About diananaiad

Botany intern at the BLM field office in Shoshone, Idaho. Living in Twin Falls, here until October doing range land and habitat monitoring, and eventually raptors and bats! I'm a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a BS in Natural Resource Conservation and a BA in Political Science.

Wildlife Monitoring: bats, pygmy rabbits, raptors, swans, and a beetle

Now that the long-term trend and Habitat Assessment Framework monitoring has been completed, we’ve been doing grazing reintroduction surveys (monitoring grasses at previously burned sites to determine when grazing can be reintroduced), scanning allotment study files (done!), GIS projects (also done!), and some highly anticipated wildlife monitoring.

I have been looking forward to getting wildlife experience pretty much ever since I interviewed for the job. We were getting experience indirectly by gathering data on habitat and learning about the forbs that are palatable for sage grouse. And, similarly, we have become extremely familiar with the diets of cattle. But what I was really looking forward to was bat and raptor monitoring, which due to unforseen factors was not as heavily emphasized as anticipated. Luckily, the wildlife biologists at our office were in close communication with one at Fish and Game and our mentor Joanna has been really flexible and supportive of us getting involved in any and all projects we could get our hands on.


Another hidden Idaho gem unearthed by our wildlife outings… Sand dunes!

Our first bout of wildlife monitoring involved two days of bat surveys. It was the first time any bat population monitoring had been done in over a decade. I’m sure most of you have heard of the white-nose syndrome (WNS), but for those who haven’t, it’s a rapidly spreading disease among bats that causes a prominent white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) to grow around their faces. And it’s just terrible. Some colonies and even entire species have been nearly decimated, populations dropping 90%. It has mostly been documented in the east, the first sighting hailing from New York in 2006, but is anticipated to spread westward any day.

So, to establish a baseline population of the bats in preparation for its imminent arrival, we used acoustic monitoring technology specifically designed to pick up the distinct frequencies of bats. The device is called AnaBat, and it’s pretty amazing. Before we set up the devices, the wildlife biologist established a grid with 4 quadrants in the study area, which encompassed sections of the Snake River as well as some residential and agricultural areas. In each quadrant, a portable AnaBat device was strapped to a post (either pre-existing, like a fence post, or a stake that we hammered) that is strategically facing an area with known bat activity. We also have to try to limit unnecessary ambient noises, like making sure the strap of the device is tucked in to make listening to the recordings less painful if it’s windy.

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AnaBat doin’ its thing

Next, we programmed the device to start recording data at sunset. While we drove between quadrants to prepare the devices and waited for the sun to set before the next step, we were able to watch an incredible amount of birds, mostly raptors, in and around the Snake River Canyon, such as burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, eagles, prairie falcons, barn owls, great horned owls, magpies… It was great, and with the extra help of a high-powered Fish & Game spotting scope, the wildlife biologist, and a teenage birding prodigy intern, there was never a dull moment (or an unidentifiable bird).


The view of the canyon as the sun sets before we drove our transect

Next we mounted another AnaBat acoustic monitoring device onto the top of our truck. This time, the device is facing the top of the truck. The flatness and smoothness actually helps the acoustics bounce back at a good angle that makes the recording clearer. This sensor is connected to a handy palm pilot from the 80s that has an application installed that visualizes the frequencies of the different sounds that are picked up. Before we started driving along the transect, we recorded the temperature, time of sunset, lunar phase, temperature, wind speed, cloud coverage, humidity, etc. Bats tend to be more active the fuller the moon due to increased insect activity (attraction to light).


AnaBat sensor mounted on the top of the truck

Next, we drove and watched and listened for bat noises on the palm pilot. The sounds that the palm pilot picks up are echo location and hunting calls. Different species of bats have specific associated frequencies and ranges. Although some visualizations are pretty definitive, all recordings must be listened to in elongated 15 second sections by a biologist who has been trained in using the device (which involves a lot of sound physics).  We were able to identify large and small brown bats, long-eared, Townsend’s big-eared, and a few other species. 

Jesse, one of the wildlife biologists at our office, trained us to do pygmy rabbit surveys, which are usually done in the winter when there’s plenty of snow and easy to identify active burrows and fresh scat. The process is pretty straightforward. We monitored previously inhabited areas and a couple where they were suspected to be present based on the habitat. In general, they like loamy, soft, deep soils that are easy for burrowing (they are the only rabbit species that dig their own burrow) and tall sagebrush with at least 30% cover.

Their burrows are pretty distinct due to their size (about the size of a softball) and sightings of their scat nearby, which are incredibly small pellets the size of tic tacs or smaller. Trying to find them reminded me of looking for sheds with my co-workers while we were driving through pastures for use supervision. There are so many things that look like what you’re looking for (i.e. a dead sagebrush branch can look a lot like a mule deer antler when you’re in a moving car) and it almost always isn’t. Similarly, when you approach a mound of tall sagebrush with the right soil, good cover, not too rocky, and actually find a burrow. A lot of the times I’ll find a promising burrow and it’s slightly too big or too small or somewhere in between but no scat to confirm.


Most recently, we went out with Ross from Fish & Game again to do swan surveys. Tundra and Trumpet swans are known to migrate here during the winter, but unfortunately we weren’t able to spot any. This could be a result of the recent cold snap scaring them off to warmer areas. Nevertheless, I got a lot of practice identifying waterfowl and saw some familiar species I saw a lot in Florida like pelicans, gulls, cormorants, snowy egrets, blue herons, and sandhill cranes.


On our way between swan monitoring sites, we were able to stop at the Bruneau Dunes to look for the very rare Bruneau Dune Tiger Beetle, which we were not able to find but we did learn quite a bit about what to look for when trying to spot beetle burrows and how to lure them out (with a blade of grass!). And of course, the views were pretty breathtaking.

Lastly, we spent a couple hours getting trained in radio telemetry. Ross hid 6 sage grouse collars outside the Fish & Game office (in trees, bushes, etc.) and taught us how to use the radios and antennas while adjusting the dials (volume, gain, etc.) to key in on a frequency and locate a collar.



We learned about the different types of collars (radio vs. satellite), different sizes for different age classes and species, how to deactivate a transmitter using a magnet, ones that are solar-powered, and pre-programmed duty cycles (i.e. when an animal dies or goes into hibernation, the transmitter can either turn off completely or reactivate when they are awoken, or to turn on and off depending on the time of day to save battery).

In addition, we were able to practice using two different types of antennas (Yagi vs. “H”). The H antenna was a lot smaller and lighter and easier to use, in my opinion, but Yagi tended to be more accurate when trying to determine where a collar was once you get pretty close to its location. We also learned how to navigate when there are tall, dense, or metallic/electrical, structures that may be interfering with our signal and how to triangulate to find a location.

Anyway, that about sums up our wildlife training for the season!

Until next time,


BLM Shoshone, ID

“Graze it, Don’t Blaze it”: Cows, Fire, Sage Grouse, & People

After writing a lot of generalized blog posts that summarized my work and travels, I decided to dedicate a post to America’s favorite ungulate- the cow!


Dramatic cow photo. Such mystery, so aloof…what are they thinking about?

Every day I encounter hundreds of cows to, from, and during work. We drive by packed dairies carpeted by manure and spotted with black and white heifers during our commute. But mostly we encounter free-range beef cattle on BLM lands at work. When we see the cattle they are usually either crowded at watering areas or in repose among the sagebrush and grasses. They also play chicken with the truck, giving you the blankest, emptiest cow stares until the truck is literally inches away and they bolt and scatter.

Usually the cattle are well-fed and calm, with lots of clumsy and chubby calves that gallop around, always less than a year from being full-grown and ready to have their own calves that will replace them after slaughter. There are also the occasional unlucky individuals that get separated from the herd. It’s usually a lame bull, a skinny cow, or a fatigued calf.


A lot of cows.

We’ve also become experts at spotting sun-bleached cow bones from our truck and our hikes to our monitoring sites. We’ve even collected a few choice bones for our balcony museum of dead things (several cow bones and skulls, a dog skull, and a coyote skull)

But the constant exposure to these ungulates is starting to get to me. Sometimes I’ll spot some cows on the slope of an extremely steep mountainside or floundering in the dust of a veritable desert and just laugh. I know they’re deceptively surefooted and extremely self-sufficient (I mean, they turn wimpy grass into BURGERS), but most of the time they just look completely lost or out of place.

We’ve also encountered a couple calf-dumping sites which, as you can imagine, are considered bio-hazards. About a month ago we spotted four dead calves decomposing next to a trailer. As we drove past, two herding dogs came out of nowhere and chased our pick-up. It was a little creepy. We’ve been told that sometimes dairy farmers will dump their dead calves on BLM land as a show of hostility that stems from a dairy vs. beef ‘beef’ that has grown in recent years. We spent a lot of time at that particular allotment, which has gained some infamy at our field office for having less than desirable grazing, habitat potential, or diversity in some pastures.

That isn’t to say that this is representative or typical for our field office’s lands. On the contrary, we have an enormous range of different ecosystems from lush and green mountainsides covered in Douglas firs and snowberry to your classic sagebrush steppes, and of course, a few cheat-grass dominated sites.  And it’s rare to see any sick cows. But after encountering thousands of of beefy bovine and a fair amount of areas nearly desecrated by grazing, drought, or erosion, I wanted to learn more about the other less obvious implications of cattle grazing.

The last Habitat Assessment Framework site we did at Muldoon Canyon

I’m from Florida, which has almost 1 million head of cattle that supplies $2 billion of our state’s economy. Historically, we are the first state to have large-scale cattle ranches. At the moment, the majority of the beef produced in Florida is shipped elsewhere, like Oklahoma or Texas, due to there only being one industrial-sized slaughterhouse located in Florida (Florida Beef Council).

A few Florida cows hanging out under the palm trees at my friend's family ranch in Loxahatchee.

A few Floridian cows hanging out under the palm trees at my friend’s family ranch in Loxahatchee.

This is in stark contrast to Idaho’s beef industry, which caters its own products within the state and has more than double the amount of cattle in Florida. The profits from Idaho’s beef industry are only surpassed by that of Idaho’s dairy industry. Despite having gigantic corporate operation headquarters, the majority of the cattle in Idaho are raised on privately owned feedlots and ranches. More than 2/3rds of the state’s lands are owned by state and federal government, which means most cattle spend a portion of their lives on public rangelands (Idaho Beef Council). They’re a pretty big deal out west, and the BLM grants 18,000 permits and leases for ranchers and  puts aside 155 million acres for grazing.

Cows are arguably the most important domesticated animal that has ever existed and the “second most influential mammal in North America” (you can probably guess who’s number one). Some consider cows to be the oldest form of wealth and today is one of the most resource-intensive forms of agriculture (Cowed). We use 25% of the world’s land to graze cattle. It costs 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef and producing one pound of grain-fed beef has the equivalent ecological footprint of burning one gallon of gasoline (Rise & Fall of Cattle Culture). These gentle giants are as tasty as they are costly.

Our obsession with the ungulate can be traced back to humanity’s first attempt at domestication 10,500 years ago. We started with 80 of the first domesticated cows from Turkey, which grew to between 1.3-1.5 billion cows worldwide (UCL). The effects of this milestone has altered our landscapes and resources. It started as a symbiotic relationship where cows converted grasses into food, labor, and fertilizer, and we provided them with water and protection from predators (Cowed). However, taking into account global warming, declining soil quality, contamination of our water systems, the spread of invasive species, heart disease, erosion, and even wildfires– the symbiosis is equivocal at best.

Drill-seeded crested wheatgrass

On the other hand, cows are a celebrated resource- a seemingly endless supply of hamburgers, steak, cheese, milk, ice cream, fertilizer, leather etc. Our obsession with cows is evident in our favorite foods as well as scientific research. Cows are the only animal to have their entire genome mapped (and share 80% of their genes with humans). They also played a crucial role in settling the west. As the demand for beef grew, so did the need to expand westward in the 1900s (Humane Society). As a result, cattle culture is completely ingrained here in Idaho. There’s a new rodeo in town every other week, a surplus of western wear outlets, and trucks with unfathomably long trailers absolutely stuffed with bright yellow hay, ready to be munched on by dairy cows.

Most of the work we’re assigned (directly and indirectly) is a response to these animals’ existence and their profound effects on the environment. We monitor vegetation at long-term trend sites to gather vegetation data on pastures that will be used to inform allotment management plans and we perform grazing reintroduction surveys to determine when and if pastures can be grazed after a wildfire occurs.

These grazing reintroduction studies are conducted a few years (usually 2-3) after a fire has occurred and restoration efforts have begun. Some sites are naturally regenerated while others that require more intensive management are drill-seeded. Data on species type, count, and how established the root systems of the grasses are collected to determine the health of the pasture and when cattle or sheep can be reintroduced.


A grazing reintroduction monitoring site that burned about 3 years ago. The vegetation that followed was naturally regenerated and surveyed to determine when permittees can let their cattle graze in these pastures again.

We frequently encounter cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) during our monitoring. Cheatgrass is an invasive species that thrives in fire-prone ecosystems and is also an incredibly flammable fuel source. They’re also prolific reproducers, peaking at 10,000 seeds for every square meter of established cheatgrass and are expert competitors when stacked against most native flora (Greenwire). The Fish and Wildlife Service predicts that “in 30 years we may have five times more cheatgrass dominated areas in the Great Basin than we have today”. Between 2012-2014, 3.7 million acres of suitable sage grouse habitat went up in flames– and that number is rapidly increasing after this year’s sporadic incendiary fire events, like the Pooping Cyclist Fire in Boise (National Interagency Fire Center).

To combat this, the BLM has been pushing to plant more native grasses since the 80s, as well as introduced species like crested wheatgrass (a non-native that’s good for grazing, wildlife cover, and less flammable than cheatgrass) and forage kochia that tend to fare better than natives when it comes to out-competing cheatgrass and happen to be extremely palatable to cows (Greenwire).

Bromus tectorum, aka cheatgrass, aptly named for its poor forage value. It ‘cheats’ cows out of nutritious grass!

Although a strategic and calculated maneuver, it hasn’t been enough to deter wildfires. The recent fires in Idaho have created a lot of controversy and pointed fingers between the BLM and ranchers. Idaho has battled 21 wildfires this year. Ranchers and the Idaho Cattle Association have been very vocal about their opinion that the BLM could have drastically reduced the size of the Soda Fire. Many ranchers are arguing that had the BLM allowed more grazing this year to reduce the fuel load, which has increased due to higher than normal rainfall, the Soda Fire would not have reached the size or intensity that allowed it to destroy hundreds of acres of land. In an interview with KTVB, BLM state director Tim Murphy explained that the extreme weather, conditions that have not been seen in the area for nearly 90 years, was to blame and that increased grazing would not have affected fire behavior (KTVB).

BLM Director Neil Kornze recently toured Owyhee County to survey the Soda Fire which burned 280,000 acres and is now the agency’s priority rehabilitation site. The project to restore the lands may cost as much as $10 million. Grazing permits are an important factor when considering the complexity of how rangelands are managed in the future. This in combination with restoration efforts are exceptionally crucial for next month’s USFWS decision on whether the sage grouse will be put on the endangered species list at the end of September (Idaho Statesman).

I hope to write a post about at least one more human-rangeland topic (i.e. the BLM horse round-ups) before my internship comes to an end in October. Until my next post, I hope to speak to ranchers, range conservationists, and wildlife biologists to develop a better understanding of this complex interface of people, weather, flora, and fauna. It’s a sensitive and contentious time for Idaho’s ranchers, natural resource agencies, and public lands–but it’s also an invaluable opportunity to observe the sociology and ecology of this unique state.

Poorly organized sources

The end of trend!!! and exploring Thousand Springs, Bear Lake, my first rodeo, Boise, & the Sawtooth Mountains


Since my last post, Carla and I have been going out on our own to finish up the last of the trend monitoring at our allotments. Idaho has been getting extremely hot, upwards of 100 degrees, so we’ve had to be extra careful not to get dehydrated or overheated. It’s been pretty challenging navigating often overgrown and un-maintained dirt roads with our GPS unit, which doesn’t have all the roads marked or always clearly identify canals…and some of the old site descriptions (it’s been more than 10 years since some of these sites have been monitored or updated) are just terrible!

Some cow bones! Which I have since collected to replace my dead flowers on our balcony

Cow bones

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Our last trend site at Muldoon Canyon

For example, we’ll get to a stream after 2 hours of driving on heinously rocky and steep dirt roads only to realize the next area to cross isn’t for another 5 slow miles, then get to the site and realize the directions written for the reference post are incorrect, or better yet, forget the directions in the car after hiking a couple miles out to the site. We’ve been aiming for 5 8’s a week and have unintentionally had 10-12 hour days due to navigation, bad roads, directions, etc. Adventure!!! There’s nothing like having a 12-hour day, almost getting locked out of the parking lot at work, and then having popsicles for dinner when you get home.

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The views are often worth the misadventure!

But that’s the very worst of it and it doesn’t happen often at all. We’ve been extremely lucky and it’s always a rewarding learning experience.  We’ve finished our trend plots, haven’t had any flat tires (a miracle), and haven’t gotten lost (just misdirected…). I’ve been compiling a species/code list and handbook with pictures and descriptions and we have over 90 and counting that we’ve identified in the field.

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Lunch after checking pastures for cows

Even though the number of plants we need to keep track of is overwhelming, it’s completely worth it for the scope of different ecosystems and diversity we’ve seen in our allotments from desert to mountain. In addition, we did our first seed collection for SOS of bottlebrush squirrel tail (Elymus elymoides) which was a nice change of pace. Our next project is Habitat Assessment Framework monitoring which is kind of like trend monitoring except focused more on habitat and forage for sage grouse (i.e. canopy cover, a focus on forbs, etc.).

Picking flowers at Muldoon Canyon

Picking flowers at Muldoon Canyon

A suspicious sample of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)

A suspicious sample of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)

To balance our long, dusty, hot days in the field I’ve been going out during the weekends and doing some exploring in Idaho. I was fortunate enough to have two friends from back home in Florida visit me within two weeks of each other. I met Adam, an avid traveler, about 3 years ago through the “Outdoor Adventure Recreation” (OAR) club in college. He visited after finishing a short-term job grading AP government papers in SLC. I took him to Perrine Bridge, Dierkes Lake, and we went kayaking down Snake River. It was really great to see him and take him on a couple adventures, since he’s led so many trips that I’ve been on.


Adam, courageously leaping to the icy waters of Dierkes

The following week my best friend Shabnam visited. She’s working at Bryce Canyon National Park through the Student Conservation Association and spontaneously found a ride through her boss for July 4th weekend! It was a huge surprise. I took her to the Perrine bridge (the only man-made structure in the world open all year round for jumpers without a permit) to watch some BASE jumpers and Dierkes Lake as well, but this time  Carla and our co-worker Logan came. We did some cliff diving at Dierkes and found Hidden Lake after some exploring. There were like thirty 8 year-olds jumping off some of the sketchiest cliffs I’ve ever seen. The kind you need a long running start to clear the rocks below you. It took me 30 minutes of knee-shaking anxiety and a motivational speech from Carla at one of the lowest cliffs at Dierkes to get me to jump.

Hidden Lake

We also went camping the next day with some other friends at a Thousand Springs where we had a campsite right along the Snake River. I brought a festive alligator noodle (go gators), my friend Guillaume brought an inflatable raft from Fred Meyers, and Shabnam brought her new double camping hammock. We saw some fireworks, floated on the river with our inflatables, hammocked, and the next morning Shabnam and I helped take pictures for a 4-generation family reunion that was camping next to us.

Shabnam & her beloved hammock

The following weekend I went camping again at Bear Lake. It’s about 4 hours away and spans the border of Idaho and Utah. The weather in Twin the Friday we left was pretty heinous with lightning, thunder, and hail. Actually the surrounding parks in general had terrible weather, but for some reason Bear Lake was left untouched that weekend. We got to our site pretty late but managed to cook some trout (“trweet” if you’re French) and did some stargazing at the lake. The next day we rented kayaks and jet skis and pretty much spent the whole day there. It was awesome! Definitely my favorite trip so far since I’ve been in Idaho. I plan on going back some time in August for “Raspberry Days”.

Kayaking at Bear Lake

Kayaking at Bear Lake

Jet skis!!!!!

Bear Lake

We also found a poster for the summer rodeo in Garden City which was about 20 minutes away from our campsite. I watched for the first time mutton busting (5-year-olds riding angry sheep), barrel racing, bull riding, bronco riding, etc. For an arguably inhumane and somewhat sexist tradition, it was pretty entertaining! And now I can finally say “this isn’t my first rodeo”. And I got some pretty good pictures of some cowboys totally eating it.

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This past weekend, I visited Boise for the first time and explored downtown as well as the World Center for Birds of Prey. We saw different kinds of eagles, vultures, and hawks and I purchased possibly the coolest bird-themed mug ever.

Some building in Boise

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Last Sunday Carla, Chelsea (Jarbidge CBG intern), and I took a day trip to the Sawtooth Mountains. We were initially planning a camping trip but the weather turned sour at the last minute for Saturday. We checked out Galena Summit and hiked for a couple hours to Titus Lake. It was a steep climb but the views and blossoming wildflowers were completely worth it.

Galena Summit

Chelsea & Carla post-hike to Titus Lake


All in all, it’s been a wonderful month.

Until next time,


BLM Shoshone, ID Field Office.

Archaeology, Horny Toads, & Chicago

Greetings, readers!

Idahoan souvenirs from Pocatello

Idahoan souvenirs from Pocatello

I can’t believe it’s already the end of my 7th week here in Idaho. It seems like it was just a few days ago that I was scrambling from thrift store to thrift store looking for the cheapest and least-likely-to-have-bed-bugs mattress I could find for my first night in Twin and worrying about my cat, Leopold, who I cruelly had flown with me from Florida and was completely zonked out from the cat-Xanax his vet prescribed. Now, we are living in an almost-furnished apartment (an armchair and a love seat almost makes a couch, right?) and Leopold louder and fatter than ever.



Since my last post, we’ve had lots and lots of training. We attended a 2-day forb workshop hosted by Fish & Game which was a lot of fun. We learned about native seed collection, the importance of different kinds of forbs to sage grouse diets and their chicks, insect diversity, and we visited a private botanic garden filled with native and exotic plants ranging from Joshua trees to North African/SW European spiny pillows (Ptilotrichum spinosum). My favorite part of that tour were the brilliantly colored cacti, specifically the Black Knight Pricklypear (Opuntia rhodantha).

Black Knight Prickly Pear

Opuntia rhodantha

During the field portion of the training we identified many ‘new’ plants with the help of the former state botanist, who was not only incredibly entertaining but the most impressive walking botanical encyclopedia I’ve ever met. We were also able to look at a variety of different sagebrush species and I got to handle my first horny toads! Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with when holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad. It was love at first toad. I don’t think these are the blood-spurting-out-of-their-eyeballs variety, but if I encounter one, this blog will be the first to know.

Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with by holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad.

Words cannot describe the feeling one is overcome with when holding a pudgy, inert, horny toad.

Our mentor arranged for us to shadow the office’s archaeologist, Lisa, for a day, which was really exciting. Lisa gave us a tour of some of her allotments, including a graveyard from the 1800s, Native American rock art just feet away from grazing cattle, lava tubes where human remains have been found, and told us stories about working with the Bannock Shoshone Native Americans and recording their oral history and learning about the different medicinal uses of native plants, such as camas. I studied human dimensions of natural resources and environmental policy, and ethnobotany & ethnoecology has always been a subject I’ve thought about pursuing, but unfortunately there aren’t many graduate programs for it. Luckily, I met an Ethnobotany PhD candidate from the University of Kent, UK who was at the Chicago workshop, who I plan on keeping in contact with and following her research. I also had the pleasure of meeting the Jarbidge office’s archaeologist, Shane, who offered helpful advice for pursuing a career in archaeology during a fuel’s ecology tour.

The grave, there were about 20 creepy cat-sized crows waiting for us when we arrived...

The grave, there were about 20 creepy cat-sized crows waiting for us when we arrived…

Lava tube where human remains were excavated from

Lava tube where human remains were excavated from

We also helped out with HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring with some of the other range cons (which we hadn’t done since our first day of work). We went up to a loamy hillside allotment that was lush, green, full of new (and living!) forbs. It was absolutely beautiful and the weather was beyond perfect at a cool ~70 F. We gathered data on shrub canopy cover (line intercept) and forb diversity/availability, and soil type. On our way back to the trucks we stumbled upon a sage grouse nest with some chicks and more horny toads.

HAF Monitoring at Poison Creek

HAF Monitoring at Poison Creek

Carla (fellow CBG-er) and I also got to drive out and do trend by ourselves for the first time, which was really exciting. We only did one site that day because it took a bit longer than we thought to find, but we managed to finish the monitoring (while racing a looming thunderstorm) and not get stuck in any muddy roads, so it was a success!

Sheep about to cross Swinging Bridge for the filming of its 50th anniversary that our mentor organized.

Sheep about to cross Swinging Bridge for the filming of its 50th anniversary that our mentor organized.

And lastly, we returned from the Chicago Botanic Garden workshop a few weeks ago– which was really, really, amazing. First we went over general HR/safety information, career/graduate school advice, safety, sampling techniques, plant identification/terminology, Seeds of Success (and some basic collection protocols), and lastly a symposium from a variety of conservationists that discussed various projects ranging from altered fire regimes and the resulting spread of invasive species to the largest prairie and wetland reconstruction project in America (Glacial Ridge Project, which was my favorite lecture).

Volcanic Sunset Cactus

I also got to explore different parts of the city such as Clybourn (for Jamaican food), Roger’s Park (where we had ‘the best Indian food in Chicago’– apparently Chicago has the 2nd highest combined population  in the US of Indians and Pakistanis after NYC), downtown, the Art Institute, and the diner Big and Littles (many thanks to Carla and her boyfriend who showed me around)!

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I think this was in a movie or something

American Gothic

American Gothic

But the best part about the workshop was the opportunity to get to know the other interns and speak with the instructors and organizers and find out what their projects, locations, and backgrounds were. It gave me a lot of insight and perspective on my own path as I navigate the waters of post-undergraduate life. It’s really humbling to think about how lucky I am to have met all these different people (apparently we are the most diverse group of interns they’ve had in terms of ethnicity, age, and gender). I can’t wait to see what the next 3 months have in store for us!

Until next time,

Diana Gu

BLM , Shoshone ID Field Office

Idaho, land of lava fields, cows, and magic!

Hello, everyone!

I just moved from Gainesville, Florida 2 weeks ago to Twin Falls, Idaho to work at the BLM Shoshone field office. I studied political science and natural resource conservation with a minor in sustainability at the University of Florida. Moving away from my family and friends was bittersweet. I spent my entire life in Florida (save for a few pretty forgettable years in Alaska from ages 0-3). But since my first day of work with the BLM I felt very welcomed by the staff and excited to learn everything I can about this mysterious state.

During my first weekend in Twin, my roommate and fellow CBG-er Carla and I visited Shoshone Falls, Snake River, and Dierke Lake. I was surrounded by beaches, lakes, and even the world’s highest concentration of springs in Gainesville, but we definitely don’t have the jaw-dropping cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls we found here. I was deeply impressed by the geological and aquatic beauty of these areas just 15 minutes away from our apartment.

Snake River & Canyon

Shoshone Falls


On our first day of work,  our mentor Joanna introduced us to everyone in the office and then we headed out to do a training session for HAF (Habitat Assessment Framework) monitoring. It was a great way to get to know everyone and get an idea of the ecology of the area. I learned a few plants and we even spotted a moose on the other side of the valley. My first impressions of the area were of how blue the sky was, the smell of sagebrush, how dry the air was, and… wait where’s the water? The allotment was called Poison Creek but I soon found out Idaho is in the midst of a 4-year drought. However, Magic Valley (the name of our region) was named after the ‘magic’ that is the construction of the series of dams and canals that profoundly improved irrigation and agriculture in the early 1900s in a previously desolate and uninhabitable area. The creation of giant reservoirs of water in a desert in the early 20th century would seem magical to me, too.

HAF Monitoring Training

I heard about more unique and unexpected landmarks in Idaho such as Craters of the Moon National Preserve and Monument, which the BLM co-manages with the NPS. President Coolidge himself described the area as “unusual and weird” and the Apollo 14 astronauts trained there to prepare for the moon landing. And, I was excited about the prospect of getting some training in raptor and bat monitoring. That will have to wait until the bulk of our range land monitoring is done and bat season starts, but! we did get to visit and do some caving at Craters of the Moon and it was pretty awesome:

Dwarf Buckwheat

And of course, plant identification! Dendrology was one of my favorite (and one of the most difficult) classes I took as an undergrad. We had to learn 130 species of plants, lots of different varieties of pines and oaks, which made transitioning to sagebrush grasslands a little difficult. I knew a handful of southeastern grasses and switching over from identifying mostly trees and large shrubs to shriveled up remnants of forbs the size of a pinhead and a variety of grasses took some getting use to. Luckily we got plenty of practice in the field and jumped right into long-term trend monitoring using photo plots and line transects. Just two weeks in and we’ve learned to identify ~30 species. What was most surprising about the fieldwork was how much driving was spent getting to different BLM allotments. The prospect of getting very lost is daunting but the trade off for the scope of ecological diversity we get to experience is more than worth it. Also, the weather has been great so far. Highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 40s, that’s fall weather for Florida (or winter if you’re in south Florida)! It won’t last, but I could definitely get use to it. Also I have seen more cows here than I have ever seen in my life. It’s great.

Racing a thunderstorm to finish our trend plots

Clasping pepperweed, my new favorite ‘introduced’ plant! Lepidium perfoliatum


Elk skull

Your friendly neighborhood Shoshone horses


22-degree rainbow halo (it’s a thing)

Thanks for reading! Shorter and more botanically inclined posts to come.

Diana Gu

BLM, Shoshone Field Office.