Internship Wrap up in the Mojave

What a whirlwind these past 3 months have been. There have been a lot of positives and negatives during my experience in the desert, but overall I have grown, learned, and am now off in a new direction in my life. I’d like to thank Dr. Skogen, Rebecca, and everyone else in the CLM program who have made this opportunity possible and works so hard for such a noble cause. Meeting the other interns in other field offices during the Chicago training makes me feel optimistic that we have some passionate and conscious people who will step into government offices and continue to protect our public lands and the plants and animals which call this vast western wilderness home. Cheers to all the interns and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Now to wrap up my time in the Mojave.

The desert gives you a lot of time to think. There’s few people, noise, cars, and even animals (during the day at least) besides the chirp of the lizards at mid-day from under the creosote bushes. There is beauty and peace in being able to access such isolated areas and I take pleasure in knowing that these kinds of places still exist. On one of my last days I had grabbed a few flowers from an apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) and paused for a few second to admire some butterflies when suddenly a hummingbird came out of nowhere and started drinking nectar from the flowers in my hands, hovered in front of my face and cocked his head, probably thinking what an odd looking plant I was, and flew off. There are some magical moments in the desert, and while not in such geological marvelous places like Arches in Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, the Mojave is still a true wilderness.

But it’s a tough place to live if you’re a social animal, and as Abbey said the only thing better than solitude is society. Needles doesn’t have much of a sense of community, or at least I couldn’t find one. The lack of people (like-minded rather) was the toughest challenge for me to overcome, and not the 115 degree days. Without having other people to hang out with was a struggle so I had to find other ways to occupy my free time. But at the end of a day in the Mojave sun, it was hard to muster up the energy to do anything outside, so I spent a lot of time reading and cooking. By taking the time to slow down, and really think about myself, my emotions, was a very contemplative and necessary time especially right after finishing college.

But being in such a desolate area certainly has its joys. One of the best feelings about when you’re so far from civilization and stop to realize you’re in a location where you can hear no planes, cars, construction, etc. and it fills you with a child-like excitement. I’d say that this experience mostly allowed me to learn about myself, and while I had to end my internship early, without having gone through such a challenging internship I wouldn’t be as content now with where I currently am working. Each new experience places a different lens in how we perceive the world and when we look at our lives in that light it allows us to accept each new challenge and question how it has changed ourselves and how we can learn and progress.



Problems Lead to Progress?

“In a day when you don’t come across any problems — you can be sure that you are on the wrong path”  – Swami Vivekananda

I doubt Vivekananda was performing field work when he said this quote.  It does however, add a positive perspective to the inherent problems and obstacles that comes with preforming field work.

In the past weeks, my team has had our fair share of problems to overcome. We have been stopped by locked gates, turned around by “NO TRESPASSING” signs, led astray by wrong turns, and delayed by severely washed out roads. We have encountered dark storm clouds and seas of Sisymbrium altissimum that make our job as hard as finding a needle in a hay stack.

Although, I would appreciate a field day that goes 100% according to plan; I must reflect on Vivekananda’s wise words and think about where this internship is taking me. My time here is a learning experience, which is not possible without encountering an obstacle here and there. Each day brings new problems to be solved, allowing me to  develop my skill set that will continue to take me down the right path.

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An impassible, washed out road that made itself known

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“No Trespassing” signs are everywhere!

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Sometimes the “Keep Out” signs are quite peculiar

A sea of Sisymbrium altissimum that was encountered while fire monitoring.

A sea of Sisymbrium altissimum that was encountered while fire monitoring.

Farewell to San Juan Islands National Monument


Now in the sunset of my internship, I am wrapping up data collection for my project of baseline vegetation monitoring in the San Juan Islands National Monument.  I have spent most of my time here using the AIM strategy to look at vegetation throughout the BLM managed land in the archipelago, quantifying what plants exist where and in what numbers.  I run 50 meter plots starting at randomly generated transect points, counting plants at each meter and performing a rapid species inventory assessment for each transect.  I have enjoyed immensely days running transects within fifty feet of the water, seals barking beneath me and gulls squawking above.


Start of a transect at Colville Point, Lopez Island. In this photo you can see Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri), Puget Sound Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), and Hairy Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata).

I have enjoyed less immensely days inching through thick patches or roses, crawling on hands and knees to reach sample points in the deep forest.  During the data collection season, I have gotten to visit so many beautiful spots, from small rugged islands to huge lichen heaths hidden in the forest to expanses of pristine pebble beach.  I have visited a dozen islands during my internship, each with their own history, feeling, and most relevant, vegetation.

This summer has been a great opportunity to experience parts of the San Juans and of Lopez Island, the monument home island.  As someone who has lived in this area before working with the BLM and is hoping to reside here in the future, I am hugely gratified to see places and go places I would not have had the chance or boat to otherwise.  I have been able to get out to remote islands and meet the people who care about the place most.  I’ve seen the rugged landscape of these islands and the incredible tenacity with which people preserve and restore it.


View of lighthouse and landscape of Patos Island

On Lopez and off work, I’ve gotten a taste of rural farm life.  I’ve been living on my partner’s family property, which consists of five acres of once tilled farm land and over a dozen plum and apple trees.  In the last few weeks, we have been harvesting cherry plums like mad.


Cherry Plums on Lopez Island


More cherry plums

With their sweet juice and tart skin, cherry plums are perfect for jam and we have been using an old grape press to harvest gallons upon gallons of sweet use (which I am hoping to distill) and pulp (largely for vanilla ginger cherry plum jam).  I digress.  Being on rural farm property gives great perspective on plants.  Gardening has allowed me to work more intimately and gingerly with plants while harvesting is a great reward.

All in all, this program has been a wonderful experience.  I have met a number of great people in the BLM community as well as in the San Juan Islands.  I learn at least something every day, whether a trick to identifying grasses or learning from my bosses’ incredible skill communicating and managing with kindness, care, and incredible efficiency.  I’m grateful to work in this great place with wonderful people.  I’m also grateful for cherry plums.

I hope everyone is loving their positions and the people around them.  Happy botanizing to all and to all a good hike.


Jennifer McNew



Lander, Wyoming and the Dog Days of Summer

The summer is flying by in Lander, Wyoming.  The month of July was a frantic storm of collecting tons and tons of seeds!  Most of my 18 (so far) collections were done in a few busy weeks in July while the month of August has been filled with lots of processing, counting, weighing and packaging.  I have also been using the month of August to brush up on my shrub identification, pun intended.  I am hoping to reach my collection goal and beyond with collections of sage brush, salt bush, winter fat and bitter brush.  Wish me luck!

I’ve also been able to do some work with rare plants.  We took a field trip to the Casper Field Office to look at the elusive orchid, Ute Ladies’-Tresse.  After getting a good idea of its habitat, we went back to our field office and scouted out a few possible habitats in the Lander Field Office.  We didn’t find any Utes, but we did find some good habitat for it.

Checking out Ute Ladies' Tresses in Casper Field Office

Checking out Ute Ladies’ Tresses in Casper Field Office

The elusive Ladies' Ute
The elusive Ute


I’ve been able to do a little exploring around the Cowboy State, have meet some amazing people and have seen some amazing places.  I took a trip to the Grand Tetons a few weeks ago, went swimming in cold mountain lakes, ate antelope sausage and elk steak!

cascasde pass


a quick nap in Cascade Pass




Forbs are getting hard to come by in the Lander Field Office, but they are in full swing up in the mountains!


I’m lichen this rock

red canyon

One of my favorite places to work, Red Canyon

All in all, my time here in Lander has so far been full of new plants, new people and new places.  I’ve leaned so much and still have three months to go!  As the summer quickly fades to fall my work load will also be transforming….I’ll keep you updated!

Until next time,

Emily Usher

Lander Field Office, BLM, Lander Wyoming


We have 33 collections!

This has been a great week in Lakeview, OR. Late developers have surprised us; we exceeded our seed collection goal and found a new population of special status plant, Hymenoxys cooperi var. canescens. We also did an intense collection of Sambucus nigra in a steep canyon with pruners and a basket on a pole. My partner Anna and I got funding through September, so we’ll be sticking around a little later. There are plenty of other projects to do besides seed collection, even so I feel like work is winding down.
Some of the smoke has cleared and it has only been in the 70s the last two days. I wouldn’t mind if fall came early! The heat really isn’t too bad but I can do without the smoke.

I’m looking for jobs almost everyday and trying to make a plan, but it’s proving difficult to predict anything. I’ve saved money, but it won’t get me though another winter of unemployment. I wish I were a fox and could burrow in the snow, appear 6 months later as a woman and botanize and restore creeks the rest of my life.

We have a botany clearance, a week of pulling weeds, a re-seeding evaluation and a few late collections that hopefully fill out. Machaeranthera canescens is growing around a neat lava flow and has good success in grow-out settings but wasn’t very productive when we checked it last.

Not bothered by us collected Mimulus and Epilobium.

Not bothered by us collected Mimulus and Epilobium.

Defines only a fraction of Lakeview Resource Area.

Defines only a fraction of Lakeview Resource Area.

Scouting for anything where the soil is deeper and not desiccated.

Scouting for anything where the soil is deeper and not desiccated.

More about the smell of sagebrush

Hello again CLM fellows, here at the Provo Shrub Lab Science we are working hard. It is almost a year since I came here and I have to say that work at this place has been such a great experience. A couple weeks ago we finally started to catch sagebrush smell in the field at the common gardens. As I mentioned in my previous post about applying chromatographic technics to our analysis, the results were very useful in supporting our smell profile experiments and giving us a better idea of the volatile compounds in the smell of sagebrush.  We have a lot of data and we are looking at what is the best way to discuss our results and write our report about the different smell pattern between all the populations that we have evaluated since starting our experiments. There are also some new things that I started this week.  One is to do statistics with R software which I consider to be a valuable skill for me to learn.   Also, we started a new project looking to apply some microscope technics to sagebrush, including the use of imageJ software.  I have wonderful work companions and a great mentor who is teaching me many things. I have to say that there a lot of things that I have to learn still, but this great experience at the Provo Shrub Lab inspires me to keep exploring and learning. As I said before, thank you all the CLM staff for the support and for this opportunity.

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Provo, UT

Forest Service, RMRS, Provo Shrub Science Lab

Brace Yourselve Before You Wreck Yourselves….This one is a loooong one!

Why helloooooooooo there!!!           Wow, it sure has been a good while since my last blog post (you know, the one I said that I would be blogging every other week). Hahaha, seeeeee what had happened was…to make a long story short; every weekend that I was faced with the choice of a) posting to this blog or  b) going out and discovering all that Oregon has to offer, well, I chose b). So, it looks like I have some splainin’ to do! Okay (deep breath in…and out), here it goes:

July 5th – 6th:

The day after Marta and I’s fantastic Fourth of July celebrations (see Marta’s “Identifying Grasses is Patriotic” blog post) we took to the gorgeous Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area of southeast Oregon. The Steens Mountain CMPA makes up 428,156 acres of public land offering a wide variety of scenic and recreational experiences such as wildlife/landscape photography, fishing, swimming, camping, and roaming the open country on foot or horseback. Once we arrived at willow and aspen tree enclosed Fish Lake (one of four campgrounds in the Steens Mountain CMPA), Marta and I set up camp, read our beloved books by the water, spent a good amount of time in awe of the stunning riparian plant species surrounding us and then finally jumped in! I hadn’t swam/goofed around in a lake in what felt like forever, so that was definitely the highlight of my day.

Lupine, Columbine @ Fish Lake
Lupine, Columbine @ Fish Lake
Agastache urticifolia (horsemint)
Agastache urticifolia (horsemint)
Pedicularis groenlandica (bull elephant's head)
Pedicularis groenlandica (bull elephant’s head)
Swertia radiate (monument plant)
Swertia radiate (monument plant)

          The next day, before heading back to town, we took in the breathtaking views of Kiger Gorge, East Rim, Big Indian Gorge, Wildhorse and Little Blitzen Gorge overlooks (many of which left me completely speechless) as we traveled along the 52-mile Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway. Though I must say, my absolute favorite part of the 52-mile Steens Mountain loop road was seeing the land around us transition from sagebrush steppe (at the bottom of the mountain) to juniper woodland (further up) to stands of aspen and mountain mahogany and then to high elevation grassland before changing to a subalpine community at the top of the mountain with magnificent blooms of low-growing plants and small wind-shaped shrubs alongside the endemic populations of Steen’s Mountain paintbrush and Steen’s Mountain thistle!

Cirsium peckii (Steens Mountain thistle)--Endemic to the Steens!
Cirsium peckii (Steens Mountain thistle)–Endemic to the Steens!


East Rim Overlook and the Alvord Desert in the far right back.
East Rim Overlook and the Alvord Desert in the far right back.

July 9th– 14th:

My older brother flew from Colorado to visit me here in Oregon and I was ecstatic! The first day I familiarized my brother with the wonderful town of Burns and took him of course up to the Steens Mountain. He was quite shocked when he saw the beautifully unexpected sights of the Steens. We had a blast hiking around, botanizing (and by that I mean him pointing at the showy wildflower bloom and me responding with the species name), throwing snowballs at each other and yelling at the top of our lungs to hear our echoes fill the vast gorges.

The very next morning we started our drive to Portland!!! As we both expected (thanks to the hilarious season 1 of Portlandia) our time in Portland was filled with good food, weird (I mean interesting people), incredibly wild (I mean fun) nights out and the massive outdoor Saturday Market!

We also spent two relaxing days at Cannon Beach which sits on the northern coast of Oregon! In Cannon Beach sits Haystack Rock, the world’s third largest intertidal monolithic rock –and we got to see all the red, orange and purple starfish, green and pink sea anemones, red-orange crabs, chitons, limpets, snails, terns and PUFFINS that call its tide pools and nesting sites home! We also watched as early-morning beach-goers dug for bright orange razor clams. Being from landlocked Colorado it had been nearly 6 years since the last time either one of us stepped foot on the West Coast. We didn’t want to leave.

my bruver Adan!
my bruver Adan!
OOOOWEEE NOW DAT"S GOURMET! Haha they were so funny. Can't wait to start cooking the King Cajun spice set and bbq sauces I got!
OOOOWEEE NOW DAT”S GOURMET! Haha they were so funny. Can’t wait to start cooking with the King Cajun spice set and bbq sauces I got!
Haystack Rock @ Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock @ Cannon Beach





July 28th:

This summer’s fire season in eastern Oregon has been pretty intense. In fact, my very own supervisor, Caryn Burri (the Burns District Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Coordinator) has been devoting most of her time and attention over the last couple weeks to what has been dubbed the nation’s largest wildfire by news outlets across America—the 618-sq. mile Buzzard Complex Fire of eastern Oregon which is located only 45 miles northeast of our Burns district BLM office. The fire burned a good amount of both private and public (BLM managed) land. Many ranchers lost cows, fences were destroyed, water sources impaired and of course, the vegetation was burned to nothing. As interns, Marta and I have been given the incredible opportunity to witness (and be a part of) the whole process of our fellow Burns District BLM employees responding to the fire, working together to come up with an ES&R management plan, presenting the plan to the ranchers that have been effected by the fire, and –if all goes well and the needed funding is received from the state office– carrying out some of the planned actions (such as invasive plant treatments) this coming Fall!!!

It was this 28th day in July that Marta and I attended the Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting. At this meeting were three rangeland management specialists, the district weed coordinator, the ES&R coordinator, the district wildlife biologist, a geographic information system specialist, the district planning and environmental coordinator, a Wildhorse management specialist, a civil engineering technician and….. To begin the meeting everyone went around expressing their initial concerns of the fire including human life and safety, invasive plant infestation, soil and water stabilization, wild/feral horses, roads in need of repair, etc. Once everyone’s concerns were discussed, each specialist brought their thoughts to the table in regard to what should be done when it comes to invasive plant treatments, biological thinning(intensive grazing of biological thinning), aerial and drill seeding of native and desirable vegetation, water developments, fence and road repairs, sage grouse habitat protection and restoration, taking special interest groups to tour the fire in hope of collaboration, presenting the plan to the permittees/ranchers, etc. It is also important to note that the big GIS map of the burned area that was on the table in front of everyone was being marked on constantly to show where they planned to implement high and low-priority aerial/drill seeding, where the invasive plant treatment areas/buffer zones are located, where they plan to plant cottonwoods, where they plan to vegetate with antelope bitterbrush, etc. If anyone looked over at me during that meeting they would have seen my eyes and ears jumping all over the room from one conversation to the next and my right hand writing down all I heard so as not to miss any part of it all. Loved every second of it—super exciting to be in the middle of a real Bureau of Land Management planning meeting, instead of just learning about it in the classroom!!!

Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting
Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting
Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting
Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting

July 31st:

Just days after attending the Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R planning meeting, I was thrilled when my supervisor told me of the opportunity I had to attend the permittee (rancher)/BLM meeting after work in the nearby town of Crane. It was awesome to actually be a part of something (stakeholder/permittee meeting) I was only able to act out with my fellow classmates last fall semester in my capstone natural resource management class. The purpose of the permittee meeting was to make sure that the ranchers were involved with the plan from the start. The ranchers are of course a huge stakeholder group in this Buzzard Complex Fire ES&R plan because they are the ones who own the permits that allow them to graze that land. It is always wise to go to stakeholder groups such as this with your proposed management plan as soon as possible in order to avoid complications/surprises in the future as your plan is getting closer and closer to being finalized/decided on by the higher ups in order to get the ok and the $$$ cash-money (funding ha). Not only did the ES&R BLM team inform the ranchers of their plan and answer their questions/concerns, they also asked for (and happily received) help and collaboration from the ranchers which were able to provide important information and insight about the fire-damaged lands. The ranchers were asked to draw on the provided maps where fences needed fixing, where water sources needed repair, where invasive plants are really bad, and where the roads were that needed invasive plant treatment. The ranchers were also asked if any of them would be willing to have their cattle biologically thin the invasive annual cheatgrass/medusahead wildrye that is bound to spring up from the ashes this fall. A good number of ranchers agree to be part of the biological thinning practice this fall. Then, the ranchers were told of the many ways the Burns District BLM could help them to rehabilitate their private land. For instance, the BLM could give them the names and numbers of the helicopter/aerial seeding contractors they will be using so that the ranchers can piggy back on a good deal. The rangeland management specialists also provided advice to the ranchers about what species to seed, high priority seeding and invasive plant treatment areas on their private land, etc., because you see, the problem with the West’s checkerboard (public vs. privately) owned and managed lands is that what the private landowners do or don’t do to manage their land has an impact on the adjacent public land and vice-versa.

I was very happy to be able to attend such an important (stakeholder) meeting where I was able to get the real feel for what these ranchers have to overcome after such a devastating fire. I was also very impressed with the wonderful collaboration I witnessed that went on between the public land managers I work with and look up to as an intern and the private land owners of the area.

My supervisor and lead ES&R coordinator for the Buzzard Complex Fire Caryn Burri presenting the proposed plan to the permittees/ranchers affected by the fire.

My supervisor and lead ES&R coordinator for the Buzzard Complex Fire Caryn Burri presenting the proposed plan to the permittees/ranchers affected by the fire.

Travis Miller (Burns District BLM -Rangeland Management Specialist) giving advice to his permittees!
Travis Miller (Burns District BLM -Rangeland Management Specialist) giving advice to his permittees!
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Wowzerz, that was a long one…Phew!
Ariana Gloria-MartinezHines, OR







A Fiery Focus

For the past few weeks, the botany team and I have focused most of our efforts on fire rehab monitoring. Every wildfire that burns on BLM land in the Carson City District has to be monitored for 3 years to assess the recovery and health of the land. At the same site every year we take detailed measurements about the soil stability, plant density, noxious weed presence, and other parameters. This has grown into quite a daunting task as the number and severity of wildfires increases. The most frustrating and fascinating protocol is the nested frequency and perennial plant density measurement. To collect this data we carefully scrutinize a single square meter, identifying every single plant and plant-remain contained within it. Then we do it again. And again. 150 times. This kind of work takes a type of attention that is not often called upon in my day to day life. But it also allows me to get down and dirty with the plants we spend so much time talking about. While taking these measurements, I always encounter new wonders. A tiny Salsola tragus seedling, an antlion in wait, an obsidian shard. Even in the most scorched plain, there are new plants and new discoveries to be found. We just have to take the time to get down on our knees and look.


Carson City, NV



Not much has changed since my last post. Our Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) Plans were due today, so I’ve been working with the team to do analyses and create maps for the report. Running so many models, one of the hardest things I’ve come across has been data management. My data organization makes sense to me, but I know I’m going to have to spend the next week cleaning up the data if I want anyone else to understand it!

In addition to working on the plan, I’ve been helping others around the office use arcMap as a tool as they write reports. A lot of people find arcMap daunting and I am happy to show them how much easier it can make their lives! It also gives me an opportunity to inquire about their work. Being from the the East Coast, I am a little lost when it comes to the climate out here. So, I’ve been trying to learn about the different way lands are managed out here in the High Desert.

Until next time!

August in Susanville

As August comes to a close, it feels a little strange continuing to work when I would normally be preparing for another semester at university. With this drought in California, it has been a warm, dry, and dusty summer of field work, but enjoyable nonetheless. As fall approaches, it looks like I will be doing some more office work.

This week, I mainly entered data on previous years’ range health assessments; however, one day this week I got to go out into the field and help evaluate sites for future bitterbrush planting. I went out with my supervisor and a member of the archaeology department. Together we surveyed three potential sites. It was interesting to consider the various uses of each of these sites. In this instance, areas were important ecologically, as well as historically. In an archaeologically important site, we don’t want to disturb the remaining artifacts; however, if all the shrubs are gone due to a wildfire, it is important we re-introduce native shrubs in order to prevent soil erosion and loss. From a conservation perspective, it is always important to consider an area or resource from multiple perspectives. This interdisciplinary aspect to conservation has always been something that has interested me. I would love to continue to collaborate with people in other disciplines in order to figure out the most appropriate plan for protecting and restoring our natural areas.