Late winter at the Colorado State Office:

Spring appears to be on the not so distant horizon here on Colorado’s Front Range. Although spring in the Rockies is typically characterized by capricious and unsettled weather; Chinook winds rush off the mountains as the peaks are warmed by the growing strength of the sun. In town, temperatures climb momentarily into the seventies coaxing people from their winter repose. Although, just as you’ve gotten used to the idea that winter may be relaxing its frosty grip, the weather takes another turn and we wind up with six inches of sloppy spring snow on the ground. Spring appears to be further off in and among the high peaks and parks. Last weekend while skiing through the lodgepole pines of Grand County I was taken aback by the greater than two meters of snow which still insulates the cold hard ground. Somewhere down there beneath that blanket of white are the plants we hope to be monitoring in a few months’ time.

At the Colorado State Office my attention has been focused west of the high peaks on the high desert canyons and plateaus of the Western Slope. The Grand Valley and Gunnison River basin form the banana belt of the state; so to speak. The climate is relatively mild and supports vineyards and extensive orchards of peaches during the summer months. On the plateau the flora comes to life months earlier than do the alpine congeners. Out there, hiding in the shaley alluvium, is a particular cactus with has been the object of my time over the past several weeks. Sclerocactus glaucus is a small barrel cactus with highly plastic morphological characters which have long confounded its systematics. Due to variation in its form and a range which overlaps with other taxa of the same genus it is presently unknown exactly how rare or prolific the species is. Over the past couple of years, in addition to several revisions in taxonomic status and demographic monitoring studies, there has been quite a bit of work investigating the genetic structure of the species at a population level. This research has begun to illustrate that Sclerocactus glaucus might be less ‘threatened’ than it has been determined to be by the Fish & Wildlife Service. I have been working to synthesize a comprehensive literate review and status report which reflects the most current and up-to-date understanding of the species and its range.

Field season is shaping up to be a busy one. It seems that several times a week Carol (our mentor) receives a request from someone else to assist with surveying and monitoring. It is becoming apparent that we will be tending to a generous amount of demographic monitoring of rare and endangered species across the state this summer. These monitoring projects will take us from the Mancos badlands, Roan Cliffs, and red-rock canyons of the Western Slope, high into the alpine tundra of the Mosquito Range, to the dunes and sage-steppe of North Park. In addition to monitoring established trend plots, my fellow intern and I have several new projects to implement.  It remains to be seen how much time we actually end up spending in the office this summer.

From the Front Range,

Phil Krening

Colorado State Office – BLM

Lakewood, CO

Fast-approaching Spring

The past several weeks have been exciting and each new observation or activity has filled me with a certain sense of joy! About 2 weeks ago we had a much needed rain in the Carson Valley and a small amount of snow in the Sierras, which desperately needs more snow for this winter season. Thanks to the new snow I was able to go snowmobiling for the second time and get to view the wonderful trees of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Some of my favorites are the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana), Sierra White Fir (Abies concolor var. lowiana) and the California Red Fir (Abies magnifica). All of these trees and more are such a wonderful representation of forests that are full of life and excitement! One such creature is the small Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii) that is a bundle full of energy, running to and fro gathering cones and seeds to eat or stash away. The Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) is another animal that is quite conspicuous and talkative as you make your way up in elevation. This bird can store over seventy-five pine seeds in a special pouch inside the throat.  It then takes the seeds and buries them in caches along the mountain slopes. I have read some research that says they usually bury their caches on south-facing slopes, so that in the spring time the snow in these areas will melt faster and they can get to their caches earlier!

I have also seen the emergence of the California Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) in the past two weeks. They are funny animals that scurry around on the ground looking for items to eat and then run back to their burrows! If presented with the chance to see them up close or through binoculars, I believe you will be surprised with how nice-looking they really are and the characteristics of their fur. Another bird I was able to see recently was the Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya), which is adorned with a very nice plumage. The back and upperparts are mostly gray, but the underparts are a rusty orange color and of course they have the usually tail-bobbing characteristic of the Phoebes.

The snow is melting fast on the eastern slope of the Sierras and many plants in the sagebrush steppe have already begun to flower and release their buds from dormancy. Several species from the Grossulariaceae have begun to leaf out and show flowers and flower buds. The Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) is leafing out and showing flower buds, while the Desert Gooseberry (Ribes velutinum) has leafed out and several individuals which I have seen are in flower! Various willow species have also begun to open their male and female catkins, which are so beautiful to look at up close. The Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis), Yellow Willow (Salix lutea) and Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides) have all begun to flower and leaf out in the past two weeks. Several herbaceous species that have begun to grow and flower include the wonderful and colorful Yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica), Sagebrush Violet (Viola beckwithii),Longleaf Phlox (Phlox longifolia), Darkred Onion (Allium atrorubens var. cristatum), Slender Phlox (Microsteris gracilis) and Whitlow Grass (Draba verna) to name a few of the colorful characters of early spring!

It excites me to know that the sagebrush steppe is beginning to come alive and that there are many other members of this incredible habitat that I will come to know well over the course of this year!

An incredible tree that grows in an austere and becoming environment. (Abies concolor var. lowiana)

Surrounded by large mountains this watershed is a jewel in the Sierra Nevadas.

The HUGE cones of Sugar Pine! I think it’s possible that someone could climb a tree quite high to get a closer look at these beauties.

The colorful male catkin of Salix lasiolepis.

The small, yet lightening flower of the Desert Gooseberry.

The sandy and dry habitat of Prickly Pear. Job’s Peak, of the Sierra Nevada mountains, looms in the distance:)

Darkred Onion is almost inconspicuous in vegetative form but when the flowers come out it cannot be missed by the attentive eye!

Longleaf Phlox has a quite showy flower that brings color to the sagebrush floor.

Yellowbells is a wonderful flower to see in the early spring as the sagebrush steppe begins to awaken.

Follow new roads and adventures to the edge of discovery my friends,


Carson City BLM Field Office

Spring Restoration in the Mojave

Our field season in the Mojave is pretty much in full swing now. This past week my fellow CLM interns and I headed to Fort Irwin, CA with our USGS mentors to plant our common garden site there with Ambrosia dumosa (White bursage), Larrea tridentata (Creosote bush), and Sphaeralcea ambigua (Desert Globemallow). We had just over 600 plants to transport and plant out at our field site, which makes for some interesting logistical challenges. However, true to form our crew finished the planting earlier than expected and enjoyed exploring our final common garden site.



Sun setting at our Ft. Irwin field site


One of my favorite things about this internship so far is the chance to travel to field sites around the Mojave Desert, in Utah, Nevada, California, and eventually Arizona. I particularly appreciated it this week because our field site in California was ablaze with an assortment of beautiful blooming annuals. This was the first chance we’d had to see a variety of annuals, because other parts of the Mojave haven’t had enough rainfall to support the annual plants. It also meant that we had the chance to do some plant collection and practice our plant pressing and ID’ing skills! We had to improvise a bit as 30 mph winds made collecting and pressing plants in the field a bit difficult, but we managed to get our samples back to the office intact and worked as a team to identify some of the annuals we saw. My plant ID partner Renee and I learned some great tips for using dichotomous keys, and I loved the puzzle of figuring out which plants we had found. The sometimes frustrating experience was more than worth the satisfaction we felt when we identified the plants we collected (see pictures below). I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with our key and exploring more of the fabulous Mojave Desert in the weeks to come!


A beautiful patch of Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)


Mojave suncup (Camissonia campestris), one of the plants we identified


Desert pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii), one of the other plants we identified with our keys


Back to the grind

This last week, I came back from a short break. I am happy to be back and excited to continue my work at the Boise Regional Seed Warehouse. I picked up where I left off updating the warehouse inventory and identifying seed that needed a retest so that we would have updated seed test results for all lots of seed currently in stock. The Boise Regional Seed Warehouse relies heavily on test results so we know that the seed we are purchasing and selling has good viability and will do well out in the field once it is planted. Consequently, when seed is bought and sold, it requires a test result that is dated no later than 6 months from the time of sale. With over 800,000 lbs of seed and 200+ lots of different seed in the Boise warehouse, it is quite the task to go through every single test to make sure it is updated and readily available to be sold. I am about three-quarters of the way done, and should be finished within the next few weeks. Throughout the process, I have also been able to reorganize the test results to make the process of locating the tests a bit more efficient and streamlined.

I also started a new task this week that includes locating and researching sagebrush lots that have been purchased in the last 20 years, and identifying where they have been planted. This is being done to assist the USGS in analyzing the success of sagebrush lots in Southwest Idaho for the last couple decades. I went through many, many boxes of old files to help in locating the needed information. Although it was very time consuming (and dusty), I am confident that the information provided to the USGS will help shed light on the success rates of sagebrush habitats in recent years. I look forward to continuing this work in the coming weeks and will be eager to hear of the result.

Enjoy your internships everyone. Happy trails.

Until next time,