limonium carolinianum), and finally in seed! We had been checking on this plant in so many of our sites, so it was very exciting to finally find somewhere it had ripe seed. This was our eighth collection for the day, almost breaking our nine-collection-in-a-day record. We had so many seeds that we had to put them all in a full-size trash bag to carry around the island. Quite a successful and beautiful day!

What the sea lavender looks like before it's in seed - such a beautiful little plant! (Photo from the New England Wild Flower Society website:

What the sea lavender looks like before it’s in seed – such a beautiful little plant! (Photo from

Slightly unrelated, but the scenery was too dramatic not to post. Cape Cod National Sea Shore a few weeks ago.

Cape Cod National Sea Shore a few weeks ago. Slightly unrelated, but the scenery was too dramatic not to post.

Krista Heilmann

Seeds of Success East

New England Wild Flower Society

Framingham, MA

BLM Housing in Pinedale, WY

Places you must go in Pinedale:

1). The PAC (Pinedale Aquatic Center). This place is huge, with brand new equipment, pools and courts. I loved working out here and wish I had purchased a membership sooner.

2). Pinedale Community Food Basket. From clothes and shoes to kitchenware and appliances, this is a thrift store that a seasonal worker like yourself will learn to love and appreciate.

3). The Great Outdoor Shop. Need I say more?

4). The Wind River Brewery. Excellent food; a little on the pricey side compared to your Applebees or T.G.I Fridays, but it is well worth it.

4). Boondocks Pizza.

Nearby trailheads you should research/visit/hike out of: Big Sandy, Boulder, New Fork Lakes, Green River Lakes, Elkhart Park.


These are the BLM modular homes offered to seasonal workers. Next door is the BLM ware-yard, where supplies such as trucks, snowmobiles, UTVs and miscellaneous gear are stored. Your trash is also just inside the gates of the ware-yard — the disposal service is included in your rental fee.



This park is practically in your back yard.

You will not see a lot of raccoons, but mule deer and moose that have become very accustomed to humans will appear outside your house every once in a while, and roam through the parks often.

Inside of the housing unit:


all utilities and WiFi included in the rental fee


There are some real classic movies on VHS. The house does not have a VHS player. though. It may be worth to buy one from a thrift store to enjoy these fantastic films.


Located just off of Pine St (the main road), you will be walking distance from just about anything and everything that downtown Pinedale has to offer, including the BLM office.


Ridley’s Family Market. This is the only “superstore” in Pinedale. It is, therefore, very likely that you will buy the majority of your groceries and other household items here.



The Wind River Brewery has the best burgers and sweet potato fries in town — I recommend this restaurant to anyone who comes into Pinedale. This gem is just two blocks from the BLM housing unit.

Inside the BLM office:

It's dark and cold and never sees the sunlight.

It’s dark and cold and never sees the sunlight. It’s where they store the interns.

Bring it on, Fall!

As Fall has finally graced us with its presence, I have thoroughly enjoyed the cool breezes, not sweating profusely every time I go outside, and the beautiful changing colors of the trees. However, as much as I love Fall, it has led to a whirlwind of activity. These past few weeks have included the busiest (and most productive) trip and an entire week of cleaning seed. Even though it has been busy, and a bit stressful at points, I have enjoyed every moment!

During the last trip, it was just my coworker and I. We traveled to Gunpowder Fall State Park, Elk Neck State Park, Tuckahoe State Park, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to name a few. I knew a lot of our target species were now mature and ready to collect, so we were on the lookout, but I was a bit nervous that we would not be able to collect everything we saw with just the two of us. While it was a bit dizzying at times, we managed to collect almost everything we saw and made some collections of some of my favorite species. We made multiple collections of Schizachyrium scoparium, which is one of my favorite grasses because of its beautiful, delicate, fluffy inflorescence. Also, we made a collection of Parthenocissus quinquefolia along this rock wall next to the Chesapeake Bay, which was a beautiful setting along with these awesome berries.

Awesome rockwall where we collected thousands of Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Awesome rockwall where we collected thousands of Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries

At Elk Neck State Park and Chincoteague NWR we kept seeing species with mature seed that we wanted to collect. Due to the fact that we were under a tight time schedule, it made these sites particularly stressful and showed me how important time management is. My coworker and I had to sit down and really plan out who was gonna do which tasks and get as much done as possible. However, I did get to enjoy some Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) fruits at Elk Neck SP, which made this stressful day way more enjoyable. These custard treats are immensely tasty and are the perfect treat to a long day.

Paw Paw fruits ready to eating!

Paw Paw fruits ready for eating!

This past week we started with a room full of seed to be cleaned. The sheer amount that both teams had collected the week before was unbelievable and made me so happy, but I did not realize how much time the seed cleaning and packaging was going to take. Luckily, I do enjoy figuring out the puzzle of how best to clean each type of seed and it feels so great to have a tray of clean seed ready to be packaged and shipped away. My team and I got to clean a lot of berries consisting of Ilex verticillata, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, and Rosa palustris. My favorite by far was the Ilex seed, which when blended created this pudding like substance which was immensely fun to play with and it smelled like a delicious banana. I really wanted to make a smoothie out of it, but knew it was probably poisonous sadly. Overall, the start of fall has proved to be a bit challenging, but it is a welcome challenge!

More fun pictures from our travels:

Monarch caterpillar on some milkweed

Monarch caterpillar on some milkweed

Monarda punctata

Monarda punctata

Awesome mushrooms on a moss island

Awesome mushrooms on a moss island

Beautiful Viburnum nudum berries

Beautiful Viburnum nudum berries

Winter is on the Way

As summer has come to an end and Fall comes into full force, the field season is wrapping up.  As the leaves turn color from greens to dull yellows and reds (I am thoroughly unimpressed by fall out in Central Oregon, Fall in Ohio puts it to shame), so do the opportunities to head out to the field.  While I have been able to go out into the field sporadically, both the weather and lack of field opportunities have kept me in the office.  Recent storms that hit the Pacific have led to dreary rainy windy days and office work.  Due to this recent shift from primarily field work to more and more office work, I have changed my schedule from working 4 ten hours days, to 5 eight hour days.  I like the new schedule, it is really nice getting into the office later and leaving earlier, but when Friday rolls arounds, I regret not having the day off and all of the opportunities that a three-day weekend entails.

While the days in the office sometimes drag on, it is a nice change of pace and an opportunity to focus on another set of tasks and problems.  Another shift in the office is the slow but steady exodus of seasonal workers from the office.  Only this Friday I went to a going away party for another seasonal that I had spent quite a bit of time working with.  I too would have already left if I had not been extended, so it is starting to feel kind of quiet and almost empty in the office.  Hopefully, my time in the office will be broken up by some excursions out into the field to search for caves, survey pygmy rabbits, and other expeditions.

After an initial surge of momentum for surveying caves for bats, it has slowed to a crawl. Surprisingly, these caves that have been previously located, are extremely hard to find. Furthermore, many of these caves are simply erosional caves or shelters that are not able to support bats.  While it has been frustrating to not be able to locate these caves, the search is quite fun.  I spent most of my summer hiking through junipers and sagebrush, it is nice to have a change of pace and explore rocky ridge lines.  The hiking has been physically demanding, but has also been equally rewarding through extremely beautiful views.


View from a shelter cave on a ridge line.


Another shelter cave.

I cannot wait to see what the upcoming weeks have in store for me and I look forward to sharing that experience with everybody.

An Amazing Asclepias Collection!

With about 40 SOS collections under my belt, I’m feeling much more familiar with the plant diversity here in New Mexico. While the grasses (in particular, beautiful Sporobolus!) are going strong now, one collection from the past few months stands out to me as extra special.

My fellow intern, Ella, and I travelled further south than usual from our home base of Santa Fe to the Bosque del Apache national wildlife refuge, where we had been tipped off to the existence of a large population of Asclepias subverticillata (horsetail milkweed). While it was hard for me to imagine what a field of Asclepias in full fruit might look like, my imagination was soon stretched by the actual existence of this plant in quantity!


We proceeded to spend the rest of the morning and afternoon moving about in the seasonally dry wetlands, locating large patches of the fluffy milkweed. The day was warm, and much more humid than I had grown used to. Tiny mosquitoes whined around, and bits of milkweed fluff found their way up my nose and in my mouth.

Periodically packing the fluff in my collecting bag down with my hand, I smashed it into a compact shape to overcome its natural dispersal mechanism, and eventually collected enough seeds and fluff for a small pillow.

In the midst of collecting, I was thrilled to finally find a monarch caterpillar, munching away on its favorite plant!

Laura Holloway

Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM

As fall turns to winter and a season winds down

With only two weeks remaining in my CLM internship, the fall season is bringing in winter weather, and I’m beginning to reminisce on the incredible experience. img_0548

I have previously written about the cool things I have learned and done working for the BLM in Salmon, ID, which are many and diverse. I have learned a ton about working for a government agency, managing public land on a large scale, and living in the mountains of the west.


It has been a very rewarding experience, and one of the best parts about the internship has simply been living so close to such amazing natural beauty. In the last month I have taken long weekend trips to both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, each of which are within 5 hours of Salmon. Even within the field office I continue to explore amazing wild places, such as Gilmore Lake pictured below.

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I have always dreamed about going to places like these, and being a CLM intern in Salmon has allowed for me to begin what is sure to be a life-long exploration of the western US.

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Lastly, I have begun to think about the relationships I have formed over the internship. We had our end of the year staff party for the seasonal employees in the office this last week. Through the stories, laughs, and good food, I realized how much I have gotten to know and enjoy the people I have worked with. The full-time staff in the Salmon field office has been so helpful and supportive, and I can see that it is a public lands office that truly operates efficiently, effectively, and with enthusiasm. I have also really enjoyed getting to know the other seasonal employees in the office. I have worked practically everyday with my fellow CLMer, Sierra, and it has been great. I have also worked off and on with the seasonals in the forestry and range programs. It is so great to meet other young people with a passion for wildlife, conservation, and outdoor recreation. I will cherish the relationships I have formed as much as my exploration of the natural environment. What a great experience this has been!

Signing off,

Austen, BLM, Salmon, ID

Final Blog


Kurt Heckeroth holding Asclepias speciosa seed


Kurt Heckeroth and me with 18 species that we delivered to BSE, including over 22lbs of pure Elymus glaucus seed head. Total SOS species collected for 2016: 28

When I accepted the CLM internship in Tillamook, OR, I had no idea the rural OR coast would become my home for the foreseeable future. Alas, life has a funny way of happening while you’re making plans. And opportunities arise that make too much sense not to pass up.   You see, towards the end of my internship (mid September) I applied for a job with the nonprofit, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, and accepted the position of the Northwest Restoration Partnership (NORP) Coordinator. I must say that I would not have come across this career opportunity without the CLM internship program and my mentor, BLM Botanist, Kurt Heckeroth.

Kurt Heckeroth and I both share an interest in identifying bryophytes and lichens, which we were able to indulge in a little bit this field season. More so however, he has a passion for native plant propagation, from collecting the seed, to putting a 2 to 3 year old plug in the ground. This passion of his inspired him to initiate the Northwest Oregon Restoration Partnership (NORP) in the late 1990’s which supplies genetically adapted native coastal plant materials for restoration projects throughout the NW OR area. The partnership has grown to 36 partners in 8 different counties and has 7 satellite nurseries.


Sowing beds at the NORP nursery

My workweeks are spent at the largest of the NORP nurseries located at the Oregon Youth Authority Camp (where male juvenile delinquents are able to come out and work with living native plants).   The nursery has the capacity to grow 100K plants that will be planted to support riparian and wetland restoration efforts.  These restoration projects occur on private, state, and federal lands, because efforts are being made to manage from the watershed level to insure healthy fish passages for Salmon.

From a seed collector, I come full circle within the National Native Plant Materials Development Program, to restoring native plant communities by providing necessary native plant materials to the whole NW OR coast region.


Over 50,000 OR coast native plants at the NORP nursery