It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here in Claremont, California for almost a full year. With our seed collecting season completed and my time here winding down, I’m enjoying the sunny weather and February warmth while I still can. Next week’s arrival in Michigan will be kind of a reality check for me, but I’m also excited to go home. After a full year of field experience, GIS training, a workshop in the Grand Canyon, a conference in Missouri, and hundreds of trips out to Southern California’s deserts and mountains, I’m excited to see what my current job search brings me. My experience with the CLM internship has been an unbelievable opportunity for me to get out and experience new ecosystems, plants, people, and cities. This pasts year’s experiences have allowed me to refine my biological interests while living independently more than 2,000 miles away from any family or friends. The people with whom I’ve worked and the friends that I’ve made here in California won’t soon be forgotten, nor will the promise of a sunny wintertime refuge in the southwest.
As I make my way out into the world a year after accepting my CLM position, I can’t help but realize that while I was an intern, the US economy hasn’t really gotten any better, and the unemployment rate has gotten worse. Considering how bad the economy was when I started the position, the financial security gained through my work experience is extremely valuable. More importantly, I feel that with another year of field experience to fill out my resume, my prospects for a next job in 2011 are good. It’s the dead truth that it takes more than just a degree to get work in this economy, and the CLM internship program has provided me with the experience I need to give me an edge on the job market. This internship has also gotten me connected to fellow botanists and conservation biologist in Southern California and otherwise. These connections are now coming in handy as I call around and explore the job market. The CLM internship program is a great resource for young people in conservation fields and provides a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal job market for recent college graduates. My experience here will be remembered as I bring my California experiences with me back to the Midwest.
CLM Intern- Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
Being selected to represent the CLM internship and my seed collection team back at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden this past week at the 37th anual Natural Areas Conference in Osage Beach, Missouri was a unique and enriching opportunity for me to connect with professionals in the land management field. The conference brought me back to the Midwest in time to see fall colors still clinging to the trees in the Missouri oak woodlands. The conference was held on the scenic Lake of the Ozarks with opportunities to explore Missouri’s natural areas through various field trips. I went with a group of ecologists and land managers on a trip out to one of Missouri’s few remnant prairies where we learned about prairie chicken conservation, prairie management with fire and grazing, and seed collecting on the prairie. We went out with some botanists who showed me the wealth of grasses and forbs that were still in bloom late in the fall.
Talks and presentations at the conference covered a wide range of subject matter related to land management and conservation including invasive species, fire ecology, land restoration, and forest, prairie, cave, and wetland ecology. There was even a talk about the flora and invasive species of Jordan in the Middle East. During the conference, I connected with several professionals in the land management field throughout the Midwest including my home state of Michigan. Getting to see what types of ecological research are going on in the region has since motivated me to work hard towards gaining employment in the botanical field around Michigan or Wisconsin so I can return to the deciduous forests of my childhood.
Missouri was a phenomenal location for a conference based on natural areas, with a wide diversity of ecosystems to explore. The area was pleasant as well, with wholesome food and friendly people, a nice change from everyday life in the Los Angeles area. The people I met and experiences I had at this conference further convinced me that a career in the land management field would get me in contact with the type of people I could spend a lifetime working with towards the bold cause of preserving our nation’s natural areas. In closing, I would like to thank the CLM internship program for getting funding and sponsoring us interns to attend this conference, which was my first professional conference.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
After a fun and educational week at the Grand Canyon, it was time again to return to seed collecting in the Mojave desert. The July heat is causing plants to crisp up, and my team has been scrambling to collect the remaining seed off of browned out plants before all of it falls to the ground.
As the field season progresses, I find myself working on a number of new projects in new places. I’ve had the pleasure of doing botany at high elevations in the San Bernardino National Forest, where I have been working with other botanists at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden doing rare plant surveys and collecting vouchers for the herbarium. Not only have my forest adventures introduced me to a whole new flora, but I’ve also been enjoying summer temperatures in the mid 80’s, about 20 degrees cooler than the sweltering desert heat. Our field teams up in the San Bernardinos have been working in areas that were previously under collected or not surveyed at all, and we’ve been rewarded with sightings of a whole host of sensitive and endangered plants. This week my field team found a thousand plus population of the rare plant Oxytheca parisii var. parishii which, according to my mentor, was the largest population of the plant she had ever seen.
A view of the San Bernardino National Forest from Big Bear Lake
Oxytheca parishii var. parishii, a rare plant
Besides all of the interesting botany I’ve been doing here, I’ve also been immersing myself in Southern California cuisine. The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables has made cooking a fun and delicious enterprise. Avocado season is now upon us, and I’ve been perfecting my guacamole recipe. The key is to use plenty of cilantro and to cut out the stems to avoid a bitter taste. I’ve also been frequenting the Mexican food restaurants in the Claremont area and out in the desert and have had my fill of giant quesadillas and carne asada burritos. As my internship winds down, I’m starting to think about my future and would absolutely love to stay right here in California.
-Andrew Monks, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA
As temperatures in the Southern California deserts are regularly topping the 100 degree mark, it’s high time for seed collection. Plants that once made a vibrant carpet of bright color on the desert floor are drying up and turning brown. This is great news for our Claremont seed collection team, because it means that nearly all of our targeted plant populations are in full fruit and starting to shed their seeds!
Salvia caruduacea, we found a thousand-plus population of these
The past month has consisted of a series of overnight trips out to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts that have resulted in hundreds of brown paper bags full of seed being collected from all sorts of crispy plants. Today was a landmark moment for our team, as we have just shipped out our 50th seed collection. One of our largest collections has been of the thistle sage, (Salvia carduacea) an annual mint with spiny foliage, purple flowers, and the most amazing scent I’ve ever experienced that could only be described as being lemony fresh. The ensuing collection resulted in a fresh smelling field vehicle for the next two days. In addition to the interesting plants growing out in the Desert, I’ve had the pleasure of coming across a number of cool animals. I’ve been lucky enough to see three desert tortoises, a federally listed threatened species.
Male Desert Tortoise stopping by for some shade
Life in Los Angeles county has been excellent as well. While here, I’ve taken the time to visit interesting places like Hollywood and Venice Beach. Last weekend I made my first trek out to the historic Hollywood Bowl concert venue for the Playboy Jazz Festival, an all day marathon of dancing, good food, and even better music. The balance between city living and working out in the most remote parts of the desert has given me a complete tour of all that Southern California has to offer.
– Drew Monks, Claremont, CA, BLM Seeds of Success team out of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
The past two months have been quite the thrill for me, a recent University of Michigan graduate and lifelong Michigander. As a part of the CLM internship program, I have been working for the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success program. My chapter of the SOS is based out of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, Ca in eastern Los Angeles County. The purpose of this program is to collect seeds from native plants to develop seed banks for restoration projects. More specifically, my collection group covers the Mojave Desert and surrounding areas. Daily work usually involves hopping in a field vehicle and heading out to spectacular wilderness areas throughout the high and low desert.
Painted hills near Short Canyon in the Owen's Peak Wilderness
Coming from Michigan with a background in botany, I knew that moving out to SoCal would afford me the unique opportunity to become familiar with a wholly different and diverse flora. Out in the Mojave I have been spoiled by the unbelievable spring bloom that often results in the hills and valleys being carpeted with vibrant colors. In only two months’ time, I have learned to identify many of the Mojave’s plants while still being exposed to new plants every time I go out into the field. I have thoroughly enjoyed Southern California’s lack of rain, warm temperatures, and abundant sunshine, which is a treat compared to the often cloudy, wet, and dreary weather that I’m accustomed to back in Michigan.
Posing like a Joshua Tree
Some of the more charismatic plants that I’ve seen out here include giant branching Joshua Trees, Ocotillos, and a dynamic diversity of cacti. Each time I go out into the field I find myself in a different landscape with unique plants, topography, and breathtaking vistas. I have also stumbled upon some interesting wildlife including rattlesnakes, lizards, jackrabbits, and three sightings of the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise. Such encounters have made me aware of the unique and diverse habitats found in California’s Deserts.
One of the more interesting aspects of this internship has been collecting and scouting for plant populations in sites that have been proposed for conversion to solar and wind power sites. It’s good to see funding coming in for National projects to increase our output of clean, renewable energy, but my work has shown me that we must be careful to assess how these projects will impact fragile ecosystems like those found in the Mojave Desert. My internship has given me the opportunity to see that plant populations in proposed areas are well documented. Some of our seed collections from these areas will be critical as these populations may eventually be extirpated by energy projects. It’s easy to get out of bed and go to work each day knowing that the work I’m doing is important.