Pecularities of the Mojave Desert

Hi, I’m really sorry about the late post – it’s been a busy couple weeks here in the Mojave. As the temperatures gradually grow, we try to accomplish as much as possible in the field. Actually, the weather have treated us, as well as the plants and wildlife, with some nice spring showers recently. And I must say that for me, after being here for a couple months, a rain is quite an unusual phenomenon. We usually spend a lot of time in the field and personally I always have this mix of feelings when I see rain clouds above us. It’s great of course for the environment but definitely affects our work pace and how much we can do being out in the field. Speaking of the environment, here in the Mojave, most of the annuals, and of course some perennials either, have passed their flowering period and now work hard on ripening their fruits and seeds in these pretty unfavorable conditions. But some still bear some reproductive parts, which is great. We actually were able to nicely recognize some of the local Chollas and the place we were at up in Arizona Strip was kind of rich in that prospective – Cylindropuntia achanthicarpa, Opuntia basillaris, O. engelmanii, O. erinaceae. So it was really nice to see the diversity in colour and shape of those unusual plants.

Apart from the plants, I do also discover new species of birds to me. It is truly nice to hear and observe wildlife in the Mojave, as it is rather unique and always surprising in these sparse ecosystems. This past week we also got to work on a relatively new project for us – we were surveying after fire revegetation experimental plots in northwestern Arizona. Not only it was a project we haven’t worked on yet, but the area and plants were also somewhat different. So the week turned out to be quite long but full of impressions, provided a good insight into the subject, and of course a very positive and useful experience. Well, I look forward to looking for more native perennials on the plots and hopefully less invasive species. Until next time!


USGS, Henderson

To the east!

Well, I left the Coast and headed inland over the Cascades. In doing so I left the rain shadow of the Olympics to live in the rainshadow of the Cascades. While the Olympic rain shadow receives about 50 inches of precipitation annually-enough for it to be a lush dense forest with trees tops plastered in lichens peaking out above the fog, the land in the shadow of the Cascades receives only about 10 inches annually- enough to support low growing xeric shrubs, forbs, and grasses, while the ravines and canyons might have ponderosa pine, and some common Pacific Northwest shrubs (Physocarpus capitatus, Amerlanchier alnifolia). The change in vegetation has been astonishing, and very exciting.

I started working on April 20th, which this year was about 3 weeks behind the typical phenology. Because of this I’ve had to play a bit of catch up learning the Sagesteppe plants. Keying species of Eriogonum, Lomatium, and Erigeron, has become my main after work activity-although I’m starting to get a decent grasp of these taxa. Currently I’ve just been scouting the steppe looking for populations large enough for to support collections. With this comes a lot of anaylsis of species distribution due to slope, aspect, soil type, and a variety of other factors. Two particularly fun experiences so far have been: monitoring Astragalus sinuatis, (well, actually bitter sweet emotionally), and checking out sand dune plants!

Anyways, I must confess I’m terrified of talking (or typing to people!) so this is about all I can bear to share. In my spare time (well that time which isn’t eaten by Lomatiums!) I have been hiking the Wenatchee Mountains- and reflecting upon how geology drives speciation. My stimulus for this has been been reading Art Kruckebergs “Geology and Plant life”-and yes, I’ve already seen the infamous endemic Lewisiopsis tweedyi (amongst a few others!). Another project I’ve been having fun doing is qualitatively making notes on the differences in species composition along different troughs in hills (mountains?) along a canyon leading out from the Wenatchee Mountains into the sagesteppe.


Eagles Galore

Hello All!

It’s been a busy few weeks since I last posted. The days have  mostly been filled with searching for Golden Eagles, although I’ve had some cool opportunities to help with capturing Sharp-tailed Sage Grouse and Pygmy Rabbits as well. We’ve visited almost all the sites we need to at least once and are now going to begin scheduling check-ups to see if there are any eaglets to be found (reproductive success?!). I was also able to join some of the other Wenatchee BLM employees on a trip to establish reference conditions for up coming rangeland health assessments. It was really interesting to see the thought process behind deciding what factors constituted a healthy environment and what were acceptable ranges of variation. Today I joined Reed, the SOS intern here in Wenatchee, and got a great introduction to plant ID and how to search for rare plants. I’m excited to start our vegetation monitoring and put my knew knowledge to work!

Again its been a busy week, so I’ll let these pictures speak for me (they’re worth a thousand words right?)

Golden Eagle hanging out at the nest.

Golden Eagle hanging out at the nest.

Pygmy rabbit!

Pygmy rabbit!


Taking some measurements on a Sharp-tailed Sage Grouse.

Taking some measurements on a Sharp-tailed Sage Grouse.

A beautiful day on the way to Northrup Canyon.

A beautiful day on the way to Northrup Canyon.



Life in Vernal

Greetings, blog-readers!

This is my first blog post, as well as my first experience as a CLM intern. I am originally from Seattle, Washington, but I will be working primarily as one of two Seeds of Success collectors for the Vernal, Utah BLM field office. Going from a temperate rainforest to a dry desert basin has been quite the climactic adjustment, and I find myself drinking around three times as much water here. In addition, I am seeing a plant community in the Utah Basin that is completely different than what I have experienced before (such as sagebrush, tiny cacti, and pinyon-juniper woodlands), which is great!

Here are some pictures of us in the field during our first few weeks:


So far, the majority of our time in the field has been spent scouting for candidate plant populations that will be used for seed collection. In this picture we were collecting a voucher for Vulpia octoflora, a native grass.


Last Friday we helped set up some transects, which will be used to monitor Penstemon flowersii populations in the future. Despite the ominous clouds, the weather was actually very pleasant!


This little guy is a horned lizard, I believe!

My mentor likes to say that we have the best job in the office, and so far I think she is probably right! I am very happy with the amount of time we get to spend out in the field, the diversity of tasks we work on each day, and especially all the plant knowledge that we are gaining! (Ohh boy, am I going to learn about Astragaluses this summer…!)

I will end this post with some things that I am excited about for this season:

-Learning new plants
-Getting the opportunity to wear my snazzy new sunglasses
-Exploring national parks in Utah over the summer
-Experiencing what it’s like to work with a government agency

That’s all for now, folks! Tomorrow I will be heading down south to spend the weekend exploring some of Utah’s awesome national parks.

Jinny Alexander
BLM Vernal, UT

Blog from Spokane

My name is Lorna. I have been working as an intern under the Seeds of Success program via the BLM Spokane District Office. This is the end of my third week. I will be turning 57 next week. I live in Spokane and have an awesome husband, who I met 30 years ago, a straw bale home, and a big garden. So, that is why I stayed in Spokane instead of going somewhere new, where I might have discovered many more new plants!

Last week I was out digging up some voucher specimens (Lupinus sulfureus, or sulfur lupine) when I noticed a tiny creature, maybe two centimeters long, which looked suspiciously like a scorpion! I live in Washington State for goodness sake! Well, using Google, I found out we DO have a little scorpion called the Northern Scorpion, and I also found out that it isn’t any danger to botanists.

I dug up an entire Balsamorhiza sagittata plant one day, using my mentor’s prize digging stick, which is made of the same material as a pry bar, very heavy, but has a T-shaped handle and a curved tip. The balsamroot was in dark soil with lots of basalt rubble mixed in. It was at the base of a basalt cliff. So the digging stick was essential. I was amazed at how fat the root was, about 3″ in diameter, and that it actually had a coarse bark, like a tree’s. When I accidentally chipped the dark brown bark off, a white-ish interior was revealed. Silly me, though–I thought I could slice the root to use in a voucher sample, but it was like trying to slice a piece of wood! Very fibrous.

My mentor, Kim, has taken me to some places to look for likely seed populations. We have eight or nine populations scoped out. I actually have collected seed for Lomatium macrocarpum. I THINK we have about 15,400 seeds. Hopefully I’ll be able to send them to Bend, Oregon, for cleaning on Monday. I’m really curious how many I really collected. First seed collection ever!

Lastly, I was out doing monitoring at recently vacated sage grouse nests, with three other people. One of the guys said that while he was out tracking sage grouse, he noticed a pure white bitterroot with the normally green parts of the plant being yellow-green. That was interesting. Lo and behold, we saw one on the way back to the truck!

I would have posted some photos, but while upgrading to a new version of Apple, I lost everything in my phone and now I have to go down to the phone store!

More rare plant surveys.

Hello World,

Since my last post here, we did three weeks of plant surveys, of which I missed the middle week while visiting the National Native Seed Conference in Santa Fe. The conference was fun, but wandering around in the desert is better, so that’s what I’m going to talk about. Luckily, the crew did fine without me, although one window at our office did suffer the assault of a trailer hitch. I did the same thing to a post at a hotel last year, but the post just needed to be put back on its footing while the window requires a bit more intervention. Gist being: be careful backing up in those big pickups, OK? (And BLMers getting new vehicles: maybe they don’t all need to be huge pickups. Sometimes we need ’em; more often, they’re a hindrance in the field as much as in town.)

Anyhoo, here’s the gist from the recent stint of rare plant surveys: We found rare plants! Specifically, about 85 Pediomelum pentaphyllum and about 40 Peniocereus greggii var. greggii. We also got to see some of the varying results of previous herbicide treatments. These treatments are intended to restore grassland by removing shrubs that have become more abundant due to grazing. Sometimes, it works admirably–especially at a little higher elevations where we’re near the current shrub / grass transition zone or in places where grazing pressure has dropped down towards sustainable levels. Sometimes, it’s basically a wash, neither better nor worse. Sometimes, removing shrubs just gives invasives a chance to take over. I think we’re getting better at doing more “best case” and fewer “worst case” herbicide treatments, but when you spend a couple days out around one of the worst case scenarios–basically, tumbleweed heaven–it erodes optimism and belief in progress somewhat. Luckily, I think Las Cruces District is ahead of the curve on putting monitoring plots in place so that we can learn from our mistakes and move towards the holy grail of Adaptive Management. Mistakes are unavoidable in land management; if we’re doing it right, we don’t repeat them.

Enough of that, here are some pictures!

Pediomelum pentaphyllum habitat:

And Pediomelum pentaphyllum:

Peniocereus greggii var. greggii habitat:

And Peniocereus greggii var. greggii:

Also, Crotaphytus collaris fuscus:

If you were paying attention on the Peniocereus greggii var. greggii photos, you noticed that they have flower buds. I’m headed out shortly to find them with flowers, so that I can get pictures of this species’ ephemeral but spectacular stage in which it does not look like a dead stick.

In other news: I looked for a very rare species (Spermolepis organensis) and didn’t find it. Two papers from my academic days are about to be published, which will result in five new species in New Mexico. I head off to seed collection training in California next week, and rangeland health training not long after. The rangeland health training is, luckily, near Moab–which means I can drive up and botanize en route. If I can drive, I do; if I can take a couple extra days to poke around on the way, I do that as well. Why go somewhere awesome and not dedicate some time to wandering around? (Just don’t forget important items at your campsite, because you’ll have to backtrack and retrieve them–did that a couple weeks ago, and not for the first time. Hopefully the last. Probably not the last.)

Also, Shameless Plug for Commerce: That little yellow thing in one of my Peniocereus greggii var. greggii photos is the Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor. It’ll send 1-meter accuracy locations to an iPhone, iPod, iPad, or probably other Bluetooth devices. It isn’t cheap but it’s cheaper than a Trimble (even if you have to buy the iDevice to go with). The available apps are better than ArcPad, too. Trimble wins only if you need submeter, have a big pile of cash handy, and don’t mind a dramatically worse user experience. I am not associated with Bad Elf in any way other than as an enthusiastic customer. My assessment is not that of the Chicago Botanic Garden nor of the BLM.

Exploring Utah’s many wonders!

Hello! This was my first week on the job, so I don’t have too many exciting stories yet. Most of my adventures thus far had to do with my drive from the midwest across the nation to Utah. It really is amazing how the sights change as you drive along. I’d have to say my favorite part was going through the Rockies. It was breathtaking!

The Rocky Mountains covered in snow.

The Rocky Mountains covered in snow.

Of course, I had to stop and see Arches National Park on my way to Cedar City. After seeing Delicate Arch on the welcome sign to Utah, I knew I had to see it in person.

Delicate Arch! The rock formation found on Utah's license plates and welcome sign! A bit of a hike, but worth every step!

Delicate Arch! The rock formation found on Utah’s license plates and welcome sign! A bit of a hike, but worth every step!

Cedar City is a great little town and even though I’ve only worked with the BLM for a week, I know it’s going to be amazing. The flora and fauna are almost completely different from back home, which is both overwhelming and exciting. There is just so much to learn and experience! As a wildlife technician, I’m going to be doing a lot of field work and identification. To help with that, we’re working on putting together a quick reference field guide to assist us when we find something new.

Putting together a quick reference guide by researching the wildlife we're likely to see in the two counties we'll be working out of.

Putting together a quick reference guide by researching the wildlife we’re likely to see in the two counties we’ll be working out of.

We’ve also been doing a lot of reading up on the project sites we will be monitoring. Today was my first day out in the field. The station’s recreation officer took a fellow intern and I out and showed us the access roads so that we would be able to find all of our worksites.

We drove to the top of a trailhead we will be monitoring and the recreation officer  helped us get an idea of where we would be working over the next few months.

We drove to the top of a trailhead we will be monitoring and the recreation officer helped us get an idea of where we would be working over the next few months.

We spent the day hiking the mountains looking for signs of wildlife and recording all of the birds, reptiles, and mammals that we found. I’m still getting used to the high altitude, but other than constantly being out of breath, it was pretty fantastic! Hopefully by my next update I’ll have exciting work stories and more pictures from the field!

Spring Monitoring in the Jarbidge Field Office

Hello from the Jarbidge Field Office in Twin Falls Idaho! Springtime has arrived and so have the young plants and animals. Because of this, the monitoring season is starting up again and the race is on to monitor all the forbs and grasses possible before the hot summer sun dries them all up. Unfortunately, southern Idaho is experiencing very dry conditions already this year, making our job as a monitoring crew much more difficult. However, we have excellent mentors and leaders who will help us to efficiently completely all the required sites for this season.

Along with monitoring plant populations we have learned important skills such as using Trimble units and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. We have also experienced some adventures already including muddy two-tracks and sudden snow storms. I even managed to find an elk shed while walking a transect! As mentioned before, it is always enjoyable to see the young calves and other baby critters running around the desert. It’s pretty hard to beat the weather in southern Idaho right now, the mixture of cool nights and warm afternoons make for an awesome work day in the field. Being a local in this part of Idaho, I am fairly accustomed to the hot summer sun that burns through most of July and August and I can see why the forbs choose not to be out during this time! Like most deserts however, the Jarbidge Field Office is full of diversity and its own set of unique plant species that thrive all year long. I truly believe that this landscape is one of the most beautiful and underrated places on earth.

I can already tell that this summer will be full of great experiences and invaluable knowledge I will need for a career in natural resource management. Like my crew lead always says, “Every day in the field is an adventure!”

So long from Twin Falls! Good luck on all your internships!

An early spring in the Sierra


It’s been a dry start to the field season here in the Mi-Wuk Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest. All of the passes through the Sierra have been opened for the season, and we are scrambling to keep up with plant surveys that have strict floristic timing. Today marks the end of my fourth week on the Forest and I am finally starting to feel comfortable with local flora, with special attention to our primary survey species: M. filicaulis and M. pulchellus. In the field, we see the effects of California’s third year of drought almost every day. My field partner is a return CBG intern from last season and often balks at the diminished populations of these species, which enjoy moist, open areas.

Pansy Monkey Flower, Mimulus pulchellus

Pansy Monkey Flower, Mimulus pulchellus

The bulk of our work this season will be in restoration sites for the 2013 Rim Fire. Recently, we have been surveying areas slated for conifer removal or reforestation in order to identify and properly mark occurrences of rare and sensitive species. In flagging these element occurrences we are essentially the hands and eyes of powerful environmental legislation – who knew it all came down to some striped tape on a tree?!

In addition to the more traditional surveys we have been lucky enough to participate in a number of other projects.  One includes setting up cages around mountain ladyslipper orchids that are bouncing back from the fire in cattle range.  These shade-loving plants are elusive in the brushy, post-fire undergrowth and  sometimes difficult to distinguish vegetatively.

Mountain lady's slipper, Cypripedium montanum

Mountain ladyslipper, Cypripedium montanum

Jake setting up a cage to protect from grazing cattle

Jake setting up a cage to protect from grazing cattle

The weekends have taken me into the San Francisco Bay, the Emigrant Wilderness, and the Eastern Sierra, and I can’t wait to see more of this extraordinary country. Until next time, I’ll ask for your best wishes as I survey for Erythronium tuolumnense. While excited to see the fawn lily, I would otherwise not venture into a place called “Tecnu Springs”…



Lupinus nanus covering a hillside post-burn

Lupinus nanus covering a hillside post-burn


Desert Tortoise Food for Thought

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)

Greetings from the sunny desert of the Mojave! Our juvenile desert tortoise forage characterization project is going well!

The temperature has been steadily increasing over the last few weeks. The tortoises have been spending less time outside (more time in their burrows), which is well-timed, as the forage is beginning to senesce. As a result, I have greatly improved in my ability to identify senesced plants (and tiny desert annuals at that!), a practice also known here as “forensic botany.”  One USGS researcher observing juvenile tortoise forage behavior noted that the tortoises select certain senesced plants to eat. The forage available for the juveniles this time of year is critical information to obtain as the wind begins blowing away the senesced forage material. Even after a short desert rain we noticed many small annuals had washed away.

Allium nevadense (prior to senescing!)

Allium nevadense (prior to senescing!)

We have begun weighing forage biomass samples, and as you know when working with tortoises – slow and steady wins the race!

I have also met a number of hares running around, but perhaps the tortoises accomplish more in the end?

Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) on the go!

Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) on the go!

Another neat component of the project has been collecting samples of known juvenile tortoise forage species for genotyping. We will then be able to analyze scat samples for the plants they eat. This of course means collecting scat samples! It is always exciting to encounter scat in the field, especially if it is directly related to one’s project!

A couple weeks ago we had the great opportunity to help out on another researcher’s Joshua Tree pollination project! Searching Joshua Tree flowers for their obligate pollinators, the moth species Tegeticula synthetica and T. antithetica, was a fascinating experience!

Notes about our upcoming project next time!


Henderson, NV