Mistakes and Adventures

As I settle into Ridgecrest, I finally feel as if I am starting my job. Over the last few weeks, myself and the other SOS intern have started collecting seed and tissue samples. There has been a lot of difficultly in trying to figure out what protocol should be followed for each sample. Last week we filled out the wrong data sheets for the samples we mailed off. This mistake was mostly due to the fact that we still lack computer access at work, making it difficult to find the proper instructions for each species. Next week myself and the other SOS intern are going to meet up with an employee of the Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which will be extremely helpful in figuring how to properly follow their instructions.

Besides all of the mistakes, going out and scouting has been a lot of fun. It’s really amazing to get to hike/drive around see all the different ecosystems in the Ridgecrest field office.This environment could not be more different that the high humidity and total green of the southeast US. I feel that every canyon we walk into looks so different than the one we were in the previous day. The variability in plant diversity throughout the area is really surprising to me. Diversity here is not only controlled by soil type and moisture but by ability to be dispersed to that area.

Last week we went out to collect for a wildflower show that the Ridgecrest community is currently putting on. This exhibit showcases the high level of biodiversity in the desert. I never thought I would see riparian areas with amphibians and cottonwoods out in the middle of the desert but you can hike just a few miles and go from Joshua trees to willow trees. I feel really grateful to have the opportunity to come out here and have an experience unlike anything I could have had on the East coast. 

Hunting for Cactus

After a drizzly Saturday of cross-country skiing at Lake Tahoe, I was awakened by the sun pouring through the big windows next to my bed. It was almost 7 a.m., and I put on some hot water for tea. I checked my email on my phone, and was greeted by a late-night email from Dean, our mentor. He was going on a last-minute rare cactus survey, the results of which were due the next day – did any of us want to come along? He was leaving for the field in less than three hours.

One of my fellow interns and I went into high gear to prepare for the field. We scrounged together a little food, packed some clothes and gear, and bid goodbye to our other two housemates / interns who decided to stay home.

The drive to the field site took us through vast basins of sagebrush, sagebrush, and more sagebrush, dotted with occasional groups of grazing cattle or wild horses and rimmed by dramatic mountains. We spent the day searching for Grusonia pulchella (sagebrush cholla), a BLM sensitive species, near proposed mining sites. The first challenge was finding the sites, which were marked by a (sometimes fallen) wooden post that looked very similar to the multitude of other posts scattered throughout the area. We didn’t have GPS coordinates for the points, so we used a printed map with sometimes inaccurate points provided by the mining company. Getting to the points required driving on some semi-sketchy 4-wheel drive roads and subsequent rock scrambling, but we were rewarded by some amazing views.

We surveyed eight sites without finding any G. pulchella individuals, but we did find some other cactus species and were introduced to many new shrubs and forbs in the surprisingly diverse sagebrush community. We also found an historic sheep camp (evidenced by trampled soil and ubiquitous old sheep droppings), an old mining site complete with extremely rusty metal cans, and some Opuntia sp.(prickly pear cactus) individuals, all of which would be disturbed by mining activity.

Finally, on our last site of the day, we found the species we had been looking for! It was a tiny little cactus tucked in behind a small Artemisia arbuscula, and in the waning daylight we marked it with a GPS and flagging tape. I was struck by the fact that a mining company would be forced to change their plans because of the presence of this single rare plant – it really is awesome! Hooray for plant conservation!

We drove a short distance to a dry wash, set up our tents in the dark, and sat around my backpacking stove listening to the nighttime desert noises. Mostly, the noises consisted of crackling power lines and a mysterious high-pitched squeak/chirp/whine. I didn’t last long before crawling into my sleeping bag and falling asleep.

After a little more surveying and the drive back to the office the next morning, we spend the rest of the week doing trainings and attending a grass identification class at University of Nevada-Reno. We spent those two days of class with our eyes glued to the microscopes, picking apart tiny grass spikelets and sending glumes and lemmas flying across the table. Our eyes and bodies were tired after sitting still for hours on end, but now we are ready to identify any grass that comes our way – well, only if we are equipped with a microscope. After a long week, we were ready for another weekend of outdoor adventures before heading to Boise for a busy week of pest management class.

Britney, Carson City BLM

Medford, Oregon

In my first about week and a half, I have seen some of the beauty that lies in southern Oregon. 

A hike into the lower table rock shows vast landscapes, with beautiful views of the rogue river, farmland, and mountains in the clouds.

The table rocks are some geologically interesting formations that are left over lava flows that have been eroded away into horseshoe shapes, leaving about a mile on top of flat fertile land that is covered in vernal pools.

A Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), found on a hillside in the Applegate.

We saw several around the area in bud, this was the only one in full flower. Absolutely beautiful.

A recent wildfire in the Applegate, that is helping to rebirth this forest.

In this area the western pine beetle, is extremely prevalent. Fires like these help to encourage the bug to attack these fire dead trees rather than healthy ones.

We passed some serious Morel mushroom hunters, that really take their off road vehicles seriously.

Insect tube, most likely from the western pine beetle.

This week has been filled with  training, and adjusting to the work schedule. I have found that the Medford area is quite a hip and trendy place. There is tons for me to do in my off time. I have also begun studying for my Oregon pesticide certification. This promises to be an eventful summer


Sierra Sampson

Medford, OR BLM



The Cubicle Chronicles: Pt 1


I never pictured myself spending so much time sending emails, working with spatial data, troubleshooting network/general computer issues and designing vegetation monitoring recommendations this early in my career, but hey, I’ll take it!

It’s been a busy winter since arriving back to Anchorage from the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC. I was tasked with a smorgasbord of jobs to complete and have spent about 95% of my time staring intensely at a computer monitor.

During this period, I have completed the following tasks:

  • Developed a workflow for determining ideal sampling size of line-point intercept (LPI) plots in mine reclamation sites based on previous year’s data.
  • Generated and digitized polygon features from invasive plant survey data in the form of GPS coordinates taken in the White Mountains and Nulato Hills near Fairbanks, AK in 2016. The fate of this data resided in the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS) and the Alaska Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse (AKEPIC)

I obtained a wealth of information and invaluable help from the AIM Monitoring Manual for Grassland, Shrubland and Savanna Ecosystems, The Landscape Toolbox and a few generous folks at the BLM National Operations Center (NOC). Without these reference tools this would have taken me all winter! The Landscape Toolbox website is a monster system of tools and resources that can save land managers an awesome amount of money. Solid job to those involved in it’s development! *fist pump*.

For the NISIMS project, feature layers were to be imported into the AK state spatial database engine (sde) and ultimately the national sde. NISIMS is quite the system, and anyone who has experience working with the database network knows it’s complexity. Due to this, some training is necessary to fully comprehend and successfully execute the steps from mobile device to, ultimately, the national sde. Luckily there exists a plethora of online help documents and training videos located on the NISIMS sharepoint site, and a strong support staff available both at the NOC and within the state offices.  I’ll spare the details, but it took me a minute to finally obtain the proper flat file geodatabase and align my spatial data with the attribute table seen in Photo 3.

With every day logged into ArcMap, I become savvier with the software, and tasks that once took me several days now take me an afternoon. What a learning experience this has been, and I am starting to feel truly competent in with ArcMap geoprocessing tools, NISIMS data processing and navigation/permissions within government networks.

Photo 1. Point feature to polygon conversion. Top left – right: full extent of point feature data from surveys conducted in the White Mountains, zoomed extent of several days worth of surveys, line features grouped together logically by day and space (output generated from points to line tool). Bottom left-right: 150 ft wide buffers generated from line features, original point feature layer with points buffered 1 acre on top of buffered line features, final polygons generated by dissolving group fields… and voilà! A unique polygon feature for every survey!

Photo 2. Edit feature tool used for digitization of larger area surveyed near camp.

Photo 3. Attribute table with NISIMS required fields. This feature layer was pulled from a flat file geodatabase, and each field contains regularly updated domain attribute values.

Aside from the above projects, I have also been working on QA and QC of Forest Vegetation Inventory System (FORVIS). The FORVIS surveys generally consist of two parts; first, a walkthrough where forest characteristics, including understory vegetation and fuel loading, are described, and second, a plot survey where specific information is collected on individual trees (species, age, height, DBH, etc.). The ultimate fate of the plots is in theory the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS), a model developed for stand examinations. Certain inventory design information, stand-level variables and tree data information are required for the model to run correctly. Many of these fields are missing in the existing data, but can be easily determined to ensure the information we have meets the FVS requirements. Since Alaska has yet to introduce an FVS, this data will help facilitate the generation of a model for the state.

It’s been a good winter with the BLM, without doubt being both productive and educational. Whenever possible, I have taken advantage of my weekends in the snowy Chugach and Kenai Mountains. The theme of my weekend warrior missions has been backcountry skiing, or splitboarding in my case. It’s an intoxicating effort, and I foresee it being a part of my life for years to come.

Traversing a ridgeline in the Kenai Mountains in search of the coveted fresh line.

Of my beloved experiences in the silent winter mountains is hearing a faint thumping sound, and soon realizing it’s the sound of my heart beating.

The long days are returning, and it’s starting to feel like spring is in the near future. Before I know it we will once again be experiencing the long, fruitful summer days of the Alaskan summer.

Here’s to the changing seasons, and the rise of photosynthetic activity which keeps us all employed!



Spring is here!

As the field season approaches so does spring! The infuriating yet familiar haze of Juniper pollen, the increase in temperatures and the beautiful greening of the landscape. All this has encouraged me to get outside and explore!

Over the last couple months I have had the opportunity of travelling all over the Southwest: St George, Phoenix, Moab, Carlsbad, Roswell, Las Cruces, and Taos. Through these travels I have: presented at a scientific conference, improved my skills in writing NEPA documents, increased my understanding of the (perhaps threatened) Endangered Species Act, enhanced my skills as an AIM instructor, as well as attended many fascinating interdisciplinary team discussions.

While these have been valuable learning experiences, above all I have treasured visiting such a variety exceptional natural areas. This last month has really crystallized my love of the desert and the mountains in this part of the world.

However, there is much office work still to be done! In preparation for the coming AIM field season I have been involved with planning sample designs, purchasing crew equipment, hiring crews and much more!

Back in the desert again

Hi, I’m Jonathon. I just began my internship at the Bureau of Land Management’s Ridgecrest field office a few weeks ago. The first few weeks have been a whirlwind of trainings, conference calls, and herbarium research, but also a fair amount of time spent out in the field, the Mojave Desert.

The first week at work, I was enlisted to help install a Common Garden research project that is being led by the US Geological Survey. The installation involved planting hundreds of labeled propagants of a perennial bunchgrass, Oryzopsis hymenoides, which is an important pioneer species in the Mojave. This project is intended to measure the relative suitability of several ecotypes of the species to different regions across the Mojave Desert. Hopefully, this research will help future restorations workers to identify the most appropriate population to take plant material from when planning an installation in a given area. This could improve the viability of the plants that are introduced for restoration, and reduce the losses that are often associated with using plant material in an area to which they are not as well-adapted. And, as the common gardens become established, similar work will be done with various other important plants for restoration projects. I really felt as though I got brought on board with the rest of the team responsible for the project, and I’m excited to have a part in doing this important work.
Not to mention I get to drive a really cool watering truck.

On top of that project, I’ve also been happy to get outside to survey riparian areas that may shelter populations of the federally listed Inyo Towhee, conduct grazing evaluation reports, scout for plants that we’ll be taking seed from for the SOS project in the coming weeks, and just to take in the beauty that the desert has to offer. I grew up near this area, but I’m still amazed with the stunning vistas that the Mojave has to offer every day I spend in the field.
Until next time,

Ridgecrest Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

First Week Down!

The Humboldt Bay Wallflower (Erysimum menziesii eurekensii) holding on in the dunes! This species is unique to the Humboldt bay dune system! photo credit: Jennifer Wheeler

Little pops of color in the dunes! photo credit: Jennifer Wheeler

Working on a dune transect, most likely counting Layia carnosa, also known as beach layia. photo credit: Jennifer Wheeler

Greetings from Arcata, CA! I’ve just finished up my first week at the BLM office here, and it has been a blast!

First off, just a mere two weeks ago my dad and I began the long trek from New Hampshire to California. Before this internship, I had never been west of the Mississippi, so it was a real treat to get to drive across the country!

My first week at the office mostly consisted of paperwork and meetings and getting through all of the necessary trainings. Then, I got the chance to be a judge at a local science fair, and saw some cool projects coming from the next generation of scientists!

Finally, near the end of the week, we got started on some dune surveys! Northern CA has massive dune systems stretching up & down its coastline. Like many other ecosystems, the dunes have been under attack from invasive species and human activity for quite some time. In recent years the BLM, along with other local organizations, has led an effort to restore them. Most of my botanical experiences so far have been forestry-related, so I’ll admit that the surveys have been challenging (shout out to my sponsor, Jennifer Wheeler, for being so patient!) but fascinating at the same time. The longer you look at the sand, more and more little dune flora pop out at you. And this year, because of all of the rain, the dune wildflowers are really putting on a show!

I’m looking forward to getting more settled into my position here – everyone at the office has been very friendly and welcoming, and more than happy to give this east-coast transplant advice! I am so grateful to have had this opportunity, and plan to learn as much as I possibly can about the BLM & the ecosystems out here before I go!


Training and Patience

Recently, I have had the opportunity to attend a couple of training sessions.  The first was a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) training right here in the Prineville office.  It was a 24 hour training spread out over three days.  Since I had no real experience with NEPA I took some pre-requisite courses on DOI learn and familiarized myself with the process.  After reading up on NEPA and taking some relatively hard learning assessments, the day of the course finally arrived.  We entered the conference room and were greeted by donuts, a ploy to keep us coming back every day.  The course was very informative and led by a wonderful instructor.  We learned about the fundamentals of NEPA, as well as applying what we learned to existing EA’s (Environmental Assessments) in the office.  Hopefully I will get the opportunity to put the training in practice by working on some easy NEPA stuff, to gain experience and simultaneously reduce the workload of my supervisors.  

Between the two trainings, I did some more golden eagle monitoring and learned the true value of patience.  To submit a negative observation of a nest (no eagle present on the nest), one must wait four hours to ensure that the nest is monitored for a sufficient period of time to avoid false negatives.  So, I hunkered down by my scope in the cold with a good book on owls and waited, and waited, and waited, until finally the four hours elapsed and I escaped back to my car and to the office.

Then after some office work, I headed east to Vale with a co-worker to attend a GeoBOB (Geographic Biotic Observations Database) training.  We took a mountainous route to get there, not my idea, and after about five hours we finally arrived in Ontario (Oregon, not Canada).  We stayed in a nice hotel there and had to adjust to Mountain Time, instead of Pacific Time.  We rested up and then left in the morning for the first day of the training.  Vale is a really small town that smells like manure and onions, unsurprisingly because they grow onions with manure.  They were especially hard hit by the winter, losing millions of dollars of onions due to snow collapsing many roofs.  The training was informative in the sense that it taught me some of the basics of GeoBOB, but was plagued by technical mishaps and other problems.  Both of the instructors (different people taught the class on the first and the second day) were teaching the class for the first time and therefore it did not go quite as smoothly as they intended.  However, it was nice to learn a new program and get out to Eastern Oregon, an area where I had not spent any time other than briefly driving through.  

Well lek season has started, but I don’t want to use up all of my material, so you will just have to wait until my next blog post to hear about the excitement of watching sage-grouse at leks.

Until next time.