I can’t believe it’s already over :(

I still can’t believe this summer is already over! This internship was the best possible internship I could have had this summer. I learned so much about plants of the West and working in the field and how the BLM operates. I am so much more confident in my ability to learn quickly, to work well with others, and not die while driving on sketchy roads! I have really come to love the desert out here in the Great Basin, and I will never look at Utah the same as I continue to explore its sometimes subtle, sometimes ostentatious beauty.

Next, I am headed to graduate school. I know that my experiences with this internship will help as I start my masters in plant phylogeny.

I am so grateful for this wonderful opportunity!

Theresa, SOS, Salt Lake Field Office

This IS My First Rodeo

“The county fair is pretty laid back here. Feel free to take breaks and explore around, but you absolutely must see the rodeo”. These were the final instructions given to my partner and I before we stationed ourselves at the fair’s Bureau of Land Management booth. We thanked our boss for the advice and looked out from our booth to the fair grounds.

The Harney County Fair is one of the largest events in Burns, OR. With hundreds of people frequenting the fair-grounds daily, in a town of roughly 4,000, the annual fair is a highly anticipated event. On the premises there isa row of food trucks serving meals ranging from smoked-ribs to shaved-ice confections. There is a carnival section, containing classic rides and deceptively difficult games. Another section of the fair features wall-less barns for 4-H animal competitions (e.g. largest pig, cutest rabbit, wooliest sheep, etc.). There is also a main stage, in the center of the fair grounds, which features three main acts, each taking an hour in the lime-light, twice a day. The acts consist of a Japanese taiko drumming performance, a magician, and a hypnotist.

In addition, there are several rows of booths for selling of merchandise or providing public-information. There is a booth representing the Oregon Hunters Association, a custom cow-boy hat maker, a mini-market of gag-gifts and fake weapons (and some real ones too), dozens of other vendors, and our humble BLM booth. Our booth has traditionally been passive in nature; it typically has been a table full of pamphlets and maps regarding different activities or programs available in the local area. This year however, my fellow intern and I were tasked with making the booth more engaging for kids. After a day of brainstorming, planning, and shopping, we devised a scavenger-hunt, with a fire-roasted s’more being the reward for completion (we were only given permission for this because the fire-fighters’ booth was directly next to ours).

Now, this is all good family fun; an excuse for parents to let their kids run around while they catch-up with old friends. However, to many this also just fluff, filler to kill time until 7:00 PM when the rodeo starts. There is a professional rodeo tomorrow, were seasoned cow-boys will travel cross-state to come and compete for glory, and many will go see it, but tomorrow night is not the event that has everyone excited. The true attraction people are talking about, the one that has everyone coming out in their nicest hats, is the local amateur rodeo.

The local rodeo has no limits on age or skill, just a willingness to hang on tight to a bucking bronco or one majorly pissed-off bull for as long as you can. In addition, there is a lassoing competition to see who can catch a run-away horse the quickest, and Barrel-Racing, where cow-boys and cow-girls run their house through a path set by barrels in an effort to complete the course in the quickest time.

The rodeo commences with an announcer, possessing a thick drawl, leading the crowd in prayer and the National Anthem. After this, a tractor carrying a large rake attachment clears the field in neat linear paths, reminiscent of a Zamboni at hockey games. When the tractor’s job is complete, the bucking-broncs begin. Without warning, a gate is flung open and a cow-boy is sent out on a riled-up horse. The horse sprints and flails, in an effort to launch the cow-boy clean off its back (what is done to upset the horse in the first place is beyond my knowledge). After only 5 seconds, the cowboy is flung forward, and the horse runs over him, but he appears to be uninjured and quickly gets up to run back outside the fence. Not entirely sure what to make of the whole thing, I look around and see people looking slightly disappointed and shaking their heads.

“What went wrong”, I ask a local man behind me, wearing an immaculately white and large brimmed hat.

“They have to stay on for at least eight seconds, or the score is no good”.

Immediately after, the score-board flashes “No Points Awarded”.

The next cow-boy manages to hold on for about 9 seconds before being flipped over the side of the horse. The score-board reads “65/100”.

“Not too bad”, the man behind me says, while clapping his hands.

“Why only 65”, I ask.

“Well, there’s two judges and they each give up to 50 points. 25 for how well the guy holds on, and 25 for how well the animal does. Then they combine their scores for a final number out of 100”.

“How well the animal does”?

“Yeah. A calm horse is much easier to ride, so they’re not going to give it many points. But if you get one really worked up…well I’d be sorry to be the guy on one like that, but at least you could make a better score. This is just amateur though, the scores will probably stay in the 60’s all night”.

And on it went. The highest score wound up being 71.

Next they begin the lassoing. I start feeling bad for the horses in this one and decide to leave for a bit to grab a drink. When I get back, the final event has started, barrel racing. The first few racers go through, all making decent times and showing good control of their steeds. Suddenly, the announcer brings special attention to the next racer, a small boy who is doing his first barrel race. I stare at the boy amazed and turn to the white-hatted man behind me.

“How old is that boy”, I ask wide-eyed

He lets out a deep laugh and informs me, “he’s probably four. We like to start them young around here”.

The boy looks like a small doll riding on-top of a full grown horse. While not the fastest, the boy manages to complete the correct path of barrels in a reasonable time. I genuinely doubt the child’s ability to talk in complete sentences, yet there he is, confidently riding an animal easily 4 times taller than him. Everyone enthusiastically cheers him on, as do I (more out of awe than excitement).

The barrel races conclude and awards are given out. Trophies are in the form of large and ornate belt-buckles, decorated on intricate designs of silver and gold colors (belt-buckles, like hats, are worn as a status-symbol and essential accessory here).

Everyone begins to trickle out of the stands. I follow suit and return to my car, where I plug in my phone and start playing Glen Campbell’s cover of Rhinestone Cowboy, as I begin my ride home.

Big Bear has tiny plants

Big Bear Lake is a place of escape for many Southern Californians. Folks come out in droves to leave the smoggy summers of their respective concrete jungles, or to opt out of their non-winters to get some snow time in. And I don’t blame them, because it is absolutely beautiful there and everybody deserves to experience the great outdoors. As for myself, I had never spent any time at Big Bear Lake until I was given the opportunity to spend the last week of August shadowing Marta Lefevre-Levy, the regional botany technician of San Bernardino National Forest in the Mountaintop Ranger Station in Fawnskin, CA. The week turned out to be a great opportunity for exploring, learning, networking, and of course, botanizing.


A view of the lake from Juniper Point


My work for the week consisted of establishing and surveying 10x10m and 1m diameter-circular plots in critical habitat areas within the 2017 Holcomb fire area. The critical habitat areas are known as the pebble plains and the carbonate hills, which host a number of threatened and endangered plants that are tiny and adorable. The pebble plains are a relict habitat left over from melted glacial deposits that have remained in place for tens of thousands of years. Apparently the pebble plain has such small plants for a number of reasons. One reason being that there are so many pebbles in the soil column that churn about over time that it is a very hostile environment for a plant’s roots. Thus, the smaller plants have evolved deep, strong taproots or many fibrous roots that minimize pebble movement around the plants. Another reason is that there is not much available water for the plants to grow, and being small is growth strategy for plants to persist in extreme conditions. Though they may be small, you can’t let the buckwheats fool you; some of them range from 500-1200 years in age.


Eriogonum kennedyi var. austromontanum


The Holcomb fire mostly impacted the pinyon-juniper woodlands adjacent to the critical habitat areas, however, during the fire there was a misapplication of aerial fire retardant in  the pebble plains and carbonate hills. They are considered “designated avoidance areas as discussed in the 2011 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Nation-wide Use of Aerial Application of Fire Retardants on National Forest System Lands” (USFS, 2011). The release of fire retardant in the pebble plains and carbonate hills triggered the establishment of monitoring plots to be surveyed for the next three years because aerial fire retardant has high phosphorous and nitrogen content in its makeup. Nitrogen and Phosphorous are two of the three plant macronutrients, so naturally there is some concern with the fire retardant stimulating the growth of non-native and invasive species.


Tiny Gilia sp. found in the pebble plains


The standard protocol for conducting the monitoring surveys involves the establishment of 10×10 meter paired plots. We established 9 paired-plots (18 total) to compare parts of the critical habitats that did and did not receive inputs of aerial fire retardant. 6 of the paired plots were within the pebble plains, and 3 were in the carbonate hills. Within each plot, we measured percent canopy cover by species within a circular 1-meter quadrat placed 5 meters from the southwest corner of the plot. We took photos in each cardinal direction, and created a species list of all plants present within 10 x 10m  boundary. The listed plants in the critical habitat area include southern mountain buckwheat (Eriogonum kennedyi var. austromontanum), silvery mousetail (Ivesia argyrocoma var. argyrocoma), Bear Valley sandwort (Eremogone ursina), ash-gray paintbrush (Castilleja cinerea), Cushenbury buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium var. vineum) and the below featured Cushenbury oxytheca (Acanthoscyphus parishii var. goodmaniana).


Acanthoscyphus parishii var. goodmaniana


I spent most of my free time at Big Bear Lake hanging out with Sophie Heston (my fellow intern at Chuchupate), Andre Jackson (Restoration and Phytophthora intern at Big Bear Lake) and Veronica Avalos (Restoration and Phytophthora intern at Big Bear Lake). Though I only spent a week in their barracks, I could tell Andre and Veronica had become great friends through working and living together throughout the summer. They drove me around the lake and showed me where they liked to hang out, we played a couple rounds of uno, and talked story for hours. I really admired them and the time we spent together. They are bright, sensitive, beautiful, hilarious human beings! I’m hoping that our paths cross again in the near future.


Fellow interns and friends, Sophie and Andre

Also, big shouts out and thanks to Marta Lefevre-Levy for making this week happening! It was great working with her and I learned a lot about the Big Bear area, its plants and career opportunities because of her. I wish her luck in her future endeavors!

Signing off,

Eli Grinberg

US Forest Service

Los Padres National Forest – Mt. Pinos Ranger District

Chuchupate Ranger Station

The Magic Spring

Recently, my co-intern, Eli Grinberg, and myself, made a trip up Cerro Noroeste in hopes that there would be seeds for us to collect, or insects for us to capture to add to our collection. Along the way we stopped at multiple locations, collecting seed pods and berries from different plants. When we got to our destination, a small spring, we were expecting to find multiple different species of flys, bees, and wasps, however, we found something much more magical.

To locals, this spring is known as Lion’s Gate. Although in the quaint mountain town of Frazier Park, California, there are no real lions, the spring was just as magical. When we first pulled up to the spring, we were not that impressed. If we did not know exactly where we were supposed to go, we would have missed it. The spring was a small trickle of water coming out of the side of the mountain along the main road, nothing special. Upon closer examination, Eli realized that there were a few hummingbirds flying around. We knew the birds would not be comfortable unless we remained extremely quiet and still. After a few minutes of still silence, the birds became comfortable with our presence, and came out of hiding.

When the birds came out of hiding is when the true magic began. At one point, we attempted to count how many hummingbirds were hanging around the spring, which can be extremely difficult. We counted seven birds at one point, all of which were flitting around, some drinking from the spring, others were chasing each other, and some were posing for us to take pictures of.

It was truly magical to watch the hummingbirds in their natural habitat, playing and simply enjoying their lovely home.

Photo by: Eli Grinberg

Many Layers To This GIS Onion (I Like Puns)

For many everyday users of ArcMap, layers are brought into a map, labels added and edited, a few colors that mesh well together selected, drop in a legend and scale, and place a compass somewhere that’s out of the way but not too out of the way. With the guiding hand and patience of our GIS Specialist, Courtney, I’ve been improving on my Editor skills and learning to code in Python (right click on feature class, click on Python snippet, add to Python, understand magic). Most of my job up to this point has been editing, merging, and appending datasets from consultants into our office wildlife database, a necessary tool for our wildlife biologists as they write NEPA documents for projects.

However, this has begun to change the last couple of weeks. Courtney has encouraged me to dip my toe into Python and learn coding with the hopes that I can put together several scripts to automate some database processes. While this doesn’t sound that exciting to some, running some lines of code to replace an hour of step-by-step instructions sounds like a gift from above when you’re doing the same process for the second time that day. However, Python has made me incredibly frustrated at times while trying to debug a syntax error that I swear I fixed before. At least, until I solved it and the tears of joy puddle on my keyboard (do I bill the CBG for that?). Now, Courtney and several staffers have dangled something in front of me that I can’t say no to: a challenge.

The field office is heavily invested in maintaining and improving habitat for sage grouse within the office boundaries and to that end I’ve been asked to help on a couple projects. While there is no need to tell you about each project, the challenge that was laid at my feet involves looking at fire disturbances, sagebrush habitat quality, existing road networks, and cheatgrass to help determine planning habitat and range improvements for the next couple of years. This intrigues me so greatly because of the wealth of information that will have to be compiled, sorted through, interpreted, and visually represented is a wonderful scholarship opportunity. And to know that I was part of a project that helped steer sage grouse towards recovery….well, someone’s cutting onions again.

Marking Anasazi Skippers (Ochlodes yuma anasazi) at Wild Rivers

Hello again from New Mexico! The best part of the last four weeks was the time my coworker, and I spent at Wild Rivers National Monument marking and resighting Anasazi Skippers. I’ve never done this before, so the process was exciting.

The Anasazi Skipper is a subspecies of Yuma Skipper (Ochlodes yuma) that lives in the Rio Grande Gorge. Female Anasazi Skipper lay their eggs on the leaves of the common reed (Phragmites australis). Once the caterpillar’s hatch, they rely on the leaves of as a food source. The caterpillar creates a cocoon by chewing a section of one of the common reed leaves until it dangles then adheres the leaf sides together with silk.

Wild Rivers is housed within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The runoff from the roads enables a large population of nectar rich Asclepias subverticillata (Horsetail Milkweed) to thrive. The study wanted to see if a nectar rich source away from the common reed in the gorge lured skippers out of the gorge and if the butterflies returned to the common reed patches in the gorge.
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Rolling into September

The days are still hot here in Salt Lake, but the nights and mornings are starting to get a tad cooler which makes me excited for fall. It will be so nice to eventually get a break from the desert heat!

August had Theresa and I scouting for seed, keying out plants, and checking them under the microscope once more. We were disappointed when we headed to the higher elevations in our field office in Rich County. The two of us had envisioned fields of wildflowers in the mountains. Silly SOS pipe dreams! We should know better by now that BLM land is typically not in the best shape and that it typically doesn’t contain the lush meadows of the mountains. We did find an abundance of Cordylanthus ramosus and tons of rabbitbrush, and while those aren’t the most exciting or showy or our target plants, the sheer numbers we found of them were quite impressive.

As one of our last big scouting/collecting trips together before Theresa leaves to begin the journey of grad school, we decided to head to the Deep Creeks. The Deep Creeks are a range of mountains on the border of Utah and Nevada that take quite a long time to drive to, thus camping or staying in the nearby field station is logical. We got a great recommendation of a camp spot from the aquatic AIM crew as well as other co-workers at the office, and it hands-down was the prettiest remote camp spot we’ve had all season. Gorgeous rocky canyon walls dotted with P/J, sweeping views of the valley and mountains in the distance, an epic sunrise, and no wind at night!

Part of the epic sunrise during our time in the Deep Creeks.

Unfortunately we realized that we missed out on some great native grass populations there due to our focus being elsewhere all season. We did find a surprise collection of Cleome lutea, one of our target species, though so that was pretty neat.

Many Cleome lute plants had these little fellas hanging out in the center of the flower clusters

Other recent explorations throughout our field office have revealed Cleome serrulata populations that have tons of pollinators, our pygmy sage site finally flowering, surpassing our collection goals, and making a pit stop for the “famous” raspberry shakes near Bear Lake. As the field season slowly winds down, and more days are dedicated to data management and office-type activities, I feel beyond grateful to have seen so many places of remote Utah that not too many people get to see.

Cleome serrulata with various pollinators around and on it

Microscope photo of H. annuus

Corinne Schroeder
BLM Salt Lake Field Office

Gardens, seeds, monarchs, crystals

I have been cleaning up some of the pollinator gardens scattered around the forest and planting some of my seeds. Much to Terry’s and my dismay, when we went to visit the Mauldin Fields pollinator garden this week, it was completely brush hogged. The person who is in charge of telling the contractor where to mow apparently forgot to communicate  for the second year in a row. Or maybe he thought it needed to be cut down for some reason? There were countless milkweeds planted there, some that we wanted to collect pods from. The area consists of two huge fields full of wildflowers. It was pretty discouraging. Much time, money and effort can be wasted on these projects if they are not properly maintained (left alone mostly). I wonder what will happen next year? Maybe Susan will lay the smack down.

The Fourche pollinator garden was still alive and well, although it was taken over by sericea lespedeza. I cut down sumac (Rhus sp.) that had grown up in the middle, and Susan and Gabe weed wacked and sprayed herbicide. They said it was necessary to control the sericea. I planted some seeds further down by the pond where blackberries (Rubus sp.) had taken over.

Christy generously let me take over part of the budget office with my seed saving operation. It got displaced when the new Silviculture detailer, Mike Stevens, moved in. But actually the budget office is better because it has more space. Above you can see, from left to right, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.), black eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and white milkweed (Asclepias variegata) seeds drying.

I have seeds from quite a few species collected now. Last week I added rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), hairy sunflower (Helianthus hirsutus), and ironweed (Vernonia sp.) among others. Since we are not participating in the seeds of success program, there is a lot more flexibility to collect opportunistically and not wait for a huge population. I love collecting and sowing seeds. Susan calls my bag of seed mix my “fairy bag.”

Yesterday was my first time this year seeing monarch butterflies and caterpillars! I have been looking for them all summer. These ones were spotted on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) planted in the seed orchard, as was the caterpillar munching heartily pictured below.

While Terry and I were out checking milkweed pods for ripeness along the forest roads, we stumbled across a vein of quartz crystals. On further inspection, it appears to be an abandoned mine. I found a whole bunch of beautiful crystals. My life is complete!

Only 6 more weeks here. It is starting to get cool. It’s already cold in Boone, NC where I will be moving back to. There may even be snow on the ground by the time I get back. I hope everyone is having a good time out there and learning a lot! Cheers.


Acronyms are a pretty common occurrence in BLM office here in Roseburg. Just out of curiosity, I tried googling this one and came up with the following possibilities; Pacific Crest Trail, Pennsylvania College of Technology, and Patent Cooperation Treaty. In fact, what PCT stood for in the context of my day was Pre-Commercial Thinning.

I did not actually conduct the thinning, instead I went out with the silviculturists to mark the boundaries of what is to be thinned (Pre-Pre-Commercial Thinning?). The idea behind PCT is that it can both help overall forest health, as well as maximize the production of timber (in our case; Douglas fir). When trees are planted too closely, they compete with one another which can prevent them from growing quickly, in terms of both diameter and crown height. It also can lead to heightened tree morality and dense patches of even-aged trees that can increase the chances of pest outbreaks and contribute to fuel build-up and wildfires. Despite the costs of contracting a PCT, the increases in terms of volume per acreage often make it financially attractive for private timber companies, and the BLM likewise usually thins out the forest it manages to promote forest health and promote the growth of large trees, as well as to meet the timber targets of the Northwest Forest Plan as established by Congress in 1994. Pre-Commercial Thinning, as the name might suggest, doesn’t produce any economically valuable timber as the stand is still too young. However, periodic commercial thinning, which takes places later in the stand’s development, instead of one-time clear cutting events is seen by some as a good compromise in balancing the often competing interests of forest health and maximum timber production.

We flagged the boundaries around the units relying both on a handheld GPS with the ‘official’ boundary lines, but also based on what we were seeing in the forest around us. You can tell, after some practice, where the boundary lines are just based on the distance between trees, the diameter of the trees, and the amount of understory that signal different ages and treatment regimes. These visual clues don’t always match up perfectly to the GPS boundaries. Part of this is because there may be impassable bluffs, rocky areas with poor soil that were managed differently, and because past silviculturists may have created buffers around streams and other sensitive areas. Essentially, there is plenty of variation even within the same unit. At some point in the near future, a crew of people with chainsaws will come through what we marked and cut trees according to a criteria of distance between trunks and size of trunks. You can see the effects of this type of treatment when looking at the tree rings of a cut tree. The tree rings are wider immediately following thinning treatments and for several years afterwards, indicating faster growth when the canopy opens up and competition beneath the ground lessens.

Okay, so I can’t actually complete this post without mentioning the incredible solar eclipse of a few weeks past, and the fact that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire right now. Enjoy a few pictures of those, because my camera didn’t come with me on the silvicultural escapade!


This is my favorite map that I’ve seen thus far of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. It’s obviously not a particularly informative map, and the main intention behind it is to create the overwhelming impression that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire and smoky. Which it is.



For some reason, this campground we did some repair work at is not full at the moment….

I haven’t gotten used to having a red sun for most of the day, but there is definitely a certain beauty to it….

The solar eclipse, as seen from 10 miles east of Salem, OR.


With the senescence of most of our rangeland plants for the fall, our internship experiences have become more varied. Between working on smaller projects we were able to cross agencies for a week and complete sensitive species surveys with the Forest Service Botany team.

We were able to see tons of amazing plants in an entirely new (to us) ecosystem, but the biggest excitement was finding the tiniest plant: botrychium.

The botanists warned us about “botrychium headache” our first day in the field. Apparently, crawling around through dense meadows and timber searching for a fern that ranges from 5-15cm makes you see cross-eyed after a while. Botrychium is a “moonwort,” a type of tiny fern found all over the United States. Its sporophyte generally consists of two leaves, a non-fertile one with simple to pinnate leaves, and a fertile leaf that contains a grape-like cluster of spores. Since they are so incredibly tiny and hard to find, little else is known about them. When looking for them we were told they didn’t grow with vaccinium species, and other than that “good luck.”

The botrychium in this picture is next to the strawberry leaves.

This plant is tiny! Those are spruce needles it’s growing through.

We were incredibly lucky, and on our first lunch break happened to spy some under a tree near our lunch spot. It was exciting discovering a new place where this sensitive species grow, and neat seeing such a tiny, elusive plant in real life!