R.I.P Insects

Hello all,

Hard to believe it’s almost the end of September. (I know, I know – how characteristic of me to start with an exclamation of wonder about how fast time passes, really novel). Thinking back on the month’s activities nothing really stands out- but I believe this is because I’ve become quite comfortable with my pleasant routine.
Eli and I have accomplished quite a bit this month- we have met our 25 collections goal (crowd cheers!) and continue to monitor numerous plant populations. I can also confidently say that we are New Mexico driving experts and have logged over 10,000 miles in our quest for botany greatness. A number of these miles have been on hideous roads that don’t deserve to be called roads – they seem more like ancient wagon trails or rocky-slopes-with-negligible-vegetation-masquerading-as-roads. I think my 4-wheel drive experiences have encouraged me to be more liberal in driving my own little Honda sedan, Sparkle Stallion. Driving to work one morning, Sparkle Stallion forded multiple streams crossing our road and navigated a section that had actually become the stream channel! Sparkle Stallion performed wonderfully! (No one tell my parents).
In other news, there is an upcoming event that’s stirring up quite a bit of excitement at the BLM- the potential government shutdown!  It’s interesting to be on the side directly affected; I know that a lot of beneficial and important services will be suspended and people relying on the BLM will be negatively affected. I can only hope that all will be resolved soon! (A girl can dream).
In other (positive) news, my ascension to ultimate plant nerd-dom continues! (Cue my college friends groaning in unison). My keying skills have drastically improved, I can rattle off the Latin names of native plants at lightning speed, and I’ve begun pressing flowers for my own personal collection. All in all, I’m pretty stoked with the direction my life is currently taking.
That’s the update for this month- I will leave you all with some poetry. This piece was inspired by the thousands of insects I’ve slaughtered while driving around New Mexico. Buggies, this is dedicated to you.


Fighting with my windshield
75 mph impact
Gelatinous streak
Yellow, orange, green
Rainbow of insect innards
Not quite dead
Fishing them out of the fender with a stick
Mangled exoskeletons
Squishy squishy
Inglorious death

-Kate Wilkins



September at ELFO

Wow, I can’t believe it’s the end of September. Time flies out here. It seems like I just started this internship. But what a wonderful experience I’ve been having. I’ve learned so much in the months since I’ve been here. Seed collecting, monitoring Special Status Plants, BLM’s AIM protocol for monitoring, map making using GIS, and countless others along with meeting really great people. The weather in the Eagle Lake Field Office is starting to get colder and the field work is starting to slow down. Now, begins the finishing of office projects which we (Deb and I) want to get done before this internship ends.

In the past few months we have been doing a lot of monitoring of Special Status Plant populations and collecting seed as part of the Seeds of Success program. We’ve spent a lot of time recently in the Sierra Valley which is the southern part of the field office. It’s such a beautiful valley we didn’t have a problem spending several days monitoring there. The plant populations we were looking for were Ivesia aperta var. aperta (Sierra Valley Ivesia), Astragalus pulsiferae var. pulsiferae (Ames’ Milkvetch), and also found Penstemon sudans (Susanville Penstemon).

Most recently we’ve been collecting a lot of native seed which will be used for helping the part of the field office which was affected by the Rush Fire last year. Valda, our supervisor and the ecologist, has sent us to find and collect Great Basin Wildrye and Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany. There is a great Mt. Mahogany stand on the top of Fredonyer Mountain (7789 ft.). We spent a few days collecting the irritating seed while wearing gloves resulting in several giant seed bags full of seed. She was very happy to see so much seed to say the least. And when we went back up the mountain the next day we found snow. It was everywhere in small piles and flurried the whole time we were up there. It was so pretty sticking to the fir and pine trees and the sun shining off it. We may have played in it a bit and took many pictures.

Snow on Fredonyer Mountain


Collecting Mt. Mahogany

I’ll miss the beauty of this place when my time here comes to an end.

Baby Sage

Hello fellow interns! I hope you are all continuing to enjoy your amazing work in your prospective western cities. For those of you that are already seeing snow, stay warm!


With seed collecting long over, the interns in the Buffalo Field Office looked elsewhere to help out other scientists and managers. I’m all for it, as I am learning even more than my internship originally entailed. These following weeks we have been mapping I-90 and Barnum public access roads with a GPS so that the BFO can know which roads (after looking at our records) are not supposed to be there and can be rehabilitated, which are redundant and can be re-seeded, and those that are the best for the public to use and can be revamped to encourage heavier use for hunting, four wheeling, camping, etc. Not the most difficult of work, but still important for our recreation department. Another project that was completed by Sean, Dan, and I for the recreation department was the Poison Creek Trail Maintenance project. This involved hiking this 2 mile one way trail up in the Bighorn Mountains and raking pinecones, removing plants in the trail’s path, marking nearby trees, inserting carsonites, and installing water bars. We still get to come back and remove trees in the trail’s path and nearby dead trees after our wildland fire chainsaw training is complete at the end of this week! Ohh yeahhh.


We have also been helping our fire ecologist with her projects that she hasn’t gotten the chance to get to this year. Mainly these include mapping already made fuel piles that will be burned this winter so that our contractor won’t miss any outliers and we can know approximately how much smoke will be produced so we can report this to the state. Also, we took data on already burned fuel piles to assess how much small fuel was left unburned, weed growth, and nearby scorching on trees. These burned piles were also re-seeded with our native grass seed mix to try to help beat weed takeover. We interns were also recruited for a day to be swampers for our fire crew (stacking fuel piles after our sawyers delimbed ponderosas). We have a few more of these projects to get done.


Yesterday I had the opportunity to tour Bridger Plant Materials Center. Our office is aiming to transform one of our parcels with water rights near the Tongue River into a Native Plant Propagation Farm. The tour was meant to learn about Bridger’s processes/tools/struggles/etc. and to ask their opinion about our tentative plan. While I am not an integral part in the farm and probably won’t be here for its beginning, I was appreciative of the opportunity to tour this facility. It was awesome to see how native seed is produced in a large scale, Bridger’s seed sorting equipment, and their storage methods. My other career interest besides conservation is agriculture, and so this was a real eye opener to see how these are being combined already and possible career directions I could take. I had some ideas about how native seed production could improve, which perhaps someday I could play a part of.


The last thing I’ll leave you with is my Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis germination experiment I have been working on. The BFO had a large bag of Wyoming big sagebrush seed from 2012 who’s TZ test came back to be 64%. I decided, out of curiosity and knowledge that it could be an important study for the BLM, to see how temperature and light affected the germination of these seeds. I mostly used materials the BLM had on hand, in order to see if the BFO could germinate and grow Wyoming big sage for restoration easily and effectively. So far, the most successful method seems to be germinating at room temperature with ambient light (just on my desk). I had over 69 seeds germinate in 3 days. After they grew cotyledons in the petri dish, I planted them in a mixture of sand and potting soil. Their survival rate has not been good, and so I plan on doing a study to see if direct seeding them would maintain high germination rates and better seedling survival rates. I appreciate my boss for letting me have the freedom to do this experiment!
It’s been a wild ride.

Stuck in the mud

This past month I’ve had the opportunity to experience a few more miscellaneous projects and pursuits. I’ve begun learning to use GIS software which so far is reasonably straight-forward. Out in the field I’ve also been tackling some wildlife projects that aim to save the lives of various critters that may fall victim to the seemingly innocuous presence of watering holes and fences.

My first project focused on the pronghorn antelope in the area which are restricted in their movements by the thousands of miles of fencing that covers the state of Wyoming. For the most part, fences are designed to contain cattle so when possible, it is best to use a design that keeps cows in but allows antelope to pass through freely. Since pronghorn tend to be significantly more nimble than their bovine brethren, they prefer to pass under the fence which can sometimes be less than 8 inches above the ground. My job was to measure the height of the top and bottom wires as well as record the type of fencing. Most fencing here is barbed so it is important for the bottom wire to be smooth in order for the antelope to squeeze beneath it without injuring themselves. The state also has a history of extensive sheep raising which would also be able to get under gaps in the fence. Consequently, some old fencing is still exists that prevents antelope from crossing and any such fence needs to be identified so it can be replaced. Incorrect fencing can result in fatalities as antelope become entangled in the wire.

Although using a meter stick isn’t necessarily thrilling, the roads along the fence tend to be muddy and undeveloped so it did afford me another chance to use the winch. For me, any day with a vehicular challenge is a good day. Unfortunately, the excitement of being stranded in the middle of nowhere doesn’t perfectly carry over to video format so I added some electronic music to create some flare. Also notice I put gloves on before operating the winch. Safety first, children.

Stuck in the mud: Video

Getting stuck in the mud is messy business. Lucky for me, having boots made out of 90% mud is very fashionable this year.

I knew my boss would be jealous if I didn’t include him in all the fun so I made sure to track several pounds of liquid dirt into his truck. Don’t tell him though. I’d prefer it to be a surprise.

Alpine, Desert, Alpine: Fieldwork in Colorado – 9/2/2013

Sometimes working in Colorado feels a bit like working in a 30-minute nature special, with a different ecosystem after every commercial break. Our team from the BLM Colorado State Office has spent the past month crisscrossing the state–going from alpine tundra to Mancos Shale desert and back again, then on to aspen-spruce woodland and the sand dunes of the North Sand Hills– to monitor rare plants and continue to collect seeds for Seeds of Success.

In late July, we collaborated with some folks from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, and the Mosquito Range Heritage Initiative to monitor Eutrema penlandii (alpine fen mustard), a rather diminutive plant that grows in some very beautiful alpine sites. E. penlandii is, in fact, endemic to Colorado’s Mosquito mountain range, placing it about 1000 miles away from its closest relative E. edwardsii in the Canadian Arctic. This trip was one of my favorites: it was a great opportunity to hike and work amid some breath-taking scenery as well as to interact with and get to know some great people from a variety of agencies and organizations.

We followed up this trip with more monitoring–this time working on Sclerocactus glaucus, or Colorado hookless cactus, around the Mancos Shale formations in Delta County. The Montrose field office gave us a lot of help, and we were excited to work with Brandee Wills, a fellow CLM intern, who has been stationed in Montrose for a few months, but whom none of us had met. It felt almost like being reunited with a long-lost twin of some kind… Brandee was great to work with, and I really enjoyed meeting her.

More trips followed as we traveled to the Piceance Basin–where well pads sprout up faster than the pinyon and juniper–to monitor Physaria congesta  and P. obcordata. We then took a break from monitoring to revisit a promising seed collection site at Dyer’s Gulch near Leadville. We found an incredible array of alpine wildflowers in bloom, including some really beautiful gentians and asters, as well as the Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) that we’ve had our eye on at various stages of flower and fruit.

Last week, I was very pleased to finally make a collection of Frasera speciosa, a monocarpic forb that, in flower, can reach 6 feet in height. It is an easy one to spot from the highway, with its distinctive, unbranched green flowering stalk, and I was starting to feel that it had been taunting us from private land along roadsides wherever we went. Luckily, thanks to Megan McGuire, the wildlife biologist at the Kremmling field office with whom we’ve worked quite a bit, we (that is, she) managed to find a large population of F. speciosa on BLM land in a lovely aspen-spruce woodland. It turned out to be quite enjoyable, and one of my favorite collections, as we stood in the shade (shade?) of trees (trees?!) and collected bountiful seeds held conveniently at arm-level by a forb that was taller than I am.

Most recently, we traveled to North Park to monitor Phacelia formosula (again with Megan’s help) as well as to do a quick seed collection of Heterotheca villosa while we avoided being mowed down by rogue dune buggies in the North Sand Hills. Field season has continued to keep us busy, and I’ve loved the opportunity to travel to an array of interesting landscapes and to meet and work with new people.

Cameron amphitheater- Eutrema penlandii monitoring site

A small but wizened Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata). I have a major Plant Crush on these trees and was thrilled to see them for the first time.

Devil’s Thumb and Mancos Shale in Delta County

Dyer’s Gulch with a lovely carpet of Erigeron sp.

Arctic gentian (Gentianodes algida)

Colorado blue columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), with flower and developing fruits

Co-intern Darnisha after collecting seeds at the North Sand Hills

Katherine Wenzell

BLM Colorado State Office

Lakewood, CO