About KWenzell

CLM Intern Colorado State Office, BLM

12 states, 5200 odometer miles, and one last blog post…

I wrapped up my internship at the BLM Colorado State Office at the beginning of December (making this post just a little late…), and after spending the holidays with friends and family in Oklahoma, I am currently procrastinating  writing this from the New Hampshire Seacoast. After a few trips between Colorado and Oklahoma to move out of my apartment and pay one last visit to the Rockies, I once again loaded up my hatchback and embarked on a cross-country haul to join my fiance in New Hampshire.

As I renew my efforts to hunt down a job, I can’t help but reflect on how much I learned and really enjoyed my time as a CLM intern. Before this, I had only limited experience doing fieldwork, but after being privileged enough to work in some truly gorgeous places in Colorado, I can’t imagine my life and future career without it. Beyond the simple joys of fresh air and the beauty of nature, as a scientist, I would miss the intimacy that comes with going out into the natural world and really learning what is going on out there. If I learned nothing else from this experience, it would have been worth it for this little epiphany.

It was decidedly not all that I learned, however, and in listing the benefits of my internship, I have to mention my mentor Carol, whose experience, example, and staggering knowledge of Colorado flora taught me more than I can express. I am also grateful to my co-intern Darnisha, who showed me the ropes and was infallibly patient with the questions of which I asked way too many. Though my time as a CLM intern is over, I am still not sure if I believe how lucky I was to spend my first summer out of school traipsing through the Rockies, hungrily learning the names of unfamiliar plants all around me, and stumbling on breath-taking views practically every time I turned around. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity the CLM program gave me, and I am excited to see what new opportunities lay ahead.

Hoosier Ridge, Colorado-- See what I mean about the views?

Hoosier Ridge, Colorado– See what I mean about the views?

Best wishes,

Katherine Wenzell

October, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shutdown

October has been a strange month for me, as I’m sure it has been for the other CLM interns who found themselves staying home for two weeks on “government snow day.” I enjoyed the time off, which I mainly spent watching zombie movies and wandering around thrift stores, but I am disappointed that the shutdown fell on the last hurrah of field season in the Colorado Rockies. The aspens dropped their leaves, and quite a few of the plants we’d been eying for collections shed their seeds while our backs were turned.

Since returning to work, I’ve only made it to the field once–to help snatch up collections of  Eriogonum umbellatum and Rosa sayi–though the rest of the team managed to collect Parry’s gentian (Gentiana parryi) while I was cashing in some comp time. Most of my time in the office has been spent organizing information and photos in the hopes of ultimately creating an interpretive guide to some of the wildflowers found throughout the state. Besides this, I’ve been analyzing some monitoring data left over from previous seasons.

Since this post is a little lackluster (it’s okay, guys, I can admit it), I had planned to throw in some photos. Unfortunately, I seem unable to Add Media to my post. So I guess this is as good as it gets this month. I’ll try to add some more pizzazz to my next post, especially since it will be my last!

Katherine Wenzell
BLM Colorado State Office
Lakewood, CO


Alpine, Desert, Alpine: Fieldwork in Colorado – 9/2/2013

Sometimes working in Colorado feels a bit like working in a 30-minute nature special, with a different ecosystem after every commercial break. Our team from the BLM Colorado State Office has spent the past month crisscrossing the state–going from alpine tundra to Mancos Shale desert and back again, then on to aspen-spruce woodland and the sand dunes of the North Sand Hills– to monitor rare plants and continue to collect seeds for Seeds of Success.

In late July, we collaborated with some folks from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, and the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative to monitor Eutrema penlandii (alpine fen mustard), a rather diminutive plant that grows in some very beautiful alpine sites. E. penlandii is, in fact, endemic to Colorado’s Mosquito mountain range, placing it about 1000 miles away from its closest relative E. edwardsii in the Canadian Arctic. This trip was one of my favorites: it was a great opportunity to hike and work amid some breath-taking scenery as well as to interact with and get to know some great people from a variety of agencies and organizations.

We followed up this trip with more monitoring–this time working on Sclerocactus glaucus, or Colorado hookless cactus, around the Mancos Shale formations in Delta County. The Montrose field office gave us a lot of help, and we were excited to work with Brandee Wills, a fellow CLM intern, who has been stationed in Montrose for a few months, but whom none of us had met. It felt almost like being reunited with a long-lost twin of some kind… Brandee was great to work with, and I really enjoyed meeting her.

More trips followed as we traveled to the Piceance Basin–where well pads sprout up faster than the pinyon and juniper–to monitor Physaria congesta  and P. obcordata. We then took a break from monitoring to revisit a promising seed collection site at Dyer’s Gulch near Leadville. We found an incredible array of alpine wildflowers in bloom, including some really beautiful gentians and asters, as well as the Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) that we’ve had our eye on at various stages of flower and fruit.

Last week, I was very pleased to finally make a collection of Frasera speciosa, a monocarpic forb that, in flower, can reach 6 feet in height. It is an easy one to spot from the highway, with its distinctive, unbranched green flowering stalk, and I was starting to feel that it had been taunting us from private land along roadsides wherever we went. Luckily, thanks to Megan McGuire, the wildlife biologist at the Kremmling field office with whom we’ve worked quite a bit, we (that is, she) managed to find a large population of F. speciosa on BLM land in a lovely aspen-spruce woodland. It turned out to be quite enjoyable, and one of my favorite collections, as we stood in the shade (shade?) of trees (trees?!) and collected bountiful seeds held conveniently at arm-level by a forb that was taller than I am.

Most recently, we traveled to North Park to monitor Phacelia formosula (again with Megan’s help) as well as to do a quick seed collection of Heterotheca villosa while we avoided being mowed down by rogue dune buggies in the North Sand Hills. Field season has continued to keep us busy, and I’ve loved the opportunity to travel to an array of interesting landscapes and to meet and work with new people.

Cameron amphitheater- Eutrema penlandii monitoring site

A small but wizened Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata). I have a major Plant Crush on these trees and was thrilled to see them for the first time.

Devil’s Thumb and Mancos Shale in Delta County

Dyer’s Gulch with a lovely carpet of Erigeron sp.

Arctic gentian (Gentianodes algida)

Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), with flower and developing fruits

Co-intern Darnisha after collecting seeds at the North Sand Hills

Katherine Wenzell

BLM Colorado State Office

Lakewood, CO

Snow-capped mountains, rare plants, and free cake

Through September, our team at the Colorado State Office has worked to wrap up our rare plant monitoring with a few last trips and has continued to collect seeds, with as many collections as possible on BLM lands. We traveled to Garfield County to monitor Penstemon debilis, a low-growing forb that only occurs on the steep shale slopes of the Roan Plateau. This was one of our trickier macroplot sites and we were working on what can best be described as “Satan’s ball pit” (in which the brightly colored plastic balls are replaced with loose rocks on a 45° angle). The view from the top of the ball pit, however, was really spectacular (for as long as you could stand still before sliding down the slope) and made the tough work worth it in the end.

We elected for some edaphic contrast and spent the following week on adobe clay, monitoring Eriogonum pelinophilum, or clay-loving buckwheat. We had the lottery-odds luck to be in Montrose the week is rained nearly every day, causing the clay to glue itself to our boots, making us all three inches taller and considerably slower than usual. We may also have lost a few friends at the hotel as we casually tracked in a few acres’ worth of muck.

After these trips (which I believe to be the last of our monitoring for the season), we’ve spent most of our time collecting lots of seed from BLM land near Fraser, Leadville, and Fairplay, CO. Snow has recently materialized at our alpine and subalpine sites, which the Okie in me finds completely mystifying. While collecting Pyrola asarifolia near Mosquito Pass, I bent over to poke a pile of snow hiding under some willows (definitely not a mirage) and giggled like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Last Friday we attended the Colorado Rare Plant Symposium hosted by the Colorado Native Plant Society. This was a great opportunity to learn about more of Colorado’s rare plants, as well as to hear about the listed plants I’ve helped monitor in a larger context. Plus, we got cake and a free mug. So, yeah, things are going pretty well.

The view from our Penstemon debilis monitoring site on the Roan Plateau

Snow sighting at Mosquito Pass

Pyrola asarifolia

Pedicularis groenlandica, or Elephants Head

Katherine Wenzell

BLM Colorado State Office

Lakewood, CO

Monitoring and Collecting in Colorado

I’ve been on the job for just over a month now, and with field season in full swing, I have been busy travelling to collect seeds, monitor rare plants, and help out with other projects as needed. The other CLM interns at the BLM state office and I have taken a few breaks from Plant Business to help out Jay Thompson, a BLM fisheries biologist, with a couple of small projects. We traveled with Jay to an alpine wetland at Dyer’s Gulch to survey the site for boreal toads. We didn’t find any. But we did find massive amounts of Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) in bloom as well as marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), both of which we hope to collect in the near future. I was also excited to find snow willow (Salix nivalis), a dwarf willow only a couple inches tall, which serves as an adaptation to the harsh conditions above the timberline.

Just yesterday we also assisted Jay with some benthic macroinvertebrate sampling at Grizzly Creek near Kremmling, CO. This is an interesting technique that uses the community composition of macroinvertebrates in the stream bed to gauge water quality at a given site. The samples we took will be sent to a lab for thorough analysis and identification, but we were able to notice some apparent differences between sites. For instance, we only found water boatmen at our first site, which seemed, superficially at least, to be less impacted than the other stream sites we sampled. I found this trip to be fun and interesting, and a nice change of pace to look at things with legs.

But enough of this “legs” nonsense–back to plants! Our team has also been busy monitoring two federally listed plants, Astragalus osterhoutii and Penstemon penlandii, which are both endemic to the area near Kremmling in Middle Park. Astragalus osterhoutii, which our mentor Carol Dawson has been monitoring for years, is particularly interesting because when conditions are poor (such as during the drought of recent years), it can remain dormant for several years, waiting until conditions improve to produce aboveground stems. Carol has had each individual within several study plots tagged and numbered, and our monitoring consisted of locating tagged individuals and assessing the presence, number, and flowering/fruiting success of aboveground stems.

Meanwhile, we have continued to scout and make collections for Seeds of Success, most recently collecting Geum triflorum, a cute little rose with nodding pink blossoms, the common name of which is, adorably, old man’s whiskers, presumably referring to the fuzzy nature of the fruits as they mature.

Dyer’s Gulch near Leadville, CO

Sampling macroinvertebrates in Grizzly Creek

Astragalus osterhoutii

Geum triflorum (Photo by Darnisha Coverson)

Katherine Wenzell

BLM State Office

Lakewood, CO


First Week in Colorado

It’s been a little over a week since I loaded up my hatchback, said goodbye to my cat and my potted plants, and drove the flat stretch from Tulsa to Denver. During my first week with the BLM in Lakewood, I’ve already learned a lot about Colorado’s flora, and I’m beginning to really appreciate the diversity of vegetation across the state.

My first day on the job, I was able to assist with a seed collection of Lomatium orientale, a little member of the parsley family, whose seeds you practically had to sneak up on to collect before the shock of your touch made them drop in unison. This collection had us trekking back and forth through foothill shrubland, where the yucca leaves I stumbled into served as the helpful pinch to reassure me that I was not dreaming–I really was being paid to hike around Colorado, learning about and playing Where’s-Waldo with plants.

My incredulity has only grown since then, with scouting trips through foothill meadows, ponderosa pine woodlands, and a trip into a montane lodgepole pine forest to collect the Dr. Seuss-esque Pulsatilla patens. This area has been heavily impacted by mountain pine beetles, with many dead lodgepole pines still standing, but nevertheless displayed a beautiful array of wildflowers in bloom.

I hope to see and learn even more in the coming weeks, and I’m excited about several trips we have planned to the northern sand dunes, the Roan Plateau, and past the timber line into the alpine.

Katherine Wenzell
BLM State Office
Lakewood, CO