Greetings from Las Cruces!

Hello all, this is my first post. I’m at the BLM Las Cruces District Office in southern New Mexico. Unlike most CLM interns, I did not move here for the internship—I’ve been here for a decade. I went to grad school at New Mexico State University and, since graduating, have been trying to stick around one way or another. I may be biased, but there just aren’t many places that can compete with southern New Mexico. We have desert, mountains, lots of biodiversity, and lots of public land. It’s rarely cold, but can get a little warm in the summer. If we’re lucky, we get both winter and summer rains. Las Cruces is a bit too close to Texas, but no place is perfect.

Since starting my internship a month ago, the bulk of my time has gone to training of various kinds: getting the various necessary authorizations to drive governmental vehicles and whatnot, learning not to poke / sniff / eat potentially hazardous substances found in the desert, being baffled by the various different shared hard drives and physical filing systems in use, familiarizing myself with the many intricacies of NEPA and the ESA, getting to know ArcGIS (I’ve spent plenty of time with GIS, but not Arc), and so on and so forth. After a decade in the area I already know the plants fairly well, so that part of the learning curve isn’t too steep. Since none of that is terribly exciting, here are some photographs from one of my days in the field.

On June 15th, Mike Howard (state botanist for NM BLM and one of my two mentors) and I went out to the Brokeoff Mountains to look at Dermatophyllum guadalupense, a rare leguminous shrub. Mike has been nailing down the precise distribution of this species, so we checked a couple of questionable localities. The Brokeoff Mountains are mostly limestone (or limestone-ish things like dolomite), only get up to 6,600 feet elevation or so, and are mostly untreed:



While there, I took some pictures of Mortonia scabrella, a shrub that is abundant in the Brokeoff Mountains but otherwise rarely found in New Mexico. My long-term goal is to photograph all plant species that occur in New Mexico. This puts me one closer to that goal:



Mortonia scabrella


We then headed over to Alkali Lakes (a note to readers not familiar with New Mexico: the word “lake” generally indicates a place where water might theoretically pool given sufficient rainfall rather than an existing body of water) to get some stem cuttings of Lepidospartum burgessii, a shrub found only on gypsum at Alkali Lakes. We sent the cuttings off for tissue culture, since Lepidospartum burgessii rarely, if ever, produces viable seed. Possibly this is a reason it is rare. In any case, it would be convenient if we had some way to propagate the thing. Unfortunately, we heard a couple of days ago that these cuttings have not done well in tissue culture—most have succumbed to fungi. Fortunately, this is an excuse to go outside again to get more cuttings. I don’t have pictures of Alkali Lakes or Lepidospartum burgessii, so here’s a collared lizard:

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More plants. More dirt.

This is round two for me as a CLM intern, and a lot has changed since the first time around. For one, this blog. People blog? I didn’t realize this was a thing, and someone would actually be interested in what I do on a daily basis. The mundane rituals of sipping coffee and debating the finer points of seed collection and soil fertility. Which, apparently, is interesting to someone, somewhere in the greater cosmos of plant nerdom.  Therefore, I venture forth with constructing these blog entries detailing my occupational duties, because, who doesn’t like a good botany story, right?

So, what I do. At present, I am the Conservation Land Management Intern (Botanist) for the Taos Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico. Whew. It’s a mouthful. Glad that’s over. What this all means: I was lucky enough to be selected for a three year position via CLM to govern the Seeds of Success Program (SOS) for the Taos Field Office. Additionally, there is a new national monument (Rio Grande del Norte) which has some rare plants and could use a few veg treatments here and there. Lastly, there is an historic ranch outside of Santa Fe which is available to grow native seed on. This is what I’m most excited for, playing in the dirt and literally seeing the fruits of my labor. To bring it full circle, the seed collected via SOS will be grown out at the ranch and used for restoration/reclamation at the district level. Waaaay cool. It’ll be nice to use locally harvested, locally grown seed on local projects. Hopefully, this will lead to greater success on restoration projects, because seed is already acclimated to the general area.

Overall, I’ve been prepping for next year and technicians to collect seed. Lots of supply ordering, list development. I have gone to the field a couple times, toured the countryside and taken in a New Mexico lightning storm. Granted, I’ve only been here about two weeks, most of which is spent doing things like driver’s training and information systems security. BUT, I have learned a few things about New Mexico. There’s a state question: red or green? Which refers to chili types, which you can get on just about everything. The appropriateness of which I have yet to decide (chili wine?). New Mexico has its own lingo and uses Spanish to describe things, i.e. acequia. An acequia is an irrigation ditch. That’s it. A ditch. Acequia rolls off the tongue and has far more linguistic charisma than ditch, but thrown quickly into casual conversation you wonder if someone is inviting you to partake in a delicious wine or some sort of afternoon activity involving a pool. I suppose such colloquialisms will come in time.

Whelp, I don’t have much else to report. Drudging through ordering SOS supplies and piles of requisition forms. The upcoming months should be more rousing. More plants. More dirt.

Until next month,


Summer, finally!

Since departing Chicago, the Alaskan summer season is gaining momentum and, consequently, my work has guided me to a number of breathtakingly beautiful locations. The Friday I returned home, we (I, my co-intern, and a group of AK NHP staff) ascended Sheep Mountain in search of any interesting or uncommon calcophiles that might be growing along its steep, gypsum-talus slopes. As you can see, stunning scenery abounds on and around Sheep Mountain, and my co-intern even spotted an uncommon Oxytropis, O. huddelsonii.

Looking N at Sheep Mountain  from "the parking lot"

Looking N at Sheep Mountain from “the parking lot”

Looking S from a bench on Sheep Mountain toward Mount Thor

Looking S from a bench on Sheep Mountain toward Mount Thor

Crazy cool rocks of Sheep Mountain

Crazy cool rocks of Sheep Mountain

After finishing up some FORVIS walkthroughs at Campbell Creek Science Center here in Anchorage, the following week sent us to Fairbanks for two (grey, rainy) days of training, for ATVs and NRCS Botany protocols, respectively. We used the return drive as an opportunity to scout for potential SOS collection sites. After a very long day of travel and scouting, we set out to explore our final site of the day, and I suddenly found myself butt-deep in mud while trying to cross a stream. I’m not sure whether it was genuinely funny or a byproduct of delirium, but it’s been a long time since I’ve laughed that hard. Good ol’ field memories in the making. (Ah, the wonderful feeling of cool mud in your XtraTufs!) All in all, our scouting trip was moderately successful. Even when we were unsuccessful, though, it’s hard to grow discouraged with the Alaska range smiling down at you.

Site #1 - Donnelly Creek Recreation Area

Site #1 – Donnelly Creek Recreation Area

Site #2 - Gunnysack Creek

Site #2 – Gunnysack Creek

This week, I’m alone at the NHP, mounting specimens and helping one of my mentors with some morphometrics research, while my co-intern is out in the Yukon Flats with NRCS. I’m a bit of an herbarium nerd, so I’m excited to spend some quality time here before shipping out to Sitkinak Island with NRCS next week.


Until next month, fellow CLMers!