Finally Collecting

We finally got to do SOS collections –  we are at 3 for now. Things are finally getting to greenup and the grasses and wildflowers alike go to seed rather quickly out here in the South West. As a botanist I could not be more pleased to be here. The plants species range is amazing, I have grown so much as a professional botanist. Working with plant taxonomy and the different keys 0ut here as been really good for me.

My area of interest is the wildflowers but the internship focuses on grasses. So, it was really good for me to go outside of my comfort zone and work with some really amazing and beautiful grasses. After some long hours I finally understand them a little bit better. But for now it is a waiting game to see what else will be going to seed in the Poaceae family.

Leaving the West…

In the last five months, I have had so many new experiences it would be hard to list them all. I have grown as an individual as well as in the work setting. I feel that I’m much more qualified for positions now, as my resume has grown immensely. I also feel more confident in tasks that I’m given, since I now have the experience. Some new skills I’ve gained are: plant identification, monitoring skills, GIS, driving ATV’s, seed collection, voucher collection, data collection and the list goes on. A learning experience that stands out to me is when our group did fire rehab monitoring. Fires are not as prevalent in the Midwest, so I thought it was such an interesting experience. I found it interesting that there is so much involved in monitoring areas after a fire, so I’m happy that I was able to be a part of it. I felt it was most rewarding when I started learning the flora in the West. Since the plants are very different in the Midwest, I had to learn a whole new set of vegetation that I was working with. This internship made me realize that I want to work with plants after this experience, and I will potentially be going back to graduate school.

Welcome To The Desert!

Seed collection is great because it gives you a legitimate reason to drive/hike around, explore new places, and look at plants, and you get paid to do it! Not finding much around the volcanic craters near Mono Lake? Why don’t we head up that stunning, glacially-carved, Eastern Sierra canyon and see what’s growing up there? There’s nothing much to collect in these foothills. Why don’t we head down to the huge salt flat in Smith Creek Valley, NV?

On a salt flat in Smith Creek Valley, NV

On a salt flat in Smith Creek Valley, NV


The huge variety of seed sizes and forms is really interesting, and training myself to look for seed has really added a new depth to my knowledge of and interest in botany. Mimulus guttatus seeds are so small and numerous that they appear as a fine, black powder. Epilobium ciliatum seeds are tiny, attached to tufts, and carried off by the wind. Needle-and-thread grass seeds are corkscrew-shaped and literally screw themselves into the ground. As always, plants are incredible.

However, I have definitely seen some noteworthy, non-botanical things as we have traveled around the NV deserts. The coolest thing I have seen recently is glow-in-the-dark scorpions! Apparently, all scorpions fluoresce under black lights, and we saw many of them on a night walk at Sand Mountain.

I am a scorpion.


Easily the creepiest and darkly weirdest thing I have seen so far was in one of the salt flats in Smith Creek Valley. Maybe a mile or so in, there is a large, wooden post with two dead animals hanging from it. At the top was a mummified cow (with what looks like a bird’s nest in its pelvis). Near the bottom was a second skeleton, suspended by wires which creaked when the wind blew. There were no signs nor any indication whatsoever of why everything was there.



Welcome to the desert!

Seed collection

Not much has been going on lately at the Carson City BLM office for us besides seed collecting and even that has been slow.  Right now it seems like we are in a period when plants have either just dropped their seed or are still in flower.  But when we stumble across the rare wet area in the desert we have been finding that the Juncus and Carex species are ready to go.  These end up being easy collections because there are so many seeds per plant.  It sounds like we will be starting fire rehab soon which entails going out and surveying the damage of the fires that have been going on around us.  Then we write up a fire rehab plan and suggest a course of action.  There have probably been 5 or 6 fires in the past couple weeks so we will definitely be busy.

Heaven in a Wild Flower

William Blake wrote,  “To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”  I think seeds are infinity in the palm of our hands. This poem glorifies my seed collecting endeavors of the summer! And now the days are getting colder and a little darker here in the far North, and snow has begun to dust the tops of the peaks, known locally to botanists as Termination Dust. Uh oh for summer and seeds!

First snow on the Talkeetna Range

Though my time with the Chicago Botanic Garden is winding down, I will be staying here and continue to work for the BLM office and University of Alaska Anchorage’s Natural Heritage Program through November! I’m happy to have the opportunity to continue being part of this project, to see the seed season and all data through. What a grand experience!

This has been one of the fullest summers I’ve ever had. The diversity of my experience has been incredible, far exceeding any expectations I had of my internship. I’ve flown over the stunning Brooks Range of Alaska, stood at the feet of glaciers, watched grizzlies grazing on meadow sedges and grasses, and recently collected seeds for the future environmental restoration of the largest working Platinum placer mine in North America. That was quite a seed rescue mission!

Our work team and a mining dredge from the '30s

Seeds in a Lupinus nootkatensis pod

Grazing female Grizzly! mmmmm

Collecting Lupine pods near the Canada/Alaska border

And I’ve met people working on an incredible variety of projects in offices/field stations all over the state; I am continuously inspired by the work BLM and other agencies are doing up here.  Due to its immensity and landscape diversity, Alaska is an incredible place to monitor, conserve, study, and manage. I am euphorically, gloriously lucky to be here working!

Additionally, I’ve learned a language this summer, with beautiful words like Chamerion angustifolium, Leymus mollis, Androsace septentrionalis, Gentianella propinqua, Artemisia dranunculus, Calamagrostis purpurascens, Potentilla bimundorum, and Angelica lucida. And then there are names like Cnidium cnidifolim var. cnidifolium!

Parnassia palustris

Picking Dogwood berries... some how white berries aren't appetizing

Seed pod of Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium

All I can say now, at the end of my CLM internship, is THANK YOU for such a spectacular experience.

—-Emily Capelin,  budding botanist

Looking Back on 5 Wild months in Central Montana

My CLM internship in Lewistown, Montana has been a formative, fun and deeply educational experience. Having lived my whole life in the urban areas of the East Coast, coming out West was like traveling to another world; a contrast which provided me with as many learning opportunities as my internship with two BLM Wildlife Biologists. During the last five months I have been able to come to many conclusions about myself and what I want in my future, as well as learn about the inner workings of a federal agency and how the “other half” of Americans live. It was some good country fun.
To begin, within my 872 hours of work I was able to gain many unique skills and get a clear impression of what it was like to work for the BLM, both as a Wildlife Biologist and many other positions. I am now familiar with the mission and goals of the agency- not only sustainable extraction of mineral, wood and range resources, but also a new push towards maintaining biological diversity at an ecosystem level. As my mentor has pointed out several times, since no other agency controls such vast stretches of land, we have unique opportunity to create landscape-level impacts. There are many ways to fit into this picture depending on what part you want to focus on- wildlife, water, plants, fire, range, forest, minerals, P.R. and others.
To the great benefit of my resume and future career growth I gained experience not only in wildlife surveying techniques and tracking, but a great deal of GIS use and mapping, PR and writing, project planning and off-road driving. With such a large Field Office as Lewistown I benefited from the diversity of experts available to work with, as well as the encouragement of my mentor for me to pursue whatever projects interested me. This array of experience (about twenty projects with a dozen different employees) allowed me to better explore what I enjoy doing and am good at- perhaps the best information you can be armed with when going out job-hunting. I am very grateful for the patience, guidance and kindness of both the Biologists I worked with, who often let me tag along with their field work and spent many hours teaching to me drive trucks, conduct surveys and think for myself.

The time spent outside of my work hours were equally valuable. I was able to travel to many iconic National Parks; places I had always dreamed of visiting, and became aware of my own frailty against such vast stretches of wilderness (i.e. the importance of good preparation!) I was able to do a lot of thinking, and decided upon importance of family to me (therefore the need to live closer to them in the future) and my readiness to attend graduate school for Natural Resource Management. I also got to experience what rural American values and life entail; the emphasis on independence, hard-work and self-reliance, an enjoyment of outdoor activities and the gathering of friends at Friday-night bars and Saturday-afternoon pig roasts. In the end I am not sure that I belong in this world, but I am thankful to all of the generous people who welcomed me with open arms into their community. I have enjoyed my summer tremendously.
During a talk with my mentor a few weeks ago he described my current methods as ‘stumbling through life’, as he had when he was a young man. But I disagree with his description- I would argue that my lack of distinct goals are adaptive- I am being flexible in a difficult job market, and perhaps a little ‘stumbling’ is the best way to get through. For the moment, I am open to whatever new opportunities may come my way, and eager for an experience which may teach me as much as the last 5 months have. Thank you so much, Chicago Botanic Garden, for giving me this opportunity. If you are reading this post as a prospective applicant, I would highly recommend the Program and Lewistown field office in particular.

Another great month!

This month has flown by! I cannot believe it’s almost September. Everyone in the field office has been extremely busy. This field season has been very short due to the heavy snowpack and wet spring, so we are trying to get as much work done as possible. It has also been very dry here in Missoula, MT and fire season is well on it’s way.

We have been splitting our days doing rangeland health and habitat typing. I knew nothing about either subject before this internship. I never thought I would know so much about cows or grazing. Through the process we have been able to do compliance and utilization reports on grazing allotments. We make sure that the leasee is in compliance with the grazing rights and is not over-grazing the area. We walk the allotments looking for cows, salt blocks, water troughs and making sure the fences are in good condition. I can say that I will never look at a pasture the same way…

Habitat typing has been a great learning experience as well. We have been working in an area that is very diverse and has some of the most beautiful meadows that I have ever seen. We are doing this to assess the timber stands in this area. We do this for several reasons; for watershed quality, timber stand improvement and sales, and to know how the area is being affected by the beatle kill. Through the habitat typing I have been able to learn many more native forest plants of Montana and use many new forestry tools.

I look forward to the next two and a half months here at the BLM and I am eager to learn as much as I can from my co-workers.

Lea Tuttle