Wrapping things up

Hi all –

I believe this is my last required post to the CLM blog before my internship ends. It is refreshing to browse the blog and see so many interns starting out there positions with the various Federal agencies CLM partners with. This internship has been a great experience, getting to know a new part of the country, as well as making connections with scientists leading their field.

I’m happy with the diversity of the projects us interns have been able to work on. This job has built on my past experiences working on large-scale vegetation restoration projects. For me it’s the best way to understand the workings of a landscape, and finding the best ways to bring back native plants to degraded areas is a cause I truly believe in. I’ve been lucky enough to see these landscape-scale restoration projects in action from the tropics to the desert and I can still say there’s always much more to learn.

In this internship I have helped out on several different restoration and ecological monitoring projects. We’ve surveyed and monitored plots seeded with native species in efforts to restore severely burned areas in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument; installed moisture sensor probes to study water use by two endemic dune species–as well as taking growth and reproductive effort measurements–in Death Valley Natl Park; outplanted almost 2,000 native seedlings across the Mojave desert in common garden experiments, an effort to delineate zones within which seeds can be safely transferred for restoration projects; done nighttime mammal surveys to estimate Golden Eagle prey densities; and finally I helped inventory and measure perennial forage species for the threatened desert tortoise. It’s nice that each one of these projects grabs my interest, but most importantly they helped me develop skills useful in a variety of science jobs–whether it’s in the field, in the lab, or as an educator. It’s a shame the internship only lasts 5 months, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.



Sam Somerville

USGS Las Vegas Field Station

Henderson, NV

Usernames Cannot Be Changed

P6250045It’s funny how when I got here (Rawlins, WY) all I could see was the vast amount of natural gas wells surrounding many of the places we work in. When I see gas wells I think of global warming, groundwater contamination and possible H2S poisoning. So, I think, “Ugh, this is horrible, let’s get out of here.” But we just kept on going back and the wells just start to blend in after a while. You just get used to them, and rather quickly I might add. So while things are starting to dry up in carbon county somewhere along the way I’ve started to appreciate the high desert: the colorful rock formations, the prairie dogs and other varmints and the roaming ungulates. It’s kind of perdy out here.

June was a busy, busy month which started with a nice break from the gas fields to do our training in Chicago. It was a lovely week of rehydration and greenness and I returned with greater understanding and a renewed sense of purpose for the work we are doing out here. The Garden was beautiful and there were no gas wells to be seen. But then I think, who among us doesn’t use natural gas? We need to demand alternative energy! The pursuit of better and more efficient means of powering our homes, cars and industry has been stagnated by the multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry. Politicians and the legislature have left it up to us to find other, less destructive means of getting power. So I say, let’s get creative people… and listen to Gandhi. “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

So, I’ve decided to use my blog to try to affect social change but I guess I’ll tell you a little about my work as well. We saw not one but two federally endangered species this month! Upon returning from Chicago we got the chance to work with some folks from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doing surveys on the Wyoming Toad (Bufo baxteri). These little guys are distinguished from other toads primarily by the fusion of the cranial crests. The decline of this species began in the mid-70’s and has been linked to insecticide use, agricultural practices and climate change among other things. Our survey was looking at not only the presence of the species but also the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus as a possible reason for lack of recruitment. The other species we saw was Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii). It took us about a 3 hour drive on rough roads and a bit of hiking around the sand dunes of the southeastern Ferris mountains, but we saw this little light purple beauty in full bloom hanging on to the dunes. Its’ scent is reminiscent of vanilla. Other than that we’ve just been mastering the slow walk and scan while counting the number of plants collected. The wind and the sun get to be quite beastly out there but I just pretend I’m a native woman collecting seeds for the community gardens, for the survival of my people.
Thank you for reading 🙂

The beautiful flowers of Yucca schidigera.

The beautiful flowers of Yucca schidigera.

Scuttle About the Landscape

Although it is my first blog entry, I have been working at the Burns, OR BLM for over a month now. In this time I’ve gotten to see some country. The first week of work, I drove the county border with my fellow intern to get a sense of the area the BLM manages. The Burns office manages millions of acres. They manage land for multiple uses: this includes maintaining habitat for the sage grouse (a special status species), keeping the land healthy for cattle grazing, monitoring special status plant species, and rehabilitation after wildfire, among many other responsibilities. As a botany intern, I work on plant species monitoring in areas that have previously been burned. I also survey areas where there are populations of special status plants.

This past week we spent two nights down at the Hilton. Myself, the other intern, and the seasonal we work with stayed in the eight bedroom lodging in southern Harney County while surveying some burn areas. The weeds crew also stayed there, so I got to meet some of my fellow Burns District BLM employees. They spend six months spraying weeds like Russian thistle from ATVs in all weather and conditions. If it’s a weed, they spray it and don’t care much for the feelings of the plants. Monday and Tuesday of this week were extremely windy and cold. We did burn monitoring and I was glad we were not working up as high as the weeds crew, though the wind still cut through my four layers.

Wednesday we went even farther south to look for a special status plant. Sitting high up in our big truck, I gazed out the windows. The sky is really wide open here, not like where I’m from, where the sky is a thin passageway between trees that caress the sides of the highway. We zipped through Nevada, where the speed limit goes up fifteen miles to a cool 70mph. This was my first time in Nevada, and it doesn’t look much different from Oregon.

After a maze of rough riding on dirt roads, we pulled over. I’ve quite come to enjoy doing special status plant surveying. I get to scuttle about the landscape identifying whatever intriguing plants I come across. This site was dry, dry, dry. The branches of every plant were brittle. The sagebrush, usually light green in color, was tinged with yellow. We did not see a single forb. The area was fairly uniform and after an initial stream of identifications, we didn’t find much that was new. Still we gave it a good, thorough look. I climbed to the top of a hill, ranging out a ways, to see what I could find. As I walked, I kept my eyes on the ground, watching for rattlers. I have not seen a rattle snake yet, but those who know have told us to watch out for them and we’re supposed to kick the bushes before we reach down into them to identify. At the top of the hill the land spread out, rolling and cresting like waves. I took a few minutes to soak it in, then put my eyes back to the ground, and forged onward.

Onward to more surveying. Onward to more plants of special concern. Onward to new adventures.