Homer, Alaska

Hello All,

I’m Charlotte, a repeat-CLM intern based in a new town in partnership with the NRCS in the little fishing town of Homer, AK (Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch” and “The Last Frontier”). I’ll be the acting biotech-ecologist for this office for the duration of the Nulato Hills mapping project. It’s a Soil Survey with vegetation data (which is where I’ll be helping), and it will be published on the Web Soil Survey for all to see, eventually.

This time of year we’re doing the spring thing: ramping up for field work by solving logistical puzzles, like how to get helicopter fuel delivered to a remote field camp. Even with spring excitement, there’s been some snags with budgeting that might cut our field tripping this season, adding work to the following seasons necessary to complete a larger area mapping project. So a data-crunching kind of summer it might turn out to be.

I’m happy to bring some prior experience to the project, having already worked with the NRCS as a seasonal and having Alaska flora-familiarity through a more agency-rounded internship based in Anchorage.

Still, there is a lot of reviewing to do! If anyone has a real knack for grasses (I’m looking at you, range botanists), I’m all ears.

Happy (almost) Spring!

Charlotte
Homer, Alaska

 

Sierras and Great Basin

An expanse of open land, unimpeded in its darkness, spread out before me in all directions.

Although I missed out on a cross-country road trip, my midnight flight from O’Hare to Reno Tahoe Int’l. provided perspective to the scope and scale of the landscape I was entering.  Where ~80% of the state is public land, I felt incredibly excited to be embarking on a 9-month adventure with the BLM in Carson City, Nevada.

Before I knew it, I was settling into our shared housing, familiarizing myself with the area, and fast becoming friends with my awesome intern team.

View from our backyard, looking west, Carson Range

My first two weeks were filled with training, herbarium work, conservation plans, and preparations for the field season.  We completed a variety of training sessions including a lengthy ArcGIS marathon.  I learned about the local herbarium system and helped mount plant specimens from past years.  We started developing official conservation plan documents for sensitive Nevada plants and prepared for our five-day herbicide applicator course in Boise, ID at the end of the month.

Desk station, GIS training, accompanied by Intermountain Flora and apple

Just today we were able to get out in the field and complete a few tasks thanks to the warm dry weather.  We collected sections of Willow (Salix sp.) saplings and buried them in moist soil packets underground to elicit growth of new root systems.  We also used spades to remove invasive Thistles (Cirsium spp.) throughout the study plot area.

Field site, East of Carson City

Elsewhere, we are able to take advantage of the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities that Western Nevada has to provide! My first day in NV wasn’t complete until we hit the Reno Climbing Gym. I shredded my fingers.  Endless mountain bike and running trails are found within a mile of our house.  Last weekend we visited a place twenty minutes from Carson City that received 30 feet of snow this winter – Lake Tahoe. We explored the lakeside towns, hiked a beautiful ridge overlook, and have plans to go back tomorrow for skiing!

Running trails, Carson City

Example of Tahoe Snow

Eagle Rock overlook, West Lake Tahoe

As soon as the rain and snowfall from the region’s record-breaking winter allow, we’ll be exploring the Sierra Nevadas and Great Basin Desert further to work towards the goals of the BLM CCDO Botany Dept., Seeds of Success Program, and CLM Internship.

Carson City District Office – BLM

Connor Kotte

 

gAmerBlob’s CLM Blog: Log 1

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

  • Opening line from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin

I that this is an apt description of my first couple weeks of my internship with the Carson City BLM, and a decent way to relate that I do not own a camera.

This will be my third field position with a federal agency out West since graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015, having sprayed weeds with the US Forest Service in Ely, NV and surveyed for post-fire vegetation with the US Geological Survey out of Boise, ID.

As such, I knew to expect all the preliminary paperwork and training that comes with starting with an agency, but it was still quite dry. Due to the (literally) wet weather and sketchy road conditions, the other CLM interns and I were somewhat limited in what we could do the, but we still had a nice variety.  That included office organization, helping to put together pesticide-use-proposals and biological assessments for vulnerable species, and attending a couple interagency/public meetings.

Somewhat predictably, the most fun and insightful moments were those working with plants in the herbaria we’ll be using and the one trip out to a field site. Through past experience in the Great Basin region, I have a passing familiarity with the native flora here, but due to a lack of practice and the quick-and-dirty method I used for rapid assessments in Boise, I’m finding that I have a ton to learn.

For my last field position, time was of the essence, so we were taught to identify plants either just to the genus (like “eriogonum spp.”) or ID the recognizable ones to their USDA PLANT database symbol. Those symbols are the first two letters of genus, first two letters of species, followed by a tiebreaking number if needed, so for example artimesia tridentata, or big sagebrush, is ARTR4. For whatever reason, I thought this was a pretty universal thing, but blurting out “deeso” (DESO2 = descurainia sophia, or tansy mustard) or “ivax” (IVAX = iva axillaris, or povertyweed) has gotten me blank/confused stares and comments. Learning how to actually key out plants will be extremely useful for me, so that if I ever come across a plant I don’t know off the top of my head, I’ll hopefully be able to be a little more specific/sensible.

Where is Vernal?

The right seed, in the right place, at the right time.  This straight-forward goal was synthesized by the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program, at a conference in Monticello, Utah. It assimilated a broad range of presentations, including the latest research on local plant genetics intertwined with climate variability, new conservation technology, and agronomic requirements for successful seed production. This simplistic goal resulted from a conversation of the various stakeholders involved with collection and production of native plants for habitat restoration.  Often, the center stage of this conversation was Vernal, UT.

I have been an intern with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal now for several weeks. During that time, I was able to attend the conference in Monticello and see where Vernal lies in the big picture of native plant restoration.  When I first arrived in my new habitat, the local flora was covered with two feet of snow after what had been an unusual winter.  However, I have learned it is a botanically interesting region due to roughly fifty endemic species associated with local geology, especially the oil-shale.  The energy sector also finds this area very interesting. Consequently, there are abundant future reclamation needs. The anticipated demand for native seeds played a key role in Vernal’s place at the conference.

While the snow melted, I compiled data to answer the question of “what seed?” I have become acquainted with the local flora of the herbarium and their locations on a map. However, I got my first taste of the field today, checking on seedlings of a milkvetch species that is endemic to a particular bend of the Green River.  The tiny seedlings were exciting to find and identify, being that they are so unique to that location. The landscape was enamoring, and I look forward to a season of discovering its hidden gems.

A view of the Uinta Mountains

Endemic Astragalus species

Endemic Astragalus species

Budsage… enamoring landscape in the background

First week in the desert

Quite a bit of change has happened this past week. I resigned from my previous position the last day of February, fixed my car, packed it up and headed to Palm Springs, CA from Colorado.

The first day at work we went out to Desert Lily Preserve to scout for blooms of the desert lily and whatever else may be in flower. Although a few had bloomed the majority of the lilies were not quite ready so we will be visiting again in the next couple of weeks to collect a voucher specimen.

I am fortunate to be here this year because they have gotten a good amount of rain so there will plenty to see and smell! I have also already started to learn the differences between the Colorado and Mojave deserts.

Until next time…

Palm Springs, CA

BLM

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