Our Final Field Days in the Desert

The past few weeks here in Carlsbad have been ultra busy getting in as many collections as we can! After getting a late start on collections with the late rainy season here, we ended up doing 46 collections this season! We were especially lucky to get permission to collect at Guadalupe Mountain National Park in collaboration with the National Park Service.

Ipomoea lindheimeri nestled in Sotol at the GMNP

Ipomoea lindheimeri nestled in Sotol at the GMNP

Spaeralcea angustifolia by the Black River in Carlsbad

Spaeralcea angustifolia by the Black River in Carlsbad

This month, I also got to participate in Wildlife Water inspections with a couple of my coworkers. This involved cleaning out the waters, inspecting and repairing any broken fences, and sometimes repairing water tanks! We did six sites in a day, finding lots of interesting wildlife along the way.

One of several black widow spiders found at several of the sites we inspected

One of several black widow spiders found at several of the sites we inspected

A juvenile black widow spider-may had built webs in the corners of the Wildlife Waters.

A juvenile black widow spider-may had built webs in the corners of the Wildlife Waters.

An oil well against the sunrise on the way to inspect Wildlife Waters

An oil well against the sunrise on the way to inspect Wildlife Waters\

We found a huge field of milkweed at the first site! Brooke and I are going back to the site to do a collection this week.

We found a huge field of milkweed at the first site! Brooke and I are going back to the site to do a collection this week.

Only two weeks are left for me and Brooke here in Carlsbad, with only two more collections remaining this week! We’ll be doing a lot of office work after that, mounting vouchers and wrapping up paper work here at the field office. I will definitely miss this wonderful place and the people I’ve met here!

-Meridith, Carlsbad, NM BLM

Oh, the places you’ll go!

I cannot wrap my head around the fact that only 8 months ago, sitting in the concrete jungle of Quito, Ecuador, I had my first interview for the CLM internship and was referred to work with the National Park Service in Wrangell-St. Elias NP, AK. Fast forward to late October, I find myself in Anchorage, snowboard in hand, anxiously waiting for snow to fall in the mountains. In the time interval between these two moments, my CLM internship both brought me to Alaska and provided me with professional skills important to my developing career. My personal “internship” was unlike any of the past, and certain job responsibilities forced us to grow professionally and meet expectations within the resource department of a government agency.

Skills I developed during this season will, with certainty, carry-over to future employment in natural resource management.

  • Experience with ArcMap
  • Data collection and processing with Trimble units and Pathfinder Office
  • Writing professional reports
  • Public outreach and an understanding of its importance to government work
  • Backcountry logistics, which is especially valuable to fieldwork in Alaska
  • Further experience in identification of plant species using keys, particularly grasses
  • Various applications of Microsoft Office products

Of equal importance to the skills above, which transfer well to paper, are the planning and preparation experience one can only acquire with trial and error. Some invaluable learning experiences of the summer are listed below.

  • Proper field preparation and checklists are crucial and never to be underestimated. There is no “Oh, we forgot THAT?! Let us skip back to the office and grab it!” after being dropped off via bushplane in the Alaskan backcountry.
  • Trip reports are very helpful for future reference and should always be completed if time allows.
  • Always be ready for the worst possible situation, and understand that forces out of your control will occasionally crush your plans, although every conceivable precaution has been taken.
  • Humility is important for getting over mistakes, and having healthy, happy work relationships with your coworkers.

Among the skills acquired/honed and lessons learned, this season was rich with work-facilitated experiences to be appreciated for the rest of my life.

  • Laying eyes upon Iceberg Lake of the Tana Glacier was a breathtaking moment, and promptly reminded us of how lucky we are to work in a field with exposure to such beautiful, wild places.
  • Surfing for the first time in Yakatat, Alaska (believe it or not, a 6/5 mm hooded wetsuit is a bit too warm for the Gulf of Alaska during summer).
  • Organizing and weighing seed collected during the 2016 season.
  • Writing the 2016 summary report with the my fellow CLM intern, Natalie.
  • Building cartographic skills while developing maps to help describe our field season.
  • Pressing, mounting, and developing herbarium labels for over 60 aquatic plant specimen.

Above is a sample of my experience as a CLM intern in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Each individual intern likely received an overlapping, but occasionally different and equally beneficial wealth of skills and personal lessons. I am a firm believer in this program and feel fortunate CBG provides young botanists and conservationists with such incredibly diverse and beneficial internships. Let us hope that environmental policy continues to swing in our favor, increasing permanent employment opportunities to meet our skilled pool of qualified field biologists and technicians.



Rain in Susanville, CA

People said that the rain would come this fall, and it is finally here! This weekend we are getting three days of rain. After finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail this past weekend, it is almost a reward to get to relax and stay at home. It is also nice to get the chance to use my umbrella and raincoat that I brought all the way from the east coast. Going out in the field next week should be interesting after a few inches of rain. We have mainly been working on water rights and juniper mapping for the past month. Our first snow on the mountains in town came on September 22, and we got to experience snow in Desolation wilderness on a backpacking trip over the first weekend of October. Earlier in October, we also got the chance to help run a session on pH and DO water sampling at the Lassen County Youth Camp for 6th graders. It was really fun to spend the morning with the kids and try to understand where all of their energy comes from. This was my second time at the camp, since the week earlier I had helped at the previous session with a binocular walk to look for birds. Lassen County Youth Camp is located on the east side of Eagle Lake, and is down a very long, bumpy road. The kids all walk in the last 4 miles because the road is so bad that buses won’t go down it. Even though the funding for the camp has been cut, there are still a few determined teachers who get help from parents and figure out a way to make the camp happen for a few days in the fall. While the kids are at camp, their studies focus on science curriculum and they have the opportunity to attend guest programs from people with the forest service, Cal fire, and other natural resource organizations. Over the past few weeks we have also packaged all of our seed and sent it to Bend. We have also packaged all of our herbarium vouchers. It is very satisfying to have completed our collections. All that remains now is to send in our photos.
A few weeks ago we went out to rake Atriplex seed in to the ground. The 4-winged saltbrush is a great forage plant, and a local rancher had given the BLM 6 large bags of seed. It was hard to find suitable locations for the seed, which was collected at around 5,000 ft. Hopefully it will germinate in the locations where we raked it in. The same day we were out scouting for sites, we found cows had been let in to an upland plant exclosure. Apparently ranchers will drive by, see their hungry looking cows, open the gates and then blame it on the hunters. We had fun chasing cows out of the exclosure; they knew they weren’t supposed to be in there, but who knows when someone will open the gate again. Last week we went to the pine dunes past Ravendale. Sand dunes formed in the middle of the sagebrush basin plant community from an ancient lake that dried up. There are Washoe and ponderosa pines up to 100 years old in this rare community, but there has not been reproduction in the pine stand recently. We walked the perimeter of the fence exclosure, which unfortunately had been cut in several places, and picked up cones that will be checked for viability. There was an eagle nest in one of the pines, and we got a chance to see it fly over us while we were walking in the dunes. The trip to the pine dunes was especially memorable because on our first attempt we ended up getting the truck stuck in the sand. To our surprise, a small kitten managed to find us out in the middle of no where, it must have come from one of the small houses out on the nearby road, and stayed with us until the BLM fire crew came to help us out. It was pretty skinny, so it probably would have died after a few more 30 degree nights if we had not happened to cross paths out in the pine dunes. Luckily one of the BLM fire guys decided to take it home with him!
With just three weeks left, the end is coming near. The days are much shorter, and the field work projects are wrapping up. There seems to be rain in the forecast more often now and it’s hard to get out on the roads when things are wet. The Diamond mountains in town have had snow on them for a week now. I am hoping to make a trip up to Oregon next weekend, which leaves just one other full weekend in November before we get ready to part ways in mid-November.
BLM Eagle Lake Field Office
Susanville, CA

Winter Is Coming!

As this field season comes to a cold abrupt end, I reflect on the past couple of months with a smile on my face. There have been so many changes in my life this season and some have made it challenging to hold that smile in place, but there are so many things to be grateful for that I’d be selfish not to keep living life on the lighter side. There are too many highlights to list them all but I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend most of the summer work with two wonderful human beings that have taught me so much. One is my mentor that is very knowledgeable with the flora here in Colorado. She often knew every plant on our plot, which made it easy to collect data and familiarize myself with the plants in a new ecosystem. She also knew how to butter us up with snacks on long work days, those salty treats kept us going strong throughout the season. My other coworker or PIC (partner in crime) as I like to call her, was an avid bird watcher and pun master, which turned out to be a great combo out in the field. This is my first field season and one of my fears was working closely with people that clashed, which would just make work a drag, but I got lucky and had a great time getting to know these two.

Amongst all the beauty that Colorado has to offer, I caught a glimpse life on the wild side. We were camping near our plot out in the boondocks of Garfield County Colorado and I decided to go on a jog. My plan was to head East on a nearby two-track road for about 45 minutes and then come back to the campsite. The sun was quickly setting so there I was, speeding along grooving to jams with a single headphone in (because I like to be semi aware of my surroundings). Approximately 35 minutes into my jog I noticed I hadn’t seen a single soul and I liked that, my own jogging trail; the dream of an active city girl, but that feeling was soon to shift. All of a sudden I hear wrestling in a tree followed by a loud thud 2-3 feet away from me. I swiftly turned my head and immediately froze to see the butt or a furry creature scurry away; after crossing a small stream, it stopped on the opposite bank and turned around. It was a Black Bear! There it was in all its glory, sitting on its hind legs looking me dead in the eye. We stared at each other for a solid 3 seconds before I softly started cursing and took a couple slow steps back. While I was still in its sight, I turned around and started running only to hear the worst sound of my life (for the moment)! I heard it cross the river and follow me! I was literally seconds away from emptying my bowls right then and there! We all know not to run if we see a black bear but the trick is to remember that when you’re in a panic! I immediately turned around when I heard it and it stopped in its tracks about 15 feet from me. There we were face to face again. I skittishly raised my hands in the air and made the most animalistic sound that could never be recreated even if I tried. It was a mix between a yell, growl and a howl. The guy immediately turned in the other direction and ran. My next thought was “Ugh, I wish I had a Go Pro attached to me right now!”, followed by “OMG, what if this baby goes and gets mama bear and then they’re both after me!” and by baby I mean toddler, it was about 5’6” while sitting so I don’t know, you tell me if it was a baby or toddler, either was scaaaryyy! I freaked myself out even more when I remember that nobody was around to team up with me if needed. I ran back to the campsite at full speed, I probably took half the time to get back. Every couple feet I would turn around to check if anything was following me and ran faster. To my luck I never saw the bear again. I really wanted to tell someone about it when I got back but my PICs had already caved out in their tent by the time I got back. I had dinner in the truck that evening because I was still so freaked out, I couldn’t believe it. I swore off jogging in boon dock trails but looking back on it, if I know that there aren’t any grizzly bears in the area I would probably go trail jogging again, although I’ll probably think about that bear every time. It was scary but oh so gratifying to have been in the presence of such a majestic creature.

I’ve had some unforgettable memories this summer and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned, especially plant species, a skill I know I need to continue to practice because it’s easy to forget those Latin names. I’m not sure what my future holds after this internship is over, job searching is not in my favor lately but I know that life is full of surprises. My priority right now is to try my hardest not to stress about it and let it come as it may. I don’t necessarily mean just sit back and wait for opportunities to come, but remind myself that as long as I am trying to seek out what I’d like my future to hold, the rest will fall into place. I’m not promised tomorrow, so I’d rather not waste my time stressing today.


All Done

We ended up getting 27 SOS collections completed, not to mention a handful of smaller collections that were for other purposes.  Since our original goal was 30 collections I would have to call these past 5 months a success.  We still didn’t manage to get those Artemisia collections; it seems like no one ever stays long enough for that, but at least those are all close enough to where the whole collection could be done in an hour or so on a slow day by Jessi, Matt, or Christene.

I had a great 5 months in Vernal.  There were so many places to go and so many things to see.  The whole area, even Vernal itself, was beautiful.   However, I couldn’t deny feeling an overwhelming sense of relief when the trees started closing in around southern Illinois as I was driving back.  There is just something about being completely surrounded by green that has a powerful relaxing effect.

I can’t get too relaxed though.  I haven’t yet gotten a new job and that will have to be my number 1 priority for as long as that takes.

Freeze-up in Fairbanks

I sit by the fire in my slowly warming cabin and listen to the trees blowing in the wind of changing seasons. It is 7:09 am and still dark outside. The sun won’t rise for almost another two hours. This time a month ago, near solstice, there were three hours more daylight, and in August we had seven more hours of light and not a thought of cold temperatures or the looming winter around.

Up here, summer flies by like a fast-moving train, people bustling about and sometimes not even stopping to sleep at night. Fairbanks, only one degree of latitude south of the Arctic Circle, has no darkness until late August. We forget about the stars and the moon, and know that since summer is so fleeting we must not let a moment go by wasted. We take full advantage of the availability of liquid water, of daylight, of thawed soils, of green plants and especially the flowers to identify them by. The nights start to get darker in August and sometimes we forget to appreciate them because we’re still so busy working, and in our little spare time, harvesting meat and fish for the freezer. I had to force myself to stay up late to watch the best aurora of my life in early September because I was so tired from hauling a Sitka black-tail deer off of the top of a mountain in Prince William Sound and all I wanted to do was crawl into my tent and sleep. Dragging my sleeping bag onto the tundra awarded dancing beams of red and purple across the giant Alaska sky, not a man-made light in sight.


Once the meat is put away and the gardens are harvested and the last of the kale is wilting away in the hard-freezing nights, all of Alaska takes a giant breath in and out. For us field technicians, our data is collected and starts to get entered into machines and filed away. Summer is over, and winter is here.

Now that the summer field season is officially finished, I have time for one last note of reflection. I have not had much more than a spare minute or two to think about writing for the past three months. I live in Fairbanks, and was drawn to this internship because it offered me more chances to explore this great state and gain experience doing lots of different work and make connections with various agencies and organizations. The majority of my summer was spent on soil surveys with the NRCS, but I also worked on AIM (Assessment Inventory and Monitoring) projects with the Alaska Center for Conservation Science, and mine reclamation monitoring on placer mines and forestry and weed monitoring with the BLM. I hacked through permafrost with a sharpshooter shovel in frost-wedge polygonal tundra. I identified countless new asters and brassicas on the Bering Sea-influenced alpine hills on the west coast near Unalakleet. I floated 30 miles down a Wild and Scenic River to survey soils, and measured trees in a historic Yukon River town.

One highlight of the summer was spending a hitch rafting down the remote Beaver Creek in interior Alaska accessing floodplain and terrace communities to map for the impressive undertaking of a soil survey that will cover 35 million acres (that’s the size of the state of New York, folks). We piled our sling-loaded gear onto a 14-foot raft and used small lightweight inflatable packrafts to cross sloughs and beaver ponds to get to the hard-to-access areas of the survey, and slogged through miles of willow thickets and tussock-ridden terraces. Floating serenely down the river secure on our rafts, we were playfully chased by a black bear and a surprised grizzly snorted and scuffed the ground at us, standing up on its hind legs before turning and galloping away through the willows. 20160804_kopp_128520160811_kopp_1372 20160811_kopp_1376

My mentor, Eric Geisler, and I spent a few days in the Fortymile region of eastern interior Alaska accessing targeted AIM sites on pristine creeks by helicopter. The project is in conjunction with the University of Alaska’s Center for Conservation Science and the sites we sampled will be used as baselines for monitoring placer mining on Jack Wade Creek near the small town of Chicken.

As the fall colors on the sub-arctic tundra were peaking, I spent three days canoeing to popular campsites in the Tangle Lakes near the Denali Highway surveying for invasive weeds, which fortunately have not spread from their isolated territories around the boat ramp and road-side campgrounds.

After all of the leaves had senesced, two other CLM interns and I traveled to the historic Yukon River town of Eagle, once the gateway into Alaska’s gold rush, to inventory timber resources and fuel loads in the cold frosty forests surrounding the town.

Over the course of this five-month internship, I’ve worked with some amazing people, learned valuable skills, and traveled and gotten to know intimately some of the most incredible wild places on the planet. I have helped collect ground-breaking data in never-before-surveyed parts of the state. I have grown to understand the incredible importance of the relationship between soils and vegetation. I have assisted in an effort to establish monitoring protocols to preserve Alaska’s streams from degradation due to improper reclamation after gold mining. And I have made connections with incredible folks all over the state.

Now, as ice encroaches from the banks of the creek by my cabin and grows ever outward from the sticks and logs half-emerged from the water, my thoughts turn south towards travel, relaxation, and reflection. It is the season of pot-lucks, hotsprings, evenings at the brewery, and the last few afternoon bike rides when the sun takes off the morning’s chill. Soon I will travel to see friends and family “Outside” Alaska, and explore new mountains and rivers in South America. Time to plan spring ski trips and summer canoe trips and eventually, what to do next summer. Who knows where next spring will take me, but if it’s anything like this summer, I know I don’t have to worry.

The Hunt For The Washoe Pine

Washoe pine is only found in a few sections in the North Western corner of Nevada and part of the Warner Mountain Range. Many of the populations of the pine contain only a few individuals and in the Surprise Resource Area, are often found in association with aspen, snowberry, chokecherry, gooseberry, and wax current. Also in these areas is Wyoming big sagebrush, bitterbrush, and pose. We have populations of this species in at least two sites of the Hays Mountain Range and several along the southern stretch of the Warner Mountains.

Alejandro, Garth (Range Technician), and I went to a population of pine that is located near Bally Mountain and overlooks Mosquito Lake. Many of the pine trees were in wet areas and contained rock outcrops. We were unsure as to when the pine cones would be ready and how many pine trees were actually in this population so we set off to survey the area for pine trees and to collect seed from the mature plants for future use. Our hope is to at some point be able to plant Washoe Pine in more areas along the Hay’s Range.

Getting to the pine tree involved hiking through several aspen groves along the rock ledge until we found our first pine tree which was over fifty feet tall. We collected seeds from this tree and then continued farther along the ridge following several aspen groves. Within these aspens, we found more mature trees and many baby trees sheltered within these canopies.


The Washoe Pine with Mosquito Lake in the background.

With two boxes full of pine cones we decided that we would need to return at a later date to collect more seeds as we started a seed bank for our region. On our way out we decided to have lunch at an overlook that looked back at our pine collection area as well as the valley below. While having lunch we realized that we were sitting above a mother bobcat with her two kittens that were playing on the rocks. Below them and moving across the valley was a herd of antelope. It was a great day on the Great Basin.

The Collection Area

The Collection Area

What’s a seed collection intern?

Most people are curious (and a bit confused) when I tell them that I’m a seed collection intern, so I thought I’d explain it in this blog post. I work for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB), a regional partner of the national Seeds of Success program. Seed banks are controlled environments in which seed can remain dormant and viable for long periods of time. Seed banking helps ensure the long-term survival and genetic diversity of stored species. MARSB is a mid-term storage seed bank in which seeds can remain dormant and viable for several years. In long-term seed banks, like the well-guarded seed bank in Fort Collins, Colorado, seeds can remain viable for decades.

As MARSB interns, my field partner, Emily, and I spend much of our time collecting seed for Seeds of Success East’s coastal restoration efforts. We have a list of twenty foundation species that grow in coastal areas that were harmed by Hurricane Sandy. These species are used in immediate restoration projects and/or stored for future restoration projects, which is especially important as climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of storm events. We spend a lot of time collecting species that grow in salt marshes, beaches/sand dunes, coastal freshwater wetlands, and coastal forests. Here are a few of the foundation species we’ve collected so far:

Hudsonia tomentosa (woolly beach heather) is a short, shrubby plant found on back dunes in the rock rose family (Cistaceae). Hudsonia’s spreading growth habit and widespread roots help prevent dune erosion. We collect Hudsonia by massaging seed off of the stems into a cloth bag or by scooping up fallen seed from the sand. Hudsonia was the first species I collected seed from during our training trip in June, and I got a bit overzealous with my scooping method – I wound up collecting more sand than seed. However, by my second and third Hudsonia collection I had perfected my scooping method and Emily and I made some great Hudsonia collections.

Dunes carpeted with Hudsonia tomentosa (woolly beach heather)

Teucrium canadense (Canada germander) is a cute little forb in the mint family (Lamiaceae) that’s found on the edges of salt marshes. It was easy for Emily and I to find populations of Teucrium once our mentor Clara taught us that it’s often associated with Phragmites australis, a common and highly invasive reed that also grows along salt marsh edges. Despite sometimes having to bush-whack through Phragmites, Emily and I loved collecting Teucrium because each plant has a ton of seed and it was easy (and satisfying) to strip handfulls of seed heads from each plant.

Teucrium canadense in seed (Canada germander)


Teucrium canadense (Canada germander) in bloom – image via Minnesota wildflowers

Hibiscus moscheutos (crimsoneyed rose mallow) is a salt marsh plant with big, beautiful flowers in the mallow family (Malvaceae). We only had one collection site for Hibiscus, but it had thousands of plants – it was really beautiful when they were all in bloom. Like Teucrium, Hibiscus has many seeds per flower head, so it was easy to collect. However, once we got the Hibiscus back to the seed lab, we had to treat it with anti-pest strips because we wound up collecting all the little bugs that live in the seed heads – the prettiest plants sometimes hide the creepiest critters.


Hibiscus moscheutos (crimsoneyed rose mallow)


Hibiscus moscheutos (crimsoneyed rose mallow) flower close up – because one picture is not enough. Sorry it doesn’t have a crimson eye!

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) is a tall, common grass (Poaceae) found in open fields, forest path edges, salt marsh edges, and on sand dunes. It’s fun and easy to collect because you can strip handfuls of seed from every plant, and by the end of our six collections, I had some pretty tough finger callouses (and a few cuts). It’s a great restoration plant because of its heartiness and ability to grow in multiple environments.

Handfull of Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) seed

Cakile edentula (American searocket) is a small, fleshy plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Like Hudsonia, it has a deep root system and is a good dune stabilizer. When Cakile’s seeds are ripe the whole plant dries up and rolls around in the wind dispersing its seed, like a tumble weed. This dispersal method led to a long collection day, because the population just kept going along the beach!

Partially dried up Cakile edentula (American searocket)

Cakile edentula (American searocket) is a lot prettier before its leaves fall off and it dries up. Image via California florae.

Until next time,