A Seed Without Roots

It’s that time of year again: change is everywhere. From the weather to the flora and fauna to the people, everyone and everything is gearing up for the sun to change positions on the horizon. After 15+ years of school, I’m used to fall being hectic; this time of year always means starting a new chapter with a schedule that has you buzzing around like a bee. However, working seasonally adds a whole new level of chaotic uncertainty. My days aren’t done when I’m off the clock; my evenings are filled with job hunting, resume writing, apartment hunting, packing all my stuff up (again), cleaning. I have to remind myself that this is the reality of freedom. I wanted to work seasonally so I could live and work in a multitude of places while I figure out which ecosystems I’d like to study in the future, and with that freedom comes the drag of job hunting and moving everything I own multiple times a year. When I look at it like that, I can’t be anything but thankful for my situation. I’m so lucky to be able to explore the country doing work I love, and I know I’ll look back on this time with gratitude that I let myself float around like a seed blowing in the wind before I put my roots down.

Frozen Toes, Nose, and Fingers

Hi everyone,

It has now been a little over two months since I have started my internship, and I have had so many opportunities that I had not expected. One amazing experience was a conference I was able to attend the first weekend of September with the Native Plant Society of New Mexico (NPSNM).

Sitting near the base of the Gila National Forest is the quaint town of Silver City. This is where Lucy (the other SOS intern) and I got to spend our three-day weekend presenting posters for the conference. The relaxed nature of the NPSNM made it easy to talk about something I am very passionate about: conservation. My poster outlined the different effects of the oil and gas industry, which has been booming in our resource area. Although all land use changes can cause numerous negative side effects on the surrounding landscape, it is easy to see that the presence of “pumpjack forests” has begun serious degradation to the habitats around them. Aside from the obvious destruction to the land, these oil fields can also cause wildlife poisoning, air pollution, and even change the hydrology of an area. This is why environmental education for this industry, and many others, is so important.

Poster for the Native Plant Society of New Mexico conference.

An amazing double rainbow in the Gila National Forest.

One of the three field trips taken during the conference. This trip was to look at the restoration efforts of an old ranch in the Gila National Forest.

Who doesn’t love a baby Horned Lizard!

Me (left) and Lucy (right)

In other news, the monsoon season is still in full swing here in the Chihuahuan desert. Many new plant faces are starting to appear, which means we will be very busy for the next few months! I still continue to be astonished by the concept of rain in the desert… Especially when the temperature can drop from the normal 80°-100°F range to a chilly 50°-60°F range due to this rain. Needless to say, I spent this last week with frozen toes, nose, and fingers while traipsing around collecting our precious seeds.

An example of storms in the desert. (No worries, I was not driving in this picture)

(Again, I was not driving)

Look close! The desert can hold the tiniest of little treasures.

Just another tiny treasure.

Best,

Caitie

Carlsbad Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

What’s in a weed?

What with seed collection being pretty much done, we have been doing a hodge podge list of things around the Rawlins Field Office with various departments. One of my favorite projects has been our work with the noxious weeds department. We were sent to Bennett Peak to check on areas where people have long since sprayed for weeds. After reviewing the state noxious plant list and going over the map, Chloe and I set out for Bennett peak with a list of GPS coordinates and a camera in hand.

We searched for populations of Musk Thistle and Leafy Spurge– sometimes we found a flourishing population of invasive weeds and sometimes we did not (which hopefully means that, because were sprayed long ago, the population is under control). We photographed all of the sites as evidence. We drove, hiked and climbed around this riverside area full of fishermen and campers to get to these sites. They all recognized us as noxious weeds people just from out packets of maps and coordinates.

Leafy Spurge taking over
PC: Chloe Battista

I thought a lot that day about the concept of weeds. Gardeners will call anything undesirable in their plot a weed. This could be a native plant that is just considered “useless” or “ugly”. Meanwhile, I would use the word weed to describe an invasive plant taking over an environment. These are undesirable because of the harm they do to the ecosystem– either by taking up space and nutrients from once biodiverse areas, replacing them with monocultures, or making the area otherwise uninhabitable by native organisms. They could be pleasant in appearance, like Leafy Spurge or Oxeye Daisy, but that does not particularly matter. BLM sprays for them in hopes of fighting back against them. If they are able to keep up with it regularly, it just might work. It is interesting how we apply undesirability and desirability to nature depending on our goal.

Some invasives can be pretty, but this thistle still needs to be destroyed.
PC: Chloe Battista

“Tell me what your internship was about again?”

Today – my last day of work – is one of the rare days that I am sitting inside at a desk.  I sat down to write a fitting conclusion to the last five months, which is every bit as difficult as it sounds.  I decided to start by making a graph.  To anyone who knows me well, this would come as no surprise – my background is in quantitative biology, and I am a big nerd about data visualization.  As silly as it sounds, I wanted to answer the question: what exactly have I been doing for five months?

In short, I have been treating weeds and collecting seeds.  I have learned this summer that the hard work of creating and managing healthy ecosystems requires dedicated people on the ground doing work that – if I am being honest – can often by repetitive and tedious.  However, I have gained some valuable skills during this process: plant identification, navigating and recording data with a handheld GPS, and herbicide application, to name a few.  I even got to help mark trees for a timber sale (in case you were wondering what went under that “other” category).  In addition, I got to spend my days in some truly beautiful places.

While collecting seed from Physocarpus capitatum, or Pacific ninebark, we came across this wonderful, quiet section of the North Umpqua River.

Another beautiful vista while on the hunt for some native seed.

It may be burned, but in the year since the Horse Prairie fire this forest has regained a lot of life and beauty.

Spending all of my time outdoors gave me a greater appreciation for the conservation work that I am doing alongside so many other interns, volunteers, and professionals past and present.  As often as I found myself in tedium, I also found myself reflective and immensely satisfied to be a part of something much bigger than my small efforts.  That kind of perspective helped me stay patient with some of my more unexciting tasks, like pulling out false brome or driving all day to search for native plant populations.

I moved out to Oregon after graduating from college with two goals in mind: I wanted to refine my research interests before I committed to a graduate program and gain experience working with a federal agency.  I have really enjoyed working with such dedicated and good-natured people here in the Roseburg office, and I will be sad to leave the BLM – for the time being, anyway.  I would certainly like to work with a federal agency again after my experience here.  As for my research interests, I have a much better idea of what I want to study going forward, and I am currently in the process of talking to potential advisors and applying to graduate schools.  Working on BLM land has gotten me interested in the ways that changes in landscapes – particularly human driven land use changes – drive community composition and overall ecosystem stability, and I want to apply ecological data analysis and modelling tools to explore this.  I hope that I will soon be pursuing my Master’s and doing research along those lines.

I am grateful for the opportunities I had to explore Oregon and contribute to conservation efforts out here.  Although I am ready to move on and get back to school, I certainly will not forget the valuable experiences and new skills that I have gained.  Now, before it starts raining again, it is time for me to leave the Pacific Northwest.  Until next time!

Our Botany team at the Roseburg District BLM.

Wrapping up

There were a lot of new experiences for me during this internship with a few common themes from previous jobs that I have worked. Some of the new experiences include learning new flora of the Pacific Northwest, using keys to identify plants, and conducting rare plant surveys. One theme that was again present for me this year is that the battle against invasive species is always an uphill battle. It can be hard to see the difference you are making especially when you will not be able to see the effect of your hard work the next year. Depending on the level of infestation, it can be really difficult for one or two people to treat an area, even with using herbicide. It is important when doing this type of work to make small goals for yourself and to treat areas where you can get the most bang for your buck. This way you can make a bigger impact and also feel good about the work that you are doing. I have been working on lots of weed treatment projects the past month from pulling/spraying false brome, spraying blackberry, lopping one-seeded hawthorne, and spraying Canada thistle. It would be an understatement to say that this month has flown by.

A patch of blackberry that I sprayed one week prior. It is already started to die back a little bit which made me feel good.

A patch of milk thistle that I sprayed one week prior as well. As you can see it is mostly dead and I wanted to do a follow up to make sure it all dies before it seeds next year.

Cat’s face spider

While I was cutting some hawthorne down with handsaws this week, I felt something crawling on my neck. Not thinking anything of it I brushed it away with my hand. A few seconds later I felt something crawling on my neck again and I swatted it off me this time. This spider flew off and landing on this leaf. I was paranoid the rest of the day. It was kind of a cool looking spider but I just did not want it crawling on me. I think it may be a cat’s face spider or some other type of orb weaver.

Overall, I would say the internship was a success for me and I really enjoyed my time working here in Oregon. I learned a lot of new things and invasive species in Oregon have certainly piqued my interest. Although I am moving back home for now, I am not crossing Oregon off the list of places I would want to live and work again.

Botany Staff at Roseburg District BLM

Signing off now.

-Will Farhat (Botany Intern at Roseburg District BLM)

Do you remember….a busy September!

Verbesina enceloides collecting

Well, at this point in the year, many other CLM interns are wrapping up their internship. However here in the Chihuahuan Desert, our seed season is just beginning to ramp up. Usually the desert has a monsoon season with heavy rains in the summer, but this year the monsoons came in August, which is later than normal. We were able to watch the desert transform practically overnight from the dry, dusty landscape to bursts of blooms. In particular, we have been seeing a TON of Verbesina enceloides. We were also able to make some other fun collections this month like Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow), Gaillardia pinnatafida, and Thelsperma megapotacium.

Desert Willow collection site with the Guadalupe Mountains in the background

Luckily these collections were in beautiful locations in the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains! The grasses around here like Aristida purpurea, Bouteloua curtipendula, Setaria leucopia, and Sporobolus airoides have been seeding lately as well.

 

Me next to my poster at the New Mexico Native Plants Converence

Earlier this month, we were able to attend the New Mexico Native Plant Society Conference in Silver City, NM. This was a weekend of fun, learning, and meeting lots of people who care deeply about the environment and native plants. We were able to present posters about some of our projects as Seeds of Success interns during the informational sessions. There were also field trips where we were able to see more of southwest New Mexico. Silver City is located conveniently close to the Gila National Forest and City of Rocks State Park, which were full of diverse plant species – and some I recognized from the Chihuahuan desert!

City of Rocks State Park

Another highlight of the trip was getting to meet our peers working in different Seeds of Success programs around the state.

Rainbow over the Gila to close out the first night of the conference!

We are now about half way through our internship, so I’m excited to see what these next couple of months in Carlsbad have in store for us!

 

 

 

 

-LMS

Carlsbad Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

Leveling Up

As my internship starts to really wind down (only four more weeks left, where did the time go!?), I have been reflecting on how far I’ve come over the years. This isn’t my first rodeo, as some would say. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree back in 2012 I really didn’t have much of an idea about what I wanted to do. I was too focused on finishing school to plan much further. I didn’t even know field biology was an option until an ecology instructor mentioned her work as a contractor surveying endangered and threatened species in the bay area. I remember thinking, “wait, I can find a job working outside? Cool!” I really had no idea what I was getting into.

And so I have worked many seasonal field positions over the years. I started out wanting to work with wildlife and soon realized plants are way cooler (and they don’t move, hence surveys at ungodly hours are not required!). It took a year or two to be able to secure work during the off season (other winters I did restaurant work and worked at my local ski area or traveled with whatever savings I had accumulated, volunteering while traveling makes this much more feasible). Each year the position lasted a little longer and paid a little better. Each year I learned more and made some great contacts. This accumulation of experience and contacts eventually led me to graduate school (Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern and our favorite place the Chicago Botanic Gardens) and then to this internship, which is part of my graduate program requirements.

This internship has been an excellent experience to apply my past experience in the field and the knowledge I gained in school. While most of my previous experience has been in vegetation surveying, this position helped me to learn a lot about rare plant monitoring. On top of the expected duties of interns in the rare plant monitoring program I also worked on independent projects.

One project, which will also be part of my graduation requirements for my master’s degree, has been species distribution modeling, a skill I acquired during my graduate course work. Using MaxEnt, I modeled current and future predicted ranges for Sclerocactus glaucus, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This species is up for re-evaluation of status, so my mentor is working on supplying the US Fish & Wildlife Services with information related to the species. It’s been really fulfilling to be able to utilize the skills I acquired in grad school to this project, like researching peer-reviewed articles, running models (with the help of Arcmap) and technical writing. I’m excited that my report will be included in the official report provided to USFWS.

I’ve also been working on habitat assessments for Sclerocactus glaucus using data from the BLM AIM (Assessment Inventory Monitoring) program. As much of my field experience has been with this program, is was really cool to be able to use the data.

As I finish up here I am happy to report that I will be working again shortly. I have been offered a permanent (well long term contract anyways) full time job here in the Denver area. I’m excited to have finally gained more permanent employment, though I will miss being in the field a lot! While this job is mostly office work, it is within the realm of field biology and I know I will learn a lot. This really is a big transition for me! I haven’t lived anywhere longer than 1 year since 2012. It will be really nice but also a little weird for me to not be moving around constantly. But I think it is time for me to settle down and pass the torch along.

For all you out there just starting out, have patience and enjoy this time. Every position offers you the opportunity to learn and gain experience and make new friends and great contacts. To be honest, I haven’t had to interview for a job in years. Once you establish yourself as a hardworking, helpful, intelligent individual people will look out for you. They will offer you jobs or recommend you to other people. Be open to positions that you might not think are that great. My first paid field position wasn’t something I thought would be cool. I figured I would stick it out and get the experience. It turned out to be a great experience where I made great friends and started making good contacts. On the contrary, the positions I was most excited for turned out to be less than ideal.

I know I will miss the excitement of figuring out what my next adventure will be. I will miss the adventure of moving somewhere new, remote and wild. I will miss the adventure of making new friends in desolate places. I will miss living in crazy, middle of no-where places where you can see the milky way from your backyard. I will miss camping in the middle of nowhere with my crew, just finding a decent enough spot off a dirt road to park the truck and pitch your tent. I will miss the long, hot, dusty days in the field finding cool rocks and getting real intimate with all those plants out there. Long story short there is a lot I will miss!

But I’m excited for my next adventure, one that delves into realms I have yet to experience. I am ready to “level up.” I am excited for all of you too! Happy Adventures and Good LUCK!

Weather Stations and Water Wells

July has been a month of working on weather stations and wells in Natrona County. My mentor, Shane Evans, is responsible for maintaining 18 gauging stations across Natrona county. All of the stations have at least a rain gauge, a temperature gauge, and a transmitting antenna. Some of the more complicated ones measure stream height, and take water samples.

Rainfall is the main determinant of the maximum yield of rangelands, so rainfall data is especially important to ranchers. The stream height data helps Shane track the response of a stream to rainfall inundation. If a stream is well-vegetated and not too deeply incised, then its banks should be able to withstand high flow events without eroding.

Shane has been working on updating the computer systems in all of the gauging stations and replacing the pressure sensors. I’ve had the chance to come out with Shane and learn a bit about wiring. I’ve also had the chance to do some demolition work on old weather stations!

Shane also oversees all of the livestock wells on public land in Natrona county, a number close to 300! The wells are extremely important in the arid high desert: they allow ranchers to move their cattle through areas with no surface water. Often in the summer, Shane gets concerned calls from ranchers explaining that a well is not producing very much water. Would you please come out and take a look? Of course! Off we go in Shane’s F-350. We bring electrical tools to check on the solar power, and the computer which controls the pump. We also look around the area to make sure that water is not seeping out of a broken pipe before it reaches the troughs.

Shane’s F-350 pulled up next to Cowboy Well

I love the variety of work we get to do in the hydrology division. Water is vital to all life, but its importance is especially prevalent in the arid west, a fact which keeps the hydrologists very busy!

Living the wildlife dream

Working in the wildlife department at the BLM office in Rawlins, Wyoming, I’ve had a wide array of experiences.

The main goal of my mentor, Tony, one of the seven biologists at this field office, is to get an idea of what amphibians and reptiles are present in Wyoming. Not a lot of work has been done in Wyoming around amphibians, and since my independent study was about salamanders, I have been super excited to contribute to this goal!

Our main project is to determine what species are present in an area up by Ferris Mountains. To achieve this, we set up 12 traps, each consisting of short, hardware cloth fencing, pitfall traps, funnel traps, and cover boards. The idea behind the fence is that reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals will run into the fence and either fall into a pitfall trap or walk (slither) into a funnel trap. I’ve had the opportunity to handle and process many animals now, including rattlesnakes, garter snakes, bull snakes, horned lizards, shrews, mice, voles, and pocket gophers! After we find an animal, we process them. Since this is a herptile study, we care more about the reptiles and amphibians we find than the mammals. So, we take measurements of all animals but tag or mark only the amphibians and reptiles, with some exceptions. For mammals, we simply take measurements of their hind foot, tail, and ear. For snakes and lizards, we measure tail, SVL (snout-vent length), mass, and sex them. After that, we PIT tag them, which involves making a tiny incision on their side or belly, placing a PIT tag under the skin through the incision, and sealing them up with NuSeal. We read the PIT tag number using a reader so that we can identify the individual upon recapture. For amphibians, we gather similar data but instead of PIT tagging, we perform toe clippings on frogs and don’t actually have a good way of marking or tagging salamanders, since they regenerate appendages. After processing the animals, we set them free if they are alive. If the animal is dead, which sometimes happens with the mammals (to my dismay), we keep them in Ziplock bags and store them in a freezer at the office until we can take them to a museum to be identified.

Holding my second rattlesnake of the summer! It is tubed for our safety!

I have a few favorite things about doing these surveys:

  • Finding the mammals (alive)! Even though I truly admire snakes for their unique morphological traits and adaptations, and amphibians for my experience with them, the mammals are my favorite animals to find in our traps. I think it’s simply because we have more common with the small mammals then the reptiles and amphibians; they are easy to connect with!
  • When we find a species that hasn’t been at our traps yet! This is the second year of surveys, and the last time we trapped was the first time we had a tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium) in one of our traps! Finding an animal that is new to the traps is one of the greatest feelings ever. Now we know that these traps work on these salamanders!
  • When we have a mammal that isn’t aggressive, is docile, friendly, and lets us handle them! I’ve noticed that mice are the most docile, while voles are the most aggressive. So when we have a mammal that is friendly, it’s comforting to know that we might not be causing them huge amounts of anxiety.
  • Noticing differences in physical traits and personality between animals of the same species. For example, we found a vole that had a dot of white-colored fur on both hips, but we never noticed this color and pattern on any other vole.

For the first time ever, we found two live mice huddled together in the same trap. My partner held one while I held the other. It was really cute to see them sniff each other and then ‘boop snoots’, even as we held them! It goes to show how unphased they are by humans.

This is the vole with two white spots on its lower back!

In addition to our monthly trapping, I’ve done raptor nest monitoring, burrowing owl monitoring, dipnetting ponds, a wild horse gather, horned lizard surveys and my two favorite: endangered Wyoming toad surveys and endangered black-footed ferret surveys! I’ will talk more about those in my next post!

All in all, I am super grateful that I acquired this internship because I think it will be a key step on my career path towards working with animals, which has always been my dream. Now with this experience, this dream actually seems achievable. Thanks CBG!

 

Arkansauce–the band and the concept

So, I have a funny story to share. This past spring I was having an argument with my best friend about where to go backpacking for spring break. She wanted to go back to the Smokey Mountains because we had been previously but didn’t really get to see much of them. I, on the other hand, wanted to come to Arkansas. We went back and forth for a couple weeks researching different trails and trying to come up with ways to convince each other, and, well ultimately she won (but by that point it felt like a mutual decision). We went to the Smokey’s and had honestly an amazing backpacking trip. However, I still wanted to see Arkansas because, I guess I had just heard great things.

Lo-and-behold, only about a month later I found out that I had gotten a job in Arkansas! If we are going to talk about reality creation….anyways….I figured I would share some pictures of Arkansas and inform everyone that I have been enjoying this state, despite the rocky start at trying to make my way here.

caught this deer mid-tree

We have ‘mountains’, as someone who grew up in Arizona, they are more so just large hills…but, they count

More ‘natural’ stand of pine trees (1st picture was in the seed orchard)

……As for what Arkansas and this internship has been like since I’ve been here…..

This truly is the natural state and I have become acquainted with much of it. Through my process of driving around trying to find milkweed, to doing plant collections in natural areas, to just general exploration on my own, I would say I am getting a lay of the land. I do think I must have brought the rain from New Orleans because everyone in my office tells me this is one of the wettest years in a while. That just goes to show that global weirding is hitting Arkansas.                                                                                                                                             What is global weirding you ask?                                                        Well I’m glad you asked! I went to a lecture a couple months back where the speaker told us that they got better responses when they called it global weirding rather than global warming. I think this is because everyone who pays attention to the weather—which according to the ‘small talk trope’ is everyone—understands that the weather isn’t completely normal, and isn’t going back to whatever normal was in the first place.

The thing about this internship is that wherever you are, and I’m sure other interns can attest to this, you are going to meet people who work in your office (and in town) who have opinions that you don’t share–such as whether climate change is real *eye roll*. This is especially true if you are moving somewhere you didn’t grow up, but it can be the case regardless!

I’m not going to advise anyone to tread lightly necessarily, but take the time to understand the people around you who have opposing views. How else are you going to have a full experience with the forest service/BLM? Talk to the locals! Maybe you’ll scare people off by using the word evolution (I made that mistake in the first week…), but this is your chance to broaden your horizons. And again, I’m not promoting conflict, but take the time to ask people why they believe the things they do and you will get a better idea of how decisions may be made in your office, organizations your office works with, and the local government (which most definitely effects your office).

I’m not entirely sure how I got on that tangent…but the point is that I have grown a bunch since coming to Arkansas. I’ve grown professionally just in terms of working in an office and I’ve grown personally just by talking to people that I wouldn’t have otherwise come into contact with. People that live in Arkansas, and especially people who hunt, understand the importance of conservation, even if they may not be using the same vocabulary as you are. It can be easy to write people off, but I promise you will have a better time if you don’t make a judgement until you really get to talk to someone. I disagree with the expression “People will Surprise you” because if you’re surprised, then you obviously weren’t paying enough attention to the fact that there are all kinds of people everywhere. Just, don’t let stereotypes determine your experience. Make the decision consciously of how you act around people and how you treat them.

Many of us are just out of undergrad and that can be scary! Being in school for so long makes us feel comfortable in that system. Not that I feel like I’m in the real world yet but hey, I don’t have homework. When I get off work I get to make my own homework and really discover what I want to spend my time doing. I’m not going to be cheesy and say that ‘I’m finding myself’ because I know I’m not (was I lost in the first place…) but I did realize that I don’t want to live anywhere else but New Orleans at this point in my life. I did discover that it can be just as easy to make friends as it can be to loose them. And I did discover that 4 months in a new place with new people and completely new tasks really does wire you to think about things differently. As much as I’m missing NOLA and as much as I feel stagnant at times trying to decide what I want to do with my life, I wouldn’t trade my time with CLM in Arkansas for anything.

…Sorry I promised I wouldn’t get cheesy…

To apologize, here is a picture of some seeds because aren’t seeds beautiful?

Rachel

Ouachita National Forest