Western drought not your problem? Think again

This will be my third winter here in the California Central Valley and so far I have yet to experience any significant precipitation.  California is in a serious drought, and currently there is no end in sight.  Climatologists are predicting another winter of less than average precipitation.  Conditions (for both plants and humans alike) are continuing to become more and more extreme, but it seems everywhere I look people are FAILING to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.  The ignorance and apathy I encounter every day in regards to these conditions is alarming.  I see irrigation systems running to irrigate non-native turf lawns ALL OVER TOWN, and, during mid day I might add.  I see excess runoff from irrigation systems and car washes running down the the street drainage for blocks and blocks.  I see people watering on days that are not allowed per the drought water restriction plan in effect throughout the city.  My own landlord was trying to tell me that I “had to” flood irrigate the lawn to keep the grass green “in accordance with the neighborhood”.  Seriously?!??????  It wasn’t until I cited city ordinances outlining the city-wide water use restrictions in effect, and called his attention to the fact that flood irrigation was currently a FINE-ABLE OFFENSE, that he finally stopped making lease violation threats.  What I’m wondering is, what is it going to take for people to realize that fresh water is a limited resource in the California ecosystem?  Honestly, I will probably not stick around long enough to find out.  Water reserves here are dwindling at an alarming rate with no predictions of recharge.

There are many cities throughout the state that are quickly running out of water (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/08/02/cities-running-out-of-water/13443393).  In some cases, wells have been pumped dry and small communities have been forced to either pay absurd costs to have water trucked in, or relocate.  In a state like California with a 42.6 billion dollar agricultural industry (cdfa.ca.gov), you better believe that this water crisis is eventually going to be felt across the country.  Perhaps you have already been paying more for your produce; maybe even doing so unknowingly.

In my SOS collections this year I have noticed several large populations that have produced lots of seeds in years past have produced little to none this past season.  Could this be coincidental?  I doubt it.  Many of these native species have evolved genetically to be drought resistant, but even still show signs of stress in such extreme cases.  Part of my position at the Cosumnes River Preserve is managing restoration projects.   When native plants are installed for re-vegetation, drip irrigation is required in summer months for 2-3 years during the plant establishment period.  With water rights here continuing to tighten and the Department of Water Resources auditing every ounce of water pumped from the rivers and streams, I am concerned that the water we use for habitat restoration at the Preserve is eventually going to be reduced, or cut off.  People need water, our agricultural crops need water, and our environment needs water.  With a finite amount of water in the Western ecosystem, management is critical.  Would you be willing to spend more money on your groceries if you knew that by doing so water was being allocated to habitat conservation projects in California?

Seeds on seeds on seeds

So far, my experience as a CLM internship has been fantastic.  It’s been the best of all worlds being out here in Wyoming! I have been to visit the Black Hills, the Tetons, and Yellowstone, I have rallied at Sturgis with the bikers, and I even had the chance to take time off and visit a friend in Jamaica! It was a nice break from the dry heat of Wyoming and I was able to see a lot of the country. I traveled everywhere from Falmouth to Montego Bay to Kingston, and finally, my favorite, Portland. I snorkeled and swam in glistening waters, ate breadfruit, and biked through historic plantations. She showed me the people and the buildings of Jamaica and it was nice to focus my attention on something other than plants for a while, even though I love them, and even though I did find myself focusing a lot of my attention on the tropical species I don’t get to see very often.

Beach in Boston Bay, Jamaica.

Surfers at the beach in Boston Bay, Jamaica; one of the only beaches that is really “surfable”!

Just a few of the bikes at Sturgis!

Just a few of the bikes at Sturgis!

Even with all the fun times I have been having and trips I have been taking, this has also been the learning experience of a lifetime.  Each day I gain a new piece of knowledge that is helping me to make decisions for my future career.

I have so far learned to:

1)      Run an irrigation system, guage water levels, and weed the evil bind weed at Whelch

2)      Monitor rangeland health using line point intercepts and daubenmire readings

3)      Measure habitat for sage grouse suitability using sagebrush intercept and walking transects

4)      Collect a variety of different seed types, ranging from fleshy fruits to tiny grass seeds

5)      Create herbarium specimens

6)      Read soil texture

7)      Communicate with individuals in other parts of the BFO and other offices in the area

8)      Contribute ideas and knowledge to the PRBR project conducted by another intern in the BFO office

9)       Attended the Wildlife Society Conference in Sheridan, WY!

The whole group and one of the great Wildlife Biologists from our office, DON!

The whole group and one of the great Wildlife Biologists from our office, DON!

This past week was an exciting one, as I mailed off a majority of seed collections from our office to Bend. It was like sending my children off for their first day of school. (I think I even teared up a bit) Bend confirmed that they had arrived and that everything was in order. In total the team has collected 16 full collections of seed, but there is still more to collect! Now to collect and ship out the rest!

Just a few of the collections I packed up to be sent off to Bend Seed Extractory!

Just a few of the collections I packed up to be sent off to Bend Seed Extractory!

Prairie Junegrass! Probably one of my favorite collections becuase of how simple it was to collect!

Prairie Junegrass! Probably one of my favorite collections becuase of how simple it was to collect!

 

Now that some of the seed has been sent to bend, I have also begun compiling and organizing the herbarium specimens to be sent to the Smithsonian. The grasses have been a pain to deal with, but I enjoy looking back at the old flowers we have collected and pressed. It’s awesome to have been able to follow full populations from flower to seeding and to have kept track of them along the way.

Winter has really started approaching quickly. The snow we received Wednesday and Thursday was brutal! A cruel joke in the form of a white blanket. Luckily, my roomies and I made the most of it using our hot tub, but being snowed into the office last week was not the most exciting thing!

 

Yes, It's septemeber. And yes, this was only the beginning of snow falling.

Yes, It’s septemeber. And yes, this was only the beginning of snow falling.

 

And yes, I did pretend to be an orca and swam in Lake De Smet four days after this snow!

And yes, I did pretend to be an orca and swam in Lake De Smet four days after this snow!

 

 

Vale Wrap-Up

Today is my last day at my internship. Five months at the BLM in Vale, Oregon has allowed me to grow immensely, professionally and personally. With this internship I aimed to strengthen my plant identification skills, become more familiar with the workings of a government agency, learn more about plant and soil interactions, and gain field monitoring and surveying experience. I am satisfied that my experience these past five months has allowed me to reach each of those goals.

I have been exposed to countless new plant species and quite a few animal species as well. I am now able to correctly identify numerous plants in the field, and confidently key forbs, rushes, sedges, and grasses to species using a dichotomous key. I will admit, rushes, sedges, and grasses take a bit more time and effort than forbs, but considering my lack of experience prior to this position I am pleased with my growth.

My familiarity with the workings of the BLM has come mostly from my interactions and conversations with coworkers. While I was not a part of the processes that determine funding, land management, species, range, etc. decisions, my in depth conversations with various employees have allowed me to paint a more complete picture of how the BLM in governed, and the current projects throughout the district.

I was able to spend a week with the Environmental Site Inventory crew performing soil and vegetation surveys in southeastern Oregon. I was not only taught how to perform both of these surveys, but learned several indicator plant species and soils types for various major land resource areas (MLRAs). I enjoyed using the soils information, present vegetation, geography, geology, and climate to determine the MLRA, determining from there the pre-described or newly discovered ecological site, and finally rating the health of the ecosystem. It was like solving a puzzle; highly enjoyable.

I have also greatly strengthened my ArcGIS skills. After frequently using ArcMap to locate our field sites, and taking a Basics of ArcMap10.2 and Geoprocessing course, I feel highly more competent at preforming a variety of ArcGIS tasks. I created a map of all previous SOS collections sites for future uses. It was a great way to practice my knowledge, and believe it will be useful.

I have grown personally as much as I have professionally. I have learned a lot more about which aspects in a job I do and do not enjoy, where I can improve at work, the kind of location I thrive best within, and where certain aspects of my life fall on my list of priorities. There are also several truly good-hearted people I have met here. They are the reason my experience has been so rich. As ready as I am to move forward, it is sad to say goodbye.

I do not have another job lined up right now. I have been/am actively seeking work; just have not snagged anything quite yet. I have made quite a few contacts during my internship, whom have been extremely helpful. I do plan to apply for another CLM internship. I feel I can still benefit from another round. I would like to have a more research oriented internship/job next, with more statistically sound monitoring, where I can analyze our data in an effort to help make wise land management decisions. My plans right now consist of a week or more trip to Portland, where I’ll meet up with my sister, and then return to Vale to continue the job hunt and gather my belongings. If I do not have a job by the end of October, I will most likely move to the Denver area. I have been looking for work in this area, and hope that making the move will help. I’m a bit nervous for what is next, but more excited than anything else.
Colleen Sullivan
Vale, OR BLM
colleen.sullivan781@gmail.com

Green Chile and Coyote Medicine

It’s now September in New Mexico, the days are pleasant, topping out around just 85 degrees. On our last SOS collectors call, many teams elsewhere are winding down, gathering the seeds of sagebrush and winterfat as their final haul. Here however, we are nowhere near the end of our season. We’re in the middle of several multi-visit collections with so many more on the horizon that we are busting booty to fit them in to the puny 40 hour week! Some of the latest collections have been a little frustrating, only because they require several seed-snatching passes and mature unevenly over a period of a few weeks. We claimed one collection on the Colorado Plateau target list, a grass named Sporobolus airoides. That was a fun break because each seed head can contain up to 10,000 seeds, making for a refreshingly simple one day deal!

Keeping track of collections

Keeping track of collections

 

Stealing seeds from a pretty little native sunflower

Stealing seeds from a pretty little native sunflower

September in New Mexico doesn’t just mean lots of seeds to collect, it’s also the time of the chile. People here just LOVE green chile, and red chile, and both colors together, referred to as “Christmas” if you are ordering it somewhere. New Mexico is the only state to have adopted an official state question: Red or Green? Chile is found in various forms and in any place you can imagine; green chile gravy on your mashers, green chile baked into bagels, green chile blended into milkshakes, and so on. As a newcomer in a foreign land, I intend to try to appreciate this part of the food culture. I am embracing the chile. I try it on/in anything I can. My fellow intern and I will be buying and sharing a 25 lb box of chile, which the supermarkets here roast in giant cages out front. You can smell it everywhere. When they first started roasting this year, you could feel the excitement in the air. Get to NM and try some yourself!
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With the weather cooling down a little it is time to squeeze in the last of the warm season Colorado mountain visits on weekends – which will soon be impassable with snow. The conditions are also less hostile for enjoying the desert, so there’s been plenty to do. My trusty companion, Sunny the dog, and I hiked up to Ice Lakes near Silverton, CO recently, and I have to say that was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on. We were also happy to find out that dogs are allowed at Monument Valley Tribal Park in AZ, so we took a little weekend jaunt there. Monument Valley is spectacular. I’m struck by the expansiveness of the skies out west, making every rainbow, thunderstorm, sunset, and brilliant milky way more amazing than ever before. I feel soothed by the desolation and harsh beauty of the desert. I’m considering hiking part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail at the end of my internship so that I might soak in and explore some more of the unique southwest. With cooling temperatures it’s time to start thinking about my next move, next job or adventure. I hope that all of us interns find the right thing for us in the future, winding as some of our paths might be, just enjoy the trip! The other day I was out collecting seeds and a coyote ran out in front of me, just 10 feet away, a rabbit gripped still kicking in its mouth. THAT was cool. Coyote medicine is all about not taking things too seriously, letting go of certainties, and enjoying the unexpected. So I hope we can all embrace a little coyote this summer’s end.

Sunny and I at Ice Lakes

Sunny and I at Ice Lakes

Late Summer Oaks and Chokes

Machines have dominated my internship lately. Machinery is a two faced technological innovation. The tractor replaced horses and allowed farmers to grow more food, but it also lessened the need for farmers and encouraged the growth of a fossil fuel driven system. Trains, planes, and automobiles gave us quick transportation and lowered the cost of goods, but people have lost touch with their communities and forgotten how to live simply. Although I would argue that a majority of these ingenious contraptions have warped our minds and our culture in the wrong direction brewing the perfect climate change recipe, they are now an important tool for genuine earth efforts like restoration. While it has rattled my nervous system, the blade trimmer has given me the power to mow down intimidating patches of invasive blackberry and scotch broom. Without this tool, we might be inclined to overuse the other common approach of glyphosate application. And by golly, I have to admit, it has been pretty fun and we have taken out a lot of invasives!

I was super stoked to venture out with a member of the Long Tom Watershed, one of our vital partners, yesterday to meet with a private landowner who is participating in a grant funded restoration project to restore degraded riparian, prairie, and oak savannah habitat. We discussed the current state of the project along with the next plan of action and associated funding challenges. Then we did some pre-treatment surveys in the oak savannah, carefully dodging the creeping poison oak. There are plans to remove a large portion of douglas fir to open of the canopy and free the oak trees whose canopy is suppressed. This will allow the oaks, now growing primarily in a vertical orientation, to spread out their branches and achieve a more diverse structure more conducive to biodiversity.
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Ripe For The Picking

We have still been out everyday scouting and collecting.  Although it has finally felt like things are starting to slow down here in Southern Oregon.  There are a few exceptions, which are lending themselves to unique species that are late bloomers.  These late bloomers appear to have slipped below the radar in past years and we are able to make some collections that have not been made in previous seasons.

We spent yesterday up on Mt. Ashland (the largest mountain in Oregon east of the Cascades) standing at 7,533 feet and were amazed to see how many species were still ripe for the picking.  Some flowers, such as Monardella villosa (coyote mint), were still flowering! We haven’t seen flowers on this plant for about a month and a half, so finding this ecological pocket of botanical wonder gave us hope that we might be able to keep on collecting for a few more weeks!

Monardella villosa

Monardella villosa

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Rudbeckia glaucescens

Rudbeckia glaucescens

Mimulus cardinalis

Mimulus cardinalis

Fading Summer

The days of summer are waning but the air is still warm and the promises of fall are not far off. It has been a fast last month and we have had the opportunity to do several outreach events with the public. Also we are doing a lot of fire monitoring and seed collecting as the end of the growing season nears. It is good work and exciting to get to see some wonderful areas in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada.

Last weekend we went to Crater Lake NP in Oregon and that was a great trip! It was a super cool place and the weather was perfect.

Enjoy the sweet days of summer’s end my friends,

Ethan Hughes CCDO BLM

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Crater Lake at dusk with a smoky sky because of a large wildfire burning nearby

 

 

Carrot Cake

Well hiya Stranger!

My mentor just sent me home with a carrot cake for my birthday.  Isn’t that awesome?  My mom makes me carrot cakes for my birthday back home in Georgia.  I’m so thankful for my mentor and other coworkers/friends for making Idaho feel like home.  “Idahome” to quote Avery’s last blog post.  In fact, I’m writing this post in a bit of a hurry so I can get a ticket to see our coworker, Peter, in a local musical. Avery, Taters and I will be departing for Yellowstone in the morning.

Tough life right?  I promise, I’ve been learning a tremendous amount of information recently, and doing good work.  Yesterday, we went out with the fire ecologist to see fire rehab projects at different stages of succession.  Talking with her about the fire mitigation and rehabilitation projects she is working on was extremely fascinating.  To continue the Idahome theme, it was heart warming to hear her perspective and well wishes for us young conservation scientists.

The four work days before that were spent training and working with local experts to identify and interpret wetland/riparian features, and to assess their current and potential functioning condition.  It was very rewarding to feel like an active part of their team, and to discuss management options to best conserve these sensitive areas.

The above only captures a fraction of the incredible experience that I am having during this internship.  To summarize, I’m feeling very inspired and grateful.  Thank you for reading.

Jonathan Kleinman

Jarbidge Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

Where’s the water?

With the plant field season coming to an end, it has been time to change gears.  I’ve been tasked with the impossible: Find water in the desert.  The hydrologist at the field office has a set of GPS points of possible water sources.  He used aerial imagery to search for areas of green vegetation, hoping that plants are growing there because water is present.  My new job is to go to these locations and ground truth them.  Although my success rate for finding water is pretty low, the job is actually quite fun and interesting.  Even though there isn’t much water to be found, I have gotten the chance to explore remote areas of the field office and I’ve seen a lot of cool things along the way.  In one week I saw wild horses, wild burros, a coyote, sage grouse, burrowing owls, and countless antelope.  I’ve also gotten the chance to summit a lot of the peaks in the field office and enjoy the views they offer.  One of the best was Hot Springs Peak, part of the Skedaddle Mountains.  It did not have any springs, let alone hot ones, but the view was still great.

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View of the field office from the top of Hot Springs Peak

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Wild burros near Lone Willow Spring

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Coyote

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Wild Horses grazing

I just found out this week that I am getting an extension added on to the end of my internship.  I will be staying in Susanville through January.  I am really excited to explore more of the field office, and to work on more interesting projects like this one.

-Sam

BLM Eagle Lake Field Office

Susanville, CA

Farewell Shoshone!

Today is my last day in the Shoshone, ID field office. It is sad to say good bye to such a small town filled with wonderful people who treated me like family. Walking home from work the other day, a man in his garden offered me fresh carrots, peppers, and cucumbers and our lovely neighbors gave us beautiful ceramic bowls that their parents made. In only five months I feel like we have become part of this small community and I am grateful to have met everyone. One thing I will miss in an odd way is, the Union Pacific Railroad, which ran right through the center of town about 30 times a day. Though highly annoying when trying to make a phone call or at 3 in the morning when you’re sleeping, the railroad is why Shoshone was established and is fascinating to watch speeding by.
Railroad tracks through town

I will also miss our neighbors; Justine, Shelby, their dogs Bessie and Shimmer, and the cutest kitten in the world, Tater. Always down to BBQ or just hang out and drink a beer they made Shoshone feel like home. And just so everyone knows, Shelby’s softball team won the league championship…Booyeah!!

Tater

Shoshone has been such a pleasant surprise; full of vast landscapes, great people, and a productive field office filled with professionals who truly know how to manage the land out here. There was never a dull moment this summer and I could not have asked for a better internship. Ranging from vegetation monitoring to bat surveys to collecting native seed I have learned much more than I hoped for. I have become more familiar with GIS, identifying riparian vegetation and a better over all understanding of what it is like to work for a federal agency. I hope everyone is taking advantage of their internship, learning as much as possible, and leaving a positive impact where ever you go.

Here are a few of my favorite images from the Shoshone field office, enjoy!

Very clever

Very clever

Helianthus annus

Happy sheep dog

Happy sheep dog

Rainbow over Shoshone

Rainbow over Shoshone

Avery with our rescue lambs.

Avery with our rescue lambs.

Megan descending into Pot of Gold

Megan descending into Pot of Gold

Flat Top allotment

Flat Top allotment

Pot of Gold Cave

Pot of Gold Cave

Aragonite inside Pot of Gold Cave

Aragonite inside Pot of Gold Cave