Monarchs + the Curlew

This past month we have been spending a lot of time at the Curlew National Grasslands for a very special reason: Monarch butterflies.

Two monarchs right in the heart of the Curlew!

The Curlew is a grassland managed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and is composed primarily of agriculture land that was retired decades ago and now serves as expansive, rich habitat for a whole slew of species. It is a very special place whose location in southeast Idaho gives it the unique ability to serve as part of the highway for western populations of monarch butterflies during their yearly migration to California. Monarchs flock to the Curlew to rest, mate, and start a new generation in the shade of its riparian areas that are chock full of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).

Unfortunately, loss of habitat and food sources have caused monarch populations to plummet. The western population is really struggling and where thousands upon hundred thousands of monarchs used to pass through the western United States now only a few hundred or thousand are seen.But the Curlew hasn’t given up on Monarchs yet! It still welcomes them with the promise of shade, food, and a possible mate in the area. For that reason, monarchs are still flitting through the expansive grassland.

The Curlew supports lots of nectar plants and the riparian areas have some awesome shading trees-Eastern monarch populations do not like shade but the hot sun of the West has taught Western migrating monarchs to seek out shade!

As interns on the Caribou-Targhee we had the privilege of partnering with state agencies and citizen scientists to document the monarchs passing through the Curlew this year. (Here I was, thinking I would never see or experience what it is like to see monarchs migrating when suddenly I am thrown right into the science behind tracking and monitoring them!) Monarch surveys occur all over the United States and are fueled by the research and work of people like Dr. David James and organizations like the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program-thankfully, there are a lot of people that care about monarchs 😊

Preforming monarch surveys means gearing up with butterfly nets, data sheets, sunscreen…and lots of water…and then getting to work. And let me just say, catching a butterfly is not as easy as it seems…but when you do finally catch one you cannot help the smile that spreads over your face, it’s the best combination of science and feeling like a kid again. Gently reaching in and grasping the little migrant in the proper way and sliding them out of the net is a surprise in and of itself because suddenly the vibrant colors of their wings and sharp white polka dots on their black body are no longer muted by the mesh of the net or the haze in the air. And my goodness are they are exquisite. Some of them are more tattered and torn around the edges letting you know they have come to the Curlew to mate and continue the migration through their offspring while others are almost fluorescent in color and itching to travel.

The bright, untattered wings of this monarch suggest that this is a young and ready to fly to California!

The butterfly patiently grasps your fingers as you attach a small tag to the proper area of its wing (so that its flying ability isn’t hindered) and reluctantly allows you to open up its wings (with which you get another pleasant shock of wonder as their deep orange wings, rimmed and webbed with velvet black, completely open in front of you) and look for the presence or lack of a small black dot on each wing. If the monarch has these dots it is a male (other butterfly species’ males emit pheromones from these dots of specialized scales, but the jury is still out on what monarch males use them for) and if not, it is a female. After checking that you have written down all the necessary data you slowly detach your fingertips from their wings. At this point, it is a 50/50 chance whether the monarch will leap back into the sky immediately or stay on your finger for a bit, gently flapping its wings and making up its mind (all to your complete delight). Experiencing monarch butterflies in such a hands-on manner was amazing-something I never thought I could have done!

Me releasing a monarch for the first time after learning how to properly tag it

But we don’t just pay attention to the adults; monarch surveys also include searching for instars on the milkweed plants and tiny monarch eggs. This means recognizing monarch instar leaf grazing and peering over and under the soft milkweed leaves in search for the happy culprit. When an instar is found you can tell what stage it is in by the presence or lack of stripes and antennae. Data is recorded and the instar grazes on; you can almost see it growing in front of your eyes as it chops away leaf after leaf! Monarch eggs are a bit harder because spots of dried milkweed latex on the leaf can fool you repeatedly. But when you finally find an egg, you realize that they have an incredible design: small and rounded at the bottom with a slight Hershey’s kiss top and vertical lines traveling up across its entire surface. Perfect looking and so small you must confirm it using a hand lens! We also care a lot about monarch habitat and need to document the characteristics of the areas they frequent in order to better understand how we can remediate the loss in their numbers. This means walking transects and using vegetation frames to collect data on the landscape that the monarchs love. The healthy mix of nectar plants, milkweed, and shade trees on the Curlew is what the monarchs really seem to key into in southeast Idaho!

Check out this fat and happy instar that we found! The bright stripes and antenna suggest that is is in its final stages before forming its chrysalis

Thanks to interagency collaboration and the help of citizen scientists the presence of a special section of western monarch’s migration highway at the Curlew was confirmed again this year with notably high monarch counts for the entire western half of the Unites States. I was so happy to be a part of it 😊

A monarch in all of its glory right after emerging from its chrysalis


Hydrology: It’s a Look

Already unsteady on the invisible rocky surface, I found myself falling backwards as I stepped into the fast moving channel. Catching myself on a willow tree, I didn’t quite end up submerged, just pleasantly spattered by the cool water of the Tongue River. It was my first day out in waders on the river, and I was determined to not make a fool of myself as we collected data for an upcoming bank restoration project. The river had been showing signs of increasingly poor conditions for years, but before any restoration work could take place, the one hydrologist in our BLM office needed to perform some 20 different analyses along 300 points per river bank for his report. So, although a plant biologist and rec intern, I was gladly roped into the world of hydrology to help.

The Tongue River, Wyoming

Our first day out at the river was spent establishing the data collection points every 300 feet along the river. This was before we ordered the waders, so my fellow intern and I covered the land-based jobs while the hydrologist dutifully hiked up and down the river measuring the distance. We would run to and from the truck, making metal caps with the proper distances stamped on them, grabbing spray painted blue posts to mark these metal monuments, and collecting GPS data on the fancy Trimble unit we were using for the project. It was when I found myself squeezing through dense stands of willow trees to reach the hydrologist and hand off our many tools that I truly felt happy; while I have enjoyed my experiences in sagebrush country, here, slogging through trees with twigs in my hair and mud flecking my face, I felt at home surrounded by plants being useful. And we were useful. By the end of the day, the hydrologist officially signed us on to the project and ordered the waders so we could really dive in.

It was a hot, muggy day when I first tried out my waders. They are made of Neoprene, a very thick buoyant material that, I quickly learned, are not suitable for any land hiking on hot days. Only in the cool water is it tolerable, although the pressure from the river makes it feels like you’ve vacuum packed your legs in an attempt to keep them dry. Our task for the day was to make bank assessments for every distinct section of the river. These assessments included taking note of the bank height, root depth and density, surface protection, sediment types and degree of stratification for these sediments. Each of these categories received a numeric value which, when manipulated according to a template, would give you an overall rating for the health and stability of each section of the bank. It is a somewhat rough estimate of health, however, as you are supposed to apply each set of observations to a given section of stream; making these assessments at every point along the river would be time consuming, absurd, and not effective in the long run due to the ever-changing bank geography.

Me, trying not to fall over in a pretty fast current

As we hiked the river (downstream, the more energy-sensible direction), the hydrologist pointed out features of the river for which I never had official vocabulary before. Pools, well-known as the deeper areas of rivers, turn into glides, or smooth areas of fast-moving water. These are followed by riffles, or shallow areas where fast-moving water is agitated by rocks, and then go into runs which make up the main body of moving water. These four areas repeat all down the river and once you recognize them, you begin to recognize the various types of erosion or deposits that are associated with each. There was also bizarrely a lot of car parts protruding from the banks. When I asked about it, I was told that dumping cars on the sides of banks and covering them with soil used to be a widespread restoration method in the 1950s, resulting in many rivers across the country with old decaying cars randomly popping up. They provide a tough problem: on one hand, they are polluting the river and becoming dangerous debris while on the other, many of them are still doing their job stabilizing the riverbank. Our hydrologist will have to make the call as to whether we will rip up the bank to get at the semi-revealed cars, or if we will wait for a future restoration project to do that.

I am very happy to be working on this hydrology project. It gives me the opportunity to learn about a system which I’ve never really focused on before, as well as asking an expert millions of questions that he has been kind enough to answer. We will continue working on river data collection for the next two month, by which point I’m sure I will love the warmth my Neoprene waders provide. Until then, I’ll just rock the sweaty end-of-summer look. And it truly is a look.

Buffalo BLM Rec Intern

Collections (slowly) Winding Down

Mimulus guttatus flower

Mimulus guttatus seeds

Falling in the Fen/Bog

Wild horses


As I’m nearing the end of my internship, I expected the season to slow down significantly. However, my co-intern and I are still finding ripe seeds (with the help of our mentor of course!). Since my last blog post, we have finished a collection of Astragalus bisulcatus (twogrooved milkvetch), which accumulates selenium in its tissues. Although the selenium did not harm us at all while collecting, it emits a terrible odor which made the collection process slightly less enjoyable than most of the others. Luckily, we had found an area with so many plants that the collection was relatively quick. South of our field office at a higher elevation is a site called Green Mountain, which has proven to be a wealth of later season fruits. Some of the species that we have recently collected there have included Mimulus guttatus (seep monkeyflower), Penstemon procerus var. procerus (pincushion beardtongue), and what we believe to be Juncus confusus (Colorado rush), Thermopsis rhombifolia (prairie thermopsis), and Juncus ensifolius (swordleaf rush). The Mimulus guttatus and Juncus ensifolius were especially interesting because they were found in a pocket of fen or bog on the side of Green Mountain. I would have never expected that we would be able to collect those species this season, and even less so near the top of a mountain. I was so excited that I forgot to test each step before putting my full weight down and ended up getting one entire leg stuck (see picture). My co-intern and I laughed until tears ran down our faces as she helped me scrape the mud off of my pant leg.

Green Mountain also stands out in my mind this past month because we got to see about 15 wild horses in three different groups. One of these three groups consisted of a mare with her colt who was probably only a year or so old. The mother allowed us to get within only 5 or 6 feet of her, and didn’t seem to mind us at all. Our presence made her foal very nervous, however, and he ran and hid behind his mom more than a couple of times. But after a short time, his curiosity got the best of him and he too got close to us. Having had two horses in the past, I consider this to be one of the most exciting days of my internship, and I hope to see more horses at Green Mountain before leaving.

I have also enjoyed having the opportunity to show visitors some of the areas I find most beautiful. This past weekend, my mom came to Lander to spend some time with me and we hiked through Sinks Canyon, soaking up the sun and lounging in one of the falls. I’m truly going to miss this country and I look forward to coming back sometime in the future.

A Seed Frenzy and Birthday Sunset

The view of Spooner Lake (front right) and Lake Tahoe (back left) from the top of White Hill in the Tahoe National Forest.

This past week, my field partner and I went on a five-day field tour throughout the Nevada Carson District in search of target plant populations to collect seed from. We scout for various target plant species common to the Great Basin within public lands that can then be used for research and restoration practices centering on improving native seed-based restoration. This week, our scouting brought us to the Pah Rah, Pine Nut, Carson, and Bald mountain ranges in search of late flowering/seeding forbs from our target species list. During this hitch, not only did we make four different seed collections, but I celebrated my twenty-third birthday.

The view from the Pah Rah Range of the Reno-Sparks area.

On our first day, we traveled to the Pah Rah Range to look for a population of Machanthera canescens, Hoary Tansyaster, to determine its phenology and whether or not we will be able to make a seed collection from the population. We found our population in a flowering stage and determined we will have to revisit for potential seed collection on the next hitch!

The view of the Carson Plains from Old Como Road on our ascent on Como mountain.

We then traveled south to the Pine Nut Mountains to check on populations of Machanthera canescens. The road was a rock climb the entire ride up, but we found that it was the perfect time to collect seed from our population! We were able to make a sizeable collection of seeds that will be sent to Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) to be used for common garden studies on native plant community restoration. We were also relieved to not have to travel on the rocky road again!

That night we camped on Mount Rose and traveled back to the Pine Nut Mountains in the morning to check on another population of Macanthera canescens. We were able to once again make a seed collection from our population to be sent for research at RMRS. After a morning of seed collection in the Pine Nut Mountains, we then traveled to the Carson Range near the California border and the Tahoe National Forest to check on populations of another one of our target species, Phacelia hastata or Silverleaf Phacelia. Upon checking on our Phacelia population, we realized the size and extent of our population was much larger than we initially thought. It was so large it required two days for seed collection! We were able to make a collection that can be used for both research purposes and for native seed-based restoration in the Great Basin! It was so exciting for us to be able to make our first restoration size collection from a plant species we have only been able to find in small populations throughout our district. This collection reminded us once again the importance of our positions. With every collection we make, we are working to progress and support native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin, which is under tremendous pressure from rising anthropogenic activity and global climate change. Within the past decade, the Great Basin has experienced increased frequency and intensity wildfires, with some summers burning over a million acres of rangeland. Currently, the Great Basin is challenged by increased fire occurrence and pressure on the landscape from cattle grazing and other anthropogenic activities. This has lead to a profound alteration in native plant diversity in some areas as invasives such as cheatgrass and western brome replace native sagebrush and perennial grass communities. By collecting native seeds to be used for restoration in post-burn sites within the Great Basin, we are working to disrupt the positive feedback loop created between noxious weed species and fire regimes in the Great Basin.

Phacelia hastata, or Silverleaf Phacelia, basking in the sweet sunshine.

On top of having a seed collection win in Tahoe forest, we also found a campsite with a breath-taking view of Lake Tahoe. For dinner, we made a campfire and watched the sun set on Lake Tahoe from our campsite. As I reflected on the day, I thought to myself that there was no better way to spend my twenty-third birthday. I traveled throughout the most beautiful parts of Nevada to collect seeds that will be used for native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin to remediate the effects of wildfires. I am so grateful for this job and all the life lessons + adventures it comes with. Even more so, I am grateful to be working to conserve life and land in the beautiful Great Basin for future generations to enjoy just as much as I am.

My birthday sunset view of Lake Tahoe from within the Tahoe National Forest.

The Difficulties of Grazing Management and Wild Horses

Managing range lands can be difficult. As far as my job goes; it can be difficult to get close enough to cattle to identify brands and to get clear photos of them (each rancher has their own brand), constantly finding cows that are in the wrong pastures, a.k.a. out of compliance, can be frustrating and require a lot of paperwork. For my manager, and other full time range technicians, it can be tough to tell ranchers to move their cattle in a pleasant, but not overly passive tone. Being told what to do can be frustrating, and frankly some of the ranchers really don’t like the Bureau of Land Management, and frequently resist cooperation. I met a rancher who came out to help our crew find some past monitoring transects. He seemed agreeable enough, and was obviously kind enough to help out some BLM workers. But near the end of the day he made some comment about how the ranchers would do well at managing the land without the BLM telling them what to do. This might be true for some ranchers, but definitely not all. The data that my coworkers and I have gathered shows that overgrazing is currently occurring.

To give the ranchers the benefit of the doubt, it can be tough for them to keep track of all of their cattle while they roam thousands of acres of land, and moving the cattle seems like an ordeal that requires a significant number of people and resources. In addition to the inter-relational challenges of range land management, there are the effects of wildlife on the land. Cows are not the only animals grazing the public lands of south-central Wyoming. The presence of grazing wild animals can be a source of tension and ambiguity between ranchers and those monitoring the land. The BLM may attribute the degradation of the land to a lack of cooperation from ranchers and their cattle, while the ranchers claim that the impact of wildlife is to blame. Not all grazers play a role that directly competes with that of cattle. There is one animal that is of primary concern, that is horses. Namely, wild horses.

Horses feed in the same areas as cattle, and they share similar diets. One study suggests that the dietary overlap between horses and cattle during the summer averages 72 percent and in the winter increased to 84 percent (Krysl et al., 1984). And I would assume that since horses like riparian areas, their trampling of saturated, bare ground can have the same detrimental effects on stream banks as that of cattle. The population of wild horses is supposedly above carrying capacity, but there is no clear, ethical method to control them. Euthanasia can be viewed as inhumane, and thus, controversial, and rounding up horses and moving them to less populated areas is not enough. Adoption does seem to be a valid solution to controlling numbers of wild horses, but there is just not enough of it. Getting the word out to the public seems like a clear way to take a step in the right direction.

On a lighter note, the background of wild horses is pretty interesting. Horses are not really native to North America, at least not modern day horses. Horses were native to the continent but died-out after the last ice age. We can thank Spanish explorers and other European settlers for bringing the horse back to North America. But very few wild horses we see out west are descendants of those brought over by Cortez and Coronado. Most are descendants of horses that escaped from their owners only in the past 100-150 years. The term “wild” is not technically correct either. The horses are “feral,” like an escaped house cat that has learned how to survive without human assistance (Crane et al., 1995). But “wild” sound better, it’s more romantic…I doubt the Rolling Stones would have had a hit with “Feral Horses”.

Signing Off from Klamath Falls

It’s hard to believe our internship experience is over in a week! I’ve met people here who have helped to shape my future and have had professional and personal experiences that make me feel ready to roll into graduate school. I am so excited to be heading back to my fiance but I will sorely miss the Klamath River Basin and all of its natural beauty.

Through mid-August, we conducted surveys to compare night-time snorkel sampling efficiency against electrofishing for bull trout in Three Mile Creek near Ritter, Oregon. Besides getting a solid workout dragging myself across a creek bed, catching sight of a bull trout with my dive light and watching them interact with their environment from their perspective was one of my favorite experiences thus far!

On one of these night-time excursions, Brianne caught sight of a spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) that flew overhead and perched just beyond our car! It was a special experience and I hope our sighting helps the Forest Service pinpoint another nest.

Over the course of this internship I’ve received a crash course in fish hatchery construction and daily operation, had a chance to collect and care for larval fish as part of an endangered species rearing program, participated in bat mist netting in California, helped with passive transponder tag (PIT) fish telemetry surveys on Upper Klamath Lake, checked wildlife cameras for signs of wolves and found deer, elk, coyote, and bear (oh my), electrofished in the Gearhart Wilderness, conducted night-time snorkel surveys, worked through applied problems in R Studio and ArcGIS, transferred freshwater mussels out of dangers way for a future restoration project, and contributed research and writing to the field office knowledge base, and so much more.

I’m happier, healthier, and more knowledgeable than I was when I started this internship. And I have about 3,000 more pictures now than I had at the start – there is a photo-op at every turn here. On the weekends we explored this beautiful region by hiking and camping.

Thank you so so so much to my fabulous fellow interns and housemates, Brianne and Jessie, and our supervisor, Nolan. This experience would have been a fraction of what it was without them here. Nolan was always ready to line us up with a new work experience! Jessie, Brianne, and I had some truly epic times while we were here and I can’t wait to see where life takes both of them. I will truly miss working at the Kalamth Falls FWS Field Office. Thank you to Krissa, Chris, and everyone who makes these experiences possible at the Chicago Botanic Garden!



NNIS Knockout

As two of four certified pesticide applicators on the Monongahela National Forest, my cointern, Abbie, and I have become an important part of boots-on-the-ground action against non-native invasive species (NNIS). 

In July, we started conducting trailhead surveys as a part of a forest-wide NNIS management project. There are sixty trails that Abbie and I are responsible for traveling to and checking for NNIS. To conduct these surveys, we look around the parking area/trailhead and walk a half mile into the trail, looking for high-priority invasives. When we find one, we double check our identification then take down information on both an iPad and paper data sheets about where it is, how extensive it is, and more. 

I love trailhead surveys because it gives us the opportunity to explore parts of the forest we likely wouldn’t have time to get up to normally- almost like we get a sneak preview of trails we might want to come back to in our free time! Check out the pictures below to see the beautiful places we find ourselves. 

One of my favorite places to survey was Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is a broad plateau with an ecosystem I’ve never seen before- subalpine heathlands. It has a bunch of cool trails, and an even cooler history. In World War II, this area was deemed “The West Virginia Maneuver Area” and was used to prepare soldiers for the mountains of northern Italy. Mortar and artillery trailing occurred here between 1943-44, so there are signs everywhere to warn you about unexploded munitions you might find!
A colorful display of the variety of plants just in one tiny area at Dolly Sods. I can’t wait to come back in autumn for even more vivid colors.
Another unique part of the geography at Dolly Sods, rock rivers.
A stunning view of High Falls. This was an eight-mile trail that takes you through fields, old-growth forest, a railroad track, and more! I hiked this trail in my free time and was stoked to learn I’d be going back to survey for NNIS (as if I wasn’t already on the lookout the entire hike- a curse of knowing NNIS identification like the back of your hand).
Sometimes Abbie and I have to drive a couple of hours to get to our survey sites. Its worth it when you end up at the highest point in West Virginia- Spruce Knob, 4,863 ft.
No two trails are alike in the Monongahela National Forest. This trail in Otter Creek Wilderness had a suspension bridge spanning across a wide river.

Information from these surveys will help us know which areas to prioritize the removal and treatment of invasives on the forest. Speaking of removal and treatment, see the photos below for a glimpse at the hard work Abbie and I have been doing!

Abbie was a natural when we learned the “hack-and-squirt” or bark injection method. In efforts to give existing red spruce a chance to thrive, we do spruce releases where we inject herbicide into surrounding canopy trees or smaller trees that may grow to shade the spruce. The spruce we release are carefully chosen, then we use a hatchet to make angled cuts into the trunk. We carefully squirt herbicide into the cuts we made. It took me MANY tries to successfully hack at the correct angle, and I definitely had a sore arm the next day, but I felt so accomplished knowing the native spruce will have a better chance at survival because of my work!
Can you spot the spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa)? I’ll give you a hint- they’re in the trash bags! Abbie and I pulled several trash bags and several hours worth of invasive spotted knapweed on this hillside. They were already in seed, so we had to be extra careful not to spread the seed as we wrestled them out of the ground.
Is that another photo of Spruce Knob? Nope, just a giant pile of invasives! Off of the Highland Scenic Highway, there is a fishing pier that had been completely taken over by bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). Before we worked on this area, you couldn’t even see the Williams River. Abbie and I joined forces with some coworkers including our Youth Conservation Corps crew to cut and haul all of this honeysuckle out of the area. Its looking exceedingly better now and locals have told us how much they appreciate it- a great feeling.

Summer has flown by, filled with rewarding work and fun adventures. I’m excited to see what autumn in West Virginia will bring! 

Signing off,

Tara McElhinney

Marlinton District Ranger Station


Our Last Weeks in the Klamath Basin

Clara marvels at the view over Upper Klamath Lake
Sunset in Klamath Falls

As we turn the corner from August into September here at US Fish and Wildlife, Brianne, Jenny, and I are soaking up our final bittersweet moments spent both in the office and out in the field. The last few weeks we’ve spent electrofishing and snorkel surveying Threemile Creek in the Cascade foothills. Our snorkel surveys entail a new work schedule of 6pm to midnight to keep in line with studies that have suggested night snorkeling is more effective for censusing of Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus). We were laughing as we drove to work last week when Brianne pointed out that we’d finally come full circle—with this new night schedule we’ve officially worked every single hour of the day during our time with USFWS.

Jenny, Brianne and I prepare for our snorkel survey of Threemile Creek

Our surveys began with our usual recording of temperature and conductivity of the water in Threemile Creek. As soon as 8:45pm rolled around and the last remnants of the golden hour left the sky, we suited up into dry suits and broke off into groups of two, beginning our surveys at the downstream block net of a section of stream. I found night surveying to be pretty overstimulating in that 6°C creek — especially when my dry suit started to let in a significant amount of water about halfway through our survey — but by the end of the night, I couldn’t tell if my chattering teeth were a product of temperature or excitement.

Many of the undercut banks are finally accessible when you’re in the water!

The moment you army crawl yourself into a deeper pool and find yourself in the midst of a staring contest with two 200mm Bull Trout — one of which you’d marked the caudal fin of the day prior — you realize what graceful creatures these fish are. More than once I needed to gently touch a trout hidden between rocks in order to discern whether it was a recaptured fish, at which point it would casually wriggle one way to reveal itself as if we had an understanding that all I wanted out of that gentle poke was to record the state of its fin.

Our spotted owl discovery!

One night as we were suiting up and simultaneously swatting away the plethora of mosquitoes Threemile Creek has to offer, Brianne noticed an owl had swooped down to the tree next to our vehicle. As we shown our dive light on it, we realized it was a spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) and proceeded to take pictures and a waypoint to pass along our discovery to our wildlife biologist at USFWS who focuses on ESA terrestrial species. Elizabeth confirmed our finding, informed us that this might be one of only one or two mating pairs left in the vicinity, explaining that she hadn’t seen a spotted owl in the area in ten years!

Overlooking Fort Klamath from the National Forest
Sometimes we needed a little extra hand at work, South Fork Sprague River, Fremont Winema National Forest, OR
Measuring fork length and weight of bull trout in Deming Creek

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and as I write this, I’m reflecting on the wide array of skills I’ve honed, memories I’ve pocketed, and hurdles I’ve overcome in my five months here at US Fish and Wildlife in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

The Rogue River in Prospect, OR

I’ve captured and counted thousands of endangered larval suckers, I’ve electrofished threatened species of trout to ascertain population survey productivity, I’ve sampled an endangered species of milk vetch (Astragalus applegatei), I’ve helped set up camera traps for wolves (Canis lupus), and I’ve estimated fecundity in nonnative Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). I’d never handled a fish before starting this position, so the learning curve was steep, but not without support along the way.

Counting Brook Trout eggs to measure fecundity Photo credit: Brianne Nguyen
A stormy sunset in Bend, OR

That list doesn’t include the times I’ve cried for fish we lost at the hatchery, or sworn expletives as I’ve slipped and fallen in a creek, but those less glamorous experiences shaped me in some way too!

Biking in the snow with Lassen Peak in the background
Crater Lake Century Ride!

The weekends I spent camping, biking, and swimming in every cardinal direction around Klamath Falls gave me a respect for and indebtedness to southern and central Oregon I didn’t have when I first arrived here in April.

Fort Klamath, OR looking north towards Crater Lake National Park
Klamath Falls with Mt Shasta in the background

The friendships I’ve made with Brianne and Jenny I’ll hold onto as we all head off to our next adventures in California and Washington respectively. I know that we’ll always have a home in Klamath Falls, whether we’re just passing through or hoping to stay a while.

Jenny, Brianne, Jordan, myself, Greg, and Lindsey
Jackson F. Kimball State Park

We are so grateful to Nolan Banish, Zach Tiemann, Joel Ophoff, Michelle Jackson, Josh Rasmussen, Elizabeth Willy, Jeanne Spaur, Christie Nichols, Margie Shaffer, Evan Childress, Akimi King, Sara Miller and everyone else at the Klamath Falls USFWS office for the valuable lessons they taught us in and outside of the office.

A rising moon over Klamath Falls, OR

That’s a wrap

Not much has changed since I last posted, most days consist of scouting spots with noxious weeds and treating those areas. We have also taken time to scout for rare plants in the district to make a herbarium voucher based on past known sites, but unfortunately we were unable to find any. My partner was out of town for a week so I did get to mix things up for a week by working the night shift with wildlife. I got to participate in Spotted owl surveys, in which we go out at night to set points and use a pre recorded owl call to call them in hopes of a response. I was told in the past they would fly right up to you, but now due to habitat loss and the increased population and competition for territory with the barred owl, their population has been dwindling and will rarely make their presence known. The barred owls though will always call back, in fact one juvenile flew to the tree right in front of us as seen in the picture below.

I have also been able to participate in a frog survey, were we waded down a creek looking for mostly frogs but took note of any other animal found. The stream for the most part was at our ankles but went as deep as our waste, but it was amazing to be surrounded by an old growth forest, unfortunately due to the fear of wetting my phone I didn’t get any photos. We did find several yellow and red legged frogs, a couple of crayfish, and water snakes.

A red legged frog

Unfortunately, my time as a CLM intern will end at the end of the month and I will soon become an official BLM employee for two more months, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experience as a CLM intern. I learned so much during my time here, not only on species identification but also invasive weed control methods and gained some insight what its like to work with a government agency. I am so thankful for everyone at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, especially Chris Woolridge and Krissa Skogen, for making this experience possible!

WYde Open Spaces

It has been quite a long time since I made a blog post, so this one is definitely going to be a long one. I have been insanely busy traveling, exploring, and working in between. BUT, it is so nice to hear people looking forward to these posts, and so writing them is really enjoyable. I got to explore Sinks Canyon State Park even more in the past month, and ventured through some shorter hikes like the Nature Trail and the North Slope to The Rise in the park. The Rise is where the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River comes back out of the Earth, after going into and under it at the natural sink further upstream. It just so happens that The Rise is also a natural trout spawning pool and (thankfully) no fishing is allowed. That being said, this makes it possible for a small variety of HUGE trout to live there in the summer — harm free. Depending on water levels and its flow, the sandbar you see in the bottom of the picture below may be bigger, or even nonexistent. This is definitely one of my new favorite spots in Sinks to take friends and family to see and feed the trout.

The Rise trout pool in Sinks Canyon State Park. Trout species that live here mostly include Rainbow and Brown trout. You can see the trout swimming in the highly oxygenated currents here.

Back at work, Jon and I had still been learning the country we are currently monitoring. I just recently asked my mentor exactly how big that was, and was shocked to hear his answer. We are monitoring over 400,000 acres of land! That is crazy to me!! Despite the size, we are really getting into the rhythm of things in our allotments, and are starting to make quick(ish) work of the acres we drive through. Towards the end of June, we were ecstatic to find a herd of elk nearby one of our favorite transect sites in the Arapahoe Creek Allotment, Lost Creek. I still don’t know how I managed to get a decent picture of them — they were so fast! They can also make some of the strangest noises I have ever heard in my life.. I love them.

The beautiful elk herd we saw from a short distance, with the genus Cervus. I still have to ask about the specific epithet… but am hopeful that our Wildlife Biologists at the office will know.
One of the many photo points we have taken out in the field. This one is at our SW of Cold Spring Reservoir upland transect site. We take these photos in order to document how the transect sites look every two weeks. We take at least two photos at each transect, if not more, noting the orientation each time. Meanwhile, we get some really incredible landscape shots while we are at it! In this one, there’s nothing but sagebrush — one of THE best smelling plants.

That week, I found another one of my favorite hikes and lookout spots down the Loop Road. This is the road that continues S/SE past Sinks Canyon State Park and into Shoshone National Forest. You definitely want a four-wheel-drive car for this road. Haha. The trailhead starts at one of the most ambiguous “parking lots” near the top of the mountain and is (ironically) called the Blue Ridge Lookout. This only makes me think of home when I see it (I do miss it a bit sometimes!). It reminds me of the East Coast’s Blue Ridge Mountains and all of the fun adventures I had in them with some of my greatest friends. Anyways. The short, but completely uphill, hike takes you straight up to an awesome old stone fire tower, and has become one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset.

The trailhead for one of my favorite hikes to the top of a mountain in Shoshone National Forest.
A beautiful sandwort flower, with the genus of Eremogone. I am unsure of this specific epithet well, because it looks so much like other sandwort flowers in this area.
This is one of my favorite flowers I have been able to identify in Wyoming. It is called American bistort, or Bistorta bistortoides. It is so fluffy and cute!
One species of flower I stumped the entire BLM with.. I can’t even find it on Google image search.
The last 50 or so stairs to the top of the Blue Ridge Lookout’s old fire tower. The view is just a few steps away at this point!
One side of the views at the top of the fire tower and me 🙂
Another side of the incredible landscape you can see at the top of this hike. If you can find the tiny white dot at the bottom of this photo, a bit left of center, you can see my cute little car.
The cutest, chubbiest, little chipmunk I found on my way through the hike.
As the sun sets on the fire tower, a whole new world of beautiful emerges.

The next week at work, we had some serious car problems. Haha.. We had a flat tire, a flat spare, and several engine problems that seemed to come at us all at once. Needless to say, the next couple of days were spent fixing her up, and getting her ready to get back on the road the week after.

Hahahahahahahaha. This truck was a mess by the time we took her into the shop!
The first flat tire I have ever experienced as a driver. We expected to hear a loud popping sound or something, but the truck’s dashboard screen just started telling me our tire pressure was low, seemingly out of nowhere. Apparently, we ran over a huge Granite rock, that made our tire pop, and unrepairable. Ooof.

The weekend after all of the car issues, I drove to Thermopolis to meet a fun friend of mine from JMU, Lucas, who is also a BLM intern out here! What are the odds. He was placed in Buffalo though, so we figured Thermop was a great halfway place to meet and explore. We hiked the Round Top Mountain butte, went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, soaked in the Hot Springs State Park Bath House, and explored the town all weekend. We had such a great time! The smell of sulfur was seriously… uh… something. Haha. I drove home smelling like rotten eggs. 🙂

The short trek up the Round Top Mountain butte hike was so worth it. Look at that view!
“May Peace Prevail On Earth.” The most perfect surprise at the top of the butte hike.
The incredible Archaeopteryx fossil specimen that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center had. The Archaeopteryx was discovered almost 160 years ago, and is the physical proof of an intermediate between modern birds and non-avian feathered dinosaurs. I literally learned about this thing in Biology classes back in college… to say I was amazed is an understatement.
Thermopolis’ Teepee Fountain! A structure that formed from the deposition of hot mineral water over a smaller tower that exists underneath.
A cute picture Lucas took of me sitting on decades of mineral water deposition! This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
The emergence of the natural hot springs water, apparently measuring at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit! All of the green/bluegreen colors you see in the water are the thermophile eubacteria that can live at this high temperature.

For some reason, once I got back to work the next week, I was determined to get better pictures of the pronghorn antelope and wild horses we constantly see out in the field. Both are super skittish and unaccustomed to people, so this has been a pretty difficult thing for me to accomplish. I brought my nice camera out with me to the field for the first time, and seriously benefitted from it. I got pictures of both. 🙂 A couple days later, Jon and I went to finish fixing the fence around Hadsell Pasture. We thought we had a nice and easy drive over Green Mountain, but quickly realized that this was not the case. We drove over (what seemed like) miles of boulders that I didn’t think we would clear, and around ditches that I swore to Jon we were going to fall and flip in. Thankfully, Jon is a bit more reasonable in these tricky situations than I am, and so he helped me drive through all the tough spots. I am so thankful for his help and his friendship! We made it safely down the mountain, and to Hadsell Pasture. On our way home, we both did not want to go back up the way we came, and ended up finding one of the easiest ways home… probably ever… Hahaha.

A lone pronghorn antelope, or Antilocapra americana, posing so nicely for me.
A small herd of wild horses we saw out in the field. These beauties sometimes get herded and sold by the BLM to keep the populations down out in the fields. The locals in Wyoming that I have talked to have loved these horses they get from the BLM, despite having to take the time gentling and taming them. I love seeing all the cute little foals mixed into the herd — somehow they can always keep up with their larger family members.
An unknown variety of paintbrush (Castilleja) flowers with a beautiful view of the South side of Green Mountain — something we almost never get to see out in the field. These are some of the last blooming flowers; it was so nice to seem them still out on the mountain.
Just above the Castilleja flower, an impeccable landscape was just begging us to take photos of it. This was right before our tricky descent down the mountain started.

After a bit of a stressful week, I was ready to travel again, and found myself driving to explore Buffalo with my friend Lucas again! We tried to get to Outlaw Canyon and the Hole-In-The-Wall, but sadly got rained out. I have gotten used to the weather here; it can be so unpredictable, no matter how many times you check it in advance. Still, it is pretty disappointing when it ruins a new adventure. But! On our way back, we saw an awesome double rainbow, and some really spectacular cloud formations. I only spent a day or so there, so we did a lot of shopping, but did not have much luck venturing outside of the town of Buffalo.

The rainbow we saw on our way home from Outlaw Canyon. Seconds after this photo was taken, it started down-pouring rain and hail. There was enough that we had to pull over to wait it out!
The other side of the highway: fluffy, beautiful blue skies.

These past few weeks have definitely exhausted me bit more than usual, but I was ready to roll heading into work last week. I have started bringing my camera every time I work out in the field now, because there are just so many possibilities of capturing some amazing Wyoming wildlife. Last week, I managed to get pictures of some prairie dogs, as well as more elk! I was ecstatic. When we found the elk, we were monitoring compliance in a very confusing pasture called Magpie, and got very lost on our way out. But, through our exploration of the entire pasture, we saw that herd of elk, a coyote, several Magpie birds, and a sage grouse that nearly scared me to death. She literally popped up out of nowhere, flapping her wings and squawking like a chicken. We had quite the adventure to say the least. On top of that, this happened after our first full 7-8 hour day with the Seeds of Success (SOS) team in our office. We spent that time with them collecting seeds, testing soils, and collecting specimens, honestly having the best time. Still, Jon and I were soo worn out by the time we got home.

One of the prairie dogs, or Cynomys ludovicianus, I was able to capture with my camera! They were so cute and let us take their photo for a few minutes before retreating to their tunnel homes.
Two of the elk we saw from the herd in Magpie Pasture. This was my second time finding elk out in the field, and I really don’t think I will ever get tired of them.
Just a small sketchbook layout I made for my pressed grasses. Next step is identifying them!

I have come to love Wyoming, its abundance of wildlife, the small amount of people here, and the WYde open spaces. 😉 Almost everyone around me seems to be on the same page: willing to converse, willing to share, willing to learn. I couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect town, or BLM office. Lander is seriously the best and I’m so thankful I still have a few months left here.