Monongahela National Forest

Each day of this internship has been an incredible experience.  I’ve gained so much knowledge working on the Monongahela National Forest, and consider myself very lucky to have been able to work in such a beautiful place.  Every day spent in the field provided incredible scenery and an opportunity to learn something new about our natural world.  I loved seeing the fog slowly lift from the valleys in the mornings while we spent our days in the lush green mountains of West Virginia.  I’ve never lived in an area where the Milky Way is visible by simply walking outside your door, or where I can sit on the porch and watch hundreds of lightning bugs flicker on June nights.  This area really is something else.

I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.  Her expertise and knowledge of the forest helped me to feel comfortable in these new surroundings, where many of the plants were unknown to me before coming here.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to learn botany in an area with such incredible plant diversity.  I’ll admit that I was intimidated at first (and still am a little) at the sheer number of plants on the Monongahela, but I’ve come to love the challenge of doing botany in an area with so many interesting types of habitats.  I don’t know of another forest where within a two hour drive you can pass through high elevation spruce forests and sphagnum bogs (glades), heath barrens, grassy balds, hardwood forests, and dry shale barrens.  It’s incredible, and there’s always something new to learn about. Also, being a self-identified lichen nerd, this forest contains incredible lichens because the pollution levels are so low.  That was definitely an added bonus.

Knowing that the work we did will make an impact for the future health of the forest will always be something that I’ll value helping with.  Collecting native seed to be used in mine-land restoration sites, and working to restore the red spruce forests of the Appalachians, will be something that generations beyond my lifetime will be able to appreciate.

I strongly recommend to anyone that is interested in botany to participate in the CLM Internship.  It will be an experience that you will value for a lifetime, and working in the field is an unmatched way to broaden your plant knowledge.  I’m very happy that I was accepted into the program.  Krissa and Chris at Chicago Botanic Gardens were amazing, and the training week spent at the gardens was well worth it.  I’ll always look back on this time fondly, and will take the skills I’ve gained with me throughout my career.

Emily Magleby

USFS – Monongahela National Forest

ferrets

In August, I participated in endangered black-footed ferrets surveys! They were amazing, to put it shortly. Not only did we look for them, but we trapped them too!

Each of the interns were given a partner and truck. The night consisted of surveying in the truck and surveying on foot. It was overnight because BFFs are nocturnal, so we used their unique blue-green eye-shine to spot them. From the inside of the truck, my partner (a writer for Defenders of Wildlife) drove while I scanned the horizon with a truck spotlight, both of us going very slowly. On foot, it was basically the same idea. So when we saw eye-shine, we had to be sure it was a ferret and not a fox, cow, pronghorn, or something else. Figuring it out was actually really fun! If the eye shine looked more like one eye than two eyes, that meant the eyes were close together and small, perhaps belonging to a ferret. If the eyes bob up and down, moving fast along the ground, that’s probably also a ferret! We knew eye shine didn’t belong to a ferret when they were yellow and motionless because that always belonged to the cows. However, sometimes we were surprised at what we saw. For example, a couple times  we thought we were looking at a fox or a pronghorn, but we were actually looking at a ferret!. It goes to show, always be sure and don’t trust your first perceptions!

After determining it was a ferret, there were several steps we had to take to complete the whole process.

  1. Spot the ferret eye-shine.
  2. Keep handheld spotlight on ferret while walking towards it, bringing a pack with a couple traps, transfer tubes, markers, and plugs (containers used to plug burrows).
  3. See the ferret in the hole! Rejoice! Set the traps, place the traps, find other holes to plug.
  4. Leave the site, continue in truck or on foot surveying for ferrets.
  5. Every hour, check the traps for ferrets.
  6. When you see a ferret in the trap, try not to squeal with excitement like I did! Carefully transfer them into a transfer tube!
  7. Carry the tube of ferret gently but briskly back to the truck and drive to the processing trailer.
  8. Once at the trailer, the specialist anesthetizes the critter. Then, she’s able to PIT tag the ferret (if not a recapture), get a hair sample, take measurements, sex it, age it, check for ticks and fleas, and the most important part: vaccinate it for canine distemper and sylvatic plague!
  9. Tattoo the fur of the ferret so that we can recognize it as a recapture.
  10. Finally, we take the ferret in a kennel back to its home and release it! This is one of the most rewarding steps of the night!

While experiencing all this, I did a lot of reflecting. I could definitely see myself doing ferret surveys, or other small mammal surveys, as a career. I fell in love with these animals, and now I’m going to share why!

SO, everyone knows the black footed ferret story and how they’ve given hope to conservationists. Previously thought to be nearly extinct, a small population was found thanks to a rancher’s dog bringing home a dead ferret. Years later, a program of captive breeding and reintroduction proved to be successful, and now similar programs across North America are helping to continue the recovery of black-footed ferrets! The BFF’s story lets us know that captive breeding and reintroduction can work. Humans can fix at least some of the problems we have caused! Conservation is not a hopeless line of work!

Having to be awake, alert and working from 7:30pm – 8am for three nights was 100% worth the experience. In those nights, my partner and I identified at least 9 ferrets one day (I didn’t get a chance to tally up how many total for three days, but the number for the other two days shouldn’t be too far off) and successfully trapped 5 total! This is really exciting for me, considering how rare they are to find. We must have hit the jackpot location! Our first ferret was a sweetie, the second was a demon, third was possibly the first ferret’s offspring, and we think our fourth and fifth were brothers. Even though the surveys gathered general data on the ferret populations, it was also a teaching moment on animal personalities. One of my favorite experiences of the night was getting to witness all the different personalities!

Our first ferret was a young mother who was very sweet and docile. If I had to pick favorites, it would be her! Seeing her face in the trap was one of the most precious moments ever because I was prepared for an aggressive animal (I would be if I were her!) but instead, she just stared at us with innocence and curiosity. She never hissed, barked, pounced, clawed at us, or bared her teeth–its like she trusted us. Of course, I have no idea what she was feeling or thinking. She might have actually been frozen with fear. Still, she wasn’t shaking like some of the other ferrets so I hope I’m right!

My partner and I had a lot of adventures in only three nights, but I’ll only share a couple that really stood out to me.

Our second ferret was somewhat of a disaster, unfortunately. He was a kit, or juvenile, and won the title for Most Aggressive Ferret of the Year in my book. Most of the ferrets we found in burrows were playful. They would hop in and out of burrows, sometimes giving us a chase, all the while watching us! He was one of those, but changed completely when we found him in the trap. Even just as we were approaching the trap we could hear him making a fuss. Transferring him from the trap to the transfer tube proved to be difficult because he kept pouncing and snapping at the trap door. He even bit my fingers when I tried opening the door! Luckily, I was wearing winter gloves and it didn’t leave a scratch. So, after we finally got him in the transfer tube, we could feel him shaking and hissing the whole way to the trailer. The trailer is where the real horror began. Everything seemed fine, the specialist was going through her usual routine of placing him in another tube for anesthetization. Except, it was taking a bit longer than usual for him to be knocked out. Finally, he was knocked out and the specialist slumped him out on the table. All of a sudden, I hear “Oh no” from the specialist. I look over and see that he is standing and looking back at all of us, seeming to be digesting his surroundings, and his neck is pink with blood. There was a moment of pause that seemed like a minute but was probably less than three seconds. In that time, what struck me was the blood, but what should have struck me was that he was awake. Then, chaos ensued. The specialist quickly made an attempt to grab him, but he was quicker and started trying to climb the walls. She turned around to look for thick gloves, found them, and then told us to keep the door shut. There were four of us all together packed into a trailer that’s really only big enough for one or two people. So the rest of us don’t make a peep, trying to be as small and out of the way as possible because now the kit is literally running around the trailer. Behind the desk, through the clutter of equipment, under the table, around our feet. A sharp, acrid smell starts to creep into my nostrils and invade my throat. The kit was so frightened it had urinated somewhere. After enough of this had passed, the specialist finally catches the poor thing and puts him in one of the cages we use to release the ferrets. After a breather, she explains to us that this boy has had enough trauma for one day and will be pardoned from the vaccines, anesthetic, and the rest of processing. She also explains the wound on his neck. I had feared that it was self-inflicted from being in the anesthetic tube, but she mentioned it was there when she saw him initially. So, it could have been from rough play with his siblings. Still, I couldn’t help feeling responsible for his trauma. I get tasked with carrying the cage of stinky ferret and we go back to his burrow. Whats interesting is that on the way back, we noticed he wasn’t shaking anymore. Either he had calmed down or had exhausted himself. Maybe, he was hoping he’d be on his way back home. Either way, he was less anxious and we were glad for it. When we set his cage down next to his burrow and I opened the door, he slowly walked out, paused to look at us, then walked down into the burrow. We were both happy he was back.

We caught our fourth and fifth ferrets in the same area as our second ferret and within an hour of each other. This was the craziest spot because we saw SO many ferret eye shines. We ran into a few problems: our flashlights died (common occurrence)  so we had to use our head lamps and our phones to search for the burrows, which is actually REALLY difficult at 3:00am in pitch black darkness. We even ran out of plugs and had to use random objects to fill holes, like rocks and our dead flashlights, and we kept finding ferrets when we were busy with another ferret! When we checked the four traps an hour later, none of them had a ferret. Luckily, we found ferret eye shine not too far away from one of the traps. So, when we got back to check our traps, we checked them in the order we set them. None of them ended up having a ferret, BUT, one of our traps seemed to be broken and it was laying on the floor, like a ferret had escaped! When we saw that, we also saw another ferret not too far away! So we grabbed that trap and found the other (or same?) ferret and trapped this guy! We left and preceded to the rest of our traps, actually, it was time to take them down so that’s what we did with the other traps. When we came back, we found a ferret in our trap! Guess what, we found ANOTHER ferret not too far from that one! BUT we didn’t have any other traps. So guess what we did. My partner went to look for the ferret while I hurriedly tried to unlock the trap door with my frozen hands and transfer the patient ferret to a transfer tube. It seemed like it took me forever, because this was an old trap and the door was stuck and I had trouble with not getting my fingers bitten by the pouncing (and not so patient) ferret inside the trap. Finally, I transferred the critter and let him rest in the tube while I brought the trap to my partner and her new ferret! So, we put the traps down and brought our ferret to the trailer. By the end of it, the specialist didn’t think there was enough oxygen for another ferret, so when we brought our ferret back to its burrow and checked the trap we just put out, we couldn’t bring the ferret to be processed. The specialist had us bring the pit tag reader so that we could at least check the ferret to see if it was a recapture from precious years. The crazy thing is, out of all the five ferrets, our last one was the only recapture! Which worked out perfectly for us because we wouldn’t have been able to bring the ferret to processing anyways!

When it comes to animals, I like to give the benefit of the doubt that they have feelings and emotions that might be similar to humans because we simply cannot rule that out. Sometimes I feel like I have a double identity of polar opposites. One half of me is made of science and logic and the other half of me is controlled by emotions and intuition. Even though I feel out of place in both scientific communities and artistic communities, I appreciate both sides because it gives me a mashup outlook on everything. In the case of the ferrets, my capability to empathize gave me the attention to detail to notice differences in personality between the ferrets we caught.

 

 

 

 

The Beginnings

I’ve had two weeks under my belt now at the BLM office in Rawlins, WY as a wildlife intern with a focus on amphibians and reptiles. For the first two days, I was at training with other CLM interns for CPR, wilderness training, bear safety, HAZMAT and Hydrogen sulfide awareness. The following Wednesday and Thursday we went into the field! We went around the Rawlins field office, which is a confusing term because it means the land that my office has jurisdiction, and “dip netted” various ponds and streams near roads. Most of these bodies of water had very little vegetation, but we checked anyways for amphibians. After checking several ponds with no luck, my partner, who did this last year with the same BLM office and under the same supervisor, found two salamanders! They were both the western tiger salamander who never metamorphosed, so they were probably neotonic. I had never seen one before, and it was huge, and cute! Later, I found out that Wyoming only has one species of salamander, the western tiger salamander. I was a little sad because I love salamanders and did my senior independent study on them! So I was hoping to find more.

Autumn in the UP

Autumn is a wonderful time of year. Leaves change color and occasionally there are four inches of snow on the ground. My favorite time in the forest is when the upper leaves have fallen allowing for light to reach the under story plants and illuminate their leaves.

 

 

I have been helping the summer seasonal crews finish up their work projects. Went out with the invasive species crew for a couple days, mainly focused on cut stump herbicide for glossy buck thorn and honeysuckle. A couple kids got their truck stuck in a deep hole, went back with them the next day to get it out. Rode in a couple mile on four-wheeler, cut up some logs and used a hi-lift to put them under the four tires, then used a come-along to pull the truck while I drove it out. Made it safely back onto solid ground.

I had the opportunity to do some stream work which had been delayed by heavy rains. Went sampling for invertebrates and taking measurements of the banks. When we arrived at one of the sites, the truck said it was 22 degrees outside, water temp was right around freezing. Couldn’t wait for the sun to reach us. No pictures, too cold and wet.

Also helped out at the nursery, moving flats of trees from greenhouses outside for the winter. The snow provides good insulation for the roots. Also some planting and moving irrigation pipe.

 

All Shook Up

Alaska harbors a world of depths — deep oceans, interminable skies, mountains so high and snowy you could mistake them, at a distance, for clouds. Atop a mountain road, you can stare across a sea of black spruce that stretches miles unbroken to the horizon. The Last Frontier is also a place of great dangers to pair those depths, including big game (bears, moose, and wolves), active volcanoes, avalanches, biting cold, isolation, massive wildfires, Fata Morganas that create false landforms in front of your eyes, and more. On Friday morning, I was sauntering around an icy downtown Anchorage bus-stop when I heard a heavy cracking noise, like cement splitting. Seconds later the streetlights and surrounding buildings began to sway. The shaking that followed lasted all of 30 seconds but it jolted everything in the city to life.

I have learned in the past few months that Alaska is a place of natural wonders I could have never fully imagined without living here. When the earthquake hit, I knew we were in the midst of one of those stupefying Alaska moments — when you realize that despite all we as people know and can do, we live at the mercy of the world and its complex meteorology, geology, and tectonic shifts. As the world shook violently around me that late November morning, the Pacific plate was subducting beneath the North American plate, causing a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that began 10 miles north of Anchorage. Half an hour later, when I arrived downtown to report for work (oblivious as any East-coaster would be to the severity of the quake), the streets were dark and office workers had flooded out onto the sidewalks. Still reeling from the 1964 megathrust earthquake, which caused tsunamis and registered a magnitude of 9.2, (the most powerful recorded in North America), older Alaskans I met seemed especially on edge.

It is now Wednesday, December 5th. We have had thousands of aftershocks, including a 4.5 magnitude earthquake early this morning. The federal building where I work is damaged and still closed, but also still standing. So are most of the buildings downtown. It might not be the prettiest city, but Anchorage, like the Alaskan people, is resilient and strong. The world shakes like a snow globe in a child’s hands, almost no-one dies, and people move on. (For reference, it is estimated that over 200,000 people died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake of the same magnitude — eight years later, the island nation is still recovering).

After the 1964 quake that devastated southeast AK, the city was rebuilt for an event like this, and, despite the heavy vibrations we have received over the past week, life has resumed for most in a remarkably normal fashion. Alaska residents seem less daunted by challenges or unexpected events than those living in any other place I have lived. The ethic of self-resiliency in the state can be contagious, and while living here, I have found that I prefer a lifestyle and work environment that forces me to think and innovate independently. Big, new challenges make us smarter, stronger people.

Earthquakes aside, I would be remiss if I did not reflect on my CLM internship that brought me to this magnificent place. As I hinted in previous posts, I had a rocky start. When I arrived, there was little work initially planned for me and I began a motley range of assignments to fill my days — fixing picnic tables, trimming foliage on trails, random office work, et cetera. However, even on rough days out in my little outpost in Glennallen, AK, I did not regret the choice to come here. I lived in a beautiful wonderscape of clear lakes and immense mountains. I biked weekly along the surrounding highways through some of the most incredible terrain I have ever seen before. I learned to do things that had nothing to do with forestry, but were useful life skills nonetheless.

Things improved in the fall. CLM and BLM gave me the incredible opportunity to attend the National Society of American Forester’s Conference (an educational candy-land for us forestry folks) and to write my own forest management plan. I have spent the past couple of months working on (and struggling with) this management plan for BLM and have learned a great deal about Alaskan silviculture, subsistence hunting, and the history of public and private land in the state. I also refreshed my ArcGIS skills, made valuable contacts with people from a range of different fields in natural resources, and most importantly — learned that I am capable of researching and teaching myself more than I thought I could. If there is anything I have gained from this internship, it is a firm belief that self-reliance is not only important, but highly attainable. I feel more confident in my field and the idea that I do not need to be ashamed of what I do not know — I just need to be willing to learn.

My CLM internship ends in about two days, but the Alaskan landscape has wooed me to stay.  Next week, I will move into a remote dry cabin (without water or electricity) next to a glacier for a temporary job with the Park’s Service while I figure out my next steps. I feel good about it. Whatever happens, I am confident that I will rise to the challenge.

In the near future, I am hoping to continue to learn more about Alaska’s history and current environmental issues. While writing my current forest management plan, a number of articles I read mentioned that boreal forests are experiencing some of the most dramatic impacts of climate change. Not only has the landscape been significantly altered in recent years (it is hard not to notice a shrinking glacier), but there are more exceptional temperature increases in this part of the world compared to southern latitudes (different climate projections predict temperature increases between (6.3 – 13.5 °F by 2100). Boreal forests also store a significant amount of global terrestrial carbon — at least 24 percent — and warming in the Arctic is already contributing to a positive feedback loop of global climate change. These relationships are important to think about when we as a country are seriously considering an increase in mineral and oil exploration in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At the moment, the economic benefits of such a project do not outweigh the costs — and those costs (including loss of habitat for porcupine caribou, permanently damaged tundra, and increased CO2 emissions) could be very great. Meanwhile, Alaskans are already experiencing the negative effects of climate change. This summer saw some of the worst returns of salmon in years (an important source of income and food for many Alaskans), while rising seas are rapidly swallowing up coastal villages like Newtok and archeological sites in Nunalleq. There is a deep part of me that hopes that the inherent strength, resilience, and innovation that I have seen in Alaska so far will continue to work to find mitigative solutions to the most pernicious effects of climate change. In the meantime, I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Alaska as it is now. The incredible natural beauty and human diversity of the state is truly inspiring. It would be a shame to not do anything about the anthropogenically-caused climatic shifts that threatens that.

I want to send a big thank you to Krissa Skogen and Chris Woolridge from CLM and to my mentor Eric Geisler from BLM for giving me this incredible internship opportunity. I have learned so much and I am so grateful that I had the chance to begin my forestry career in Alaska!

November hoarfrost outside of Anchorage, AK.

Closing thoughts

 

Lil blue beauty

A chill is setting in the air in Carlsbad. Mornings are colder, nights are coming earlier, and our time in Carlsbad is almost up. Our seed collections have slowed down substantially as most plants are done for the year. We have been collecting a lot of Bouteloua species, and recently found populations of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in the sand dunes in our resource area. Some other sand species, like Annual Buckwheat (Erigonum annum) and Sand Sagebrush (Artemesia filifolia) are still holding out on producing seed.

We are finishing out the last of our collections now as we only have two weeks left of our internship. One fun collection was from the Madrona tree, a beautiful, tropical looking tree that can be found near the Guadalupe Mountains. Naturally, I felt the need to climb the trees to reach the somewhat out of reach seeds. Luckily no falls were had.

The rare Chihuahuan Desert Madrone tree monkey…oh wait no that’s just me in a tree.

With the end of my internship approaching, I have been reflecting a lot on the past five months. It’s crazy to think that it was only five months ago that I arrived in Carlsbad, and thrown right into the fire (literally, it was 100 degrees—nothing prepares you for that). While finding and collecting seeds was overwhelming back then, now it is coming naturally. Where everything was unfamiliar when I arrived, now I can look at the landscape and see plant species that have become familiar—maybe even dear—to me. Since starting this internship, I have become substantially better at identifying grass genuses (not an especially amazing feat considering I came in with NO knowledge of grass genuses—but I am proud of it nonetheless). I definitely would not have had such a great experience if I hadn’t been placed with such a patient, enthusiastic, and passionate mentor.

On a personal level, moving away from the cornfields and forests of the Midwest (I missed trees so much!) to the open ranges and scrubland of the Southwest lead to a great deal of growth in my independence. Though I went away to college, this was a MUCH further move away from my family and friends—to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. Though this was scary at first, I gradually became more confident and comfortable doing things on my own. Fortunately, I wasn’t totally alone out here. I got to know some really fantastic and interesting people working in the BLM office from all over the country. With them, I was able to experience my first rodeo, explore Albuquerque, and gradually made Carlsbad feel like home.

Being in an oil boom town has been particularly eye-opening. Before, I never really thought about where the gas I was filling my car with was coming from. I was aware of the impact oil has, but actually became tangible when I could witness the oilfield firsthand. Now that I have had this experience, I feel that I really can understand the importance of what conservation programs like Seeds of Success and others do to help protect and recover the environment from practices like these. Moreover, it has made me think critically about how I can make my lifestyle more sustainable and actions I can take to mitigate the impacts of oil and gas extraction on the environment. All in all, I’m glad I had this opportunity to meet some amazing people and find beauty in an overlooked part of the country.

Drive a little ways south of Carlsbad, and you’ll be greeted by this view. Big blue skies, defined mountain ridges, desert scrub. I will miss it.

-Lucy Schroeder, BLM, Carlsbad NM Field Office

Farewell Carlsbad

Hi everyone,

As my internship comes to an end, I am starting to really think about all of the skills that I have learned and friendships that I have formed during the past few months. I am so grateful for this fantastic opportunity to work alongside some amazing people in the Carlsbad Field Office (BLM). The truth of the matter is that Carlsbad is one of the most difficult and busy field offices to work in due to the high oil and gas activity in the area. Thankfully, they have a great team that does their best to make the work environment as great as it can be and show that they really do care about each of their employees, even the interns.

Throughout the entirety of this internship, I have gotten to experience so many different things, both good and bad. I have helped monitor Bureau Sensitive Species, experienced just how hot the desert can get, hike in the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains, find out what it feels like to have prickly pear spines stuck in my leg, collect from some really amazing plants, and many more! Although field work can really test your patience and push your limits, it also allows you to get out and experience an ecosystem that you might not have had the opportunity otherwise.

I am truly thankful for the practical work experience that I have gotten from this internship. I am especially grateful for being placed in a Bureau of Land Management Office. Being from Kansas, I had no idea that the BLM even existed. If I had not had the opportunity to work in this office, I may have never pursued this federal agency. Now that I have been in a BLM office, I would love the chance to work in this area of government again. It has sincerely been a fantastic experience.

Below are just a few pictures taken in our resource area:

A collection of Riddell’s Ragwort (Senecio riddellii) that we were able to do.

A really fun collection of Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) that we were able to do just last week!

More Texas Madrone

Some of the Texas Madrone seeds collected.

We found some Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in the dunes of our resource area! I was particularly excited about this one because of my previous work in the prairies of Kansas.

 

This little Manybristle Chinchweed (Pectis papposa) was a cool find because of its lemon aroma.

You can often find some really cool animal tracks in the dunes of our research area. Maybe this guy was a Greater Roadrunner?

Speaking of Greater Roadrunners, we had a surprise visit while wrapping up a collection.

Below are more pictures from the area, but not in our county:

A hike taken through the Lincoln National Forest.

Another picture from the Lincoln National Forest.

This was taken at the “Top of Texas,” which is in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Another picture of the Guadalupe Peak.

As I finish up the next two weeks and begin my trek back to the sunflower state, I will be thinking about all the experiences I’ve had here in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I just want to thank the Chicago Botanic Garden for allowing me to be apart of the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program, it was an experience I will not forget. I also want to give a huge thank you to my new Carlsbad family for making the last five months fantastic, I am so grateful for the time I have had here.

Signing out,

Caitie

Seeds of Success

Carlsbad Field Office (BLM)

 

P.S. I also can thank Carlsbad for a very special new member to the family, Ollie:

All Grown Up

We’ve been growing a bunch of plants for restoration projects, and now many of them are all grown up and ready to be out-planted here in Oregon. We take them out of their nice sheltered greenhouses and throw them out into the harsh world by putting them out on the raised beds. Though we do not have the most extreme winters over here, it is regularly below freezing at night (as evidenced by the nice dusting of frosty dew on the spiderwebs draped across various plants).

With the changing fall colors, it means that the raised beds are gorgeous. I sometimes walk out there on my lunch breaks just to admire some of the plants we have tended out there, getting ready to go out into the world.

We have already sent off many of them to be planted and we are carrying some over into next year. However, we are getting to plant some of them ourselves in the next few months at a wetland/riparian restoration site. Personally, I am a fan of waders so I am looking forward to the out-planting. To get a sense, here are some photos of the restoration as it is now:

We will be lugging boxes of plants for half a mile or longer through marshes so it may be a bit of an adventure. People have suggested using llamas or horses only half-jokingly. We’ll see how that goes.

With winter coming along most of our plant propagation has slowed to a halt. However, we are having to hold over around 12,000 huckleberry unexpectedly. While this may not seem like a big deal, plants grow. The problem with that is that they need more space as they get bigger. More space means bigger pots. Bigger pots means transplanting. 12 THOUSAND huckleberry plants. One at a time. It’s going to take a while. Luckily, our crew is fun to work with and everyone has a good attitude. That and, personally, I love the chance to work outside, even if I may need the occasional break to heat up my hands.

We also have been continuing to clean and process seed. That is an ongoing process and will likely not be done when I leave in January. The amount of Douglas Fir seeds alone is staggering.

Doug-fir seeds

We also process various other species (Port-Orford Cedar, Limber Pine, Whitebark Pine, Western White Pine, Sugar Pine, etc.). The POC (Port-Orford Cedar) cones are from our own greenhouses, which is exciting.

POC Seeds

That said, they are challenging to clean because the male cones (which we are trying to remove) are small but not small enough to easily sieve and they tend to break into little pieces. Patience is handy when cleaning seed. Patience and some good podcasts. Then again, I suppose the same thing could be said of life.

Farewell Wyoming, I Hope We Meet Again

Sadly, I’m wrapping up my season working for Seeds of Success with the BLM in Lander, WY.  I knew halfway into the internship that this was one of the best decisions I had ever made, but I’m still surprised at how much I’ve fallen in love with Wyoming and its plants and wildlife!  I’m sad to say goodbye, but I can’t help but hope/believe that I’ll have more opportunities to work in such a vast and marvelous place like central Wyoming.  Never have I been so perplexed by the weather systems, than in Wyoming.  One minute you think your going to get rained out, and the next, winds change and it’s a beautiful, sunny day…or vice versa.  And the MOUNTAINS!!  I am so thankful the internship was extended a month because it wasn’t until mid October that we finally got some snow; and waking up to a fresh dusting of snow on the Wind River Mountain range, is one of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve ever seen!

The experience and skills I’ve gained throughout this internship are invaluable!  Because this was my first internship outside of my undergrad, I really appreciated how much safety training we were put through.  From safe driving and general first aid and safety procedures, to other types of training, like computer and internet safety, I felt very confident and prepared out in the field.  Our field office also offered additional bear safety training, and other training more specific to wildlife threats concerning central Wyoming, such as tics, snakes, heat exhaustion and altitude sickness.  In a profession that calls for so much time spent out in the field, I didn’t realize how essential some seemingly simple skills were, like working with an intricate radio system, driving on back country two tracks, or maintaining vehicle/equipment logs.  I appreciate this job and the wonderful mentor I had for providing me with such an encouraging environment to grow and improve these kinds of skills, which I know will be applicable to any job related in conservation.

But the wealth of skills and experience I gained, far extends that of the everyday workings of a government facility.  The confidence this job has instilled in me, concerning practices in field botany, is irreplaceable.  My ability to identify plants using a dichotomous key has improved ten-fold, as well as my general knowledge of Wyoming’s flora and the various kinds of habitats your likely to find them.  I realized how crucial timing is in a job like SOS.  Fruit maturation differers from plant to plant, and some plants seed out more quickly than others; I experienced how challenging this could be first hand, and have a new found appreciation for truly understanding plant lifecycles and how they differ from organism to organism.

I’m finding that, typically, that kind of knowledge can only be gained through shear doing…experience.  And that’s exactly what this job allowed me to do!  I couldn’t have asked for a better partner and mentor (I know I was spoiled in that regard) for being so approachable and open to questions and curiosities.  With such a secure and enjoyable work atmosphere, I was really able to take advantage of every opportunity this internship had to offer and walk away with incredible memories, dear friendships, and an abundance of experience.

Land of Enchantment

When I arrived in Santa Fe a cool mountain drizzle welcomed me with a much-needed car wash and the intoxicating smell of juniper and pinyon pine in the air. In an instance, I was convinced that it I would be here to stay. However, this rain did not seem to return. Months went by and I would soon learn about the realities of drought, fire restrictions, and of course, unhappy plants. This became the theme of my summer.

During this period of drought dormancy, I found community around Santa Fe and started learning the landscape. This began with my favorite BLM past time, drive by botany. At 60 miles an hour, my crew mate Sam would rattle off Latin name of plant skeletons that to me were just blurs on the side of the road, who knew this would prepare me for what was about to come.

Unlike my home in the Midwest, where April showers would bring May flowers, the Southwest created its own rule book and in order to survive species have to adapt to these ever-changing weather extremes. By late July, the rain finally arrived, but the desert is not gentle, and when it rains, it pores. On July 24, the monsoons arrived with 3.5 inches of rainfall in one delirious night; this night marked a turning point in our collection season. The high plateau landscape transformed overnight from brown to green with plants emerging from the sandy soils anywhere with a hint of moisture. Like the animals, our crew adapted to the weather of the Southwest to survive and we collected whatever we could get our hands on. Within a few weeks, my desk was buried in a mountain of seeds awaiting their journey to the Bend Extractory.

This season was riddled with many lessons about the resilience of desert plants, the challenges of ever increasingly unpredictable weather, the struggle of racing DOT mowers, and the search for annuals that seem to move miles in a season. If you get a chance to work with CLM you might not share these same experiences but you will walk away with a wealth of stories and experiences unique to your season. Working in the BLM New Mexico State Office presented a variety of opportunities to learn about careers in conservation and receive cross training in a variety of fields. Even if you do not gain something from working with a diverse group of professionals, there is never an absence of lessons to be gleaned from desert plants and the incredible ecosystems they live in.

Cleome serrulata camouflage in the Gila National Forest\

Take care CLM,

Luke Knaggs Santa Fe BLM office