The End

If you are considering a future in conservation/ecological investigation this is a great internship opportunity.  During my internship I was able to explore various strange natural habitats and search for interesting unfamiliar plant species.  I have spent the past 10 months gaining experience that I intend to utilize and expand on in my future studies.  I’ve developed working relationships with some really cool people who are passionate about their work and realize that species recovery requires experimentation and hard work.  I suppose that is my A-Ha! moment.  As conservationists we mustn’t be afraid of “unnatural” active recovery efforts, lets face it, “We are already running the whole Earth, whether we admit it or not” (Emma Marris).

As an intern I performed the following activities:

  • Measured and monitored rare plant populations
  • Collected and processed seed for restoration and recovery
  • Mapped potential rare plant habitat using GIS
  • Managed and analyzed large datasets of climate data
  • Rare plant propagation and care
  • Plant and insect identification

-Aaron M. Thom

Hollister CA BLM Office

California Daydreamin’

What is it that makes our lands valuable and worth managing and protecting? There are many reasons to list, but this week I want to focus on Paleontological resources.

I used to think the drive to visit my sister in Southern California was quite boring.  I didn’t think there was much to look at in terms of scenery and Interstate 5 isn’t very curvy.  Curves are fun, right?  I did what most people do to prepare for a long boring drive: make a mix-tape/playlist of  driving music, borrow some books on tape from the library (I say “books on tape” and “mix-tape” even though we all know I’m talking about CDs because “books on CD” and “mix-CD’s” just doesn’t have the same ring to it), charge your phone so you can call a friend on the way, and of course stock up on snacks.  I will go a long way to distract myself from the monotony of a long haul.

My time spent out in the field has certainly changed my view of the stretch of land between the Bay-Area and Southern California.  Now when I look out the window I’ll have something else on the brain.  To see part of the reason why, let’s take a look back in time.  65 million years ago California’s coastline looked quite different than it does today.  I like Richard P. Hilton’s description in Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California: “By the Late Cretaceous, the western edge of the Sierra Nevada had been eroded back and the sea was flooding into the areas of what are now the low Sierran foothills… Numerous fossils were deposited offshore from the ancestral Sierra Nevada in a marine environment between 80 and 65 million years ago”.

Parts of the lands I’ve been helping to manage happen to be in the Moreno formation of the Panoche Hills (west side of the San Joaquin Valley). The formation contains the highest diversity of organisms from the late Cretaceous period in the western United States.  During the course of my internship I had the opportunity to explore the Moreno shale formation and discover some of the fossilized treasures it yields.  Among other things, these fossils provide us with a wealth of information to better understand evolution and the make-up of past ecosystems.


Click on the pictures below to learn more.

I’ll still do all those things previously mentioned to prepare for the drive, but now I feel I have a deeper appreciation for the land around me.  Now I can share what I have learned about California Paleontology with my passengers whilst annoying them with my taste in music. So next time you’re passing through you should stop by and take advantage of your public lands or at least think about it.

-Aaron Thom (Hollister BLM Office)

If you would like to learn more about BLM paleo-resources check out the following link:


Seeding Our Future

Did anyone see the 23 September 2011 issue of Science Magazine?  It has a “News and Analysis” article written by Elizabeth Pennisi on the importance of seed banking that mentions the Seeds of Success program. The article highlights a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project whose goal is to compare plants grown from stored seeds with plants that will be collected decades from now.  Researchers will then look to see how species have reacted to various environmental changes.  Our collections could potentially be used to supplement projects like this.

Whether used to restore lost biodiversity, or to supply future researchers with viable seed, our collections will be put to good use.  So pat yourself on the back SOS interns!  The work we are doing is important.

-Aaron Thom

(Hollister, CA BLM office)


I’m into the fourth month of my CLM internship and have just sent out the last of our seed to the Bend processing facility. Apart from seed collection I’ve been working on various weed control projects within our management area.

 You might not consider weed control to be the most glamorous of our duties, but it is an important part of land management.  Nationwide, invasive weeds in pastures and farmland cost an estimated $33 billion per year (Cal-IPC 2011).  Noxious weeds have invaded 17 million acres of public rangelands in the West (Selected Noxious Weeds of Northeastern California 1998).  These invasive plants crowd out both native and economically important species and significantly degrade wildlife habitat.

Here is a list of a couple of the little nasties I’ve been helping to eradicate from our management area: Centaurea solstitialis (yellow star thistle), Ditrichia graveolens (stinkwort), and Tamarix ramosissima (tamarisk).

Noxious weeds are managed using a combination of three approaches: manual/mechanical removal, biological control, and the use of herbicides.  Usually the herbicide is applied using backpack sprayers but on rare occasions aerial spraying is implemented for large infestations.

Approximately 350 acres of public land (infested with tamarisk) was sprayed this September in the Panoche Hills of California’s Interior Coast Range.  “This marks the first time that aerial herbicide application has been conducted on BLM land in California” (Dianna Brink, BLM California State Office Range and Weed Program lead).  For more information check out the link below.


 It was pretty neat to watch from the ground.  Hopefully this method will succeed where previous ground level treatments have failed.  

-Aaron Thom

Hollister, CA Field Office




CABE Recovery

My mentor, Ryan O’Dell and I have been busy mapping out potential habitat for threatened San Benito evening primrose Camissonia benitensis (CABE). CABE is listed as a rare serpentine endemic meaning it only grows on serpentine soil. In 2010 three new habitat types were discovered outside of its known habitat (serpentine stream terraces) including serpentine geologic transition zones, serpentine rock outcrops, and shale outcrops. Finding CABE populations on shale rock outcrops was a bit of a surprise to me because its soil chemistry is so different from serpentine soil.  CABE does not do well agaisnt competitors and the adverse soil conditions found in these habitats greatly reduce competition from other plant species.

Camissonia benitensis

Serpentine alluvial stream terrace


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Kooky Soil


This past month I have had the opportunity to explore one of the strangest natural places I’ve ever seen just 100 miles away from my hometown.  The Clear Creek Management Area is a large (30,000 acre) section of public land located at the southern end of California’s Diablo Mountains that hosts many diverse natural resources. What makes this area so interesting to me is its “kooky” serpentine soil.

As many of you know serpentine is an ultramafic rock type that weathers to produce soils that are characterized by low calcium-to-magnesium ratios and high levels of heavy metals. In addition to difficult soil chemistry serpentine outcrops are often steep and rocky. These harsh soil conditions make it difficult for many plant species to survive and foster uniquely adapted and rare endemics.

Serpentinite outcrop within Clear Creek Management Area.

The Clear Creek Area is host to the largest stretch (at least 8,000 acres) of natural serpentine barrens in North America. Here, tectonic milling has produced expansive stretches of sheered and pulverized serpentine rock fragments with next to no plant cover making it very popular with OHV riders. Several rare serpentine endemic plant species grow at CCMA including listed Threatened Camissonia benitensis (San Benito evening primrose), Layia discoidea, Monardella antonina ssp. benitensis, Fritillaria viridea, Fritillaria falcata, Solidago guiradonis, and Trichostema rubisepalum.

Barren serpentine slopes in the Clear Creek area.

San Benito evening primrose (listed Threatened).

250 year old Pinus coulteri (upper left) dwarfed by stressful soil environment.

I’m beginning to recognize just how closely plant diversity is linked to geology. With the help my mentor, Ryan O’Dell I hope to learn more about serpentine ecology, edaphic endemism, plant evolution and adaptation, and revegetation of harsh sites.