The Hempstead Plains – Remnants of a Relic

Credit: Long Island Pine Barrens Society

A map of the ecosystems historically shaped by fire on Long Island

In addition to the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens which have been shaped by fire ecology, there is another, lesser known climax ecosystem that still exists in small remnants in the Eastern U.S. It is known at the Atlantic Coastal Prairie, Sand Plains, Dry Tall Grass Prairie, etc. These semi-arid habitats are characterized by their poor sandy soils and their need for fire regimes (and now mowing). They are home to threatened and endangered species, including Agalinus acuta (sandplain gerardia), and were once home to a now extinct species of grouse known as the Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido var. cupido) (Palkovacs et al., 2004).

The extinct Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido var. cupido)

The endangered Sand Plain Gerardia (Agalinus acuta). The Hempstead Plains has at least 2 of the only 11 populations worldwide.

These unique eastern dry prairies still exist in isolated patches in New England and Long Island. The one I am most familiar with is the Hempstead Plains, the only naturally occurring prairie east of the Appalachian Mountains (Neidich and Kennelly, 2014). There is only around 100 acres left of the 60,000- 40,000 acres that existed prior to colonization. Since colonization, the plains have been used for farming and urban development. This has disturbed fragile topsoil crust and allowed woody and invasive plants to encroach on the grasslands. Once an important flyway for birds, the plains still serve as a home and migration stop for: wild pheasant, fox, orchard orioles, monarch butterflies, fritillaries, meadowlark, and others.

Credit: Harper 1911

These Plains were once a vast expanse.

The Hempstead Plains exist in a highly populated county directly adjacent to the burrow of Queens in New York City. Due to their close proximity to this metropolitan area, the flat land was prime for early urban sprawl developments. However, this also made them a good place for New York City botanists to study the unique flora assemblages, and there are botanical records going back over 100 years.They all noted the rapid disappearance of the ecosystem (Harper, 1911).

A Satellite image of Garden City, NY. The red pin is the site of the managed remnant of the Hempstead Plains. The green area just south of the pins is a larger, unmanaged portion. The green area to the east are golf courses that also contain grassland remnants.

The history of the development of these plains is an interesting one. They were once a commons grazing area for sheep. Years later, they were bought by a wealthy department store owner who opened golf courses, polo fields, and race tracks to entice other wealthy people to move to the area. Then, during the early 20th century they served as a major airfield where Charles Lindberg began the first Trans-Atlantic flight.

The Plains have been subject to unrelenting development up unto the 1970’s when a large stadium was built, and the community college was expanded. In 1991, 16.3 continuous acres were put under the management of a non-profit, Friends of the Hempstead Plains, for the purpose of education and preservation. Since the founding of the organization, both students and experienced botanists have conducted experiments regarding the specific plants that grow in these particularly dry soils. The unique soils are characterized by their upper lichen-moss covered crust, and well-drained, dark horizons above glacial out-wash. The Nature Conservancy carried out multiple controlled burns in the 1990’s in order to restore balance to the scarred and trampled remnant.

Black and white film prints of the Nature Conservancy controlled burns in the 1990s

Other, largely unmanaged portions are present on a nearby golf course, and across a highway from the managed parcel. It was on this county owned unmanaged preserve where a recent 5 acre wild fire occurred in 2016, causing a more blue curls and toad flax to bloom in 2017. This was where I found two species I was searching for to collect for a restoration project, Andropogon virginicus and Schizachryum scoparium. Although these species are extremely common, I needed to find them in this specific eco-region. As I mentioned before, this county is adjacent to New York City, highly developed and populated, so finding a wild population was not a walk in the park.

Prairie Three-awn (Aristida oligantha) growing through the cracks of an old airstrip.

I also collected an annual grass, Oligantha aristida  (Prairie Three-awn). This grass was growing between old slabs of asphalt and little blue stem. Talk about a tough little grass!

One of the many massive dumping sites within the unmanaged preserve.

As I walked through this rare piece of green space, in the center of a bustling city, I was disturbed by the utter neglect of management by the county. There are obviously ongoing problems of homelessness, off-roading,  and dumping. I couldn’t help but notice the irony that in the shadow of a huge hotel, there are people living in tents.

Friends of the Hempstead Plains at Nassau Community College Manages 19 acres of this rare Habitat

Compared to the tall grass prairie preserves out west this is a tiny swath of land. Some might question what the point of conserving such a small amount of land really is. In the middle of a metropolitan area, this natural landscape can teach so many people about the native flora and the history of the area. I for one got my start within the botanical field volunteering on this preserve. Now after seeing dozens of different habitats throughout the Mid-Atlantic and mainland U.S., I can tell how unique a place the Hempstead Plains really is.

To learn more about this grassland, go to

I blinked and 8 months went by

As I write this, I can hardly believe that 9 months ago I was packing up my belongings and moving to the great PNW. I was excited and maybe a little nervous. I ran into some bumps along the road, but it makes for an unforgettable memory.

On my last day, my mentor held a farewell lunch for me, and that’s when I realised that this was actually over. I knew it would end, and, of course, I was sad, but that date always seemed like a far-away thing. Basically our entire office came to the lunch, minus the few out in the field or away from the office, and it was such a nice reminder of all the people I was able to work with and learn from.

I definitely will say that while I was primarily a seeds of success intern, I worked with just about every resource specialist in the office in some way and highly recommend for all those considering the internship do the same. I got to really see all that these amazing public servants do, and help out on some fun projects!

A quick recap includes: bat surveys (probably to date the coolest thing I did), WA state ground squirrel surveys, homestead archeological surveys (so cool to see the historical artifacts), identifying a pre-contact bison bone at one of our properties (!), going out to decide the action for mine reclamation, rangeland health assessments, watershed health assessments, right-of-way processing, weed surveys, and so much more.

I also got to work with the Spokane District’s National Monument office out at the San Juan Islands, learn some really cool history and learn from an amazing public servant, and eat all the yummy foods around the island!

Of course, there were days that I was “over” collecting seeds, and wanting to do something a little more to do with resource advising/management, but once I got out to the field, I was so happy to be collecting seeds. When the field season came to an end, and I collected my last seed, I fulfilled classic intern activities: filing, scanning, organizing files, throwing away files, general maintenance. Those days, I really missed the field, but I got to work along side awesome coworkers that made the day go by quickly.

I will be forever thankful that my first experience with a federal land management agency was with the Border Field Office in Spokane, Washington. I learned a lot, learned there’s always something to learn (or learn again), and made friendships that will last a lifetime. Although, at times I wished I wasn’t the only intern (or that I had a group of interns at the office), I am glad it was just me. It made me step even further out of my comfort zone, and let me know that moving across the country, knowing absolutely no one, is totally doable.

So for you future interns, don’t be scared to leave the familiar behind or to do it all by yourself, and always ask to do more than what you’re assigned.

I’ve made the decision to stick around out here, working seasonally until the next season comes around, trying my luck while I’m young. I don’t know exactly what or where my next steps may be, but I know I want to go to grad school, and one day end up working for the feds. It’s for that reason, I’m sticking around out west; I figure it’ll be easier to move from Spokane to whatever seasonal position I get next, rather than haul my life from Indiana again. So if you ever find yourself in eastern Washington, you can always look me up on here!

I can’t wait to see where this wild journey of seasonal work takes me next! I am excited for all you future interns to give this a go; it’s an amazing ride if you do it right!

Over and out

Valeria Cancino Hernandez, Border Field Office, Spokane District BLM

Final Weeks

Wyoming. It’s a state I can honestly say I never had any intention of visiting. I knew nearly nothing about it until I moved to Buffalo in May. It sounded exotic to me. The environment, culture and language felt foreign upon my arrival here from the northeast. In many ways they still do, yet I’ve somehow managed to finally feel at home.

With only a few weeks of my internship remaining, I’ve been trying to get as much done as possible for the Buffalo Field Office (BFO) before a new set of interns come in May. Most of the remaining work to do involves georeferencing aerial images from the 1970s. The work is tedious, but I like to think it will help somebody at the BLM in the future who might not have the time to do it themselves. There has been no shortage of coworkers offering to take me out to their field sites. The wildlife biologists even managed to take myself and another CLM intern to The Wildlife Society – Wyoming Chapter conference in Jackson last week where researchers from across Wyoming presented on their findings on all sorts of study organisms, ranging from pollinators to mule deer. Of course, we also made sure there was time for site-seeing:

Moose siting along Route 16 as we drove through the Bighorn Mountains on our way to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Tetons greeted us as we entered Jackson after our long truck-ride from Buffalo.

Dream home beneath the Tetons.

Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) gathered around to lick the minerals off of our truck. Their historic range spans the American West, but sadly today their range hardly compares.

As much as I love botany, it’s hard to not immediately fall in love with wildlife.

My last bighorn sheep picture. I promise.

I still can’t believe I get paid for this. A summer of backpacking and vegetation monitoring, the opportunity to further develop GIS skills and understand the inner-workings of a federal agency, learning to interact with stakeholders and landowners (and even coworkers) with worldviews vastly different than mine. This internship has allowed me to gain and develop a skill set more elaborate and wide-ranging than I could have imagined. I’m hopeful that, eventually, I will find a full-time permanent position someplace that I will love as much as I’ve enjoyed this internship. Not to say it hasn’t been difficult at times (particularly the office days…those can be tough), but the hardships are what have made the experience rewarding.

I’ve begun the countdown to the end of my internship. I will work through the beginning of January, and then afterward head west to California where I have another seasonal position, this time with a private company. I am certain that my experiences with CLM will translate across state boundaries as I immerse myself in an entirely new ecosystem with countless new flora and fauna to identify. I’ll probably have one more blog post or so before I leave my internship, but to anyone out there reading this and considering accepting an internship with CLM: it has been an invaluable experience for me, it has embellished my resume, and I have met too many wonderful people during my time in Wyoming than I can list. Seriously consider taking it.

On to New Adventures

Reflecting on the past 8 months, all I can say is it’s been an adventure. I came into this internship expecting a simple job, a few new skills, and a relatively easy summer wandering around the prairie. I definitely got more than I bargained for… but in all good ways.

We successfully completed a “pilot” AIM program for our field office, participated in and contributed to a variety of projects, saw new country, tried new things, learned something new every day, and despite all of the challenges a field internship can bring, stayed remarkably sane. The skills and experiences I gained through this internship are truly invaluable. I’m grateful to have been in such an awesome field office learning to manage land that means so much to me! Thanks CLM Internship Program, it’s been a blast.

To conclude my internship, here’s a few pictures of things we’ve been able to do in the past month:

A view of the Bighorn Mountains from one of our final AIM monitoring sites.

The view from Middle Fork Powder River Campground, where we spent some time doing maintenance.

30+ pounds of nails we pulled out of a litter site in Northeast Wyoming. There was never a shortage of litter to clean up!

A sagebrush seedling – we spent a couple days planting these babies in reclaimed road areas.

We stopped by the National Elk Refuge by Jackson, WY. No elk but plenty of Bighorn Sheep, including this adorable lamb!

We were able to attend the Wyoming chapter of the Wildlife Society’s annual conference in Jackson Wyoming. A beautiful place and a great way to celebrate an awesome internship.

Good Bye Taos, I will miss you!

Greetings everyone! My internship is over, and sadly, it’s time to say goodbye. I am going to miss the Taos area and the BLM field office there. I spent the last stretch of my internship happily organizing the TAFO herbarium, entering label data into SEINet, making labels, and mounting specimens. Since returning home, I’ve been reflecting on my internship experience. It turned out that collecting seed was both a simple and complicated endeavor that encompasses a mix of strategic planning and luck. I am very grateful for the experience and for the amazing people I have met along the way! Thank you CLM for this wonderful opportunity!

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge view.


Oh the Knowledge You’ll Know! (And Places You’ll Go!)

There were numerous times this season, looking upon the vast mountain ranges of Oregon, I stopped and asked myself how did I get here? I’m so thankful that one cold winter day in Upstate NY I found the CLM internship in an my colleges job listings and months later I ended up on the other side of the country; What a dream it has been!

I am always amazed with the infinite knowledge in science, it is exciting but often overwhelming! Before coming here I was intimidated by learning the flora of a whole new place but week by week I was piecing together the species of the region.

I had the pleasure to take a few classes this summer and am proud of the knowledge I accumulated. I took a botanical drawing course, expanding my botanical terminology and observation skills. I also attended a Graminoids course, trying to grasp the minute parts, microscope skills and general ecological discrepancies. When I thought I had a grasp on most of the common species of the area I took a bryophyte class and was yet again astonished at the diversity of life, even on one small rock or tree bowl. There are over 400 species of moss in Oregon, I’m pleased to say I know 10-20 of the common ones!

Just being around people with a vast wealth of knowledge and passion really inspires me to try my best and I hope someday I can be that person for others.

Throughout the season I have created a small study book of plants I learned throughout the season. Packaging tape and index cards make a great little book to learn and review species. It has been incredibly helpful for me to learn the plants this way! It’s sort of like stamp collecting but more fun for botany nerds!

Apart from traditional botany knowledge I was able to help out in a variety of unique tasks. From rafting the Rogue river, driving a huge pick up truck on the scariest roads, building fences to protect endangered plants, entering stacks of contract data using ArcGIS ….to name a few. Botany careers are not all about the plants!!

I have grown immensely from this unique experiences and would 100% recommend this program to anyone – well anyone who doesn’t care if they get dirty, sweat in the blazing sun, hike miles to see rare plants and come home exhausted and sore; In my opinion, its absolutely worth it!

Thanks to everyone who has helped me on my journey! Especially my mentor Stacy (she’s awesome – couldn’t have asked for a better mentor) and crew Shannon and Andy – wouldn’t be as fun without you guys. Cant wait to see where I will be next season!

Sienna M

Grants Pass, OR BLM



Today is your day .

Your off to Great Places!

Your off and away!

You have brains in your head.

And feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.  –Dr.Suess

Winter falls on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

As the tiny amounts of water vapor in the air have begun to freeze and form wispy cloud-like blankets in the sky, I am reminded how much has changed over the past few months working in New Mexico. From the intense heat and crispy plants of the early summer to the sudden greenness of post-monsoon season, the high desert of NM is truly an ephemeral and magical place. I will never forget the smell of pinon burning and lightness of the air welcoming me to Santa Fe in June. While it seemed like just a temporary home when I first moved here from rural New Jersey, the beauty and diversity has grown on me and pulled me into wanting to stay. New Mexico really is the “Land of Entrapment”.

Thrown into a dust devil of meeting new people, leading an important rare plant monitoring project for the BLM, endless exploring, and taking on new hobbies, my CLM internship has been nothing but an exciting learning experience. Who knew you could fit climbing, alpine running, dancing, birding, cooking with green chile, soaking in a hot spring, and work in one week? Looking back at myself before moving out west, I’ve realized the amount of personal growth that has occurred. Despite being naturally shy and reserved, I’ve definitely become more outgoing and overall just more stoked about life. I can attribute this to the wonderful people and opportunities I’ve been surrounded by at work and in Santa Fe, but also the massive change of moving across the country by myself (and maybe the high elevation).

Even though I worked on rare plant conservation for a couple years back home, I had never thought I would be applying almost every single thing I’ve learned in school and in the field. I’ve utilized everything from putting on my “rare plant goggles” to spot plants to countless hours in Excel spreadsheets to writing code in R and analyzing GIS data. Tasked with designing and installing demographic trend monitoring for a variety of imperiled rare plants has been both challenging and rewarding. The realization that our efforts and dedication are the start of a long-term monitoring study, and may influence decisions that aid in slowing the disappearance of an entire species, was very fulfilling.

Working for a federal land agency has also been a huge shift from the realm of private, state, and research-based management back east. I’ve grown to enjoy the challenges of multi-use land management as it makes every decision more thought-provoking. Something as simple as choosing between aluminum or plastic plant tags becomes complex when you consider the abundance of curious corvids, hungry rabbits, and cattle. In addition, designing protocols and presenting at conferences has made me more in tune with effective scientific communication. Many people may not know what belt transects or phenology or matrix models are, but these can be easily explained if we as scientists truly understand their meaning. It is always difficult to express the importance of preserving rare species as their role may not seem as important as those which are more common. But if we look at the role of a single human, whose impacts and connections spread far beyond what we can observe, is this really that different than a single, unique, rare plant species?

One of my goals going into this internship was to narrow down my interests in the field of ecology. I’ve realized that I’m becoming increasingly more curious about how management affects plant communities and the cascade of effects this has on other ecological communities through the disruption of food sources and habitat structure. While the idea of exploring this question in greater detail sounds very appealing, I’m not sure I’m quite ready or equipped to undertake that venture just yet. Accepting the CLM internship, and all that has come with it, has been by far one of the most influential decisions on my life.

A wonder of nature in Chiricahua National Monument, AZ.

On the way to Sandia Crest

As The Season Comes To A Close.

We are in the middle of the last few weeks of field weather here. Lately I have been fortunate enough to work with the Wild Horse and Burro Expert applying a new population control technique that includes getting up close to each band of horses. Approaching bands without a single set of eyes detecting your every move proved much tougher than I had originally thought. The task has been time intensive and difficult to say the least, and tactics to get close to the bands have been continually refined, but as of yet there has been very little success.

As I sat on the edge of a water catchment yesterday, I began to think of these past eight months. I remembered the small amount of office work I had to complete when I first started this internship, the small infrequent rainstorms we had to be aware of in the spring, and the muddy roads that we risked trying to not get stuck. Then I recalled the bulk of the internship. The hot, dry, and dusty conditions and how the light of day seemed to last so long. But now, I looked across a vast landscape of sage brush steppe, steep canyons, and numerous rock slides. All of the willows surrounding the catchment were barren and the once murky water was healed over with thick ice that croaked and groaned as it tried to thaw and come back to life. This frosted landscape before me seemed like a far cry from the work season I once knew. There have been a lot of great connections and experiences made on this internship and as the season comes to a close… the office work closes in.

The last one

This CLM internship has been my 4th seasonal position in the natural sciences and has afforded me many new experiences. To start, I was in a hotel on every trip rather than a tent (verdict is still out on my preference), and I was working with professionals and not only other young adults. I have come to find that this difference means a lot in terms of how you engage in your work and the people around you.

Carol is also one of the first mentors and this internship is one of the first that was not strictly structured from the moment I started to the moment I ended. I was allow to create my own projects, look at the data with my own interests in mind and actually create something that would be helpful to the program as a whole. Although daunting, I think that it created some productive struggles for me as a person, namely the confidence to follow my own path. There are so many different ways that each data set could be viewed, so many different emphasis that could be placed on work done with a land management agency and so many projects out there waiting to be created.

The next step is up in the air, as is always the case after the field season, and I look forward to seeing where the wind takes me. As of now I will be assisting the family business, learning the ins and outs of Stanton hats and getting a healthy dose of the Sonoran desert.

Stanton hat and me

So here is to raising my glass to another season of field work, to the good, the bad (it ends) and the future.



Moooving On

I apologize for the title, but when you primarily work in grazing compliance for six months the puns just start flowing. My personal favorite was finding sneaky cows at a water trough and saying “well, well, well…,” (my poor field partner).

It has been an awesome season working for the BLM in the Lander, Wyoming field office. While reflecting on my time here I recalled first driving through Wyoming and noticing, a little nervously, how flat and tree-less it was compared to the forested Pacific Northwest. Now, having been able to spend hundreds of hours driving to every corner of the field office that distant concern seems silly. This state has provided the ability to see some of the most picturesque landscapes (blue skies and snow capped mountains), kooky and majestic wildlife (think badgers flinging soil feet into the air and hundreds of wild horses running through a valley), and land that has been untamed. I am going to miss the chance at experiencing something new in the field every day but I am thankful that this internship has provided me with even more of a perspective focused on the “little things.”

Being in the field for much of the season was another great chance to prove to myself how much I love working in the outdoors. I’ve realized over the past six months that whatever career I move towards, it needs to be one that incorporates hands-on field work and the ability to get outside and get a little muddy. That being said, I was also able to learn a great deal about the inner workings, policies, and politics of the BLM and worked on everything from administrative tasks to NEPA documents, which was an equally valuable experience.

This internship has provided a comprehensive overview of what it is like to work for a federal agency. Before working with the BLM I had little to no idea how public grazing worked, the extent of the role that the BLM plays in managing our lands, or what challenges surround multi-use management. My views have definitely changed this season, going from more strict, conservation based ideals, to understanding that sustainable management means utilizing resources for multiple purposes. I think that this position has helped me to gain a more realistic perspective on how to apply natural resource management principles to satisfy the major aspects of sustainability.

I am thankful for all of the things I have gained through this internship, including a tan that is already fading, friends I will have for years to come, and great insight into what my goals are for a future in environmental work. It is bittersweet to say goodbye to one chapter but I am excited to see what the next one will bring.


It is bittersweet to be leaving Wyoming right as winter hits. It would have been fun to experience another weather season here.

I ALWAYS had to stop the truck to watch the wild horses when I was in the field.