An incredible diversity of habitats

When I was first planning my move to the southwest, I expected desert. Desert dryness, desert hotness, desert cacti. I expected no relief from heat and sun.

Now, after more than two months in my new home, I am thoroughly impressed with the diversity of habitats and plant communities in this corner of the southwest.

Of course there are dry areas, like where the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) live…


… and expanses of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).


But with an increase in elevation, real trees grow, like pinon (Pinus edulis) and juniper (Juniperus spp.), along with a diversity of grasses.


With even higher elevation, Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) takes over. Some places they are small and crowded from fire suppression, with a dense, soft layer of needles dropped at their feet.


In other places they grow in picturesque, park-like and open woodlands, full of grasses and flowers.


Then there are the aspen (Populus tremuloides), growing high in the mountains, and reminding me that the Sangre de Cristo Mts. near Santa Fe are the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains.


Along with habitat diversity, the weather has also surprised me. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, where summer begins with absolutely soggy soil soaked from months of winter rain that slowly, slowly dries out to a crispy fall, experiencing the monsoon rains and afternoon thunderstorms has been exciting. Here, clouds build so fast that it’s important to keep one eye on the sky when out scouting or collecting seed a few miles up a dry dirt road that could quickly turn nasty after a downpour.


Clouds build quickly and dramatically

Becoming familiar with the diversity of small herbaceous plants living among the larger and more distinctive species in all the diversity of habitats has been a fun and engaging challenge. As the monsoon rains continue to pour down on us, I’m looking forward to the new growth and seed the moisture will bring!

Laura Holloway
Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM

Summer in Susanville

This internship has proven to be full of adventures so far – it seems like there is always a story to tell about our days in the field! We have been very busy this past month and a half, which is why this blog post is a bit delayed. The good thing is that I have been feeling very much at home in Northern California, even though it hasn’t even been two months yet! Heres a summary: work-wise, Jocelyn, Alia and I have been helping with many different tasks around the field office. I am really enjoying this because rarely are we out in the field doing the same thing two days in a row, so I have gotten to know and explore many different parts of the field office. Along with SOS and SSP monitoring, we have been helping with the water rights inventory that our office is working on, a juniper tree mapping project, AIM/Upland health monitioring, marking trees with the forester, monitoring forbs for sage grouse habitat and other tasks that come up. With all of these tasks we get to work with lots of different people and it has given me a good idea of what it is like working in a government agency and all the different perspectives that go into managing land – it’s quite a lot! As a result, I have been learning about the importance of multi-use land management and the difficulties that arise, especially with the large size of our field office and the fact that there tends to be a lack of funding and staffing to get everything done.


Some cows at a reservoir we visited while doing the water rights inventory

There have been a few days and experiences that have stuck out to me so far. The top of that list was definitely seeing a mountain lion for the first time! I was out early in the morning driving to a water right (it was a stock pond that actually had water!) and my field partner spotted it as we came over a hill. We saw the mountain lion leave the pond and then walk through a stand of juniper trees. It was really exciting! Last week we collected Limulus guttatus (common yellow monkey flower) at a beautiful location in the field office, called Hole in the Ground. It is a riparian forb, so we wandered along the creek as we collected seed pods and even got stuck in the water a few times. I guess my waterproof hiking boots that I got on the east coast actually came in handy for once! This creek was easily my favorite place we have been so far. This past week Jocelyn, Alia and I helped with a GIS mapping project with some researchers from Chico State. We got to hike around with them to different plots in the Skedaddle Mountains and saw some great views at the peaks.


Views while hiking down from one of peaks in the Skedaddle Mountains

Along with the brutal heat we have, field work definitely comes with difficulties. Navigating the extremely rocky two track roads in our jeep can be stressful, but with more experience I am getting better with it. This past week we got a flat tire, but luckily we discovered it while we were still in the parking lot before we left for the day. We are hoping that we will be able to get all new tires soon! I also got a flat on my bike tire yesterday so I guess this is the week of flats…

Nonwork-wise, we are definitely taking advantage of our three day weekends! So far we have explored some areas near Lake Tahoe, took a long drive to Fort Bragg and Mendicino on the Northern coast, hiked Lassen Peak in Lassen National Park and I visited some family and friends in San Fransisco. These weekend trips have kept me busy and have already surpassed my desires for adventures out here. Can’t wait to see where the remaining weekends take us. I am feeling lucky to have the opportunity to get to see so many wonderful places. I am sure next weekend will be incredible as Jocelyn and I are off to Yosemite!


we found some snow on Lassen Peak!


Golden Gate Bridge

It’s been cooling down a bit this past week and it is making me look forward to the fall temperatures that will hopefully be coming in the near future 🙂

Till next time!


BLM Eagle Lake

Susanville, CA

Adjusting to the Desert

Pressing SpecimensHello from Santa Fe! This past month has been challenging but also very insightful. Our crew’s many adventures have ranged across diverse terrain in the Southwest. We have had the pleasure of scouting, collecting, and camping in the Santa Fe National Forest, Cibola National Forest, Carson National Forest, and countless other places. As we become more familiar with New Mexico, we also become more comfortable with its flora. It is exciting to be able to start recognizing and appreciating each of the species that seemed so foreign just a month ago. This place still feels indisputably unfamiliar but recognizing the small things makes it feel more like home. Laura and I set up a vegetable garden in our backyard a couple weeks ago, which was a satisfying way to secure some roots. In addition to learning the plants and protocols here, we are opening our eyes to different reptiles and insects that cross our paths in the field. We are applying different lenses to the surrounding landscape to better understand this place. The other day I learned that bees have separate sets of eyes for perceiving light and color and that only female bees collect pollen and have the ability to sting. The monsoons are finally upon us and I am excited to see which new plants will emerge!El MalpaisElla Samuel

Santa Fe, NM

Buisness as Usual

This time of year, field work starts to become almost second nature.  Monday through Thursday start to blend together and all of the scenery starts to seem the same.  I am of course talking about the doldrums of the field and the brutal repetition of the day to day work.  However, there are always moments of beauty interspersed within the mundane elements of the job.  This could be anything from a towering Ponderosa Pine standing alone amongst the sagebrush, or a beautiful marshy pond out in the barren landscape.  These moments are what keep me going day to day, always exploring and searching out these enchanting elements.

One particular passion of mine is birding, and the landscape of junipers offers up a bountiful habitat for birds off all varieties.  Recently, I have started seeing Green-tailed towhees, a beautiful bird with vibrant greens and red.  My silence has been shattered by the nasal calls of Clark’s Nutcrackers.  Aside from these momentary asides from the typical, I have had the opportunity to expand my horizons through working briefly with a couple of different projects.

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to go out to do a project with bats.  I had to adjust to a different schedule with the day starting at 5pm and ending around 3am.  To prepare for this dramatic shift, I stayed up late the day before so that my sleep schedule wouldn’t be too messed up.  We arrived at 5pm and then set out to the Maury forest.  We arrived before dusk and got to our first site, only to find that the pond we were going to mist net, was dry.  Then we changed our plan and headed to a second site.  We found that the stream was running and so we decided to set up our mist net here.  At the stream we set up 3 nets and then the waiting began.  I went out with my mentor and two other colleagues from the office.  Our boss had sent us snacks in a cooler, so during the waiting we went to work on the snacks.  At the beginning we saw bats flying overhead, but the wind started to pick up, making the net move (this causes the bats to be able to pick it up on sonar).  We continued to wait and eventually the other two people had to leave around 11.  Ironically, it was soon after that they left that we caught our first and only bat, a silver-haired bat.  I got to watch my mentor remove the bat from the net (you need to have a rabies shot to handle bats, so I did not handle them).  Then my mentor showed me the different parts of the bat that help to ID them.  Eventually we took the nets down and headed home late, or early depending on how you look at it,

This bat experience was a great break from my normal schedule.  I really had a great time, and will be working more with bats in the future.  Now I have been back on my schedule for a while, but I will give you an update about other adventures later.

Utah SOS

The past month here in Utah has been all about seed collecting. We are desperately trying to get to our goal of 20 SOS collections. Field days are really unpredictable, somedays we drive all day and never see a large enough plant population to collect seed from and others we find a few. Obviously the days where we find none are not ideal but still there is beauty to be found in everyday. I have really enjoyed getting to know this beautiful Utah country. Field days are filled with fantastic views such as these:


In 100 Lakes Mountain looking into Cathedral Valley, reminiscing over my cactus hunting days



Last week I had the opportunity to tour a restoration project on a portion of the Paunsaugunt in the Dixie National Forest. It was nice to get a day off from seed collecting and it was fun learning about this project. The goal of this restoration project is to expand habitat for the Boreal Toad, whose population is dramatically declining due to the Chytrid fungis that infects amphibians. The Forest Service has temporarily excluded cattle grazing and relocated beaver into the area to mimic the historical nature of the area. It is amazing how beavers can change a landscape and how well the land and waterways have healed themselves so far. The best part of the field trip, though, was getting to release a Boreal Toad into its new home. Find out more about the project, here:

In addition to being a great learning experience, the tour of the restoration project gave me a sense of pride in the work I am doing for the SOS project, knowing that (hopefully) some of the seeds I am collecting now will be used in the future to restore habitat for other wildlife. My hope is to one day work on a restoration project and make a positive change for wildlife.

Until next time,

Richfield Field Office, BLM



I’ll Take the Duckie

There has been a lot going on in Vernal over the past month. I cannot believe it’s already August! We’ve had the chance to be involved in a lot of different projects, which has been refreshing after several months of seed collection. We found a killer Sclerocactus wetlandicus habitat near some drill pads and we were able to collect some seeds for grow out for a local restoration project. I personally really enjoy collecting for local projects because it feels more productive. Being physically close to the action is motivating. While we were collecting we found a crazy mutant cactus:


We’ve also been looking for SOS populations in some really beautiful places. To escape the midsummer heat we’ve been venturing into the Uintas. We collected some Eriogonum umbellatum up near Flaming Gorge and while we were up there we took a pit stop to eat lunch and skip some stones on the resevoir. It’s impossible not to stop for a moment and appreciate our breathtaking surroundings and how incredible this opportunity really is.


We also just finished my favorite collection to date: Asclepias labriformis. It was particularly fun for several reasons. We missed the last Asclepias we tried to collect so this time we took serious precautions. We rubber-banded as many pods as we could so if they matured without us, all the seeds would be prevented from dispersing, sneaky, I know. It’s also really fun because there are about 30-50 seeds per pod so it is efficient and the pods are super fun to pop off the plants. And of course milkweeds are an important pollinator species and this particular species does well in disturbed areas, so it is a great plant for restoration purposes. Overall, it was a great collection and I’m excited to ship those babies to Bend.


And this past week, we went back on the river, this time the Green River. I spent the three days in my favorite yellow duckie. Rafting is fun, but there’s nothing like paddling through a canyon in that little duckie, letting the water take you in whatever direction it wants. Our mission was once again, invasive species control. This time we focused on teasel, musk thistle, canada thistle and white top. We used clippers, loppers and herbicide sprayers. Personally, I’m not incredibly comfortable with herbicide, though looking at how many invasives there were along the riverbed, I can understand why it is considered necessary. We burned our weed clipping in the campfire in the evenings and watched the amazing Perdeid comets streak through the sky. Another successful river trip.


For the next few weeks Levi and I are turning our attention to finding fall species. We’re going to try to collect as many Artemisias as possible, as well as some Chrysothamnus and a few more Eriogonums and maybe even go out on the Green River again.

Hope everyone is having a great summer! Talk to you soon!


Monitoring Riparian Areas and Forest Stands with the BLM

I have been very fortunate in the last few weeks to step away from Seeds of Success collections and rare species population monitoring in the sage steppe to work with different people in the office and learn new techniques for monitoring and assessing both riparian and forest health. With the forestry crew I hiked incredibly steep terrain in a beautiful Douglas fir and pine forest stand. I learned how to perform forestry plots and how to core a tree to determine its age. As a group, we stumbled across a huge Douglas fir with a diameter at breast height of 67 inches. We estimated this tree had to be at least 800 years old based off of comparisons with the ones that we were able to core!

With the range crew in the office, I learned how to perform MIMs (multiple inventory monitoring of riparian areas). We assessed plant species present along the stream banks, allowing me to show off some of my botanical knowledge. We also assessed stream-bank stability, water temperature, rock size in the channel, and width of the channel. Like with the forestry crew, performing MIMs brought me to some spectacular areas with huge cottonwood, aspen, Douglas firs, and willows. During one MIM, the vegetation and debris over the creek was so dense, that we were practically climbing like monkeys in a mangrove forest just to assess the quality of the riparian area. I really enjoy field work, and that was a lot of fun. It was really fun in the last few weeks to explore new areas within the Salmon field office and see the diversity of habitats that are present near me. It is a great advantage being a CLM intern in that I am able to explore a myriad of subjects within the office and not be stuck strictly within one area of study.


Signing off,

Austen, BLM, Salmon Field Office, ID

Researching Endangered Species One Mammogram at a Time

I often find myself telling people how exciting it is to have a job where my days hold such variety and often entirely unexpected excitement. Perhaps I’ll find a new population of an endangered plant, shock a giant bull frog while electro fishing, or watch F-15 fighter jets dog fight over the vast expanse of sage brush and scab land. This week the variation in my days came with a day spent at Oregon Institute of Technology’s mammography lab.

At this point it is believed that the Lost River Sucker, an endangered species of fish native to the Klamath area, is not found in the Sprague River. Two other species of sucker, the Short Nose Sucker and Klamath Large Scale Sucker, are found in both the Sprague River  and in Upper Klamath Lake however despite the fact that the Sprague and Upper Klamath Lake are connected and open to fish passage the Lost River Sucker is only known to exist in the lake.

About 10 years ago close to 800 juvenile suckers were collected from the Sprague for a research project of some sort and eventually ended up preserved in alcohol in the flammables closet at the US Fish and Wildlife office in Klamath Falls, OR. Jump ahead 10 years and these samples presented the perfect opportunity to look further into the question of whether Lost River Suckers are reproducing in the Sprague River.


The crux of answering this question, and the reason I recently spent my day in a mammography lab, is that distinguishing between juvenile Lost River Suckers and other species of suckers is extremely difficult. With such small fish the only real way to identify species is by the number of vertebrae. Lost River Suckers have 45 or more vertebrae and the other species have 45 or fewer. So with the help of the interns from last year having sorted the fish by size and attached museum tags with distinct numbers to each fish, the other intern in the office and I set off to get the fish x-rayed.

With the help of a number of students and a professor at Oregon Institute of Technology we carefully laid out our samples, placed metal numbers and letters on each sheet, snapped a picture to be able to later align the x-rays with museum tags, pushed Bertha the prosthetic breast out of the way, and scanned 41 slides holding a total of 794 fish.



While we have the pictures and x-rays we have yet to spend the hours it will take to count the 45+ or 45- vertebrae on each fish (don’t worry, we do have a computer program that will make this process slightly easier) so unfortunately this blog post has a slightly anti-climactic conclusion. But stay tuned! The question of whether there are Lost River Suckers in the Sprague River will have an updated, data-supported answer shortly.

Caving Break

With the temperatures rising the past couple weeks in Shoshone, ID our crew was looking for a break from the summer sun. So, when the GeoCorps offered to take us through a couple of lava tubes, and teach us about the geology of the area we did not hesitate to go. The first cave they took us to is the second largest lava tube in the lower 48. It was a two mile walk from the mouth to the back of the cave. Sometimes it was like walking through a train tunnel, other times we had to scramble over rocks or skirt around ledges, and at other points you could see where two or three clearly defined lava tubes stacked on top of each other.

The next cave’s opening was a long spout like tube that curved down in to a large room that mimicked the body of a tea pot, and if you stood in the middle of the room and looked up there was a large, almost perfectly circular skylight. Under the skylight there is a large pile of rubble, and growing among the rocks is a mass of ferns. This caused us all to ponder, since this is only place I have seen ferns since moving to southern Idaho.  We also discovered that this cave was the perfect place to take ethereal photos. The trick to achieving the beam of light cascading down over the ferns was to wait for the afternoon sun to stream in though the skylight and then kick up a massive cloud of dust. The results are amazing.

The final cave we went to was my favorite due to the fact that there are little individual droplets of water hanging delicately off of the ceiling and walls of the cave. If you shined your flashlight down the length of the cave at just the right angle it caught the droplets in such a way that they looked like shimmering drops of molten silver clinging to the walls of the cave. We tried several times to capture this effect on camera, but to no avail. Exploring these caves made me feel as if I were entering a whole other world that I was not supposed to ever see.Abby Goszka 2016 Chris's Crystal Castle

Tea Kettle Cave

Tea Kettle Cave

P1060405 P1060390

My plant duties have been slowly shifting over the past couple weeks. I am still doing scouting for sagebrush collection, generally while helping the range techs as they are working on range improvements, but I have also been working on plant clearances and rare plant documentation and verification. I have found that I really enjoy this work, especially making the plant lists for the clearances. The first clearance was in a riparian area, which presented us with several mystery plants that we were not familiar with since most of the summer thus far has been spent in the sagebrush steppe. I find the satisfaction of figuring out an unknown plant adds another level of enjoyment to the work. Next week will be spent verifying a couple rare plant occurrences, sagebrush mapping, and monitoring a willow planting sites. However, I did just learn that one day will be spent tagging monarch butterflies!

Caves for Days

The past month has been wild with adventures and new experiences! We’ve learned some new protocols to include: Fire Re-entry, Utilization, Range Improvement, and even some spelunking!


With fire re-entry we use a pin-drop sampling method and determine the stability, species, and if seed heads are present in grasses present in pastures after fires and seedings. If the grasses prove stable and abundant, it is annotated and grazers will be released on the pasture in the next season.

With utilization, you walk a straight line and every five steps you annotate the key grass species of that pasture that has been grazed and ungrazed closest to your right big toe. This determines how much grazing is or is not taking place in the pasture. A bit of statistics is involved at the end, which is one of my favorite parts!

With the range improvement protocol (RIP), you go to structures on the range and determine if they are still structurally sound or need improving. So far, my group and I have only observed reservoirs but exclosures, troughs, etc. are all included in this protocol.

My favorite days of the past month have included spelunking, though! We are lucky enough to have some GeoCorps interns here at the field office who are thrilled to take us out to see a few of the many caves around Shoshone, Idaho. We have placed radon detectors in some of the caves, searched for bats, and received interesting information on the formation of these caves and geological features inside. They are very strict about wearing coveralls and sanitizing everything after it has come out of the cave in order to prevent the contamination of white nose fungus to other caves and potential bat populations.


From crawling through small tunnels to standing in chambers big enough to house entire towns, caving is absolutely spectacular! It has opened a door to my heart that has led me to want to pursue a future in studying bat populations. I would love to assist geological teams in caves! We will see what the future holds.

Tea Kettle cave has a huge skylight that shines rays of sunlight down onto a beautiful population of ferns.

Tea Kettle cave has a huge skylight that shines rays of sunlight down onto a beautiful population of ferns.

Today we join up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get training on how to tag Monarch butterflies. I am beyond ecstatic! I am so thankful for this internship and the opportunities it has afforded me. I am also thankful for having such wonderful supervisors in my field office that allow us to learn as much as we can and have such wonderful experiences!

Marissa Jager – Shoshone Field Office – Shoshone, Idaho