So it begins..

I cannot believe that it has already been two weeks since I began working with the BLM here in Carson City. If these first weeks are any indication of how fast time will go by, I must learn to appreciate every day.

Eastern California and western Nevada have had an uncharacteristically wet year. In a meeting my fellow interns and I attended, a gentleman said it has been the wettest year in seventeen decades. As a botanist, this is a double-edged sword. Each field site we have visited has been either too muddy to get vehicles to, or completely inundated. As a result, the bulk of the work we’ve done so far has been indoors, whether it was mounting herbarium specimens or completing various trainings. However, the forecast for the next few weeks looks gorgeous and I’ve been told by several botanists that I am in luck for the wildflower season.

As a kid that grew up in the mixed mesophyitc hardwood forests of Kentucky, it has been a joy and a privilege to experience the breath-taking beauty of the west. During my 32 hour drive to Carson City, I made stops in Boulder, CO and Arches National Park in Utah where the scenery left me speechless. Now, when I wake up every morning I get to look out of my window and see the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains.

Lake Washoe and the Carson Range

Although we have not done much field work yet, I am excited for what is to come. In a few weeks, we get to travel to Boise, ID for an herbicide class in which we get trained and certified to use pesticides. Shortly after that, I will be attending a Wilderness First Responder course in Mt. Shasta, CA and right after that we will be setting up a BLM booth in the annual Reno Earth Day. On top of all of that, a majority of our field work will be in the Great Basin and in the Sierra Nevadas, so to say that I am anxious for the future is an immense understatement.

Overall, I am lucky to be in such a great place with great people and a knowledgeable mentor. I know that before I long, my time in Carson City will come to an end, so I will be sure not to blink.

Carson City District Office – BLM

Jason Fibel

Driving Cross-country and First week in the Desert

First week working with the BLM/CLM accomplished! So I have been in Ridgecrest for 2 weeks now but this was my first week of work. Ridgecrest is a very tiny town kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it definitely has its charms. I live in S.C. originally so having the opportunity to drive cross country and see so many sites I have always heard about was truly amazing! I went to the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon, which were both so breath-taking.

At work this week we did a lot of administrative paperwork. I had to do a driving course, FISSA, and fill out a bunch of paperwork for getting my I.D. card.  We did go out into the field twice. One time we went out to do some work on a Common Gardens project with the USGS. The common gardens is in the Ridgecrest BLM area, so myself and the other Seeds of Success intern are going to have to go water it every few weeks. The project seems to be providing a lot of information on different restoration efforts in the Mojave Desert.

We also went out and did some vegetation surveys for forage species for having sheep graze on BLM land. Then we went out to some other areas to examine California Towhee habitat. It was a beautiful hike and we had the opportunity to see some mining communities. All in all it was a really great first week!

 

 

Last Days With CLM

Wow things moved fast. I can’t believe that the internship is already over with. This internship helped me get a lot more familiar with the unique flora of gabbro soils and their pollinators. I also got an in depth run down on fire ecology/management in a chaparral system. Despite the stereotypes of many about the work ethic of folks in the federal government, I was very impressed by how hard everyone worked/works and my eyes were opened to how much more complex it is to get something done if you do it correctly, something the layman does not realize. The people that I have met here at the BLM Mother Lode Field Office have been excellent and I hope that I can keep in touch with them. I had hoped to spend more time in the field these last few months but for the first time in 5 years or so we have had a real winter in the Sacramento area, so I am happy for that. Other than I have no complaints! Thank you CLM!

 

Landon Eldredge

BLM Mother Lode Field Office, El Dorado Hills, CA

Pygmy Rabbits and Fences

Brachylagus idahoensis Leporidae – the pygmy rabbit – is a tiny native of the American steppe. Although it is not threatened as a species, the isolated Washington population has essentially been eradicated through extreme habitat fragmentation and genetic drift. Known WA populations exist thanks to the efforts of the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, which have a captive breeding program involving non-WA rabbits, but while maintaining as much native WA genetics as possible.

However, it is possible for some wild populations to have persisted, or spread to other areas from the captive breeding program enclosures. Winter is the best time to look for previously unknown populations. Tracks are, obviously, easy to see in snow, and Pygmy rabbit tracks are most easily discerned from other rabbit species during the winter months.

A four-stranded barbed wire fence in its typical sagebrush habitat.

Erik (my CLM mentor) and I drove to the site of a 2015 wildfire to look for signs of the little creatures, while conducting fence inventory. We saw plenty of fences but, sadly, no evidence of pygmy rabbits. It is likely that no population has managed to reestablish itself in the area since the last local sightings over 20 years ago.

A very alert whitetailed jackrabbit. Somewhat confusingly (sorry) it is not shown begging, as I couldn’t get a good picture of that. I guess it’s also confusing that this is not the rabbit species that is the subject of this post.

 

 

We did see a whitetailed jackrabbit though – veritable giants in comparison, this one probably stood about 30cm tall in “begging” position. I don’t believe it was actually begging the way a trained dog might, but rather that some accident of its rabbit psychology causes it to assume this pose when nervous.

 

 

 

A group of sagegrouse.

Zoomed in. More charismatic photos of courting males in the future, hopefully.

I also got to see greater sagegrouse (Centrocercus urophasianus Phasianidae) for the first time. This is a pretty important species for land managers in the West, and another American steppe obligate with an isolated population in WA. They are best known for their lekking behavior during the spring breeding season, where males gather and display their tail feathers and enormous neck-pouches (gular sacs).

Grouse in general are sometimes known to fly into barbed wire fences, which can result in mortality. Fortunately, efforts have begun to mark fences with white reflective markers in sagegrouse areas.

The group we saw were congregating at the edge of a former wheat field taken out of cultivation through the Conservation Reserve Program, so they were easy to see; in sagebrush they can be quite elusive.

And here are a couple of coyotes, sprinting full speed to keep their hunting skills sharp. These deep snow conditions are optimal for running down larger animals such as deer, whose hooves sink deeper into the powder than the padded paws of canines.

Coyotes sprinting.

Zoomed in.

Since fire can damage fences and other structures, it is important to conduct an inventory like this every time a wildfire occurs. Locating fences and gates, the most common structures on BLM, helps manage rangeland and keep the cows where they’re supposed to be. Fire crews can also use this spatial data for planning access routes in the event of future fires. Detailed information on the structure material, condition, and so on, must be collected and entered in a BLM regional geodatabase.

Gabe

Wenatchee Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

The Beginning

It’s been five weeks since I started my second CLM internship in Wenatchee, and I’ve spent the vast majority of that time sitting at my computer entering data from dusty, decade-old data sheets into Microsoft Access. It was a good task to keep us busy during this snowier-than-usual winter, and a huge help to the field office, which usually doesn’t have interns during the off-season. However, I can only stare at a screen for so long before starting to feel a little crazy. Which is why I’m happy to announce that it’s the beginning of field season once again–the beginning of flowering, the beginning of long hikes and being covered in dirt and ash, and the beginning of another exciting year of learning and exploring in central Washington.

Last Thursday was my first day in the field, and it didn’t disappoint! We traveled a couple hours south of Wenatchee to the Range 12 fire to inspect the aerial seeding of native bunchgrasses into certain portions of the burned area. Aerial seeding is an important part of the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation process, since it gets lots of seed laid down quickly over large swathes of land. For this area, a mix of basin wild rye, bluebunch wheatgrass and Sandberg’s bluegrass was used. The work was contracted out to Central Valley Helicopters, a business that provides many important land management services such as aerial herbicide application, fire suppression, wildlife surveys and, of course, aerial seeding. Their sophisticated GPS systems and ingenious seed-distributing apparatus (which they built themselves!) allow an incredible amount of precision when they are dropping seed. Watching the helicopter arrive and pick up load after load of seed was one of the most exciting things I’ve done during this internship, and I’m glad we got the chance to experience this important aspect of post-fire stabilization.

The seed dispenser was much more complex than I’d imagined

Hooking the seed dispenser requires lots of precision

Flying off to dump some seed!

We didn’t just drive down to the aerial seeding operation to observe. Due to wind gusts and slight discrepancies between the seeding polygons and the actual draws they are supposed to represent, certain areas may be missed by aerial seeding. Usually this isn’t too critical, but in some cases, when the missed spots are bare, coated in a monoculture of weed seedlings, or showing signs of erosion, it’s important to get them covered with native seed. That’s why we laid down tarps in three of the draws slated for seeding before the seeding began–when it was over, we returned to the tarps to see how much seed had fallen on them. One had a lot of seed, one had a little seed, and two were bare, indicating areas that had been missed. In the spots that were not missed, the areas where the tarps had been will serve as control units later on when we are assessing the success of the seeding.

This tarp at the beginning of a draw was bare after the seeding, indicating that we needed to return for hand seeding

Since there had been an error in calculating the amount of seed that would be needed, we ended up with 500 extra pound of the seed mix. We returned to the seeded area on Tuesday with this extra seed and hand-seeded some of the spots that had been missed, with a focus on particularly degraded looking areas. It was much harder work than I expected it to be, but also lots of fun! We didn’t stop once we finished the aerial seeding area, either. Since there was so much leftover seed, we brought it with us to other parcels in the fire as we drove around mapping structures and scouting the best access routes. We walked along draws and put seed down wherever we saw bare ground and erosional features.

Feeling like a goofy sandwich with my seeder and my backpack!

Kat puts down some seed in a shallow draw

We found this “glacier” in a draw we were hoping to seed. The snow was so deep we were able to walk right over a fence!

While the seeding was fun, the most exciting part of the week for me happened during lunch on Tuesday, when I spotted my first flowering plant of the season in a draw bottom. It’s some kind of Lomatium, but I haven’t been able to identify it to species (yet). It was heartening to see something native coming back, and gave me hope for the area’s recovery.

Lomatium spp…possibly quintuplex or watsonii, both of which are on the state watch list!

Katherine Schneider, BLM, Wenatchee Field Office

 

 

 

 

 

Snow and Plant Specimens in Carson City

This week my two fellow interns and I started our stint on the BLM Carson City botany team. As a California girl who has been chasing summer around the globe for the last 2 years, I was more than a little anxious about moving to 4800 feet in the middle of winter. Being surrounded by snowy mountains and bundling up for even a brief trip outside might seem normal to many, but for me it is new and exciting. I love the landscapes of the arid West in all seasons, and under snow they are even more magnificent.

Due to muddy road conditions, most of the field sites we’ll use this season are inaccessible, but we did get to take a short trip to a restoration site worked on by last year’s crew. We wandered around the site, reviewing familiar species and encountering new ones, while learning about the history of the site and BLM’s role in management. This project has the potential to be a model for restoration using only native species, something that can be controversial in agencies that represent the interests of multiple groups: recreational users, ranchers, conservationists, fire crews, and more. I’m already learning a lot about the opportunities and challenges presented by working for a federal agency, and the remarkably broad impact of these organizations.

Other than training and a few field trips, we spent some time working with herbarium specimens collected by previous interns. I’m not shy about admitting that I am a hardcore plant systematics nerd, so getting to key out plants and check out the huge collection in the UNR (University of Nevada-Reno) herbarium was like being a kid in a candy store. I also got to realize my childhood dreams of doing arts and crafts for a living, as we spent an afternoon mounting pressed plant specimens. There is nothing that compares to the aesthetic appeal of a perfectly mounted, beautiful plant specimen, wouldn’t you agree? I am really looking forward to keying out, pressing, and mounting our own specimens once we start collecting seeds in a few months.

If I get to identify plants and look at snow-covered mountains every day, I think I could get used to the cold…

Britney Zell, Carson City BLM

Strengthening my weakness for next field season!

With my CLM internship extending into the next field season I have an opportunity to learn from my experiences. This awareness will help me through this next year, adding efficiency to the whole process. From field planning to data analyzing, it’s not an easy task to learn in one season. Well, not for me at least. The thought of having one more summer working with BLM’s Central Yukon Field Office (CYFO) adds a new layer of excitement and potential.
Coming from a lab background and working mostly with the microbes and plant molecules I hit a learning curve in the field. Since we can’t easily extract DNA and sequence the plants in the field ( there’s a tool out now https://nanoporetech.com) I had not had much experience with plant identification. Although, I have a very good eye for spotting and recognizing them (helps to grow up in Alaska) it was an area I wanted to strengthen.

I’m taking a systematic botany course up at University of Alaska, Fairbanks and getting a great hands-on experience with proper identification.

Fabacaea (= Leguminosae) Order Fabales
Pea Family, Legumes
Specimens provided by Professor S.M Ickert-Bond at University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Collaborative Collection Management Solution (ARCTOS)

The most notable terrestrial plant invasive species in Alaska interior are Vicia cracca and Melitotus alba and they happen to be in the same family. It’s important to be able to find distinguishable features in order to do a valid vegetation survey. Can you find them?

Winter in AK and The National Native Seed Conference

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Winter has happily settled itself in Anchorage-area. 185 inches of snowfall have been recorded at Alyeska Resort in 2017, leaving no doubt a true winter has returned despite several years of absence.

Photo 1. Alaska’s Kenai Mountains / Photo Jacob DeKraai

My presence in Anchorage has been facilitated by acceptance into a second Conservation and Land Management (CLM) internship, and although both internships were based in Alaska, the experiences are not comparable. The dramatic move from Copper Center (pop. 328) to the busy hub of Anchorage (300,000+) was initially a shock, but I have finally acclimated to city life. I can get used to traffic, angry people, shopping malls and higher cost of living, but most difficult to stomach was the necessary change in work attire from rubber boots to dress shoes.

I was brought onto the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska team to work on several projects this winter season and assist in numerous botany projects the subsequent summer. The following tasks were of highest priority upon joining the team:

  • Prepare poster presentation and write-up to illustrate Seeds of Success (SOS) accomplishments in AK and how they integrate into the overall execution of BLM-facilitated mine reclamations. The poster was to be displayed at the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC.
  • Assist in the design of monitoring regimes on mine reclamations for maximum statistical strength
  • Digitize new polygons from survey points during previous season’s invasive plant surveys and move into National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS) database.
  • Help describe state and transition models for mine sites.

Developing the presentation for the Native Seed Conference was my first task, and initiated my investigations into the workings of BLM AK botany projects. In execution of this project, I have acquired valuable knowledge regarding the agency, the extent of SOS efforts, policies on mine reclamation, reclamations underway, native plant material production, alignment of efforts with the National Seed Strategy, and most importantly, partnerships necessary to make all of this happen.

Having the opportunity to contribute at the conference had me eager about my future in the current movement of native plant material production. I was honored to join my mentor in DC and experience the collaboration of many passionate, dedicated people working together to execute the National Seed Strategy. From small-scale private collectors to large, commercial growers to PhD students studying comparative germination requirements of upland sedges, all walks of life were present at the conference. Despite this diverse group, the atmosphere reflected that of a community with vested interest in others’ triumphs/discoveries.

Photo 2. The National Native Seed Conference / Photo Jacob DeKraai

Photo 3. Alaska Seeds of Success Program poster presentation / Photo BLM

All this talk of native seed has led to increased thought on the subject matter. In an effort to improve my literacy on the plight of native seed, I have turned to contemporary literature. I recently began reading the book “Seedtime” by Scott Chaskey. A poet and proponent of plant biodiversity, in his book he has illustrated the following analogy:

“Encapsulated in each seed is a story, a story held in a state of rest until released. Only with significant patience and effort can we interpret this language, which gradually is revealed as the cotyledons, or first leaves, unfold from a seed’s invisible center. A plants coming into being, or maturation, is such a quiet progression that we tend instead to focus on the fruit, the colorful prize of production and the vessel of taste. To grasp the whole story, however, we will have to look at the structure of a flower, how plants have evolved to attract pollinators, and how a flowering plant produces seed. Our entire food supply is a gift of the angiosperm revolution – the magnificent event that introduced flowering plants to the world 140 million years ago – and our heath and food futures are entwined with the way in which we choose to nurture or manipulate the seeds of that natural revolution.” – Scott Chaskey

In the US, 17,000 plant species tell individual tales together composing a complete anthology of plant evolution. This anthology represents both the evolutionary history of flora and, if also containing spacial information, the guidelines of how each individual tale branched, changed and is now presented differently in varying environments. The tales remain the same, but slight variations have led to stories with local adaptions, unique and individual.

In a time of mass habitat destruction, we wonder how many unique stories we have permanently lost. Genetically appropriate seed is a key component to increased success in ecological restoration.

As the conference began to wind down, I started reflecting on my goals as a young conservationist. Beyond my work as a CLM intern, how do I positively impact the National Seed Strategy? Do I join the restoration community or pursue integration into the native seed industry? Finding a niche can be difficult, and it’s easy to feel without direction in a room full of accomplished professionals of diverse disciplines. I imagine this is a common thought of many up-and-comers in our field, but those of us working in these botany projects must find pride in our work. That invasive plant survey, that seed collection in Idaho or that week you spent doing inventories for a rare plant and didn’t find a thing. These are all small chunks of information and material that consolidate into large informational packets or accumulations. These informational packets are used to help make decisions that impact our cause, and every single accession is part of an overall accumulation, increasing the genetic diversity of our seedbanks.

What an exciting time to be alive. We have the opportunity to be engaged in a movement for science, conservation and ecosystem health. Protectors of the past and activists for the future. Pretty cool.  For now I remain focused on current efforts with the BLM and maintain excitement to support the National Native Plant Materials Development Program and the Native Seed Strategy through SOS and mine reclamation in the state of Alaska.

Thanks for reading!

Jacob

Back in the field (kinda)

In the recent weeks, winter has slowly released its grasp on Central Oregon.  Things were so bad at one point that we recently celebrated being able to see the ground and especially grass.  However, most of the snow has melted, opening up opportunities to head back out into the field and escape the doldrums of the office.  At the end of the snowy period I had the opportunity to go out into the field and trek through the snow.  I set up closure signs that needed to be set up for golden eagles.  These signs restrict travel into areas near golden eagle nests to ensure limited disturbance to allow for successful reproduction.  While heading out to the field was wonderful, hiking miles through 4-12 inch snow was slightly less fun, although it was much better after the fact than during!!  Two hikes were especially tough, post-holing (sinking deeply into the snow with one leg, then extracting it, then rinse and repeat) for miles to put up signs, often without clear trail demarcations due to the deep and ubiquitous snow.  I also got to to install deflectors on fences to reduce sage-grouse collisions with fences.  All in all, I have really enjoyed getting back out into the field, and cannot wait for the beautiful spring weather and the emergence of the forbs.

In other news, two major events are occurring in the office.  The first is a fitness challenge where teams of 7 people record the number of minutes they exercise daily and enter it into a spreadsheet.  Out team is crushing it, with all of the team members greatly contributing towards the overall goal.  It ends in a while, but if we can continue our momentum it looks like we are going to be on our way to victory.  There is also a state-wide photo contest going on.  Our office had open entries and the top three in each of the eight categories will move on to the State office and the overall voting period.  I entered 8 photos, but it looks like one will move on to the state round.  While I was hoping that my photos would do better, there were some great photos to contend with.  Below is the photo that I believe will make it to the State round.

Ferruginous Hawk

Well, the next few weeks are going to be full of training, so I am not sure that my next post will be terribly exciting, but I will see what I can do.

Mapping New Botanical Discoveries

Hello from the office in Prineville, OR! East of the Cascade mountains we’ve been dumped on with snow after snow, and few folks have gotten into the field (it’s been hard enough just to get to work!) except those who go out to plow some of our BLM access roads. Something to keep us from getting too much cabin fever is the office photo contest. I submitted several entries, so wish me luck! I’ve been keeping busy by snuggling into my cubicle and mapping away in a program called GeoBOB. Oregon and Washington BLM use GeoBOB (Geographic Biotic Observations Database) to track special status plant and animal species in GIS. I’ve gotten much better at using computer programs and GIS during the course of my winter CLM internship. I’ve been documenting our revisits of the sensitive plant populations we monitored over the summer, and I also had a little fun creating some new polygons.

These represent the areas where I stumbled upon a newly listed Oregon BLM sensitive species, Astragalus misellus var. misellus, pauper milkvetch. We only were aware of one location of this species, so it was a big surprise. At first I mistook the plant for a different milkvetch (anyone else agree that Astragalus can be a challenging genus?) but something about that conclusion just didn’t feel right. So I kept at it, keyed it over and over and examined drawings of the plant, photos of the other milkvetch, and thought a lot about the differences in habitat between the two, which are pretty distinct once you know which plant is which. What finally gave it away was the fruit size, shape, and curve. Without fruits it’s terribly difficult to distinguish from similar milkvetches.

After the deeper study, I felt pretty confident in my identification of this species, but I still sent 2 herbarium vouchers I collected to the Astragalus experts at Oregon State University. I was really excited when I heard back from them that I do indeed have A. misellus var. misellus. Additionally, I gifted the herbarium at OSU the specimens to add to their collection. They were thrilled to have them, and said that it’s the first collection of the species that they’ve had in nearly 100 years! While the species is a sensitive endemic, I came across it in the field quite frequently and even on my time off when I was just out hiking with my dog. I don’t know how this little plant slipped under the radar in the past, but now we have several mapped locations so that we can learn more about its ecology and develop a strategy for its conservation. To add to that, I just got word that a new to science plant species was discovered on BLM land nearby.

So the moral of my little story is: keep your eyes peeled, key plants, and do not assume you know what everything looks like even after you’ve learned them, and trust your botanical intuition! You never know, you might find a whole new species or a brand new location of a rare plant! Google earth is great, but there is still soooooo much to discover on our planet. You might just get lucky. Keep up the good work CLM interns. You are the curious botanizer, inquisitive scientist, the enthusiastic protector of plants, work station: Planet Earth.

One of the photos I entered in our district photo contest. Coincidentally, the milkvetch was found nearby on this day of fun.

The distinctive fruits that finally gave away her identity…

Astragalus misellus var. misellus