July 2018

As a kid, I always dreamed of being “an explorer”. I read stories of Lewis and Clark and pretended to traverse uncharted territory with my brother. We navigated through forests and deserts and built “birds’ nests” out of beanbags and countertops. I never thought this dream job would become a reality. Twenty years later, I inventory springs in forests and search for hidden water in deserts. I climb through rock formations and discover rosehips and wild raspberries where water seeps between the rocks. I hike along springs with vegetation up to my waist and jump back in alarm as a snake passes in front of me. I walk past a cottonwood and discover a family of owls nested in its branches.

In July, my co-intern and I began a spring inventory project that will span several field seasons. We will traverse forests and mountains and deserts to inventory nearly 400 springs and seeps in the Casper Field Office boundary. Using the Arc Collector app, we will plot the location and create a polygon to map the extent of each riparian area. Additionally, we will document riparian plant diversity and water quality data from each site.

As we begin this process, our mistakes become our biggest learning opportunities. We’ve learned that mapped two tracks don’t necessarily exist, backcountry navigation is a tedious and time-consuming process, and a lot can change in twenty years. The importance of planning and organization has become increasingly evident. Most of the riparian areas we’re visiting were inventoried nearly twenty years ago. Twenty years for vegetation to grow. Twenty years for springs to dry up. Twenty years ago, when there were no handheld GPS units. No exact coordinates. This creates a lot of challenges for our work, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and problem solving. Finding the most efficient method is as much a part of the job as the actual spring inventory process.

Twenty years ago, I pretended to be an explorer. Around the same time many of these springs and seeps were inventoried for the first time. Now I scramble through rocks and trees. I traverse forests and mountains and deserts. I cross streams and listen to owls give warning calls as I walk by their homes. I pick a raspberry and savor the reality of my childhood adventures.


Wild rose and wild raspberry bushes at West Rock Spring.

Rangeland Health

June 2018

One of the key objectives of the Casper Field Office is to manage sustainable livestock grazing on public rangelands. Rangeland health surveys provide an important way to monitor these areas and provide feedback to lessees about why certain aspects of rangeland health are passing or failing.

In June, we completed rangeland health inventory on six allotments — Marton, Snowshoe Creek, Casper Canal, Banner Mountain, Hess Draw, and Steamboat Lake. As a hydrology technician, my role was to inventory Soil Surface Function (SSF) and analyze signs of erosion at rangeland health sites. I set up a 10ft x 10ft soil plot and collected samples at 4 inches, 12 inches, and 20 inches. In addition, I checked both the soil plot and nearby drainages for signs of erosion, including surface movement, flow paths, rills, gullies, and pedestals. Soil samples were analyzed in the lab and used to calculate the percentage of sand, silt, and clay in each area. These percentages will be compared to pre-existing soil data and used to further analyze grazing patterns at each rangeland health site.

Working with the Casper BLM for a second summer, I have become much more aware of the big picture reasoning behind Rangeland Health inventory and the methods of choosing rangeland health sites. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the diversity of the places in which we work. One week, we may be working in a flat, arid, overgrazed pasture. The next, we’re surrounded by mountains and trees and cool granite rock formations. A day later, we’re wandering a sandy, beach-like area littered with mini dunes and rocks that have been naturally polished by windblown sediment. Each site has its gems: aromatic pine forests, rocks of every color, a young rattlesnake coiling and rattling at a distance (key words, “at a distance”). I look forward to the rest of the season and everything Casper, WY has to offer.

Here are some of the places we worked:

Steamboat Lake Allotment

Snowshoe Creek Allotment

Marton Allotment

Hess Draw Allotment

Casper Canal Allotment

Banner Mountain Allotment


Pollination, Seed Collection, and Education – Oh My!

1 September – 30 September

September was another busy month for seed collection. However, I was able to find some time to do more than scour the desert for a small, purple aster (Machaeranthera canescens) and stuff its seeds into a manila envelope before the wind snatched them up. When I was not collecting seeds, I could still be found out in the field.

Just another day in the desert. It was cool and rainy on this day, which made for one special treat.

I think these cacti are adorable – except for when they stick to my boots and poke me in the bum as I squat down to collect seeds! Yowch! Unfortunately, that’s happened on more than one occasion…

Earlier in the month, I spent some time  in the Caribou-Targhee’s Curlew National Grassland for a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) monitoring project. The Curlew is a harsh, hot environment that has been trying to recover from the Dust Bowl. Yet a stream still manages to make its way through the desert. Along a portion of this stream is a population of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). This area is a prime monarch caterpillar habitat, as there are thousands of milkweed plants around and milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat. I have been out to this area multiple times with others from the office and the community to conduct monarch monitoring. The monarch butterfly holds a special place in my heart because I spent two years of my undergraduate degree researching the migratory population of monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains. I have enjoyed working on a project that I have a decent level of background knowledge on, especially after spending so much time trying to familiarize myself with the new projects of my internship. I also enjoy any opportunity to run around with a butterfly net. And, after hearing numerous adults laugh and shout with joy over each butterfly they caught or caterpillar they discovered, it is clear many others also enjoy chasing butterflies through a field.

Monarch (D. plexippus) caterpillar munching away on some  showy milkweed (A. speciosa).

If I wasn’t chasing butterflies or collecting seeds, I could be found working on environmental education projects. Throughout the month of September, I spent a couple of days a week at the Upper Mesa Falls visitor center northeast of Ashton, ID. Fourth grade school groups came out here to learn about the geology, hydrology, and history of the area, in addition to the program Every Kid in a Park. I led the students on plant walks and it was great to be around their enthusiasm and eager questions. I also think the Every Kid in a Park program is an awesome opportunity – every fourth grader in the nation gets a pass that allows them free entry to our national parks and monuments! The other education project I worked on has been a pollinator display for local libraries. The Idaho Falls USFS office has partnered with Pocatello’s Idaho Fish and Game office for this project. We recently completed setting up a display about native bees at the Marshall Public Library and it has been rewarding to see the whole project come together.

Upper Mesa Falls produces a rainbow every sunny morning and every clear night on a full moon! The Falls make for one incredible classroom.

If you find yourself at the Marshall Public Library in Pocatello, ID, please stop by and learn a bit about bees native to North America!

As Summer moves out and Autumn moves in, the field season has begun to wind down. It will be interesting to see what else I will be working on as my internship continues into November, but I am hoping I will get to spend quite a few more days out in the field.

Cheers to more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID

Goodbye Reno..For Now

I am going to say the cliche statement — I can’t believe how quickly my time in Reno came and went! In a couple of weeks I will be driving back east to Colorado, and I am happy to say that I will miss this area. I learned a saying here, “Reno: so close to hell, you can see Sparks”(If you don’t know, Sparks is a town right next to Reno). I use this saying with no negative intent towards Reno; it is a crazy place full of great people. I have made a lot of friends in this town, and it feels good to know that Reno is a place I can call home. To the west lies the Sierras where I caught frogs and fish, and to the east lies myriad Nevadan mountain ranges where I collected native seed.

Here is what I have been up to in my final month here: I spent a few days in September helping to monitor a wetland restoration project near Sonora Pass. I walked around as the “biologist on site” looking for any Yosemite Toads that may be displaced by the construction. In order to restore the meadow to make it a more wet site, the road crew removed the top layer of sod in and surrounding the unwanted ravine, filled in the area with dirt to make it more level, and then returned the top layer of sod. This will allow next year’s water to flow more slowly and into a larger area of the meadow, rather than directly into the nearby river.

USFS road crew at work on a wet meadow restoration project

This month, I have also been helping out on the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) campus. I worked with a current grad student (who is a botanical genius); together we transplanted some native plants into her pollinator garden on campus. We also worked on designing a dry creek bed where she will soon transplant more native plants. Our final project together was planting two beds of native plants at the USFS station in Sparks. These beds will qualify as an official pollinator garden for the Forest Service. We used about 15 different species of flowering plants that will bloom at different times over the course of the summer. I hope they survive the winter and flourish next spring!


A pollinator garden at UNR made up of native, arid/desert plants

This honey bee was happy to find this evening primrose open for business in early October!

Dry creek bed on UNR campus

Watering the newly transplanted native plants into their new home at the USFS office

Overall, I think that my most important gains from this season were the friendships and professional relationships that I formed. I met a lot of different people working for different government agencies, all of whom are trying to advocate for native plants and wildlife conservation. I have learned a lot from them all, and I hope that I am able to continue their work wherever I end up.

Signing off,

Zoë Moffett

US Forest Service, Sparks NV

Ending in Casper, yet Continuing On

My experience as a Forestry Intern has been incredible. Its foundation was field based learning and on-the-ground experiences that quickly brought me up to speed with all things related to forest management. I now have countless fond memories of warm days spent in the Bighorn Mountains, the ever present rustle of aspen leaves in the fall, and even some days spend snowshoeing through timber stands and falling snow. My work was not only full of knowledge and learning, but also satisfying and enjoyable.

I had the ability to apply what I learned and was able to work directly with my mentor to ensure healthy forest development and to manage forest product sales. She taught me an incredible range of forest management techniques and practices, as well as guided me through their application. There was a healthy balance between working directly with my mentor and working independently, so that we could continue to tackle our ever-growing work load. We worked out of two field offices, and there was a lot of ground for us to cover in the Casper and Buffalo Field Offices, and an even greater number of tasks to complete each day. I worked to set-up and monitor public firewood sales as well as establish areas for contracted timber harvests. I helped establish new access routes and walked timber stands with contractors who will ultimately harvest and sell the timber. Due to the multiple uses of public lands under the Bureau of Land Management, I have collaborated with wildlife biologists, hydrologists, range specialists, archeologists, recreation specialists, and geologists to ensure forestry actions do not adversely affect the public lands as a whole.

This opportunity has allowed me to see all aspects of forestry, instead of merely focusing on one. My time as an intern has been an invaluable step in the development of my professional career. When I officially had the position, I have to admit, I did not know much about forestry. Over the past five months, however, I have grown and developed as a forester, and now have the confidence and skills to orchestrate forest management practices. When walking through a forest now, I think more about the stand health and density, age-class distribution, and possible access routes, with the mindset of a forester instead of just enjoying the scenery. I’ve developed a critical eye for forestry, thanks to the guidance from my mentor.

While my time in Casper has drawn to a close, the friends, experiences, and knowledge I have gained will continue with me wherever I venture next. Thank you Chicago Botanic Gardens for presenting this opportunity, and thanks to Cindy for taking me under her guidance and sharing her years of experience with me throughout my internship.