The Real World, Carson City

Snowy Sierran peaks

Snowy Sierran peaks

Work as a CLM intern in the Carson City BLM office is in a period of transition right now. In the last month we have seen the clouds roll in from the west, darkening the skies and settling white snow caps on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  A spring and summer spent in the hills, mountains, and scrub scouring for seeds, conducting vegetation surveys, and helping BLM rangeland health teams must inevitably come to an end as plants die or go dormant for the winter.  Our work has taken us throughout western Nevada and past the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevadan ridge into California.  Now in the twilight of the growing season and our internship, we move indoors and focus on office work.  We have now come to a point in our internship at which we naturally feel compelled to reflect on our earlier experiences.  Since there are six of us in our field office and a number of events on which to “reflect”, we have decided to each contribute a small section to this collaborative blog. Hopefully our reflections will give you a comprehensive enough idea of what it was like in our field office, while still preserving the uniqueness and interest of individual experience.  –Chris

Gina and Dave diligently collecting seed in the eastern Sierra.

Gina and Dave diligently collecting seed in the eastern Sierra.

We have been, and will continue to be, seed collecting maniacs.  As part of the national interagency Seeds of Success program, the Carson City Team has made over 60 collections this season on our travels through the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada.  Our collections have ranged from tiny desert annuals, to shrubs and grasses.  The most memorable and stimulating collection in my eyes was when the team employed the ‘box and tickle’ collecting method.  For the desert shrub, Eriogonum heermannii, we fashioned cardboard boxes to place under the buckwheat and proceeded to gently “tickle” or “massage” the plant (depending on personal preference) so it would generously drop its seed into our boxes.  Hence ‘the box and tickle.’  Another memorable collection was the one we made for Mountain Mahogany.  Soon after beginning to collect, we found that this tree’s seeds have a knack for digging into skin like piercing shards of fiber-glass, making collection quite an enjoyable experience.  Most collections however, are slightly less eventful and often less painful.  We collect seed in beautiful places and it is very relaxing work which builds our plant identification and berry picking skills.

Chris and Miles show their climbing skills!

Chris and Miles show their climbing skills!

Whatever the conditions of our seed collecting efforts, it feels good to know that the seed will go toward restoration efforts throughout the western US.  Some seed will even be used locally in a Nature Conservancy restoration effort of the Truckee River, just north of Carson City.   Seeing the site of a restoration effort that we will directly impact by contributing seed is very rewarding.  As November approaches, we will continue to collect seeds of desert shrubs east of Carson City with hopes of pushing our grand total to 75 collections.  -Matt

Matt, Cassy, Dave, and Chris with CNPS instructor Jennifer Buck

Matt, Cassy, Dave, and Chris with CNPS instructor Jennifer Buck

During the summer, our team was able to participate in a Vegetation Rapid Assessment Workshop through the California Native Plants Society (CNPS). The workshop took place at the Clair Tappan Lodge and Onion Creek Watershed located just west of Donner Pass (Donner Pass is located in the northern Sierra Mountains and is the site where the famous Donner Party spent the winter of 1846 and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive). Over three days we learned rapid assessment protocols, applications of fine/large scale vegetation sampling, and how vegetation sampling is used for mapping projects. It was a great experience getting to work first hand with CNPS botanists and our lead instructor Todd Keeler-Wolf as well as our co-students. This workshop was also a rewarding opportunity for us to learn new vegetation monitoring skills and to networkwith other agencies. Our cohort consisted of professionals from UC Davis, Santa Barbra Botanical Garden, CNPS, and the California Department of Fish and Game. Overall the workshop was a great experience!  -Gina

Best in the Desert Off-Road Race

Best in the Desert Off-Road Race

In August, the final portion of “The Best in the Desert” off-road race took place in our area.  Participants raced motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs (think of a golf cart on steroids), cars and trucks for nearly 1000 miles from Las Vegas to Reno, NV.  We loaded up early Saturday morning and headed out to help monitor the race to make sure that the racers were staying on the designated course as they zoomed towards the finish line.  The course was well marked with flagging but we were there to look for any signs of racers missing the roads, observe any impacts to the adjacent vegetation, and to make sure participants weren’t driving through any sensitive playa areas.   We encountered some spectators camped out in the middle of the desert who had been following the whole race and they gave us an insider’s knowledge about all things racing.  By the end of the day, we had met a lot of nice people involved with the race, seen that the racers were, for the most part, sticking to the course, and even did some scouting for a great collection of Atriplex torreyi! -Miles

Pine Nut Mountains

Pine Nut Mountains

Throughout the fall we have been working on the endemic species Pine Nut Mountain Ivesia (Ivesia pityocharis) located just southeast of our Carson City field office.  Our task for this project was to locate and map the extent of this diminutive little plant as well as collect some basic statistics on its status (density, age class recruitment, etc.). Lucky for us, this Ivesia is mostly found in the higher elevations near ridges and just below peaks and so our work provided us with beautiful views and amazing camping as we worked high above the valleys each week.   One September morning we even woke up to a layer of snow at our campsite! At first our task was rather difficult; we scoured dry meadows for this tiny Ivesia for long days and weeks at a time until we found ourselves seeing Ivesia in our sleep and counting them like sheep as we drifted off.  Initially, we struggled on how to best map the plants occurrence; over time we grew better at identifying potential habitat and found efficient ways of working together to map each occurrence.  Working on this project made us realize that the goal of the BLM is much different than the academic world we are used to.  Our mapping and data collection efforts were the beginning of what may be a long-term monitoring effort to protect this plant.  We had to constantly remind ourselves not to pay attention to every nit-picky detail and instead focus on getting our data collected as efficiently as possible so a future monitoring campaign may be developed.  We all hope Ivesia pityocharis has a bright protected future thanks to the data we collected this year. – Dave

Why we love to be outside, Red Canyon Overlook

Why we love to be outside, Red Canyon Overlook

It’s a good thing that office work is limited to about 10% of our time (I think all six of us would agree on this one) though there is extremely valuable knowledge to gain in this portion of the internship. GIS work has got to be my favorite. Because we get to explore the land 90% of the time, GIS helps digitize roads that may not be on maps and helps us find locations we want to navigate through. It is also an amazing tool for putting together crucial data for conservation efforts such as the habitat of the sensitive endemic, Ivesia pityocharis and other sensitive species.  In the office we also get to exercise our plant identification skills increasing our repertoire of native plant species! Other office work includes packing and sending seed to the seed extractor for the SOS program, working on conservation projects that contribute to the BLM’s efforts, and attending meetings on local weed control boards. After going to a couple of meetings I think the BLM has lived up to the nickname of the Bureau of Long Meetings! (Justkidding… well sort of).

The overall internship experience for me has been GREAT, not only because of the location and skills it has to offer, but also because of the people I work with.  I love exploring the west during work and out of work and I’m really glad I made the decision to come out here. This internship has helped me grow as a botanist and has facilitated my decision to continue with conservation efforts throughout my career.  -Cassy

So, you see that we have been busy and lucky enough to participate in a diversity of projects that have challenged us to develop new skills (both in the field and in the office) that will serve us well for careers in botany and natural resource management.

 

Thanks to Chicago Botanical Garden for providing us with this amazing experience. Special thanks to Krissa and Marian for all of your hard work and to Dean for putting up with us for the last six months.

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Carson City Team- Matt Koski, Gina Robinson, Miles McCoy-Sulentic, Chris Mausert-Mooney, Cassy Rivas, and Dave Miceli

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