Stop, drop, & roll, it’s fire season!

The past few weeks at our field office have been quite hectic and exciting. The Lost Fire scorched over 60,000 acres in our resource area, and the almost record-breaking Rush Fire snuck its way into the southern section, burning another several thousand acres. Our tiny field office has been filled with fire specialists from around the district and state office.
Once the fires were controlled, the real work started. Our field office was responsible for a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) plan very soon after. I was able to help my mentor design a reseeding plan for the BAER. It was an incredibly valuable experience. I learned all about different aspects of fire ecology, and how BLM responds to fire. Coming from the Northeast, this was all new information and very interesting. It was also great to be a part of a team of specialists working towards a short deadline. Now we just have to collect the native seeds for these projects. Hopefully, we’ll be able to muster a volunteer team because we’re going to need a lot of seed! Get ready Bend!

Back to the Office!

I am starting my fifth month with the West Eugene Wetlands, and with the start of September comes the end of field season. The past four months have taught me more than I ever thought imaginable, especially since I studied Literature in college.  Before this internship, I could not identify a single plant. Now, after working with the monitoring team all summer, I feel like I have made leaps and bounds in my knowledge. In addition to the sensitive species we’ve been monitoring, I can now identify several grasses and forbs found in the wetlands (though I still find sedges and rushes a bit tricky).

Now it’s back in the office for me. It has taken a bit of time to adjust, going from tromping through the prairie all day to sitting at a desk. It’s time to prepare monitoring reports for each site.  This has been interesting, as I get to review the history for each site. I’ve also gotten to complete some training on ArcGIS, which I have found to be quite entertaining. In between managing the reports and training, I’ve once again had time to work on my summer-side project: compiling an identification book of grasses, sedges, and rushes. This has been both interesting and confusing, since right now the vocabulary in regards to grasses, sedges, and rushes is quite a challenge. Needless to say, my ID book will have a glossary.

Although field season has ended for the monitoring crew and me, restoration treatments are starting to be implemented in the wetlands. I returned from Labor Day weekend to discover that the fire crew had worked through the weekend and burned one of our office’s neighboring sites. Viewing the aftermath, I must say, I was a bit surprised: I expected that all vegetation would be burned, when in reality it was only the grasses and forbs, getting them ready to flush next spring. Even though field season has ended, I learn something new about the wetlands every day.

A sticky situation

Yesterday we spent the day helping with data collection for a study on the restoration of pollinator habitats in California.  Researchers have created different mixes of native wildflowers that are attractive to pollinators.   From what I understand, one goal is to identify a mix of easy-to-manage plants that will support a diverse group of pollinators throughout the year.

We have four different plots planted with different mixes here at the PMC and a group of researchers came down to collect data.  I was very excited to learn about the project and help out.  My fellow CLM intern and I were set to work collecting data on flower counts across several transects through both mowed and unmowed areas.  Around this time of year, poppies (Eschscholzia californica), sunflowers (Helianthus bolanderi), gumplants (Grindelia camporum), and madia (Madia elegans) are all in flower.

Madia was densely distributed throughout the unmowed areas in one of the plots. The plant is fragrant, can grow to about 2.5 meters in height, and is sticky.  Very, very sticky.  Navigating through the dense maze of madia with a quadrat was quite the challenge.  By the time we were done with our sampling, we were covered in plant material and sticking to everything.  It just serves as a reminder that although a plant may be highly beneficial and useful for some purposes (like attracting pollinators), there can be unforeseen challenges in managing that plant.  Nonetheless, it was quite interesting to see some of the considerations that go into deciding which plants should be used for these projects.

Heading out of the West

Well, all of a sudden the summer is coming to a close, and my internship soon will be too. I’ve continued to enjoy my position here in central Oregon as a range technician, trying out lots of different vegetation monitoring techniques and going out with other crews around the office to see what they do. Pictures might be able to adequately sum up most of what I’ve done this summer…..

I’ve been able to see sage-grouse hens and do habitat surveys,

figure out ways around private land to get to trend plots on BLM property,

learn about plants that I’ve never studied or seen before,

establish long term trend plots on sand dunes,

see tons of amazing wildlife, including bighorn sheep, wild horses, long nosed leopard lizards, robber flies, and golden eagles,

and of course I’ve learned to do all new kinds of paperwork in the office, which unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of.

Being a CLM intern this summer has also meant being lucky enough to be in the heart of the West with plenty of weekend time to explore. It has been so incredible to explore all over Oregon and California, seeing more National Parks and Forests than I ever have before, allowing me to camp and have a great time as well as learn even more about conservation and environmental programs. Crater Lake, Yosemite, and Lava Beds were just some of the places I got to visit this summer:


But most importantly, I’ve gotten to work with and for so many fantastic people this summer. Being around so many other great interns in Lakeview has been wonderful, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have supervisors that are as driven as they are down to earth and easy to talk to. I’ve learned so much about what the BLM does here in Oregon and how important ranching is for people here.  Getting this first-hand  understanding of the BLM and local people has made me realize how important it is to monitor the grasses and shrubs that I have been evaluating all summer.  Keeping these habitats healthy, looking for invasive species, and measuring shrub cover for valuable species all help to maintain the resources that we have and try and keep our use of the land sustainable.  I’m not sure how else I would have been able to learn so much about this area and the people who work here without this internship opportunity. I am sad to leave it, but excited to see what future opportunities it will bring me!

Signing out from Lakeview, Oregon,

Katie Laushman

Hunting for Grouse in Cedar City

These last few months have gone by quickly. I have enjoyed my time with the BLM and have learned a lot about myself and what I may or may not want in my future.

I have spent most of my time hunting sage grouse, but instead of a gun, I carry a large antenna and a cumbersome beeping box. I have enjoyed it. I have never hunted anything but I can totally see what draws people to it.

Recently I have been able to participate in research being conducted on the use of fence posts by raptors. We measured and took pictures of many fence posts and vegetation, which was a great break from telemetry. I have also been having a great time hanging out with all the other seasonal workers.  It’s great to be finally settling in — too bad it will be over in a couple of weeks!

Gone Fishing

Although I am a Seeds of Success intern, I have spent a few days broadening my horizons by helping out fisheries to finish up some stream inventory and surveying. Before this experience, I really didn’t like fish. I had to learn some fish species for a class, and to me they all seemed to look the same. I no longer think that. This past week I have been able to learn how to catch and identify about a dozen different fish species (native and introduced) found in Montana prairie streams. Although the fish are small (most are under 150 mm), once you know what to look for you can fairly easily tell the species apart. I think my favorite species that we have encountered would have to be the river carp sucker.
Although IDing the fish is fun, catching the fish is not always so much fun. The majority of the streams are dry, some of them only having one or two pools that we are able to fish, and even if there is water in the stream, it is often less than 10 cm deep. However, in these streams you are very likely to sink to you knees in mud. In one stream (which was a deeper) we were battling almost hip deep mud while pulling the net, which was also full of mud. The only real way to make any headway was to use the pole of the net as a lever to pull yourself forward. My chest waders also had a sizable hole in them, so add carrying water in your waders up to your knees into the equation. Talk about a work out! Everyone was glad when the fishing was done in that stream.
In addition to fish, we have also caught numerous frogs, turtles, and one garter snake in our net. I have never held a snake before, so I took the opportunity to hold the garter snake for a little while. The body of the snake coiling around my hand and wrist was a weird feeling, but also a cool one at the same time. I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. When we released the snake, we tried to feed it a frog that we had also caught in the net, but the snake wouldn’t have any of it and just wanted to hightail it out of there.

Earlier that same day, we were walking thought the dry stream bed of a different site doing various measurements when I saw my first rattlesnake here in Montana. It was coiled up among the rocks and was almost invisible. I just happened to look in the right place to see it because it was not moving and it wasn’t even rattling. The only reason we knew it was still alive was because I was able to see its tongue moving in and out. The fact that it wasn’t rattling baffled us because we were close, within striking distance when I first saw it. Needless to say, we got out of there quick and left it alone. On our way back to the truck the rattler was gone.
I am really glad that I was able to take some time off from plants and get to work with the fish. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I was going to. However, I am not going to miss having to spend the entire day in waders.
Miles City, MT

BLM Hollister Field Office Management Areas, Central California

Clear Creek looking NE towards the Ciervo Hills

August here in the Hollister field office has seen a continuation of my projects from July: seed collection and processing, and soil collection for the seed bank study. Since I’ve already written about these things, I thought I would say a little about the areas administered by the Hollister BLM office. I have been living in California for 8 years, much of that time on the central coast, and still many of these places are new to me. Furthermore, most California natives that I talk to have neither been to or even heard of that places that I work. I suppose this is not too surprising, as California is a large state and contains so many scenic and fun to explore places. However, the BLM (and surrounding) lands of this area have much botanical, geological, archeological, and historical value…so here’s a shout out to some of the underappreciated BLM lands of Central California:

                  Panoche, Monervo Dunes, New Idria

Panoche Valley is located in eastern San Benito County and the Panoche Hills are in neighboring Fresno County just east of Pinnacles National Monument and west of 1-5. The Audubon Society describes the valley as a “sparsely-populated and remote region of California consists of vast, grassy ranches that extend up over chaparral and oak-covered ridges, interspersed with dry washes with intermittent water” and designates it as a globally Important Bird Area. (For any other birders out there, a great little blog on a day birding in Panoche Valley can be found at :)) Along with the Carrizo Plain to the south, it is one of the last remaining intact San Joaquin Valley habitats. Most of these habitats have been supplanted by agricultural production, giving this area special significance as a haven for rare valley endemic species such as the Blunt-nosed Leopard-Lizard, Giant Kangaroo-Rat, San Joaquin Kit Fox, and San Joaquin Wooly Threads. You really can’t begin to understand the San Joaquin Valley without understanding the history and significance of agriculture. Good information about agriculture in the Central Valley, water allocation and other environmental impacts, etc. can be found at and (especially check out the map on Page 16). According to the DFG the Central Valley has lost 99.9 percent of the historic native grasslands, 99 percent of valley oak savanna, about 95 percent of wetlands, 89 percent of riparian woodland, 66 percent of vernal pools, and 67 percent of San Joaquin Valley shrub lands. Understanding how little of this type of valley habitat remains really underscores the importance of this area. New threats to the Panoche Valley include the proposed Panoche Valley Solar Farm ( and ) and shift from dryland farming and grazing to orchards and vineyards. Within the boundary of the Panoche Hills are two Wilderness Study Areas (WSA’s) and an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) managed by the BLM.

Panoche Hills (photo courtesy of Tai @

Panoche Valley and the surrounding hills were once part of a vast inland sea. Today fossils of vertebrates such as mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, and marine turtles can be found. This area is also known for it’s mineral and oil resources, including Benitoite (BaTiSi3O9) which was first discovered in here San Benito county in 1907 and subsequently named. It has since become California’s state gemstone. More information on this beautiful and rare blue mineral can be found at . Panoche Valley is home to a number of ranches and also the historic Panoche Inn (still in operation..mainly as a bar). Recreational uses (besides birding!) include OHV riding, shooting, botanizing (mainly in the spring) and stargazing.

This unique area is often underappreciated, but visiting Panoche Valley this summer has allowed me to feel like I am stepping into another world. When you are there, one cannot believe how close they are to 1-5 and the Bay area! I can’t wait to visit again in the spring and see what it looks like after a winter with some rain.

Monervo Dunes Research Natural Area/ Monocline Ridge

Monocline Ridge

This area is located to the south and east of Panoche Valley in what is known as the Ciervo hills and is accessed from I-5. My time spent here has been for collecting ephedra seeds. During this time I have also found Native American artifacts such as mortars, pestles, and chirt flakes. Hiking around these dunes is grueling, but the view of the central valley is spectacular. The BLM website does a better job than I could of describing this area so I will include it here:

“The Monvero Dunes are characterized as a residual sand ecosystem dominated by plant species that occur in sandy areas in the Mojave desert, including Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), Indian rhubarb (Rumex hymenosepela), and several sand-dwelling annual plant species. Mormon tea (Ephedra californica) is also scattered throughout the sand. The hillsides of Monocline Ridge in the Ciervo Hills are open annual grassland with scattered native annual plants, perennial grass (Poa secunda), and shrubs such as goldenbrush (Ericameria linearfolia) and matchweed (Gutierezzia californica), typical of the Ciervo Hills ecosystem. The Monvero Residual Dunes distribution is narrowly restricted to hilltops and ridgelines along the Monocline Ridge in the Ciervo Hills that occur in the lower Inner South Coast Range in western Fresno County, generally between 1,500 and 3,000 feet elevation. These hilltop sand accumulations are thought to have weathered in place from Miocene sandstone formations in place. These sands have been identified as the Monvero soil series. The residual dunes in western Fresno County on Monvero soils is a special case of a more widespread series, but study is needed throughout the range of vegetation to develop association-parent material relationships. The California Native Plant Society and California Department of Fish and Game identified the Monvero Residual Dunes of the lower inner South Coast Ranges in Fresno County as habitat that is likely to occur largely on BLM land. Several federally endangered species targeted in theU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley are known to occur within or along the edges of the proposed Monvero Dunes RNA. These species include the blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila) and the San Joaquin woolly-threads (Monolopia congdonii). The proposed RNA is also within the habitat range of the federally endangeredSan Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) and theCiervo aegialian scarab beetle (Aegialia concinna).

New Idria Mine

New Idria Ghost Town

The remnants of this ghost town (much of it has been lost to vandalism and a fire in 2010) can be found south of Panoche and just to the north of the Clear Creek Management Area. Mercury was first discovered here in 1854 and at its heyday in the 1880’s the New Idria had around 3000 residents. Today the area is listed as a superfund site due to contamination from mercury and mine tailings. More information and pictures can be found at,_California ,and .

Laguna Mountain

a view from Laguna Mountian

“The Laguna Mountain Area consists of somewhat rugged terrain with rolling hills covered in dense brush. The area’s vegetation is characterized by classic chaparral habitat, oak forests, and grassy meadows. Laguna Creek flows through the area most of the year, accompanied by a series of scenic waterfalls in the Gorge.” (BLM website : This area located between Pinnacles NM and I-5 is certainly rugged to hike around. It contains a number of rare, endemic and well, just really pretty plant species and I have seen a wide variety of birds including Phainopepla, Poor-wills, Bald Eagles, and Hummingbirds. Currently, the trails in this area are under construction (as of August 2012) and are not very well marked, but trail work and new signage are in progress. The best time to visit this area would be the spring in order to take advantage of wildflower viewing and to hike down to the Gorge to see the waterfall. Also, since much of this area has been subject to prescribed fire between 2007-2010, it is currently a good place to see early succession stage fire followers. There is a still a lot to see in summer, but the heat and lack of water and shade do not recommend it for summer explorations! There is free camping at the trailhead.

     Clear Creek Management Area and Condon Peak

This area is currently a much contested area in San Benito County. For many years it was a heavily used OHV area until 2008 when the EPA issued a Human Health Risk Assessment for the area that resulted in its temporary closure due to exposure to naturally occurring asbestos. This issue is still being resolved, and an internet search will reveal much information on this topic, but here I want to focus mainly on the natural history of the area.

  Clear Creek and the New Idria Serpentine Mass

Serpentine Barrens at Clear Creek

Serpentinite is California’s state rock (despite efforts to strip it of its title in 2010). It is a formed in subduction zones and is rarely seen on land. Serpentinite is high in toxic metals and low in nutrients and soils that form from serpentine minerals are usually sparsely vegetated and often contains high numbers of endemic plans. This is true for the New Idria Mass which is the largest exposed serpentenite mass in the South Coast Ranges of California. From the BLM website: “Serpentine soils provide a very rare habitat, occupying less than 1% of the land surface area in California. Serpentine (ultramafic) soils are extremely stressful for plant growth due to low nutrient levels and high levels of magnesium and heavy metals. Plants that grow on serpentine soils often contain special adaptations to tolerate their extreme environment. Some plant species, termed “serpentine endemics,” grow exclusively on serpentine soils. Many serpentine endemic plant species have very limited distributions and as a result are rare, threatened, or endangered, such as the San Benito evening primrose. Serpentine soils often create varied vegetation patterns. Perhaps nowhere else in California is the change in vegetation on serpentine soils more dramatic than at the CCMA where dense chaparral grows immediately adjacent to stark, moonscape barrens absolutely devoid of vegetation. At higher elevations, serpentine chaparral and barrens alternate with conifer forest.”

Clear Creek Management Area

I have spent quite a lot of time on the New Idria Mass surveying for the rare and endemic plants that exist here. It is certainly a remarkable area and, though it is currently closed to the public, worth noting for its unique geology and flora, and its austere beauty.

Condon Peak

Lupine on Condon Peak, April

Condon Peak is located within the Clear Creek Management Area, but is not in the asbestos hazard area and is still open to the public. At 4,964 feet, it is the 2nd highest peak in the Management area and offers wonderful view of the surrounding hillsides and areas to the south. Spring is especially nice here and offers chances for wildlife and wildflower viewing (including San Benito Evening Primrose). There is a free campsite and a trail that leads to the summit.

To conclude, the value of land is so often seen from the perspective of how they can benefit us either from a production standpoint or as a place of dramatic scenery. While I believe places like Yosemite and the Redwoods are wonderful and valuable places, I also think that we often take for granted areas of our country that are seen as marginal and do not treat them with the respect that they deserve. There are not as many spokespeople for places like the Panoche Hills and the way they are treated by those that use them is a reflection of this. High rates of illegal dumping and vandalism are obvious to those who visit these areas and reflect attitudes of people towards the land. It is unfortunate that we are not able to appreciate these places more.

On a more positive note, working in these areas this summer has reminded me how many relatively unknown and unvisited places exist in our country. They are usually uncrowded and often free and provide many opportunities for exploration. This is true even in a state as crowded as California! A little extra time spent looking at maps and wondering what is out there can reveal many surprises and take one away from the crowds of the national parks and other well-known landmarks to discover your own unique experience.


The quick and direct answer is the easiest to understand, but often the hardest to give. I find this to be especially true when discussing plant population trends. It’s extremely tempting to draw conclusions about what is happening in an area after collecting only a year or two of data, but this is dangerous! Populations undergo natural annual variation, something that is especially apparent in Colorado this year. We’ve been returning to many of our permanent monitoring plots around the state, checking out how different rare plant species have been reacting to the extraordinarily low moisture levels this summer. Generally, the plants, like many common species, have been struggling. If we looked only at the number of individuals in some of our plots last year (a very wet year) vs. this year, we might be tempted to conclude that the populations were declining dramatically. Luckily, we have more data than that for many of the species. Looking back at previous years’ data, it becomes clear that the number of individuals in a plot has tended to fluctuate up and down the entire time the team has been monitoring.


Phacelia formosula. Photo by Peter Gordon


I really noticed this distinction last week when we traveled to northern Colorado to monitor Phacelia formosula. At the first plot we visited, the plants looked great! It was the first plot of anything I’d seen this year that looked noticeably better than it did last year. There were many plants, and the majority of them were in flower. With excitement building, we moved on to our next plot. Alas, there were almost no plants here! The third and final plot seemed to take the middle road, with approximately the same number of plants we had seen the year before. Looking at these three plots it was obvious that populations fluctuate, and not always in the same way as their neighbors just a small distance away. We left with another year’s worth of data, secure in the knowledge that several years down the road we may be able to notice meaningful trends.

Sama Winder
BLM Colorado State Office

Disappearing Summer in Cody, WY

It has been another whirlwind summer. It seems that whenever the busiest part of field season finally winds down sometime in July, there’s not much time left before fall. I can’t believe it’s September already! My summer started out with golden eagle nest monitoring and lots of seed collecting, and now it has come down to more seed collecting, sage grouse data analysis, and a variety of surveys: powerline and fence surveys in sage grouse core areas, rare plant surveys in the wild horse management area and elsewhere, and surveys of stock tanks to determine the presence or absence of bird escape ramps. No powerline survey has yet been done in the field office, save for just a couple of lines, so it’s always nice to be a part of a new project that is valuable to the BLM here.

I started acquiring this information for my mentor, the wildlife biologist, for analysis of human infrastructure impact on sage grouse, who don’t like lekking near powerlines. The information can also be used for the benefit of raptors. While I roam the “office,” I record whether the particular powerlines and poles I’m surveying fit the standards of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee, which create and disseminate guidelines on how to protect raptors from electrocution. There are many things that power companies can do to modify poles that pose hazards to raptors. By knowing what kind of pole and what modifications (or lack therof) are present, the field office will now be able to pinpoint hotspots of unsafe powerlines and can correlate this with raptor observations to judge which areas will be most likely to have unfortunate interactions between raptors and powerlines. Although the modifications cost money to install, raptor deaths also cost money under enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Companies whose infrastructure causes eagle deaths can be charged up to $250,000 per eagle, so it behooves them to employ methods of protecting the raptors. I am glad that I am involved with this project, which will hopefully benefit raptors and at least help to make a more accurate assessment of the impact on sage grouse. It can be easy to lose sight of the purpose behind some projects, but it’s important to hold on to the underlying purpose – like wildlife protection- because this will motivate you to do a more thorough and diligent job, and makes it worth every day’s effort.